Publisher Actar writes: Bracket is a new book series structured around an open call for entries that highlights emerging critical issues at the juncture of architecture, environment, and digital culture. It is a collaboration between InfraNet Lab and Archinect. Conceived as an almanac, the series looks at emerging thematics in our global age that are shaping the built environment in radically significant, yet often unexpected ways. [on farming] looks at the capacity for architecture to address ideas and issues of productive landscapes and urbanisms. Once merely understood in terms of agriculture, today information, energy, labour, and landscape, among others, can be farmed. Farming harnesses the efficiency of collectivity and community and represents the local gesture, the productive landscape, and the alternative economy. The processes of farming are mutable, parametric, and efficient. Farming is the modification of infrastructure, urbanisms, architectures, and landscapes toward a privileging of production.
[bracket] is a collection of essays selected following an open call for entries. The editors could have made a magazine out of the material gathered, like Monu or Volume do, but they chose to publish a thick and beautifully designed (bravo Thumb!) book instead. Except that they call it an 'almanac' because the fundamental role of an almanac is to forecast, to provide useful insights about the near future. And that's what Bracket 1 is attempting to do with texts that range from thoughtful observations about everyday issues to presentations of speculative architecture or art projects. The term "almanac" is also perfectly adequate to the focus of this first issue of Bracket: farming. But farming here takes a much broader sense than the cultivation of animals, plants, and other life forms. Farming nowadays goes beyond agriculture. Think of fish farms, server farms, or even the body farm.
But no matter the name you give to this publication, it remains a wonderful source of discoveries. Flipping through the book, i learnt about Farm-to-Table (FTT), a postal service launched in 1914 to ship farm produce directly from rural producers to urban consumers; i found out that the first bodies that arrived at the body farm back in 1981 are still being studied today; read why vertical farms in Las Vegas might make sense after all and how the Hukou system in China classified citizens as either rural or urban and implemented strict measures to deter rural citizens from acquiring urban status.
Some of the essays particularly stand out. Stephen Becker and Rob Holmes wrote a fascinating text about how a technique called Fog Farming could solve the water supply issue in Luanda, Angola, the fastest growing city in the world.
Another essay, by Edward Dodington, explains that the meat produced through tissue engineering is economically, ethically and ecologically desirable but also that 'meat on demand' is, paradoxically, Ford's dream applied to farming. He goes on to propose plans for the PolySpecies Park, an animal-responsive park that is part farm, part tissue engineering factory, part eco-resort, and part research facility.
Bracket 1 [on farming] has plenty of illustrations, renderings, and even the odd photo series. Your Town Tomorrow, Detroit 2001-2011 is one of them. In this work, Corine Vermeulen postulates that Detroit is a city of the future, a fertile ground for new topographies and ways of urban life.
Bracket 1 [on farming] makes for a very satisfying read. The quality and variety of perspectives on the subject of farming is exceptional. I'm looking forward to seeing what Bracket explores in its upcoming publications.
Views inside the book:
Publisher Ruby Press says: Founded in Berlin in 2000 by the brothers Jan and Tim Edler, realities:united have built a unique reputation for their spectacular art and media extensions to buildings all across the globe. Working together with some of the most prominent figures of contemporary architecture - including Peter Cook, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Foster & Partners, Will Alsop, Nieto Sobejano, Bjarke Ingels, Minsuk Cho and WOHA - realities:united have established an ingenious type of collaboration they refer to as featuring: Usually invited by architects to cooperate on a project, realities:united have a special gift to detect the idiosyncratic strength of a design and amplify its qualities by techniques and procedures that exceed the realm in which architects usually work. Inversely, realities:united can only work their magic by designing in a dialog with an architect featuring them.
This book offers the first complete survey of the work of realities:united to date. A lavishly illustrated tour de force of their manifold oeuvre, Featuring provides the reader also with rich background information by virtue of a detailed project documentation. Finally, a series of resourceful essays of reputed architects, critics and other thinkers will answer any questions you always wanted to know about realities:united but were afraid to ask.
I've stopped counting the number of times i've seen the work of realities:united in a book about architecture, dynamic architecture, interactive architecture, interactive design, interface design, 'media facades' or media art. The BIX communicative skin display they completed in 2003 for the Kunsthaus Graz could have turned them into a one-hit wonder. But years passed and their work has never ceased to catch the attention of magazine editors, publishers, bloggers and journalists alike. It was high time that the Edler brothers gave the public an extensive overview of their practice and published a book.
realities:united featuring has the elegance, appeal and clarity you'd expect from the architects. The inside of the first cover is printed with very short comments about their work. They range from "Jan and Tim Edler are the Neo and Morpheus of architecture" by Bjarke Ingels, to "Sweaty, loud and ugly" (??!?) by Christian Moeller. My favourite quote is obviously Jackie Chan's: "I saw your video." The book goes deeper into the study of their practice with essays by art critiques, artists, curators, academics who either profess their admiration for their creativity or bring analysis and context to their work.
Roughly 2/3 of the volume is dedicated entirely to the glorious images of their projects. The details about them can be found further down the book in a section that lists alphabetically and explain the works finished, the ones that are still in progress as well as the proposals that didn't go through.
Leafing through the book reminded me how ingenious the Edler brothers are. Yes, they do lavish, luminous and dynamic but their work also take more experimental paths in projects that investigate themes as diverse as energy-saving and mobile clubbing.
Check out the projects below if ever you still need to be convinced...
realites:united have a unique way of being both inside and outside the new media art world. In 2005, With the interactive installation 43-316/8017 9242, the designers of the BIX media façade returned to the Kunsthaus Graz with a work that invites passersby to interact with a façade as much as it triggers in their mind questions about interactivity and communication, two concepts that have sometimes defined and limited the computer art scene of the time. Does the installation do what we want, or is it the other way round and we do what the machine wants?
Cokpit, the universe's first cabriolet roof-top, made a summer bed-room out of an unheated, unused attic in Berlin.
Open the House proposes intelligent climate clothing worn like underwear that would enable a person to sit comfortably in spaces where the temperature is far below or above what is normally considered acceptable. The design opens up new possibilities to design houses and save energy.
ReinRaus, Extreme furniture and instant one-person balcony! One of my favourite works by realities:united.
Crystal Mesh, an ornamental and granulated light and media façade for the building complex "ILUMA" in Singapore.
MuseumX was conceived as a temporary installation to act as a surrogate and social placeholder for the Museum Abteiberg (Fine Arts) while it was closed for reconstruction. It took three comparatively small elements to turn the hulk of the 65,000 m3 structure of the city's empty theater building into a simulated museum: a flag on the top of the building, a new foyer and a set of printed façade panels strapped in front of the theater's façade from the 1950s.
Stereo Transformer is a vehicle system designed both to enable real mobile clubbing experiences and to stimulate innovation around the technical equipment of mega-sized urban pop-music events: Dividing the vehicle into two halves provides the structural precondition for putting the people in the center and surrounding them with the sound system, not the other way around.
C4 is a media skin developed in close cooperation with Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos for the "Espacio de Creación Artística Contemporánea" in Córdoba.
If you want to follow more closely on realities:united, i'd recommend that you swing by their facebook page which lists their upcoming talks, the competition they participate to and the projects or causes that interest them.
Image on the homepage from the project Big Vortex.
If i'd have to name two of my favourite architecture studios i'd probably come up with Recetas Urbanas and realities:united. I can't imagine architecture studios more different from each other. A simple look at their website (one is a delight to use, the other never fails to drive me insane) will prove my point. Both have recently published a monograph about their work and i'm going to review them over the weekend. Today, i'll kick off with Collective Architectures | Arquitecturas Colectivas - Trucks, Containers, Collectives | Santiago Cirugeda. Tomorrow will be the turn of Tim and Jan Edler.
Publisher Ediciones Vibk says: Trucks, Containers, Collectives is an initiative by Santiago Cirugeda (Recetas Urbanas) which has inspired more than a dozen collectives to get involved in creating a network for spaces that are self-managed by the entire Spanish territory. This is no longer a matter of experimenting with individual, isolated situations, a process which Cirugeda initiated fourteen years ago and, in any case, is being reassessed during these times of recession. Rather it's a
This book is released under construction. It's an incomplete book, undergoing changes and will remain alive. At www.plataformabooka.net its contents are updated and rewritten. Anyone who is interested as well as those involved are welcome to offer up their perspective. This open book aims to capture new questions that boost and enrich an environment of collaboration and knowledge rooted in experience.
The printed book is thought up as a dynamic object. Words and veils invite us to explore it, in a tactile and joy experience. It skin goes off, the interior displays and reorders. When empty, the book reveals a code that connects with its digital double. The imagination and action of readers are invited to design and editing.
At the end of the 90's Santiago Cirugeda Parejo set up a provisional scaffolding in the front of the building where he lived. He needed a space to study but didn't have the permit to build. What he did obtain however was the permit to erect scaffolding "to clean up the wall". The scaffolding was quickly turned into a place to relax and invite friends for beers. For the architect, the city is a 'living organism that must be adapted to the needs of its inhabitants."
Cirugeda trained as an architect. If circumstances want it, he'd also define himself as an artist. Some would add that he is also a social agitator and a space hacker. Since 1996, his critical practices has been bending, testing and flexing the rules governing city planning in what he calls actions of 'a-legality.' His actions are not illegal but they are not strictly legal either, they just take advantage of the loopholes in city-planning regulations. Once the validity of his experiments has been tested and approved, they are explained into recetas (recipes) which can be replicated in other locations and contexts.
Cirugeda's studio, Recetas Urbanas, is building prosthesis on the side or top of buildings for people who lack the means or time to rent a flat and even for institutions in need of a quick space for meeting or residencies.
Cirugeda's charismatic personality never prevented him to step back and see his work as the result of a collective effort that involves networks of architects and groups of citizens.
The book Collective Architectures - Trucks, Containers, Collectives contains mostly essays by architects, art critics, curators, artists and academics who give their own interpretation of Cirugeda's work. The volume itself is encased in a cover along with a few sturdy leaflets that analyze in details some of Recetas Urbanas' most recent works. Each leaflet unveils the budget of the construction but also its story, the outcome of the project, the lessons learnt from it and the hopes that have arisen during the whole adventure.
Collective Architectures - Trucks, Containers, Collectives is published by VIB[ ]K, a young, independent publishing house that investigates innovative ways of re-considering the traditional publishing process and breathing new life into books. Their methods involve combining printed and digital media in order to make books responsive to the interchange between authors and readers, even before being printed. The books are 'open', they grow and evolve through the open platform b()()ka. And you have until June 15 to submit your contribution and be part of this experiment in "Collective Architectures."
Another book about Cirugeda's work was published in 2007. Its design was much simpler and the content reproduced mostly what you can already find on the website of Recetas Urbanas. Given the grudge i bear against that website, Situaciones Urbanas ("Urban situations") was a gift from the gods for me and it remains my favourite. Collective Architectures - Trucks, Containers, Collectives, however, has several advantages over its predecessors. It's in spanish and english (whereas Situaciones hasn't been translated yet), it's in colour and contains many more in-depth essays.
NAI Publishers and V2_ say: Modernist belief was informed by the vision of technology as a tool of reduction, purifying nature from a state of randomness into one of cleansed controllability and perfection. It was not just the art of modernism that was all about purity and the search for abstraction, the same logic and politics of purity were also at work in rationalized agriculture, refined food, urban planning, population control, and the experience of the Other, both as the goal and the legitimization of the means to reach that goal. With amazing, world changing consequences - but also with devastating effects for the environment, climate, cultural diversity, biopolitics, and city and country life.
This book investigates this urge for the pure, but also advocates a much deeper need for the impure, not to reinstate a new organicism or back-to-nature movement, but to trace progression to a point where all modernist values reverse, where technology becomes an agent for the impure and the imperfect. Technology, long an agent for homogeneity and purity, is now turning into one for heterogeneity and global contingency.
I've been guilty of a "don't judge a book by its cover' offense. I almost recoiled in horror when i saw the design of The Politics of the Impure. Heavy book, flamboyant design, golden cover. When i finally decided to open the illuminated manuscript, i realized that it was probably the publication most relevant to my interests i could have received this year.
The Politics of the Impure alternates presentations of art works with interviews or essays by thought-provoking thinkers. Their conversations oscillate between the 'right here, right now' and the tomorrow. Whether they are activists, socio-biologists, artists, science-fiction writers or philosophers, the contributors to the book deal with mess in all its guises.
Academic, journalist and activist Raj Patel calls for a more democratic food system which he calls "food sovereignity"; sociologist and economist Gunnar Heinsohn discusses violence, education, integration and lost generations; Arjun Appadurai explores possible ways to deal with intolerance, minorities and fanaticism on a day to day basis; Arjen Mulder investigates what is left of the so-called "European spirit"; artist and architect Lars Spuybroek has an essay about the use, meaning and purpose of ornaments in culture; (controversial) biologist and geologist Lynn Margulis answers questions about bacteria, their creativity, gene exchange and autopoiesis (the whole interview was so fascinating i wish i could copy/paste it here), designer Christian Unverzagt pens the obligatory essay about garbage, except that what he has to say about it is everything but banal; the interview with writer Bruce Sterling drives you from Tokyu Hands department store to Luxembourg, via supervolcanoes and Casablanca. The list of essays and interviews goes on and on.
Each of them is followed by the presentation of an artwork that gives a form to the impurity at the heart of the book. The model is one page of bio and description of the work + a dozen pages of photos to illustrate the piece. There's Ken Rinaldo and Amy Youngs, Herwig Weiser, P.A.P.A. (Participating Artists Press Agency), Casey Reas, Tord Boontje, Knowbotc Research, Driessens & Verstappen and Wim Delvoye.
This book is exciting every step of the way (except that i clearly don't get its design). You might not agree with every statement and idea put forward by the experts called to participate to The Politics of the Impure but that's what makes the book so engaging. The bold opinions shared in the book are bound to make you put it down and reflect about some of today's most chaotic issues.
Dewi Lewis Publishing writes: For eight years the American naval base at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba has been home to hundreds of men, all Muslim, all detained in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on suspicion of varying degrees of complicity or intent to carry out acts of terror against American interests. Labeled 'the worst of the worst', most of these men were guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many fell prey to a US military policy of paying bounty money for anyone the Pakistani secret service, border guards or village leaders on both sides of the blurred Afghan-Pakistan border considered a possible or potential 'suspect', thereby becoming currency in the newly defined 'War on Terror'. Held in legal limbo for years and repeatedly interrogated, almost all have been released without charge and only a very few have been tried in the special military commissions set up for the purpose.
Guantanamo: If the light goes out illustrates three experiences of home: at Guantanamo naval base, home to the American community; in the camp complex where the detainees have been held; and in the homes where former detainees, never charged with any crime, find themselves trying to rebuild lives. These notions of home are brought together in an unsettling narrative, which evokes the process of disorientation central to the Guantanamo interrogation and incarceration techniques. It also explores the legacy of disturbance such experiences have in the minds and memories of these men.
Barack Obama promised to close Guantánamo Bay within a year of taking office in January 2009. Two years later, not only is the naval base still open, but the U.S. President has also authorized to resume military trials of terror suspects detained in the infamous detention camp. He has also signed an executive order that moved to set into law the already existing practice on Guantánamo of holding detainees indefinitely without charge.
Guantanamo is the oldest overseas U.S. Navy Base, the only one in a country with which the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations, the only one located in a Communist led country. Gitmo is also the host to Cuba's first and only McDonald's restaurant, a fast food joint not accessible to Cubans though. Since 2002, the naval base has gained the attention of the public for its military prison where persons allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban are incarcerated. The mistreatment of the detainees, and their denial of protection under the Geneva Conventions, has been a source of international controversy.
You have seen the pictures. Inmates wearing orange jumpsuits, long lens views, cages, fences, etc. When he embarked on his project Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out, photographer Edmund Clark knew he didn't want to go that way. He approached Guantanamo through 3 paths: the space where prisoners are confined, the areas where the American military community lives, and the houses where former inmates reside. The images come intermixed. The photo of a a detainee's cell is followed by one of an exercise bar hanging in a home, then comes a view of the prison worship center, then a detail of the naval base museum, a close-up on an interrogator's call button, etc. It's disorienting and aimed at reproducing the physical and mental confusion that the prisoners are made to experience.
But what is most striking in the image is the almost complete absence of human beings. All we have to reconstruct the tension, the narrative, the abuse are mundane objects and spaces.
In Guantanamo, Clark was escorted everywhere he went. He had a list of what he wasn't allowed to photograph. Such as an empty watchtower. Or two watchtowers in the same frame. He also had to switch to digital photography so that his shot could be analyzed at the end of each day. Some had to be deleted. Some were allowed to remind in the memory card after long discussions.
The book also reproduces some of the mail Omar Deghayes and other people received while they were in prison. During the first years, Deghayes didn't receive anything. In 2005, lawyers followed his case and letters started arriving. He didn't get to see the original letters. All he had were photocopied of the censored version of the letters, drawings and postcards, with a stamp "Approved by US Forces."
Deghayes (who lost sight of his right eye after a guard stuck a finger in his eye) also helped Clark photograph the homes of former prisoners.
Apart from the photos, the book contains three essays. The one written by Julian Stallabrass is particularly fascinating with its focus the legal, historical and political context of the detention center. His text reminds us as well that prisoners at Guantanamo might be abused, tortured and humiliated on a daily basis but at least they have a name which brings them under a limited protection that the unidentified people detained in the US black sites can only dream of.
The photographs from the Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out series are touring art spaces. I saw them back in November in London at Flowers East Gallery. The gallery had also dedicated a small space to listen to the music played at Gitmo and other military prisons during interrogations and to cause sleep deprivation. Then i saw the photos again in February as part of the exhibition Mutations III, at the Berlinische Galerie, in Berlin. I'm glad the book gave me another opportunity to spend some time with these images.
'When you are suspended by a rope you can recover, but every time I see a rope I remember. If the light goes out unexpectedly in a room, I am back in my cell.'
More on the project mini website, Guantanamo: If the Light Goes Out and at Lens Culture.
Related book review: Book Review - Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret.
(Re)Designing Nature - Current Concepts for Shaping Nature in Art and Landscape Architecture, edited by Susanne Witzgall, Florian Matzner, Iris Meder, Künstlerhaus Wien (available on Amazon USAand (Re)Designing Nature: Current Concepts for Shaping Nature in Art and Landscape Architecture: Aktuelle Formen der Naturgestaltung in der Bildenden Kunst und Landschaftsarchitektur.)
Publisher Hatje Cantz writes: (Re)Designing Nature features innovative design concepts for nature in an urban context. The publication inspires readers to contemplate our current relationship to nature, and animate present-day debates about socially correct, ecologically sustainable, and aesthetically contemporary environmental design. Changes in nature and their ecological consequences have taken on acute dimensions these days. Rapidly growing mega-cities, for one, and shrinking cities, for another, call for new ideas and models for dealing with urban nature. Artists and landscape architects present concepts for the alternative use of vacant city lots and old industrial areas, design parasitical gardens in the middle of the city, or utopian visions for a future symbiotic networking of culture and nature.
Before i start my enthusiastic review of the book i need to get one thing out my chest: "What were the designers thinking?" The book is written in both german and english. Alles ist gut if you speak german: you get a clear black font. However, if you only understand english then prepare your reading glasses or your magnifier because the pale green font used for the english version of the text is a pain to decipher.
Now let's proceed...
(re)designing nature is the catalogue of a show that closed a few weeks ago at the Künstlerhaus, Vienna. Last year and the year before i kept complaining of the many, far too many, art exhibitions i had seen around Europe that dealt with art and design tactics that engage with climate change, new models of sustainability and more generally our relationship with nature. The artworks selected were not at fault. What irked me with many of these shows is that they felt like they were organized too fast, because suddenly the words 'ecology' and 'sustainability' were splashed across the front page of magazines, because that's what got the attention of the public or maybe just money from the sponsors. Artworks and artists traveled by planes, lush catalogues were printed, fancy opening parties were thrown. I'm sure the Vienna show had its fair share of parties and flying around but the tone of the essays, and the selection of works in (Re)Designing Nature have a more mature, reflected aura. The Vienna exhibition opened months after the others had closed but instead of looking like the slow learner, the show appears to be the only one in the class that has taken enough time to reflect on the issues at stake and see through the hype. Actually, the curators did such a thorough, serious job that several of the works in the catalogue lack in instant appeal. They don't even photograph well. But if you go beyond that first disappointment (because i was disappointed at first, used that i am to open a volume on amazing photos and graphics) you realize that the projects make sense. Some of them are utopian without ever falling into the trendy trap, others relate successful experiences, others are simply clever enough to make you ask yourself the right questions.
According to curators Iris Meder, Susanne Witzgall and Florian Matzner, contemporary landscape planners, artists and architects are adopting 3 different strategies to engage with nature in problematic urban areas. A first one looks for ways to protect what nature is already existing in urban center or to convert post-industrial areas into gardens. A second approach provides the frameworks, and the tools for agricultural and participatory projects. The last one explores parasitic structures and symbionts.
A few projects featured in the book and exhibition:
Detroit used to be the automobile capital of the world. Since the early sixties, however, Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, General Motors have been moving their production plants either to the south of the USA or to Central or South America. Hit by the more recent economic downturn, Detroit saw its residential lot vacancy rise to 27.8% in 2009, up from 10.3% in 2000. About 3,000 empty residential structures were torn down in 2010.
Attempts at self-organized community projects using the empty surface of the inner city for agriculture and horticulture emerged in the early '00s. People would either buy land or just occupy it, turning a former industrial city into urban villages. In 2003-2004, Ingo Vetter's Detroit Industries - Urban Agriculture documented the gardens growing food right in the middle of the decaying city. Grassroot, community-led urban agriculture has now been officially identified as a valuable part of the city's transformation.
N55's City Farming Plant Modules enable city dwellers to grow plants in the streets, directly onto the pavement. The flexible plant modules are watered by hoses connected to drain pipes on buildings or to any other water source. Rainwater penetrate the fibre cloth, which will retain moisture while allowing excess water to escape.
Swiss architecture studio Hager Landschaftsarchitektur ingeniously turned an abandoned gas station dating back to the 1950s in Berlin's Schöneberg district into an enclosed city garden.
Observatorium piled up Styrofoam parking lot strips to a huge heap in the entrance room of the exhibition. The installation "Into the desert" points to motorized traffic as being an essential landscape element.
Architect and author Paul Shepheard
A simple blue and gold mattress is embroidered with graffiti saying "monolithic super-lanscape", "controlled consumption" or "zoning". CCTV cameras mark one of its corners, they seem to monitor the surrounded area. Weeds grow into concrete bowls. A mirror hangs above the scene. Platz/Square recalls the soulless design of many urban 'green' spaces, as well as the gradual loss of open public space in the city, due to privatization and the attempt to maximize profits.
Reiner Maria Matysik's 'post-revolutionary forms of life' are models of synthetic organisms elaborated in labs. A mix of plants, animals, mushrooms, bacteria, viruses and prokaryotes they can walk, roll, jump, crawl. Some emit electrical field, others ultrasonic sounds. Resistant and highly adaptable, they don't fear global warming nor the collapse of human civilization.
Vincent Callebaut's Hydrogenase (warning, the music on the project page might have you deeply embarrassed if people are around you right now) proposes a concept of emission-free habitable airships powered by seaweed. Callebaut claims that the energy obtained by farmed algae would be superior to any current biodiesel or bioethanol production.
The vessel would be used as flying hospitals or to provide food or even disaster relief to areas that cannot be accessed by road or that do not have an airport nearby. The vertical structure of the Hydrogenase doesn't indeed require a runway to take off or land.
Landscape architect Khondaker Hasibul Kabir lives in the largest slum of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh and the "world's fastest-growing megacity." Many of the inhabitants of the slum are illegal immigrants from various parts of the country. He involved both the immigrants and his students at the BRCA University in a series of self-help projects that involved the creation of gardens, the building of a bamboo platform over the river, the erection of a library, the planting of resistant plants that even flourish on contaminated soil.
Views inside the book: