Posts Tagged ‘eisenman’

It cuts both ways. . .

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009


There are times when one feels utterly powerless against greater forces: in a perfectly played but losing hand of poker; in the passing of a completely unremarkable milestone birthday; or watching the passing of another historical moment that seems to gain no ground for the very idea of an expressive humanity.


It pains one to see the tides of history sweep past unregarded citizens who were supposed to be its beneficiaries, and even more so when we had supposedly entered a new age where technological mediums rendered the oppressive techniques of the past obsolete. I wrote about this a bit in my review of the WWII-era surveillance film, The Lives of Others (2006, dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck), an excellent film.


My studies had been roughly focused on the intersection of architecture and media–or, slightly more specifically,  between the intersection of film and architecture. My thesis is/was that changing modes of communication affect the way we inhabit, experience, and express space. This was borne from readings of McLuhan, Mario Carpo, Adorno, and extrapolated, used to explain the historical significance of architects such as Alberti, Le Corbusier, and Eisenman.


Early on, many people pointed to the significance of new media to seeming alter the course of history. But as this article in Slate, titled, “The Revolution Will Not Be Digitized,”  argued, the new technology cut both ways. The same technology that could enable people could also be disabling. Yes, twitter was used to report on occurrences and organize groups of people, and major international news providers using video from cell phones as primary sources was no longer remarkable. But the chaos from so many “tweets” actually increased the confusion, and the government reportedly began using surveillance along with web volunteers to identify and imprison protesters. And because of the lack of true anonymity on the internet (tweets and postings can be traced), many citizens feel powerless or afraid of saying anything. Which exactly how they were supposed to not feel.  “The surprise isn’t that technology has given protesters a new voice. It’s that, despite all the tech, they’ve been effectively silenced.”


In other words, top-down oppression lives on, and the anti-hierarchical digitopia remains (at this point) another castle in the sky. Which can be seen as one of the oldest stories in the book. In fact, up until recently, the standard bearer for historical mass-oppression was China. Think of the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square, or the Three Gorges Dam project. The effect of these historical drives towards “revolutionary” ideas on individuals is difficult to begin express, but I’ve probably seen no greater filmic attempt than Zhang Yi Mou’s To Live (1994), which I will review in a following post as part of my ongoing “The Future is Asian” film architecture series.


As I write in that review, the story of a small Chinese family through the middle Twentieth Century serves “a simple reminder of the evil that even good intentions can create.” It is an example of the attempt to affect change upon a certain scale, and how the scale and locale of our actions may be the most important thing we consider as citizens of a community. It nevertheless remains difficult to sit by, at whatever distance has been made possible by the contemporary medium, and read/watch/surf/blog/twit about the actions of a few which seem to bring strife to so many. It feels as if I am literally watching walls being erected between people, and knowing that so many hearts are being broken at once. What has changed?


The images throughout this post are from Shawn Rocco, a photographer who uses a cell phone as his medium. Yes,  a cell phone was used to capture all of the above images (a Motorola E815, to be precise). More info about Shawn can be found on his blog called cellular obscura.

La Notte

Monday, January 12th, 2009

La Notte
1961, 122 minutes
directed by  Michelangelo Antonioni

Walking around Rome with the Eisenman studio, one strand of thought kept popping up, and that was the issue of voice. As in, how does a student find his own architectural voice in a studio environment populated with professors as strong and sometimes as fundamentally opposed as Eisenman and Krier? If you do any searching at all, you will find somebody somewhere who will tell you that the point of an architectural education is to help you find your own voice. Help us find our voice. It sounds almost dubiously altruistic, especially surrounded by anxious and aggressive classmates and equally-so professors. But what if, for a moment, we take this as true?


When Michelangelo Antonioni died earlier this summer and the obituaries rolled out of all the major newspapers, his seventy-some years of age and his thirty-odd films were boiled down to 900 words or less. “The Poet of Ennui,” “A Chronicler of Alienated Europeans in a Flimsy New World,” or “The Father of Modern Angst and Alienation,” were some of the headlines that ran in circulation.

What strikes me is the simultaneous power and insignificance of one idea. One idea, obsessively explored through an unrelenting curiousity, is a force to be reckoned. It is a force for no other reason than its self-propelling conviction. It is, however, only one idea. Like leaves of grass, each one is infinitely miraculous yet, when you scale back, sadly trivial. When history scales back on the giants of our field, like it did upon Antonioni, we’ll remember even the most important and complex and rich architects or artists for only one idea. You will be lucky if you can fight and argue your way through one idea.


It is through this discouraging scale of existence that any ounce of conviction gains its strength. To fully believe in something, in opposition to all of the conflicting evidence, of which there is undoubtedly no lack of surplus for, or the relativistic plurality of nature in general, is a feat indeed. Antonioni, to be necessarily reductive, explored distance: the distance between people, the distance between man and his environment, and the distance between an idea and its realization. Antonioni was originally trained as an architect, and it’s his sensitivity to space and landscape which makes him so resonate with architects.


So as the Eisenman studio wandered around Rome, talking about Deleuze, partial figures, part-whole relationships, and undecideability through the physical examples of Bramante, Borromini, Moretti, Pagano & Piagentini, like less glamourous (but certainly funnier) characters in an Antonioni film, the real discussion was about our ideas, their relation to us in this time and place, and our relations to each other. We were discussing distance and proximity, ideas and things. If we are lucky, we’ll find our ideas and argue for them beautifully.

As a note: the three films by Antonioni generally referred to as his “trilogy” are, in order: L’Avventura is the first film, La Notte is the second, and L’Eclisse is the final installment.

originally written October 2, 2007