Posts Tagged ‘cctv’

Bataille’s Dreams Come True

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Today’s post comes from Tala Gharagozlou, currently a graduate student of architecture at Yale.

Via Gizmodo

Via Gizmodo

i fell in love with the first cute girl that i met/
who could appreciate georges bataille/
standing at swedish festival discussing the ‘story of the eye’

–of Montreal

Bataille’s Dreams Come True

This was the subject heading of an e-mail from a friend of mine, a couple of days ago, Feb. 9th, 2009.

And of course, there were links to the photos of the CCTV’s unloved sibling immolating.

I was working in the architecture studio and the entire studio was of course abuzz within a few minutes of the event. But the pun on Bataille stuck with me for most of the day. This is after all, Yale University, and nerdy jokes take a strange life of their own.

Photos have been streaming in of this eerily “beautiful” spectacle. Jokes have been flying about what sort of fabulously bombastic manifesto Rem might make of this event, while others are about Ole Scheeren crying in Maggie Cheung’s arms.

Such a hubristic project is easy to mock, especially in the current times of economic gloom.

Yales A&A Building after the fire

Yale's A&A Building after the fire

But after all, the Yale School of Architecture is housed in one of the most emblematic buildings possible: Paul Rudolph’s A&A (I will never get used to the “Paul Rudolph Hall” name, btw. Will anyone ever call the CCTV the Rem Koolhaas Tower?? I doubt it, but Yale is a whole other type of totalitarian regime, thanks to a certain R.A.M.S…).

The burning of the A&A occurred at one of the most intense moments of social turmoil in America and on university campuses. The 1969 fire left the A&A battered, and it only survived due to a series of structural additions. Much has been made of the recent renovation project by Gwathmey/Siegel, but the fire itself remains a small source of fascination, especially because of what some students secretly felt was a justified sign to move on from a certain generation of patriarchs…

In a similar way, people have been wondering out loud if anybody even cared to “save” the CCTV? But as Bataille would put it, what would there be to save? CCTV was there to exist as the only voice. OMA’s pair of buildings has epitomized a certain architecture’s refusal to “serve” society. The CCTV is known as the building that has used the greatest amount of steel ever in history, for example. Its foundations are the size of several football fields (ask Cecil Balmond for the details here).

banksy_cctv

Architecture can be interpreted as the image society would like to see of itself. But Bataille is fascinated with the Aztec temples [see “Extinct America”]. Fearless of this relation between society and the death of the individual, Aztec architecture is purely dedicated to the immolation of individuals as well. The Aztecs “neglected to put in place the infrastructures that would have secured its future” and their architecture represented that. In many ways, CCTV’s is the symbol of China’s disregard for any idea of progressive institutions and a capacity to heedlessly build its own Capitalist guillotine.

So after all, could Beijing’s inhabitants feel slightly bad about this fire? The spectacle of architecture burning always holds the anxious sign that we can do little to go beyond death.

p339103-mexico-aztec_temple

On a side note, thanks to Sasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker for making “critical theory a little easier to use on dates.”

–Tala Gharagozlou

Pants on Fire

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009
Via Shanghaiist

Via Shanghaiist

The Chinese have nicknamed Rem Koolhaas’s CCTV Building in Beijing “Big Pants,” or “Big Shorts,” and as many Western news outlets reported yesterday, it caught on fire (or, the adjacent building, part of the same complex, did, apparently due to some errant fireworks). The Chinese media, which is controlled by CCTV, of course, tried to hide that news.

Several years ago, Rem famously directed his studio, OMA, to avoid the competition being held to redesign the World Trade Center and instead focus on building this building. He famously said it was due to a fortune cookie that they received while discussing the decision over some Chinese food. Supposedly, the fortune cookie read: “Stunningly Omnipresent Masters Make Minced Meat of Memory.” You can read his “Beijing Manifesto,” published in Wired magazine, here.

First of all, when has anybody ever received a fortune cookie written like that???

rem-content

Secondly, what I originally considered a brilliant move on Rem’s part, to avoid the WTC re-design debacle, was neutralized by his decision to design a monument to the totalitarianism of China (and moreover, to the information/media-controlling arm of totalitarian China). What Rem didn’t seem to realize was that the symbolism of the form of the CCTV tower (so obviousy a product of the blue-foam design school of OMA) carried no meaning when plopped into the context of China and Beijing.

Rem himself writes in his manifesto: “First, was it merely a landmark, one more alien proposal of meaningless boldness? Was its structural complexity simply irresponsible?” He doesn’t really answer himself, except to say that “A refusal of the Promethean in the name of correctness and good sense could foreclose China’s architectural potential.” Architectural potential to do what?

burj_dubai1

He has mentioned elsewhere that this CCTV building “killed the skyscraper,” because it doesn’t participate in the race towards higher and higher buildings (for the most ridiculous example of this, see the Burj Dubai). But it nevertheless is a close to 2 million square foot complex (180,000 square meters), making it one of the biggest buildings, regardless of height. The building also uses no small amount of steel for its structural hijinks. In the end, it seems like the old debate about length versus girth.

Anyhow, as reporters noted, many of the Beijingers watching noted that the fire was “inauspicious,” occuring as it did at the end of the New Year’s celebrations. Well, inauspicious it may be, but it also seems shockingly predictable.

Metropolis

Monday, December 29th, 2008

One of the great things about working with Dietrich Neumann from Brown University (click here for a great link about Brown) was that he selected movies that I knew I had to watch but just couldn’t make myself for one reason or another. Well, when film and architecture are mentioned together, this is one of the first movies people think of, so it was overdue.

metropolis-01

Metropolis (1929) 123 minutes, directed by Fritz Lang

Let’s face it: today, technology is no longer an important part of our collective image of the future. Or maybe I should define “technology” as specifically the sort of industrial/machine age concept which is represented by cars, trains, airplanes, and skyscrapers. Today we have technology in the form of cellphones, iPods, laptops, Blackberrys, the internet and Maya, which are a distinctly different beast than cars and airplanes. In fact, stuff like a 3-d modeling program isn’t technology at all. It’s magic.

A week ago or so, the New York Times published an article about how the recent proliferation and popularity of certain “magic-realist” television shows such as “Lost,” “Heroes,” “Medium,” “Ghost Whisperer” and others were indicative of a popular fascination with the supernatural and the unexplainable. The article goes on to say that this is the harbinger of a society’s decline, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that yet. What I will say, however, is that I think what has happened is that technology has come to signify something else to us: it’s complexity, sophistication, ubiquity and incomprehensible power has breached a tipping point and technology has morphed into magic.

This follows what is sometimes commonly referred to as Clarke’s Third Law (after Arthur C. Clarke): Any sufficiently complex technology is indistinguishable from magic. Don’t think that’s true? Try explaining to me how a television works, on a subatomic level. What about a microprocessor? Still don’t think technology is magic? Did you know that even common household electric wiring systems can only be predictably accounted for using quantum mechanics? And do you know what the single most important principle of quantum mechanics is? The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: that at a certain scale it is impossible to know what is going on. Which is why string theory is simultaneously both extremely exciting and extremely disappointing: it can never be scientifically proven or disproven because it theorizes phenomena at a scale that we simply cannot test for. Somebody explain to me quantum mechanics. I don’t care if you’re Michelle Addington (more Michelle). You can’t. Because it’s magic. iPods and cellphones and Blackberrys and laptops run on magic.

The film Metropolis is the godfather of all filmic images of the Modern conception of the city. In this film the city under the influence of Modern technology was imagined to its logical extreme: layers upon layers of traffic all flowing in orderly grids between behemoth sized skyscrapers with Babel-esque proportioned hubris. In a sense, all films dealing with the city have been a response to Metropolis. But the age where Metropolis represents our image of the future may be closed, along with our faith in the promise of skyscrapers (except in Asia, but more on that later): prominent architects have all said or proposed as such: Rem called his CCTV (known in China affectionately as “Big Shorts”) loop a death knell to the age of the skyscraper, Eisenman’s Max Reinhardt building was also theorized as such, and Thom Mayne even said in spoken lectures that skyscrapers make no sense for cities today. Metropolis, with its grand skyscrapers, is the image of the city under the spell of technology.

As an element of urban planning, the Grid may be the most conspicuous example of an obsolete machine-age emphasis on the vehicle. How pernicious the grid has been to cities in the Twentieth century! It’s no wonder that today we care most about the cities and spaces that were developed before the car and hence, before the grid: lower Manhattan, parts of Boston, parts of San Francisco, and of course, old Europe.

clover

Another holdover from Modernist urban planning is the vertical stratification of traffic: designers since the Modern era have always attempted to create vertically layered levels of traffic: clover freeways, elevated railways, pedestrian skybridges, etc., all in alignment with the image that Metropolis helped propagate. But in every instance the attempt to create just one more level of streetlife has failed miserably (save for in Asia, but again, more on that later). Wherever pedestrian skybridges have been built they’ve managed to kill the street life both on them and below them, and the images of clover freeways are somehow always juxtaposed next to images of suburban angst: be it Columbine High School or Insane Clown Posse. The reason why layering pedestrian traffic doesn’t work may be most simply explained using a concept Molly Steenson introduced to me: FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out). It may be hard to reside in any one place when you can see a more activated streetscape one level above or below. The next test of this idea will be seen in New York’s High Line, a competition won by Diller, Scofidio+Renfro in collaboration with Field Operations, which faces the unenviable task of trying to design an artificial environment to compete with the bustling, organic streetlife of Manhattan.

(originally written 2/20/2007)