Super Ordinary

City With No Children

2010/09/20

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Lamport Stadium, in its current state.

Reminded me of this:

When you’re hiding underground
The rain can’t get you wet
But do you think your righteousness could pay the interest on your debt?
I have my doubts about it

I feel like I’ve been living in
A city with no children in it
A garden left for ruin by a billionaire inside of a private prison

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Theatrical Factor

2010/09/19

Lobby of the Paramount Hotel, New York

Lobby of the Paramount Hotel, New York

René Girard’s “theatrical factor”, as paraphrased by Kisho Kurokawa in Rediscovering Japanese Space:

He then defines the true intention of mythology as a series of crises or events that create—or recreate—a cultural order (34).

I consider Girard’s concept to be twofold. Firstly, that life is often structured theatrically; that is, that there are characters, antagonists, crises, and (sometimes) resolutions, much like a play or film. Secondly, that we oscillate between actor and spectator, participant and observer, and spaces in the public realm should recognize this dynamic.

The “theatrical factor” is clearly evident in Kurokawa’s Metabolist movement, named after the biological processes that occur within an organism to maintain life. To Kurokawa, architecture is always evolving, exists in multiple dimensions, and is empowered by its users: “the diachronicity of Metabolism clearly assents to the participation of those who use the work” (14-15).

This is a synergistic (Darwinistic?) philosophy; evolution occurs through crises and their resolution. Differentiation, not universality, is the origin of progress.

Therefore, architecture should strive to create these conditions of possibility, where blurred boundaries enable unexpected encounters and, subsequently, growth. Architecture should pique one’s curiosity, and offer opportunities to satisfy it. “New things, new ideas and creative activity occur when people from different backgrounds come together” (10).

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Unknown Pleasures 2.0

2010/09/15

Some days ago I posted about Unknown Pleasures, and the potential inherent in those two words.

So, this animated GIF from the always-amazing blog Animated Albums is pretty amazing, huh?

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Prinzessinnengärten

2010/09/08

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Recently featured in a Monocle video report, Prinzessinnengärten (thankfully they have an English website) began as a pilot project in a forgotten neighbourhood of Berlin. It is conceived and cleared and built as a meeting place, rather than “allotment gardens” (emphasis mine):

Prinzessinnengärten is a new urban place of learning. It is where locals can come together to experiment and discover more about organic food production, biodiversity and climate protection. The space will help them adapt to climate change and learn about healthy eating, sustainable living and a future-oriented urban lifestyle.

The gardens are not places of seclusion, to escape from the city, but embrace and incorporate city life; it celebrates the sharing of space with others and living in a community. People are encouraged to drink, eat, and cook together, as different backgrounds and cultures come together. As such, there are kitchens, stages, an apiary, beer garden… the possibility of interaction and exchange would not exist without these spaces, if it was just patches of soil divided by chain-link fences.

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This is an incredibly poignant precedent for Liberty Village, which separates the low-income apartment neighbourhoods west of Dufferin with a high immigrant population from the affluent condo-dwellers, the yuppies, of King West.

In Havana and other cities, agricultura urbana is not just about producing one’s own vegetables but more about creating an urban living-, working- and meetingplace. This is where neighbours would gather and adults would pass on their knowledge to children as they relax over a cup of coffee.

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It’s amazing how little is needed to make this project successful. The site is undeniably urban, still a place of hard surfaces and edges. Yet with some milk crates, cardboard, sweat, and vision, the space has transcended not only the constraints of the site but the definition of “garden”.

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“Let’s do it in Berlin!”, with this rallying call and the help of children, youth, neighbours and friends we are transforming Moritzplatz into an urban garden, café and place of working, learning and relaxing.

Photos from Prinzessinnengärten’s Flickr.

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Floating Worlds

2010/09/06

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Image credit: FFFFOUND!

Within the city, alternate realities, the fantastic places to which we escape the realities of cosmopolitan life, must exist. These are the realms of the amusement park, the theatre, the tea house…

In Delirious New York, Rem Koolhaas portrays Coney Island as the incubator for the intensity, artificiality, and suspended reality of New York: it is the “foetal Manhattan” (23). Its isolation and natural beauty lends itself to becoming a place for escape, a resort for taxed Manhattanites. ”As Manhattan changes from a city into a metropolis, the need for escape becomes more urgent…” (24)

As its popularity increases (and with the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge), however, it can no longer function as an isolated escape. The masses that invade Coney Island on weekends demand an alternate city, another world.  ”To survive as a resort—a place offering contrast—Coney Island is forced into a mutation: it has to turn itself into the total opposite of Nature, it has no choice but to counteract the artificiality of the new metropolis with its own Super-Natural” (27).

Luna Park, Coney Island

Luna Park, Coney Island

“With the advent of night a fantastic city of fire suddenly rises from the ocean into the sky. Thousands of ruddy sparks glimmer in the darkness, limning in fine, sensitive outline on the black background of the sky shapely towers of miraculous castles, palaces and temples…” (22)

It is a place of intensified experiences, a city of heightened senses.

***

Tea House at Koishikawa by Hokusai

Tea House at Koishikawa, Hokusai

Ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblock prints and paintings, has similar origins; it is a result of the urbanisation of Japan in the Edo period (1600-1867) and the pleasure-seeking lifestyle that it cultivated. This is the ukiyo, or “floating world” culture: the evanescent and impermanent realm of entertainment and pleasure, removed from the mundane and the ordinary. Ukiyo-e, then, are the pictures of this floating world.

First Night at Nakamura-ze Theatre, by Okumura Masanobu

First Night at Nakamura-ze Theatre, Okumura Masanobu

The Wikipedia entry continues with contemporary insight into the “floating world” (emphasis mine):

… Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves in just floating, floating; … refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current: this is what we call the floating world…

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Sumidagawa (Sumida River), Hiroshige

The city-dweller oscillates between the ordinary and floating (or, extraordinary) worlds. The Super Ordinary is the elusive quality that exists in the space between them, where the activities of everyday life are imbued with the spectacle and event of the floating world.

A Sketch of the Mitsui Shop in Suruga Street in Edo

A Sketch of the Mitsui Shop in Suruga Street in Edo, Hokusai

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Unconventional

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“We are looking forward to finding out what different ways the users will come up with to appropriate the unconventional spaces. We hope that the openness fosters contact and interaction, and stimulates new activities.”

—Ryue Nishizawa

The building is less like a building than a park. It’s their Serpentine Pavilion turned into an out-and-out building: the social potential of a park in a controlled environment.

SANAA Rolex Plans

Programme legend:
1 Main entrance
2 Café, Bar, Cafeteria
3 Inclined lift
4 Bank, Bookshop
5 Offices
6 Multi-purpose area
7 Library terraces
8 Workspaces
9 Patio
10 Dining with lake view

Image and plans of SANAA’s Rolex Learning Center from Detail Magazine (English Edition), Vol. 4, 2010.

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Everyday & Netherlandish Painting

2010/09/05

Childrens' Games by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Children's Games

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Netherlandish Proverbs

These paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder are fascinating in that they take “genre paintings”, works that capture the everyday lives of ordinary people, to an extreme. Both are encyclopaedic representations of everyday activities; Children’s Games illustrates a variety of Dutch games and pastimes, and Netherlandish Proverbs (if it looks familiar, it could be because a detail of this painting was the cover of Fleet Foxes’ eponymous 2008 album) contemporary proverbs and sayings.

However, while familiar and everyday activities are portrayed, there is a distinctly ecstatic quality to the paintings. Spaces and objects are being used in every which way, and it seems as though one game or activity is always part of another… the paintings represent a dizzying caricature of everyday life that transcends the ordinary, yet is grounded in reality.

The ecstasy and fantasy of “The Garden of Earthly Delights” meets the mundane world of the everyday.

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail)

The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail), Hieronymous Bosch

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Unknown Pleasures

2010/09/02

It never really occurred to me how incredibly potent that phrase is.
Unknown Pleasures.

Unknown pleasures… it is so tantalizing, almost erotic.

Unknown Pleasures Joy Division

Of course, Unknown Pleasures is also the title of Joy Division’s debut album.

The linework on the cover represents the successive pulses of the first discovered pulsar, PSR B1919+21, and is a beautiful drawing of events in time. Each new pulse—at an interval of 1.3373 seconds—represents a new transmission, a new event. Layered together, the potential of each line seems even greater. You wish the transmission would continue, so you can decipher and understand and participate in the rapturous climax.

I wonder whether these undulating waveforms could serve as an architectural diagram, a landscape strategy for the site. Like OMA’s scheme at Parc de la Villette, the site could be infused with programmatic strips (cottages, gardens, pavilions, and waveforms) that tremor with potential activity. Perhaps these undulating strips could serve as a “permanent record” of the manifold events that occur on the Lamport grounds…

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Event

2010/08/31

“In a park you can join a big group but at the same time, somebody could be next to you alone, reading a book or just drinking juice. I like that feeling, or that character for public buildings.” —Kazuyo Sejima

The park is successful because of the activity of its users. There is always the potential of event, of interaction, of new networks to form.

SANAA Serpentine Diagram

A city of formal zoning regulations and image-driven architecture loses its ability to create and stage events. The architect must also play choreographer; the building is as much a composition of people and programmes as one of line and colour.

“SANAA does not begin with imagining a form, but with imagining how light and wind flow through a window and a door.” —Ryue Nishizawa

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Unsettle

2010/08/30

Liberty Village was once defined by the production of physical objects, and the infrastructure needed to serve this industry: carpets, appliances, farm equipment.

Like other post-industrial neighbourhoods, Liberty Village today is home to less-tangible industries: film and television production, new media, artists, designers, chefs, hairstylists.

However, the organization of the area and its infrastructure remains largely unchanged, though the nature of industry has. Liberty Village still feels marginalized, like a fringe neighbourhood, sequestered from the rest of the city… but the intangible cultural exports of the new societal morphology demand narratives, chance, possibility, networking.

Any scheme for Lamport Stadium must invite the city to come unsettle the complacent aggregate of Liberty Village. In a world “ruled by fiction”, as J.G. Ballard asserts, the actors need a stage.

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