Taryn Simon is a young photographer whose images and writing have been exhibited internationally, and featured in numerous publications and broadcasts including The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, CNN, BBC, Frontline, and NPR.
In her latest photo series An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Simon documents spaces that are intrinsic to the country's identity and daily functioning, yet inaccessible or unknown to average citizens. She brings into broad day light rarely seen sites from domains including: science, government, medicine, entertainment, nature, security and religion. The project was started at a time when the US were actively seeking to uncover secrets beyond its borders.
Her 70 color plates transform that which is off-limits or under-the-radar into a visible and intelligible form. These images, however, rarely reveal their secret until you read the text that accompanies them.
My favourite is the Transatlantic Submarine Cables Reaching Land (VSNL International, Avon, NJ). It is really scary to realize that something that looks so fragile and mundane as those orange cables holds the key to all the virtuality that has come to almost constitute the essence of my life.
The submarine telecommunications cables extend across the Atlantic Ocean. Capable of transmitting over 60 million simultaneous voice conversations, these underwater fiber-optic cables stretch from Saunton Sands in the UK to the coast of New Jersey, emerging directly into the VSNL International headquarters, where signals are amplified and split into distinctive wavelengths enabling transatlantic phone calls and internet transmissions.
Underwater fiber-optic cables are laid along the ocean's floor by specially designed ships. Cables are buried as they approach shore and armored to protect against undersea landslides, marine life (sharks, in particular), and fishing equipment. Fishermen are advised of cable locations as hooking one can interfere with international communication services as well as sink a boat.
At the risk of sounding ridiculous and naive, the photo of White Tiger (Kenny) almost broke my heart as much as it angered me.
Anchor Mona Atari at the Alhurra news desk in Springfield, Va. Alhurra is a US government-sponsored, Arabic-language television network devoted primarily to news and information. Established in Feb. 2004, the network broadcasts 24-hour, commercial-free satellite programming to an audience of 21 million weekly viewers in 22 Arab countries. In April 2004, a second, Iraq-focused channel, Alhurra Iraq, was launched.
The US government is authorized to disseminate information abroad about the US and its policies but it is prohibited to broadcast the same information domestically. Alhurra is Arabic for "the free one."
Visits to some sites were preceded by long correspondence. However, some never accepted Simon's requests. Disney, for example, denied her access to their underground facility. Their fax answer read:
"After giving your request serious consideration, even though it is against company policy to consider such a request, it is with regret that I inform you that we are not willing to grant the permission you seek...As you are aware, our Disney characters, parks and other valuable properties have become beloved by young and old alike, and with this comes a tremendous responsibility to protect their use and the protection we currently enjoy. Should we lapse in our vigilance, we run the risk of losing this protection and the Disney characters as we know and love them....Especially during these violent times, I personally believe that the magical spell cast on guests who visit our theme parks is particularly important to protect and helps to provide them with an important fantasy they can escape to." (Excerpted from a faxed response from Disney Publishing Worldwide, July 7, 2005.)
The second body of works Simon showed are part of The Innocents, a series of portraits of people who were cases of wrongful conviction in the United States and investigates photography's role in the in the criminal justice system by its ability to influence memory.
The artist traveled across the country talking to and photographing men and women convicted of crimes they did not commit. After having spent sometimes decades in prison, these men and women were cleared by DNA test results. In their cases, the primary cause of wrongful conviction was photography as it had lead to mistaken identification. The criminal justice system had failed to recognize the limitations of relying on photographic images.
This project stresses the cost of ignoring the limitations of photography and minimizing the context in which photographic images are presented. Nowhere are the material effects of ignoring a photograph's context as profound as in the misidentification that leads to the imprisonment or execution of an innocent person.
Simon photographed each person at a site that came to assume particular significance following his wrongful conviction: the scene of misidentification, the scene of arrest, the alibi location, or the scene of the crime.
The wrongfully convicted in these photographs were exonerated through the use of DNA evidence. However, for the majority of the wrongfully convicted, there is no DNA evidence. And when there is, as Simon writes, DNA evidence must be handled and stored and is therefore prey to human error and corruption. Evidence does not exist in a closed system. Like photography, it cannot exist apart from its context, or outside of the modes by which it circulates.
Photography is not the flawless medium of the eyes, it is a bit of a prostitute. Photography can be used by almost anyone, even with questionable agenda.
Last part of the notes i took during Future City, a panel curated by Carson Chan and Johannes Fricke and moderated by Kazys Varnelis. After Richard Saul Wurman, Patrik Schumacher, Charles Renfro, Bjarke Ingels took the stage for a memorable performance. I thought he deserved a whole post because his work is slightly less famous than the one of the other panelists. Besides, i never found the time to blog the works That he and his team were showing at the exhibition New Faces in European Architecture: David Adjaye, Jürgen Mayer H., PLOT=BIG+JDS, SeARCH at the NAI in Maastricht last year.
After co-founding PLOT Architects in 2001, Bjarke Ingels started his own office in 2006: BIG / Bjarke Ingels Group. Their work combines experimentation sustained by specific knowledge, social responsibility and humour. Three of his projects were the focus of his presentation: Superharbour, REN and Kløverkarreen.
The Superharbour project was an attempt to re-invent the role of an architect regarding the constant evolution of seas. It started with a proposal to "re-design Denmark, to re-brand the country".
Video of the Superharbour project:
The project started with a few facts:
- 40% of the coast line in Denmark is urbanized (compared to only 12% of the whole country), urbanity in the country is defined by the proximity to the sea. 2/3 of the Danes live within 5 km of the sea. But it is harbour and its industries that occupy the best plots of land.
- Containerization. 98% of goods travel on ships. Over time container ships have become bigger ad bigger and they also reach deeper in the ocean. As a result, boats cannot pass between Germany and Finland anymore. Solution envisioned by BIG: bridge the two countries by combining a bridge and a tunnel: the hybrid solution would cost less than building a full-length bridge or tunnel and would create an artificial island.
BIG proposed to use the island (located thus at the intersection between Europe and Scandinavia as well as between the "new" Europe and the rest of the world) as a Baltic super harbour where all the shipping traffic would be concentrated. According to BIG's analysis, the island would liberate 20 billion euros of prime real estate in Denmark's 12 biggest cities for new forms of life, instead of pushing people to the periphery of the cities where they want to live. Shaped like a star, the harbour will be organized around piers, each of them focusing its activities on its own program and uses.
People's Building (aka REN)
Video of the project:
It actually started as a project for a hotel in Sweden. But the building was never made. Later on, the architects discovered that the shape of the building is the same as the Chinese character 'Ren' which means People. The Chinese liked the building as they felt that it "bridges the gap between traditional China and progressive China."
"The REN Building is a proposal for a hotel, sports and conference center for the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The building is conceived as two buildings merging into one. The first building, emerging from the water, is devoted to the activities of the body, and houses the sports and water culture center. The second building emerging from land, is devoted to the spirit and enlightment, and houses the conference center and meeting facilities. The two buildings meet in a 1000 room hotel, a building for living. The building becomes the Chinese sign for 'The People', and a recognizable landmark for the World Expo in China."
Kløverkarréen (aka The Clover Block):
Having followed the debate of the skyrocketing cost of market rate housing in the centre of Copenhagen, the designers of BIG wanted to come up with a new affordable housing proposal which would create 2,000 units. Their initiative came on the heels of Mayoral candidate Ritt Bjerregaard campaign pledge to fund 5,000 units of affordable housing to teachers, firemen, nurse and community service professionals, etc who can't afford to live in the center anymore. Following their habit of not waiting for a competition to be launched or for a developer to bring the designers a proposal, they started the Kløverkarréen project at their own initiative.
Kløverkarréen is built along the perimeter of a large recreational area, and will house 2,000 residents without losing a single recreational field. It is located closed to public transportation hubs, and to the city centre. The structure would provide generous daylight flats, a wind and noise barrier for people playing football in the recreational field (+ an audience for any match is always on hand), and it would be covered by a rooftop that can be used as a 3 kilometre promenade. BIG dubbed it "the Great Wall of China of housing."
The new mayor was seduced by the idea, the football clubs who usually train on the field agreed with the idea. However, some people in the neighbourhood did not want to share their green oasis with the less wealthy and opposed the development. A survey was carried and and it emerged that 64% of Copenhagen's citizens thought the project was a good one. A few months later, it was decided that project would indeed be carried out.
Bjarke Ingels believes that the role of architects is a constantly evolving one, they have the responsibility to make sure that the city evolves in the right direction.
Back from the DLD conference which was held in Munich on January 20-22. You can't count on me to report on the whole conference. However, Ulrike Reinhard is busy posting her notes and videos from the conference on her blog and you can find online the videos of some of the panels and presentations. I'd recommend Craig Venter & Richard Dawkins' discussion on Life: a gene-centric view and some of you might be interested in Design: from thoughts to actions, a panel featuring Greg Lynn, John Maeda, Yves Behar, Konstantin Grcic and Paola Antonelli.
The most exciting panel for me was dedicated to cities of the future.
Carson Chan, co-director of Program, one of my favourite galleries in Berlin, and Johannes Fricke, DLD associate curator of art and architecture', set up the cast. In the order of appearance: Kazys Varnelis as the moderator; Richard Saul Wurman as the character whose mission is to make the complex clear, Patrik Schumacher from Zaha Hadid Architects was the guy who shoots fascinating key concepts faster than his shadow, Charles Renfro from Diller Scofidio + Renfro as the archetype of the creative New Yorker and Bjarke Ingels in the role of the annoyingly young and bright rising star.
Cities are communication systems
Varnelis (the book he wrote together with Robert Sumrell, Blue Monday, should be on you Must Read list if you're into "Stories of Absurd Realities and Natural Philosophies") compared cities to communication systems. History shows how the two of them are closely interconnected. Think of the impact of the commercialization of Graham Bell's invention in the 19th century and how the suburbs wouldn't have developed the way they have without the tv. But what about the 21st century? What is the impact of the new media on cities and architecture and vice-versa?
Richard Wurman presented the 5-year project he is currently dedicating his energy to: 192021. The research is based on 19 cities which will count 20 millions inhabitants in 2021. The aim is to collect information about urban and business planning and its impact on consumers around the world. Corporate infrastructures who ambition to work "globally" are actually not ready for life, communication and business in these intense urban hubs. Ultimately, 192021 will provide a "roadmap for understanding the world ahead."
Visit the website to get some facts and figures about cities. The one i found most striking was the top 10 of the largest cities throughout the ages. In turns out that Cordova was the most populated city back in 1000, followed by Kaifeng in China and Istanbul. Paris appears in the top 10 only in 1500, ranking as the 8th largest city at the time. London appears as number 2 (behind Beijing) in 1800. In 2005, London is number 22 and Paris is not there anymore. Tokyo is currently the biggest city.
Patrik Schumacher mentioned that the challenge today for architects is to be able to comprehend and reflect in their work the increase in society complexity. Order and lack of complexity bring disorientation A quick look at the way urban areas were built in the 50s brought us makes the case clearer.
Schumacher had something like 12 minutes to run through a presentation which i imagine would usually last an hour. He therefore invaded the screen and our brains with a fast-paced series of images, renderings and key concepts that the Zaha Hadid office is working on. The main source of inspiration when exploring well-managed chaos and cacophony is nature or "Complex Order" (e.g. beehive). The idea is to simulate this nature, create a "second nature", to recreate natural systems and inject them into the design process. Key concepts:
Schumacher demonstrated how he and Hadid chose the Thames Gateway area as a testing ground in which to evolve new ways of approaching large-scale urban developments. Driven by architectural rather than town-planning concerns, they used a series of digital design techniques to develop an approach to urban regeneration which they call 'Parametric Urbanism'.
Hadid and Schumacher started with a research into the historic permutations of different building types in London and internationally. They examined four main building types: individual villas, high-rise towers, slab-shaped buildings and city-blocks. Then they used a modelling software to project these four building types over a base map of the Thames Gateway. They adjusted the model to reflect the area's current conditions, and used it to speculate on possible forms of future development. They tested multiple combinations of the different building types, often fusing them to create hybrid structures. The outcome of these experiments was documented in a large-scale image with a range of new forms during the Global Cities exhibition at the Tate Modern last Summer.
The Low Down on the High Line and Tales of Architectural Insider Trading
The studio Charles Renfro runs together with Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio is known for blurring the boundaries between architecture, art and technology. His talk focused on how one of their latest endeavours which blurs the lines between architecture, urbanism and the marketplace.
After he turned 40, Renfro bought a property on the 30th street in Manhattan. Coming from Brooklyn, it felt to him as if he had "left New York and entered America" because of the amount of ugly condos and, more generally, the banalization of the city.
The High Line, an elevated railroad stretching 1.45 miles along Manhattan's Westside, was used as food delivery rail line. Built in 1929, the High Line was partially torn down in 1960 and abandoned in 1980. The remains of the railway structure float above the city and intersect with the heart of hot art in Manhattan: Chelsea.
Many people wanted to get rid of the line. Until the not for profit organization Friends of the High Line decided to save the track and launch a competition to design a master plan for The High Line.
Images of the current state of the High Line show that pristine eco-system has developed since the track has been abandoned, with some plants native from New York and others brought by the food train and wind sewn along the track.
The competition, won by DSR, saved this romantic industrial ground with cracks and decay.
Why keep it? Because the night owl, the bird watchers, people who like to walk, etc. could enjoy spending some time up there. Important: no commercial developer would be allowed on the track.
DRS came with what they cal "Agri-Tecture", a merger of agriculture and architecture.
The first section of the project is already in construction.
The flipside of the High Line project is that some 50 projects of condos have flourished, attracted by the new landmark. The High Line and the building projects that derive from it form the biggest architectural project in the city since the turn of the 20th century. Still, some interesting "Starchitect Condos" should show up in next few years. They've been designed by Annabelle Seldorf,
That's a development that DRF had not expected.
Keep reading.... DLD panel on Future City (Part 2)