It’s rare that a city’s birth certificate survives, but here it is: a map of Hong Kong full of marks and notes. It is an intriguing document, but our attention should go to the upper left corner, where in the ‘white space’ of mainland China the Shekou peninsula is encircled as the new harbor and industrial location of what was to become the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone; conveniently situated and easy to control. The map with personal marks and handwritten notes makes history tangible. It all started with an idea and a location.
Let’s talk about law and faith. The law requires a certain faith – faith that it will perform in our collective best interest. Last year in particular, it was easy to lose that faith. Several high-profile cases brought to light incongruities in our judicial systems that unduly exonerated some, while persecuting others. Take the case of Wall Street. Following the 2008 crash, the US government put together its best legal team to root out what went wrong and who were the culprits. In a case where rapacious greed and gross misconduct were clearly at play, the government failed to prosecute a single major banker. Or look to the cold-blooded murder of Trayvon Martin by neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman. Using Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, lawyers were able to justify the racially-charged murder of a defenseless boy. Then there’s Guantanamo Bay, a prison run by the ‘most democratic nation’ in the world, still holding people stripped of their rights. All of this is technically legal.
Architecture relies on machines. They make the structures of our cities livable. In their absence, buildings would lack basic services like water and power. There would be no heating, cooling, lighting, fire safety, and elevators. Repairs and maintenance would be impossible; digital and communication technology also out of the question. The capacity to support life would be severely diminished. Architecture would be reduced to basic shelter.
Volume likes to think of itself as a critical magazine. Not in that it reviews and criticizes production, but in that it has a critical relation with architecture as practice and as notion. No problem up to now. Different worlds, different attitudes, the twain shall never meet, and they lived apart happily ever after…
In architecture a rat race is going on. Not another record-breaking tower – that wouldn’t be new(s). The race is about the application of a fairly new technology in the building industry. What at first seemed a cute and somewhat clumsy machine to produce architectural models and small objects, is now being tested to ‘go live’. I’m talking 3D printing of course and the ambition of at least two architecture offices, in Holland alone, to be the first to print a full-scale building. One is pursuing a pavilion, the other an Amsterdam canal house, complete with gabled roof.
It took awhile before Western design firms could believe that the building and design market in Asia was serious business, and also to come to grips with the ambition, scale and speed of development. By now they understand and are trying to pick some cherries from that trillion dollar tree; the more so now their home markets are slowing down or worse. ‘Going East Asia’ these days is not ´only´ about delivering housing quarters, railway stations, airports, fiber networks, waste water treatment plants and what not; it extends to the delivery of complete cities. It’s already been a long time that the West has been confronting the ‘building a new town’ theme, but today it is a business opportunity.
Less than sixty years ago, the battle for emancipation and class education was fought on private territory: inside the apartment. Today one’s house is supposed to be an expression of one’s individuality, but in those days the interior was subject to ideology and class struggle. During the first phase of the industrial city, newcomers in Western European cities had to be educated to behave like citizens: clean the house, manage waste, mind the children, in short conform to urban social rules. The right to live in a social rental apartment would be the reward for disciplined and confirmative behavior. After the Second World War, the focus of attention shifted to how to live a modern life: clean, healthy, and therefore happy, with simple, well-designed modern products in spartan, light, efficient spaces. One of Archis’ predecessors was dedicated to this very task. Inspired by social-democrat and modernist ideals, monthly magazine Goed Wonen [Good Living] showed what a good interior should look like as part of a program of education and emancipation.
‘Guilty landscape’ is a notion borrowed from the Dutch painter, sculptor, writer, and musician Armando, who wrote about such landscapes more than once. Living in Amersfoort before, during, and after the Second World War, close to a concentration camp situated in the woods, he was very aware that the innocent forest of his youth had witnessed the horrors of war and the Holocaust.
Two decades ago, an architecture magazine would be swamped with invitations for previews, tours and photo opportunities for projects ‘just finished’. A decade ago more and more press releases on prize winning competition entries would be added as part of the info mix. A little later the special mentions would get circulation; even entering a competition was seen as a publicity opportunity. It seemed only a matter of time before press releases announcing “we’ve started in the office this morning at 8.30 am, another great day in front of us, full of promise and opportunity” would surface. Publicity equaled economy. Maybe it still does, but not in the form where profiling projects, clearly identifiable as ‘someone’s’ work will necessarily result in a direct connection to new assignment. We know it is not like that anymore, not in most western countries, not for a lot of offices. In the late 90s, shrinkage was discovered as an interesting urban phenomenon, a new challenge for the profession; today this theme has reached the profession in the most unexpected way: no clients what so ever.
Volume #24: Counterculture
Few people are out protesting in the street or tripping on acid in America these days, yet many of the social principles of its hippie generation are now mainstream. The most celebrated example of the continuing influence of 60s alternative values is in the world of technology. In his book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, media historian Fred Turner describes a group of 60s figures who did not revolt against a menacing, out of touch ‘establishment’ as the familiar narrative tells us, but took a seemingly contradictory interest in defense technologies developing within the militaryindustrial complex. Turner observes that the countercultural ethos of demanding access to knowledge invoked by Stewart Brand and others influenced the development of the personal computer products and network tools that popularized the web and initiated our shift to a society that thrives on information.