Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Space for Engagement: The Indian Artplace and a Habitational Approach to Architecture by Himanshu Burte

'Adorno said that architecture worthy of human beings thinks better of them than they actually are. For far too long, in modern India, our place-makers have tended to think worse of us than we are.'

'Values that have emerged in one place and situation. . . may be translated in toto to another very different situation—say Chandigarh—in ways at odds with local cultures of habitation.'

On the Capitol Complex, Chandigarh:
'Scale and emptiness can sometimes suppress the bonds that join us, and having weakened that solidarity, render each more vulnerable to those seen to be in control of that space. . .  exaggerated scale constantly invokes an exalted conception of 'freedom' even as it denies any foothold for habitation. Ironically then, instead of exhilaration in this monument to spaciousness, the dweller realizes the impotence of his/ her own humanity faced with the majesty of the space itself. . . The architect glories. poetically, in the tragic irrelevance of the individual to the larger order of the universe.'

On Habitational Poetics (After Gaston Bachelard):
'To dwell successfully in a place is often to be able to forget it and inhabit instead the feelings, possibilities and actions that the space enables . . . Habitational poetics [is the] possibility of being distracted away from the autonomous qualities of architecture. . . It is impossible to be part of the everyday life of a space as well as concentrate exclusively on its intrinsic qualities. . . Through the gaps of perception, memory and habit falls the unique qualities of our habitats.'

— Himanshu Burte is an architect and writer, based in Goa, presently engaged in promoting a critique of present-day architecture in India by means of constructing a domain of public opinion concerned with public space in the country's cities. Offering a critique of contemporary architectural and institutional approaches to 'place-making', Space for Engagement (Seagull Books, 2008) proposes an alternative approach to thinking about architecture, centred on our experience of inhabiting spaces, inspired by Gaston Bachelard's Poetics of Space.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Secret City

In 1958 a government official employed by the Public Works Department as a roads inspector, began construction on what is now known as the Rock Garden of Chandigarh. Over the course of fourteen years Nek Chand Saini (b. 1924) gathered stones, scrap metal, bicycle parts, tires, tissue, glass, ceramic and wire, to realise a small kingdom populated by pottery elephants, horses, monkeys, gods, goddesses and thousands of human figures. Located in a publically owned forest reserve and structured around a series of bridges, gorges, passageways, courtyards, streams and waterfalls, the vast garden remained undiscovered until 1972. 
 Figures in Nek Chand's Rock Garden. Image: Carol Mitchell
The Rock Garden was constructed in the shadow of and in tandem with Le Corbusier’s modernist new town: Chand collected recyclables and discarded material from villages demolished to make way for the city, he chose a site designated a land conservatory for the new capital and even convinced government employed workers to labour on his parallel building site. Designated a ‘garden’, it is arguably also a differently imagined city. Constructed from the detritus of former habitations, labyrinthine in form and crammed with brightly coloured constructions, Chand’s hidden world exists in stark and seemingly diametric opposition to the aesthetic ideals explicit in the architecture of Chandigarh.
More illuminating perhaps is to consider the possible contact points between these two architectural projects: one carried out the public eye and marking an attempt to realise a particular vision of India’s future, the other undertaken in secret but similarly guided by a desire to in some way reflect the identity of a newly-partitioned nation. 
Elsa Richardson
Further reading: 

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Front of a Department Store

Warenhaus Tietz 1905

Warenhaus Tietz 1933

Kaufhaus Hertie 1934

Kaufhaus Hertie 1941

Kaufhaus Hertie 1945

HO Centrum-Warenhaus 1970

HO Centrum-Warenhaus 1989

Galeria Kaufhof 1990
Galeria Kaufhof 2005
Galeria Kaufhof 2007

Dreams of Presidents: 1. The Atlantic Dubai

Take the R30 road west from Kébémer, Senegal, and some 25 miles of scrub and desert later you reach the atlantic coast and the tiny village of Lampoul. In 2007 the President, Abdoulaye Wade, born in the area when it was still part of colonial French Sudan, announced his vision of a new capital to be placed in this wild spot - a "Dubai on the Atlantic".

By 2010 the Government was to be transferred to the new city - by 2015 the population would be 2 million. Minister Ahmed Niasse spoke proudly that "We think this new Dubai can be more attractive than the Dubai in the Gulf," basing his hopes on a Paul Romer style tax free model.

The idea had some rationale to it. The existing capital, Dakar, has its growth strangled due to its position on a peninsular, and there are other recent West African precedents. The city had a price tag of $30 billion and memorandums of understanding were signed with Dubai World, the state owned Emirati company that grew a city from nothing once before. Wade was notorious for spending huge sums on "prestige projects". Work began making a hill for Wade's conception of an "African Renaissance Monument" in 2006. To be built by a North Korean construction company, when completed it would be the tallest statue in Africa.

After that the internet goes silent, as remain the dunes of Lampoul. There's no word of what scuppered the deal. In 2008, of course, the global economic crisis struck - a year later Dubai World asked creditors for a six-month ‘standstill’ on its debt repayments, which has since extended to 9 years. Add to that the fact that Sudan never had the oil capital that the Emirati's expansion was based upon and it hardly seems surprising the plan came to nothing.

Wade lost power in March 2012. He was praised by Hilary Clinton for accepting the result magnanimously. The new President's birthplace is to the south of Dakar, far from the small fishing village that was to become a global city. However, at least Wade got his statue.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Yodaville: The Fake City In The Arizona Desert

Yodaville is a fake city in the Arizona desert used for bombing runs by the U.S. Air Force. Writing for Air & Space Magazine back in 2009, Ed Darack wrote that, while tagging along on a training mission, he noticed "a small town in the distance—which, as we got closer, proved to have some pretty big buildings, some of them four stories high."
As towns go, this one is relatively new, having sprung up in 1999. But nobody lives there. And the buildings are all made of stacked shipping containers. Formally known as Urban Target Complex (R-2301-West), the Marines know it as “Yodaville” (named after the call sign of Major Floyd Usry, who first envisioned the complex).
As one instructor tells Darack, "The urban layout is actually very similar to the terrain in many villages in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Read more: BLDBLG

I found one!

Nikolaus Hirsch, Shveta Sarda (Eds.)Cybermohalla Hub

Contributions by Can Altay, Cybermohalla Ensemble, Rana Dasgupta, Hu Fang, Naeem Mohaiemen, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Jacques Rancière, Raqs Media Collective, Superflex, et al.

The Cybermohalla project takes on the meaning of the Hindi word mohalla (neighborhood) in its sense of alleys and corners, relatedness and concreteness, as a means for talking about one’s “place” in the city. Initiated by the Delhi-based research institute Sarai/CSDS and Ankur, Nikolaus Hirsch and Michel Müller developed a project that involves approximately seventy young practitioners, the Cybermohalla Ensemble, who engage with their urban contexts through various media. Cybermohalla Hub, a hybrid of studio, school, archive, community center, library, and gallery is a structure that moves between Delhi and diverse art contexts including Manifesta 7 and, most recently, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.

The Cybermohalla experiment has been engaged in rethinking urban life, and reimagining and reanimating the infrastructure of cultural and intellectual life in contemporary cities. The book not only documents the architecture of the project, which functions as an attempt to “build knowledge,” but also publishes insights that have emerged from the project as a whole.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Open Hand

Text to follow...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Witnesses in Stone

'Every structure left to us by history expresses the spirit of it's builder.

Brutaliat in Stein: Die Ewigkeit von Gestern (1960) [Brutality in Stone: Yesterday Goes on for Ever] is an experimental film by Alexander Kluge (b.1932).  It depicts the abandoned Nazi architecture, strikingly void of human life and disturbingly illustrates the utilization of inhuman and super-human scale that attempted to bolster the political regime of the same. Shots of huge neo-classical architectural structures from the Nazi period are confronted with equally anti-human national-socialist language as a voice-over. Kluge intersperses the film footage from the early 1960s with various images dating from 1933 to 1945, including photographs of Adolf Hitler drawing building plans, his personal sketches, and drawings of reconceived German cities.


Alexander Kluge is a German filmmaker and author, published in English by Seagull Books.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

My Body Lying in the Heather

One night when I had tasted bitterness in my mouth I went out on to the hill. Dark heather checked my feet…Two lights for guidance. First our little glowing atom of community, with all that it signifies. The second, the cold light of the stars, symbol of the hypercosmical reality, with its crystal ecstasy.

Duncan Marquiss, Midday, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

Olaf Stapledon’s science fiction novel Star Maker (1937) begins with the mysterious freeing of the unnamed protagonist’s consciousness from the confines of his body. Newly unencumbered, our narrator departs suburbia for distant solar systems, sprawling galaxies and alien civilisations. As he journeys the narrator’s psyche is revealed as an endlessly malleable entity, dividing and expanding, merging with individual and group minds to eventually play its minute role in forming a vast cosmical consciousness. In this remarkable work Stapleton recounts the history of the universe as seen through the prism of an individual mind.

In the year 2000 a stone circle was erected in Milton Keynes. Titled ‘The Circle of Hearts Medicine Wheel’, it consists of two concentric circles of stones with longer stones positioned at each compass point. Situated on the energy line said to run through Midsummer Boulevard in the centre of Milton Keynes, this modern Neolithic structure accesses Pagan traditions and pre-Christian resonances. It is during the short period of Midsummer that this ancient ley line becomes visible, as the sun rises in precise alignment with Midsummer Boulevard, Avebury Boulevard and Silbury Boulevard. Built to mark the millennium and intended as a meeting place for the city’s residents, the monument brings the presence of deep time to an urban environment seemingly lacking an extended history of its own.

The summer solstice marks the day on which the axial tilt of the Earth, in a given hemisphere, is most inclined towards the Sun: an astronomical happening that signifies an extremity of light, a marker of time and movement through the seasons. These films have been bought together to coincide with this event. Each work has a complexity linked through the interplay of light and the self against, before and within the film/video medium. In Lucy Reynolds’s Lake (Nocturne) artificial light plays eerily across a landscape we cannot situate, the uncanny effect directing us to a world played for film and the world outside of it. Duncan Marquiss’s two videos, Midday and Late Cinema, flicker across the screen, drawing our bodies in as the oscillation of images strikes our nervous systems. Sarah Pucill’s Blind Light is rendered with great economoy, as the substance of film is so exceeded by light, touch and feeling. The work provokes the suspension of the everyday world, as image, as the body and psyche ceaselessly coalesce and break away.  In Kim Coleman & Jenny Hogarth’s If You Can’t See My Mirrors I Can’t See You we are in turns suspended, as real and virtual spaces enmesh, encircling objects and subjectivities, in a feedback loop of the artists making.

We have a desire to begin to unpack the relations between imagined psychical space and our bodies in this place. On the lightest day we arrive weighed down with a projector, discs and neat spirals of film. Our lived experience is of body and image enfolded into the world. Film produces, through a unique combination of dichotomies (light/dark, visual/sound, past/present), a disjuncture between the two. As once began a lecture on film given by the ineffable Hollis Frampton, ‘we are, shall we say, comfortably seated. We may remove our shoes, if that will help us to remove our bodies’1.

1 Hollis Frampton, A Lecture. New York, 1968.

Laura Guy & Elsa Richardson, 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012

ABIDJAN a thought on the naming of new towns...

Abidjan is the colonial capital of Côte d'Ivoire and the country's largest city. In 1933 a port was built and the new city grew.

According to oral tradition of the Ebrie as reported in the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Côte d'Ivoire, the name "Abidjan" results from a misunderstanding. Legend states that an old man carrying branches to repair the roof of his house met a European explorer who asked him the name of the nearest village. The old man did not speak the language of the explorer, and thought that he was being asked to justify his presence in that place. Terrified by this unexpected meeting, he fled shouting "min-chan m'bidjan", which means in the Ébrié language: "I just cut the leaves." The explorer, thinking that his question had been answered, recorded the name of the locale asAbidjan. Wikipedia of course. 

Is this true, and what is involved in the process of naming a New Town? In Milton Keynes, the name was that of the smallest village surrounding the new town centre in order to avoid competition between the largest dwellings in the region. Shenzhen means "deep drains", a descriptive title of the cities geography which used to be a delta with streams and rivers throughout - that was before the bulldozers arrived and reclamation began. Thamesmead launched a competition in the Sunday Times to suggest names for the new town. One of the suggestions, New Wooabbeleri became the title of artist Stuart Whipp's project of 2011.

What does a name designate? How does a population relate to the name of town in which they live? Does choosing the name of the small hamlet that once stood in the new town's place offer some kind of panacea to the lack of material heritage in a new city?