e-flux journal issue 66: “Architecture as Intangible Infrastructure,” Issue Two

e-flux journal issue 66: “Architecture as Intangible Infrastructure,” Issue Two

e-flux journal

In June 2015, eight-year-old Adou Ouattara from Ivory Coast was discovered by border control X-ray as he was being smuggled into Spain from Morocco in a suitcase.
September 15, 2015
e-flux journal issue 66: “Architecture as Intangible Infrastructure,” Issue Two

guest-edited by Nikolaus Hirsch

“Architecture as Intangible Infrastructure” symposium
Sunday, September 20, 2015, 5–8pm
With presentations by Kadambari Baxi, Beatriz Colomina, Andrew Herscher, Jorge Otero-Pailos, Taryn Simon, and Eyal Weizman
Moderated by Nikolaus Hirsch 

311 East Broadway
New York, and live online


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More than ever, architects today are called upon to build gestural landmarks and grandiose signature buildings. But architecture was never only about building. It is also about the flows of people, information, and resources that shape space. Today, the practice of architecture often confronts situations where these flows cannot be reduced to modernist managerial approaches to systematizing, structuring, and mastering the potentials of space.

In a two-part “Architecture as Intangible Infrastructure” issue of e-flux journal edited together with Nikolaus Hirsch, the intangible and immaterial flows that today appear to exceed the language of building proper are shown by a number of architects to be made not only of space, but also of information. The first issue of “Architecture as Intangible Infrastructure” last April featured essays by Justin McGuirk on the smart home as the site where companies are jockeying for control over the protocols that will data-mine domestic life; Eyal Weizman on the negative spaces created (or used) by warfare that become primary material witnesses after the destruction of buildings and societies; and Keller Easterling on the information carried in space and in the architect’s mindfulness, and how they already supersede the promises of technology’s universal transcendentalism to make architecture dance to immaterial instructions.

Crucially, these flows of information cannot be reduced to a technological apparatus or a simple update of modern architecture’s formalism to include new technologies, as architecture’s craze for parametric modeling in the 1980s and ’90s promised to do. The new computational tools and calculating power of this period seemed to provide the means of designing outrageous buildings at incredible speed, but which would actually stand up in real space as well. The new technologies of today, however, seem to reveal the opposite: a new impossibility of building, either due to the ethical transgressions of clients (or architects themselves) or to the sheer scale of humanitarian need, both of which the traditional field of architecture proper seems unprepared to address. It is actually through ethical, historical, economic, and social apparatuses that today’s information flows are placing the greatest stresses on the formal language that architects have been trained in. The question then becomes whether this language can remain relevant in designing spectacular parametric signposts for concentrations of heritage, capital, and tourism.

In this issue, Andrew Herscher asks how architects can approach the question of emergency housing when flows of refugees are fed into housing markets faster than provisional shelters can be built. Sold under the auspices of what Herscher terms “digital shelter,” the replacement of housing solutions with credit takes for granted that a network of market demand can stretch to provide even emergency relief to the most disenfranchised. For Jorge Otero-Pailos, “monumentaries” architecturally combine the performativity of fiction with the fidelity of documentary. When faced with the anachronistic and often contradictory task of narrating a historical monument or heritage site, preservation design can only create entirely new theaters for staging memory.

WBYA? (Who Builds Your Architecture?) maps the convergence of human rights issues with processes of architectural design and construction logistics by tracing the drafting and fabrication of a steel truss as it approaches a construction site to meet the migrant workers who also travel from abroad to install it. Artist Taryn Simon’s image essay documents objects taken or removed by workers from the construction site of Frank Gehry’s building for the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. And Beatriz Colomina looks at the influence of Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen’s X-ray technology and the unwritten story of its influence over an era of early modernist avant-gardes captivated by the spatial promises of a shadowy screen that could peer through matter. If technological advances often transform the function and perception of space much in the way that X-ray technology’s heretical transparency created the prospect of a world of pure visibility—through walls, people, and materials—then it also rearranges spaces formerly considered to be inside or outside. Suddenly everything and everyone is included, and everything and everyone is excluded. The distinction becomes impossible to manage.

—Nikolaus Hirsch, Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle

Also join us at e-flux on Tuesday, September 22 at 7:30pm for the launch of Eyal Weizman’s latest books The Roundabout Revolutions, published by Sternberg Press (2015), and The Conflict Shoreline, published by Steidl in association with Cabinet Books (2015). The event will include a presentation by Weizman and a conversation with Nikolaus Hirsch, Sina Najafi, and Brian Kuan Wood.
In this issue:

Beatriz Colomina—X-Screens: Röntgen Architecture
The invisible rays are described as a “medium” that penetrates objects and is revealed on screens. A floating technical surface acts as the most intimate witness of the otherwise hidden interior. An architecture is established that inverts the classical relationship between inside and outside, an architecture we still live in with our countless screens monitoring endless invisible flows. Architects, historians, and theorists quickly absorbed the new paradigm—developing an entire logic of the invisible in the early decades of the twentieth century that remains largely in place. New medical screens are today creating new forms of architecture as the relationship between inside and outside passes through another twist. New forms of intimacy are emerging.

Andrew Herscher—Humanitarianism’s Housing Questions: From Slum Reform to Digital Shelter
The smoothing of distinctions between humanitarianism and capitalist consumerism is typically regarded—from the perspectives of humanitarianism and capitalism alike—as “progress.” As a typical claim asserts, “with significant logistical abilities, massive resources invested in R&D and highly capable personnel, many within the aid community hope that businesses can do for humanitarian aid what Amazon did for the world of retail or what Microsoft and Apple did for personal computing.” But the humanitarian history of the housing question reveals that “businesses” do not only facilitate humanitarian aid, but also facilitate some of the conditions that humanitarianism responds to.

Kadambari Baxi, Jordan Carver, Mabel O. Wilson—Who Builds Your Architecture?: An Advocacy Report
On a large table built for holding discussions and for reading reports on various issues, we displayed a long drawing that mapped the network of a fictional building project. A stadium construction site sat in the center of the drawing and both sides charted the paths of migrant construction workers as they travel from their villages to job sites as well the movement of a steel truss from design to fabrication to a building site. In the drawing, a steel truss is designed by architects based on the overall stadium design, aesthetics, and functional criteria.

Jorge Otero-Pailos—Monumentaries
Monumentaries are historical buildings that have been purposefully altered post facto in order to influence our perception and conception of them. Any careful observer of historic buildings knows that, in order to keep them standing over the centuries, some measure of alteration is always necessary, but that doesn’t make every monument a monumentary. I want to distinguish between alterations due to low-level maintenance, like replacing a couple shingles to fix a leaky roof, and alterations made for editorial reasons, like replacing a metal roof with clay shingles in order to create a more historically accurate image of the building at the moment of original construction. Only the latter type of alteration is an intentional attempt to turn the monument into a monumentary.

Bernard Khoury—Plan B
I designed an apparatus that would serve to literally physically demolish war-torn buildings located on what used to be the battlefields of Beirut. The demolition apparatus would also serve as a memory collector, an inhabitable capsule in which memory is deposited as quantified data. The more memory you collect, the more matter you demolish. The ashes of the building would be collected and stored in a newly-constructed transparent peripheral membrane. The process ends with the complete demolition of the ruin and the physical saturation of the transparent peripheral membrane and the memory collector.

Niklas Maak—The Dispersal of Architecture
The Argentinian architects Gustavo Dieguez and Lucas Gilardi, who operate the architecture firm A77, define their role as architects differently. They often attend to their building—mostly through infrastructural interventions—over long periods of time. They always return to the building process to discuss improvements with the dwellers before rebuilding or adding to the structures. On the Plaza Parque Patricios they built their wooden structure El gran Aula, which was composed of modules and embodied the idea of an “open school.” Each module was used to teach something: photography, design, music, cooking. In the case of El gran Aula, the building isn’t a formally defined sculpture, but rather an open framework for various forms of action, occupation, and implantation.

Hu Fang—Towards a Non-Intentional Space
There is a modest power that applies to both the art of gardens and that of farming, both of which reference natural laws of nourishment, preservation, and anticipation; although they are not revolutionary formulas, they both oppose contempt for life. As I see it, the art of the garden and the art of farming have always been concealed within the progress of modernity, but for a long time we have had no means to encounter them, no capacity for listening to the sounds of their presence.

Hans Ulrich Obrist—In Conversation with Hans Hollein
This open arrangement of the galleries accommodates modern contemporary art with its rejection of chronological series. It allows for exhibitions that highlight the complexity of the creative approaches that coexist at any point in time. The same applies to the museum in Frankfurt, which also features very different rooms: galleries with skylights or sidelights, ones that are dark, as well as round and angular rooms. It lets each work of art find its place and gives the visitor the freedom to devise his or her own way through the exhibition. I also think a museum is not an erratic block; it’s a building for the community to take possession of.

Taryn Simon—A Polite Fiction
In the part of the project A Polite Fiction featured in this issue of e-flux journal, Simon investigates the removal or disappearance of objects from the construction site of the Fondation Louis Vuitton, designed by Frank Gehry. Simon entered an invisible marketplace, tracking, purchasing, and photographing objects taken from the site. Items include copper and aluminum cables sold to scrap dealers; cement used by a father to build the walls of his daughter’s bedroom; and an oak sapling that a worker took to Poland, planted, and named after his boss.

Ingo Niermann and Rem Koolhaas—Dated Talks
Since architecture is so fundamentally nostalgic it has not been able to develop a discourse and an ideology that accepts the real conditions that cities offer now. The architectural profession is stuck, which forces it to almost reject anything that really happens and to design public space in a neurotic and authoritarian way. The other space that architects and thinkers about architecture neglect in terms of not reflecting on it is the political system, which enters the picture with incredible brutality.

Shumon Basar—Nothing Is More Fantastic Ultimately Than Precision: John Hejduk’s Berlin Tower
I’ll gesture for you to follow me. “We’re in one of the walkways between the big tower and one of the smaller towers.” It’s just 70 cm long, and about 50 cm wide. “Notice. Windows on both sides.” You will feel like you’re also floating somewhere between two-dimensional and three-dimensional space. You will feel tiny and also immense because Berlin slices right through this anti-room.

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