Edited by Bryony Roberts
Lars Müller Publishers
Oslo School of Architecture
Columbia University GSAPP
In contrast to tabula rasa urbanism, this book considers the possibilities of tabula plena — urban sites that are full of existing buildings, systems, and activities that have accumulated over time. These dense urban sites prompt designers to draw simultaneously from the fields of architecture, historic preservation, and urban planning.
The book proceeds from a collaboration between the Oslo School of Architecture and Design and Columbia University GSAPP on the planning of the national government quarter in Oslo. In addition to its political significance, the site features a series of important modernist buildings designed by Erling Viksjø. Half-empty since a terrorist attack in 2011, the government quarter has been mired in controversies over historic preservation and new construction. Arguing for the integration of historic structures and future growth, the collaborative academic team galvanized public support for protecting and enlivening the existing buildings.
Expanding outward from this process, this book asks larger questions about how we practice, teach, and theorize engagement with existing architecture at the urban scale. A compilation of essays addresses theoretical questions about authorship, governance, and community involvement, while selected design projects offer a catalogue of formal strategies for architectural design. Intended as a resource for both practitioners and teachers, the book includes a series of discussions about pedagogical strategies for integrating knowledge from architecture, historic preservation, and urban planning.
Contributors: Daniel M. Abramson, Thordis Arrhenius, Candilis Josic Woods, Dogma, Mattias Ekman, Yona Friedman, José María Sánchez García Arquitectos, Erik Langdalen, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, Winy Maas, Mansilla + Tuñón, Salvador Muñoz Viñas, OMA, Jorge Otero-Pailos, Christian Parreno, Andrea Pinochet, Bryony Roberts, Eduardo Rojas, Superstudio, Elizabeth Timme, Bernard Tschumi, Xaveer de Geyter Architects, and graduate studios from AHO and GSAPP
Log 31: New Ancients
Guest-edited by Dora Epstein Jones
and Bryony Roberts
A special issue of the architectural journal Log, "New Ancients" examines the sudden reappearance of history in the work of an emerging group of architects, curators, and theorists. Drawing a parallel with the 17th- century quarrel between the Ancients and Moderns at the Academie francaise, guest editors Dora Epstein Jones and Bryony Roberts present the work of practitioners who explore the contemporary possibilities of history. This Spring/Summer 2014 issue particularly emphasizes drawing projects that synthesizes contemporary technology and historical precedents.
Zeynep Celik Alexander, Andrew Atwood, Sarah Blankenbaker, Mark Ericson, David Gissen, Cristina Goberna, Urtzi Grau, Mark Jarzombek, Thomas Kelley, Parsa Khalili, Amy Kulper, Anna Neimark, Marc Neveu, William O’Brien, Jorge Otero-Pailos, Jason Payne, Emmanuel Petit, Matt Roman, Jonah Rowen, Daniel Sherer, Enrique Walker, Sarah Whiting, Cameron Wu
Edited by Sarah Lorenzen + Bryony Roberts
Funded by the Graham Foundation
At the MAK Center, Neutra VDL House, and Hollyhock House, Los Angeles
October 4-5, 2014
This two-day conference investigates the power of experimental art installations to remake the spatial and social realities of modernist house museums. The symposium responds to the curatorial shift in the maintenance of house museums, in which directors commission increasingly transformative art installations that challenge the conventional preservation of modernist landmarks. The conference will host a series of conversations between house museum directors, curators, artists and architects to reveal the curatorial motivations and artistic processes behind these interventions.
Sarah Lorenzen and Bryony Roberts
Jorge Otero-Pailos, Kimberli Meyer, Santiago Borja, Xavier Veilhan, Francois Perrin, Mimi Zeiger, Mohammed Sharif, Johanna Blakley, Julian Hoeber, Renee Petropoulous, Justin Jampol, Patrick Mansfield, Bill Ferehawk, Anthony Carfello, Mark Allen, Ted Bosley
More info here
Published in the Harvard Design Magazine
No. 44, Fall / Winter 2017
Performing in the streets of Harlem for the African American Day Parade, the Marching Cobras often appear in standard marching uniforms—plumed hats and double-breasted jackets trimmed with epaulettes. But their movements quickly accelerate into rapid-fire revisions of marching tradition, with drummers and dancers lunging and locking to syncopated beats. Working a range of different drums—enormous over-the-shoulder bass drums, smaller tenor drum sets, higher-pitched snares—the percussionists dip and spin, steadily increasing the speed and intensity of their rhythms. The dance line accentuates the beats with arm swings, deep dips, and body rolls, all the while maintaining tight synchronization and gridded formations. The Marching Cobras, an intensive after-school program for at-risk teenagers in New York, merges systems of physical precision from different time periods: the gridded uniformity of marching-band routines with the artistry of hip-hop choreography.
Marching is a process of iteration. Marching-band performances grow from strict systems of order for synchronizing formations, steps, and rhythms. Against these familiar structures, new interpretations introduce variations, divergences, and disruptions. Each new performance is different—performers, places, and time periods give disparate meanings to the act of marching. Each is an iterative remaking of a historical structure within a new context.
The act of marching in protest is similarly both structured and malleable. Step after step, in a regular rhythm, holding signs, chanting slogans—the physical process of marching is fundamentally repetitive. This movement and, on a larger scale, the march itself repeat and reinhabit previous protests. Both forms of marching appropriate and remake urban spaces, creating new alignments between social groups and spatial boundaries. Marching echoes the linearity and repetition of city streets, but fills these spaces with a tide of synchronized bodies, movements, and sounds. This moving mass creates a momentary social and spatial structure, a materialization of collective identity that aligns with specific buildings and streets. When deployed by marginalized groups, this familiar form can enable otherwise impossible visibility and reinforce entitlement to public space. Both marching bands and protest marches, therefore, offer an ordered structure that can be remade and reinterpreted to serve drastically different purposes. They illuminate the tension between a repetitive historical form and its constantly changing iterations. The historical lineage of marching shows how reinhabiting a familiar form—by changing the who, where, and how of its materialization—can give that form a completely different spatial and political agency. ...
The resilience of historical forms also speaks to another kind of invention, different from that which is often celebrated. While creative fields focus on originality as distinct from history, these groups show how innovation can emerge through the reenactment and manipulation of given structures. Alterations to the formal elements of a marching routine—the rhythm, pace, flourishes, and steps—can both maintain and invert an existing structure. Furthermore, alterations to context—the actors, audience, and location—of a performance can entirely resituate its cultural purpose. Marching therefore speaks to creativity and resistance as a form of flipping or doubling, where a familiar element can exist as both its referent and its opposite. ...
Full text on Harvard Design Magazine website
Beyond the Querelle
Extended introduction to Log 31
"Why New Ancients? The disciplinary dilemma facing the current generation mirrors that of the 17th-century Academie francaise. Like their predecessors, these "ancients" also respond to baroque excess and scientific positivism by affirming classical rigor. But while the term Ancients has long evoked conservative rigidity, a closer look at François Blondel and his allies reveals a more complex approach to history and science. Rather than asserting the strict mimesis of classical precedent, the old Ancients, as well as their 21st-century counterparts, reflect a synthesis of classical scholarship and emerging science that subversively elides past and present.
Our conventional understanding of the querelle between the Ancients and Moderns has perpetuated a false dichotomy between tradition and progress. When Bernini unveiled his proposal for the east facade of the Louvre in 1664, he shocked the Academie with his curvaceous distortions of classical forms. Favoring more austere classicism but divided over the means, the Academie splintered into the opposing camps of the Moderns and the Ancients. While Claude Perrault spearheaded the Moderns by advocating for rationalism and scientific innovation, Blondel led the Ancients by demanding fidelity to classical precedents. Since the Moderns ultimately won this fight, spawning French Enlightenment rationalism and, one could argue, modernism itself, Perrault is known as a pioneer of innovation and Blondel as an intractable conservative. But recent research by Anthony Gerbino reveals a different picture. A trained mathematician, disciple of Galileo, and professor of mathematics before becoming director of the Academie royale d'architecture, Blondel also aspired to the synthesis of emerging science and classical knowledge. In his treatise Résolution des quatre principaux problemes d'architecture from 1673, he integrated discoveries by both contemporary and classical geometers to solve problems of projecting and building curvatures. The difference between Blondel and Perrault was not the opposition between tradition and progress, since both were trained scientists and believed in a synthesis of the two, but rather a subtler but no less important difference in epistemology. Perrault argued for empirical testing as the foundation of knowledge, pushing architecture toward the sciences, while Blondel represented an earlier model of erudition that integrated the humanities and the sciences, valuing scholarly expertise in classical and contemporary mathematics, science, literature, and architecture.
Today, the field of architecture is facing a similar epistemological divide between empirical experimentation and broader cultural knowledge. The loosely termed New Ancients operate with facility across the empirical realms of material and digital experimentation, but they locate intellectual discovery in dialogue with scholarly histories of techniques and precedents. Their integration of emerging technologies and buried histories reconstructs an architectural subject capable of decision making based on layers of cultural and disciplinary knowledge. Reared on Michel Foucault's Nietzsche, they see the past as so conditioned by its contexts as to be impossible to repeat, but not so incidental as to lead to cynical relativism. Instead, they approach history in search of useful truths, and stage conceptual exchanges between past and present methodologies. While this generation's freewheeling transformations of historical sources would have horrified the old Ancients, their ambitions remain uncannily similar: rather than pegging architecture to either individualized form making or scientific innovation, they invest in architecture as a cultural and intellectual project with a history of techniques for transforming abstractions into constructions...
... Moving beyond the familiar simplifications of the Ancients vs. Moderns – tradition vs. progress – we can see instead a history of provocatively equalizing past and present. We typically understand modernization as initiating a culture war between history and technology, but it also produced a series of thinkers who collapsed time by eliding historical moments. Although Blondel and Perrault are known for their opposing defenses of tradition and progress, they did not embody this duality; Blondel was less invested in the triumph of tradition than in the integration of classical scholarship and science, while Perrault, the vocal defender of scientific progress, was an erudite scholar and translator of Vitruvius. The great architects who followed them from the Enlightenment through the early Industrial Age – from Henri Labrouste to Viollet-le-Duc – were notable not for their singular pursuit of progress but rather for their integrations of new technology and classical form. The rise of modernism in the 20th century, although ostensibly trumpeting positivism, also ushered in even more bizarre and experimental thinking about the elision of historical time. It is no coincidence that Nietzsche, Bataille, and Benjamin, widely different thinkers linked in a chain of influence, all appear with regular frequency in the writings, projects, and teaching syllabi of the individuals featured in this issue. All three philosophers expressed doubt about both scientific positivism and historical authority, and instead argued for temporal collapse. Positing the cycle of eternal return, Nietzsche calls for suprahistorical beings who can see that the “past and the present are one and the same.” Bataille picked up the theme to mock architecture for attempting to resist the delirious looping of time, while Benjamin celebrated the spaces and objects that collapse past and present in a flash. While previous historical turns of the 20th century have lauded the past over the present, the practitioners, theorists, and historians who inspired this issue have stepped into the realm of strange equivalence. Absorbing and transforming, they develop a new authorship based not on singular individuality, but rather the ability to alter both past and present by making them inextricable. Past geometric techniques quietly shape contemporary forms, while digital techniques rearrange historic structures from the inside out. The intimacy of old and new plays out in the subtle redirection of architectural form and the rearranging of the architectural mind."
Copyright Bryony Roberts
Published in Future Anterior
Volume 12, Number 2
“Competing Utopias, a recent exhibition at the Neutra VDL Studios and Residences in Los Angeles, is, in the words of its curators, 'a design collision that should never happen.' Previously the home of Austrian modernist Richard Neutra, the Neutra VDL compound has been a house museum since 1990, most recently under the directorship of Sarah Lorenzen. Taking issue with the conventions of the house museum, Lorenzen has organized interventions by artists Santiago Borja, Xavier Veilhan, and, full disclosure, by this author in 2013, which either inserted sculptural objects or produced new environments within the historic modernist site. The most recent exhibition, however, moves beyond a confrontation between new and old to offer a more disarming challenge to familiar notions of authenticity. Instigated by both the Neutra VDL and the Wende Museum, which collects Cold War artifacts from Germany, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the exhibition involved removing all of the furniture and decorative objects of the VDL House and replacing them with equivalent objects from the Eastern Bloc. Since the VDL House was rebuilt after a fire in 1965-66, its mid-60s interior offers a strangely comfortable context for objects from the other side of the Iron Curtain, from vintage record players and typewriters to Soviet children’s books and Stasi surveillance equipment ((Insert Image 1 here)). The stylistic harmony between the Wende collection and Neutra’s interiors produces surprising elisions between communist propaganda and the postwar Californian lifestyle. But most subversive is the choice to leave off any labels or explanation, so that visitors to the house do not know what is original and what has been added. The lack of labels is the key curatorial move that challenges established conventions for maintaining and curating authenticity.
Alongside other interventions in the summer of 2014, such as Alex Lehnerer and Savvas Ciriacidis’ reconstructed Kanzlerbungalow in the German Pavilion in Venice and Fujiko Nakaya’s billowing fog in the Glass House, this exhibition points to an emerging phenomenon of installations and exhibitions that undermine constructions of authenticity in historical architecture. Through strategies of copying, versioning and disguising canonical spaces, these projects challenge carefully constructed simulations of historical moments. It is important to note, however, that these are not entirely renegade operations, but rather the sponsored products of cultural institutions. In part, they manifest a growing liberalism and self-critique in the management of historic buildings, but they also, more profoundly, hold a mirror to the shifting definitions of authenticity within historic preservation discourse.
The maintenance of “authenticity” is assumed to be a primary goal of historic preservation, and yet the term has never had a stable meaning within the discourse and is rarely defined. As a result, the word has encapsulated a range of ideological positions over time, connoting almost opposite meanings from the 19th century to the present. Analyzing its historical usage reveals a change from emphasis on original materials toward intangible, environmental qualities, and increasingly permissive attitudes towards copies and imitations. As these changes have transformed global regulations, leading to the designation of full reconstructions as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, experimental practices engaged in copying, imitating, and reproducing monuments have revealed the slippages between intangible heritage and fiction. ..."
Copyright Bryony Roberts
Full text available through Project Muse
Why There's No Postmodernism2
Published in Log 26
"In response to the growing need to reconcile preservation and development, an increasing number of projects from the last decade have demonstrated a move away from simple renovation toward disciplinary confrontation with existing spatial types. Although there is a plethora of renovation, adaptive reuse, and restoration projects that cannibalize existing architecture, the projects of typological cannibalism explicitly challenge the validity of existing types to generate new urban composites. While renovations often aim for respectful continuity with existing architecture, typological cannibalism contrasts old and new to foreground the need to for typological revision. Recent projects such as Herzog and De Meuron’s Fünf Höfe in Munich, OMA’s Milstein Hall at Cornell University, Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Hirshhorn Museum Bubble and renovation of Lincoln Center in New York exemplify this approach, with the new insertions re-organizing the existing distributions of public and private space. These projects not only move beyond façadism to more spatial and urban evaluation of existing architecture, but they also introduce a contemporary approach to typology. Rather than using historic types as models for contemporary practice, these projects use types as historically significant but malleable raw material for spatial invention. Types are not abstract, timeless ideals, but rather specific artifacts that must be reconfigured to remain economically and culturally sustainable. ..."
Copyright Bryony Roberts
Beyond Gordon Matta-Clark
Published in Architectural Record
..."the adoration of Matta-Clark’s work often takes it literally, romanticizing the burly physicality of destruction and the aesthetic of material decay, thereby marginalizing his influence to anti-architectural gestures. His contemporary relevance, however, is actually as a conceptual minimalist—he was able to see how cutting a single line could transform an entire building. This incisive intelligence connects him to both to the more austere conceptual artists of his time and to an emerging generation of artists, architects, and preservationists trying to transform existing structures in a single stroke.
Matta-Clark was obsessed with producing spatial shortcuts, seeking “the simplest way to create complexity…without having to make or build anything". The line that he cut through the abandoned house in Edgewood, New Jersey, produced a continuous ribbon of light through interior rooms and destabilized the image of suburban domesticity on the exterior ... These projects continue to captivate us because they use concise geometries to produce layered complexity. The cuts offer both perceptual oscillations between figure and ground, and understated critiques of cycles of construction and demolition. This succinctness connects Matta-Clark to his peers in conceptual art and institutional critique, even though he downplayed those allegiances. Michael Asher, born the same year as Matta-Clark but practicing in Los Angeles, also pioneered critical interventions into architecture, with the aim of rearranging cultural institutions. For his intervention into the Claire Copley Gallery in Los Angeles in 1974, Asher simply demolished the wall between the gallery space and the administrative office, making the work of the employees the only content on display. Employing both subtraction and addition, he removed the front doors of the Pomona College Museum of Art in 1970 and funneled visitors through new white walls, which extended the street and undermined the autonomy of the museum. Matta-Clark disapproved of the neatness and interiority of Asher’s work, but together they show how the strategic alteration of walls, floors, windows, and doors can reposition a viewer’s relationships to an existing architectural type. Their work laid the groundwork for practices that reject the production of new objects, in favor of creating entirely new and critical experiences by rearranging existing architecture."
Copyright Bryony Roberts
Looking for the Outside
Published in The Avery Review
"On December 5, 2014, to a packed audience at the Architectural Association in London, four architectural theorists—Reinhold Martin, Ines Weizman, Pier Vittorio Aureli, and Sarah Whiting—responded to the provocations of philosopher Chantal Mouffe, and faced her replies in turn. The event, titled “How Is Architecture Political?” was the second of the Architecture Exchange series, which pits architectural theorists against the philosophers they reference. With the aim of producing substantive philosophical debate and an assessment of interdisciplinary translation, the organizers Joseph Bedford, Jessica Reynolds, Umberto Bellardi Ricci, and Shumi Bose invited theorists influenced by Mouffe to represent opposing positions. The audience may well have expected an animated case-in-point of agonistic democracy, if not a dogfight, but found instead a remarkably consensual conversation. The event, which exposed the limitations of Mouffe’s position for architecture, also showed the danger of consensus in discourses on architecture and politics. ...
... The overall conversation revealed the degree to which current discursive differences are still plotted on coordinates staked out by postwar critical discourse. In the years since the “critical turn” in architecture, as it has been called, architects have generally responded to Manfredo Tafuri’s dare—to choose revolution or the boudoir—by carefully avoiding either extreme. For four decades, the architectural discipline has ricocheted between the camps of engagement and autonomy, between outside and inside, all the while remaining within its own terminologies and value systems. The session left in its wake—for this author at least—a sense of frustrated entrapment. The consensus of the discussion was that architects must ruthlessly analyze structures of authority, thereby revealing their own powerlessness and limited agency within them while also holding out ideal and unrealizable utopias as motivations for possible change. Somewhere in between, the daily act of practice tinkers within the terrain allowed to it by global capital to enact some small manifestation of those utopian ideals. Is that really all that we have left as architects?
Certainly, alliances of global capital and political power shape architecture’s processes of design, construction, and one could even say imagination. Perhaps the problem is not the desire for an outside, but rather, what kind of outside? Three of the speakers have, at different times, advocated a version of modernism as an outside to motivate change—Martin with his writings on the specter of modernist Utopia within postmodernism, Aureli with his discussion of Red Vienna as a model of agonistic enclaves, Whiting in her celebrations of ambitious modernist public projects in Chicago. The ghost of modernism represents the moment before the “critical” generation, when architectural innovation aligned with political will to produce spaces of appearance and action. But in the absence of the same political will, funding mechanisms, or even construction techniques, modernism can translate into the present simply as a style. As was witnessed at the Venice Biennale this summer, the fetish of modernism is cresting, and its danger is the default association of abstraction with political ambition. Although abstraction can be a tempting siren for architects, promising to bridge among critique, practice, and utopia, it can just as often be an aesthetic entirely complicit with global speculation.
The ricochet between critique and utopia ignores another outside that exists on every street of our cities—the difficult, messy, irreducible complexities of existing architecture. The material and urban challenges of postwar modernist architecture, in particular, do not sit easily within either public or architectural discourse. Instead, they stand as stumbling blocks for development and triggers for debate between architects and multiple constituencies. While architects run in circles to invent new forms that reconfigure existing hegemonies, there exist outside their offices built realities that manifest a range of “other” social and political ambitions. The fact that these spaces are out of sync with new development is exactly their strength—they enable us to experience the structures of other worldviews and force us to wrestle with our own cultural and political pasts."
Copyright Bryony Roberts
Full text here