RHYTHM

February 15th, 2011 — 10:54am
berghain blow
Berghain, Berlin (source)
Glassblowing Workshop, Portland, Oregon (source)

 

‘The architect should know music, in order to have a grasp of canonical and mathematical relations.’

—Vitruvius, De Architectura

 

 

‘Get into the groove boy, you’ve got to prove your love to me.’

—Madonna, Get Into the Groove

 

 

Most efforts to think about music and architecture together inevitably end up focusing on two intertwining logics, mathematics and phenomenology. Architecture and music employ mathematical measures of rhythm, harmony, and scale to construct immersive phenomenological experiences through time and in space. Vitruvius insisted that architects study music because, for the Greeks and Romans, the study of harmonics was just as much about melody, as it was about the mathematical and spatial structure of the universe. On the other hand, the groove that Madonna is talking about, while not architectural, references both the material topography of the LP and a physical and emotional mode of experience.

 

Given these dual avenues of understanding, the sensation of rhythm in architecture can be experienced as a sublime cerebral satisfaction in the perfect arrangement of forms. It can also be experienced as a brutal embodied sensibility brought on by the movement of an individual through a space and the degrees of architectural resistance to this movement. As certain built spaces often prioritize one form of rhythmic experience over the other, Peter Eisenman’s Berlin Holocaust Memorial and the legendary Berlin nightclub Berghain can be understood as two extremes of rhythmic space.

 

Eisenman’s memorial is rhythmic in a vulgar formal sense, all of its relationships conforming to a rigid Euclidean geometry. The sense of rhythm constructed by the memorial—a repetition of solid and void—is a tightly controlled mathematical rhythm which alternately tightens and relaxes its grip on the user, allowing the senses periodic points of escape before once again trapping the subject.

 

As a nightclub, Berghain is functionally rhythmic; the building provides a space for the experience of rhythm without formal repetition of material architectural forms. The frequencies of the sound system on which the whole function of the space depends are so expertly engineered that it is possible to converse in a normal speaking voice despite being able to feel… more

 

‘The substance of the routine may change, metamorphose, improve, but the emotional payoff is one’s experience of doing it again. There’s nothing strange about this experience. We all know it; it is rhythm.’

—Richard Sennet, The Craftsman

 

 

Richard Sennett’s book The Craftsman is a call to appreciate and value the kind of creative labor that once dominated in the craft trades, and which he points out is still alive and well in disciplines as varied as Linux code-writing and mobile-phone development.

 

Sennett does not advocate a return to an economy of pre-industrial manual work, instead he analyzes and explains how certain core elements, which were involved in these professions, made them intrinsically fulfilling and meaningful to those working within them. He explains that the distinction between conceptual inspiration and the act of making is an artificial, and recent one. It is a workplace separation that tends to generate an unhelpful stratification between ‘unskilled’ inflexible production lines, and ‘creative’ but unengaged researchers and developers.

 

Alternatively, Sennett suggests treating the act of making as a creative endeavor, where research, design and development can occur at the same time as developing the manufacturing process. This not only motivates the designer/maker to have a deep personal connection with the work, but opens up the possibility for mistakes, dead-ends, and tangential explorations within the framework of the process. These mistakes and dead-ends are positive inefficiencies which are necessary for the process to throw up unexpected opportunities and breakthroughs. And for these positive inefficiencies to occur, be understood, overcome and harnessed, there needs to be the space and time for the maker to repeat their process again and again, developing their own personal rhythm. In the same manner that pianists practice repeatedly, until the core skill of playing becomes instinctive, allowing them instead to focus on variations, emphasis and mood within each repetition, so the maker engages initially through repetition with the core skills of his process until they are second nature, by which time the act of repetition is thrown open to become an active field of experimentation, a generative rhythm—adaptive and evolving—of exploration and innovation.

 

It is when the repetition of work becomes the rhythm of craft that any form of labor can become creative, meaningful and fulfilling.

 

David Knowles

 

 

Adam Nathaniel Furman

 

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SYMMETRY

November 11th, 2010 — 5:43pm
Edgar Martins bisquare
Untitled, Edgar Martins, 2009 (source)

 

In the summer of 2009, the New York Times hired freelance photographer Edgar Martins to travel the United States in order to record the detritus left behind by the sub-prime mortgage housing crisis, which he assembled into a photo-essay titled ‘The Ruins of the Second Guilded Age’. Rather than simply document the festering American dream, and without explaining his intentions to the New York Times, Martins digitally altered his images to enhance their aesthetic impact, frequently mirroring one half of a photograph to create a symmetrical composition.

 

While in Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass, Alice enters into Looking-Glass Land by stumbling through a ‘mirror’ above her fireplace mantle, it is also ‘mirroring’ that propels Martins’ photographs into an otherworldly realm. Similar to the talking flowers and animated chess pieces of Looking-Glass Land, Martins’ photographs are at once familiar and alien. The vacant wood framed interior with gabled roof whispers ‘another stalled American housing development’, while the jarring perspectival symmetry yells ‘not of this earth’. The strangeness of the images did not escape New York Times readers. Martins’ photographs were quickly pulled from the newspaper’s website after numerous complaints relating to their authenticity.

 

Order 12 Latin Bi-Square as used by Georges Perec

 

In 1947 Raymond Queneau wrote 99 short descriptions of the same pair of unremarkable events: a man was seen on the ‘S’ bus having a run-in with another man, and was then seen again later that day at the Gare St-Lazare. Each description was written in a different style, following its own set of specific literary rules, with the effect that the scene is transformed completely in each instance, as if imagined or remembered through the lens of a hundred diverse minds. In 1969 Georges Perec began a project in which he chose twelve places in Paris where he had either lived or had attached certain memories to. He then proceeded to write descriptions of two of these places each month, one written at the place as an objective description, the other written from memory. He slipped these into sealed letters together with photos of the locations, taken by a friend. Each year he repeated the task, taking care to follow an algorithm based on a Latin bi-square, so that each place was described during a different month to the previous year, ensuring that the same pair of places was never described in the same month. This was continued for twelve years, until each place had been described twelve times as both an objective list of elements and as a collection of thoughts and memories.

 

Both writers belonged to Oulipo…more

 

E. Sean Bailey

Adam Nathaniel Furman

 

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FANCY

October 18th, 2010 — 5:54pm
liberalarts building
Allegory of the Seven Liberal Arts, Marten de Vos, 1590 (source)

 

“Lagunita–Spanish for ‘little lake’–is named for the neighboring part-time lake and is one of Stanford’s most historic residences. This beautiful, Mediterranean-style complex, built in the nineteen-thirties and renovated in 1998, consists of three small, four-class houses, and two three-class houses, arranged around a picturesque central courtyard and dining commons.

 

Lag (affectionately known as ‘log’) is divided into two sides: East Lag and West Lag. East Lag is home to Naranja and Ujamaa. Eucalipto, Adelfa, and Granada make up West Lag. Residents enjoy their own lounge, common areas, an outdoor trail that strolls the perimeter of nearby Lake Lagunita, and a grassy field across the street. The house names are also unique: Three names are Spanish for different trees: Eucalipto (eucalyptus), Granada (pomegranate), and Naranja (orange); Adelfa is Spanish for oleander. Ujamaa is a Swahili name for ‘extended family’ or ‘familyhood’ and consists of two houses originally called Olivo (olive) and Magnolia (magnolia).

 

Throughout the larger residence, each individual house develops their own distinct community–in particular, Ujamaa is home of the African-American theme program, and Adelfa is a Focus House with an interactive and in-depth Writing program.”

 

Residence Halls Overview, Stanford University

 

 

In a lecture videocast on October 16, 2010 at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam, Alejandro Zaera-Polo, an architect now holding the Norman R. Foster Professorship of Architectural Design at Yale University, spoke of the beloved liberal arts model of American education.

 

The liberal arts model…more

 

Building, Matteo Thun, 1983

 

We can’t help who we are attracted to, we have no control over which person draws our eye in the tube carriage, just as we are not always in control of our thoughts, they wander off without us to whatever takes their fancy, day dreaming precisely at the moments when we should probably be concentrating, working on something. It can be irritating being turned back into a lusty teenager through no desire of your own, or drifting off unprompted into puerile, fanciful worlds of escape in your head, but on the other hand it is those moments when something truly singular sparkles into life.

 

It is in those moments that our rational minds briefly lose control of our waking instincts, momentarily relinquishing authorship over our thoughts, letting our bodies and our intuition guide us. It is right then, if we pick up a pen or a pencil, and use all the skills at our disposal to take our flight of fancy seriously and frame it, capturing it, that we can extract from the ebb and flow of our daily lives -always so concerned with satisfying the judgments of others- a pure cross section of ourselves, a distilled fragment of subjective creation.

 

The sketch and the Capriccio, the former capturing the fleeting structure of an idea as it passes by, the latter being the flesh added to its bones, the full flight of fancy, the private and passionate love affair between the artist/architect and his imagination, drawn out and expanded into vignettes of autoerotic intensity, which if pursued with enough zeal begin to stand on their own as inspirational artifacts, intriguing specimens from the intimate obsessions of our fertile minds. It is in the caprice of our fancy–the beautiful face we cannot stop staring at, the ideal place we keep trying to imagine–drawn out and expanded, that we will find the coming together in one space, in one scene, compressed, of the very subjective ground of our anterior architectural instinct.

 

Rachel Engler

Adam Nathaniel Furman

 

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MEDIOCRE

October 6th, 2010 — 4:34pm
ludlow tesco
47 and 49 Ludlow Street, Photo by Author, New York City, c. 1900 and 2000 Crossroads in Peckham, Photo by Author

 

For a moment, let’s set aside so-called ‘Architecture with a capital A’. One could at least argue (though by no means conclusively) that the best of today’s work is as good as it’s ever been. Unfortunately, one would be hard-pressed to make a similar case for the state of today’s average, middling, and just OK buildings—in other words, the places 99% of us spend 99% of our time.

 

Compare two New York City facades: a tenement building built c.1900 and the apartment building built one hundred years later next door. Both are unambitious, market-driven, mediocre works. So how to explain the obvious disparity between them in quality, refinement, and (yes) beauty? Any answer, of course, involves much more than architecture, and must take into account a contemporary society that seldom nurtures craft and long-term investment. Architects, however, cannot ignore the decline of mediocre architecture if the majority of our work is to retain any shred of long-term value. A few distinguished works of Architecture are fine, but a world of good mediocre buildings would be far, far better.

 

Thankfully, most of our lives are played out through a chain of objectively unimportant, low level events that are on the whole unremarkable in the grand scheme of things, quotidian. In the same way, we tend to grow up, live, work, fall in love, have families, and fade away in entirely ordinary, run-of-the-mill architecture, built stuff that gets the job done, that holds in the heat and humidity in the local pool, and manages to pass planning because it has a gable roof and red brick façade, stuff that answers similar questions in similar ways in a million different variations from Perth to Plymouth.

 

If you took a picture of any of this low level architecture that fills Britain, the image would present a depressingly mute mediocrity, nothing but the complete factual averageness of the building or space which, if of recent vintage would no doubt end up, to howls of anguish, on Bad British Architecture. But architectural photography severs the container from what it contains, it shows the aesthetic failure, but not how that failure is really a triumph… more

 

Jacob Reidel

 

 

Adam Nathaniel Furman

 

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