a few observations today, bright tuesday noonday.
first days of school today, for those who are still in that world. sometimes I think about my parents, and my sister, and I, and the degrees of commitment/involvement within academia that we have all chosen - to go forth into it, be within it, be enveloped in it, to embody it, to be representative -- and so on.
I am a little sad, but only sad in the way that I have moved away from a city that I loved so dearly, to be in this other city that I am excited about, or that I will be excited about, since in this new city there are parts that are entirely new and unfamiliar and different entirely, orthogonal experiences uncomparable in any fashion other than with analogies. that city will be there, perhaps. perhaps one day I will move back, or I will visit again, in the way that one day I might find myself living in moscow / st. petersburg / berlin / amman / ramallah / bangalore / ulanbataar / hong kong / tokyo / seoul / london / etc etc etc, you know, living an entirely different life.
as I grow older these 'perhaps'es come with caveats of endless planning, considerations, but then I watch a friend just up and leave our world and hop skip away to live in rio, windows looking out onto a heartbreakingly gorgeous mountainscape and cityscape and seascape, and I lie content knowing that really, to some extent, possibilities lie coiled up like wound springs under the skin, lying next to the muscle, tender and dormant and forceful and willing, if you shall be also. inshallah, god willing, you willing.
this past weekend I scraped plaster off the ceiling and sanded my floors. I don't know how to better describe an activity that involves an intimate scrutiny and examination of pure space, square footage, area. scraping the ceiling took hours, in a mask, respirator, chipping away on the top of a ladder under a rain of plaster. sanding the floor involves grinding through layers of grime and rotten wood to expose clearer, newer wood underneath, endless ambulations within a space holding this furious machine that's always yearning and leaping to get away from you. yesterday I calculated that I walked nearly a mile inside of my room. if not meditative, then most certainly introspective, 'spatiospective'.
but really what hits me so hard, punches me in the chest and slaps me in the face as a new realization is the manifestation of space as planes, as surfaces. I know not how to better describe this realization that comes to me as an epiphany, so hard-hitting. (this 'epiphany', like any other epiphany, is best felt, not explained - instinctual visceral realizations that may be conceptually obvious, latent, already-there. epiphanic encounters of a beach, of a nighttime breeze, of a tender midnight makeout session, of the nonnegotiable pain of a physical injury -- irreducible to linguistic descriptions. the stronger the epiphany, the more rooted it is in some sort of bodily action -- aching muscles translating over to the vividness of visceral, body-oriented experience. it's as if a body-oriented phenomenological experience of space is contingent on the bodily engagement with the space itself, not just this kind of optical gesture. robert morris's sculptures are probably the more powerful for the creator, who has labored with plywood to create these boxes, and then as the viewer you walk in and just have mere opticality and vision inform your "bodily presence". right now, those optical gestures feel weak, thin, light, diluted mimicries.)
in any case. right now, to me, space is made out of planes, rather than volumes. there is no such thing as a volume in space, except maybe for the mechanical engineer which deals with cooling and airflow. perceived space is enlarged and shrunken by the elongation and modification of walls, floors, ceilings. and these surfaces are created, fabricated, built, modified, bit by bit, by people, machinery, operations.
these surfaces are not conceptually flat, depthless surfaces at all, really, but volumes of a sort. if you think of one's labor-time, labor-power expended on the creation of a surface, each surface has a kind of depth, a weightiness to it. the fixed capital of tools, the fluid capital of expendable means of production (sandpaper, respirator filters, screws, drywall), and the variable capital of labor is poured into this. the floor looks like congealed labor-time to me, a weekend's worth of hours stirred and mixed, poured onto the floor, spread out evenly, set to harden. every surface operates in this fashion. every surface is the distribution of labor-time, so that in the end, the interior of a three-dimensional space is really the manifestation of six or more planes constructed out of bodily action, physical labor.
suddenly buildings appear different - they are a series of planes intersecting each other. like pouring labor onto a baking sheet with parchment paper, setting it to harden, like peanut brittle, or granita ice. slicing it into sheets. assembling a little gingerbread house out of congealed labor.
THAT IS: many different techniques and tactics exist to conceptualize space and its design; the blue foam model, the lasercut model, the foamcore model, etc. these tactics all carry within them an internal logic of fabrication (blue foam - subtractive planes) that then affect the desired spatial design of the building. whether deliberate or not, these are gestures that approach the building from a spatial, procedural point of view that are not linked to the process of construction or fabrication. this disjuncture between the process of fabrication and the process of design manifests in 1) expensive (difficult-to-build) architecture because they are 'optimized' for the processes inherent in the techniques of design, rather than the techniques of construction, and 2) spaces that are understood to be notable and interesting because their forms appear different from the norms of forms of buildings optimized for construction. In other words, a lack of optimization, or a usage of other kinds of optimizations, is the interest for the formal gesture that informs a designed work of architecture. This is akin to examining the lamellae underneath a mushroom and finding a fascination in it, because it the morphology of the fungi kingdom is so different from the morphological patterns found in the animal kingdom.
The effect of this disjuncture is that desired spaces become understood as being manifest mostly in 1) expensive, high-budget projects, and 2) 'weird', alternative forms. However, 'high-budget' is also coupled with a desire for low risk, which means a kind of conservatism that directly affects the aesthetics of the building -- a 'conservative' alternative, akin to the milquetoast music classification of "Alternative Rock". The union of the these factors (expensive, conservatively alternative) mobilizes the aesthetic of minimalist art for both its aesthetic and its cultural capital -- architecture inspired by as well as invoking Donald Judd, perhaps, in which the uncanny logic of repetition meets the impeccable perfection of professionally fabricated, flawless mirrored boxes.
(I'm thinking also of the satire of the modernist house in Jacques Tati's Playtime, or the any movie shot that features the trope of an evil villain's modernist penthouse, embodying this coupling of 1) expensive and 2) 'weird', explained at a moral level as somehow profligate and degenerate.)
Experimentation or avant-garde (rather than arriere-garde) progression with architectural spaces requires a high-risk approach to space -- which can be high-budget, high-risk, and come out of the deep pockets of "architectural investors" (= patrons) willing to fund unique projects for the non-monetary return of cultural capital. Or - low-budget, high-risk projects could exist that engage in experimentation and pursue the second ("weird") category opened up by the disjuncture between design methodology and construction processes.
low-budget, high-risk, weird projects then fall into two categories -- which name as shorthand: the pavilion, and the engineered hack. The pavilion is, well, a literal pavilion, which successfully experiments with space, with a lower budget, by foregoing certain functional/operational aspects of architecture. A pavilion is a building that does not heat or cool its inhabitants; a pavilion is a building that will last for months, not decades (oma's serpentine pavilion); a pavilion is a building that has no envelope whatsoever (gehry's serpentine pavilion); a pavilion is a building that cannot have partitions (raumlabor's inflatable spacebuster); and so on. The dismissal of certain choice constraints allows these projects to operate with more flexibility, and often times result in profoundly interesting moments, full of joyous experimentation. At the same time, the 'data' and 'results' gained from these experiments does not easily translate back into learned lessons that can re-inform a building, since the experiment was disengaged from the fully-built building in the first place. Q: How does an inflatable pavilion designed to last a month reinform a building that should last for 30+ years?
the architectural hack (of course, I'm touting this as the ideal) is the union of low-budget, high-risk, and 'weird', by placing the 'risk' of 'high-risk' as an architectural/spatial risk, rather than a financial one. Low-budget and 'weird' are then united in a pursuit that accommodates and incorporates the two together. Initially these ideas I'm mentioning were predicated/formulated on the idea of architecture, formed by design methodologies and transposed onto construction processes, and as a result, creating new forms (weird) that are expensive (high-budget).
The architectural hack examines the process of construction/fabrication/building/reification/valorization, and seeks to intertwine or to extract a design out of the capabilities and abilities of these processes. The logic of the computer hack is a clever and deft move that 1) desires a normally illegal/impossible operation as its endgoal (ex: gaining admin/root privileges), and 2) achieves it by utilizing the existing logic of the operating context. Carefully constructed inputs can be created that modify the logic.. (**how does one elegantly explain an injection attack? or a buffer overflow attack?)
The logic of the architectural hack would be one that 1) desires a spatial experiment that is normally hard to achieve/expensive in terms of resources, and 2) achieves it by understanding and utilizing the existing logic of construction processes. Aggregating discarded material into a facade? Utilizing economies of scale to construct custom designs out of commonplace/inexpensive hardware objects. (Fabricating custom joints to interface with dimensional lumber to create a wood space frame system.) Working with pre-existing constraints (fire safety systems) to construct gestures (sprinkler systems that run across the space in a patterned 'cloud', ductwork that snakes and coils around a ceiling). Examining pre-existing process of construction (Wall constructions that use flexible gypsum or lath-plaster construction to create flexible walls? Conduit that snakes around a space. Double-stud walls that hold bookshelves.)
This is not "doing more with less", this is creating new possibilities on the fertile bed of the existing world. At some point this requires a lot of sifting through, a lot of fishing for possibilities, a lot of seeing things for what they could be, rather than what they are categorized as. Understanding that the characteristics of objects lie in their operation and mobilization, rather than as innate abilities or classifications. A flat washer becomes an earring becomes a spacer becomes a hanging mechanism becomes a grommet becomes a stiffener becomes a link becomes a --
what this really is: trying to trace the construction of space and architecture from a marxist capital/labor/industry standpoint backwards into the design of space. how are you congealing your labor? what are valorizing, today?
procreative and reproductive. with my hands I build the planes inside which I will inhabit. in this space are the congealed, hardened, solidified labor-hours (including some sweat, spit, shit) that I have turned into this secondary skin, like a molting snake in reverse. buildings are just that - non-organic bodies, slow organisms, made out of the raw material of the means of production and a lot of time and labor. they break. they breathe. they cycle through, they move, they can be hurt and healed, they age and die, are born again. new bodies by humans, not in our image, but with our beings.
the credit system fucks this all up. buildings are developed on grand scales, understood as exchange value, these second bodies fully utilized as commodities, and subsequently fetishized, alienated from, detached. even the architect is subject to this.
and so. living in a transforming place without walls and a real bed is tiring. but it is valuable. I feel as if it is as de-fetishizing as could be. am fully examining and feeling the built interior of things. I understand everything as being born -- not suddenly made, but existing on a gradient of things. walls are not suddenly walls, but existing on a continuum of plane-esque. there are no such things as walls, just a series of fluid, dynamic gradients of which, after a certain point, we deem as 'wall-like', because it constraints movement to a certain degree. studs 16" off center create a wall that clearly demarcates space - yet a non-solid wall that I can pass through with ease.
a cup is not suddenly not-a-cup when it breaks; it was never a 'cup', but just an aggregation of porcelain that had cup-like functions when it was in that state. in this current state, it has less of a cup-like function. if I bring my hands together, it has a cup-like function. when I separate my palms, that function disappears. where did the cup go? or did it ever exist as objects to begin with?
there are no identities, only functions. everything constituted out of what it does, rather than who it is. home depot is a collection of objects categorized under the building/contracting world's organizational taxonomy. really it is a collection of raw materials with an infinite variety of functions to be manifested, mobilized, under an infinite number of new taxonomies ("objects that can deform other objects", objects that can support other objects", "objects that create a surface", "objects that shine", "objects that can envelop other objects", "objects that create other objects").
and so on.