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Nikolai Ladovskii’s studio at VKhUTEMAS (1920-1930)

With an original translation
of Ladovskii’s 1921 program

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Image: Photograph of Nikolai Ladovskii
during his professorship at VKhUTEMAS

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Special thanks are due to Monoskop for pointing out to me a number of new images, as well as to TotalArch for providing Selim Khan-Magomedov’s selected Russian text online to translate for this post.

Nikolai Ladovskii and students at VKhUTEMAS, 1922

Nikolai Ladovskii and students at VKhUTEMAS, 1922

“On the program of the working group of architects” (1921)

The task of our working group is to work in the direction of elucidating a theory of architecture. Our productivity will depend on the very rapid articulation of our program, on clarifying the investigative methods to be used and identifying the materials we have at our disposal to supplement the work. The work plan can be broken down into roughly three basic points:

I) aggregation of appropriate theoretical studies and existing theories of architecture of all theoreticians,
II) excavation of relevant material from theoretical studies and investigations extracted from other branches of art, which bear on architecture, and
III) exposition of our own theoretical perspectives to architecture.

The result of these efforts must be the compilation of an illustrated dictionary that establishes precisely the terminology and definitions of architecture as an art, its individual attributes, properties etc, the interrelation of architecture with the other arts. The three elements of the work plan relate, in the case of the first, to the past, to “what has been done”; in that of the second, to the present, and “what we are doing,” and in that of the third, to “what must be done” in the future in the field of theoretical justifications of architecture. A commission, which might be necessary to set up for the program’s elaboration, must build upon the foundations we have suggested.

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Against gravity

Benches, chairs, rocketships

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Image: Ilse Gropius sits in the “Kandinsky,”
a chair designed by Marcel Breuer (1927)
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James Kopf recently alerted my attention to an article by Emily Badger addressing “The Humble Public Bench,” on the redesign of a number of public benches in Boston. “Benches: the new chair?” he asked.  

The WA Chair by designer Katsuya Arai, Boston (2013)

“WA Chair,” by Katsuya Arai, Boston (2013)

What follows are a few thoughts in response to this question.

Above, one can see the benches mentioned in the article. The sleek, aerodynamic appearance of the benches Badger describes is something I’m oddly familiar with, having worked in an office building down at 1 State Street in Manhattan. Outside the entrance to South Ferry, the nearest Metro station, there are a number of benches working along the same modular lines, albeit in a slightly more distended, elongated form. Every time I’d exit the subway walking toward the grim black tower where our office was located, I’d pass them:

The benches at South Ferry in Manhattan

The benches at South Ferry

In either case, the author of the article briefly glosses the social and ideological role played by benches in the urban built environment. It’s a serviceable enough treatment, even if it slips into rather shallow moralizing toward the end:

The public bench has long been a mediator between cities and their citizens. A pleasant, functional park seat communicates to pedestrians that they’re welcome to linger, to treat public spaces like communal living rooms. Just as often, though, cities have been accused of deploying intentionally uncomfortable street furniture, angular benches with unnecessary guardrails dividing them to dissuade homeless loiterers and overnight guests. This second class of benches communicates something quite the opposite to residents: Move along, you’re not welcome here. Continue reading

B. Mikhailov, Bear in Space: How to fly [Б. Михаилов, Медведь в космос: Как летал], 1970

B. Mikhailov, Bear in Space: How he flew [Б. Михаилов, Медведь в космос: Как летал], (1970)

Image: The book’s cover

Moscow, 1970.

The Soviet Union, having all but dominated space exploration for over a decade — launching the first earth satellite in October 1957, putting the first man (Iurii Gagarin, April 1961) and woman (Valentina Tereshkova, June 1963) in space — now seems to have been eclipsed by the United States in the race to the moon.  Though not an insignificant logistical and engineering feat, this can’t help but feel somewhat lackluster when compared against the more coveted “firsts” the USSR already accomplished.  Moscow all but shrugs its shoulders.

So what is the Soviet response to the USA’s belated boast of rocketry?

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B. Mikhailov, Bear in Space: How to fly [Б. Михаилов, Медведь в космос: Как летал], 1970

Simple: Медведь в космос.

For those who don’t read Russian, it’s Bear in Space, a picture book by Boris Mikhailov for children.  Clearly, Moscow is unimpressed.

Bear with bird, hedgehog, and helpful mice prepare for liftoff

Bear with bird, hedgehog, and helpful mice prepare for liftoff

Besides being bizarre and incredibly cute, this book is semi-instructional.

Thanks to the excellent Dreams of Space blog for posting these images.  Add/follow this blog, immediately.

Self-explanatory

Self-explanatory

Also, a headless mouse.  Enjoy!

Images

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Sigfried Giedion’s 1963 introduction to Space, Time, and Architecture

Confusion and Boredom

In the sixties a certain confusion exists in contemporary architecture, as in painting; a kind of pause, even a kind of exhaustion.  Everyone is aware of it.  Fatigue is normally accompanied by uncertainty, what to do and where to go.  Fatigue is the mother of indecision, opening the door to escapism, to superficialities of all kinds.

A symposium at the Metropolitan Museum of New York in the spring of 1961 discussed the question, “Modern Architecture, Death or Metamorphosis?”  As this topic indicates, contemporary architecture is regarded by some as a fashion and — as an American architect expressed it — many designers who had adopted the fashionable aspects of the “International Style,” now found the fashion had worn thin and were engaged in a romantic orgy.  This fashion, with its historical fragments picked at random, unfortunately infected many gifted architects. By the sixties its results could be seen everywhere: in small-breasted, gothic-styled colleges, in a lacework of glittering details inside and outside, in the toothpick stilts and assembly of isolated buildings of the largest cultural center.

A kind of playboy-architecture became en vogue: an architecture treated as playboys treat life, jumping from one sensation to another and quickly bored with everything. I have no doubt that this fashion born out of an inner uncertainty will soon be obsolete; but its effects can be rather dangerous, because of the worldwide influence of the United States.

Красная Москва (1990)

Красная Москва (1990)

We are still in the formation period of a new tradition, still at its beginning. In Architecture, You and Me I pointed out the difference between the nineteenth- and twentieth-century approach to architecture. There is a word we should refrain from using to describe contemporary architecture — “style.”  The moment we fence architecture within a notion of “style,” we open the door to a formalistic approach.  The contemporary movement is not a “style” in the nineteenth-century meaning of form characterization.  It is an approach to the life that slumbers unconsciously within all of us.

In architecture the word “style” has often been combined with the epithet “international,” though this epithet has never been accepted in Europe.  The term “international style” quickly became harmful, implying something hovering in mid-air, with no roots anywhere: cardboard architecture.  Contemporary architecture worthy of the name sees its main task as the interpretation of a way of life valid for our period.  There can be no question of “Death or Metamorphosis,” there can only be the question of evolving a new tradition, and many signs show that this is in the doing.

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The spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism

Introduction

To understand the history of architectural modernism and eclecticism as they emerged out of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one must take into account the broader development of architecture over the course of the latter half of the nineteenth century. This development, in turn, must be seen as emerging out of the dynamic of late nineteenth-century capitalism, which had by that point extended to encompass the whole of Europe. For it was the unique spatiotemporal dialectic of the capitalist mode of production — along with the massive social and technological forces it unleashed — that formed the basis for the major architectural ideologies that arose during this period. Before the story of the academicians or the avant-garde can be told, then, some background is necessary to explain both their origin and the eventual trajectory they would take into the early twentieth century.

So while my aim is to eventually account for how a single social formation, capitalism, can give birth to these two opposite tendencies within architectural thought, the space required to give an adequate exposition of the spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism is such that it deserves to function as a standalone essay. Certainly other trends, both cultural and social, could be understood as reflections of this underlying socioeconomic dynamic. It is thus my intention to post this as its own piece, before then proceeding to detail the way in which architectural modernism and eclecticism mirrored these dynamics. Continue reading

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Review: Orbital, Orbital 2 (Brown Album)

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IMAGE: Cover to Orbital’s
Brown Album
 (1993)
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Orbital 2 is a sophomore release for the ages. With expectations riding high off of their already revolutionary self-titled LP, Orbital set to work on a sequel in the winter of 1993. The fruit of their labors during these months, Orbital 2 (also known as the Brown Album), constitutes an astounding accomplishment — a timeless masterpiece still virtually unmatched within the genre. On this album, the brothers Hartnoll achieved an almost perfect balance between the ambient sound they had developed on the previous record and a new strain of hyper-futuristic trance. It cemented Orbital’s place as pioneers within trance and ambient techno and prepared the way for artists like Aphex Twin, who toured with them following the album’s release.

The songs on Orbital 2 are constructed methodically, according to a set pattern of mutation that persists more or less throughout the album. This grants the album its uncanny integrity. Each track typically proceeds in a cumulative fashion, establishing a central motif around which successive layers are then added. As new elements enter in, others recede into the background or fade entirely, only to reappear in fresh combinations later in the song. Every part simulates the whole to which it belongs, similar in this way to a fractal. Orbital weave together these constituent parts in a manner that almost approximates a lemniscate infinity — an arching ebb and flow along a laser grid whose contours have been swollen by constant digital effluxion.
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