Posts Tagged ‘charles jencks’

The Man with the Movie Camera

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

vertov

The Man with the Movie Camera (1929) 67 minutes

Nearly as soon as cinema was invented were there theoreticians who wrote about the expansive possibilities of film to change the way we document and understand architecture. In fact, Modern architecture can be seen as an attempt to reconcile the possibilities of technology with the way we build. Walter “the J is like a Y” Benjamin, Le “Little Devil” Corbusier, Aldo “Crayola” Rossi, Bernard “Ah-” Tschumi, and Rem “Cool-Hizzy” Koolhaas, just to name a few, have all famously used film to advance ideas about architecture and urbanism.

brunelleschi-sspirito

Cinema is the dominant medium of today (though that may be changing), and this is no small potatoes. There have only been a few changes in dominant media since the dawn of history; first was language and oration, the Renaissance gave birth to perspective and thus monocularcentric text and image, and then the twentieth century gave us relativity and motion. Eisenman would call these moments of change shifts: from theocentric to anthropocentric to technocentric; Marshall McLuhan would say they were sensual-spatial: from aural to visual to electro-acoustic.

Dziga Vertov was one of the first to experiment with the extreme technical possibilities of film. Vertov uses slow-motion, fast-motion, jump-cuts, extreme close-ups, double-exposure, freeze-frames, Dutch-angles and tracking shots to document the day in the life of a Russian city. This film is unabashedly ambitious in its attempt to document space and urbanity free from the tethers of literature.

rem-content1

Rem Koolhaas as the l’homme d’architecture par example du jour (that’s French for “dude be the man right now”) presents an interesting case for a study of the intersection between film and architecture. Though his contemporary Bernard Tschumi more explicitly draws on film as a possible source of architectural inspiration (see The Manhattan Transcripts, Architecture & Disjunction), Remment Koolhaas actually was a screenwriter before he became an architect (he wrote, among other things, soft-core porn scripts for Russ Meyer–which explains some of the pages in his book, Content).  Though it’s hard to say anything specific about Rem, which has a lot to do with the way OMA runs, it nevertheless may be interesting to use him to understand the contemporary condition. For if we are to assume the canon of critical architecture, then we could use Rem to theorize a paradigmatic shift from criticality to post. The moment that this occurred, if I were to try and pin it down Charles Jencks-style, would have to be around 1997 with the appearance of Frank Gehry’s Bilbao. But Gehry himself, who was born Ephraim Owen Goldstein in Toronto, Canada, never was a player in architecture beforehand—he was building parking garages in California before Bilbao. Rem, then, could be the architect that represents the shift from a critical paradigm to a projective or post-critical paradigm (see Jussieu vs. Porto). And if we grant him that, then he is in rare company indeed. For before Rem, James Stirling was the man sitting on top of the fulcrum that swung from Modern to Post-Modern (see Leicester vs. Stuttgart), and before him Le Corbusier was the man that spanned pre-Modern to Modern.

stirling-leicester

But of course, this is all predicated on the idea that we accept criticality as a continually valid project for architecture, and not a distinctly Modern-with-a-capital M and Western invention. For criticality may be fatally linked to Hegel and the distinctly twentieth century notion of a canon, to say nothing of the contemporary challenge that Asia presents to criticality (more on that later). It also may be interesting to note that those three Fulcrum Men: Corb, Stirling, and Rem, came to architecture after initial careers in other fields. Le Corbusier was a painter and never had a formal architectural education, James Stirling went to art school and served in the military before attending Liverpool University (as someone who was trained as a painter myself, I love pointing out other architects who were also painters), and Rem wrote porno screenplays before going to the AA in London. However, this makes sense if we understand that any creative act is as equally destructive as it is creative (one could use the laws of thermodynamics as an analogy). It seems to point to the idea that there is nothing so dangerous to the status-quo as an artist bent on destruction. Which is why I’m a lifetime member of the NRA.

Just kidding. Or am I?

(originally written 2/13/2007)

In-Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

pruitt-igoe

Towering Inferno (1974) 165 minutes

The story goes like this: Paul Newman plays the architect who builds the World’s tallest skyscraper only to see it completely engulfed in flames on the building’s opening night party. Of course, the fire was due to cost-cutting wiring by a dishonest electrical contractor, and the architect spends the rest of the film with the fire chief, Steve McQueen, rescuing the occupants of the burning building. It seems funny that an architect with a hubris large enough to attempt to build the world’s largest skyscraper in the earthquake-prone Bay Area would escape blame, but I guess architects have enough public good will so that the electrician gets the blame. The idea of a world’s tallest whatever has seemingly been a bottomless source of inspiration for architects since the Tower of Babel; it immediately calls to mind Frank Lloyd Wright’s Mile High Building, Mies van der Rohe’s Crystal Towers, and Minoru Yamasaki’s World Trade Center. The World Trade Center was the tallest building at the time it was completed, only to be surpassed by SOM’s Sears Tower (1974), later Cesar Pelli’s Petronas Towers (1998), and most recently Taipei 101 (2004). Of course, in Dubai, SOM is building a skyscraper that will top even that (its exact height at the date of completion in 20?? remains a secret) with promotional brochures indicating that it will be expandable, so that it will always remain “the world’s tallest.” Yippitty-do-da. Only in Dubai.

It may be interesting to note that Towering Inferno the movie was released almost at the same time as when Minoru Yamasaki’s World Trade Center towers in Manhattan opened. Mr. Yamasaki seems to have had some extremely bad luck with architecture: he was the architect of both Pruitt-Igoe, the housing project in St. Louis that supposedly killed Modernism (see Charles Jencks) and began Post-Modernism, and the World Trade Center, the urban skyscraper whose destruction supposedly killed irony and ushered in the Age of Terror. I don’t know if that much can be attributed to either of those specific events, and it would certainly make Mr. Yamasaki (an alum of the University of Washington and New York University) something of an architectural anti-Christ. But just for poignancy’s sake below I’m showing two images: one of how Yamasaki imagined Pruitt-Igoe and one of how it looked before it was demolished. And If you Google “towering inferno,” two sets of images come up: those of this movie, and those of the 9/11 attacks.

(originally written 10/30/2006:)

pruitt-igoe-corridor-conceptioncommunal-space-p-i