What About Ideological Urbanism?

Post(card) Ideological Icon #1, Suprematism, Lazar Khidekel 1927_ OMA, 2006

Post(card) Ideological Icons
What About revisiting the hardcore shapes of the avant-garde?

It has been almost a century since the air was heavily saturated with the combustible gas of ideology. Almost a hundred years have passed since everything from film, through art and architecture, to urbanism was susceptible to the slightest friction in the atmosphere sparking endless manifestoes and multiple visions of the perennial “new beginning”. But what happens when the ideological fire that fuels urbanism is extinguished, and in its place just smoke remains? What is left after the idealistic energy of the avant-garde has vanished and we are left with necrophilic icons of dead ideologies? Why aren’t we able to see the striking similarities and contrasting disparities between the avatars of yesterday’s ideological urbanism and today’s pop-architectural icons?

In the twenties imaginary taut wires, steel trusses, and structural concrete gave form to the muscular monuments of a Potemkinesque avant-garde. Utopia had a shape. First, it looked like a steel tower spiraling hastily towards the sky, then like a leaning tribune for Lenin, then it took the shape of a sky hook fearlessly cantilevering above the debris of the old city, and of a flying city, soaring in circles weightlessly through the firmament. Not only had the avant-garde announced a victory over the sun, but it promised to use urbanism to melt into air all the solid problems of society.

But, at the point when all possible sorts of fantastic operations on the city were about to be orchestrated, the urban intelligentsia crashed headlong into an ideological wall.

If the dreams of the avant-garde were an improbable mission when their idealistic nostalgia was at its peak, it became almost impossible for them to succeed with a looming economic meltdown, asphyxiating ideological persecutions, and the authorities’ sudden aesthetic preference for neo-classical kitsch—who can forget Boris Iofan’s cake-shaped tower?

In the midst of the suffocating pessimism of the sociopolitical atmosphere of the post-war, the avant-garde managed to find an ideological plateau, and develop in it one last (desperate?) plan. With the catastrophic arrival of the Second World War, Utopia had to change shape. If before the war, urbanism was about tabula rasa, and the ideal new cities were to substitute the old urban fabric with ideological monuments, the new urbanism promised to leave the old cities untouched. The new avant-garde proposed to disguise its ideal cities as colossal buildings that could be developed ad infinitum; urbanism as endless architecture.

The second—and last— coming of ideological urbanism in the 20th century happened fifty years ago. Aroused by the promising future of the new communication, transportation and construction technologies, the new forms of urbanism were grafted around metabolic systems of urbanization, prefabricated instant cities, and Megastructures.

A new ontology of urban forms was created after a whole new cosmos of ideal cities took over the collective intelligence of urbanism. The image of urbanism suffered a dramatic transformation as ideological cities hovered like weightless blankets above the Champs-Élysées, mirror-coated monuments roamed endlessly through the streets of Graz, pixilated buildings, helix-shaped towers, and mushroom-cloud megaliths metabolically proliferated all over Tokyo, geodesic domes sequestered complete areas of Manhattan island, and entire cities were pictured strolling over the surface of the world’s oceans.

Yet again, so suspicious were the proposals of an avant-garde so detached from reality, so economically unfeasible, so ideologically naïve, that they never found (outside of Japan) any possible application or a client devout enough to believe in their projects.

Today’s generation of media-wise, economically proficient, politically correct architects have decided to resurrect the shapes of the most subversive and energetic forms of urbanism of the last century. In the form of an opportunistic architectural cadavre-exquis (started by one, finished by the other) contemporary urbanism has, under the slogan “the stronger the ideal, the sharper the icons” unearthed some of the most the striking proposals of the avant-garde and repurposed them as harmless and ready to consume coffee-table images.

Like when an archeological discovery loses its history-rich past to the frivolity of the museum walls, the icons of the ideological avant-garde have been sterilized, reupholstered and served up to an image-starving audience that devours them as visual gourmet while overlooking their original potential. Prosthetic appendixes of ideologies that expired decades ago, these architectures now captivate the flash of the cameras and win the praise of the critics due to their bold shapes, iconic presence, and their historical ideological references. Exhaustively photographed, printed, blogged, discussed, awarded, these urban forms have metamorphosed from being the icons of a revolution to being the pretty faces of architectural mass media; hardcore urban ideology as architectural soft porn.

Post(card) Ideological Icon #2, Constructivism, El Lissitzky 1924_ Steven Holl, 2002-09

Agitational provocations in the form of architectural post(cards), the following images have been structured to stimulate the critical understanding of ideological urbanism, to recognize the use of iconographic architecture as its deus ex machina and to identify the recycling of its most intense proposals by contemporary architecture.

By meticulously selecting two formally related buildings and grafting them together like pictures of an alternative reality, the images have the potential to expose two opposed instances in the evolution of urbanism; first as ideological enterprises, then as harmless architectural icons.

On the left side of the post(cards) stand the icons of the urban intelligentsia. Product of their zeitgeist, these buildings share an intense and turbulent history that saw them rise from the collective nostalgia of the ideological optimistic years of the avant-garde, only then to be crumbled away by the inexorable forces of modernity like sand castles in front of a tsunami. The images display symptomatic manifestations of hardcore ideological urbanism in the form of constructivist sky-hooks, non-objective architectons, and metabolist helicoids.

Standing at the opposite side of the image, a series of contemporary architectures strikingly resemble their ideological predecessors. Like organs without a body, these icons’ lack of any clear ideological manifesto, put into evidence how contemporary architecture not only borrows its shapes, but that through image overexposure, and over use, neutralizes the inherent potential of previous forms of ideological urbanism. The new icons offer no hidden subversive messages, state no unprecedented manifestoes, and represent no underground ideologies. The more they become infatuated with their own image, the more they become like Architectural postcards.

By Nathalie Frankowski and Cruz Garcia

Post(card) Ideological Icon #3, Metabolism, Kisho Kurokawa 1961_ JDS, 2006

What About Ideological Monu?

WAI has been featured in Monu

WAI’s Post(Card) Ideological Icons has been featured in the 15th issue of the Rotterdam-based international Magazine on Urbanism, MONU. Under the exciting and polemic topic “Ideological Urbanism”, Monu includes interviews, essays, and projects by Wouter Vanstiphout, Beatriz Ramo (St+ar) Bernd Upmeyer, Patty Heyda, Thomas Ruff, Samir El Kordy and Ying Zhou, Brendan M. Lee, Adria Carbonell, Fredrik Torisson, Brendan Cormier, Christopher Pandolfi, and Simon Rabyniuk (DoUC), Michael Vermeulen, Gale Fulton and Stewart Hicks, Mika Savela, Wes Wilson, Geoffrey Thun, Kathy Velikov and Colin Ripley (RVTR), and Melissa Dittmer, Jamie Witherspoon, and Noah Resnick.

To order a copy online of this and past issues of Monu, including past issues including essays of WAI, go here.

To read WAI’s essay Post(card) Ideological Icons, stay tuned to WAI.

What About Tsinghua?

WAI Exhibition and Lecture at Tsinghua University

As part of the SA Forum, WAI will be presenting its solo exhibition What About It? from the 10 to the 17 of December, and offering a lecture and discussion the 15 of the same month in the prestigious School of Architecture of Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The SA Forum is an initiative to enable independent exchange and interaction at Tsinghua University. It was first initiated in 2010 by Martijn de Geus and is now jointly hosted by the Graduate Student Union at the School of Architecture, and it’s EPMA-Program (English Program for Master in Architecture). The Topic of the 2011/12 academic year is ‘Towards a Future Habitat.’

For more information please stay tuned to WAI.

What About El Nuevo Dia?

WAI makes the news in Puerto Rico

An article about the origins of WAI has been featured in the “Por Dentro” section of Puerto Rico’s main newspaper El Nuevo Dia. Written by Eileen Rivera Esquilin, the article and interview published Saturday 19 of November highlights the journey of WAI through Europe, China, and its relationship with Puerto Rico.

For more information please go to the online version of the article in endi.com.

What About Stout Books?

WAI at William Stout Architectural Books

The last copies of the WAIzine, and the Catalog of the first solo exhibition of WAI have been acquired and are on sale on William Stout Architectural Books. The famous bookshop has two stores in San Francisco and one in Berkeley.

William Stout Architectural Books carries over 20,000 titles on two floors in the fields of architecture, art, urban planning, graphic and industrial design, furniture and interior design, and landscape architecture. For over thirty years, twenty in the current location, it has been a vital resource for architecture and design books, carrying American and international titles, both in and out of print.”[1]

The issues can be ordered online in Stout Books:

To order What About it? Part 1 go here.

To order the Catalog of What About It? Solo Exhibition go here.

William Stout Architectural Books

804 Montgomery Street

San Francisco, CA 94133

email for existing orders: orders@stoutbooks.com

for all other inquiries: libri@stoutbooks.coom

for out of print inquiries: scarpa@stoutbooks.com

Mon-Fri: 10:00am-6:30pm

Sat: 10:00am-5:30pm

William Stout Annex

678 Mission Street

San Francisco, CA 94105

email: annex@stoutbooks.com

Mon-Fri: 11:00am-6:00pm

William Stout Berkeley

1605 Solano Ave

Berkeley, CA 94707

email: scarpa@stoutbooks.com


Saturday 12:00pm-7:00pm

Image by Leslie Williamson

What About Archizines at the AA?

image:valerie bennett

WAI in Archizines Exhibition at the Architectural Association

The Archizines exhibition opened successfully to the public with a series of discussions in the Architectural Association in London. The show that displays 60 contemporary architectural publications will be on display until the 14th of December. Curated by Elias Redstone, Archizines finds an outlet for the electrifying energy behind the small magazines that still have faith in the power of printed architecture in an age anesthetized by redundant pixels.

Coinciding again with a global crisis —as in the sixties— Archizines marks the renaissance of a critical architectural youth that through printed, stapled, and bind pages claims for a space to express its ideas. After the few remaining “radical” magazines from the sixties ended up as commercial publications, a new faith is put on the experimental nature of the fanzine.

image:valerie bennett

image:sue barr

What About Archizines Catalog?

WAI at the Archizines exhibition / catalog

To go with the Archizines exhibition at the Architectural Association in London, Bedford Press releases ARCHIZINES, the exhibition catalog. With contributions from Pedro Gadanho (Beyong), Iker Gil (MAS Context), Adam Murray (Preston is my Paris), Rob Wilson (Block), Mimi Zeiger (Maximum Maxim MMXIloudpaper), and more, the catalog highlights the wide variety, and importance of independent publishing to Architecture. Curated by Elias Redstone the exhibition includes a global array of architectural publications, from the WAIzine (Beijing), San Rocco (Venice), Monu (Rotterdam), Conditions (Oslo), Mark (Amsterdam), Candide (Aachen), Critical (Paris), Log (New York), mono.kultur (Berlin), Plot (Buenos Aires), Soiled (Chicago), Friendly Fire (Porto), Generalist (Frankfurt), engawa (Barcelona), PIDGIN (Princeton, New Jersey), Pablo Internacional (Mexico City), MAP (Copenhagen), Junk Jet (Stuttgart), Too Much (Tokyo), P.E.A.R. (London), Preston is my Paris (Preston), to Horizonte (Weimar), and much more.

To get a copy of the catalog go Bedford Press.

The Schedule of the exhibition is: Friday: Press preview 10.00am – 12.00pm Private View 6:30pm-8.30pm

Saturday: Archizines Live at the New Soft Room at the AA

Printing Architecture - 3.00PM
A discussion on publishing practice in the digital Age
Chaired by Mimi Zeiger (loudpaper / Maximum Maxim MMX)
Tom Keeley (America Deserta Revisited)
Sebastien M. Barat (face b: architecture from the other side)
David Bauer (Horizonte—Journal for Architectural Discourse)
Matthew Butcher (P.E.A.R.)

Constructing Criticism – 4.00pm
A discussion on alternative forms of criticism and architectural discourse
Chaired by Veronique Patteeuw and Tom Vandeputte (OASE)
Benedikt Boucsein (Camenzind)
Tina Di Carlo (Log)
Ian Pollard (matzine)
Matteo Ghidoni (San Rocco)
Tiago Casanova (scopio)
Sebastian Craig (Touching on Architecture)