3/14/2013

The Editor's read | In progress ı The Sniper's Log by Alejandro Zaera-Polo and everything else

This year of 2013 starts with a series of books from architecture to geopolitics, of course highly recommended. First, Bracket. I let the publication aside since I will go back to the second volume [Goes Soft] very soon.
Then Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions edited by Geoff Manaugh/BLDGBLOG, so long expected book presented as a collaboration between Actar and the Nevada Museum of Art. I suppose many of you regularly follow Manaugh's blog and know the book will be on sale later this month. As Manaugh writes on his blog:

Landscape Futures both documents and continues an exhibition of the same name that ran for a bit more than six months at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, from August 2011 to February 2012. The exhibition was my first solo commission as a curator and by far the largest project I had worked on to that point. It was an incredible opportunity, and I remain hugely excited by the physical quality and conceptual breadth of the work produced by the show's participating artists and architects.

Those who share a strong interest in architectural fiction and other speculations will certainly purchase this book. In my case, I will. Contributors are David Gissen, Smout Allen, Lateral Office/InfraNet Lab, Chris Woebken and Kenichi Okada, Liam Young, among others.

The same Liam Young will be releasing the first volume of Close, Closer Catalogue (Lisbon Architecture Triennial 2013), a volume entitled Future Perfect (the project that Young will present at Lisbon in September) by May or June. This, then, will be followed by other volumes edited by Beatrice Galilee, Mariana Pestana and Jose Esparza the three other members of the curatorial team over the year.

A reminder for the book lovers: Nina Rappaport will also be launching her Vertical Urban Factory, again published by Actar. I also have announced the forthcoming book of Chris Reed and Nina-Marie Lister entitled Projective Ecologies (Actar).

Interboro Partners' The Arsenal of Exclusion/Inclusion (see also MAS Context's new issue Boundary (issue 17). You will find an outline of the book, published by Actar) is coming up soon.

I haven't yet got my copy of MOS Office's Everything All at Once ı The Software, Architecture, and Videos of MOS (PAP). Another book included in my wish-list is Petrochemical America co-edited by Richard Misrach and landscape-architect Kate Orff.

In the field of theory, Kenneth Frampton will be launching a new book Genealogy of Modern Architecture by July (Lars Mueller Publishers).

In Geophilosophy. The excellent Punctum Publishers (albeit unfortunately hard to find in Europe. They seriously need a distributor) just launched On an Ungrounded Earth, a book written by Ben Woodard, a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism at the University of Western Ontario. I will urgently read this book.

Of course, my strong interest in drones brought me recently to Drone Warfare by Benjamin Medea (Verso Books)…

In short, this semester is rich of books and this certainly will be increasing as we are entering in warmer seasons…

But, at the present time, I am reading so-long expected Alejandro Zaera-Polo's The Sniper's Log ı Architectural Chronicles of Generation X (Actar). I will review the book here or in another platform. I haven't decided yet. I will let you know when the review will be available.

The book is quite thick: 592 pages of chronicles — I will rather say writings and I will explain why — on architecture, but not only. An example: I have discovered that Zaera-Polo has also written on music (serial music, to give you an idea if you haven't yet bought the book). Don't look for the essay as it is unpublished. It is consequently a chance to read it, especially if you like music — the contemporary music not rock, or folk, or metal (for that matter, let me borrow the French term of musique savante to be clear).

At halfway of the book ( the 200 first pages I read), The Sniper's Log  indicates that Alejandro Zaera-Polo plays a consequent role not only as an architect — this is obviously not the greatest news we learnt so far — but as a critic and a theorist — as convincingly confirmed in the book. The readers of The Architectural Design, Harvard Design Magazine, Quaderns, Log, and Volume have eventually noticed that Zaera-Polo's frequent contributions published in these magazines are more in the theoretical than the… journalistic (I however do not denigrate the journalistic). Indeed, this book can be tagged with a theoretical pedigree — this is why, in my view, I should have rather preferred the term of 'writings' rather than that of 'chronicles' which appears to be too much 'journalistic'. For example, I will take the risk to compare this book with… Robert Smithson's Collected Writings with the risk of being too-much or fussy. My challenge will be to convincingly demonstrate my position, why I propose to compare these two books.
Allow me for taking an example to outline my forthcoming review of the book. One notion, very important in Zaera-Polo's architectural practice and thinking is the notion of  Consistency as it frequently appears over the book. Alejandro Zaera-Polo says to be interested in consistency in a very large sense as "[p]robably this is a reaction to the architectural culture where we were educated, which was more interested in questions of fragmentation, disjunction, juxtaposition, etc." (p.193) According to Zaera-Polo, "to devise arguments of consistency has become a critical contemporary question, on a political, social, and cultural level. This is a paradigmatic problem of our time, between cultures, geographies, populations… A similar problem appears in space between a whole and a singularity, not only in term of performance but also in terms of physical organization. And geometry plays a primary role in establishing consistency across spatial domain at every scale. I would claim that geometry is related to the specific and to the solution of specific questions, but always as an argument of consistency with larger domains." (p.193) Or "Architecture is not a plastic art, but the engineering of material life. In our practice, our main concern is to produce consistency in the process of construction and material organization rather than in its plastic effects." (p.237)

Another aspect to be discussed in the review is that the book suggests a changed status of architecture, a shift of the architect's role in the era of the digital and… energy, economic, and ecological disequilibrium. He is not the only one who underscores this shifting role if you have read Rory Hyde's book Future Practice. And this can be interested to explore Zaera-Polo's point of view through or in comparison with Hyde's Future Practice as the first is part of the Generation X — a generation that came just after that of the Stararchitects, though Zaera-Polo is a stararchitect too — the latest is part of the new generation of architects, namely Generation Y, a generation established in a era of digital, social networks as well as an era of difficulties to open and develop a practice as money is lacking, and job offers are stagnating, if not diminishing, while, at the same time, obsolescence, scarcity, crises at multiple scales, advance in technologies and science, and the like, urge us to address, re-calibrate, transform the existing. In few words, the book suggests new opportunities arising from the shift from the age of the production — Stararchitects and Generation X — to the age of the digital — Generation X and Generation Y (some may notice I did not include the Starchitects and this is a voluntarily and polemically choice. And I will attempt to demonstrate my take, albeit a big challenge).
In short, with evidence, this turn supposes a rethinking of the architectural practice, and education (you have essays and an interview on this topic) and thinking: process, context, modes of operation, modes of representation, etc.

Below an abstract of the book, precisely a Selection of Alejandro Zaera-Polo's Term Definitions by Sylvia Lavin for the Crib Sheets Publication (p.237-241). The selected passages is from p.239-240:
…My practice has concerned itself with the exploration of typological conditions as fields of emergence, in contrast to the common understanding of typology as an entity loaded with historical significance and verification. Typologies are material assemblages loaded with generic solutions, already charged with a disciplinary content and belonging to a history of architecture. I am concerned with exploring these conditions as fields of research, trying to make something generic out of the specificity of the project — but through a breakdown of typological operations rather than the proposal of such a paradigm. Typological assemblages constitute an ideal articulation of the history of the discipline, assemblages of a material, or a programmatic, social, or political nature connecting the factual environment where architecture must perform with a necessary disciplinary autonomy to grant its validity.
It is probably more appropriate to call this operation prototypical rather than typological. Both the type and the prototype operate in similar ways, but a prototype is not bound to a particular field, and does not claim, a priori, any condition of pertinence or validity. A prototype can be deployed in alternative conditions rather than remaining exclusive to a project or to a site. It is essentially an experimental tool that does not develop from existing material complexes to a particular location, but on the contrary, always tests an external organization in relation to a particular situation. Prototypes are technical and material mediators: they "mediate" information into form; they constitute responsive devices for internal and external transferral of information. As such, the prototype contains in itself the potential to absorb interference,  the capacity to adjust to local contexts, and the potential to embody as much as it is to virtualize and export information into other material composites, other sites, other conditions, and other projects. In a prototypical operation, real localized data perform as an index of specific opportunities, while external models of organization operate as manifestations of different degrees of analogous global processes. A prototype does not operate in closed domains, but incorporates the notion that organizations are virtually generic and yet specific in their actualization.
A project develops from a prototype according to an operative frame, recognized and constituted as a principle, rather than literally derived from local data. That principle becomes the material mediation and the core of the organization of data. Specific technical and functional constraints may be imported and applied to infuse prototypical raw material with potential. This is the difference between a prototypical operation and emergent generation from the bottom-up, if this latter is possible at all within an architectural process: data is not the origin of organization, the core of the material, but the vector of differentiation of the prototype. Specific processes and performances are diagrammed according to the requirements of the material activation and organization of the prototype. Models for internal differentiation, responsiveness, and proliferation constitute the core, relevance, and interest of the prototype.
A prototype has an "associated fabric" and develops from a diagram that processes specific information into an architectural organization. This "associated fabric" is the result of the proliferation and differentiation of the prototype across the space of the project, reacting to the different conditions. A prototypical approach is most effective when a practice is forced to operate in many different conditions, becoming the vehicle that links different projects.
The book will be reviewed soon…



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