Lissitzky, Wolkenbügel (1924)

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El Lissitzky’
s skyscrapers stood on great elevated piers above intersections of radial and ring-rods in Moscow. These piers with their open-faced lift-shafts, support the horizontally cantilevered building. Beneath them are metro stations and bus-stops. The building is supposed to be made of steel and glass, all the parts being standardized so that no scaffolding is needed for its erection.

Emil Roth, the Swiss architect, also helped in working out this design. He, as well as Mart Stam, were extraterritorial members of the Society of New Architects (ASNOVA) founded in Moscow in 1923. This society consisted mostly of architects connected with the VKhUTEMAS school in Moscow. The work of Ladovskii’s pupils from that school was published in the journal ABC.

Click any of the images below to enlarge them.

El_Lissitzky_in_Weimar1Emil Roth (left) and Mart Stam (right)

The Reconstruction of Architecture in the Soviet Union (1929)

Old cities — New buildings
The future and utopia
El Lissitzky (1929)

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The creation of an office complex that would respond to the demands of the new times within the context of the old Moscow urban fabric was the basic idea leading to the concept of the so-called “sky-hook.” Moscow is a centralized city, characterized by a number of concentric ring boulevards connected by radial main streets emanating from the Kremlin. The proposal intends to place these structures at the intersections of the radials and the boulevards, where the most intense traffic is generated. Everything delivered to the building by horizontal traffic is subsequently transported vertically by elevator and then redistributed in a horizontal direction.

Compared to the prevalent American high-rise system the innovation consists in the fact that the horizontal (the useful) is clearly separated from the vertical (the support, the necessary). This in turn allows for clarity in the interior layout, which is essential for office structures and is usually predicated by the structural system. The resulting external building volume achieves elementary diversity in all six visual directions.

The problems connected with the development of these building types, including the scientific organization of work and business, are being dealt with on an international level. In this field, as in others, reconstruction will pose new demands.

In these times we must be very objective, very practical, and totally unromantic, so that we can catch up with the rest of the world and overtake it. But we also know that even the best “business” will not of itself advance us to a higher level of culture. The next stage of cultural development will encompass all aspects of life: human productivity and creativity, the most precious faculties of man. And not in order to accumulate profits for individuals, but to produce works that belong to everybody. If we just consider all the accomplishments of our own generation, we are certainly justified in taking for granted a technology capable of solving all the tasks mentioned earlier. One of our utopian ideas is the desire to overcome the limitations of the substructure, of the earthbound. We have developed this idea in a series of proposals (sky-hooks, stadium grandstands, Paris garage).

It is the task of technology to make sure that all these elementary volumes that produce new relationships and tensions in space will be structurally safe.

The idea of the conquest of the substructure, the earthbound, can be extended even further and calls for the conquest of gravity as such. It demands floating structures, a physical-dynamic architecture.

Continue reading

Building in empty spaces (1959)

New houses and real clarity
Ernst Bloch, translated by
Frank Mecklenburg
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Obstetric forceps have to be smooth, a pair of sugar-tongs not at all.

— Ernst Bloch, The Spirit of Utopia (1918)

Today, in many places, houses look as if they were ready to travel. Although they are unadorned, or precisely because of that, they express their farewell. Their interior is bright and sterile like hospital rooms, the exterior looks like boxes on top of mobile poles, but also like ships. They have flat decks, portholes, gangways, railings; they shine white and to the south, and as ships they like to disappear. Western architecture is so sensitive that for quite some time it has indirectly sensed the war that is the embodiment of Hitler, and it gets ready for that war. Thus even the form of a ship, which is purely decorative, does not seem real enough for the motif of escape that most people in the capitalist world of war have. For some time now there have been projects in this world to build houses without windows, houses that are artificially illuminated and air-conditioned, that are completely made of steel; the whole thing is like an armored house. Although during its creation, modern architecture was basically oriented toward the outside, toward the sun and the public sphere, there is now a general increasing desire for an enclosed security of life, at least in the private sphere.

The initial principle of the new architecture was openness: it broke the dark cave. It opened vistas through light glass walls, but this will for balance with the outside world came doubtlessly too early. The de-internalization (Entinnerlichung) turned into shallowness; the southern delight for the world outside, while looking at the capitalist external world today, did not turn into happiness. For there is nothing good that happens on the streets, under the sun. The open door, the wide open window is threatening during the era of Fascisization (Faschisierung). The house might again become a fortress if not the catacombs. The wide window filled with a noisy outside world needs an outside full of attractive strangers, not full of Nazis; the glass door down to the floor really presupposes sunshine that looks in and comes in, not the Gestapo. And certainly not with a connection to the trenches of World War I, but definitely with the Maginot Line of World War II, even though it was futile, the plan of a subterranean city developed — as a city of safeguard. Instead of skyscrapers, the projects of “earth-scrapers” invite, the shining holes of groundhogs, the rescuing city that consists of basements. Above, in the daylight, on the other hand, the less real but decorative escape plan of a flying city occurred, utopia-ized in Stuttgart and also in Paris: the houses rise as bullet-like forms on top of a pole, or as veritable balloons they are suspended from wire ropes. In the latter case, the suspended buildings seem particularly isolated and ready for departure. But also these playful forms only demonstrate that houses have to be dreamed of, here as caves, there on top of poles.

But what if under such conditions a jump toward brightness is to be demonstrated? That has indeed been tried in architecture, but with the affirmedly uncomfortable desire for many windows and equally sterile plain houses and instruments. Certainly, those things presented themselves as the cleansing from the junk of the last century and its terrible decorations. But the longer that lasted, the more it became clear that the mere elimination was all that remained — within the limits of late bourgeois emptiness — it had to be that way. The longer that lasted, the clearer the inscription above the Bauhaus and the slogan connected to it emerged: Hurray, we have no ideas left. When a lifestyle is as decadent as the late bourgeois one, then mere architectural reform can no longer be shrouded but must be without soul. That is the result when between plush and tubular steel chairs, between post offices in Renaissance style and egg boxes there is no third thing that grips the imagination. The effect is the more chilling as there is no longer any hiding place but only illuminated kitsch, even if, which is indisputable, the beginning had been ever so clean, that is to say, vacuum clean. Continue reading

The oikos of Wittgenstein

Massimo Cacciari
Architecture and Nihilism:
On the Philosophy of
Modern Architecture

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The limit of the space of this house 1 is constructed inexorably from within — from the very substance of its own language. The negative is not an other, but comprises the very othernesses that make up this language. There are no means of escape or “withdrawal” into the “values” of the interior. And the exterior is not designed in a utopian way, taking off from the value of Gestaltung — nor is it possible to save in the interior values that the metropolitan context negates. The work recalls neither Hoffmann, nor Wagner — nor even Loos and his “suspended dialectics” of interior-exterior. The idea of a hierarchically defined conflict between two levels of value is totally absent here. The conflict is with “all that remains,” which cannot be determined or transformed by the limits of this language; hence, it is a conflict with the Metropolis lying beyond this space, a conflict which in this space can only be silence. But, for this very reason, this space ultimately reveals a recognition of the Metropolis as now devoid of mystification or utopism, an acknowledgment of all its power.

In all this lies the truly classical dimension of the Wittgenstein house: the non-expressivity of the calculated space of the building is its essential substance.2 The building’s sole relation with what remains is the presence of the building itself. It cannot in any way determine or allude to the apeiron (infinite) surrounding it. Also classical is the calculation to which every passage is rigorously subjected, as well as the freezing of the linguistic media into radically anti-expressive orders, a phenomenon taken to the point of a manifest indifference toward the material (or rather, to the point of choosing indifference in the material, of choosing indifferent materials, materials without qualities) — but what is most classical here is the relation between the limited-whole of the house and the surrounding space.

The silence of the house, its impenetrability and anti-expressivity, is concretized in the ineffability of the surrounding space. So it is with the classical: classical architecture is a symbol (in the etymological sense) of the in-finite (a-peiron) that surrounds it. Its anti-expressivity is a symbol of the ineffability of the a-peiron. The abstract absoluteness of its order exalts the limit of the architectonic language; its non-power expresses the encompassing infinite. But at the same time, and as a result, this language constructs itself in the presence of this infinite, and cannot be understood except in light of this infinite. This presence of the classical in Wittgenstein represents one of the exceptional moments in which the development of modern ideology reassumed the true problematics of the classical. Webern would conclude his life’s work with this presence, linking himself with the first, lacerating modern perception of the classical — an anti-Weimarian, anti-historicist, tragic vision: that of Hölderlin.3 At this point the immeasurable distance separating Wittgenstein’s classical from Olbrich’s later works and from Hoffmann’s constant tendency is clear. Olbrich’s “classical” is a transformation of the Secession mask into that of a reacquired order, a recuperated wholeness. Hoffmann’s “classical” is an affirmation (or rather, an ever-contradicted, ever-disputed repetition) of the historicist dimension illuminated by a Weimarian nostalgia. But even Loos’s notion of the Roman, as we have seen, is completely averse to any simple idea of recuperation or neo-classical refoundation, or even mere Gemeinschaft. And yet, not even a trace of this Roman element can be found in Wittgenstein’s oikos.

The “Roman” is seen by Loos in terms of functionality and use. Its dimension is that of experience, of the temporal — and hence of social existence. Every project lives immersed in this general historical context: the light that brings it forth is that of time. In this way were the Romans able to adopt from the Greeks every order, every style: it was all the same to them. What was essential was the light that brought forth the building — and not just the building, but the life of the entire society. Their only problems were the great problems of planning. “Ever since humanity has understood the grandeur of classical antiquity, one single thought has united all great architects. They think: I shall build just as the ancient Romans would have built…every time architecture strays from its model to go with the minor figures, the decorativists, there reappears the great architect who leads the art back to antiquity.”4 From the Romans, says Loos, we have derived the technique of thought, our power to transform it into a process of rationalization. We conceive of the world technically and temporally, just as it unfolds in the ribbon of Trajan’s Column; we conceive of the Denkmal as a civil project — as architecture from the point of view of those who live it and reap its benefits. Continue reading

Architecture and capitalism

Event review
Architecture
and Capitalism:
1845 to the Present

Book launch at the Storefront for Art
………and Architecture in Manhattan

Featuring:
Thomas Angotti
Peggy Deamer
Quilian Riano
Michael Sorkin

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The following review of the book release event for the new collection Architecture and Capitalism was first published over at Quaderns d’arquitectura i urbanisme, the journal of the Association of Architects of Catalonia. A trilingual publication, it features articles written in Spanish, English, and Catalan.

Last night’s book launch for Architecture and Capitalism: 1845 to the Present drew a large crowd to the Storefront for Art and Architecture in Lower Manhattan. The precise relation of the event to the newly-released Routledge collection was obscure, however. Of the four featured speakers — Thomas Angotti, Peggy Deamer, Quilian Riano, and Michael Sorkin — only Deamer and Sorkin contributed pieces to the volume. Deamer, the prime mover behind Architecture and Capitalism, wrote the introduction; Sorkin was responsible for its pithy four-page conclusion. Effectively bookending the discussion, then, the book’s themes entered into the conversation in a largely oblique fashion. For the most part, the talk was limited to generalities.

Architecture and Capitalism - Quilian Riano, Michael Sorkin, Peggy Deamer, and Thomas Angotti (photo by Anna Kats)

Architecture and Capitalism: Quilian Riano, Michael Sorkin,
Peggy Deamer, and Thomas Angotti (photo by Anna Kats)

Some of the topics focused on by the speakers were fairly familiar, by now standard fare for reflections on architecture’s role in society. There was reference, of course, to the supremely compromised position of the architect within the existing system of capitalist reproduction. Given the present constraints encountered in the profession, Sorkin and Angotti pointed out, designers are typically bound to the whims of their clients. What little leverage can be mustered during the building process is usually a function of the “name recognition” of their firm. Otherwise, architects have very little say in how their visions are eventually realized, unless they stipulate specific guarantees beforehand (making it far more difficult to secure a contract in the first place). If they don’t follow the instructions or meet the expectations of their employers, in most cases, all funding is cut off and the commission is lost. Questions concerning the supposed ethical obligations of the architect were also raised in this connection. Should architects refuse to lend their name to certain kinds of building projects? Prisons featuring cells for solitary confinement were listed by Sorkin as obvious examples, along with military installations with facilities built-in to serve as torture chambers. Deamer brought up the extraordinary conditions of exploitation suffered by the workers mobilized to construct, for instance, gleaming skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi or Dubai. Not only the living labor involved in their assembly, Riano added somewhat vaguely, but also the dead labor embodied in the materials assembled.

Besides these scattered considerations, more theoretical issues of interpretation were also touched upon. Included here was some debate regarding the relationship between the material “base” of social production and the ideological “superstructure” it supports — that controversial architectural metaphor supplied by Marx over 150 years ago. Continue reading

Trellick Tower: The fall and rise of a modern monument

Fosco Lucarelli and
Mariabruna Fabrizi


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Image: Ernö Goldfinger’s monumental
Trelleck Tower in London (built 1972)

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Drawing by San Rocco / Salottobuono
Published in San Rocco Magazine
№ 5 — Fall 2012 [Scary Architects]
Reposted from the blog microcities

Recalling his first job experience, a certain gentleman still remembers the horrified faces of his friends after revealing he was just about to start working at Ernö Goldfinger’s architectural firm. In retrospect, he admits, it was pretty much like the reaction of the peasants to young Harker’s sister when he announced that his brother was going to visit Count Dracula.

Few architects, if any, would earn as much public loathing as Goldfinger during the 1960s and ’70s, and it is not by chance that Ian Fleming’s villain was named after him.

Ernö Goldfinger in front of Trellick Tower_45687163_8

Hated for his short temper as well as for his architectural production, Goldfinger — a lifelong Marxist who practiced in Perret’s atelier — embodied the last phase of heroic, utopian modernism, and experienced its subsequent fall in public opinion.

The socialist utopian ideology associated with the Brutalist style was a perfect fit in the context of the British post-war housing shortage, and the development of high-rise buildings in the relatively flat London boroughs was initially touted by the government as a modern, forward-looking solution. If high-density housing was the setting, then concrete was to be the protagonist. For two decades, practicality had been aesthetics: being economical, flexible and indestructible, concrete became a metaphor for “the future” and acquired enough respect to be emphatically exposed on the façades of large buildings.

Starkly aggressive, with its thirty-one floors towering over a low-rise neighborhood, Goldfinger’s 1972 Trellick Tower in London is a tragic syntax comprising raw concrete, deep shadows, and sky bridges evoking the purified silhouette of a mediaeval castle. With its uncompromising materiality — which inelegantly quotes Le Corbusier — the tower is a daring presence in London’s post-war landscape, an expressionistic monument for the masses. Continue reading

Yesterday’s tomorrow is not today

Hugh Ferriss’ modernity

Untitled.
Image: Rendering by Hugh Ferriss
of the UN Building proposal (1947)
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What’s so fascinating about [Hugh] Ferriss is what makes him so different to his near-contemporary Iakov Chernikhov. While the latter made fantasy cities out of bizarre amalgams of what did exist and what hadn’t yet been invented, Ferriss drawings take the actually constructed and make it look utterly unreal.

Owen Hatherley, “Fairytales and real estate” (2007)

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many

T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land” (1922)

It’s an odd feeling one gets from time to time, that the future we remember was more futuristic than our own. And yet it’s unmistakable. The moment we inhabit is a peculiar retrogression upon the past; its temporality is all off.

Architectural sketch by Hugh Ferriss, 1917

Architectural sketch by Hugh Ferriss, 1917

Architectural sketch by Iakov Chernikhov, late 1930s

Architectural sketch by Iakov Chernikhov, late 1930s

Hatherley’s observation regarding the perpendicular paths of Ferriss and Chernikhov — paths that converge around the right angle of modernity — extends further than he even imagined. Whether working from unreality to reality or vice versa, the two celebrated draughtsmen charted a collision course from their respective points of origin. This might even be seen to represent a pattern of nonsensuous dissimilarity, inverting the old Benjaminian trope.

Meeting somewhere along the middle in the early 1930s, at least within the realm of ideas, the drawings of Ferriss and Chernikhov thereafter approximate each other visually (in terms of sensuous similarity) the further out one moves diverging from this date. That is to say, Ferriss’ sketches become more pronouncedly gothic the earlier on one looks. A tenebrous crayon rendering from 1917, shown above, amply illustrates this fact. Oppositely, Chernikhov’s sketches began exhibiting numerous gothic features toward the end of the 1930s, becoming progressively gloomier along the way. No one denies the influence of Hugh Ferriss over the comic-book city of Gotham; producers of the new Batman movies just announced would do well to take a look at Chernikhov’s later works for inspiration, especially after their blunder casting Ben Affleck as the dark knight. Continue reading

Utopia and program

2013 Platypus
International Convention 

Untitled.
Image: Designed by
Douglas La Rocca

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Closing plenary:

Sat. 6 April 2013 @ 6:00-8:00pm
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
36 S Wabash Ave  Chicago, IL 60603

Panelists:

Endnotes collective
Stephen Eric Bronner (Rutgers University)
Sam Gindin (Socialist Project)
Roger Rashi (Québec solidaire)
Richard Rubin (Platypus)

Étienne-Louis Boullée, Temple of Death, Interior (1795)

Étienne-Louis Boullée, Temple of Death, Interior (1795)

Description:

“Program” and “utopia” have for well over a century now sat in uneasy tension within the politics of the Left, in tension both with each other and with themselves. Political programs tend to be presented in the sober light of practicality — straightforward, realistic, matter-of-fact. Social utopias, by contrast, appear quite oppositely the virtue of aspiring ambition — involved, unrealistic, exhilarating. Historically, then, the two would seem antithetical. In either case, one usually offers itself up as a corrective to the other: programmatism as a harsh “reality check” to pipe-dream idealism; utopianism as a welcome alternative to dreary, cynical Realpolitik.

Today, however, it is unavoidable that both program and utopia are in profound crisis. For those Leftists who still hold out some hope for the possibility of extra-electoral politics, an impasse has arisen. Despite the effusive political outbursts of 2011-12 in the Arab Spring and #Occupy — with their emphasis on the identity of means and ends, anti-hierarchical modes of organization, and utopian prefiguration — the Left seems to have run aground. Traces may remain in the form of various issue-based affinity groups, but the more ambitious projects of achieving sweeping social transformation have been quietly put to rest, consoled with the mere memory of their possibility.

Meanwhile, longstanding Left organizations, having temporarily reverted to their usual waiting game of patiently tailing popular discontents with the status quo, until the masses finally come around and decide to “get with the program” (their program), have experienced a crisis of their own: slowly disintegrating, with occasional spectacular implosions, many of their dedicated cadre call it quits amid demoralization and recriminations. What could possibly remain for a Left whose goal is no longer utopian, and whose path toward it is no longer programmatically defined? Continue reading

Ivan Leonidov, Sketches for City of the Sun

Ivan Leonidov’s late series on Campanella’s City of the Sun (1940s-1950s)

after Tommaso Campanella

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Leonidov’s late work, inspired by Campanella’s famous utopia:

The greater part of the city is built upon a high hill, which rises from an extensive plain, but several of its circles extend for some distance beyond the base of the hill, which is of such a size that the diameter of the city is upward of two miles, so that its circumference becomes about seven. On account of the humped shape of the mountain, however, the diameter of the city is really more than if it were built on a plain.

It is divided into seven rings or huge circles named from the seven planets, and the way from one to the other of these is by four streets and through four gates, that look toward the four points of the compass. Furthermore, it is so built that if the first circle were stormed, it would of necessity entail a double amount of energy to storm the second; still more to storm the third; and in each succeeding case the strength and energy would have to be doubled; so that he who wishes to capture that city must, as it were, storm it seven times. For my own part, however, I think that not even the first wall could be occupied, so thick are the earthworks and so well fortified is it with breastworks, towers, guns, and ditches.

When I had been taken through the northern gate (which is shut with an iron door so wrought that it can be raised and let down, and locked in easily and strongly, its projections running into the grooves of the thick posts by a marvellous device), I saw a level space seventy paces wide between the first and second walls. From hence can be seen large palaces, all joined to the wall of the second circuit in such a manner as to appear all one palace. Arches run on a level with the middle height of the palaces, and are continued round the whole ring. There are galleries for promenading upon these arches, which are supported from beneath by thick and well-shaped columns, enclosing arcades like peristyles, or cloisters of an abbey.

City of the Sun (Civitas Solis, Город солнца)

Continue reading

МСВТ, о.п. Площадь Революции

Children of Iofan: Post-Soviet futuristic nostalgia

Stunning designs by architect S.V. Lipgart.

Enjoy! Continue reading