0cov191087517.jpgArchitectural Inventions Visionary Drawings, by Matt Bua and Maximilian Goldfarb.

(available on amazon USA and UK.)

Publisher Laurence King writes: Born out of the drawingbuilding.org online archive, Architectural Inventions presents a stunning visual study of impossible or speculative structures that exist only on paper. Soliciting the work of architects, designers, and artists of renown -as well as emerging talents from all over the world -Maximilian Goldfarb and Matt Bua have gathered an array of works that convey architectural alternatives, through products, expansions, or critiques of our inhabited environments.

From abstract and conceptual visual interpretations of structures to more traditional architectural renderings, the featured work is divided into thematic chapters, ranging from 'Adapt/Reuse' to 'Clandestine'' 'Mobile'' 'Radical Lifestyle', 'Techno-Sustainable', and 'Worship'. Along with arresting and awe-inspiring illustrated content, every chapter also features an essay exploring its respective themes.

Highlighting visions that exist outside of established channels of production and conventions of design, Architectural Inventions showcases a wide scope in concept and vision, fantasy and innovation.

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David Jacob, Simulated dwelling for a family of five, 1970 (photo)

Architectural Inventions offers an exciting trip to a place you may or may never want to go: inside the head of architects. While a few projects are fairly well documented (for example, The House that Herman built), the majority of the drawings have never been published, not even on the websites of their authors. Which is thrilling but also frustrating when you want to know more about the memorial for the space shuttle Columbia, the extravagant Tesla coil show, the helicopter archipelago, the missile houses, the static desert viking ship, the temple for a moon cult, the artificial planet put into orbit around the sun, the robotic terrorism defense system (i thought that one was already around?!?), aerial suburbs, intricate subterranean networks of garbage disposal, etc. Sometimes the images are accompanied by a short text written in cursive (a real pain to read) and sometimes there's just a title.

The drawings section is introduced by a series of essays by architects, visionaries, installation artists and other people who have interesting thoughts about the impact of the Alexander technique on the built space, time machines, utopia and doomsday. Yes, doomsday because the images and essays might be whimsical and compelling, they never completely lose touch with the dark reality of our time.

Views inside the book:

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A Guide to Archigram 1961-74 , edited by Dennis Crompton.

(Available on amazon USA and UK.)

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Publisher Princeton Architectural Press writes: In the decade of the Beatles and the moon landing, cybernetics and megacities, an ambitious group of young British architects burst on the scene with a bold manifesto for urban building. The Archigram group pioneered a playful brand of architecture that was visionary, utopian, and grounded in social need. Through a provocative series of publications and exhibitions, the avant-garde cooperative challenged an architectural establishment they felt had become reactionary and self-serving. They advocated a complete rethinking of the relationships between technology, society, and architecture, rightly predicting today's information revolution decades before it came to pass.

A Guide to Archigram 1961-74 is a compact history showcasing the group's most interesting and influential schemes, from walking cities and plug-in universities to inflatable dwellings and free time nodes. This book, the most comprehensive guide to Archigram's voluminous output, collects the critical responses of the period, in addition to hundreds of drawings and photographs.

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Amazing Archigram, 1964. Cover illustration of the fourth issue of Archigram magazine

I thought i knew Archigram. I had read about their vision of technology (or 'technocratic future' as magazine editors like to call it), about the walking city, the plug-in city and the instant city. I even read about the swimming pool for Rod Stewart. But this book confirmed that my knowledge of their work and ideas was -at best- superficial.

The book is like a paper version of the Archigram Archive that the University of Westminster made available online a couple of years ago. There's only a couple of contemporary essays in the book. The rest is drawings, comics, editorials written by Peter Cook for the Archigram magazines, essays by members of the group, project descriptions, black and white photos, etc. You jump from an essay mentioning the anti-aircraft Maunsell Forts recycled into headquarters for offshore pirate stations to houses you can carry on your back, inflatables villages or even traveling metropolis. With Archigram, robots are shooting screens, seminars and conferences are adopting the model of the circus to move around the country and Roy Lichtenstein draws urban super heroes.

Archigram is a product of their time of excitement, innovation and faith in the future when thinkers, engineers and architects were dreaming of marine cities and flying houses. Yet the texts written by Peter Cook in the issues of the Archigram magazine haven't lost their spark nor visionary relevance. Back in the 70s they were already saluting the rise of diy initiatives, of people being creative and playing a more active part in the environment in which they lived. And while today, we're talking about smart fridges, a 1969 Archigram project imagined the 'electronic tomato' which would do the shopping and direct business operations for you.

Reading Archigram's essay is uplifting and thought-provoking. Because of the vivid imagination, the use of comics to communicate ideas but also because of Archigram's critique of society (and of the architecture profession in particular.)

It's also a bit disheartening at times, i know that next time i visit the graduation show of a design school, i might look at some of the projects and realize that they have that uncanny air of "Archigram's been there, done that!"

Two words about the format: it is squarish, super thick and short. The kind of shape that never quite fits into the most manicured bookshelves. The inside has a vintage feel with thick, mat pages and tiny fonts.

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Archigram Magazine Issue No. 1

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Page from Archigram Magazine n. 5, Computer City, November 1964

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Archigram, no. 8, 1968

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Archigram, "Walking city" Concept

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Ron Herron, Enviro Pill, 1969

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Living Pod, 1966. © David Greene, Archigram

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Living Pod, 1966. © David Greene, Archigram

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Gala Ambiance, Monte Carlo Palm Tree Project, Archigram Architects, 1971


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Room of 1000 Delights, Peter Cook, 1970

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Peter Cook, Blow-out Village, 1986

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Electronic Tomato, 1969. © Warren Chalk, David Greene, Archigram

Photo on the homepage: Blow-Out Village, Peter Cook, Archigram 1966.

Darkitecture: Learning Architecture for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Iwona Blazwick and published by Two Little Boys.

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(available on amazon UK and USA)

Darkitecture is an anthology of texts and projects exploring how we learn about and build architecture for real communities in the twenty-first century. It draws on the ideas and methods of the late architect and Royal College of Art tutor Gerrard O'Carroll, a vibrant and unorthodox thinker of architecture. Along with his writings and statements are texts and projects by his contemporaries and alumni. Together they represent some 'what if?' scenarios with which to proceed on the journey towards becoming an architect; towards the conception of a design vocabulary that expresses everyday lives; and the creation of buildings and urbanities that embrace the irrational and celebrate the social. Darkitecture is a revolutionary handbook that will challenge students, designers, architects and citizens to review the way they look at, think about, learn and build architecture.

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Assemble Folly for Flyover, 2011

The figure of architect and senior tutor at the Royal College of Art Gerrard O'Carroll is at the center of the book. I couldn't remember where i had heard his name until i leafed through the book and i realized i had visited some of the exhibitions he had organized and blogged about the work of several of his architecture students.

A critic called O'Carroll the "King of Darkitecture" after having visited an exhibition of his in 2007. The neologism made for an attention-grabbing book title. However, I don't find the book nor the projects and ideas it presents dark at all. I found them thought-provoking, relevant to our times (which i admit are fairly dark) and lucid. Even if most of the essays and works are dealing with "speculative near future and alternative nows." There's plenty of humour in the book as well. And not necessarily of the dark kind. My favourite quote was by O'Carroll asking why the modulor man has no penis.

O'Carroll called for a more thoughtful brand of architecture, for an architecture that engages with society, with the 'fragility of human behaviour', for an architecture that doesn't enclose but create a framework for things to happen.

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Tom Greenall's 2009 project Cultivating faith: The feeding of the 59,000 imagines that a UK shortage of halal meat might be answered by the building of an in-vitro meat production facility.

The content of the essays is eclectic. One moment you read about how radical architecture emerges with times of economic crisis, unrest and doubts. Next, you read about aspiring models knocking on the doors of photographer Juergen Teller. Or about the way technology interferes with the way we love, about the handing over of our streets and squares to private developers, the role of the anti-hero in architecture, the tension between our nostalgia for unspoilt 'natural' food and our interest for the consumption of fruit enhanced with drug-delivery systems. The people evoked in the book include J. G Ballard, radical architects Superstudio, Jacques Tati, Gaetano Pesce and Ennio Morricone.

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SuperStudio

The book is edited by Iwona Blazwick OBE and includes contributions from Iain Aitch (journalist), Paola Antonelli (MoMA), Iwona Blazwick (Whitechapel Gallery), Nigel Coates (architect), Emma Dexter (curator), Tom Greenall (RCA), Rosy Head (RCA), Jonathan Hill (Bartlett), Claire Jamieson (RCA), Anna Minton (writer), Rowan Moore (critic), Jake Moulson (RCA), Richard Noble (Goldsmiths College), Lucy Pengilley Gibb (RCA), Fiona Raby (RCA), Alex Smith (RCA), Noam Toran (RCA), Anthony Vidler (Cooper Union) and Gilda Williams (writer).

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View inside the book

Pretty nice design by Luke Fenech and Morag Myerscough too!

Image on the homepage from Mon Oncle, the film by Jaques Tati, 1958.

This afternoon i stopped by the Victoria & Albert Museum to see Light from the Middle East, an exhibition of contemporary photography from and about the Middle East. It wasn't overwhelmingly brilliant but the show has some very strong pieces. In particular, a photo series that appears to draw parallels between the water towers photographed by Bernd and Hilla Becher and the Israeli watchtowers in Occupied Palestine.

Bernd and Hilla Becher notoriously documented in black and white the disappearing industrial architecture of Europe. Taysir Batniji's series similarly attempts to index typologies of constructions. His subjects are the military watchtowers erected by Israel to control the movements of Palestinians inside and outside their own land and unlike the Berchers' fading industrial structures, they are still in use. The photo tableau does look like a Bechers: the use of black and white, the grid disposition, the front views of the buildings, etc. However, closer inspection reveals that the geopolitical context didn't allow the photographer to reproduce faithfully the Bechers' method and impeccable compositions.

The artist writes:

As a Palestinian born in Gaza I am not authorized to return to the West Bank, so I delegated a Palestinian photographer to carry out these photos. They are out of focus, clumsily framed, imperfectly lighted. In this territory, one cannot install the heavy equipment of the Bechers or take the time to frame the perfect position, let alone afford to wait days for the ideal light conditions. Aestheticization becomes a vivid political challenge, both in the creation of these photographs and in their reception, as these images challenge viewers to see these functional military constructions as sculptural, or as a part of a formal architectural heritage.

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Taysir Batniji, from the series: Watchtowers, West Bank/Palestine, 2008

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Taysir Batniji, from the series: Watchtowers, West Bank/Palestine, 2008

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Taysir Batniji, from the series: Watchtowers, West Bank/Palestine, 2008

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Taysir Batniji, from the series: Watchtowers, West Bank/Palestine, 2008

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Taysir Batniji, from the series: Watchtowers, West Bank/Palestine, 2008

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Bernd and Hilla Becher, Water Towers (Wassertürme), 1980

Light from the Middle East is at the Victoria & Albert Museum until 7 April 2012. Admission is free.

Fallout Shelter. Designing for Civil Defense in the Cold War, by David Monteyne, assistant professor in the Faculty of Environmental Design at the University of Calgary.

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Publisher University of Minnesota Press writes: In Fallout Shelter, David Monteyne traces the partnership that developed between architects and civil defense authorities during the 1950s and 1960s. Officials in the federal government tasked with protecting American citizens and communities in the event of a nuclear attack relied on architects and urban planners to demonstrate the importance and efficacy of both purpose-built and ad hoc fallout shelters. For architects who participated in this federal effort, their involvement in the national security apparatus granted them expert status in the Cold War. Neither the civil defense bureaucracy nor the architectural profession was monolithic, however, and Monteyne shows that architecture for civil defense was a contested and often inconsistent project, reflecting specific assumptions about race, gender, class, and power.

Despite official rhetoric, civil defense planning in the United States was, ultimately, a failure due to a lack of federal funding, contradictions and ambiguities in fallout shelter design, and growing resistance to its political and cultural implications. Yet the partnership between architecture and civil defense, Monteyne argues, helped guide professional design practice and influenced the perception and use of urban and suburban spaces. One result was a much-maligned bunker architecture, which was not so much a particular style as a philosophy of building and urbanism that shifted focus from nuclear annihilation to urban unrest.

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Civil Defense bunker, Lakefront, Undated. Photo: New Orleans (La.) Office of Civil Defense

While reading the book, i was reminded of an American TV series from the early 1960s: The Twilight Zone. They called it La Quatrième Dimension where i lived. The episodes were part of a French tv programme from the 1980s that mixed science, scifi and pop culture. The two presenters, the twins Igor and Grichka Bogdanoff, were the coolest guys on this planet. I got a shock about an hour ago when one of the first results of a google search produced this! But i'm digressing. Some of the most memorable episodes of the Twilight Zone featured nuclear shelters, see for example Time Enough at Last and The Shelter. Atomic shelters were very exotic, very American, very eccentric to me. They were also sinister. Because of their design and purpose of course but also because of the era they embody and because of the scenarios built around them by the tv writers.


The Twilight Zone, The Shelter, 1961 (continues: part 2 and part 3)

The episodes of the Twilight Zone are works of fiction but they also echo some of the preoccupations and ethical dilemmas raised by many of the architects whose work is discussed in this book. Fallout Shelter. Designing for Civil Defense in the Cold War is first and foremost an architecture book but its content is also pertinent to readers who have a very limited interest in the discipline. The design and politics of fallout shelters spills onto other issues that characterized the early Cold War. From racial questions (the shelters were conceived for white American families living in suburbs and not so much for the people living in multi ethnic inner-cities or for 'marauding Indians') to the reluctance to spend tax money on social welfare. From urban dispersal to the exploration of new modes of urbanism (for example, Camp Century, 'the city under the ice'.)

However, some of the issues raised and solutions brought forward at the time still (unsurprisingly) exert an impact on the world we live in today: the militarization of public edifice and spaces (called in the book 'fortress urbanism'), the propaganda of fear, the top secret bunkers built by the government to protect members of the federal government and of the military reminded me of the 'Blank Spots on the Map', etc.

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Collier's magazine cover from 1950 depicting a mushroom cloud over Manhattan (Chesley Bonestell)

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Posting a fallout shelter sign on a building in Washington, D.C. Image released to the public by the Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense, December 1961. Image via District Fallout

Here is the rough structure of the book: The first two chapters differentiate the approaches to civil defense taken in the 1950s an 1960s. While the 50s had little understanding of the impact of atomic weapon on the land and advised citizens to build their own shelters, the later decade admitted that little could be done to protect the population from the atomic blast itself and that only the fallout could be addressed which lead to a change of strategy that involved locating existing public buildings that could be used for communal protection. Chapter 3 examines more closely the planning process. Chapter 4 explores how architects approached (or brought a critical light on) the opportunities offered by civil defense work. Chapter 5 and 6 presents a series of architectural competitions, publications and programs launched to convince architects to plan for fallout shelters in new constructions. The last chapter studies in detail the building that inspired the book: the Boston City Hall.

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Kallmann, McKinnell, & Knowles, Boston City Hall (photo)

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Fiber Drum and polyethylene liner provided by the department of defense office of civil defense for public fallout shelters. Each drum is filled with 17.5 gallons of water which will provide drinking water for 5 persons for 14 days. Photo taken on February 19, 1962. (AP Photo)

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Architects' Conception of New Orleans Civil Defense underground emergency control center to be located on the city's outskirts as a protective measure, 1960. Photo: New Orleans (La.) Office of Civil Defense

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Community Shelter Plan depicting a portion of Dallas, Texas. List of shelter addresses on the left. In yellow, drainage areas people could walk to shelters; in red areas they would need to drive their cars. In white, no fallout shelter is available. Image Civil Defense Museum


Federal Civil Defense Administration Presents Lets Face It, No date

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Life January 12, 1962

Source image on the homepage: Atomic annihilation.

Artworks installed in public space might get the approval of local governments but that doesn't mean that they will make a good impression on passersby. Or on people genuinely interested in art. Too many public artworks i come across are bland and sad addition to the city or the landscape. I suspect that some of them 'dialogue' with the surrounding space only in the mind of the artists and/or the commissioners.

Fortunately there are exceptions to the rule (and the future might even get rosier.) Take the province of Limburg in Belgium where Z33, the house for contemporary art has launched pit - art in public space. A few years ago, the art space invited established names and young talents to visit several sites in the region, pick up the one they'd like to work with and then submit a project that would engage with the cultural background of the area and entice passers-by to look differently at the surroundings. The result is pit - art in public space.

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Florentijn Hofman, De Badeend, Neerpelt, 2012

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Florentijn Hofman, De Badeend, Lommel, 2012

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Florentijn Hofman, De Badeend, 2012

Badeend (the Rubber Duck) by Florentijn Hofman kicked off Z33's art in public space programme back in 2008. Since then, the duck has been deflated, inflated again, turned into bright shoulder bags and resuscitated on several occasions. In 2011, pit commissions have spread all over the region of Borgloon-Heers and they might venture even further in the coming years.

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Gijs Van Vaerenbergh, Reading between the Lines. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Gijs Van Vaerenbergh, Reading between the Lines. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Gijs Van Vaerenbergh, Reading between the Lines. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Gijs Van Vaerenbergh, Reading between the Lines. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

The programme's most talked about public artwork is the see-through building of steel built by architects duo Pieterjan Gijs and Arnout Van Vaerenbergh in the middle of Borgloon's corn and apple fields. The 10 metre high structure has the archetypal shape of the churches found in the region. Because it is both almost transparent and highly visible, the construction provides an opportunity to have another look at the landscape. It also attracted tourists who would otherwise have never thought of visiting the area (some of them even came from Japan after the church had made the cover of an architecture magazine.)

The building is smaller than i had thought but it is just as stunning as on the photos above.

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Wesley Meuris, Memento. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Wesley Meuris, Memento. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Wesley Meuris, Memento. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Wesley Meuris, Memento. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Wesley Meuris's Memento is a sculpture built by the Borgloon cemetery. The steel structure, with its peculiar acoustics and sci-fi whiteness, envelops the visitor while giving them a perspective on the sky and slices of the surrounding landscape.

I think it's the first time i entered a cemetery to see a contemporary art work.

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Dré Wapenaar, Tranendreef. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Dré Wapenaar, Tranendreef. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Dré Wapenaar, Tranendreef. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Dré Wapenaar, Tranendreef. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Some of the works remain in place for several years, others can be seen for only a short time. Last Summer, Dré Wapenaar hung four tear-shaped tents on trees. People could book a tree and spend the night up there.

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Ardie Van Bommel, Field Furniture "Pure Nature". Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Field Furniture "Pure Nature" by Ardie Van Bommel completed the tree tents. The designer had installed toilets, showers and barbecue unit where the tree guests could clean up, eat and socialize.

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Tadashi Kawamata, project Burchtheuvel. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Tadashi Kawamata, project Burchtheuvel. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Tadashi Kawamata, project Burchtheuvel. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Tadashi Kawamata, project Burchtheuvel. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata headed a workshop where students in architecture, interior architecture and visual arts designed and built Project Burchtheuvel, a wooden sculpture where people can walk up, observe the landscape and relax. The work also scored brownie points because it almost hid the nearby library, a building which hideousness i'd rather not comment.

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Aeneas Wilder, Untitled #158. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Aeneas Wilder, Untitled #158. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Aeneas Wilder, Untitled #158. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Aeneas Wilder, Untitled #158. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

Aeneas Wilder built a round construction with a 360º view on the landscape near the Monastery of Colen in Kerniel. Walking around the structure reminds visitors of a meditative promenade in the internal garden of a monastery. Not that everyone uses the space to collect their thoughts. When i visited children were using it to skate and cycle.

And the list goes on...


Paul Devens, Proximity Effect (in the Servatius church in Groot-Loon)

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Fred Eerdekens, Twijfelgrens. Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

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Photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33

The artworks are also accompanied by workshops, side activities and public events. The smartest way to see them is to rent a bike and cycle from one to the other.

This post wasn't sponsored in any way by the local tourism office. Maybe next time i'll try and get a gigantic inflatable duck though.
pit | Z33 - art in public space: photo collection.

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