[iDC] Cities, Speculation, and the Non-addressable

Christiane Robbins at Jetztzeit cpr at mindspring.com
Tue Sep 26 15:16:28 EDT 2006

Dear Molly, Mark and IDC.

Once again now thanks for all of the wonderful posts and my apologies for not having kept up  with the discussion as well as I might have been had Sept. not been such a haze!

The on-going discussions on Archigram and DeBord are, of course, most welcome and beneficial.  I would like to thank Molly for raising DeBords' more socio-economic-politicized  concerns revolving around statsis of European poverty as this issue seems to be seldom addressed in the virtual realm.

The practice which I find to be singularly impressive in terms of addressing experimental and utopian notions of the future ( the future as present) and prescient in its approach is that of Architecture Principe ( Claude Parent and Paul Virillo ) who in the early '60-'s published their theory of a sloping city, " The Function of the Oblique."  Perhaps most pertinent to our discussion is that their tilting site was intended to stimulate and encourage human activity.  My understanding is that they viewed the city as symbolic of all human civilization ( problematic, I realize) and characterized movement through it as circuits or cycles - equivalent to human inhabitation ( at least a eurocentric version of inhabitation.)   It has been noted elsewhere that their research anticipated the work of numerous architects today using digital tools that have enabled. what I view as,  a digital aesthetic that is pervasive in today's architectural renderings. Obviously, their practice paved the way to what we have now defined as deconstruction, or blob-a-tecture (my term ) as permutations of that notion have been been raised thus far.

In addressing the notion of blob-a-tecture, I take a somewhat different position.  To my mind, Blob-a-tecture had its early, more formalist roots, in architecture coming from the Inflatable Cities ( arising from the new material production of Plastic ) in the mid-sixties- such as Chaneac (Plastic Polyvalent Cellules, 1961) ; to Japan in the early '90's - in the work of practioners such as Eisaku Ushida & Kathryn Findley to that of Makato Sei Watanabe ( Jelly Fish 2, 1994).  The digital realm was quickly adopted by the American architect, Greg Lynn, in the mid-to-late 90's ( Los Angeles) critiqued and then and marketed as such, followed by Asymptote ( Hani Rashid and Lisa Couture) of New York, and we then see, quite easily, the work of the French architects, R& Sie as well as innumerable others around the globe.  I believe that numerous architects have adapted digital tools to facilitate the material construction of the built environment.  Architecture , as a field, is far more pragmatic that visual art or experimental practice.  There are few experimental architects – this has been the case for most of the 20th century. – and there are even fewer forums supporting this work.  Quite obviously in the US, there is Diller and Scofidio 
 who have inhabited the intersitial space between architecture, visual art and media for approximately 20-25 years.  Most telling is that in traditional architectural circles they are referred to as artists.

I view this migration to a digital aesthetic as a function of concurrent forces - the ground breaking work of 20thC practioners such as Archigram, Guy Debord, Constant Nieuwenhuys (The symbolic representation of the New Babylon); the evolutionary embedding of the digital into accessible production tools, the advance of hybrid practices embracing formalist and visual cultural theory, as well as the economic forces at work - at least in the USA.  By this last point it is necessary to delineate that the conventional "job market" for architects in the US during the last half of of the '90s was rather dismal.  This fact ensured that a number of architects migrated to the virtual realm of the rising dotcom economic scene, as their skills were relatively easily transferable and valued ... and, frankly, the pay was enticing – especially when considering the other options suggested unemployment, .

A critical analysis to our own discussion might be to take a hard look at the cultural contexts in which architects are practicing today prior to passing judgment.  The cultural and socio-economic landscapes appear to be 180º opposite of where experimental concepts of future cities were flourishing and supported in the 60’s and 70’s. This consideration is crucial, as this nostalgic regard may be clouding our perspective as to what architects may actually be doing today. We can easily, and justifiably, demonize late capitalism, corporate development and its tendrils 
 but that doesn’t give us the entire story as it is a merely a reiteration of familiar complaints
. and most importantly it may not provide enough of a template from which we can effect change. 

And I hasten to add that this generalization of “architects” does a disservice to the field.  One suggestion might be to invite more architects and theorists to join this discussion/conference. and developers as well. Because, what we’re really getting at here is a change in the system, no?

In turning to the issue of sustainable practices and wireless, I think it important to note that sustainable practices are predicated upon issues of health and well-being - for the environment and ourselves.  I don't pretend to know the extent of the issue that I raise however, I think it morally imperative to raise it in the spirit of Stan Brakeage, the experimental filmmaker
and this is risky, I know.

By way of anecdote - when I was in graduate school Stan Brakeage came to Cal Arts as a visiting artist - I think this was 1988.  In any case, one of the eager grad students asked him why he never worked in video and he replied that he would never work in video as the negative impact on individual health due to the electronic emissions.  When pushed further - he replied that the "industry" had covered up the studies that provided proof of his position.  Of course, as graduates students about to embark on our various career paths throughout the facets of the broadcast, independent and academic industries, we immediate threw aside his statements as those made my a whacked lunatic washed over by conspiracy theories and to many drugs (this latter point was just a bias we students evinced of the 60’s New Agey crowd)   

But, I have to admit, that his statements have always gnawed at me - to this day.  Thus the questions that I bring to the table are those that have to do with the tenuous compatibility of sustainable practices and wireless - a technology based on microwaves - no?  What are the health implications of microwaves as they invisibly scourer our bodies, and homes, our buildings, our air.  I don’t know the answer (which I assume to be horrendously complex), but I certainly think it’s worth asking relative to 21st c sustainable practices.

All best,


-----Original Message-----
>From: mollybh at netspace.net.au
>Sent: Sep 25, 2006 3:21 PM
>To: idc at bbs.thing.net
>Subject: [iDC] Cities, Speculation, and the Non-addressable
>Dear Mark, 
>Thanks for this excellent post, so full of great questions and thought 
>provoking comments. I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I want to respond and hope 
>that I can cover most of what I thought about when reading...
>First of all, thanks for validating as you have the work of Archigram in terms 
>of their creative urge to consider technologies in light of the future of 
>cities, or, rather, to incorporate many of the new technologies of their day 
>into their ideas about habit, dwelling, networks, etc. Secondly, for giving 
>back to Guy Debord and his crew the efficacy of the Situationist's artistic 
>bent. "Urban play" is not situationist unless it carries with it their 
>extraordinary politics, that is for certain. I actually think that much of the 
>so called "play" around appears to be a form of "work" which the SI would 
>certainly have eschewed, since we are never supposed to do that! I mean, in 
>terms of cities, Guy Debord was a critic and an intellectual and he devoted 
>much of his life to writing and talking about and working on poverty - 
>see "Son Art et Son temps" - his last film - in which he explores the 
>prankster youth of housing outside Paris as revolutionary impetus. 
>About "blobs" (not blogs) - We, Archimedia, myself and David Cox, did a lot of 
>work around blobs in about 2000-2001, and an interview with Geert Lovink, whom 
>we had brought to Brisbane, Australia, for his first time to talk about 
>Digital Cities Amsterdam, (still an amazing prototype for what we are talking 
>about even if not "architecture" in the "real" sense of the term). We claim on 
>our website, because we had not heard it anywhere before, but the blob 
>phenomenon was just starting then - that we invented the term "blobchitecture" 
>as a way of talking about a history of blobiness in design - from the 60's but 
>also from Kiesler and from Macintosh - as well as "blobiness" as a theoretical 
>idea, which could not be formed because it was about "formlessness" in the 
>sense that George Bataille writes about it in "Against Architecture" - for us, 
>at least, the imagination of blobiness - and there are some blobby images on 
>our site which David made - was about a state of transition and formlessness. 
>But, curiously, blobbiness as "style" which I think is quite different than 
>what we were talking about, may be just the problem with higher level 
>architectural education which does help to create trends and styles based upon 
>what people will pay for or what they want for status. This to me is a problem 
>of the practice of architecture - well, not a problem maybe, but a reality - 
>that it still does have to do with "taste" - Wright's many houses were many 
>precisely because he ingeniously cast them as something which one could no 
>longer live without and still be modern - and "the future" is something, 
>which, let's face it, has largely been publically imagined by corporations and 
>their media - so if blobbiness will sell, then sell blobbiness. But this is 
>also a mistake in terms of how ideas get defined because after all, mass 
>produced domes/blobs/pods could well house all the homeless people in 
>Manhattan and they could also have a wireless connection. I don't mean to be 
>cruel or facetious. 
>Also, I think this kind of mixed message in discourse is the problem behind 
>the notion that new technologies are not being explored enough by architects. 
>For one, this idea obscures the fact that architects work with many new 
>technologies - solar, wind, water treatment and there is amazing work being 
>created for sustainable kit housing and so forth. Not wireless maybe, but 
>green - and many people, even people sutured to Bluetooth devices - find the 
>idea of green design hippy dippy - and they are simply ignorant - ignorant of 
>two things - one that green "movment" is as rife with corporate jargon as it 
>is with sincere environmentalist designers keen to stop the gross consumption 
>of resources. So, when we speak of new technologies which ones are we talking 
>about? And, do we really think that we can convince the public to believe in a 
>future of ubiquitous intelligent buildings any faster than Wright could 
>convince his patrons to get rid of their Victorian cellars, or that people 
>could be convinced that the tv set wasn't worse than death - every technology 
>and almost every good idea has been beset by moral panic of one sort or 
>You are right, many architects are not embracing these new technologies, 
>because architecture is still a conservative profession, in many ways, wanting 
>to bank on solid investements in traditions and cultures and they aren't going 
>to build a blob anytime soon, much less the construction industry.  But, 
>Future Studio in Uk has been making some gorgeous blobs...
>I just think the problem with much architecture is "style" and the critical 
>discourse around professionalized architecture relies on magazine publications 
>largely to "bring" architecture to the public. I think we have to look in the 
>cracks and crevices of architecture and design to find where these 
>technologies are taking root and why. This is one reason why I am enjoying 
>teaching in Interior Design at the moment, because, although where I teach is 
>fairly straightforward design program, my own proclivities are to mingle 
>interiors with a history of immersive and projection environments. 
>I think we need an elastic mind these days to consider the totality of 
>technologies being researched and designed into water systems, airways, homes, 
>workplaces, transport, etc. We are surely in the midst of a ubiquity boom and 
>I liked the idea of Trebor's that we want to inhabit that space in order to 
>have some influence on it - I don't know, I guess I would like to go, but it 
>sounds too much like Singapore or a state of the art prison, maybe, as William 
>Gibson writes about in his critique of Singapore - I mean, there was a Time 
>article recently on the new office - with places for laptop users to chill, 
>and other people to talk so as not to interfere with workers' in blobby 
>cubicles. Doesn't this remind anyone of the diagrams which the SI created 
>about work and the body relative to a desktop????
>(Sadler) Maybe this trope of technological discovery is another extreme 
>mystification of social relations - such that we end up just as flexibly poor 
>en masse as we were using pencils. Flexible office structures are hardly 
>critical of the political economy of how things get made or done in this 
>century, even if they are sexily aware of interpersonal office politics etc. 
>and you'd be surprised how many new cubicles have no ergonomic perspective at 
>all, despite all the Bluetooth enable connectivity. My back is out...I have 
>yet to exhaust my full interest in Archigram in my dissertation, but I hover 
>there in a space regarding portability. And, I'd like to throw in the idea 
>that "the blob" for example, can simply be an idea that is yet to be formed 
>and is therefore, a signal to effective democracy of collaborative practice, 
>one reason why, for example, Asymptote, resorts to blobs a lot in their 
>images, is that I think they like to leave stuff really open to change. I 
>think this is important work in a time when so much, particularly politically, 
>is in a state of high rhetoric.
>Good luck!
>Molly Hankwitz (Cox)
>> Today's Topics:
>>    1. Cities, Speculation, and the Non-addressable (Mark Shepard)
>> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>> Message: 1
>> Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2006 00:31:58 -0400
>> From: Mark Shepard <mshepard at andinc.org>
>> Subject: [iDC] Cities, Speculation, and the Non-addressable
>> To: IDC list <idc at bbs.thing.net>
>> Cc: Adam Greenfield <ag at studies-observations.com>
>> Message-ID: <30BF0F8D-FF5F-48FE-9195-60D9D7BEE199 at andinc.org>
>> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1; delsp=yes; format=flowed
>> Usman wrote (way back when),
>> > It seems quite strange to me that architects these days don't
>> > appear to be participating in the kinds of imaginings of the future
>> > that they used to (e.g. Archigram, etc.). Some might say this is a
>> > good thing of course; but isn't it funny that, although Tony Dunne
>> > (of Hertzian Tales) has spoken frequently about how the
>> > architectural process of speculation was a great influence on the
>> > way he thought about designing objects back in the early 90s, now
>> > it is architects (myself included) who refer to him because of his
>> > designs for "hertzian space"?
>> This quote _still_ resonates with me as I try to grapple with why
>> architects remain reluctant to address how pervasive, networked,
>> embedded, and context-aware computing pose both opportunities and
>> dilemmas for architecture and urbanism. If anything, I would argue
>> that it is this silence on the part of architects that actually
>> contributes to a future so many here have expressed concerns about.
>> Here's what Marina Vishmidt wrote on the Empyre list about New Songdo
>> City:
>> > Here we have an r&d theme park being promoted as some sort of
>> > tenable proposition of how we'll live in the future - this is
>> > nothing new of course ("past futures"), in fact is symptomatic of
>> > 20th century technological determinism of all stripes, hegemonic,
>> > subversive, capitalist, communist, modernist, totalitarian - is
>> > even endearingly retro in a way - but it reiterates a populist-
>> > media narrative of how profit-led innovation and investment is
>> > currently the only driver for social change, which actually means
>> > it is not a question of retro-futurity at all.  It is the opposite:
>> > an elimination of all futures, to be supplanted by a timeless and
>> > normalised/normative crisis of accumulation, conflict, and the
>> > short-circuiting/management of its dysfunctions by technological/
>> > military/carceral means.
>> I don't think this discussion (at least most of it) is "just an
>> excuse not to talk about, think about, touch the things" that really
>> matter. New Songdo underscores the need to "occupy the imaginary" of
>> the near-future city (as Trebor likes to say), so that we might
>> influence how it evolves. Although I suspect doing so is more about
>> negotiation than resistance or imposition.
>> To the extent that architecture as a practice is based on processes
>> of speculation and projection, and concerned with how the
>> organization of space influences (and is influenced by) how we occupy
>> it, architects could play a key role in the negotiation.
>> But why aren't they?
>> One reason might have to do with architecture's continued fetish for
>> form and material (I'm thinking here of the fascination with "blobs"
>> and new materials so fashionable at the top architectural schools
>> recently). Concepts of "hertzian" space and networked things
>> destabilize strictly architectural conceptions of space, place and
>> material form in ways that are hard to account for within a
>> discipline that to date has focused primarily on shaping the
>> _physical_ world. Until architects can see these technologies as
>> "material" to be formed (rather than simply products to be
>> specified), as something more than just a way to optimize the
>> environmental performance of a building, as more than a means to
>> visualize or represent spatial flows as formal propositions - it is
>> unlikely that we'll see many significant contributions.
>> Another reason could be the intractability of new patterns of use and
>> behavior that some of these technologies enable (not in itself a bad
>> thing). The traditional (modernist) idea of an architectural
>> "program" - the association of defined spaces with specific
>> activities organized by a rationalized "plan" - is of little use at a
>> time when activities within contemporary spaces are defined more by
>> codes (legislative, economic) and the affordances of wireless
>> networks and programmable devices. And while many (myself included)
>> have looked to research in both architecture and computing from the
>> 60s that rejected the idea that behavior and activity can be reasoned
>> about in terms of a static organizational diagram, a return to anti-
>> plan, hybrid or generic "programs," or to second-order cybernetics as
>> a means to _control_ the indeterminate in interactive systems, would
>> be equally problematic.
>> Still another might concern language. For example, the words
>> "intelligence" and "programming" mean something different to computer
>> scientists than they do to most architects.
>> Adam Greenfield gave a provocative talk at Conflux last weekend
>> titled "Lynch Debord: Killing the Fathers, or if you meet Jane Jacobs
>> on the road...", suggesting we need to "jettison our dependence on
>> the beloved heroes and heroines of 20th century urbanism in order to
>> understand what's happening all around us." But unlike assertions
>> that the dérive and the Situationists "have been done, done, done,
>> done, and done" (which sounds like an academic bandwagon to me), his
>> point was more that we are no longer living in a time where the
>> individual can claim an alterity through radical urban play or where
>> the Lynchian "Image of the City" is legible in terms of urban form
>> alone, but a time where Jacob's West Village finds its progeny in
>> Celebration, Florida.
>> With the introduction of the next version of Internet Protocol - the
>> protocol by which computers are associated with a unique numerical
>> address - enough unique addresses will be available to cover every
>> square meter of the planet. As "information processing dissolves into
>> behavior," non-addressable space becomes ever more valuable. This is
>> not a call for the architectural equivalent of an RFID zapper, the
>> construction of "cell-free" zones, or an architecture of "blankness."
>> Maybe it's less a question of grand, heroic social agendas that take
>> oppositional strategies for granted. Maybe it's more about minor
>> tactical maneuvers, incremental acts, and subtle modulations that
>> seek to expand upon (not limit) the quotidian aspects of urban living
>> that are always partial, non-addressable, and full of contradictions?
>> Regards,
>> Mark
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