jeudi 30 septembre 2010

# The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

One story by Jorge Luis Borges is interesting to read as it reveals his vision of his own work. This short story, entitled The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths in fact compares two types of labyrinths; the first one, complex, full of tricks and devices and the second whose labyrinthine aspect comes from its extreme simplicity and "desertness". It has been written that those the first labyrinth was assimilated to Borges' vision of James Joyce's litterature, which lost the reader thanks to the complexity of its form, whereas the second labyrinth was Borges' interpretation of his own work which lost the reader thanks to the vertigo of its essence.

The Two Kings and the Two Labyrinths

It is said by men worthy of belief (though Allah's knowledge is greater) that in the first days there was a king of the isles of Babylonia who called together his architects and his priests and bade them build him a labyrinth so confused and so subtle that the most prudent men would not venture to enter it, and those who did would lose their way. Most unseemly was the edifice that resulted, for it is the prerogative of God, not man, to strike confusion and inspire wonder. In time there came to the court a king of Arabs, and the king of Babylonia (to muck the simplicity of his guest) bade him enter the labyrinth, where the king of Arabs wandered, humiliated and confused, until the coming of the evening, when he implored God's aid and found the door. His lips offered no complaint, though he said to the king of Babylonia that in his land he had another labyrinth, and Allah willing, he would see that someday the king of Babylonia made its acquaintance. Then he returned to Arabia with his captains and his wardens and he wreaked such havoc upon kingdoms of Babylonia, and with such great blessing by fortune, that he brought low his castles, crushed his people, and took the king of Babylonia himself captive. He tied him atop a swift-footed camel and led him into the desert. Three days they rode, and then he said to him, "O king of time and substance and cipher of the century! In Babylonia didst thou attempt to make me lose my way in a labyrinth of brass with many stairways, doors, and walls; now the Powerful One has seen fit to allow me to show thee mine, which has no stairways to climb, nor walls to impede thy passage."

Then he untied the bonds of the king of Babylonia and abandoned him in the middle of the desert, where he died of hunger and thirst. Glory to him who does not die.

From Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Andrew Hurley, Penguin Books, 1998, p. 263-264.

# William Heath Robinson's mechanical apparatuses

William Heath Robinson is a cartoonist from the first part of the XXth century who spent most of his time to invent complicated mechanical apparatuses in order to achieve a single action. The absurdity that emerges from those machines is, in my opinion, a pretty good expression of technophilia in its ambiguity, most of the time fascinating but also sometimes sustaining its existence by its own contemplation...
It makes me recall Hernan Diaz Alonzo's lecture's conclusion at the Pompidou Center, one year ago, that was questioning the hyper sophistication of the Coyote's apparatuses in order to catch the road runner. This sophistication is so planed and contemplated that it eventually fails but rather than condemning it, Diaz Alonzo claims that this failure should be thought as part of the work.

William Heath Robinson is regularly quoted by Peter Cook and CJ Lim as a potential reference for their work and their architectural studios in schools.

mercredi 29 septembre 2010

# A roof is a roof is a roof by Janis Rucins on Archinect

Archinect recently published a project entitled A roof is a roof is a roof designed by Janis Rucins for Alex Lehnerer's research studio at the University of Illinois.
The poetical narrative is merely useless -I don't mean it in a pejorative way- and interrogates the very idea of paradigm and pre-conceived ideas by questioning the idea of the roof as an under-developed architectural element. He thus re-interprets the house archetype and code -following Hugh Ferriss- and flips it in a way that recalls the Oblique Function (see previous article).

I recommend reading the nice narrative and explore more documents on archinect.

mardi 28 septembre 2010

# Tower of Babel. Bruegel and his successors

Pieter Bruegel's paintings of the Tower of Babel are impressive by their sense of details; one can probably spend one whole day exploring the multitude of scenes populating the canvas...
But Bruegel's paintings also acquired the status of paradigm in the Tower's representations. After him, painters from the XVIth and XVIIth centuries -and even later- continued to paint the biblical edifice with similar compositions.
Something peculiar in Bruegel and later, van Valckenborch's paintings is that the Tower seems to be based on a mountain as some pieces of rock emerge from it. The Tower seen that way would have not been an addition of material but rather a monumental sculpture of a mountain...

For this article I chose five of them but several dozens of them can be seen by following this link.

I also already wrote about the Tower of Babel and Kafka's poetical hypothesis that the Great Wall of China had been designed to be its foundation: read the article

Read the Chapter 11 of the Book of Genesis in the Bible narrating the Tower of Babel's story.

Pieter Bruegel 1563

Pieter Bruegel 1563 (detail)

Pieter Bruegel 1563 (detail)

Hendrick Van Cleve 1580

Lucas van Valckenborch 1594

Lucas van Valckenborch 1594 (detail)

Dutch school (XVIIth century)

Marten van Valckenborch around 1600

Tobias Verhaecht around 1600

Tobias Verhaecht around 1600 (detail)

lundi 27 septembre 2010

# An Architecture "des humeurs" by R&Sie(n)

photograph by Matthieu Kavyrchine

I already published some information about R&Sie(n)'s exhibition An Architecture "des humeurs" but I thought it was definitely worth it to introduce less the exhibition in itself and more of the speculation as much as emphasizing the fact that R&Sie(n) is one of the extremely rare architectural offices who offer the totality of documents and information on their website.

As an introduction of Francois Roche's lecture at Columbia last week, Mark Wigley brilliantly elaborated on the fact that a lot of contemporary architects are self proclaimed "experimental", "provocative", "on the edge", "innovative"; however the proper of such characteristics is to disturb people by their novelty and few architectures can be defined as suchnowadays. Wigley then affirmed that Roche was one of those few who lead you in the uncomfortable zones of experimental architectures and narratives.

Only a little has been written about An Architecture "des humeurs", and a lot of us can see in this fact a proof that consensual architecture only is leading the current (non)-debate of ideas whereas true research is being underrated. One could possibly argue that this speculation remains too much on the surface, and that rather than dealing with a dozen of dimensions of the project, R&Sie(n) should have confront with the depth of only of them. Nevertheless, from his own words, Francois Roche prefers to "swim between the surface and the abysses, from speculation to fiction until the negotiation with ambiguous and contradictory forces of the here and now".

As a result, An Architecture "des humeurs" attempts -and often succeeds- to articulate all together neurosciences, robotic, politics, mathematics, engineering, biology, computation and philosophy. To do so, R&Sie(n) spent those two last years working with mathematicians, scientists, robotic designers, artists, philosophers and developed a debate of ideas (see previous article) at the same time than proposed its speculation.

The exhibition was first commissioned by Le Laboratoire in Paris and is currently moving between Basel and Graz.

The official website of An Architecture "des humeurs", as I wrote above is extremely rich and generous in information so I recommend to explore the following categorized links:

Links and Press articles

Synapses Speeches
-Event the 16th of February / Paris / Some transcripts included

- Models
- Prototypes
- Exhibition

An architecture des humeurs
- Intro (English/Francais)


– “Humeurs”
– Temperaments linked to the four “humeurs”
– Bio-chemistry
– Physiological interview through Nano-particles
– Data extracted from Ip(m) / Interview
– Set theory
– Mathematical inputs which affects the physio-morphologies
– Transactional relation operations
– Schemas and formulations
– Morphological definitions
– Morphological stratum
– From mathematical equations to computational procedures.
– Morphologies resultants

- Assemblage
- Strategies of aggregation
- Morphologies
- Tribal arborescences

Mathematical operators for structural optimization
- Calculation parameters
- Inputs received via a text file of the morphology
- Forces and constraints taken as system inputs
- Shape optimization
- Protocols of tests
- Calculation on physio-morphologies
- Profile resultant

- Global+local association

Robotic + Substances
- Robotic Movie
- From the “Algorithm(s)” to bio-knit physicality
- Morphologies-Weaving / Bondage

Bio-cement secretions/ extrusions

- Tooling / Weaving concrete bio-polymer (material expertise)
- Recipe of the bio-component
- Comparison concrete/bio-concrete
- Tests of secretion-weaving concrete bio-polymer
- Structural Computation of weaving
- Y Fragment

- Tooling / Robotic process
- Description
- Definition / Fluidic Muscle
- Research and Development

- Schemas
- Scripts

- Affective Substances
- Natural machine


-R&Sie(n) / Le Laboratoire / 2010
-Scénario, design, production : R&Sie(n)

Associé à :
-François Jouve / Process mathématiques
-Winston Hampel, Natanel Elfassy / Computations (with some help of Marc Fornes)
-Stephan Henrich / Process et Design Robotique
-Gaëtan Robillard, Frédéric Mauclere, Jonathan Derrough / Design

et Process de captations physiologiques
-Berdaguer et Péjus / Scénario Nano-récepteurs
-Mark Kendall / Microneedles
-Delphine Chevrot / Takako Sato / “The Lift”
-Candice Poitrey / Interview Physiologique
-Chris Younes / Machine Naturelle
-Jiang Bin, architecte
-Laura Bellamy
-Rosalie Laurin

# Sometimes, I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast...

see previous Deleuze's article about Carroll

thanks Nikolas !

dimanche 26 septembre 2010


Following is the programme of an upcoming event I really invite you to join !
I'll be around for an installation, and I'll try to do a report for the unlucky ones that won't be able to come. See you there!

Utopia today?

Saline Royale Arc-et-senans, 22-24.10.2010

friday 22.10.2010

14:00 – 14:30 Andri Gerber, Brent Patterson (ESA Paris)


14:30 – 14:50 Michel Pierre, Director Saline Royale


14:50 – 15:00 Martial Marquet, Paris

Rise above

15:00 – 15:30 break

15:30 – 16:00 Ole W. Fischer (Harvard)

After Modernity – architecture between utopia, nostalgia and dirty reality?

Comments on the uncertain state of an ancient profession…

16:00 – 16:30 Michel Pregardien (Université de Liège)

Il n’y a plus de place pour l’utopie

16:30 – 17:00 break

17:00 – 18:00 David Harvey (New York)

18:00 – 19:00 round table discussion, moderators Odile Decq, Andri Gerber, Brent Patterson

19:00 – 20:30 dinner

20:30 movie projection

saturday 23.10.2010

8:00 – 9:00 breakfast

9:30 – 9:50 resumé Andri Gerber

9:50 – 10:30 Philippe Morel (EZCT, Paris)

10:30 – 11:10 Matthias Pauwels (BAVO, Rotterdam)

From urban laboratories to utopian NGOism. Recent mutations in architectural utopianism

11:10 – 11:30 break

11:30 – 12:00 Karin Bradley (The Royal Institute of Technology – KTH, Stockholm)

Freegans, squatters and urban farmers – Radical political ecology in the making

12:00 – 12:30 Katia Frey, Eliana Perrotti (ETH Zürich)

Women’s utopia. Tradition and future opportunities of a gender oriented town planning

12:30 – 14:00 lunch

14:00 – 14:30 Julia Ramírez Blanco (Complutense University of Madrid)

The ideal city of AVL-Ville

14:30 – 15:00 Hendrik Tieben (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

Gordon Wu - Hong Kong’s empirical utopist

15:00 – 15:30 break

15:30 – 16:00 Stefan Kurath (Urbanplus, Zürich)

Imagine grison, the meaning of working with architectural utopies and dystopies in the daily practice

16:00 – 16:40 Peter Eisenman, interview by Emmanuel Petit (Yale University)

16:40 – 17:30 Winy Maas (MVRDV, Rotterdam)

What’s next?

17:30 – 18:00 break

18:00 – 19:00 roundtable, moderators Andri Gerber, Johannes

Käferstein, Brent Patterson

19:00 – 20:30 dinner

20:30 movie projection

sunday 24.10.2010

8:00 9:30 breakfast

9:30 9:50 resumé (Brent Patterson)

9:50 10:20 Jae Emerling / Ronna Gardner (University of North Carolina)

Prosthetic Architecture as Heterotopia

10:20 10:50 Hanspeter Bürgi (HSLU, Luzern)

Gross National Happiness: The Bhutanese concept and a focus on space, energy and culture

10:50 11:10 break

11:10 12:00 Final discussion with all speakers

12:00 13:30 lunch

# Against Architecture. The writing of Georges Bataille by Denis Hollier

In 1974, Denis Hollier (the current chairman of NYU's French Department), published a n absolutely brilliant book entitled La Prise de la Concorde that will be later (1990) be translated in English with the title Against Architecture. The writings of Georges Bataille.
This book takes as premises the very limited amount of writings that Georges Bataille published about architecture and makes out of them a beautiful treatise on architecture and society.

I meant to write an article about this book a long time ago and I never made the time for it, so now I would rather publish an anthology of excerpts of this book than nothing at all.

Two quotes about death and architecture stroke me when I read them as I was very interested by the association of two notions at the time I read the book:

“For Bataille the world of the Aztecs will remain the model of a society that does not repress the sacrifice that forms it. Ephemeral, at the height of glory and at the peak of its powers, this society neglected to put in place the institutional structures that would have secured its future, but. When the time came, offered itself as heedlessly as it sacrificed its victims to extinction and death when Cortez’s army landed in Mexico. It presents the only image of a society based upon death and faithful to this basis to such an extent that is somehow defenseless and died out. The pyramids is left behind were not used to cover up death of the sacrificial victim. “Their knowledge of architecture,” writes Bataille in the chapter of La Part maudite (The Accursed Share) devoted to them, “served them in the construction of pyramids on top of which they immolated human beings.” Architecture is returned to the destructive interaction that its initial function was to interrupt.”

“Imperialism, philosophy, mathematics, architecture, etc., compose the system of petrification that waves of humanity, the crowd unleashed, will end up carrying off in its revolutionary uprising. “Upholding death’s work,” said Hegel, “requires the greatest strength of all.” But the relation between conceptualization and death is not the same for Hegel as it is for Bataille. In the work of the mind, which introduces divisions into the concrete, separating and abstracting, Hegel sees the mechanics of death at work. Discursive knowledge is thus the bearer of this “absolute power” of destruction that cancels the sensuous concrete. It is not until later that science’s abstract concepts, which initially liquefied the “sensuous being-there,” become in turn a unified a whole of thought, “fixed and solidied,” and are set rigidly into a system of abstract determinations. For Bataille, on the contrary, this petrification is the very essence of conceptualization (and here it is not yet necessary to make a distinction among the various sciences, mathematics, and others on the one hand, nor between science and philosophy): it is initially formalist. Conceptualization is being preserved in it, as Hegel put it, conceptualization eludes death by keeping ahead of it, propelled by whatever in its terror over presentiments of the unknown takes refuge in the forms of sameness. Death fluidifies, it liquefies; mathematics paralyze. Architecture has not even a hint of motion. Its main purpose, as the article “Informe” said, is to provide what exists with a “formal coat, a mathematical overcoat”: a form that veils the incompletion that death, in its nakedness, introduces into life. Concerning this point a paradoxical anthropomorphism of mathematics is outlined. In “Le Cheval Academique” Bataille connects the harmonious proportions of human form (form being that which covers up nakedness) with “fright at formless and undefined things.”

Classical, academic painting, under the control of architecture, is limited to masking a skeleton. Painting conceals it, but the skeleton is its truth. In many primitive societies the skeleton marks the moment of the second death – a death that is completed, clean, and properly immutable: that which survives putrefaction and decomposition. The skeleton, as architectural, is the perfect example of an articulated whole.

Later in the book, within a chapter entitled The Labyrinth and the Pyramid, Hollier basing his vision of architecture on Bataille's writings establishes that:

“The labyrinth, therefore, is not an object, not a referent. It does not have a transcendence that would permit one to explore it. Wanting to explore the labyrinth only confirms this further: there is no getting around it. But neither the category of subjectivity nor the category of objectivity can exist in this space, which, having made them unsound, nevertheless has no replacement to offer. Distance like proximity, separation like adhesion remain undecidable there. In this sense one is never either inside or outside the labyrinth – a space (perhaps that is already too much to say) that would be constituted by none other than this very anxiety, which is however, incurably undecidable: am I inside or outside?

Other excerpts:

Architecture exists only to control and shape the entire social arena. It is constituted by this impulse propelling it to erect itself as the center and to organize all activities around itself.

The revolutionary movement liberates the future from the prisons of known. Bataille speaks rarely of political action, but frequently of revolutionary agitation. The revolution destroys the authorities and imaginary dictatorships that work only because they tap the support of some faith. Including the authority of science.
“Man is seen as a bureaucratic-looking prison.” Architecture functions as the fantasy that man identifies with to escape his desire (to escape it is to control it). Man is confined: conformed within himself. Nothing of him escapes the group’s encoding synthesis, whole enclosure he himself guarantees. Because he, in fact, believes in his prison.

samedi 25 septembre 2010

# Design and Existential Risk. A series of lectures at Parsons

These are the oldest memories on Earth, the time-codes carried in every chromosome and gene. Every step we’ve taken in our evolution is a milestone inscribed with organic memories- from the enzymes controlling the carbon dioxide cycle to the organization of the brachial plexus and the nerve pathways of the Pyramid cells in the mid-brain, each is a record of a thousand decisions taken in the face of a sudden physico-chemical crisis. Just as psychoanalysis reconstructs the original traumatic situation in order to release the repressed material, so we are now being plunged back into the archaeopsychic past, uncovering the ancient taboos and drives that have been dormant for epochs. The brief span of an individual life is misleading. Each one of us is as old as the entire biological kingdom, and our bloodstreams are tributaries of the great sea of its total memory. The uterine odyssey of the growing foetus recapitulates the entire evolutionary past, and its central nervous system is a coded time scale, each nexus of neurons and each spinal level marking a symbolic station, a unit of neuronic time.

Ballard, J. G., The Drowned World & The Wind From Nowhere, (Garden City: Doubleday & Co., 1965), p. 39

Ed Keller is the new Associate Dean and Professor at Parsons the New School for Design and he has concocted a pretty interesting series of lectures from October to December that would be gathered under the title: Design and Existential Risk.

More information can be found on the official blog.

October 9 Geoff Manaugh, BLDGBLOG, USC, Wired UK [streamcast on location from Los Angeles]

October 21 Robin Hanson, Associate Professor, George Mason University; Research Associate, Oxford Future of Humanity Institute

October 28 Keller Easterling, Professor, Yale University; author, Enduring Innocence

November 4 Benjamin H. Bratton, Director, Center for Design and Geopolitics, UCSD in conversation with McKenzie Wark, Associate Dean, Eugene Lang College, The New School

November 11 Jeffrey Inaba, INABA, C-Lab

November 18 Kazys Varnelis, Director, Network Architecture Lab, Columbia Univ. GSAPP

Date TBA Elizabeth Ellsworth, Associate Provost for Curriculum and Learning and Professor, Media Studies, The New School; smudge studio / Jamie Kruse, smudge studio and David Gersten, Professor of Architecture, The Cooper Union; Visiting Professor, RISD

Date TBA Bruce Sterling, author, Tomorrow Now

December 2 Mark Wigley, Dean, Columbia University GSAPP in conversation with Joel Towers, Dean, Parsons

December 9 Michael Chen and Jason Lee, Pratt Institute School of Architecture, Crisis Fronts Design Research, with Annie Kwon and Adriana Young, The New School, GPIA Crisis Networks

An important information is that Ed Keller is very likely to also organize a symposium in March 2011 at Parsons around the incredible book of Reza Negarestani: Cyclonopedia which I wrote about in a previous article. The symposium's title would be Leper Creativity be continued...

vendredi 24 septembre 2010

# The Importance of Imperfections by Manuel de Landa

Following is an interesting article of Manuel de Landa excerpted from a series of "columns" he wrote for Domus Magazine a couple of years ago.
It is entitled The Importance of Imperfections and investigates the minor science of metallurgy (to use Deleuzian terminology) as a celebration of material transformation by its main characters: the blacksmiths.

The Importance of Imperfections

In the ancient craft of metallurgy the distinction between being hard and being tough has long been understood. A blacksmith manufacturing a sword in classical times, for example, knew that the edge and body of the weapon had to have distinct properties. The edge, if it is to stay sharp, must be able to preserve its pointy, triangular shape for as long as possible, that is, it must be hard. But the sword’s body, the part that must perform a load-bearing role, must be tough: rather than trying to hold on to a particular form it must be able to change shape, that is, it must yield without breaking under the blows of another sword. If instead of tough the swords’s body was hard it would be brittle and hence incapable of bearing the loads placed on it during hand to hand combat. A similar point applies to metallic armor: it must yield without breaking under the impact of an arrow or other projectile, and the more it yields, the more it allows the arrow to dent it, the more it robs the arrow of its kinetic energy as the latter exhausts itself trying to penetrate it. Hardness and toughness are distinct but complementary properties in metallurgy.

Ancient blacksmiths also knew the kinds of operations or transformations that human beings can apply to metals in order to get these properties. They knew that cold working a piece of metal, by repeatedly hammering it, for example, would yield a hard edge. They also knew that the brittleness that inevitably accompanies hardness could be eliminated by annealing the metal piece, that is, heating it to a high temperature below its melting point, then allowing it to cool down slowly. Annealing restores the ductility, hence the toughness, of a cold worked piece of metal. Yet, despite this ability to successfully match physical operations to desired metallic properties, the actual microscopic mechanisms unleashed by the operations and responsible for the properties remained a mystery. Today we know the main characters in this hidden drama and they turn out to be imperfections.

A piece of metal is typically crystalline. When molten metal undergoes the critical transition to the solid state, crystallization may begin at several points in the liquid simultaneously, with different crystals growing at different angles from each other. When two such growing crystals eventually meet a boundary forms, a layer that may be more or less deformed depending on how different the angles of growth were to begin with. These are two-dimensional defects, surfaces dividing the piece of metal into separate grains. Within these grains another type of imperfection exists, a one dimensional defect called a “dislocation”. Given that crystals are nothing but geometrically packed atoms, and that we can arrange many of these atoms into mathematically perfect arrays, it is tempting to picture a crystal’s internal structure as consisting of rows of atoms placed precisely on top of one another. But here and there we can fi nd extra rows of atoms that disrupt the perfection of the array, introducing a distortion in neighboring rows.

Moreover, these extra rows can, in a sense, move through the crystal. Because the chemical bonds that join metallic atoms together, when broken by the application of a force, can easily reconstitute themselves, the atoms in an extra row can, one at a time, break and become bonded to those in a neighboring row. These atoms will now become part of a non defective row but will leave behind another defect displaced relative to the first. Although strictly speaking this is a process in which one defect disappears as a new one is born next to it, for all practical purposes it all happens as if the original dislocation had actually moved in position. For this reason dislocations are considered mobile line defects, and they exist in more or less numerous populations in most crystalline materials.

The ductility of metals, their ability to yield without breaking, is mostly derived from the fact that the mobility of dislocations allows entire layers of atoms to slide over one another when subjected to a force. For this effect to happen without the assistance of mobile defects all the bonds in a given layer of atoms would have to break and reconstitute simultaneously, a relatively unlikely event. But with dislocations this process can take place by repeatedly breaking only a few bonds at a time. The existence of populations of mobile defects implies that this ability of atom layers to slide can be present throughout a piece of metal. On the other hand, too many dislocations may have the opposite effect: with less room to maneuver defects start getting into each others way, eventually becoming immobilized, caught in complex tangles. This, in turn, reduces the sliding capacity of the non-defective atom layers. In other words, the metal becomes hard.

Hammering (and other types of cold working) produces large numbers of dislocations with limited mobility, and it is thus the appropriate operation to produce the cutting edge of a weapon or tool. But if the load-bearing body is to remain tough it must be annealed, a process that erases many dislocations allowing the surviving ones to break away from their tangles and recover their mobility. Two-dimensional defects, that is, grain boundaries, may also participate in the generation of ductility. Although the movement of dislocations is constrained by these boundaries, impurities accumulating along surface defects may sometimes act as lubricants allowing grains to slide over one another. The key role played by both one and two dimensional defects in the emergence of large-scale metallic properties is the reason why the practice of metallurgists today is aimed in large part at the control of grain and dislocation structure and distribution. Evidently, the descendants of the ancient blacksmiths have become aware of the importance of imperfections.