Thursday, 15 November 2007

a musing anarchitect


This is the core of what our capitalist consumer society has to offer. If left to grow in the Petri dish, our surroundings become more and more clearly defined as a mall. The only real inhabitants, the only real participants, the only true beneficiaries, are consumers. It you’re not shopping, you are not only not welcome, you don’t really even exist.

Is shopping your favorite activity?

What activities do you enjoy which do not require shopping?

If ‘shopping,’ which we can define as buying or exchanging goods for any goods or services, is your primary objective / most pleasurable or important activity, then you must be interested in obtaining buying power, or capital. Capital is your ticket to the show.

If you have a day off from work, what do you do? Do you get some shopping done? What else would you do?
What if you had a week off from work, and all of your shopping was done?
All of your chores are done. All of your bills are paid.
There is ALWAYS something else to buy. Shopping is never done.
The accumulation of capital is never done, either.
The system grows, continuously.

I outright reject, at times violently, the idea that the primary direction of society, and subsequently, the main objective of urban planning and architectural design, is shopping.

When I enter a city, via freight train covered in soot, or by airplane with no bags checked in, or by bicycle, I do not enter my name on the list of shoppers. 90% of my time in the urban environment is spent not shopping.

What, then, am I doing here?

Here is a list of things I ‘do’ in the city:


Fall in love



Most people would look at this list and laugh, or at least find many things that they wouldn’t qualify as actual activities. Are these items programmable in urban design or architecture? Are these programs as independent and viable as “shopping?” My suggestion is that the very idea that these programs are disputable in comparison with a program like “shopping” is an indication that we are in trouble.

I want you to know that right now, in your city, there are walkers and bicycle riders who are out here for no other reason than to participate in some of the above programs. Next time you see someone walking against the grain while you are on your way to work, imagine that ‘she’s on her way to escape today’ or ‘he is out in the name of absorption alone!’

It happens. I know I do it.

We live in a city that was designed for living and shopping, with the occasional industrial complex here and there, and maritime commerce structures lining the waterfront. The row housing on commercial streets are designed to house people over a ground level of commercial activity that requires capital to ultimately participate in (I do recognize window shopping and browsing with empty pockets as an activity or program). When I think of re-programming a city commercial strip like those in old Brooklyn or parts of Manhattan, that fact is overbearing due to the repetitive shape of the buildings. In an environment designed and built with the absence (or underscoring) of shopping as precognition, the streetscape would look very different ~ at the very least, there would be little necessity for the strict uniformity of design we see in our current city streets.

This is crucial ~ being that we are proponents of architectural recycling, we express distaste for the idea of constantly tearing buildings down & creating construction waste (the vast majority of waste tonnage excreted from the city is from demolition/construction), health hazards, and disgustingly cheap & efficient new designs by architectural whores and greedy investors who care little for / have no grasp of what real design could be ~ we are working within the pre-existing skeletal structure of a relatively efficient capitalist design, and our design constraint is to take the former houses of commerce and imagine new programs and activities within these walls.

In the spirit of “Woodsian” reclamation & paradigm shifts, I am also expecting design elements to begin to grow and expand beyond this skeletal frame, as new programs demand. Changing society ~ ripping from its tight grasp the very foundation upon which all of our surroundings were built (shopping) will undoubtedly revolutionize the way we walk through the city, the way we greet each other on the street, the way we approach architecture.

I have engaged a number of individuals in argument over why I think the sequel to the film “28 Days Later” was a disgusting flop and did its predecessor no justice. After writing the previous paragraphs I feel like I can more clearly articulate my answer. Aside from being more intelligently paced and showcasing a more graceful approach to cinematography in general, the first movie presents us with a glimpse of what this undeniably evocative urban/architectural condition might be like to experience in periods of transition: every service previously offered by London’s architecture, every building designed with an express purpose in mind, every pedestrian ritual practiced verbatim every day as a result of the workweek ~ as a result of capitalism ~ is vanquished. We watch as one pedestrian walks through a city stripped of its life and program (and unfortunately most of its inhabitants) and experiences the empty shell of what once was. This moment, much like the opening ‘dream’ sequence of “Vanilla Sky” lends us some insight into re-programming existing space. What happens to the shopping carts when the cash registers are vacant? What happens to the fitting rooms when there are no retail stores?

What would we do, should we discover a city completely deserted, if we were under no obligation to pay for food and rent? What would we establish? What would become of all of those ground-floor commercial spaces lining the empty streets? If this wasn’t the result of some saddening catastrophic event or war, if this was a choice made by communities (and here we get REALLY wishy-washy – it’s hard to imagine this condition taking place willingly on such a huge scale), what would our wildly creative minds invent? And what would the architecture that cradles these inventions, societal experiments, new ways of living, look like?

This idea is what really drives my interest in architecture. I spent four years attending design classes at the University of Florida’s college of Architecture as a student of design, and every project where I was allowed to take liberties with the programmatic elements of whatever I was encouraged to propose, I started here, at this idea:

In a state of real freedom, where our consumer society is somehow abolished or radically amended ~ in short, where architecture and program is not the slave of capitalism ~ What programs do we demand?

And from here it gets really interesting ~ What would the architecture of these programs look and feel like? What role does regional diversity play in the re-shaping of pre-existing architecture? What happens to the architecture we have when we factor in our demands for food, the necessity to clean up after ourselves, the changes in communication infrastructure, transportation, family life, neighborhood life, community life? What would the programs of love, lust, exploration, community outreach, education, sharing and mutual aid look like? How would they differ from state to state, mountain to valley, Oceanside to lakefront, flatlands to canyons, city to city, block to block? Would cultural and language barriers solidify and draw more distinct lines on the maps without the smoothing-over of commerce ~ our current ‘come together’ factor?
Or would other elements of life outside of this system take the place of buying and selling and trading, perpetuating the cultural exchange?

Would this be an outright nightmare?

If so, why was it always my architectural dream?

This was an interesting read concerning gentrification:

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Everything’s Wrong 101 (not without humor)

Everything’s Wrong 101 (not without humor)
By Matt Boyle

I can't wait to see my brother & mother this week. it means most of my immediate family will be together, and i'm a lucky one in this respect - we have a certain "energy" when we're all together that always seems to set me straight and make me feel alright.
Thinking about seeing my brother soon makes me think about my current 'way of life' up here in nyc, and how it's different from his... how it's different from the Florida lifestyle i gleefully left behind.
moving up here, and the subsequent juxtaposition of suburban FL to urban NY, has always been exciting and positive to me.

the low population density, land waste, water waste, cookie-cutter corporate architecture by regional chains and the resulting advertisement assault on the senses, the necessity for an automobile, paying for fuel + insurance for this automobile, the complete lack of cultural diversity, a dead art scene (well, it’s trying), a dead music scene (with the exception of a brave handful who are always at odds), no architectural cred whatsoever, and too many people in sandals – all of these things drove me away fired up and ready for something new.
I am perfectly comfortable living in the urban environment when it comes to high population density, but I have to admit there are mornings where I’ll back out of a packed subway car, shaking my head, insisting to the goofy sardines trying so hard to get to their crappy early jobs where they make slave wages in relation to the costs of living in the city that they are willing to physically push and shove one another in and out of trains that “this is no way to live.” The city is bulging, overflowing, growing annually. The public transit system has long begun to lag behind it’s demand. And speaking of this demand, another thing I’ve come to notice and seriously dislike about new york city, a point most new Yorkers pride themselves on – is the inherent hard-work ethic that trumps all basic human needs. Who cares to work so hard, and why? Sigh…. I feel like a teenager again, the one who indulges in running scenarios like “if everyone stopped paying rent, what could they do? If everyone stopped working, what could they do?”
Us vs. them, etc, etc.
I still have it in me, just like the weeks before I moved here, roaring in the anti-republican national convention critical mass bicycle ride, a living answer to the question “what if we all (thousands strong) rode bikes through manhattan for hours, blocking traffic, causing chaos, having the time of our lives, voicing our protest, making our statement… what could they do?” they did a lot, but they couldn’t wipe the wide smile from my face. I still smile when I think of that night.
Well, I never done that in florida!

As this becomes a point-by-point, we move on to land waste. Well, a lot can be said in any situation, this is a tough one. There are a lot of big buildings out here, and although they may be of some grand architectural significance, they serve the same purpose as the monuments to pure evil I oft loathed in florida. Three years ago, I’d have been a big advocate of vertical growth over large sprawling fertilized lawns that are generally off limits to the public. Now I’m just dissatisfied with both solutions, and even more invested ideologically in the future of urban planning. I will say this - another ‘win’ for the new york beast – here, in the hyper-urban condition, you find life resilient, creative, and illegal. Old factory buildings, deserted of their original program so some company can save money with slave labor overseas, become squats for brave anarchists and the homeless. From a design standpoint, developers take these spaces and create residential-ready renovations that offer a little more comfort (complete with commercial lease) and often end up with interesting new spaces, for interesting new ways to define one’s “home” or studio. I have experienced this first hand, and although the skyrocketing housing costs in (former) artist-friendly areas pushed me out, it works. These interesting conditions can only occur in former seats of industry, and are a result of creative-minded folk who’d rather work within the existing skeletal structure of older buildings than bulldoze & trash tons and tons of material bound for landfills. This is a sort of parasitic / recycling form of architecture, which I have ALWAYS – since the days of my design classes in architecture school in florida – been chiefly interested in. alas, I am a big fan of Lebbeus Woods. (more points for new york – I actually met professor Woods and attended a couple of his critiques of his Cooper Union students! In florida, the closest I’d get to this would be in the lonely UF arts & architecture library shelves under ‘W’)

Water waste.. errr… not sure where I was going with this, but hey! I don’t have to witness first-hand the watering of people’s vast untapped green lawns that serve little to no community purpose. I’m sure nyc is wasting more water, because of its population and infrastructure, than anywhere in florida, but I’d be willing to bet that the amount of water used/wasted PER PERSON in florida is MUCH greater than that of new york.

Cookie cutter corporate architecture!!!! Oh, here we go. I recently got caught up in a conversation at work trying to explain some of my most basic political viewpoints (big mistake) only to find that I had to continuously dumb-down my argument as it fell on deaf ears. I eventually turned to this simple perspective: design & diversity.
There are so many more important / pressing issues concerning the corporate takeover of the global community at the moment, but a nice gateway drug for those who are mildly conservative and zombified by placating television programs and deficient news coverage every night is an argument for good design vs. cheap & efficient design. We can weave (or crochet) this into anything we want to make, and take it all the way to the top (as in why we should overthrow the government and split the united states into a smaller union of self-governing countries) if we want to.

Ok. Florida is still, by most city-standards, a ripe flatland awaiting new architecture and urban planning design strategies, desperately failing in its current state. ***NOTE – by ‘new strategies’ I insist this could be interpreted as ‘no further development’ / ‘anti-development’*** big businesses sit on ‘industrial parks’ with fountains and planned landscaping that offer workers near windows a view of LIES. Wake up, dickhead! You can’t have natural florida everglades and the DANKA corporate headquarters in the same fucking fenced in park. Fuck you.
Smaller national chain businesses have fuckitects design very cheap, very specialized, very efficient cookie-cutter buildings (Starbucks, Eckerd, CVS, Duane Reade, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, SAMS Club, Best Buy, Barnes N’ Noble, to name a few) that all look the same, no matter where you go. This is part of the success of super-BRANDING, logos run-amok, and cheap design. I could be in Morocco, Vietnam, Saint Petersburg, or Manhattan – it doesn’t matter where you are, or what buildings these chains sit next to. They all look the same. This helps consumers identify services more quickly on the street, and brainwashes people into thinking that this particular company, with its logo all over your city, and wiped all over your shit, is the end-all be-all of parties offering these goods or services, and this creates consumer loyalty. This also creates, in addition to excessive landscaping, deconstruction + reconstruction (although reconstruction usually takes about 2-3 days [“wow! Where’d that come from!”])a significant lack of regional diversity in design. The more national / global chain businesses there are in an area, the more the area appears to be an “anywhere, Earth” atrocity. For those of you who might not be following as to why this is a bad thing, let me simply state that I come from the school of thought that seeks to nurture regional differences in design – and in life… I mean, c’mon! do I really have to explain this!!? To the average American, you do. Cultural diversity - such as that found in design, art, music, cuisine, morals, customs, smells, climates, languages, colors, sexual identity, temperatures, temperaments, beliefs, ideas, dreams, etc. - all serve to enrich our experience here on earth.

I believe that when a wal-mart store goes up in your neighborhood, history and culture are dying as a direct result. You will also, by participating in the activities encased in this disgusting eyesore, suffer headaches and eventual death from parking, waiting in long lines, and failing to enjoy the fruits of the labors of human history.
Wake up and smell the fuck.

Oh, and hey… What if all of the advertisements in the world that wreak havoc on the eyes and ears of zombie consumers and those who have not lost their senses were destroyed, or replaced with works of art or personal & communal expression? What if it wasn’t just an “ART-thing” and everyone could be involved in this process? What if it wasn’t even a process, but a way of life for communities, a way of communicating with no rules – more like story telling? Or is that what it is already? Are we so happy with this way of life that we are content to paint the streets red with the blood of capitalism at every corner and signpost – oftentimes on our own bodies and homes?
Is this the message we are sending to one another? Is this the visual history we are currently painting – the history of capitalism, and how we loved and supported it… how we all lived crazy busy lives for the sake of hierarchies, war, and capital gain… I am a member of this community. My voice counts. I don’t like this, and my visual surroundings don’t reflect the way I see life. I’m not some ‘radical liberal freak’, either. I am a product of this thriving / dying system. You made me, and will continue to make me. I am inevitable, and I will not stop until some things begin to change.

On the automobile – let’s face it, cars run on blood. oil/gas/fossil fuels are the subject of war. They represent the biggest, most powerful businesses in the world, and these businesses are run by some of the most dangerously greedy and careless individuals in the world. By driving a car, you support this industry, which is why people have been dying for years, the cause of great wars, and the source of power for a privileged, dangerous few. Stop driving immediately. Stop flying planes. Sound ridiculous? Let’s build magnetic trains. Let’s fund engineers to design new human-powered methods of transportation, let’s design them ourselves, let’s address the need for business travel, let’s address the need for business, let’s talk talk talk.
Let us change things. Whew. So I sold my car before coming to new york city. I use an electric train to get around, if I’m not on my bicycle. I know that the trains get electricity from fossil fuel-powered plants, but let’s face it – cars suck at the scale they are currently used at in the world.

I like new york city because of the population diversity. I grew up in florida, in a city that is 68.6% ‘white.’ Not too bad, but considering the geographical racial divide in this city, it felt more like 85%. I live in brooklyn now, where the white percentage of the population is 41.2%, I have also lived in queens, where it’s 44.1%. even in manhattan where the percentage is 54.4%, the actual geographic mix of race is much greater in new york city, or in any big thriving city, for that matter. In my hometown, there really was a “black” part of town. The social divide was clear, and it mirrored the economic divide. This actually made the ‘south side’ of saint Petersburg (68.6%W) far more dangerous than the crown heights section of Brooklyn (41.2%W) I currently live in. when you segregate - socially, economically, racially – you send a message, you create a divide in community, and you create ill feelings.
Businesses refrain from certain areas because of prejudice and economy, and commercial strips in these areas die as you lose certain components of ‘leisure commerce.’
Now I’m getting into areas that would be interesting to discuss in both areas – both a more segregated suburban community and a dense urban city. But for now, let’s just say I prefer to live in a diverse community, on all levels.
Variety is the spice of life.

Art in florida is pretty much fish, pelicans, scenery, and whatever else the boring, aging snowbirds want to spend money on. Although things are looking up in my hometown thanks to a few establishments… I mean, really, this is obvious. New york city is the (self-proclaimed) center of the art world. now, you can take that statement and suck it, big deal. I don’t give a fuck, I’ll make my art anywhere. But there are a lot of artists in nyc, and when you have that many people around with all that creative energy, things pop up here and there, and you start to feed off of that energy. There is another edge to this blade, and you can get lost in the shear number of ‘creative’ types arting and farting all over the gaddamned place… I know I’m lost myself, but for the three years I’ve lived here, I sure have soaked up a lot of amazing shit. And it inspires one to be immersed in an environment that simply cares about the arts as much as new york city does. I’ll take that sentiment along with a lot of other positive things with me if/when I leave this shit hole.
Yay nyc!

As far as music goes – much more so than art, at least in my life – you need that energy. You need an audience, you need collaborators, and you like finding people who come from different places and are willing to try new things. Hello, new york. I’ve been in bands in florida all my life, but here, everywhere I turn there’s someone to make music with – and I’m not talking about some cover-band dickass douche-bag, or some guitar wanker dickass douche-bag fuck (I’ve heard my fair share). You meet them (the good ones)everywhere, they’re at your job, they’re in the subway station, they’re at the park, they carry their instruments to work. Pretty soon you’re playing in a band in a giant church and you feel like you’re in a moment in your life that you’ll never forget, and you’re old enough to enjoy it for what it is, all because of the energy and draw to the new york art and music scene.
Yay nyc!

Well, I feel like I’ve talked enough about urban vs. suburban architecture for one blog, and as for people in sandals? Welcome to winter, fuck-ass. Fuck you.
More later.