**eastward movement is included
the institute of projected citizenship: a spatial declaration of political equality.
with this speculative project abuja could have its first critical infrastructure in the city. more to come soon.
Recently in his seminar about the visible and invisible, Safran brought up Steven Holl's design for the Knut Hamsen Center in Hamarøy, Norway. Holl's argument is that it is "The building as a body, a battleground of invisible forces." The idea is that these forces are nonexistent because they exist in the mind, and only upon entering this building do they become spatial. The unique magic of this building lies in its capacity to make these forces, which may not actually exist at all, become real to those inside. An excerpt from Erik Fenstrad Langdalen's article in Hamsun Holl Hamarøy :
New, unexpected phenomena occur, impossible anywhere else, than in the real world: the sun is reflected in the elevator shaft, creating shapes on the wall that resemble northern lights; the windows frame unfamiliar fragments of the view, and there are new perspectives through the spaces that one could have imagined. ... A remarkable relationship building and its terrain has occurred. Contrary to what one might have expected, the building has not adjusted to the surrounding elements: the scenery, the view, the sun, the site, and the visitors. In fact, they are all props in the building's grand performance. The tower with its magic powers imbues fragments of the surroundings with new meaning viewed through this telescope, which inscribes them in Hamsun's universe.
I remain seduced by the notion of creating spaces that are imbued with this sort of a poetic narrative. It is one of the fundamental ideas that brought me to graduate school in the first place; my belief that building, as an act, is by its definition an act of optimism. Of course, Holl's narratives are completely self-indulgent, but what is more important is their intent to elevate the soul and cast light upon the invisible components that make us human.
I do not think this is a departure from the issues I am addressing in studio this semester. My reading of Abuja is that it is a visual landscape - an amalgamate of images and visual cues, whose collective endeavor is to project national power, stability, and coherence through a highly choreographed urban sequence. These issues are guiding the project down a road that I had not anticipated, which is forcing the project to evolve into reinterpretation of Nigerian culture, and how it is manifest through sequence, staging, and narrative. Of course these ideas, like Abuja itself, require a neutral territory in which they can be exchanged with others. The true test will be how I develop my process of exploring these ideas. In other words, until I test new modes of representation beyond pencil, paper, chipboard, and so forth, I will have gained very little from this project. In other words, my objective is to discover a project, rather than imagine one.
Unfortunately there is a gulf between concept and reality, which is often commonplace in a situation where the nation still struggles with its own identity. Abuja has fallen off track into a landscape of discontinuity and confusion. Unfortunately the only truly coherent part of Abuja is the terminus of this urban sequence, the Three Arms Zone, or the area that houses the Presidential Villa, The Supreme Court, and the National Assembly Building ( Congress ). The question becomes what to create that is the counterpart to this reality. More on this later.
[ surface, screen, structure ]
our mid-review is next week. so far we have had numerous site visits - the building in soho that we are designing our screening system for, Mayola, which is a fabrication shop about 2 hours east of the city on long island, and last week we visited FACE fabrication + design, which is a smaller outfit in williamsburg. the design has evolved from a screening device that attempted to generate a dynamic image from the shadows the screen cast on itself to a more elaborate, interlocking system that is more concerned with how it creates an image itself. our instructor is pushing the class very hard, and it has developed into a second studio. my objective was to acquire greater proficiency in grasshopper and solidworks, but it's been more of a struggle than i had anticipated. regardless, there's still plenty of time to do learn.
[ swarm intelligence ]
this is the probably the most difficult class i've ever taken. the root of the difficulty is coming to terms with the disjunction between my ability to conceptualize an idea and how to excecute it. because we are scripting the behavior of these agents rather than using drafting tools, paper and trace, i have essentially received what i asked for - discomfort. i didn't come to columbia to learn what i already knew. i wanted to test my open-mindedness, and right now i'm getting a dose of that by the bowlful. nevertheless, i have to continually remind myself that i will emerge from this class with a greater understanding of another design technique.
[ 12 dialogical / poetic strategies ]
the topics and readings are familiar and foreign at the same time. most of us have a passing familiarity with several of the authors and philosophers ( calvino, proust, heidegger, burke, freud, tafuri, and so forth ) as well as the topics covered ( gravity and grace, exile, lightness, the sublime, iorny, etc. ) but no where near the amount of depth exhibited by yehuda.
a portion of the discussion this morning was centered around the artificiality of architecture and what consciousness is. perception vs. knowledge. husserl's concept of the the absolute beginner was especially interesting - that the ultimate technique for a radical transformation of both self and world is to consciously assume the role as a complete outsider. in other words, radicality is at the root of any genuine philosophical activity. other notes: first philosophy, second philosophy (metaphysics in the cartesian sense), the irrational fact of the rationality of the world, transcendental subjectivty, and others. how to package these ideas and translate them into something useful is still up for debate.
[ studio ]
the feedback we received from our projects on wednesday was tremendous. the panel was lucid and insightful. of course they were brilliant, but i suspect the amount of feedback was in direct proportion to the amount of research our studio had presented. in other words, i cannot imagine anyone else in the world having such a precise focus on abuja & lagos. probably an exaggeration, but its fun to imagine that our perspective is that interesting.
in my last post i expressed frustration that i had a vague understanding of what abuja is like on the ground. looking at google earth maps, promotional maps issued by the government to tourists and businessmen, and historical maps of western africa can only describe so much, especially when maps of these sorts are surprisingly conceptual. youtube videos have been a useful tool in more clearly understanding abuja's identity up close, but they still have limits. because of this i chose to accept these parameters and think about abuja as a simulated landscape, where images are projections and the city is understood through its effects.
i can place the first moment i discovered an academic curiosity in artificiality. it was in a class i took at kansas state taught by david seamon. seamon's research was largely about urban spaces, cities, and their functionality. the subtext of this class was significantly more phenomenological, and my and papers and discussion clumsily attempted to decode what these concepts of the synthetic and the authentic actually meant to me. place and placelessness were two themes that have always resonated for one reason or another, but i've determined that these concepts remain in my scope of interest. the only change is the context.
testing these ideas further within the context of abuja is exciting for so many reasons. because abuja was conceived as a built solution to nigeria's reputation of wars, coups, and continual ethnic tensions, it is the ideal laboratory to examine how a state grapples with its own identity and how it synthesizes these ideas architecturally. in other words, abuja's built landscape refers to its own past by avoiding a confrontation with it. an authentic recognition of itself, at least from the eyes of a white midwestern-born neophyte academic, would require that nigeria mobilize efforts to highlight and expose the past rather than erase it. on the other hand, this suggestion is rooted in a desire to reveal the truth and unpack its meaning. perhaps this is an approach that's completely wrong within this context, and an alternative must be explored.
nigeria's objective is to appeal to a different audience, and therefore it is performing for a different audience. because lagos and abuja are umbilically tied abuja has to work that much harder to distinguish itself from the narrative of chaos that lagos is assumed to contain. this audience is global, it is wealthy, and it is powerful. this audience wants to invest in cities / nations whose infrastructure is reliable and functional. this audience wants to work with a government that is competent and stable. this audience wants to be entertained and is accustomed to a certain degree of luxury and comfort.
so many more thoughts to elaborate on, which i need to spend more time ruminating over. a new post is already being drafted.
Like any colonized territory, Nigeria has been subjected incremental reformulations of the citizens' collective memory. In other words, the past is systematically altered or erased. the objective of these interventions is to search for ways to move/look forward, while simultaneously commemorating the heritage of the nation with symbols that typically fall short of recalling anything truly authentic or accurate. what i'm really curious about is how the regular folks feel about this, and for that matter, how does it make the people making these changes feel?
For example, the original name of the place called Lagos is Isale Eko, or the town of Eko. this name allowed the citizens to claim ownership of it, and helped establish another boundary between itself and the outsiders that collected there. it was the Portuguese who applied the name Lagos after a city in portugal, where lagos is Portuguese for lagoon. dissociation and reinvention are inextricably tied.
Above all, what's most interesting and relevant to this discussion is how the Nigerian authorities conceived, planned, produced and appropriated an ideology of nationalist architecture and planning in Abuja. this approach began with the images of the master plan that were both propagandistic (probably not a word) and alluring, and has continued to this day with the demolition of self-organized settlements that have sprung up on the exterior of the city. The State is so completely self-aware of these images, and has worked extremely hard to present itself in a way that contracts the imagery and negative stigma that Lagos helped create.
in any case, i have definitely spent entirely too much time looking at the history of the city and its relationship with itself and the history of Nigeria, which has taken me away from several relevant books and articles related to food, fuel and finance. Nevertheless, I know it's not too late to use this external information to guide the project.
"Speed expands time by contracting space. It negates the notion of the physical dimension."
we are collectively swimming through a deep sea of data about the history of Nigeria. the forces that have shaped it into what it is today is both fascinating and tragic. i've managed to locate several maps, models and conceptual images of Tange's master plan for the city. they are, without question, depictions of a utopian and therefore imaginary place.
abuja officially became the new capital of nigeria in 1991, after about a decade of planning and relocating from the former nigerian capital of lagos, a self-organized cesspool of humanity and neglect that is one of the fastest growing cities on the planet. abuja is also located literally in the center of the country, a political calculation intended to locate the physical center between the Christian south anchored by Lagos and the Islamic North anchored by Kano . Upon the discovery of these details, many questions immediately presented themselves. Is Abuja a bridging device, or does Abuja divide the country in half? Is it an impartial political, cultural, and financial arbitrator or is it concerned with itself as a polemical entity? What comes at the expense of distancing the capital from the grit, chaos, and disorganization that characterized these colonial cities that are inextricably tied to the national identity of Nigeria's citizens? In other words, Abuja is a perplexing and ambitious project that's also very very strange.
When I began this research I suspected we would discover that Abuja and Lagos, despite the best efforts of the state, would have been slowly converging demographically and urbanistically. What I found was more less true - that Lagos was being incrementally stripped of the disorganization, slums, and markets that so clearly defined what it was. in fact, the fascinating markets that koolhaas examined in his documentary, lagos wide & close, have vanished. a consequence of this cleansing was that these displaced people needed someplace to go, and thousands migrated seven hours north to Abuja where they have basically recreated the chaotic urban conditions that existed before. But who is responsible for this? A valid argument is that there wasn't enough affordable and accessible infrastructure in place when they arrived, and so they had no choice but to make a life in any way they could on the outside of the city. Abuja was conceived as a necessary response to Lagos. In other words, the state knew what Abuja could not be, and so they looked for ways to reconstruct their reputation.
abuja then becomes a patchwork of old habits and glossy ambition, continually at odds with its own identity and put under pressure and precise scrutiny by the external forces (corporations) it so desires (needs?) to attract.
- New York, New York, United States
- I take myself too seriously most of the time and I am trying to do that less. I remind some people of Woody Allen. I occationally indulge in the weekend camping trip. I adamantly support the Kansas City Royals baseball club. My identity is wrapped up in a few simple things, most of which are continuously displayed on this here blog.
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