It looks like I lost track of time and the past two weeks sped by. This is basically just a lenghty memo to myself, so enjoy!
The damage diagramming continues, only now we have been weaving insurance into the discussion. I have made several attempts to pinpoint a specific moment, narrowing in on the details of the event. The objective is to formulate a new descriptive vocabulary for the event. Buildings are described by their massing, materiality, proportion, etc. and we are attempting to invent a set of similarly precise and descriptive terms and diagrams.
It has been difficult selecting the right moment. I began examining the US military for its obvious relationship to damage and damage control, as well as its perverse adherence to a system of relentless logic. The tactics used by the military are based upon strict and orderly procedures, and it's completely fascinating how much energy the military mobilizes to anticipate future events and control their outcome. From there I attempted to diagram the December 30, 2009 suicide attack on Khost, Afghanistan. While I initially focused on the damage to diplomatic relationships and the less explosive repercussions of this event, I ended up focusing on the act of conducting an investigation of the scene itself. The explosion and fatalities are only part of the damage, and the breadth of the damage continues to radiate outward, affecting families, intelligence, and regional politics. This involved investigating an investigative process, and using the procedures put forth by forensic scientists, cryptology experts, bomb squads and the prescribed investigative methods created by the US Department of Justice. While the research was interesting, the complexity of the event as well as the lack of precise information made the process both frustrating and difficult.
Damage and insurance are inextricably linked, so its no surprise that our ongoing study of insurance companies and their appraisal methods has been tremendously helpful in this process. As Mark put it, the world of the insurance industry is a world governed by the most ruthless forms of financial gain. This is a world where planes fall from the sky, cars are continually colliding, and homes burn to the ground. But does an insurance policy actually protect you from being affected by these events? What's more, while insurance provides a feeling of security, damage always exposes vulnerability. Applying monetary value then becomes the most precise way to describing the value of things.
Using these guidelines I endeavoured to find any information related to a system of insurance or asset allocation used by the US Military. I found some evidence confirming that the military uses a similarly rigorous framework for estimating its own value, and two particular documents proved to be helpful. The first was a book published by the Bureau of War Risk Insurance (I think it no longer exists) in 1919 that documented the military and naval compensation claims as a result of the first World War. The second was a published study by an individual who created a series of graphs and formulas that apply a monetary value to the military's tangible assets - tanks, helicopters, rifles, etc.
Through the study he argued that capital assessment may actually be the most useful measure of value because it is a means of providing a macro summary of information that can be objectively compared to the assets of other countries. The durable goods and services of the military - equipment, tactical aircrafts, shelters, personnel and material for their maintenance, and research development - all depcreciate over time. Therefore a formula was necessary to consider their peak value as well as the time in which they need replacement.
The value of the infantry is difficult to describe, and all calls to the insurance companies the military uses were dead ends. Still the first book allowed me to create an average value based on a 2.7% inflation rate since 1919. While the results are debatable and vague, I was able to use these two sources as a means of understanding the complex task of determining value. I also need to come up with a way to spatialize this information.
This Friday our studio had our first pin-up, which turned into a nine-hour damage control extravaganza. Each student presented four items: A digital film using footage from our trip to the site (a section of land on the north shore of Staten Island), a container for a piece of damaged art that is related to our research, a container for an actual artwork that has been damaged, and our most current diagram(s) of insurance. For the conceptual damaged object's display I created a hypothetical travelling 'exhibition' of the military's fighter jets that were adorned by famous works of art and carted around the world on a aircraft carrier painted by a jackson pollack. Yes, this is completely absurd and I probably missed the mark, but the idea was to challenge the value of the art object through the meeting of the military asset. By duplicating the artwork, would the original depreciate in value? Is value a function of singularity? I attempted a similarly absurd display by taking Koons' sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles and displaying it in a concrete grave in the middle of a cornfield. This was an attempt to understand what gives the artwork its value. In other words, I wanted to locate the art and then reloate the artwork. The piece is deliberately kitchy, and resembles any ceramic trinket found in a Chinatown market, only larger and contains a tremendous amount of symbolism and social commentary. This seems to suggest that artwork is given its value by the museum and by removing it from the shelter of the museum it ceases to be valuable. Moreover, through the creation of a barrier between the viewer and the object - by submerging the object below the surface and forcing the viewer to descend in a deep concrete cave - the viewer is discouraged from engaging the object, and presumably prevents the viewer from applying any value.
The obvious problem with this technique is that the barrier is not impossible to overcome. What's more, its isolation could actually give the object even more value. Lastly, the object wasn't physically damaged which was sort of the point in the first place - to figure out a way to display an art object that had all value removed from it. Nevertheless, its been helpful in understanding relevance of the artwork's physical properties and how the presentation plays a tremendous role in establishing value.
Our class is now studying 3dStudio by following several tutorials that involve the modeling and rendering of SANAA's Park Cafe and the Barcelona Chair. The Park Cafe was challenging, but I am lucky to have used this software since third year. The learning curve with 3dS is steeper than Rhino, so the amount of frustration between the rest of my classmates is pretty high.
Since studying Berlin we've had two lectures. Through Tokyo we discussed a series of urban theories, from Metabolism's creation of the Marine City, the Plan for Tokyo, and other joint-core proposals, to Ito's Tower of Winds and the Sendai Mediateque, to the past and present work of SANAA. This week we looked at London as a testing ground for several related theories created by Archigram and its tangential projects, to the work of James Sterling, Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, and Norman Foster.
I also wrote a paper that questions some of the ideas put forth by Venturi that he thought helped explain the current state of American cities (in 1978 that is) in an article he wrote for A+U. Broadly speaking, it was an attempt to describe the roots of America's western landscape, that America west of the Appalacian mountains developed out of a frontier logic rather than an urban logic. 1,000 words is probably not enough space, but I will soon find out whether I made a convincing argument.
Shohei Shigematsu from OMA gave a lecture on June 15. He talked about the tactical relationship between OMA and AMO, his work on the waist down exhibition, the EU, IBM, and others.
Two things stood out from the lecture: His statements about the role of aesthetics in OMA's work and his suprisingly critical words regarding of the current trend of Japanese reductivism.
Another student asked Sho whether aesthetics played a role in the composition and appearance of the projects, which was coincidentally a topic I've been interested in myself for some time. Without hesitation and much to my surprise, Sho bluntly said the role of aesthetics is VERY strong. Obviously the argument is still the driviing force, but he'd be lying if he were to say otherwise. Interesting.
Regarding the reductivism, his words, while carefully chosen and deliberate, seemed almost resentful of the fact that this movement was simply trend that's borne out of a lack of ambition and creativity. I struggled with this idea, because it's an issue that's more personal to him than to me and it's difficult to argue with an argument that is rooted in a visceral reaction. I find Japan's architectural style and urban logic to be quite fascinating regardless of its symbolic content or lack thereof. Nevertheless it turned my world upside down, for no other reason that it does seem to be a substantive claim given the stagnant Japanese economy that is likely affecting Japan's consciousness.
This week we looked at the photography of Ezra Stoller and Dan Graham. Each invented very distinct styles that were an extension of their general artistic impulses and professional objectives. Despite their stylistic differences their photography was united by the desire to create a visual manifesto. They used their work as a rhetorical device that highlights the prevailing notions of culture, technology, and art.
What has stuck with me since this discussion was the idea that my work can be an editorial strategy. This further triggers a variety of other topics worth considering, specifically the fundamental purpose of built architecture and whether it is even necessary. Tschumi and Eisenman talked at length about architecture's relevancy and its limits. I'm looking forward to exploring these ideas further, despite the fact that they will likely stifle some progress in other areas.
That's it for now. Now it's time for a break and then tutorials and more diagramming for studio.
**eastward movement is included
The topic of damage control is deliberately broad. My instructor is Mark Wasiuta, and we will eventually work with an artist who is the author of the Salvage Art Institute. Initially we scrutinized the basic notions of damage and tested our preconceived ideas of damage and its meaning. From there we moved to an exploration of the images of value, to our collective role in the creation of value to how we can represent the values that are being damaged/protected. At the root of these discussions is the intention to broaden our design vocabulary and invent individual design and critique tools that will presumably guide our work for the rest of the semester.
The greatest collective challenge for our studio has been narrowing our focus to one event or moment where damage occurs. Beyond the specificity issue, I have had a difficult time trusting my instincts and simply allowing the process to take its own shape. Obviously, five years of undergrad and four years of professional work that has been generally rooted in answers and not questions are difficult to un-learn.
Still, I did not come to Columbia to learn what I already knew. Reminding myself of this is surprisingly helpful, and provides a necessary amount of rationality in an otherwise irrational and unstructured environment.
The idea of a weapon serving as a means of damage control continues to fascinate me, in large part because of it's paradoxical implications and surrealistic imagery that often comes to my mind when I think of the military and defense. Furthermore, an opportunity to further understand the military's "relentless logic" as Mark puts it is one I intend to explore. Nevertheless, a reliable means of testing these ideas continues to elude me. This is an investigation, and like Mark suggested, we must reject what is not useful and specify what the issues of value are.
We are first learning Rhino 4.0 in conjunction with Illustrator. Eventually we'll move into Grasshopper and Maya. Everyone is familiar with the Adobe Suite but there is a surprisingly large number of students who have NO background with either Rhino or 3dStudio. It's crazy! Obviously this is not accidental. I am familiar with Rhino but by no means proficient with it. So far it's been very good.
What's funny is our first assignment is to model Mies' Barcelona Pavilion in Rhino and then play around with line-weights in Illustrator, which is suspiciously similar to our tutorial sessions back in third year with Knox, not to mention our courtyard prototype work with him fifth year. Next we are modeling the Panton chair, and then we move into our analysis of a building with some sort of tectonic element or detail, either built or unbuilt. I will probably choose to examine the University Library by Wiel Arets in Utrect. I also like Piano's New York Times building, but it's not quite as interesting. Both are an exploration of transparency and identity and the Piano building is very elegant, but Arets work is a little more daring. It was one of the many projects I was fortunate to visit while in Europe, and remains one of my favorite buildings on the planet.
We had our first discussion yesterday, in which we are broken into sections and we simply have a topic planned ahead of time. Our first topic was a thrill - a roundtable about OMA / AMO. The discussion was at its best when people were challenging their relevancy, rather than simply recording their history and influence. Obviously Rem's work is well known but I am only familiar with AMO through a few website visits and a few cursory glances at Contents. I think I have also looked at S,M,L,XL two, maybe ... three times? Still, I find their work to be remarkable, for no other reason that they seem to be the most active group in this general collective mission to create a new territory for the architectural discipline. How come they have been more successful than others?
This lecture aims to understand cities through other media besides textbooks, most notably through film. Matt Knox exposed our class to a new level of understanding and appreciation of architecture with film, and Enrique will do much of the same. Last week we watched The Naked City by Jules Dassin, an appropriate way to introduce our diverse class to New York and the root of it's chaotic atmosphere and dystopian imagery. Tomorrow we will watch Germania Anno Zero by Roberto Rossellini, which will coincide with our lecture on Berlin.
The first week in New York was not a gentle immersion, but it was a spectacular one. I suppose it was the only appropriate way to join the party; with aggression and excitement.
I've made so many promises to myself that will inevitably be broken. How many times have I been here and I still haven't seen Seagram's Plaza? Ridiculous. I still haven't visited the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. I'm going to spend more time in the East Village, and less time in Brooklyn. I'm going to visit Governor's Island. I'm going to visit James' neighborhood in Queens. I'm going to try Richard Chang's Momofuku. I'm going to use my student discount at MoMa and the Guggenheim. I will socialize, share and explore, even when my instincts tell me otherwise. I will make breakfast and coffee at home at least twice a week, and my apartment will only serve as a means to sleep and shower. The city is a shared, urban laboratory and I plan on treating it as such.
Similar to Los Angeles, New York is one giant, dynamic, confusing and often misunderstood symbol. I've been thinking constantly about its meaning, and the fact that it has so much meaning. California seems to be an experiment in individualism, while this place seems rooted a more shared sense of opportunity. The generalization is that Californians are proud of how they have shaped themselves and created personal success, while New Yorkers take pride in what they have collectively achieved. I cannot think of an American city in which so many people are filled with an overwhelming sense of pride to have taken part in its formation. Is this an accurate statement or not? What I find more interesting is how these broad notions seem to have remained at the core of the cities since their inception. I find myself wondering if much has changed since their respective beginnings. It is very likely I will be proven wrong by my classmates and instructors.
There is no doubt in my mind that I have found the right place. Columbia's faculty has a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, very little of which appears to be rooted in a sense of pretention or willful distance from the students. There is a collective understanding that great ideas come from above and below; an ideology that is rarely sincerely adhered to.
Enrique Walker, our instructor for our urban theory class called Metropolis, spoke to us about the roots of Columbia's unique pedagogical system. One analogy that has stuck with me is his comparison between the monastery and the cultural center, the former being a place that provides answers while the latter triggers curiosity and heterogeneity. Therefore the cultural center is by definition, urban. This was an excellent place to start, indeed.
Studio has also begun, and Mark Wasiuta is my instructor. The topic is damage control. More on that eventually.
- 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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