Cult of Communication, or 'Monument as Reflection'

"Thinking and therefore language arise from the interaction between a particular and a complex system, given biologically -- that is the human mind and the physical and social world"  - Maria Bottero (quoting Noam Chomsky), "Questo numero," Zodiac 22 1973
Take a minute to pause from reading through this blog and think back to your clearest childhood memory.
Let your surroundings dissolve into the milky mnemonics of the past.  Colors, sounds, smells, lights.  Take it all in. What does it feel like to revisit this memory?
Go deeper into this moment and consider the textures that surrounded you; does the ground feel solid? or are you caught up in the ether of years gone by?  Are you sitting or walking?  Perhaps playing or gazing around?  Take a few seconds to pause here.  Given the senses you have draped around you, begin to imagine the emotions that you felt in this childhood moment.  The joy, the wonder, the confusion, the curiosity, the closeness and brightness of things that you were then experiencing for the first time.  Sense the electricity of the people around you and the position of your surroundings; can you feel the sun on your skin?  Or perhaps the breath of some dear friend who joins you in this moment of introspection?  Can you put a finger on that sense of place?  If you can, take a tender hold of your memory and return with me back to our current setting.  Back to this blog in the present day and let's carefully review where you've been.
memories. conversations with the past?
memories. conversations with the past?
For starters, appreciate the ability that you have to look back at your past.  Can you still picture that original memory?  Remembering where it took you in time and place, do you feel reconnected with your childhood because of the senses that the memory rekindled?  Or perhaps are you reminded of events and experiences that trigger connections with what you felt when you were younger?  And given these two systems-- the particular (your human experience) and the complex (the physical and social world) in what ways do you establish a narrative or memory?  What language do you use to connect with the past?  Is it a useful language-- that is, one that feels new and rekindles the emotions and sensations you originally experienced?  Or perhaps was your trip down memory lane just that: nothing more than a black and white slideshow of a puerile past, valuable not for the emotions and experiences that the memory rekindled but simply for the sake of its age alone.
Granted, this is a bit of a heady method for diving into the topic of preservation, but I hope you were able to bear with this short exercise of looking backward.  It is healthy, after all, to remember where we come from!  My reasoning for this roundabout introduction is not to soften the blow defining conservation and preservation, but rather to establish a simple truth: Historic Preservation is a way of communicating and maintaining a link with the past.   Most often this link is tied to the quantitative -- to buildings, relics, and items of antiquity that allow us to objectively look back at the day-to-day life of those who lived before us.  But the art of Conservation lies in the qualitative -- it is not merely the scientific analysis of what has come and gone, but the interpretation of earlier times that allows us to see with wizened eyes the way that others lived in light of the way we live today.
Tying this argument back into Historic Preservation rhetoric let's consider the work of Alois Riegl, whose writings on the Modern Cult of Monuments (1928) established a way of valuing the past (read 'adding value to the present by considering how antiquity shapes our current way of living').  Riegl defines a 'historic monument' as any monument from a prior time which bears any 'tangible, visible, or audible work of man of artistic value.' Quite a broad range, to be sure!  This general valuation can be subdivided into 'Artistic Value' and 'Historic Value' -- Riegl makes a sharp distinction that some monuments were created intentionally to serve as relics and vessels of past events and actions while others have survived the passage of time and come to us as unassuming, honest 'monuments,' historical in their own right but devoid of much of the value and pomp that can be attributed to monuments of deliberate commemoration.
To that same end, Riegl exposits that there is a commemorative dimension to monuments, both in age value and in historical value -- the former appreciative of age for age's sake and the latter for relevance to our present time (working to stop the progression of future decay or more boldly put 'immortality, an eternal present, an unceasing state of becoming' (pp 78).)
Our original exercise is now worth revisiting -- was your 'trip down memory lane' revisiting an early memory commemorative in nature? Probably not -- that is, as a child you probably didn't think to yourself 'let me remember this moment so that I can look back on it in future years and remember where I have come from'.  Most likely your original memory is only valuable for age's sake alone.  What's more, since your memory is intangible, it bears no connection as a 'monument' in Riegl's standard definition of the term as it is not visible, tangible, or audible.  I hate to say it but the odds seem stacked against your memory for not possessing much by way of historical value!  But fear not, countless men and women through time have experienced this same pang of longing that you (maybe) are feeling now for others to share in the emotions and value that you have for that original memory.  And this leads us into the role that Historic Preservation plays in bringing value to the past-- preservation, more ably than most any other discipline, allows for the translation and interpretation of prior occurrences into a readily accessible and digestible piece of history that can be seen and ascribed to the present day with the hope of providing context for earlier actions and occurrences as well as relevance to contemporary critics and passers-by.
'How is this done?', you may ask. Great question.  While Riegl suggest that it is only through a careful balance of Use Value (persistent usability of a monument through time), Newness Value (appearance as clean, unblemished, and pure despite the passage of time), and Historical Value (representative of contemporary perception for the past).  Remember also that each of these value systems are predicated upon the fact that all value, whether qualitative or quantitative, is ascribed by the viewer.  To that end, historic preservation is a professional interpretation of the objective, tangible relics of the past to be preserved with integrity to the subjective values of the present.
If all this seems a bit overwhelming, don't worry.  Every object you see is, in fact, a monument to the time in which it was made and used.  It is not so important that a preservationist over analyze every object for its potential cultural and historical value as a relic, but rather to focus on the tangible reminders from the past that build a stronger dialogue and channel of communication between the 'then' and the 'now' relating and reminding us where we were, where we are, and where we are going.
Works Cited

Imperiale, Alicia. "Organic Italy? The Troubling Case of Rinaldo Semino." Perspecta 43 TABOO The Yale Architectural Journal 43 (2011): 37. Print.

Riegl, Alois. "The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Essence and Its Development." Readings in Conservation: Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage (n.d.): 69-83. Print.


Not Afraid of Formalism

Hi friends,

I have a massive backlog of theory writings that I have been meaning to share on this blog, but I don't want to bore you, my dear readers, with theory babble. 

One thing that has come to my attention recently is the shift I have felt in my own design work.  I consider myself a contextualist, approaching architecture as a social science set within an ever-evolving milieu of physical culture-driven phenomenon.  While I like to explore design through whatever means most appropriately advances the concept I am pursuing, at Penn, I have dealt in more advanced techniques that before I would have considered outside my scope of knowledge-- not just in terms of project development (site analysis tools and conventions) but technologies. Software programs that I never thought I would dig into have actually been a balancing exercise for my usual manual-representation preferences.

Last year at the University of Cincinnati I took a course that taught Grasshopper and Rhino. While I listened to lectures that taught me how to use the program, I didn't really feel comfortable until I took it upon myself to become good at Grasshopper and play around until I felt comfortable. Nights spent exploring tools and outputs led to a greater sense of comfort with the program.  I applied the same approach to Arduino plugins, Sonic, Jellyfish plugins. You get the idea.  I still have plenty to learn, but now I feel comfortable taking on these more advanced softwares.  This was new for me.  I like to work in manual application-- through making models and sketching by hand.  Recently I have felt the same shift in appreciation toward my theory readings.  Sure, I always fancied myself a reader.. but not on the scale of XXX pages of reading per week? I am beginning to really enjoy this stuff.

Bringing this to a point: I think my obsession with acquiring new tools and proficiencies stems from a term that I read recently in a short (four page) article by Sanford Kwinter. Formalism.  Before reading the article I would have defined formalism as 

"a subjective act of craft, perception, or analysis resulting in an applied observation of an object in a given context." -me

Kwinter spins his definition of formalism a little differently:

"any method that diagrams the proliferation of fundamental resonances and demonstrates how these accumulate into figures of order and shape." -sk

I believe that my newfound appreciation for these tools is actually a result of my own resonance and appreciation for alternative representation.  I want to grow my skills to match the greatest capacity of the tools I am working with (digital for now).  In short, the environment at PennDesign has encouraged me to break my DAAP Revit-and-colored-pencil chains and try new things.  And since the tools at my disposal are parametric, system-centric, and meant to be largely iterative in nature, I have found myself gravitating toward these new technologies.

Kwinter reminds us that "Formalism derives from this historic emergence of themes applied in a specific location at a specific time" (see above). This is where I am. The tools and strategies I am learning are such because of where I am learning them and the current themes of teaching.

BUT the bigger question is... through this formalism-- this acceptance of certain tools and skills-- am I compromising my core design beliefs? Those that allow me to approach architecture as a social science set within an ever-evolving milieu of physical culture-driven phenomenon.  No, I don't think so.  But there is something inherently humanitarian (that is, society-serving) and grounded (that is, buildable, constrained by ease of realization) that I have always perceived in my work, and I think I am beginning to expand that horizon.

Find my reflections on a number of recent readings below:

To define formalism "any method that diagrams the proliferation of fundamental resonances and demonstrates how these accumulate into figures of order and shape." Kwinter's strongest argument presents form as a resonance and expression of embedded forces. Kwinter argues that true formalism is a pure translation-- a genetic evolution even-- of an object's rules of formation applied in a given time and place.  To understand the form, we should always ask "why this object, institution, or configuration here, in this place, at this time, and not that?" Formalism derives from this historical emergence of themes applied in a specific location at a specific time.

Which part of this building is contemporary?
All of it. Even the old part. Design is contemporary even if it has been built to look old,
for it represents a link to the style or form which it seeks to emulate.

The "third type" of the city lends itself toward a closer consideration of architecture as a social vessel, each building contemporary to the time in which it was constructed.  Rossi's reflection to Victor Hugo's quote from the 1830's, that "communication through printed word...has released architecture from the roe of 'social book' into its specialized domain."  

Although architecture may no longer be a 'social book' it does frame the discussion of spatial organization in cities.  

Understanding that buildings cannot present a regular and unified face in this new urban typology, we must see cities as fabrics. As webs of integrated and conversant urban components-- infrastructure, landscape, and shelter-- that is, systems, fields, and objects interwoven to create a coherent and integrated urban 

The urban form has changed over time.
Understand: URBAN itself is a typology for design

Greg Lynn presents the development of visual technology from the perspective that architecture has long been static and is moving toward a state of motion, flow, and arrangement whose mathematical foundations are not cartesian or polygonal, but rather U/V-mesh and spline-based.  This shift, he argues, takes architects from the topology-based model of 'stasis' to a model of 'shifting, shearing, rotation' and movement.  Lynn questions the form of architecture that lasts forever, instead arguing for design that is 'built for obsolescence, dismantling, ruination, recycling, and abandonment through time.' These traits are rarely considered at the outset of an architectural project, but merit consideration, especially from the standpoint of adaptive reuse (considering how spaces and systems will be replaced over time) and the immense strides made in technology (how long will it be before houses have USB connections instead of electrical outlets?).

Regardless, Lynn's main discussion revolves around his argument for a redefinition of space from being neutral and timeless to being temporally dynamic.  He explores how mathematics and 3D modeling programs allow for this process-- for designers can now apply advanced mathematical properties to their digital creations without ever needing to know the geometries and calculus that under-girds their explorations.

Architecture may break from its tradition of stasis
and embrace a position of cultural dynamism


ARCH 502: Preliminary Manifesto

A preliminary manifesto generated for ARCH 502+522 Urban Design studio.  Taking some cues from Stan Allen, Sanford Kwinter, and the Patron Saint of Architecture. Comments welcome and appreciated!


PennDesign Review Fall '012

Greetings Arch-Perspectivo's

It's high time I wrote about something with an architectural twist.. how about a reflection on this past semester -- a top ten if you will (plus one) -- of studying Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

10+1 - the Making Space Symposium at the beginning of the semester. If ever I saw a design exposition that received nowhere near as many accolades as it deserved, this was it.

10 - Giant Nyan-Cats

9 - Making a model of the Barnes Foundation. It's a beautiful building and making a 3/16" = 1'-0" scale section model made me appreciate TWBTA's intricacies all the more.

8 - Food Trucks. That is all. Salt and Pepper, I'm looking at you.
7 - Tiny glue bottles from PLAZA (actually, from back when it was Lance's). DAAPers know what's up. Some marketing genius decided that slapping a mechanical pencil top onto a plastic eye-dropper bottle could be sold for 5 bucks to arts students. And boy, were they right! Model-makers know that tiny glue bottles are the best way to model anything with SOBO.

6 - ASUS laptops. They're pretty great -- way better, in fact, than I first gave them credit for (although carrying around an ASUS 17-inch is comparable to giving a toddler a sempeternal piggy-back ride (although probably with less screaming and puking involved).

grasshopper sold separately, batteries not included

5 - the Hammitt Hammock in Simon's Studio

4 - "Annyong" and all its many spin-offs. 안녕하세요! including this beauti-doodle of Dr. Dave:

3 - PennDesign Super Happy Hour. I never would have guessed that the Lower Gallery could be transformed into a space somewhere between National Mechanics and an Alpha Rho Chi Rabirius dance party.
2 - Ivory soap

identity obscured to protect the uninitiated

And the number one best thing about studying architecture at the University of Pennsylvania...
1 - Squirrel Cannons

So this comes just as a new semester is about to begin. Who knows what the next few months will bring? Hopefully more Ivory Soap.