Saturday, March 23, 2013

Architect: Curator of spatial associations

Architects are professionals who choose which associations you’ll have in your head when you experience a building.

Left: Subtle associations; The Pierre, Olson Kundig Architects. Right: Not so much; Inntel Hotel, WAM

Every form, every shape and every material has a different association attached to it. It is the role of the architect to combine these associations to create a space which both entertains and enlightens. Anyone can build a structure, and anyone can create any association they wish, the role of the architect is to consciously choose the associations a building will have, down to every element and detail. Wood looks warm, stone looks cold. Blue feels relaxed and orange feels energetic. We do not perceive the world as it is, but rather by what associations we have of it. 

The role of an architect is to choose which psychological associations you will think of when you experience a building.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A grand utopian aesthetic cannot make a utopia.

(above left: Paolo Soleri's Arcology, right: Vincent Callebaut’s Lilypads)
Whether it’s through a classical, modern or high-tech aesthetic, the style of utopian visions is almost always that of overt rationalism on a grand scale. Visions such as Paolo Soleri’s Acologies, Ron Herron’s Walking Cities and Vincent Callebaut’s Lilypads show future worlds where humans have utilized technology to neatly control and maintain the natural world around them.
These images distort the fact that for a utopia to exist it is not the buildings which need to change, but rather the people who live within them. Architecture is, of course, an expression of the society in which it is built, and it is both influenced and influential to that society, but are ostentatious, high-tech modern buildings really the way forward?

In the countries which repetitively score the highest in liveability, prosperity and happiness; Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland, instances of high-tech, or overtly rational architecture are no more prevalent than anywhere else. Most of the architecture in these countries is stylistically very similar to that of the rest of the world. Internally the design aesthetics of these countries do seem to have some unique characteristics in common; soft tones, minimal visual mess and a subtle playfulness often expressed through handmade or vernacular themed items. In these utopian Nordic countries a high-tech aesthetic is rarely seen. As opposed to the overt rational grandness of most utopian visions the architecture of these countries is typically simplistic in form and materiality and subtle in detail.
For utopia to manifest it would require people coming together and thoughtfully resolving the issues they face, making do with what is available, rather than having to create something completely new. Thoughtfulness and resourcefulness are not ideas expressed by grandiose designs. These designs also fail another important requirement for a successful society; the ability to integrate. For a utopia to be real it would have to fit in with the current context. In many cases dystopian visions, such as the artwork of Daniel Dociu or the 2012 d3 Natural Systems Special Mention project ‘City Rescuer: Detroit’, which display future communities co-existing in the detrital architecture of today’s world, seem to show more promise of creating a better real world than what is typically thought of as ‘Utopia’.  Grand and grandiose designs, therefore, are a fool’s utopia; a utopia which will not and cannot materialise.
In the words of Theo Crosby: 
‘We reject these [modern] buildings only partly because they are crude and ugly. They are now seen to be philosophically and ideologically incorrect and are therefore obscene; obscene in precisely the same way as an over-decorated Victorian building appeared obscene to Adolf Loos... It is not that they are modern, or made of concrete... it is because they represent an intellectual attitude which we now reject.' Crosby, Pessimist Utopia, p8
(above left: Daniel Dociu - Rooftops, right:
2012 d3 Natural Systems Special Mention project ‘City Rescuer: Detroit’)
 I finish with another quote from 'Pessimist Utopia'
‘In such a situation everyone is a pessimist. From this situation we have now to make us a utopia – in much the same way as Neolithic man set about cutting down the primal forests with little stone axes, so we have to make sense and romance out of decaying cities, shrinking economies, and unrealised aspirations. The pessimist begins with what is to hand, the ordinary wonderful world.’ p2

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

You: What's wrong

You ignore the world’s wars; the poverty; the suffering and death.
You avoid facing reality because it’s too depressing.
We all keep avoiding it and because of this it keeps getting worse.
The whole of humanity needs a kick up the arse because we are all acting so selfishly and so stupidly right now it’s a disgrace.
The far away horrors that we all ignore everyday are not helped by us continually ignoring them.
In our image based society we are continually encouraged to get more, to do more and to look better. The unimportant has taken over our lives and we are trapped in a corrupted paradigm of reality where we are blind to how obviously unsustainable the current state of our civilisation is. We’re not planning properly for the future because we can barely make sense of the present. We ignore the world’s wars; the poverty; the suffering and death. We avoid facing reality because it’s too depressing and if we keep doing this it’s just going to get worse. What are you doing with your life? Are you actually making the world a better place?
A powerful image from Sudan. Sadly, years later, if anything things have gotten worse.

The reason why I try to be the best I can be is to prove to myself that humans can be noble creatures. Few others give me hope for a better future so I am forced to be my own example. If I can’t even bring myself to live a life of positive influence on the planet, then what faith could I possibly have in everyone else?
The problem with today’s society is that it is a system built on deception and which requires this deception to operate. If the truth behind the capitalist system was known by all then perhaps it would end, but then again that is what Guy Debord thought. (More on him later)

The rational human and their love of lying

The fact that one is required to lie to fit into ‘normal’ society is an indication that we are still far from rational creatures. If being 100% honest makes you a sociopath then there is something very wrong with our society. Lies are an expression of our irrationality. They are like art or technology in that they are our creation and their continued use makes them part of who we are. We are irrational.
As I consider the nature of truth, and whether one’s propensity in telling it makes them socially inadequate, I remember an episode of a funny little cartoon called The life and times of Tim(S2E1). In the episode Tim does something socially inappropriate and gets a psychologist to write him a note to get out of it. The note says he has Asbergers. I felt that this seemed a little extreme, the idea that being honest, as Tim always is, and not realising, or caring, when you’re doing something socially inappropriate means you are actually impaired in some way seems a bit much. I then, upon further research, discovered that perhaps the reason why I feel this is a bit much is because I am, mildly at least, that way inclined myself. Just about everything below I can relate to:
Unlike those with autism, people with AS are not usually withdrawn around others; they approach others, even if awkwardly. For example, a person with AS may engage in a one-sided, long-winded speech about a favorite topic, while misunderstanding or not recognizing the listener's feelings or reactions, such as a need for privacy or haste to leave.[6] This social awkwardness has been called "active but odd".[2] This failure to react appropriately to social interaction may appear as disregard for other people's feelings, and may come across as insensitive.[6] However, not all individuals with AS will approach others. Some of them may even display selective mutism, speaking not at all to most people and excessively to specific people. Some may choose to talk only to people they like.[25]
Related to this last point is a problem I face whenever I go out drinking. This problem has even been noted by friends, who have rightly encouraged me to drink to overcome it. The problem is that when sober I am so cynical and analytical that I have little interest in interacting with other people, except maybe to subtly express my distain for them.
My comment to a friend one day was ‘I hate everyone else in this room’, obviously hyperbole, but with a hint of truth in it none-the-less. I look around at all the superficiality, insincerity and drunken stupidity that abounds in nightlife and it depresses me. It is only when I become intoxicated myself, and typically to the extreme, that I’m able to get past these issues and enjoy myself. The catch here is that when I’m sober I’m too grumpy and apathetic to talk to any strangers, i.e. try to pick up, and when I am intoxicated I join the rest of the pack in being too sordid to actually be able to pick up. Put simply I’m either in a state of being too smart or too dumb to fit in when I’m out drinking. Of course there is that small window when I am at just the right level of drunkenness to fit in and have fun, but this place represents a fine balance, a thin line, and the night is long. At most I’ll be in this peak zone for about an hour and if I’m out from 9pm to 2am this leaves a lot of time for all that has gone well to go wrong.
(The above was written in April 2011, the text below written 3 months later. Much of what is written repeats itself, but a few of the lines are too good to keep to myself)

After testing the idea of remaining sober and enjoying myself while out I realised that for me this can’t really be done. The problem is that when I’m sober my thoughts are predominately focused on big picture issues, which are either not understood, or not cared about by the average reveller. To go out and be sober is for me to go out with no particular interest in the conversations of those around me, and with them having no particular interest in my thoughts either.
Only when I am drunk or high can I forget about all of the world’s problems. There are so many problems that I do wish to escape from their enslavement sometimes, and I can do this when intoxicated. But when sober I must always face the fact that I should not simply ignore all of these problems because my lifestyle is based on, and is directly responsible for, a lot of the mess which I find so disagreeable.
Minimising your impact on the world is one thing but ideally those who can will also try to influence others to live a better life. It may seem a bit oppressive or arrogant to try and influence others in this way, but if you have good reason to believe that it will make the world a better place why not? Everyone is continually being influenced by others. We all live on the same planet. We all affect each other.
I write in order to sort out all the ideas in my head.
I read because so to have others before me.

To be an existentialist is to not be a nihilist

An existentialist lives in hope and appreciates what he’s got.
A nihilist lives in despair and is spiteful to others for their indifference.
Reading more of Dostoyevsky ('The Idiot') today I grimace at how much I relate to the descriptions of his nihilist anti-heroes. As I think more about nihilism and it’s consequences I once again consider the meaninglessness of it all. But I think ‘well if nothing means anything I may as well enjoy myself’. To have no fear of death is actually a very powerful trait. It is as empowering as it is liberating. This is what existentialism is to me. It is the power to do whatever you want and think is the right thing to do. Unlike a nihilist an existentialist sees this desire for self-fulfilment as enough of a reason in of itself to be pursued.
I actually don’t understand how a true nihilist can exist. To feel that everything is meaningless is surely a depressing thought and if there is no possible meaning to life then why live through this depression? Surely any ‘true’ nihilist would commit suicide as soon as they reached their nihilistic conclusion?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The war you don't want to see

After watching John Pilger’s The War You Don’t See’ I realise just how much of an image dominated species we are. War’s are horrible, everyone knows this, and yet until we are shown the images we never fully grasp how bad ‘horrible’ actually is. In one piece of footage, which I’d actually seen before but without the context given was previously not moved quite as much, a helicopter gunship circles a group of 8 civilians, two of which are Reuters journalists, the gunner is given permission to fire and does so, the bullets explode on impact and the camera pans as those running are gunned down, the camera zooms out and the street is filled with bodies, ‘nice’ says the gunner staring at the 8 bodies, that he has just mutilated, strewn across the street. This video was shot in Bagdad in 2007 and released by wikileaks in 2010. To quote Julian Assange ‘This tape for me, and the other people involved, made ‘nice’ a dirty word. We couldn’t see ‘nice’ anymore when a whole street covered in carnage is ‘nice’.
This tape and the quote shows just how stupid, morally corrupt or just plain fucked up in the head those who join the military are, but these people aren’t the exception, they are just like you or me. Just before this footage is shown Julian Assange explains that ‘this is not a sophisticated conspiracy controlled at the top. This is a vast movement of self-interest by thousands and thousands of players all working together and against each other’. The way I see it the problem is not that there are evil puppet masters in charge or that the Military-Industrial Complex has taken over the world, which both may be true, the real problem is human nature.
We are all selfish, greedy and irrational. Wherever humans are to be found suffering is not far away. Perpetual wars pervade Africa and the Middle East, oppression and poverty is rife throughout Asia. The world is fucked and we in the West continue to ignore it because we selfishly put our own interests before those of others. We wallow in our materialistic consumer societies and ignorantly fail to comprehend that our unsustainable lifestyles are built on the suffering of others.
It’s been over 60 years since the phrase ‘ghost in the machine’ was first introduced and since then there has been nothing but further suffering and destruction. The cold war may be over but the self-destructive ‘ghost’ is still very much present. Looking at the world as it is today I do not actually have any hope for humanity.
My reason for living is that I feel, and hope, that within my lifetime I’ll see the change that needs to happen next; the end of humanity. ‘The end of humanity’ might have a rather destructive and nihilistic tone to it, and although I do believe that destruction is one possibility, my hope is that humanity will end not with the destruction but rather the transgression of the species into something more advanced. Within our lifetimes the evolution of humanity beyond what it is now into something more rational does seem very much within the realms of possibility. Especially when you consider how much our knowledge of the world has grown in the past 50 years.
I know that my sphere of influence on this planet is very small, even perhaps negligible, so I mainly just try to sit back, relax, do whatever I can to make the world a better place and enjoy the ride.
The flowchart of zen (admittedly a rather apathetic and unproductive way of looking at the world, but still worth considering when everything seems too much.)

(Perhaps this is a more productive flowchart to look at when you're down)