The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, is aired tonight.

This week we'll be talking to Liam Young, a speculative architect whose work use fictional near-future scenarios in order to make us reflect upon the social, architectural and political consequences of emerging biological and technological futures.

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Liam is a founder of Tomorrows Thoughts Today, a think tank that explores the possibilities of fantastic, imaginary and even perverse urbanisms.

Liam also runs the rather fascinating Unknown Fields Division, a nomadic workshop that travels to the most intriguing places on this planet in order to investigate forgotten landscapes, alien terrains and industrial ecologies. The Unknown Fields Division have traveled to locations as different from each other (and from our own daily environment) as the Amazon, the Alaska, the mining landscapes of the Australia Outback, the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and more recently the Roswell Crash Site.

If that were not enough, Liam is also one of the curators of this year's Lisbon Architecture Triennale.

My conversation with Liam today is going to focus on Under Tomorrows Sky, a project that will be shown at the Triennale. The first bricks of 'Under Tomorrows Sky' were laid last Summer, at the MU Foundation in Eindhoven, where Liam was joined by a group of scientists, technologists, futurists, science fiction writers and even special effects artists to collectively imagine and build a room sized miniature model of a fictional, future city. 

The show will be aired today Thursday 21st February at 17:30. The repeat is next Tuesday at 6.30 am (yes, a.m!) If you don't live in London, you can catch the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.

Image on the homepage: Under Tomorrows Sky concept art by Daniel Dociu.

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Kreider + O'Leary, Light Vessel Automatic (This Space), 2013

A couple of weeks ago, i attended the Performing Architecture evening at Tate Britain. The event attempted to answer the questions 'What does performance have to do with architecture?' and 'How can a building perform, and how can we perform a building?' Call me an ignorant but i had never heard about Performance Architecture so i'm gathering here a few notes i wrote down during the Late at Tate night. I hope to get a chance to explore performance architecture with more details in the near future.

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Lamis Bayar and Alex Schweder discussing with Marianne Mulvey

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The most enlightening introduction to the practice was probably the discussion that Tate Curator Marianne Mulvey had with performance architect Alex Schweder and Lamis Bayar , Associate Editor of Le Journal Spéciale'Z.

Performance architecture is an emerging term but it comes from a long history of performance art. Emblematic examples would be Yves Klein's Air Architecture and his iconic Leap into the Void in 1960. Performance architecture also builds upon the works of avant garde architecture studios such as Haus-Rucker-Co, Archigram and Superstudio.

While architecture is usually prescriptive, performance architecture has to do with permission. It gives more agency to the people who occupy or pass through a building, urging them to explore and open up a building.

For the Late at Tate event, Schweder and Bayar scattered instructions inviting visitors to 'perform' Tate's Duveen Galleries. The examples of performance architecture taken from Schweder's portfolio might explain the concept with more clarity:

For 5 days, Schweder and Ward Shelley lived in Counterweight Roommate, a twiglike building made for two occupants of the same weight. Movement in the house depends on using the body mass of one's roommate as a counter weight to aid ascent or slow descent. When one occupant wishes to go up to the kitchen at the top level, the other must go down to the bathroom at the bottom. Between these two rooms are two private sleep / work rooms on levels two and four, and a common room at level three where the ends of the rope meet.

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Counterweight Roommate, 2011. Photography by Georgios Kefalas

The same pair spent a whole week living inside Stability, a wooden seesaw with two beds, a kitchen and a bathroom. The structure moved up and down whenever either of the occupants decided to move from one room to another. The work was about the negotiations and moments of cooperation that take place when several people share a living space as the position of one of the dweller immediately affects the comfort of the other occupant.

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Alex Schweder and Ward Shelly, Stability, Seattle, 2009. Photos © Scott Lawrimore, edited by Ward Shelly & author

Other projects that the architect mentioned in his talk included giving instructions to people to 'paint this floor until it touches the ceiling' and asking people to breathe warm air as soon as they entered an adjacent room where the temperature is always lower (the room was used to store meat in the past.) Imperceptibly and over time, the breath of the visitors raised the temperature of the second room.

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The rest of the evening included more talks, a couple of performances, a workshop, and a series of famous and less famous short films such as Gordon Matta-Clark's spiralling 'cut' that breathed light and air into two derelict 17th century buildings in Paris.


Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical Intersect, 1975

Two films that document Absalon living within his experimental Cellules, 1:1 architectural propositions for idealised living-pods scaled to, and designed to condition, the sculptor's body and mind.


Absalon, Proposals for a Habitat, 1990

A film by Thomas Lock that deconstructs northern France's abandoned WW2 bunkers and Atlantic Wall into a time-based collage of fractured imagery and sound.


Thomas Lock, Breaking points, 2010

As well as Sean Snyder's Dallas Southfork in Hermes Land that follows a Romanian oligarch's re-creation of the ranch from the TV show Dallas - one of the few American TV programmes broadcast under Ceausescu's Cold War rule.

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Sean Snyder, Still from "Dallas Southfork in Hermes Land" Slobozia, Romania, 2001

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.

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