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Volume 17

Volume 17
Volume 17
Volume 17 Photo Mariela Alavarez, Jean Choi, Luke Daenen, Alfonso García del Rey, Jeffrey Inaba, Dana Karwas, Sandra Rivi
Volume 17
Volume 17 Photo Mariela Alavarez, Jean Choi, Luke Daenen, Alfonso García del Rey, Jeffrey Inaba, Dana Karwas, Sandra Rivi
Volume 17
Volume 17 Photo Mariela Alavarez, Jean Choi, Luke Daenen, Alfonso García del Rey, Jeffrey Inaba, Dana Karwas, Sandra Rivi
The Architecture of
Content Management
Mark Wigley
What does it mean to think of architecture as content management, that is, to
think about the oldest and seemingly slowest medium, buildings, in terms taken
from the newest and seemingly quickest medium, digital exchange? After half
a century of experiments with computers, architecture has absorbed new levels
of responsiveness as each layer of operation becomes digitized. Yet buildings
have always been much more responsive than advertised and conversely digital
exchange produces surprisingly stable spaces. What is intriguing about this
threshold is not so much the arrival of a new set of potentials as the reactivation
of the oldest ones. Each step into the digital is a step into the past. With just a
few more steps, architecture will rediscover its tribal core. The rapid evolution
of digital modes is offering archeological insight into the heart of the field.

Content management is ultimately a question of would now be a designer rather than a craftsman,
industrial organization, a matter of production, distribu- producing drawings rather than buildings, operating
tion and consumption. More precisely, it is the set of as an intellectual, trafficking in ideas, with the key word
protocols that must be introduced when production, disegno meaning both ‘drawing’ and ‘idea’. Architects
distribution and consumption are no longer easily produce delicate drawings that hover lightly at the
distinguishable, as in contemporary music formats, threshold of the immaterial world of thought but have the
blogs, e-zines, social networking sites or encyclopedias. capacity to give shape to the heaviest material. This
When production is collective, continuous, parallel, concentration on the architect’s mind was accompanied
uneven and deterritorialized while consumption by the first portraits of designers, head shots that gave,
becomes a kind of authorship, new protocols of access as it were, an image to associate with the all-important
and archiving are needed. This gives rise to major legal brain. The largely hidden architect’s studio became
questions of intellectual property, privacy and free the support mechanism for that brain, a physical space
speech that are transnational and under permanent to carry out mental labor, a workshop for the mind.
negotiation. Content management attempts to shape The new discipline drew strength from the dif-
new kinds of flow when products are no longer clearly ference between brains. The pivotal concept of ‘design’
defined but exist only as versions. In its most radical embraced the sense of novelty, that each architect had
sense, it is the set of protocols that tries to deal with their own ideas in addition to the rules of nature or norms
the fact that the real movement is now within the object of culture. Architects could deliver ideas that differed
itself rather than between one place and another. Every from other architects and different ideas for different
object is treated as but one possible version of the projects. The field could develop a kind of forward
information that generated it. Its physical condition momentum through such differences as designers
is less valuable than the information. In the end, it is all influenced each other and their clients. Design became
about information and access. Passwords literally ‘invention’ or at least a balancing act between following
become the key. and deviating from rules. For centuries, theoretical
Architecture, the oldest access industry, is also in discourse in the field was dominated by discussion
the information business. Take the typical architectural of the appropriate balance between repetition and
office. It does not deliver an object, a building, but the innovation, the right degree of ‘license’.
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information needed to produce such an object. Archi- Little has changed. The same debate goes on
tects have clean hands and almost superfluous bodies. in every office today. Each studio must adopt a mix
This simple fact was the major accomplishment of the of innovation and repetition with most projecting an
fifteenth-century attempt to elevate architecture from image of gradual evolution. Architects are obliged
a workshop practice into a liberal art. The architect to largely imitate themselves while offering minor devi- 10
ations. Rare are the designers whose every work seems to be projected out into the world is the exponentially
completely different. Only slightly less rare are those greater counter-movement of ideas running deeper into
who always deliver exactly the same project. Even then, the office. Design becomes but a symptom of an endless
offices that make each project different must use many archiving project.
of the resources employed in previous projects, while In crude terms the client is buying limited access
those that produce the same result every time must be to a studio’s information base and particular ways of
extremely inventive to enable them to implement an reading it. Architectural design is deeply collaborative,
identical building regardless of the specific constraints with each building usually having more contributors than
and desires involved in each situation. Both kinds of a film. But only one signature is ultimately attached to
offices become a sophisticated content management each design, as if it were an attempt to bottle up the
system that redeploy the resources of previous work to incalculable complexity and ambiguity of authorship
supplement the new project. This involves specialized and suppress the sense that what was produced is but
archiving strategies, with access and use protocols. a version of an ongoing multi-dimensional interaction,
Personnel are a key part of that system and to join the a degraded version at that since compromise is one
office is to internalize the system. Indeed, many workers of the basic ingredients of the discipline with buildings
effectively become part of the archive itself, acting as often changing at the last minute and continuing to
storage and retrieval units. The projection of designs change after being ‘finished’. Yet a degraded version
out of the office is made possible by a continuous, of what exactly? Not a singular ideal object but more
but largely invisible, absorption of information into the a set of research trajectories or intersections of trajec-
office’s archival heart. The internal structure of a design tories that continue with other projects, as if there
office is extremely complex in terms of information flow. is only really a single project in each office with each
Yet the medieval workshop mode never entirely design being just another phase of testing. An office
dissolved. To some extent, every contemporary archi- needs to make key decisions about protocols for storing
tect’s studio retains the earlier logic in which a pattern and reactivating all the versions of every version. These
book unique to the workshop was applied to all com- become protocols that ultimately define the office’s
missions. Such a workshop, which only works on intelligence since the design of the content manage-
variations of a single theme, was a straightforward ment system has a major impact on the content being
content management system with the rights to use the managed. Thus management strategy ultimately
information in the pattern book protected by a guild, becomes a design strategy.
a trade union able to control the market. The pattern The very idea of management initially seems
could be seen as the intellectual property of the studio antithetical to design. If design is about the production
but what was valued was the shaping of the material of new knowledge, management seems to be about
according to the pattern rather than the pattern itself or regulating the flow of existing knowledge. Yet even
its generation. The pattern itself acted as the signature the most experimental design offices are filled with
of a workshop whose personnel were largely anony- managers (administration, information technology,
mous. With the rise of design as invention, an indepen- financial, public relations, etc.). Within the everyday life
dent signature had to be attached to the work and of the office these managers usually conform to the
the individual brain of the newly visible artist needed opposite stereotypes of designers in terms of appear-
to be celebrated as a kind of proxy for the complexity ance, hours, punctuality, predictability and so on. While
involved in the development of each project. All that design never stops and has no sense of limit, manage-
is really happening today is that the pattern book is ment tries to maintain order as a kind of restraint in
evolving much more rapidly and complexly. the asylum but design can never separate itself from
Since only a small proportion of projects in even management. No distinct border separates them. All
the most successful architectural office are actually offices sustain a biodiversity of roles ranging from those
built, and even then many alternative versions have been who only manage to those who only design. What
developed, sometimes in complete detail, and major differs is the balance; from more corporate offices that
parts of the final version are usually left out for a variety maximize management to smaller offices that emphasize
of reasons and planned later phases or additions are design. The more management intensive offices are
rarely executed, the visible designs are just the tip of predictably expert in obtaining, maneuvering and
an intellectual iceberg. The office is a vast reservoir of distributing available knowledge while the more design
information – a knowledge base drawn on and added intensive offices focus on generating new knowledge.
to by each project. When an office starts out it mainly Of course effective management itself requires inno-
generates new content but as it continues it increasingly vation and vice versa; the strongest design firms have
manages existing content, redeploying forms, tech- often, if not always, developed uniquely efficient
niques and details that have been tested or are con- management strategies.
tinuously being tested. As the office keeps evolving In the end, each studio is little more than a content
it can change direction or multiply directions but it will management system, a self-archiving and distribution-
still draw on the same expanding archive. The idea of mechanism that is usually so robust that a major chal-
such an archive must be there at the beginning because lenge for an experimentally-minded office is learning
in a crucial sense the concept of the archive precedes how to forget in order to open up new trajectories or
that of design. The young office must construct the modes. The design studio becomes a resilient delivery
myth of an already established archive as a source of system, able to export more or less the same kind of
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authority and to some extent every project in even the project regardless of the idiosyncrasies of site, client,
most prominent of offices must reconstruct this myth. regulations, construction expertise, neighborhood
It is this mythical archive that makes the real archive reactions, material costs, weather patterns and so on,
possible; one could even claim that it is even the real while claiming to respond sensitively to each and every
11 driving force behind the studio. What allows designs one of these variables. Furthermore the evolution of the
field is restrained by the fact that the internal operations is again seen as supplementary to design, better learned
of each studio are treated as an industrial secret. Studios through apprenticeship. This might be true, but by failing
primarily influence each other at the level of their results to consider these issues they remain unexposed to rad-
rather than their tests. The field uses a very primitive ical experimentation despite the fact that, for example,
system of cross-fertilization, with professional magazines the most successful architects usually develop a polem-
operating as a very loose feedback loop, slowing down ical archiving strategy. To some extent to be aware of
and evening out rather than accelerating, intensifying designers is to experience the sophistication of their
and multiplying the trajectories of experiment. archive, their ability to control the flow of information.
In their endless articles, exhibitions, lectures and Paradoxically, the first symptom of creativity is managerial.
interviews architects rarely present the genealogy of any To elevate the concept of content management,
project within the office. They focus on the final version to see innovation and management as intimately linked,
with rare acknowledgements of the ever-present gaps even to see intelligence itself as inseparable from man-
between the interests of the office and the client. One agement thereby challenging the congenital sluggish-
can feel the testing only in lectures on unsuccessful com- ness of the field, only requires asking questions as simple
petition entries, even if it is usually just the last scheme as: when the work of one architect is imitated by another,
that is discussed. Failure still acts as one of the richest does that constitute successful distribution or piracy?
veins of generation and cross-fertilization, alongside Any answer takes us back to the basics. To com-
the traditional slow feedback loops of apprenticeship, mission an architect is to commission a brain, to buy
the movement of personnel between offices, the break- some thinking power and the license to use some
up of offices and the involvement of many designers in thoughts. More precisely, it is a license for an image of
teaching. Scholarship retroactively provides another those thoughts, a version, or a version of a version even.
loop in effectively reconstructing each project, architect, Architects traffic in ideas, having argued for millennia
period or region as a content management system that ideas can be impregnated in material such that a
emphasizing the evolution, refinement and application building communicates thought, that architecture is a
of ideas but such loops can only be effective by moving medium carrying a message, that architecture has con-
into real time, bringing archeological and forensic pre- tent. Design is seen as organizing the content for invest-
cision into direct contact with the latest developments. ment in an object, but the building is only one of the
As a field architecture is a remarkably inefficient many distribution channels and probably the least likely
content management system, engaging a vast array to be activated as well as the least accessed in com-
of largely independent research units in a very small set parison to the vast global array of paper and electronic
of restricted opportunities and even then utilizing only publications in which designs continuously circulate.
the smallest proportion of their inventions or inventive While largely insensitive to the industrial distribution
capacity. The rich knowledge base of each office could of objects – despite all the rhetoric about industrial
clearly be used differently. Studios could access each processes and effects over the last two centuries –
other’s libraries, influencing each other at the level of most designers are hypersensitive to the distribution
the test rather than the result, using commissions as an of concepts. Indeed, each building on a site is explicitly
excuse to do tests as distinct from doing tests to realize understood in terms of importing and thereby redistrib-
a commission. That is, to think of content management uting ideas. The architect’s real expertise is in choreo-
in architecture as the creative act. This would mean graphing the otherwise overwhelmingly complex
rethinking the entire disciplinary infrastructure of schools, assemblage of heterogeneous systems of any building
exhibitions, magazines, awards, monographs, profes- and precisely detailing the visual effect relative to
sional ethics, licensing, and so forth, along with the normative codes such that it can be ‘read’. At some
roles played by critics, curators, publicists, archivists, level the building itself is effectively treated as a content
etc. Particular attention would need to be paid to management system that allows certain ideas to be
exemplary cases of content mismanagement. accessed and installs a set of protocols for orchestrating
Take schools of architecture, for example. Each the more or less coherent movement of resources.
can be seen as a robust content management system All these untheorized but crucial senses in which
with its own archive, a library of tested ideas, access architecture has always operated in terms of content
protocols and rights. Each consciously reinforces the management constitute the context of the rapidly
cult of the individual inventive designer and the primacy expanding and deterritorialized design culture in which
of design while unconsciously promoting a collaborative multiple people simultaneously rework multiple versions,
workshop mentality through the repetition of patterns an economy in which no simple lines can be drawn
whether of a particular teacher, philosophy or even between author, editor, publisher, administrator, archivist
the school itself in consistently producing recognizable and user. As this culture of versioning becomes increas-
work. Indeed, most schools are themselves part of ingly visible in architectural discourse, the new formal,
a larger workshop, endlessly recirculating ready-made temporal, methodological, organizational, representa-
content, managing what others produce and feeding tional and economic opportunities provided by digital
predictability to a profession that as a content manage- design and fabrication are also ways of offering insight
ment system remains a descendent of the Masonic into the unexplored radicality of architecture’s
guilds that once orchestrated and controlled the rights traditional everyday operations.
to all patterns, but that is now defined by maximum In digital design information is again the explicit
responsibility and minimum rights. currency and the logic of parametric design is, first and
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Schools actively contribute to the field’s passivity. foremost, a logic of management. To design becomes
Despite usually being housed in research universities, to collectively massage a data set, blurring architecture,
most schools do not consider the key questions of inno- mechanical engineering, environmental control, acous-
vation, influence, archiving and rights, along with almost tics, lighting, life safety, etc., in an interactive space of
all forms of management. The question of management real-time evolution. Each component of a design 12
becomes interactive. Furthermore, building elements
can be directly and individually shaped from the digital
model and continuously adjusted in response to other
elements or concepts. The designer is brought closer
and closer to manufacturing and construction. There is a
long history of designers attempting to involve them-
selves in literally delivering buildings to many sites by
using industrialization, modularity and standardization,
or effectively doing so by promoting particular forms
as appropriate to a range of situations. However this
ambition has now become inevitable and generic as
digitization has brought the logic of distribution closer
to that of design. The complexity of versions inside the
normal studio can now be projected beyond the limit of
the office. Furthermore, this versioning is also extended
through interactive buildings that continue the logic of
responsiveness through environmental or experiential
feedback loops within completed structures.
In such a versioning environment all design images
are generated, reviewed, legalized and distributed
collaboratively. The same image used to construct a
building or test a detail can be sent to the client and
to a magazine. Or the same digital model can be used
to spin off different kinds of images for different people.
Even before this, every individual digital image is itself
an effect of content management with its own archive
of versions and password restricted access to read
or write. This allows for the exchange of models rather
than results, collaborative work being down on the same
model or different projects being spun off from the
same model by different offices. The world of content
management and the world of design have merged.
The crucial area, as always, will be the question of rights.
In recent years, new areas of rights have opened up for
architects: rights to images in which a building appears,
rights to software and rights to materials since now even
the most basic materials in a building are being designed
individually. As the status of objects blurs with that of
information, the space and scope of design expands.
Such a multi user, real-time design environment is
justly being celebrated and tested in schools and offices
with new partnerships between architects, consultants,
manufacturers, construction companies, software
designers and media companies. In such an environment
designs respond more sensitively to thought with each
element of a building collaborating, as it were, with the
direction of that thought or minimizing its resistance to it.
Rather than simply hypothesize a more efficient,
responsive and biodiverse design culture, we need to be
sensitive to the reasons designers have so efficiently
resisted such efficiencies for so long. It is crucial to more
precisely locate the areas of innovation most valued
and most avoided by designers. The more the emergent
culture can be used to unleash or trigger existing desires,
the more radical its potential. Ultimately, the architect’s
mission remains an intellectual one. It is in the movement
of ideas, including resistance to particular movements,
that the figure of the architect is forged and remains
surprisingly resilient in the face of so many apparently
threatening forces. Indeed, it could be argued that the
figure is first and foremost defined by resistance. So the
real issue might be what kinds of resistance are uniquely
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and productively reinforced by the latest version of

versioning culture. Digital versioning will undoubtedly
become routine in even the most traditionally minded
offices precisely because the versioning mentality behind
13 it is and has always been routine in architecture.
Julien De Smedt interviewed by
Jesse Seegers and Jeffrey Inaba
Julien De Smedt is wise beyond his years. As one half of the firm PLOT, he and
partner Bjarke Ingels were building half of Copenhagen (or so it seemed) before
his thirtieth birthday. After dissolving PLOT in 2006, he founded JDS Architects,
now based in Copenhagen and Brussels. De Smedt discusses with Volume
the benefits of superfluous production, disorganized working conditions and
postponed decision-making, techniques that most architects take many years
to appreciate but which De Smedt has honed through a series of projects that,
despite his claims, could hardly be called mismanaged.

Image courtesy see conference

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Jesse Seegers One idea about content management That’s also why overproducing is useful, because
we’ve been exploring is the way in which architects, when you overproduce you have stuff around you.
when presenting to architects and non-architects Most of it is useless – or so it seems at the time – but
alike, manage the way they frame a project. They eventually some of it resurfaces with new potential.
might present different information in different There are so many things we make that have promise
ways so it’s specific to the audience. Every architect but are not right for the given problem. Then eventually
does this in some way or another, whether it’s for they pop up in something else.
a political or an aesthetic goal. Recently you’ve JS Or sometimes an old scheme gets resuscitated
been competing for projects against bigger firms later in the same project. You mentioned that
with proven histories of accomplishment. They happened with the villa in Ordos, China.
can explain a project to a client in a very romantic JDS Yeah, that happens a lot. You go through an entire
and lofty way without feeling compelled to prove reflection process, one that goes in many directions
they can execute it. You’re at an early stage in your before you arrive at a decision. Sometimes when you
career and people are paying a lot of attention to get a good idea at the beginning, you question it and
your work and scrutinizing each project that comes go in all sorts of directions and then after testing those
out of your office. directions you come back to it. I think that’s why even
Julien De Smedt We allow people to see our mess or when an idea comes early and seems great we don’t
let’s say our mismanagement. We don’t hide behind feel comfortable about it. It’s good to test it over and
closed doors. One thing that’s been noted in our work over and it’s also really enjoyable to explore.
is that we can be quite transparent in our methods, JI Forcing the office to experiment without having a
even opening up the whole process of how we work on clear agenda beforehand in order to see what will
a project and what we achieve, or sometimes don’t happen seems like an important part of the way
achieve. But it’s true, you do end up controlling what your office operates.
you say or how you explain a project in order to reach a JDS It’s true that there’s no preconceived take. There is
certain political goal. Right now I have the feeling that another office for example that is doing quite a few
we’re mismanaging more than we are managing, libraries right now. I’m not saying it should create a
because we’re doing too many different things at the recipe – but there’s a danger that it could. We’re trying
same time. It’s something that worries me a little bit to get involved with totally new subjects right now.
actually, that we’re trying too many things. It’s also We’re trying to reduce the number of housing projects
super-exciting, but I’m not sure we’re really as focused we take on so that we’re not involved with something
as we could be. we’ve already done quite a few times in the past.
JS We’re at a point in contemporary architectural Still, the recycling of concepts is something that
practice where post-OMA offices are proliferating, occurs. I think it can create opportunities. When you
where the concept is a driving design tool and the were saying you can identify a lot of our projects by
concept is almost always something that can be one diagram, that’s because they have a clear concept.
articulated in a single icon or three or four letters. Sometimes you can merge concepts together, create
That obviously helps in many ways: clarity with a new species and other times you can just reuse a
client, with the public and within the office as well. concept that has found a new location – and
Yet in a way you also allow projects to be open- sometimes it’s even better. It happened to us once: we
ended, to see all the options generated for a single had a concert hall project in Stavanger. Then we had
concept. Sometimes you have a dozen schemes the same brief in another city, with even the same type
sitting in front of you waiting to be chosen. of site. We tried to squeeze it in and it fit perfectly.
JDS Yes, that’s true, and all too often. It’s very If you look at the body of work we’ve done so far,
inefficient, but it does happen and it can actually lead built and unbuilt, it’s very diverse. Currently we have a
to success. Recently we submitted two proposals to a huge project going on in Montreal, an even bigger one
competition because we were really in doubt as to in Shenzhen, smaller allotments in Taiwan and this crazy
which was best. Actually, it was really two variants of a house in Mongolia.
single idea. Some aspects of the two were related, but JS If you had a project with no programmatic
there were major differences. We ended up winning the requirements, shading requirements or client
competition! It’s like saying, ‘let the client choose’, opinions what would be the process for arriving at
because at the end of the day you still have a few years the form or concept?
before you actually make the project. JDS We’d be fucked! (laughter) And it’s happened
Jeffrey Inaba Could mismanagement be a way for before. We just submitted a project for which the
an office to consider new approaches to their own requirements were vague. It was a pavilion for an
way of working? Could it be a way to incorporate exhibition and the exhibition content was unspecified.
into the work process some of the things the office It’s a temporary pavilion that’s going to move to
might tend to do but that are thought of as uncor- different places, but we don’t really know which places
rectable mistakes or inefficiencies? Could the it’s going to go. We know it’s going to be in New York,
inefficiencies and unfocused activity result in Qatar and Paris, but we don’t know where in these
ideas that open up a new line of inquiry? cities. When you’re put into this kind of situation you
JDS I think sometimes, not choosing is the way to end up doing something completely random that
choose. It provides a lot more time to reflect, a lot doesn’t really matter, at least at the moment. So the
Volume 17

more time to manage decisions and concept. As answer to nothing is almost nothing.
an impatient person, I tend not to do that too often, JS You’ve been selected by Herzog & de Meuron to
but it’s increasingly becoming a tool for us to postpone design one of the 100 villas in Ordos. It is a project
the decision. I think it’s unhealthy to be decisive and in which the context, the client, the program and
15 say, ‘it’s going to be like this’. the site are fairly simple and unproblematic. But
your work is always about problem solving and in
fact many of your concepts evolve out of that
approach. The Ordos project seems difficult to
manage or mismanage, to produce a well-defined
concept without the benefit of being able to
respond to a problem.
JDS That project is going to awaken a lot of
management issues. They kind of dumped three
hundred architects in a hotel for five days. It felt almost
like a social experiment, putting three, four hundred
architects in the same place because they really locked
us up. There’s nothing to do – you’re in the middle of
the desert and after a few days you get pretty bored.
JS Do they have alcohol there?
JDS Sure, absolutely.

Office view, Copenhagen, DK

Villa in Ordos, PRC

Volume 17

Volume 17

Office view, Copenhagen, DK Shenzhen Logistic City, PRC Shenzhen Logistic City, PRC

Office view, Copenhagen, DK Office view, Copenhagen, DK Rimini waterfront, Italy Rimini waterfront, Italy
Operating Manuals
Lars Müller interviewed by
Benedict Clouette and Forrest Jessee
Lars Müller is responsible for some of the most provocative and beautiful books
in the areas of architecture, design, art and photography. He acts as an editor,
graphic designer and publisher, involving himself in nearly every aspect of the
design and production of his press’ books. He is both a manager and a producer
of content, presenting the work of others and also increasingly initiating his own
projects that offer visual interpretations of social issues, such as the books Who
Owns the Water? and The Face of Human Rights. Müller considers these books
not only documents of their time, but instruments for confronting the politics
of global development. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of Lars
Müller Publishers, he talks with Volume about the continuing evolution of the
book as a form of content management.

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Benedict Clouette When you lectured at Columbia the shelf to find many others. But if you look up Lars
you said that your book The Face of Human Rights Müller’s books you’re sent in a hundred different
would in time pass from being an instrument to directions. Do you think there’s any coherence
being a document, that is a work specific to a between these books that would make it useful to
moment in time. Your most recent project is a reprint find all your books in one place?
of Buckminster Fuller’s Operating Manual for Space- LM Well, it’s a nice idea, but doesn’t really make sense
ship Earth. Where do you see Fuller’s book on that to collect books based on the publisher. The meaning
spectrum? As a forty-year-old ‘operating manual’, of publishing may be to offer a service to various fields
is it a document or an instrument? of content.
LM You could say it’s a historical document, which it BC But given that you involve yourself in so many
definitely is since it was published in 1969, made for aspects of the production of the books you publish,
that particular moment. At the same time, because do you see yourself as having some kind of author-
of the actuality of the content, it’s also an instrument. ship? Sometimes you’re listed as an author, as in
Few historical documents have a chance to become Helvetica: Homage to a Typeface, or as an editor,
an instrument once again. as in The Face of Human Rights. Yet beyond a
BC But you’ve done it before with Karl Gerstner’s question of branding do you see some coherence
Designing Programmes, a forty-year-old handbook in the perspective that the other books offer?
for graphic design. It’s a historical document, but LM I hope so, but I hope so for myself. It’s not so much
also a very operational book. that I want to communicate an overall message because
LM I can’t say I’ve defined a strategy for myself here. I’m still on a discovery tour. I’m still adding experience
It’s probably based more on my intuition. It’s the and impressions. I do indeed hope that after 25 years,
advantage of a small publishing house where you don’t or at least after another 25 years, if I were to stop pub-
necessarily need to relate to any agreed upon strategies. lishing it will be perceived as a body of books, content
I’d say that as long as I’m not going crazy I can be and interests which the publisher assembled and which
constant and stable enough to say that if I allow this are related. I’d say that if a little part of what I’m doing
or that I’m still in line with what Lars Müller Publishers becomes a strong and consistent body, I’d be happy.
has been and is. BC How do you decide what becomes a Lars Müller
BC Do you see an advantage in combining the book? There are so many different formats in which
roles of editor, designer and publisher? First, bio- you work.
graphically, how did that happen? Why is it that LM The book is the documentation of thoughts, ideas
occupying these three roles seems like the right and events. That’s what drives us as a publisher. I don’t
combination for you? document everything, but at least a good part of what
LM First, it’s pure ego. There’s no other way to defend I’m interested in and what I discover as somehow impor-
that decision. But still, there’s nothing exclusive in those tant for my understanding of culture and my time. Trans-
titles; it’s just rare to combine them in one person. forming these discoveries into a book is a process
For me it was obvious because my starting point of concentration and distillation. It’s like moving apart-
was graphic design and it’s easier for someone who’s a ments – every time you move, it’s a challenge to reduce
graphic designer to imagine himself becoming an editor to the essence and leave some things behind. Not
and finally a publisher than the other way around. necessarily throw them away, but to leave behind what
It’s an old term, ‘the generalist’. The generalist may is not essentially needed for your immediate future.
have lots of disadvantages because he never reaches BC How much of your work as an editor or publisher
the depths of the specialist. But overall and in the way is informed by your training as a designer?
that we handle our poor lives, the way that you run your LM Graphic design is a tool that helps in the process
own house or apartment, you’re a generalist. You do of reduction. And the book itself has such obvious limits
the shopping, the washing and everything to manage that one is well advised to reduce, but usually the way
your life. You’re a chef, a friend, a lover. Now when it I experience it is that the content is searching for the
comes to a profession we’re forced to become spe- right format.
cialists. I just took advantage of my own independence BC Yet the format is always a book. What is it for
to remain a generalist, one who may be sensitive or you about the specific potentials of the book at this
smart enough to find the specialists when I need them. moment that keeps you dedicated to this format?
The generalist’s attitude is to do as much as he can, No doubt other forms of disseminating information
do it right and discover how to be sensitive to the right are far more efficient.
moment when he needs someone else’s help. LM Today, sharing content between different media is
If I were to do the books all by myself they’d a challenging process. We recognize that an increasing
be quite poor. That’s not how it works, however. With share of content doesn’t necessarily have to become a
The Face of Human Rights I had the idea, initiated the book. I feel kind of liberated in saying that. At the same
project and as an editor decided who’d be the right time, I’m aware of some fundamental changes in our
person to join me in that adventure. Walter Kälin, who way of perceiving content and our media consumption.
became the co-editor, is a world-renowned specialist I see a possibility for the book to change, at least slightly.
in human rights who works for the United Nations. A book remains a book – in its physical appearance it
Discussing the idea of the generalist is not very has limitations – but still, it can change. And of course
popular today. People often ask what your specialty I’m a defender of the book, but it’s not my mission to
Volume 17

is, what you do or what you studied as a way of asking preserve it. I see the changing situation of the book as
what makes you different. But I say, as a generalist, an advantage for myself.
you’re different. There’s something I regularly discuss with museums
BC At any library it is easy to find Peter Eisenman’s and institutions when we’re entering into book projects
19 or Zaha Hadid’s books. Look up one title and go to for exhibitions and the conversation turns to the
appendix with the complete listing of exhibitions, works LM Yes, and it may be a disadvantage of the internet that
or bibliographies. I say that if an author, an artist or an the information is theoretically there, but there is no
architect is still alive this list will probably continue to lifetime capacity that can compare with it so it becomes
grow so whatever you print on paper will never be com- an abstract form of power. We know that whoever has
plete. Tomorrow it’s old. We should get used to putting information has power and that it’s even surpassing
everything that can be listed on the internet and free money as a value. Whereas with the book what you
the book from this duty of carrying information which hold in your hand is actually what it wants to be. That’s
is used by a minority of readers. Many museums and where I defend the book: not against other media, but
institutions are still dependent on having the most for our rather limited capacity to absorb information.
complete collection of information printed on paper Forrest Jessee The object is still part of the expe-
as an academic and archival document. But that’s old rience for you in book publishing. How does the
fashioned. They haven’t yet understood that new media object become part of the expression of the
are replacing that part of their work. content? Is it the physicality of the object?
BC The Face of Human Rights seems like a book that LM Treating, not manipulating, the content suggests
couldn’t exist without the internet – without digital a form, like with Fuller Operating Manual, a small
photography archives that could be mined for paperback. I think this book should be soft and very
images – although it behaves according to a differ- easy to handle. It wouldn’t make sense as a hardcover
ent logic. What is the role of the editor today, now because you’d feel that it’s a manual and would feel
that the internet provides no shortage of content? free to treat it accordingly. As a manual you’d want to
LM The Face of Human Rights was an amazing expe- keep it in your pocket. It should even look very used
rience for me in demonstrating a very simple idea. after a while because it is a manual and useful. My design
Photography in its creation is a very real process. You effort here was minor, mostly to make the right decisions
have a camera, a setting, something happens – he hits and keep costs low because we’re selling it for under
you and I take the photo. That used to be an analog twenty dollars, which is almost impossible when you
process. You had a negative, you made a print, you sent produce it in euros and sell it in dollars. So no extras
it physically to the newspaper, the newspaper printed here: no glossy paper, no embossing. It’s appropriate
it, multiplied it and distributed it: an analog process for the content as brought into an object.
of distributing visual information. Now this collection The Face of Human Rights is necessarily a big
of photographic documents is put on the internet and book, but it’s not a coffee table book and that was the
what I do is take advantage of the access to thousands intention. Why the smaller format and more pages?
of photographs, make a selection and bring it back to Well, it’s 700 hundred pages because I couldn’t do it in
analog again. any less and because the content is heavy, so I wanted
It’s a transformation that I think is exactly the to make it a heavy object. And I used to say you could
right thing to do: use the technology of the book while actually knock out Dick Cheney with it if you got close
understanding the evolution of information into a enough! If it’s a smaller format you can bring it closer
digital archive. to your body, so you necessarily have a physical relation-
A digital archive actually has no value. It has a theo- ship between the book and yourself. Once you have a
retical value. If I tell you I have 5,000 photographs on my coffee table book you may expect people on your left
website – so what? But if I tell you that I just published a and right to be looking at the same book, and that des-
book, I hand over much more information on my thought troys the intimacy of reading, of concentrating on your
process. It is much more instrumental than the internet. interaction and perception of the book. There was a
The source, the collection of 5,000 photos on your web- discussion as to whether it should be a round or square
site, has a theoretical value and becomes important only back. If you want to please the hands of the reader,
when used, only in the process of selection. It could be you choose a round back, but to me that would have
considered a process of subtraction, taking away all softened the content. So I said, no, it must be a brick.
the photographs you don’t need. For The Face of Human But then to give the hand something in return, I went for
Rights it was not a process of adding one picture and that white, handmade cotton fiber material for the cover,
another and another up to a hundred. It was to take which was really very stupid because it becomes dirty
away 4,900 of the 5,000. That’s the editorial process. immediately. But perhaps the dirt is not just dirt, but
BC You had tens of thousands of images that rather it’s dirt from your hands and I love that. I love
became these six hundred. traces of use.
LM Yes, but if you want to make a choice of six hundred That may be what I share with architects who think
that are appropriate to the content, you must search not so much about the size of a building, but about what
through the six thousand. That’s a consequence of digital attitude they want to project beyond function.
media technologies. With digital photography, unless BC You pay attention to the specificity of a book’s
you have limitations on your data capacity, you have no use, like the amount of time it takes to read a page,
limit to the quantity of content you can generate. Until whether the direction of reading is vertical or hori-
recently photographers knew that if they took a photo zontal. There’s a sensitivity to how you anticipate
they had the negative and to make a selection they the uses of a book.
needed to go to the laboratory and do real work to LM I may allow myself some speculation on that. We
enable them to make the selection. As a professional don’t do any marketing tests but I think we’re in a quite
photographer you were already limiting the production exciting period of change. People your age are the first
Volume 17

of images. Today there is no reason for limitation. generation who grew up with electronic tools and toys,
BC In book publishing you pay for every page, while Tamagotchis and smart phones. What I’ve tried to adapt
on the internet there is no purely economic reason to for the book is the non-linearity of perception and how
edit at all, because storage and processing power people approach new content. Museums have reacted
are now approaching almost zero cost. to that. Today they usually don’t tell you that you must 20
All images courtesy Lars Müller Publishers
enter at the right and take the tour because they know
people will either be interrupted or give up and never
get to the end. So you should allow this kind of multi-
accessible space. What I have experienced, which may
be another comparison to architecture, is that in archi-

The Face of Human Rights

tecture the back entrance is often more interesting than
the front entrance. Offering various entrances into a
building or a book means that it is left up to you. The
book should be designed such that wherever you enter
you’re always welcome. Then it’s up to you to decide
when you have a rough idea and want to understand
it better. You turn around and enter through the main
entrance, read at your pace and you may be patient
enough to understand the continuity of the content. But
again, you’re free, and the interactivity of the book is
amazing. All of a sudden you realize you’ve discovered
something and then you may dig deeper. That’s the idea
of horizontal and vertical reading; they’re both always
related to time. The vertical is where time is not important
anymore. That’s where you dive in and then dive out
again – you dig deep and then out, out of the book and
into the internet, your unlimited ocean of information,
out of the control of the book, which is a defined and
limited space. In books, it’s about selection.
Buckminster Fuller’s Operating
Manual for Spaceship Earth
Volume 17

A New Mind for
an Aging Species
Rene Daalder
There appears to be an unspoken consensus that the future is forever in an elusive
state of becoming and therefore not yet relevant to the larger population. This
would explain the lack of respect the world tends to bestow upon even its brightest
futurists – a ragtag group of brilliant people who engage with the emerging realities
that sooner or later affect our lives. In contrast to the precious preservation of
the past, which is left in the respectable hands of tenured professors, most futurists
are academic and institutional outsiders, making a living as fiction writers (Neal
Stephenson), musicians (Brian Eno), journalists (Steven Johnson) or inventors
(Ray Kurzweil). Unlike the majority of people whose lives tend to be rooted in the
past, and the more blessed among them who manage to exist in the here and
now, these forward thinkers appear to be living on the threshold of the imminent
future. This is so not because of their superior intelligence, but because of their
intuitive capacities. Where others experience the world in concrete terms, futurists
see reality as a scrim revealing the future potential of things.

Although this mindset can be an advantage, it inevitably face to face with a wealth of unpublicized material which
puts a person at odds with those whose job it is to will allow the film’s audience to see Leary’s life through
preserve the status quo rather than promote future the eyes of today’s internet generation. Their apprecia-
potential.Futurists have often survived by resorting tion of Leary’s predictive powers was unencumbered
to the subterfuge of science fiction which allows them by the crushing baggage that has been piled upon his
to invent new worlds. However literature and movies legacy by generations of apologists and slanderers alike.
tend to impose their own limitations. As a filmmaker If ever there was a good example of the dubious
and screenwriter who has situated many stories in the status futurists have in our society it is exemplified by
future, I have often found myself struggling against the Leary, who was called ‘the most dangerous man in
conventions of the cautionary tale and mad scientist America’ by Richard Nixon and who tried to make him the
shenanigans which inevitably bring the world to the brink poster boy for his administration’s War on Drugs. While
of disaster. Time and again my optimism about the working as a psychologist at Harvard (from which he
future was obscured by the narrative prerequisite that would later be expelled), Leary became acquainted with
things need to go desperately wrong so the hero can the English writer Aldous Huxley best known in some
restore the world to its natural order at the expense circles for his book The Doors of Perception – a study
of what might very well be the mad scientist’s genius. of the effects of mind-expanding drugs. According to
One futurist thinker whose career unfolded very Leary’s biography Flashbacks, Huxley, instructed him
much like that of a ‘mad scientist’/philosopher was on the therapeutic use of LSD: ‘Your role is quite simple,
Timothy Leary, known for his advocacy of psychedelics Timothy. Become a cheerleader for evolution’, he said,
and his unwavering struggle against the authorities’ forewarning him however that, ‘these are evolutionary
attempts to turn his life into a cautionary tale. Leary was matters. They cannot be rushed. Initiate artists, writers,
one of the early pioneers of consciousness-expanding poets, jazz musicians, elegant courtesans, painters, rich
technologies, one of the original Neuronauts as they bohemians and they’ll initiate the intelligent rich. That’s
were called back then. In my new ‘sci-fi documentary’ how everything of culture and beauty and philosophic
The Terrestrials his unusual story is set against the large- freedom has been passed on.’ Leary would go on to
scale digitization of his personal archive, which has been develop a populist view in which, according to Jay
sitting for years in a few storage units on the outskirts of Stevens’ book Storming Heaven: LSD and the American
Volume 17

Santa Cruz. For the film we enlisted a group of students Dream, ‘humans could direct their personal evolution
at the University of California, Santa Cruz to digitize one and … unplug the old mind of homo sapiens so a new
of the world’s largest collections of files on mind-altering one could take shape.’
substances, computer technology, life extension and Leary’s name will be forever identified with LSD,
space migration. The students’ activities brought them but a whole socio-historical complex has conspired 22
to discredit this visionary who understood early on that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. It didn’t go unnoticed
computers and the internet would play key roles in what by the student archivists that many of Leary’s papers
he called the ‘evolution of intelligence’. As early as 1968, refer to the brain as a ‘bio-computer’ and that the entire
while making a bid for Governor of California, Leary’s universe itself could be perceived as a giant computer
message was on target for the internet age: with everything in it seen as ‘information’.
‘As we move into the era of computers and Along the way Leary was sentenced to a 10-year
electronics, intelligence rather than territory is the central prison term for the possession of two marijuana joints,
concern of government. In the Information Age the an event which marked the beginning of years of harass-
function of the state is to facilitate education, commu- ment. He then decided it was time to generate some
nication, innovation, and entertainment to raise the good publicity. As documented in Leary’s autobiography,
intelligence of the populace.’ he arranged for a consultation with mass media theore-
Today Leary’s uncanny intuition is evident across tician Marshall McLuhan who, like Aldous Huxley before
many fields. He expressed his enthusiasm for space him, outlined a remarkably accurate scenario reflecting
migration by signing on as a future inhabitant of the the next chapter of Leary’s life:
space colonies Gerard O’Neill proposed in the 1970s, ‘You call yourself a philosopher, a reformer. Fine.
and his early ideas about using NASA’s Space Shuttle as But the key to your work is advertising. You’re promoting
a Greyhound bus seems closely related to today’s civilian a product. The new and improved accelerated brain.
space projects initiated by Virgin Galactic, Google and You must use the most current tactics for arousing
the X-Prize. Time and again the students were taken consumer interest. Associate LSD with all the good
aback by the evidence of prescience they stumbled upon things that the brain can produce – beauty, fun,
in Leary’s archive, particularly the repeated warnings philosophic wonder, religious revelation, increased
about global warming almost half a century ago. intelligence, mystical romance. Word of mouth from
Even on the subject of LSD, few people have satisfied consumers will help, but get your rock and roll
bothered to research the fascinating context that in- friends to write jingles about the brain.’
formed Leary’s lifelong campaign, although recently the ‘To dispel fear you must use your public image.
drug has reached sufficient mainstream status to be You are the basic product endorser. Whenever you are
tested by the FDA for medical usefulness. In his forma- photographed, smile. Wave reassuringly. Radiate
tive years as a young psychology professor Leary wrote courage. Never complain or appear angry. It’s okay if
many tests assessing interpersonal behavior that con- you come off as flamboyant and eccentric. You’re a
tinue to be used today. However he observed that psy- professor, after all. But a confident attitude is the best
chology ‘still hadn’t developed a way to significantly and advertisement. You must be known for your smile.’
predictably change human behavior’, and found himself In that moment Leary the ‘stand-up philosopher’
practicing ‘a profession that didn’t seem to work.’ Leary was born. He took McLuhan’s advice and appeared on
was looking for ways out of that impasse and his mission, hundreds of talk shows. He espoused a possible future
while initially revolving around LSD, was to accelerate in which humans would live on platforms floating in orbit,
the evolution of our minds by any means possible. where science would grant us immortality by repro-
Belonging to a generation that lived through gramming our DNA and where our downloaded brains
the ravages of World War II and the threat of nuclear would become pure consciousness adrift in virtual
annihilation during the Cold War, Leary was struck reality. Throughout his life Leary remained forever the
by the potential of consciousness-expanding drugs optimist, for which he was pursued across the globe as
to reprogram people’s nervous systems, to expand a fugitive, maligned by the media and betrayed by his
intelligence and, ultimately, to stave off future disaster. former cohorts. In one of their prophetic conversations
In many respects Leary’s optimism resembled the hope McLuhan made the following prediction:
today that a connected world might make a difference ‘You’re going to win the war, Timothy. Eventually.
in our own hazardous times. During the Bay of Pigs But you’re going to lose some major battles on the way.
invasion, Leary and Allen Ginsberg hatched a plan to You’re not going to overthrow the Protestant Ethic in a
save the world from nuclear disaster by administering couple of years. This culture knows how to sell fear and
LSD to both John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro pain. Drugs that accelerate the brain won’t be accepted
believing that the ‘rewiring’ of brains by mind-altering until the population is geared to computers. You’re ahead
drugs was a legitimate strategy to promote the of your time. They’ll attempt to destroy your credibility.’
evolution of intelligence. Leary replied with typical Irish blarney: ‘It’s
At the same time in Silicon Valley the notion took incredibility I’m after’, declaring himself a true futurist
hold that computing could change the world by expand- once and for all.
ing the power of the human mind. Soon many of the Before his death in 1996 Leary became fascinated
best engineers were led through their first psychedelic with virtual reality, which is how we came to exchange
experiences in order to more effectively conduct cutting-edge demo reels from the few computer graphic
innovative research projects, not unlike Francis Crick studios that existed back then. At the time he was hoping
who had discovered the structure of DNA using small to leave behind a digital archive that would become
doses of LSD to boost his powers of thought. As it turns his ‘permanent home in cyberspace’. As always ahead
out, Douglas Engelbart, an inventor who had been part of the curve, it would take more than a decade before
of the early brain-activation sessions in Palo Alto and his dream was realized but in the fall of 2008, at the
would become a pioneer of human-computer interaction, initiative of the Leary Estate, the internet Archive will
Volume 17

had been intrigued by the fact that the aims of the LSD make the fruits of the students’ labor available to the
community paralleled his own quest to augment human public on the internet. According to Brewster Kahle, the
intelligence. Engelbart’s inventions, such as the com- founder of, ‘this will be the first time some-
puter mouse, eventually led to Apple’s first personal one’s personal files and collections will be put online
23 computer, invented by self-proclaimed ‘acid heads’ en masse in the hope that others will follow.’
Volume 17
All images courtesy Rene Daalder

Volume 17
The Strange Condition of
Contemporary Content-Crisis
Shumon Basar
A present-day anthropologist would surely glean a great deal from the kinds of
media that hundreds of millions of us consume in the West – and, increasingly, in the
endearingly titled ‘rest of the world’. By this I am of course referring to the giddy glut
of celebrity and body-image-obsessed magazines and books, and make-over shows
that transform a decrepit specimen of the human race into ‘The Swan’, much like
Xzibit and his ‘boyz’ sex-up a forlorn piece of car-junk in MTV’s Pimp My Ride.

Capitalism can only chug merrily forward when there’s Nast launched Portfolio magazine last year, New York
something to sell and someone to sell to. It’s no called it ‘the last big magazine launch ever’. Why?
accident that self-help books are one of the biggest Because it is increasingly impossible to generate a
growth sectors in the book publishing industry. We are focused, loyal and lucrative readership in a market
not only more aware of our deficiencies, we don’t feel so over-saturated and threatened by everything from
like real subjects without them. As Jean-Paul Sartre Web 2.0 to Attention Deficit Disorder. The world is now
presciently pointed out half a century ago, the price we atomized, compartmentalized, localized and yet utterly
pay for our existential freedom is that we’re banished globalized and everywhere at once. This is how we, the
to its consequences. Freedom plus democracy opens up consumers, consume content and there’s no going back.
a massive, seemingly unimpeded plain of pure potential Here’s a sampler of today’s cultural hot-spots
before us. This alone can make us a little queasy. of the content-crisis.
Freedom’s vastness is also its very captivity. This
paradox silently defines our morally hazardous and Magazine-Shelf
gluttonous times. The newsstand’s walls are crammed from floor to ceiling
We can only conclude that today we are too with a bestiary of magazine titles, each one clamoring
fat and too thin, too poor and too rich, too young and for your attention and cash. ‘384 Ways to Orgasm Your
too old, too middle class and not middle class enough. Man!’; ‘How Black is Obama?’; ‘Britney’s Bald Break-
At the same time. Or in sequence. The crisis always down!’. These racks promise you the emancipatory
comes at us from both ends of the spectrum. dimensions of limitless choice. Yet the choice has
Something similar can be said about ‘content’ exceeded the potential for reflective pleasure. It just
today. The sheer inundation of platforms and devices gives you a headache.
through which we can access information about
ourselves, each other and the world around us brings The Google Image Search
with it a peculiar form of what I’d like to call ‘content- Never has it been so easy to quickly call up images we
crisis’. We live in an age of too much and too little have once seen or want to see for the very first time.
content, with more savvy and more witless managers Google Image Search offers an empire of pictorial
of this content than ever before. matches (and mismatches) to word probes. Yet for all
Volume 17

As China and India (total combined population: its licentious extensiveness, the vast majority of images
2.5 billion) create a new mega-mass of hungry, middle- come as tiny, low resolution files. Quantity is intimately
class consumers, the axis of content generation is and indexically linked to inverse quality. Thomas Ruff’s
shifting eastwards, threatening Hollywood and other blow-ups of pornographic thumbnails summarize the
bastions of Old World content providers. When Condé physical finitude of an apparently infinite archive. 26
The Web’s Encyclopedia 2.0 to see. In a just a few years time the world’s largest
Wikipedia gave user-generated content a much needed Guggenheim will open there and Gehry’s desert jewel
boost in prestige. For those who champion the Web’s will be joined by Hadid, Ando and Nouvel icons.
new standard reference drop-in, the argument is that it is Norman Foster and Partners are responsible for the
updateable and inclusive in a way that the old bound ver- $700 billion USD National Museum of Abu Dhabi. But
sions could never be. For those who believe in the supe- all these new and planned museums share one missing
riority of Encyclopedia Britannica, for example, Wikipedia characteristic: content. While the external envelopes
peddles the particularities of knowledge as though they are tantalizingly tangible, what is to go inside them
are objective facts. Once again, breathtaking breadth remains, worryingly vague at best. Here architecture
is coupled with supposed content shallowness. is strangely ‘fast’, while content lags way behind, like
the turtle to the hare.
The Endless Broadcast
Many of us may remember when TV channels used to ‘In the effort to manage crisis, it has become apparent
cease broadcasting late at night. In Britain the BBC net- that growth has ended and we have entered a field
work would close to the rousing music of the national whose consequences are unpredictable. We are no
anthem only to be followed by a test-card image that longer in a state of growth; we are in a state of excess…
denoted ‘the world is now asleep’. Rolling news such meaning, that which incessantly develops without
as CNN, 24-hour continuous transmission and satellite being measurable against its own objectives.’
broadcasts from all over the world mean there are literally So wrote Jean Baudrillard in his essay ‘The Anorexic
thousands of years’ worth of air-space that need to be Ruins’. Content today is like an instant anorexic – or
filled every day. The answer? Eternal re-runs of Friends, obese – ruin. Content-crisis is a symptom of our age of
Frasier and Dallas or dirt-cheap ‘reality TV’ where the over-production and over-consumption. It is the malnu-
cast is YOU (i.e. the general public). It all makes Bruce trition induced by the corpulent excess of meaning
Springsteen’s 1992 sarcastic complaint that there were and meaninglessness we call our daily lives.
‘57 channels and nothin’ feel a little quaint. But worry not. I can hear the sound of a self-help
book in the making: ‘How to Beat the Content-Crisis
The Daily Relic and Become the Real You’.
A few months ago, the editor of the Daily Telegraph
(one of Britain’s ‘quality’ newspapers) confessed that
newspapers were having a ‘dark night of the soul’ Jean Baudrillard in Looking Back on the End of the World
moment. Since up-to-the-minute information is literally (Semiotext(e), 1989). P.29
at one’s fingertips via the internet, newspapers have
to redefine what makes them indispensable or else face
imminent extinction. Ian MacGregor believes that news-
papers must now offer identifiable, robust, accountable
and therefore valued opinions (in the form of columns
or op-eds) thus shifting emphasis away from mere
information delivery to the delivery of interpretation.
Content as information, he reminds us, is free and
ambient. Content as interpretation will still cost you.

The Pavilion Impulse

In 2006, on the occasion of the opening of the Serpen-
tine Gallery Summer Pavilion he co-designed with Cecil
Balmond, Rem Koolhaas declared, ‘A pavilion without
content is not a pavilion at all’. This clarion call (from the
heart of Modernism?) seems to go against the majority
trend we find in the feverish phenomena of pavilions
today. Although small in size, their very afunctional nature
liberates pavilions from social necessity and permits
unabashed formal reverie (and fun). Pavilions are
content-shy and form-forward. This summer in London,
pavilions by both artists and architects have sprouted
like a cultured virus across the city. They’re architecture
without the controversy, without the threat. Enough
content (signature) but not too much.

The Empty Museums

Last July The New York Times ran a story entitled
‘China’s Legacy: Let a Million Museums Bloom’.
Journalist Holland Cotter rummaged through several
new museums, all of which are now free to enter in a
Volume 17

government-led initiative to enculturate the non-museum-

going masses. More museums are planned all over
the country at a hard-to-comprehend rate that mirrors
China’s startling urbanization. Abu Dhabi’s Sadiyaat
27 Island is already famous, although there is nothing yet
Rank and File

Image courtesy FreedomLab Future Studies

Chris Anderson interviewed by
Jeffrey Inaba and Jesse Seegers
Highlighting the growing chasm between abundance in the digital world and
scarcity in the physical world, Chris Anderson discusses the implications of these
spaces for mass culture, collective experience and personal choice. He extends
his discussion into reputation economies – non-monetary transactions – that
have flourished and found their own particular online metrics in niche social net-
working sites and Google PageRanks.
Currently the editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, Anderson described the
management and market characteristics of expanding online economies in his
provocative and celebrated 2006 book The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business
is Selling Less of More.

Volume 17

Jeffrey Inaba In your Wired Magazine essay ‘Free!’
you point out that in the age of an economy of
abundance not everything transfers over to the
world of abundance. Rather, there is a development
of expertise to design channels that deal with the

transfer between the two worlds.
Chris Anderson Yes, there are two economies: the
economy of scarcity, which is the physical world, and
the economy of abundance, which is the digital world.
Everything in the physical world gets more expensive
and scarcer, while everything in the digital world gets Long Tail
more abundant and cheaper. So there’s a huge imper-
ative, both in terms of economics and choice, to shift Products
things to digital, and then once they become digital –
Given a large population of customers and negligible
once they’re in that deflationary world – they inevitably distribution costs, niche markets have grown for small
become free. Physical world things are going to get quantities of a large selection of goods.
more expensive over time – I don’t just mean monetary
cost, I mean also their externalities: carbon costs, eco-
logical costs, everything else is going to become more CA I think mass culture is an immature stage of social
expensive. Therefore, there is going to be a strong drive development that was driven in the 20th century because
to shift from the inflationary to the deflationary economy, of the incredible power of broadcast. The broadcast
to make things digital if at all possible. I’d like to think economic model demands aggregation of mass audi-
that gas prices are finally going to be the straw that ences. The only way to pay for your broadcasting license
breaks the camel’s back in that they start to shift our and power was to have 10 million viewers. The 20th cen-
behavior from the scarcity to the abundance economy. tury was exclusively mass: we all wanted to do the same
I was recently in Seattle and had the chance to thing and we wanted to be defined by our collective
walk through OMA’s Seattle Public Library again. That’s viewership of the same shows. The 21st century will be
a pretty good example of getting the balance right a mix of mass and niche which will have pros and cons.
between abundance and scarcity. I think it’s profound There are upsides and downsides; I think you lose
that on the first floor, in the largest communal space, something as a collective definition of a people, of a
there are no books. The library is simply a place with nation or city or age when you’re not all doing the same
portals into the world of abundance. things at the same time. On the other hand, you gain
JI One main point of The Long Tail: Why the Future something in terms of the depth of your experience when
of Business is Selling Less of More is that today you identify your subtribe: people who really value your
we have an extended range of selection, from large particular interests. People worry a lot about our frag-
quantities of goods desired by many to rare ones mentation: what does it mean as a nation if we’re not
desired by very few. What are the differences in all watching the network news at the same time? Well,
having these choices in a city, where there is a it means we’re probably less defined as a nation, but
degree of social coherence or a collective aware- we’re probably better defined as individuals.
ness of our own accumulated set of tastes and Jesse Seegers In the late 90’s, before social network-
choices, and having them in the digital world? ing was such a buzzword, the entire concept of an
CA I want to give you specifics: the physical world had internet community seemed more speculation than
to do double duty. It had to satisfy the economics of reality. Now that there are so many social networks,
physicality, which is basically the constraints of concen- they are taken more seriously, including the prolif-
trated demand, and it also had to try to address the eration of niche networks on open source platforms
range of interests of the people who lived there. Cities like Ning.
manage to accomplish The Long Tail in physical space CA I’m a big believer in Long Tail social networks. I think
by having a critical mass. You can get any cuisine you social networks are a feature that good sites should have
want in New York or in any other city as long as there are rather than a destination to which you go. I run a Ning
enough people there with wide enough tastes. So cities network on aerial robotics called and we
are fulfilling The Long Tail in physical space as a result of get about 2,000 people a day, maybe 5,000 page views.
diversity and cultural range. What digital space does is That feels about right, because we’re incredibly narrow
satisfy the same demands in a geographically agnostic in our interest. There are 320,000 networks on Ning right
way, which is to say that at least theoretically, you can now. I think the problem with the Facebook or MySpace
get city-level density of choice anywhere, anytime. models is that they’re mostly about Facebook and
JI So in that sense individual choice plays a much MySpace, and you literally get consumed under the plat-
greater role in the abundance economy. The ability form. The Ning model should be integrated into every
to choose, to express what you want, and to take site. That is, sites should be about something, they should
action to get what you want all carry economic weight be primarily about what they’re about and the social net-
because, like in cities, there is a market environment working aspect should just be best practice. You should
where you can actually attain them. And because not feel like you’re joining a social network, you should
people have access to things and they take action to feel like you’re going to a place with a purpose and
Volume 17

get them, vendors in this economy have responded everyone else is there because they share that purpose.
by creating access to many more items ranging JI How do you see the economies of scarcity and
from mass to niche goods. If broadcast media gave abundance unfolding?
rise to mass-culture consciousness, then does the CA The concept of ‘free’ means it’s free in a monetary
29 economy of abundance facilitate niche culture? economy. You know the phrase, ‘there’s no such thing
Personal profile page on

Volume 17
as a free lunch’? Well, that phrase is only true if you reviews, commentary written by individual customers,
include the non-monetary economy. You’re not paying have a huge influence on the sales of those products.
me for my time right now and I’m not paying you for Those individuals are filters that drive demand.
yours. Nevertheless, we have conducted a transaction: I hate to be a Google fan-boy, but there’s only
I’m giving you my attention and you’re giving me yours. one thing I would put on my business card if I were
I presume when you run this you’ll use a little of my to make a new one. And that’s my PageRank. I have
reputational currency to help you and I presume I will a really high PageRank. I probably got a little bit of that
use your reputational currency as well. This transaction PageRank from my professional side, but it has even
would involve negotiations over dollars and cents in more to do with what I’ve done. I earned that PageRank,
the monetary economy. For the type of transaction in point by point, over the years. So it’s kind of interesting
which we’re engaged, people use the phrase reputation that in a reputation economy, your title matters less
economy, but they use the term economy only as a than your actual metric of reputational assets, which
metaphor. I’m uncomfortable with the use of metaphor is what PageRank measures.
and what I want to say is: if this is an economy, let’s I think we need better ways to measure and commu-
treat it as an economy. Who controls the money supply nicate reputation. We’re very fragmented in that sense,
of reputation? How much attention is there in the we’ve got Facebook friends, we’ve got eBay, we’ve
world? What is the conversion rate between attention, got ratings, we’ve got PageRank, we’ve got Technorati
reputation and cash? Let’s see what you can formalize scores, things like that. We need better repository of
when extending reputation to real economies. reputation, where your reputation can be stored. We’re
in a very early phase of the portability of reputation.
This is a huge opportunity whose potential we do not
Yahoo launches Yahoo announces
a premium version unlimited free
yet fathom, but I suspect that we will over the next
of its email service, email storage decade or so.
charging $29.99/year
$2.50 $90
for 25 MB


Google introduces Gmail,
offering 1 GB – 40 times
more than Yahoo’s $60
paid service – of email
$1.50 storage for free
PRICE (Yahoo and Google) $40
$1.00 (Per Gigabyte)




$0.00 $0
2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007

In an economy of abundance, advances in technology lower

the cost of providing services, eventually driving the consumer
price to zero, as in the case in of free email services.

JI In this non-monetary economy, value arises from

various activities. What do you see as the signifi-
cance of the value of commentary? Journalism or
reporting are traditionally ways of providing infor-
mation. But a commenter who is not necessarily a
professional writer, journalist or editor can develop
a reputation by expressing well-supported, well
argued opinions. If readers choose to gravitate to
one of the many available online commenters for
whatever reason, it increases that commenter’s
reputational value.
Volume 17

CA I think this is increasingly important, because the

problem with the old model of commentary was that it
was largely through the press and because there were
limited numbers of papers, most of the stuff people like
31 me were interested in never got reviewed. Even Amazon’s
In Media Res

Image courtesy T. Shlain

Ken Goldberg interviewed by
Jeffrey Inaba and Jesse Seegers
As an engineer, artist and roboticist, as well as the director of the Berkeley Center
for New Media at University of California Berkeley, Ken Goldberg knows a thing
or two about content management, or at least how to cultivate a diverse set of
interests. Examining the role of media to analyze and understand contemporary
culture, his research bridges epistemology, aesthetics and technology. His art
project ‘Telegarden’ from 1996 was an early exploration at the intersection of art
and internet social behavior. Goldberg talks with Volume about how ideas can
be understood as media, how inefficiency can be innovative and why we should
focus on defocusing.

Volume 17

Ken Goldberg One of the things we’re trying to do at When you first mentioned ‘content management’,
the Berkeley Center for New Media is to take a long view, I got ready to be bored. But the issues of access and
to not limit new media to digital. My colleague Howard control in the context of architecture of buildings and
Rheingold is working on a BCNM symposium on websites is much more interesting. I teach a class in
‘attention literacy’ that addresses this idea. For example, relational database theory, so I’ve been thinking lately
the alphabet and language are both pre-digital, but about the relational model, which is based on the
definitely media. Media facilitates perception. What we mathematics of relational algebra. In the 1960s data-
commonly think of as ‘mass media’ – television, news- bases were ad hoc structures in which over time the
papers, etc. – essentially acts as a lens. A telescope data would become inconsistent and ultimately wreak
is a medium: it was new media in 1710. What happens havoc. Computer scientist Ted Codd invented the
when a new medium enters that culture? It is technolog- model of relational algebra, which was a set of elegant
ical, but what are the broader implications? The tele- abstractions making it possible to guarantee properties
scope had far-reaching consequences: for the church, about the data based on logical equations.
Descartes and the emergence of modernity. So if Abstractions also apply to content management
you accept that, then many scientific instruments – the in architecture. I’ve been closely watching the design
x-ray, atomic energy and microscopes – are media. of the new Berkeley Art Museum. Toyo Ito’s building
And then, to push that a little further, one can think of is very different from the current building which is a
an idea as a medium. forbidding, concrete Brutalist structure. In contrast, the
Jesse Seegers Like how a metaphor brings new mean- new building emphasizes access, but is also concerned
ings by acting as a medium between two things? about protecting the art from theft, damage and light.
KG Exactly. A metaphor allows you to see in a new way. Ito’s lightweight construction has very thin walls that
Take the Theory of Relativity. I might argue that it’s a promote an abstract sense of openness. Ito conveys
medium in the following sense: there were data and this by unpeeling linear planes. He wants to construct
observations of the planets that didn’t quite add up. it from millimeter-thick sheets of steel. In contrast to
Suddenly, there was a new theory that worked at the Serra’s heavy, weighty solids, Ito wants a lightweight
far extreme levels of the speed of light. All the data form, almost like an onion skin. Seismically it’s very
snapped into place. It was like focusing with a new beneficial to design a light building, because it functions
lens. And this is true of psychoanalytic theory, of post- like a shell and is very resilient. To the public its curva-
modern or poststructuralist theory. They operate as ture and openings must convey accessibility, but the
organizing frameworks. building must also protect the art. That’s a content
Part of this approach is designed to engage faculty management issue.
who think new media is what the computer scientists JI So you’re saying that in a building such as a
do. BCNM now has over 110 faculty members from museum, the experience is designed to be a con-
thirty different departments. It’s been a very interesting tinual entry into new spaces and that while these
process of expanding the definition, because it raises spaces display information or objects (in this case
the question of accessibility. You create a dichotomy art), they may very well also protect and limit full
between wanting to be welcomed and not wanting access to that information and those objects. Like
to reveal everything at once. If we expose too much, buildings, there are websites that draw your interest
it loses its allure. and then sustain it with additional thresholds and
Jeffrey Inaba In calling ideas a medium, do you mean levels of participation.
that it could be any idea – irrespective of when KG Yes, some websites reveal themselves over time.
and from which discipline it may have originated? In the Telegarden we let anyone look at the garden. If
For example, you’re suggesting that there may be you register, you’re allowed to participate as well. You
a renewed awareness of a concept from the past can water the plants and in time even be given a seed
that in turn generates a lens to understand the to plant.
present in a new light. The idea of ‘new media’ has JS Was this always how you wanted to do it?
been popularized by the rise of digital technology, KG Well, we learned that visitors wouldn’t stay long at
but you see it as a term for describing a more an installation unless you whet their appetites. And they
general interpretive tool that can arise from any won’t stay long if you give them everything right away.
field past or present. People prefer to be teased.
KG Certainly my intentions are polemical. New media JI In a previous interview you mentioned that your
is related to, but not dependent on, technology. It is telepresence projects exploit the interrelationship
instead part of a broader agenda to structure and between abstraction and reality. Because tele-
organize the world. The ‘lens’ metaphor interests me presence deals with communication over long
because one can pull back to focus. A medium operates distances, the interaction necessarily abstraction.
when it works. There are bad media and theories that At the same time, it’s possible to achieve a high
don’t work so well, theories that are in fact terrible. degree of one-to-one human exchange. Rather
You can have bad lenses. We want to be critical in terms than trying to make the experience even more
of how media can help us focus make corrections or of a real-world interaction by further bridging the
sharpen our understanding of something. gap between the digital and real-worlds, you’re
I’ve been thinking of the Berkeley Center for interested in testing just how artificial or fake we
New Media as a medium itself, because structurally believe the online world to be.
Volume 17

it facilitates perception. For example, students say, KG Right. There’s an extraordinary capacity for deception
‘I don’t just want to be an historian or an architect, but online, especially with things like politics or pornography.
also want to talk with engineers and philosophers.’ So They lure you in with something that seems plausible
they’ll gravitate toward a group that encourages them on the surface. I’m interested in the epistemological
33 to engage in that dialogue and learn from each other. question: of where can you be confident about what
you’re seeing and where it is appropriate to be skeptical. one would underperform. It seems that a mode of
The broader question is how to develop scenarios that working today might be that you process all of the
are deliberately ambiguous, if you will? demands and needed actions to your e-mails, SMSs
For example, in 1997 we did a piece called ‘Legal and voicemails while also as a matter of course
Tender’. We took two hundred-dollar bills, announced be able to simultaneously think through and write
that one was counterfeit and that we needed help to a fifteen thousand-word report. That instead of
determine which bill it was. The website explained that needing ‘quiet time’ to write, for example, that dis-
you were going to be a participant in this ‘laboratory’. ruptions are things we can deal with and in fact can
If you registered for the site, you would be presented feed off of.
with a random section of a bill and a series of tests to KG Progress is often non-linear; regressions can enable
perform. One of them was the ‘burn test’, which almost conditions to move forward. A good example of this
everybody chose. is television. Our parents’ generation said it was rotting
JI What is the ‘burn test’? Do real dollar bills burn our minds, that it was an overload of spoon-fed, low-
differently than other types of paper? quality information. It did shape our minds, but television
KG They do. The burn test brought a hot soldering iron also gave us some of the conditions needed for the
into contact with the bill. Almost everyone chose it. development of the internet. Many major innovations
We then displayed a reminder that there is a federal have come from inventors and innovators – from Google
statute against burning or defacing currency and asked, to Facebook to the internet - who are under 25. Defo-
‘Do you accept responsibility for this? Yes or no.’ Users cusing leads to new forms of innovation and sets the
had typed in their personal information and their email conditions for something new.
addresses. We wanted to create a moment of hesitation. JI One last question: you mentioned that in the
Although much of the internet is trivially accessible, course you co-taught with Hubert Dreyfus, the
and hence there’s little sense of engagement, I’m inter- Berkeley professor of philosophy, you questioned
ested in heightening emotions. efficiency. What exactly does that mean? Is it the
JS Through virtual means? idea that productivity also stems from multiple
KG Yes. A painting can do that, as can a good book or actions or purposes or non-specialization?
film. Certain museums do that as well – the Prado has KG The course brought together students from philos-
few barriers between you and the paintings as well ophy and engineering. They worked in teams to
as very few guards. You can walk right up to the work assemble things in the most efficient ways possible.
and put your hand on it. But in the crowded, jaded We were also looking at the origins of the obsession
internet environment, it’s a challenge to create anything with efficiency that characterized the 20th century.
visceral. Where on the internet can you get that kind Going back to Frederick Taylor’s time-and-motion
of visceral engagement? studies, his first book was called ‘The Principles of
New Media are creating an epidemic of distraction. Scientific Management’. He created the idea of quanti-
I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I can no longer fying work. Before that, there wasn’t anything like it.
keep up with e-mail. Between Facebook and voice Henry Ford was a big fan. They recorded a worker’s
mails, you’re constantly checking. We’re all becoming every motion. This coincided with the rise of pheno-
obsessive-compulsive. It’s almost impossible to focus. menology. The microscopic analysis of individual
But risk tends to have a very focusing effect. motions developed independently, but around the
Say you’re designing a new website and you’re same time as phenomenology, the internalized analysis
trying to create real engagement. An element of risk of individual perception and experience. That was
encourages the visitor to pay attention. Games are where we started, but we then focused on Heidegger’s
one way to do this. Games tap into our primal instincts insights into technology.
to compete. Heidegger defined a series of ‘epochs’, starting
JI So risk has become a way to generate a sense with religion-based societies and moving into the indus-
of focus at a time when we’re inundated with dis- trialized epoch, which is efficiency-based. Heidegger
tractions. It also seems that being distracted or saw a step beyond that, a trend towards flexibility.
unfocussed is now the default work mode. Whether Similarly, we discovered in the course that efficiency
we like it or not, the attention we given to any given is more sustainable when given some slack. Systems
task at hand is shared simultaneously with attention can be adapted to multiple purposes, rather than being
we give to others of equal priority. Rather than optimized for a specific task.
attempting to ignore those other things that demand Consider the computer, it can be adapted to do
our attention in order to focus in on the task at many different things. More recently, stem cells and
hand, do you see potential in defocusing? Of not genomics. Another example, nanotechnology, is pre-
focusing in but letting it all blur or fuzz together? sented as a universal technology that can be applied
Could this apply not just to our effort to be ‘efficient’ to all sorts of things. That’s the rhetoric at least. We’ve
at work but also be a method of inquiry and exper- fallen in love with nanotubes: for any problem we face,
imentation, a way to collect information or make if we want a high-temperature superconductor for
more intelligent decisions? Does focusing assume example, ‘try a nanotube!’
a limited capacity to process information, whereas JS My plants aren’t growing…
defocusing assumes a human capacity to take KG Just ‘try a nanotube’!
in more information and assemble it than we have
Volume 17

until now?
For example, when I was growing up the Wonder
Kid was the kid who could do homework while
watching TV or getting high and yet do very well.
Absorbing distractions didn’t necessarily mean 34
Image courtesy Robert Wedemeyer Images courtesy Ken Goldberg

Volume 17

‘The Telegarden’ (1995-2004, networked robot

installation at Ars Electronica Museum,
Austria.) Co-Directors: Ken Goldberg and
Joseph Santarromana Project team: George
Bekey, Steven Gentner, Rosemary Morris
Carl Sutter, Jeff Wiegley, Erich Berger.

‘Legal Tender’ (1996), Telerobotic system. Artists: Ken Goldberg, Eric Paulos, Mark Pauline, Judith Donath, John Canny.
The Rachel Maddow Show
Rachel Maddow interviewed by
Jeffrey Inaba and Benedict Clouette
As programs such as Countdown with Keith Olbermann and The Daily Show trump
traditional nightly news, it is apparent that commentary shows are becoming a
primary news source. The political analyst Rachel Maddow has become an icon
of this variety of meta-journalism: ‘news about the news’. After completing a
doctorate at Oxford University in political science, she worked for many years
in progressive media and now hosts her own program on Air America Radio.
Recently, The Rachel Maddow Show expanded to television, broadcast nightly
on MSNBC. Volume spoke with her about commenting on political events and
media coverage.

Volume 17

Jeffrey Inaba With the availability of online infor- Face Off!’ They put two people on the panel whom they
mation, one argument is that the role of curating think are ideological opposites, and pick something
information is of central importance. It’s said that on which we disagree and have us fight, just like the old
readers or viewers don’t want to follow a gazillion Crossfire format. It does two things: one is that it defines
news aggregation sources, they want to go to a you as somebody who can’t be trusted because you’re
few who they feel parse the information well. We coming from a perspective that is equal and opposite
want to speak with you because you comment on to another perspective, and so, it says that therefore
the curating of news information. Your job is to there is no truth. The very format sets you up to not
comment on the management of media information: believe anything that I say. But two, it gives you a chance
what news stories are told, and how. Can you talk to talk longer! [laughs] I get the opportunity to speak
about what you do? in paragraph form rather than sentence form where it’s
Rachel Maddow The thing about which I feel most possible to literally slay a debate point.
insecure is the fact that I am not a reporter, and in the BC On the other hand, do you think it is useful
business that I’m in, both in talk radio and in television for viewers to be able to understand the political
media, the ratio of commentary to reported fact is coordinates in relation to the day’s events? Are
getting higher and higher, and we’re ultimately staking there reasons why, as a viewer, one would benefit
our entire day’s work, everyday, on a single piece of from being able to recognize the left perspective
information, and increasingly I’m being asked to com- and the right perspective?
ment on how we in the news comment on that. We RM There is still a myth of balance in television news.
create this big pageant of commentary with this tiny Whenever there is an issue with any force behind it,
little nugget of reporting at the center. there’s this impulse to say, ‘What are the two sides
Benedict Clouette Is the increasing value of com- to this? We must portray these two sides!’ But more
mentary simply feeding a desire for predigested frequently than not, one of the sides is correct and one
opinions, for someone else to do the hard work, of them is not, or one of the sides makes sense and
or could you think of it as a point of departure for one of them does not, one is based in fact and one of
conversations that happen outside of that big them is based in probable prediction. The debate format
‘pageant’? Do you see a role for news commentary allows me to kill one of the sides, the side that deserves
in provoking public discussion? to die and not come back. That’s useful and it gets
RM Sure, and you can actually change the politics. rid of the myth that there are always two reasonable
Especially when we’re talking about electoral politics. positions. I’m not sure that’s the way the producers
The way we talk about them can change what happens of those segments think about it, but that’s how I see
in the political world, in a big way. But I feel the most it as a participant.
important thing about the world of American politics JI Do you see potential advantages to introducing
is how little of it surfaces. To be a guest on somebody uncertainty? I think most Americans still want reso-
else’s show you don’t get to decide what you are asked lution to their news story, especially the generation
to talk about. When I am among the people on a panel weened on the 6 o’clock evening news in which
who is being tossed a topic, it’s an opportunity to nudge the story was and is still to a degree presented as
it in a way that is either closer to the truth or favorable objective and resolved – supported by facts that
towards my partisan intentions. Hosting my own show tell a consistent and relatively unconflictual picture
affords a totally different relationship. To decide what’s of the situation. Apart from the debate format, in
worthy of discussion and how it gets presented is a the context of broadcast media, are there ways to
much more serious job. In radio, I’m the producer of my cast uncertainty about the general way a story is
show. It’s a much less bureaucratic medium than TV and being told, and in particular, to describe its mani-
there’s a lot less money riding on it. I get to pick what- fold complexities which often times do not unfold
ever it is that I want to talk about from the universe of into a resolved picture of the events?
news: whether I’m taking it on, taking apart some critical RM I start each hour of my show with what I call ‘News
aspect, relaying the information, telling jokes about it, from Iraq and Life During Wartime’. Yesterday, my final
or just reading somebody else’s commentary and saying ‘News from Iraq’ story was about the 18-year-old-son
‘Hey, listen to this neat thing that I found’. I have 99% of an editor of a paper in Kirkuk, who was shot dead
control over what it is that I talk about, within reason. while passing an American patrol. There were conflicting
JI Can you discuss formats of broadcasting and reports as to whether or not it was an American member
their effects on the news being told? For example, of that patrol, or whether it was a sniper shooting at
there is the point-counterpoint format, which the patrol, who shot the kid. Big difference in terms of
assumes that the story can be illuminated through the impact of the story for listeners. But I’m reading
two predictably polarized opinions. How do you conflicting reports, and that’s all I can tell you. So I
think that shapes the information that’s presented? report that there are conflicting reports and these are
RM There was this great moment of reckoning when the two ways to see it. Then I report the fact that the
Jon Stewart told off the hosts of Crossfire, Tucker father – the editor of this very popular newspaper in
Carlson and Paul Begala. As far as I understand it, in an Kirkuk – made a public statement where he said explicitly,
interview Stewart told them that they needed to ‘stop ‘I blame the Americans for having killed my son’, which
hurting America’. Jon Klein, the president of CNN, is just a fact, though it doesn’t mean that he’s right. Then
was like, ‘actually, I agree with the commentator’, and there’s the additional detail that the paper of which the
Volume 17

canceled Crossfire. But its format has never really gone father is the editor is funded by the American military.
away, and is now resurgent. I participate in this show There are these complicating details that don’t actually
called ‘Race for the White House’ on MSNBC every day speak to the veracity of any of the explanations, they
which never has news-maker guests, just a host with just tell you how complicated it is. And, by the way,
37 four pundits. On it they started something called ‘The maybe the scandal here is that the American military
funds newspapers in Kirkuk? I’m comfortable giving MSNBC has hired Maddow to host her own
you all those facts and then moving on. I’m willing to show.]
leave it to be unresolved. RM I think you have to meet people where they are, and
JI Not being a journalist, you rely on other sources you have to recognize that if you’re saying something
for the information that you present. How do you that people aren’t generally hearing in other quarters,
process the news each day? How do you take it in? if it’s something that sounds out of the mainstream or
What are the sources and how does that inform sounds obscure, you have to do extra work to make
your process? people not only care about it, but understand it, and
RM I read for six hours a day. I only read, often from remember it, and pass it on to make it part of the discus-
online wire services and online editions of major papers. sion. I’ve always felt like the more obscure the subject
I print out what I use for my show, and mark up every- is, the funnier you have to be in telling it. One of the ways
thing and physically move things around. I call it ‘building that I cover far-flung, off-the-beaten-path international
the temple of paper’. I get down on the floor, and I make news stories on my radio show is that I call them ‘Weird
lots of piles, and I shift them around. This is the way my news from far-away’. Such as, ‘There’s not a monarchy
mind works. anymore in Bhutan, and now that there’s going to be a
I don’t read any magical sources – I read all the constitution in this country that you’ve never heard of
wire services and the major papers, and then there are before, I’ve gotta tell you, the guy who’s running the new
some issues that I feel are drastically under-reported government there: (A) he’s 27, (B) he’s really cute, and
or reported with a really soft edge in the American press (C) he’s signed the new constitution with golden ink!
because the American public-at-large doesn’t have It’s so cool!’
much of an appetite for those stories, particularly ones You can even tap into America-centered, patriotic,
related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So for those bombastic, national security reporting in talking about
stories, I’ll go to specialist sources, and read them the world. There’s a story this week about the Pentagon’s
everyday in addition to mainstream sources. plan to give two thirds of our massive post-September
JI There are very few liberal commentators in the 11th military aid to Pakistan, which is ostensibly helping
US, and even fewer that are knowledgeable of fight terrorists in the frontier regions, and divert it to
military issues, and who discuss how these issues fixing Pakistan’s F-16s. Of course, Pakistan doesn’t want
are being managed in the media. to use its F-16s against terrorists. It wants to use them
RM I believe we are becoming a militarist country. in its intimidation of India, and that’s our big counter-
Liberals like to talk about healthcare…and stuff, which terrorist money, hundreds of millions of dollars, being
is very important. But they’ve ceded territory in talking used for their arms race. That’s a story that you don’t
about national security and military affairs to people have to be a liberal, pacifist, or an internationalist to get
that aren’t critical about the fact that we’re becoming roused about. But I think it means you have to be very
militarist. There needs to be some political opposition creative about how you tell those stories and how you
to that fact. I think the American experiment is valuable, convince people to keep listening.
and I want this country to be a successful experiment in JI We frequently hear that the newspaper industry
democracy and rights. If we continue to see ourselves is suffering, and what is at risk is the demise of
as managing constant wars and in managing the earth substantive investigative reporting. As the online
through our military, this national experiment is not long world becomes better funded, there is more
for the world. I’m writing a book about this. The basic reporting, and not just commentary, moving it
idea is that we are drifting into militarism. The military closer to the traditional role of the print-based
has changed, our government has changed, and our news industry.
politics have changed. We use our military frequently, RM Obviously, reporters need both editors and a
and we use it for purposes that aren’t even military within publishing mechanism. But when I read the news, going
the traditional understanding of the military. In post- from source to source, the thing I consider – assuming
Katrina New Orleans, ultimately we sent the Army 82nd I trust the reporters – is not the masthead it’s under, but
Airborne Division. And they’ve just extended the National whether their online version has a good print-friendly
Guard further in New Orleans. That was in 2005, we’re feature. [laughter] I think somebody needs to figure
now in 2008. We’ve still got the military there. out the easiest, most streamlined path from reporter
I think there is a pacifist bias in the US Constitution. to editor to publisher to readers. That’s the ultimate
The separation of powers among the three branches continuum that needs to be maintained in order for
of government was established to prevent the Executive us to have a free press and to serve our national,
from going to war all the time for the reason that it is democratic needs.
so politically and personally rewarding for an executive BC What do you think is the relationship between
to do so. The recent increase in Executive power has internet media and the direction that television
made our government such that we are willing to use and radio are taking? There’s a lot of talk about
military force. That’s not controversial, and the lack of how blogs and other online media may be stealing
controversy is as big of a political story to report as market share from newspapers. Is the competition
military spending. with broadcast media less direct? Or do they share
JI The president of MSNBC has said that you’re in common an increase in the allotment of time and
top on the list to receive your own television show. space for commentary in proportion to reporting?
If you were to have your own MSNBC show, how RM I think there’s now this incredible premium on well-
Volume 17

would you frame foreign affairs issues? What are crafted arguments. If you’re good at crafting powerful,
stories that you would bring to the table? It’s clearly memorable arguments that are timely, well researched,
something you are interested in, but foreign and often brutal, you can go places. Keith Olbermann’s
affairs typically is not a subject that draws a large show Countdown is by far the most popular program on
audience. [Editor’s note: Since the interview, MSNBC. What’s different about his show is his ‘Special 38
Comments’, which are these editorials on things that
he’s mad about. They are absolutely vituperative, but
also incredibly well argued, and it doesn’t sound like tele-
vision at all. The channel has received a lot of attention,
and MSNBC has given him the room to make his whole
newscast based on arguments: ‘This is going on and
this is wrong. This is going on and this is fucked up. This
is going on and this is hilarious. This is going on and
this person is a joke’. It’s a very opinionated take on the
world, but it’s also the most informative newscast I’ve
seen. He covers issues that I’ve not seen covered else-
where, and the stories may get branded as opinion, but
they’re also information intensive. It’s a different way
of understanding the news, but one that is cogent and
JI Do you think the premium on argumentation is
related to how readily available undigested infor-
mation is today, that in an information-rich environ-
ment, the value of the argument that is made about
that information becomes more crucial?
RM Yes, because that’s the way we have made sense
of everything that is out there. That’s how we curate it.
And I don’t think that outcome was predictable. If you
could travel back in time to 1994 and say, ‘all right, this
machine that we’re all starting to use is going to make
all of this information available’, I don’t think we could
have foreseen at the time that the way people would
present that information would be in argument form,
but it is.
…Um, I have to go do my show now.
Volume 17

News Update

Image courtesy Ariana Huffington

Arianna Huffington interviewed by Jeffrey Inaba
As an author, political commentator and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post
Arianna Huffington not only provides insights on politics, but is instrumental
in changing the way it is covered in the media. Linking together contributions
from other sources, views of invited writers and investigative reporting by its
own journalists, her ‘internet newspaper’ ( is widely
recognized for the depth of its coverage and innovative format. The quality of the
Post’s news, combined with its criticism of the mainstream press, have forced
broadcast media outlets to portray current events in a more balanced manner.

Volume 17

Jeffrey Inaba In the news media there are content JI One criticism of the online news media is that the
producers: individuals who comment on the news standards of accuracy are not as high as in tradi-
and, as in your case, are respected for their inde- tional media. Traditional media follow a highly-
pendence from large media organizations. There professionalized process in which the accuracy
are also content providers: conglomerates that of the reporting is vetted and facts are verified.
publish the reporting and commentary. You do both: But the same thing is happening online at the Post.
you write books, you’re a commentator on National Another criticism of online media is that the user
Public Radio and political television shows, on one commentary often digresses and devolves into
hand, and you also operate The Huffington Post, random griping, whereas at the Post the blog is
on the other. What made you decide to start The a framework for an edited collective discussion.
Huffington Post and what opportunities did you see AH At the beginning we made a very deliberate decision
on the content provider-side in the political context to bring the best of the old with the best of the new. We
of the time when it was founded in 2005? wanted to promote a civil discussion which is why we
Arianna Huffington I saw firsthand the power of the chose an elegant design for the site, to elevate it and
medium when bloggers, like Josh Marshall, wrote about give it a sense of order. From day one, the comments
[Senator] Trent Lott’s racist remarks at a lunch celebra- on the blog were moderated, which meant that bloggers
ting [Senator] Strom Thurmond. Ultimately Lott resigned, on the Post could be assured of a civil environment.
although initially the mainstream media generally ignored You may be criticized, but you’re not going to be called
the event. I wrote about the phenomenon, that there names.
was a new power available to ordinary people to voice JI In discussing the Post in an article in the New
their views and have an impact on what was happening. Yorker, Eric Alterman refers to the ‘mullet strategy’:
That had always been of tremendous interest to me, all business up front and party in the back. That
the question of how people can impact the life of the seems like a simplification, because public partic-
country. At the same time, I noticed that many important ipation is critical for the Post’s success as a place
people were not part of the new and powerful con- of discussion – which takes place in what you
versations that were happening online – either because referred to earlier as the community. The news
they were older and had missed out on the technological platform has been transformed from a one-direc-
revolution, or because they were too busy to sustain tional transmission to an ongoing conversation.
a blog. So I wanted to create a platform for them and The comments shape how visitors interpret news
make it available so that whenever they had something events and their reporting. It seems that was a very
to say about current events, they could literally enter the important part of the The Huffington Post model.
stream, deposit their thoughts and get on with their lives. AH The model is based on the most important mission
The first person I invited to blog was Arthur of journalism, which is separating out the truth. Our goal
Schlesinger, the historian and social critic. When I ap- from the beginning was to do two things when pub-
proached him his first question was, ‘What is a blog’? lishing a story. One, to find the most important aspect
So I told him what it was and he said, ‘I don’t really use of the story, which is often not in the first paragraph, not
computers or e-mail. I’ll fax it to you’. He literally faxed in the headline, nor on the front page of The New York
me his blogs! Times, and give it maximum importance by splashing
JI Amazing. it on our home page and doing whatever we can to
AH In May 2005, President Bush called the Yalta Agree- emphasize it with typeface or placement on the page.
ment ‘one of the greatest wrongs of history’. Within ten And two, to attach importance to the story by staying
minutes I got a blog post from Schlesinger – who had on it. The New York Times may break a story, above the
been at the Yalta Conference – contesting the President. fold on the front page, but then it dies because there
That is what I’d hoped would happen: Schlesinger could is no follow-up. We, along with other blogs, stay on
have an impact on the national discussion in a way that a story until something happens, often leading major
was not burdensome or time-consuming. I’ve made newspapers in covering its developments. Josh Marshall,
it easy: if somebody is busy but wants to post, they’ll who writes the blog Talking Points Memo, was tenacious
send it to us. If somebody wants to call and dictate a in pursuing the story that brought down Attorney
post, we can take dictation. If you want your thoughts General Alberto Gonzales over the Bush administration’s
to be online, we will help you however you get it to us. politically-motivated firings of US District Attorneys.
You can send it by pigeon, I don’t care. A lot of bloggers stay on the story well after The New
JI The Post is unique in that it is a group blog. York Times moves on.
There are many people who write for it. JI Are there stories that you’re particularly proud
AH Over two thousand. that the Post pursued while others moved on?
JI Typically news websites either generate their own AH The first big piece like that was the Judith Miller story.
content or act as news aggregators, collecting and Judith Miller was one of the star reporters of The New
presenting news from elsewhere. The Huffington York Times whose coverage of the lead-up to the war
Post is made further unique because it does both: it in Iraq turned out to be completely distorted. She was
offers a selection of original reportage and presents basically used by administration sources to report un-
news from a wide range of sources. truths on the front page and it took The New York Times
AH The Huffington Post is really three things: news, a long time to issue their mea culpa. By the time we
primarily aggregation, but also a growing amount of were done with our reporting she had been completely
Volume 17

original reporting; expert opinion, from the collective discredited.

blog of two thousand bloggers; and open discussion, That story demonstrated that it wasn’t necessarily
from the community. Two and a half of those elements true that the mainstream media was accurate and blogs
were there from the beginning; the reporting was added were not. The level of accuracy depends on the prior-
41 as we grew and acquired more resources. ities of both the online operation and the mainstream
operation. At the Post, fact checking and accuracy are can do. With cuts in advertising you see dramatic cuts
big priorities. We have a ground rule that if any of our in major newspapers like The Los Angeles Times and
bloggers publish something that is proven inaccurate, The New York Times. And yet advertising is not moving
they have twenty-four hours in which to correct it or online as quickly as we had expected. Although adver-
their password is withdrawn. In addition to our stringent tising is doing well at The Huffington Post, we wish it
guidelines, there is also the wisdom of the crowd; it were doing better so that we could add more reporters.
barely takes minutes before a mistake is corrected by Investing in investigative journalism is incredibly impor-
a commenter. tant, and there has to be a model – which is currently
JI The mainstream media bases its integrity on the based on advertising – to sustain bureaus around the
perception that they present balanced stories that world. Otherwise we can expect to see more and more
are accurate and unbiased. On the other hand, in nonprofits underwriting investigative journalism.
the distributed journalism model, information can JI What do you see as the greatest weakness in
be generated from crowd sourcing as a way to journalism today?
cover the story allowing fuller, in-depth description AH There is a recent tendency in reporting that assumes
and unique points of view, an approach which that the job of the reporter is to present two sides to
may seem less objective, but has the advantage every story and then assume that the truth is found by
of telling a story from many perspectives. How has splitting the difference. We’ve debated global warming
that changed the landscape of news reporting in for years with Al Gore warning us about the dangers
the mainstream media? of climate change and Senator James Inhofe or Michael
AH It’s changed the news reporting landscape dramat- Crichton telling us why global warming is a fraud and
ically and we’ve been part of that transformation. all the while reporters saw their role as to simply present
The Huffington Post initiated ‘Off the Bus’, a citizen those points of view in the interest of what you might call
journalism project which now has over six thousand balance. But the job of the reporter is to ferret out the
contributors. We launched it together with Jay Rosen truth. Sometimes the truth is solidly on one side or the
of NYU, asking citizen journalists to report on different other and to continue to play Pontius Pilate, washing our
aspects of the [American presidential] campaign. There hands as we wait to make up our minds, is not journalism.
are many stories with hundreds of contributors. One JI It’s no longer the case today that everyone tunes
of them is Mayhill Fowler, who ended up writing two big into the evening news to learn what happened that
stories on the campaign: Barack Obama’s remarks about day. Many look at multiple sources so that they
small-town Americans clinging to guns and religion and themselves can weigh and process news informa-
Bill Clinton’s calling Vanity Fair editor Todd Purdum a tion. How do you see the economy of news reporting
‘scumbag’. It’s distributed journalism that’s breaking evolving as a result? Can and do independent
stories that dominate several mainstream news cycles. news sources benefit from this development? And
JI In the Alterman New Yorker article you’re quoted do you expect large media companies to adapt
as saying, ‘people love to talk about the death of and launch subsidiaries in order to report from more
newspapers, as if it’s a foregone conclusion. I think narrowly defined viewpoints?
that’s ridiculous…traditional media just need to AH Well, first of all, if we look at what’s been happening,
realize that the online world isn’t the enemy. In fact, the single narrative that’s been emerging has been
it’s the thing that will save them, if they fully embrace false. If you agree that the greatest tragedy in recent
it’. Can you talk about that? history has been America’s invasion of Iraq, it happened,
AH I certainly believe that there will be newspapers, in part, because of the single narrative that emerged:
at least as long as people of my generation are alive. that Iraq was a threat to American security and that we
There’s something in our DNA that likes reading print. had to invade. This was believed by the foreign policy
I read newspapers, I read magazines. It’s not either/or, establishment of this country, by many major news-
and I’ve been saying that from day one of The Huffington papers and by the public at large. There were exceptions;
Post. We’re not the enemy; I think there is a conver- in my book I have an honor roll of the journalists who
gence. I believe in a hybrid future. got it right. But the conventional wisdom was wrong.
A couple of months ago we actually changed our It’s not that we’re abandoning a great communal
tagline. We’re now calling ourselves an internet news- narrative. We’re often abandoning a discredited con-
paper because that’s how we see ourselves. We will be ventional wisdom. The idea that we’ll regret losing this
offering more and more of what the mainstream media unified narrative that kept us together as a nation ignores
offers, increasing our reporting and launching new the reason why new media are flourishing. It is not just
sections of The Huffington Post. A year ago we launched because of new technology, but because conventional
sections on Media, Business, Entertainment and Living. media have let us down and lost our trust. The increasing
Recently, since our homepage has become more like prominence of new sources in the media is a combi-
a newspaper, there’s now a dedicated Politics section. nation of trust and technology.
We launched a Green section last month and we’ll be JI How does that effect who America votes for?
launching Books, Sports, International and also Local, Yes, people feel that they’ve been let down, that
starting with Chicago. the popular narrative was a lie. At the same time,
JI While everybody talks about the newspaper a strange thing about Americans is that they want
crisis, it’s still a very large industry, larger than the to believe that their leader speaks truthfully. They
entertainment industry in the US. It may be in wish for a leader they can believe, perhaps knowing
Volume 17

decline, but it’s still a major part of the media eco- full well that a national leader can’t speak and act
nomy. How do you see newspapers changing, candidly on the world stage. The desire to trust a
in their format, content and organization? leader runs so deep, that once they believe in him
AH The crisis in the business model is certainly affecting or her, they’ll give the President wide berth to take
their organizations and the type of reporting that they whatever actions he or she sees as appropriate. 42
Image courtesy Arianna Huffington
How do you think this propensity is playing out
in this Presidential election?
AH It’s a very interesting moment. John McCain has
betrayed himself by abandoning some of his hard core
principles, by catering to the Religious Right, which he
previously called the agents of intolerance, by making
George Bush’s tax cuts permanent and by saying
he’d now vote against an immigration bill he’d earlier
proposed. He’s clearly just another politician willing to
do or say anything to get elected. Barack Obama has
branded himself as a different kind of politician, a leader
who can inspire and whom you can trust. It’s very
important to him that if he changes his mind – and
leaders have to change their minds or else they become
George Bush – it must be consistent with his core
beliefs, and that he changes his mind because new
evidence has emerged. But if he’s changing his mind
simply out of personal expedience, he will undermine
his brand as a different kind of leader.
JI You have written extensively about politics. In
your books you not only interpret the current polit-
ical situation, you also provide recommendations
to improve and advance it. For example, in Fanatics
and Fools you discuss the fanaticism of the early
Bush Administration and advocate a return to the
politics of ‘idealism, boldness, and generosity of
spirit’. Then, In Pigs at the Trough you wrote about
greed and corruption among CEOs and lawmakers
as well as the averted eyes of the media and Wall
Street, calling for responsible self-governance.
What will your next book be about?
AH My new book is called Right is Wrong. I write about
the media and what needs to change and all the ways
in which the Right has been at war with facts and truth,
with science and with reality, which is very different from
being at war with Democrats and progressives. It’s
fundamentally a betrayal of what leadership is, because
leadership must be based on indisputable facts. We are
all entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled
to our own facts.
Volume 17

World Heritage: Oryx or Goat?
By C-Lab
As a content management system for the world’s cultural and natural treasures,
the World Heritage program operates at the forefront of the scarcity economy –
protecting physical sites that are limited in number, geographically specific and
non-reproducible. Charged to safeguard the broadest range of places possible
through universal criteria and policy, the World Heritage List attempts to represent
an inclusive concept of heritage by recognizing sites, monuments and cultures
of all kinds. Established in 1972, the early dominance of European sites on the list
led UNESCO and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS)
to launch an initiative in 1994 to increase and diversify both the number of countries
and the types of sites involved, in effect, to expand the program’s geographic
reach and to recognize those sites susceptible to damage from economic crisis,
war and civil strife. Yet despite these reforms, financial and practical roadblocks
have arisen to fully realizing the organizations goals.
UNESCO relies upon the initiative of each country to propose sites for consider-
ation. Although World Heritage Centre employees are responsible for monitoring,
protecting, and renovating sites in coordination with state delegates, responsibility
for site management largely falls on the home country. In these and other respects,
the program offers lessons and pitfalls for exercising power under limited capital
to enact an agenda of inclusion.

Locations of World Heritage sites Distribution of World Heritage sites by continent



South America

North America

Volume 17

Volume 17

45 A World Heritage site: The Stone Circles of Senegambia in Gambia and Senegal.
World Heritage
UNESCO is an
United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization organization

First compared, then differentiated. comparable
When nominating a site, the nominating but
country must justify its inclusion on
the list through comparison to existing singular
World Heritage sites. Yet, uniqueness sites. Established
is also an important quality for inscription
on the list. globally
as a

Budget is limited to 4 million USD. philanthropy

-based body operating in the world of

it recognizes
World Heritage’s mission is to ‘better
reflect the full spectrum of our world’s extraordinary
cultural and natural treasures’. sites, mostly in

Almost 50% of World Heritage Europe.

sites are located in Europe. Its listings make up a

set that is

An average of 25 sites are added every year. updated yearly


ICOMOS and the IUCN (International Union expert evaluation

for Conservation of Nature) inspect sites and based on
prepare reports for the annual convention.
open-ended criteria.
It manages a

collection of
Sites are unique and managed isolated
sites that are

Sites are immovable, yet of global geographically specific.

significance. It is dedicated to the


Ultimately, it is only as good as its

Volume 17

The Amazon River Basin, a World Heritage site. 46

Photo Reuters/Kieran Doherty
is a



items. Established

as a

-based corporation operating in the world of

it sells

marketing mostly toward

Its stock of merchandise is virtually

and is

dynamically updated

popular opinion
based on

algorithmic logic.
It manages a

collection of

goods that are

geographically agnostic.
It is dedicated to the


Ultimately, it is only as good as its


An warehouse.
World Heritage
World Heritage sites are geographically specific, fixed
forms of cultural or natural heritage. Unlike artifacts
and artworks, World Heritage sites are bound to a
physical location. In contrast, is largely
indifferent to geography. Almost all materials can be
shipped to almost any place in the world. Increasingly,
many products are available for immediate download.
The limitations of the physical world affect the quantity
that World Heritage can manage: the list currently
includes only 878 sites around the world while has over 55 million available titles. 878 sites
55 million titles
Criteria for Inclusion The Genetic Code of World Heritage Sites
Sites selected for the World Heritage List have fulfilled World Heritage sites added from 1998 to 2007
at least one of ten abstract criteria. The criteria are The criteria fulfilled by each World Heritage site can
guidelines intended to be broadly interpretable in order be seen as its genetic makeup. The diagram shows the
to avoid biasing the list toward one particular form of DNA of sites added to the list in the past ten years
heritage or site. Capturing everything from cathedrals according to satisfied criteria. While some sites fulfill
to opera houses and deserts to rainforests, the list only one criterion, others represent the full spectrum
of criteria is often revised to reflect expanding ideas of World Heritage. (Image on page 51).
of heritage.

Criterion 1 Criterion 2 Criterion 3 Criterion 4 Criterion 5 Criterion 6 Criterion 7 Criterion 8 Criterion 9 Criterion 10

166 634 1245 1227 1207 34 1290 1267 1285 1213

Forts and
Castles, Volta,
Sichuan Giant
Aflaj Irrigation Greater Accra,
System of Oman Central and

Sydney Opera
Church of the
Kolomenskoye San Marino Bioshphere Surtsey
Historic Reserve
Centre and Aapravasi
The Joggins
Mount Titano Ghat
Fossil Cliffs

Sites should represent one or more of the following:

Criterion I: individual creativity

Criterion II: the history of ideas and technology

Criterion III: history of a civilization

Criterion IV: historical development

Criterion V: the integration of natural and

man-made environments

Criterion VI: beliefs and cultural traditions

Criterion VII: the natural sublime

Criterion VIII: geological history

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Criterion IX: biological and evolutionary history

Criterion X: the conservation of biodiversity 50

887 1102 1113 1115 1179 1220 1223 1224 1231 1239 1240 1245 1259 1262 1263 1267 1270 1273 1274 1276 1280 1283 1285 1287 1290 1292 1293 166 231 978 1076 1112

1133 1147 1221 1242 1243 1248 1250 1253 1255 1256 1257 1258 1260 1264 1265 1114 1155 1165 1183 1189 1207 1209 1211 1213 1214 1215 1216 1217 1222 1226 1227 1229


946 1107 1108 1110 1118 1138 1162 1170 1178 1181 1182 1185 1186 1187 1188 1192 1193 1195 1196 1199 1200 1202 724 945 1007 1023 1026 1058 1081 1091 1093

1097 1101 1106 1117 1127 1131 1134 1135 1136 1137 1139 1140 1142 1143 1145 1149 1150 1152 1156 1158 1160 1161 1167 1208 208 522 761 769 925 951 959 1053

1068 1070 1073 1077 1078 1079 1083 1084 1090 1094 1096 1099 1103 1116 1130 211 940 954 1024 1056 1061 1063 1066 1067 429 481 603 753 766 772 839 873

950 975 993 1000 1021 1022 1025 1027 1028 1029 1030 1031 1033 1035 1037 1039 1040 1042 1044 1046 1052 1054 1055 173 534 567 613 625 696 797 853 859

875 884 885 898 908 917 930 933 956 958 960 963 965 966 967 968 970 971 972 973 974 976 977 980 982 983 984 985 986 987 988 989

990 994 995 996 998 999 1001 1002 1003 1004 1005 1006 1008 1009 1010 1011 1012 1013 1016 1017 417 474 502 514 579 652 686 840 863 886 889 890

892 893 895 896 897 899 900 901 902 904 905 906 907 910 911 912 913
914 915 916 928 929 931 932 934 936 937 938 939 941 942 943

944 948 949 955 825 828 842 846 848 849 850 854 855 856 857 860 861 862 865 866 867 868 870 871 872 874 876 877 880 881 883

Symbols specify Unique criteria combination Two-four combination All criteria combination
interesting In the last ten years, three new Some combinations of criteria Until 2005, six criteria were
combinations. sites fulfilled unique combina- tend to occur together, for used for evaluating cultural
Identification tions of criteria. Criteria are example, Criteria II and IV. sites, and four were used for
number given by independent from each other, Because criteria are meant natural sites. In 2005, these
UNESCO (subject allowing unique combinations to be interpreted in a myriad were combined into a single
to change if the to occur. of ways, sites with the same list. Today there are no listings
site’s inscription criteria combination can be that satisfy all ten criteria, but
is modified)
Example: Ecosystem and significantly different. A his- the following exceptional sites
Relict Cultural Landscape of torical town center, a modernist manage to meet all criteria
0000 Lope-Okanda (Gabon) city and a rock art site are under the pre-2005 division
listed under the same set of between natural and cultural
criteria: sites:
Cultural Historical Center of the City of Gebel Barkal and the Sites of
Volume 17

Yaroslavl (Russian Federation), the Napatan Region (Sudan),

Le Havre as rebuilt by Auguste Cultural Landscapes and
Outlined sites Perret (France), Kondoa Rock-Art Archeological Remains of the
fulfill only one Sites (United Republic of Bamiyan Valley (Afghanistan),
criterion Tanzania) Takht-E Soleyman (Islamic
51 Republic of Iran)
Yes and No
World Heritage F.A.Q.

Is there a limit to the number of sites that can

be inscribed on the list?
Not really. The International Council on Monuments
and Sites has said that there should be ‘no limit on the
number of properties inscribed on the World Heritage
List’ because ‘the definition of potential properties to
be nominated will necessarily remain an open question,
subject to evolving concepts, policies, strategies and
available resources.’

But is the World Heritage Committee highly

selective in approving nominated sites?
Not terribly. 82% of cultural site nominations and 63%
of natural site nominations are ultimately given status.

Do World Heritage sites have to be old?

Not very. Age is not a criterion for nomination. The
Sydney Opera House was only 34 years old when it
was inscribed in 2007. Other examples of 20th century
monuments include Brasilia, the Bauhaus, Rietveld’s
Schröder House, Mies van der Rohe’s Tugendhat Villa
and the White City of Tel Aviv.

Must sites be in good condition to be nominated?

Not particularly. The Buddhist sculptures in the Bamiyan
Valley in Afghanistan were inscribed in 2003 after being
destroyed by dynamite by the Taliban in 2001.

Do World Heritage sites necessarily mark

tangible artifacts?
Not always. The rocky outcrops of Tsodilo in Botswana
contain examples of ‘outstanding rock art’, but their
inscription on the list was justified on the grounds that
Kalahari tribes consider them the homeland of their
ancestral spirits.

Volume 17

Are the cultural values that a site commemorates
always celebrated?
No. Some World Heritage Sites mark infamous moments
in world history, such as Robben Island in South Africa,
the prison where Nelson Mandela and other anti-
apartheid activists were held, and Auschwitz-Birkenau,
the largest Nazi extermination camp.

Is tourism a desirable outcome of World Heritage

site designation?
Yes and no. Some sites benefit by supporting their
maintenance through tourist revenue. Others, like
the Galápagos Islands, are threatened by a dramatic
growth in tourism. Commercial flights to the Galápagos
area increased almost 200% from 2001 to 2006,
fueled by ecotourists and service industry workers who
accidentally introduced 748 new species to the once-
isolated islands.

Does war endanger World Heritage sites?

Yes and no. The Abassid monuments in Samarra, Iraq
have been used as a theater for military operations
since the invasion of 2003—increasing the likelihood of
attacks that could potentially damage the site. On the
other hand, the old town of Luang Prabang in Laos was
preserved for many years against the incursions of
tourism and commercial developments by the isolating
effects of civil war and political repression. With an
increasing number of tourists in recent years, UNESCO
has warned that Luang Prabang may become a town
‘where the sound of tour buses drowns out the soft
temple prayers, and where the town’s residents are
Photo Reporters/AP/ David Longstreath

reduced to the roles of bit-players in a cultural theme


Does a lack of economic development hurt

World Heritage sites?
Yes and no. Poverty can limit a site’s ability to provide
for its maintenance and market itself as a destination.
But commercial development can be seen as com-
promising the authenticity of a site, as when Starbucks
was recently compelled to close its store in Beijing’s
Forbidden City following public outcry over the
supposed defilement of the site.
Volume 17

Site Morphology Danube Delta
The World Heritage List is a broad framework that
attempts to include the best the world has to offer.
The demand for a comprehensive and representative
selection results in a wide variety of physical shapes.
Although sites may share common qualities, they
are not easily categorized by morphology – especially
since the uniqueness of each site is the crux of
its inclusion.

Pre-hispanic City of Teotihuacan Le Havre

Vrederfort Dome Los Glaciares

Volume 17

Bamiyan Valley City of Brasilia

Mountain Railways of India Neolithic Flint Mines at Spiennes

Walled City of Baku The Great Barrier Reef

Volume 17

Defining a Site
Analysis of the Core and Buffer Zones
The core of a World Heritage site is the area designated
as having the greatest significance and value and is
given the highest priority in conservation and monitoring.
The buffer zone outlines elements outside the core that
supplement the nominated site and receive a lesser
degree of protection. An analysis of the core and buffer
zones of World Heritage sites suggests a different
concept of site than the traditional architectural one.
Often a site is determined by thematic similarities, view
lines and historical or cultural connections.

View lines determine what is

included in the buffer zone. Coastline
Sydney Opera House Blind Spot


Date of Inscription 2007

Criteria I
Core zone 5.8 ha
Buffer zone 438.1 ha

The Sydney Opera House was added to the

World Heritage list as a masterpiece of con-
temporary architecture. Sited dramatically in
the midst of Sydney Harbor, its context is as The harbor continues,
important as its innovation in construction and but is excluded from
design. The buffer zone is determined by view the buffer zone.

lines to and from the Sydney Opera House,

excluding parts of the harbor that are located
in blind spots.

Core zone

Buffer zone

Stone Circles of Senegambia

Gambia, Senegal Stone circles not included in the
World Heritage nomination
Date of Inscription 2006
Criteria I, III
Core zone 9.85 ha
Buffer zone 110.05 ha

Four stone circle burial monuments were

selected from over one thousand sited along
Political boundary
350 kilometers of the Gambia River. Physically divides the site
separate, the Stone Circles are connected
conceptually. The buffer zones are limited to Gambia
a 200 meter radius around the core sites. The
Stone Circles are also unusual for being jointly Senegal
nominated and administered by two countries.

Core and buffer zones for the

selected stone circles
Volume 17


Kerbatch Wassu Sine Ngayène Wanar 56

Mont-Saint-Michel and its Bay

Date of Inscription 1979

Extension 2007
Criteria I, III, VI
Core zone 6558 ha
Buffer zone 57589 ha

This Benedictine abbey, built between the

11th and 16th centuries, occupies a unique and
challenging site on an island in a tidal bay.
The bay is volatile: constantly changing due to
shifting tides, sometimes emptying completely Water
but flooding at others. The core zone includes
the abbey, its island and the coast of the bay.
In 2007, the buffer zone was expanded from a Land
thin line around the core zone to include the bay,
Core Zone
neighboring settlements and wetlands.

Buffer Zone

Cities Markers
Struve Geodetic Arc
Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania,
Moldova, Republic of Norway, Russian Federation,
Sweden and Ukraine
Station points selected
Date of Inscription 2005 for World Heritage
Criteria II, III, VI Fuglenaes Obelisk

Chain of triangulations
A chain of triangulations stretching 2,820 kilo- outlined by Struve,
spanning 10 countries
meters over ten countries, the Struve Geodetic
Arc designates the survey points of Friedrich
Georg Wilhelm Struve, an astronomer who was
the first to accurately measure a long segment Pullinki Tower
of a meridian, thereby advancing cartography
and geology. Out of 256 station points – marked
variously by metal crosses, built obelisks, and
drilled-through rocks – 34 are World Heritage
sites. The buffer-core relationships are specific
to each site and the context in which they are Jacobstadt Rock
situated. The Arc is significant for being mor-
phologically diverse, geographically disparate
and yet conceptually and historically coherent
as a site.

Torneo Church

Semmering Railway

Date of Inscription 1998

Criteria II, IV

The Semmering Railway is designated as a

cultural landscape. It is not only the first notable
mountain railway to have been built, but is
today considered an outstanding historical work
of civil engineering. The railway also made the
surrounding natural beauty of the area acces-
sible, promoting tourism and the development
of resorts. The 41 kilometer railway is the core
zone, while its buffer encompasses the adjacent
areas affected by construction of the railway.
It is notable that the buffer zone fluctuates
throughout the railway, and is particularly
enlarged in areas where the track doubles
back upon itself.
Volume 17

Buffer zone

Core Zone (41 km railway)

Despite ongoing attempts to defocus selection criteria Distribution of World Heritage sites by continent
in the pursuit of a balanced representation of world
cultures, World Heritage has failed to shift its emphasis
away from Europe, resulting in a list of sites that is even
more Eurocentric than when it began in 1972. The reason
is largely economic. Inclusiveness has a price tag: poorer
countries have fewer resources to participate in the
nomination process and the subsequent maintenance Europe
of sites. While World Heritage’s funding assistance for
site management is overwhelmingly directed toward
developing countries, its budget is only 4 million USD
for the entire world. Given the lack of money and the South America
demand for comprehensiveness, World Heritage
can neither be more selective in its nominations nor Asia
more rigorous in its protection of sites. This threatens
the credibility of the list and the integrity of the
program’s mission.
North America
To date, the World Heritage Committee has
delisted only one site for violating the terms of its
inscription: a natural sanctuary opened to oil explo-
ration by Oman. The sanctuary was originally inscribed
for its value as a habitat of the Arabian Oryx, a once-
nearly extinct antelope that historically symbolized 1978
beauty and grace in Arab culture. Like the oryx, World
Heritage sites are symbols of beauty, but in its low
degree of selectivity and broadly defined mission,
the organization may be more like a goat: a stubborn
creature of indiscriminate taste. Lack of focus limits
World Heritage’s effectiveness as a program, which Africa
in turn thwarts its attempts to achieve their ideal
of universality.


South America

North America




South America

North America

Volume 17


2007 58
Volume 17

Will World Heritage find a way to apply its political capital toward
59 a credible mission and protection policy with its current resources?
The Big Dig
Nadia Abu El-Haj interviewed by Jeffrey Inaba
Able to link land, populations and power through the recovery of an artifact, it’s
no wonder that archeology is a loaded arena. And yet, it is often overshadowed
by more obvious political processes and motives. Excavating the discipline itself,
acclaimed anthropologist and author of Facts on the Ground: Archaeological
Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society Nadia Abu El-Haj examines
the role archeology played within the Zionist project: a role that originated long
before 1948 in order to map geographic space to Old Testament claims of Jewish
ownership. In this fascinating interview, Abu El-Haj reveals the ways in which
relics and their study have been deployed to alternately exclude, divide and
welcome those staking claim on the Holy Land – and to familiarize new Israelis
with a set of ready-made historical associations to be embraced as their own.
Abu El-Haj is an associate professor of anthropology at Barnard College in
New York City.

Volume 17

Jeffrey Inaba Can you describe your study of Israeli actually creates political beliefs and forms con-
archaeology? How did the discipline evolve over stituencies of people.
time, and what is its relationship to nation-building? NA There are two sides: one, how does one think about
Nadia Abu El Haj I tried to think about archaeology as a archaeology as a science, and two, how does the
discipline in its own right and then analyze how it inter- specific history of archaeology relate to politics? When
sected the project of settler-nation-building and territorial I began this research it was acknowledged among major
appropriation. I take the history of the discipline very Israeli historians and social scientists that archaeology
seriously. In the book I’m very insistent that its work is in Israel had been a fundamentally nationalist practice,
not merely derivative of the politics of nation-building. but it became evident through my work that archae-
I analyzed archaeology in terms of its disciplinary ological methods, arguments and epistemological
specificity: what are the forms of evidence? What are assumptions were not simply reducible to a desire to find
archaeology’s ‘objects’? Most critical engagements evidence to substantiate a political ideology. Of course
with the discipline focus on the historical narratives in a broad sense these archaeologists were digging
developed by archaeologists. Yet while archaeologists for the land of Israel within a tradition of biblical archae-
produce historical narratives they do so differently than ology, with even the Protestants focusing heavily on
other kinds of historians in that they focus on material the Old Testament as the foundation. Yet the dynamics
culture. So I ask, what are the practices of archaeology? of everyday work could never be fully explained by
What is specific to the historical methods used by political or religious ideologies.
archaeologists? I think about those questions genea- That led me to focus on method: what methods
logically, beginning with the work of creating maps and did archaeologists use, what were their actual practices
developing into the more specific work of excavating and what were their epistemological assumptions?
historical sites and producing artifacts. I argue that when Palestine was mapped back into
Archaeology in Palestine began in the late 19th biblical geography, first by the British, and later by the
century with the project of mapping the land carried Jewish Palestine Exploration Society and the Israel
out by members of the Palestine Exploration Society, Exploration Society, specific sites were identified and
a group of British biblical scholars and colonial officials excavated and those practices produced a particular
interested in giving empirical and geographic form to material culture that is embedded in the landscape.
biblical stories. Today one doesn’t think of mapping as Historical narratives were given geographical shape
an activity specific to archeology, but that’s where the through these practices, structuring what we now take
archaeological project in Palestine began. The Palestine for granted, the existence of Israel as the Jewish home-
Exploration Society – and the Jewish Palestine Explo- land. Today, although we can argue about what might
ration Society which was founded in the 20th century – be an appropriate political solution to the conflict over
became the central institutional organs of archaeology land, it is no longer possible to raise the question of
per se (what we think of as archaeology from today’s whether this really is the Jewish homeland or whether
perspective) by about the 1940s. They began with these Zionism really was just a project of the Jewish people
mapping and historical geographic projects that pre- returning to an existing homeland.
figured possible excavation sites. It is only in the 1940s The Zionist project is more complicated than that.
and 50s that the discipline became organized around It’s a nationalist project, like any other, that constructed
the practice of excavating. So part of the question is, its own homeland. And at the same time it’s a colonial
‘where does one locate a discipline that isn’t quite itself project of settling a land, displacing its indigenous
yet’? without being ahistorical and claiming that these inhabitants in the process of state-building. Archaeology
earlier forms weren’t archaeology. was not the sole force in that process, but it was an
JI So the mapping or documenting of geographical important constitutive element because it rendered
territory is an early practice in archeology, one biblical history – the fact of ancient Israelites and the
which has direct political implications. origins of the Jewish homeland – empirical, factual and
NA Many academic disciplines were professionalized most importantly, visible. It extended and enriched the
during the course of the 19th century. The historical and geographical expanse of a general Zionist commitment,
social sciences developed methodologies and areas of a belief that this was the homeland, and gave it form.
focus; they developed their own domains of authority One sees that process very strongly with maps. Maps
by defining or producing the ‘objects’ over which they drawn by the Palestine Exploration Fund in the late 19th
exercised expertise. century were actually used by the European mandate
Archaeology was clearly tied to a political project. powers to negotiate the borders of Palestine, Jordan
The Palestine Exploration Society was founded by and Lebanon. Archived maps were marked-up with
devout British Protestants who not only tried to ground prospective borders, producing direct political trans-
faith in empirical truth, but saw their scientific work as formations based on these maps of biblical geography.
relevant to the ambitions of the British Empire. For JI What role does archeology play in the creation
example, there are explicit arguments for the importance of the border and the conception of the territory
of Britain taking control over Palestine to protect the of Israel?
Holy Land, and the people who actually carried out the NA The land of Israel as a Jewish space was not always
initial surveys were officers in the British Colonial Army so simple, because in reality the land had never been
many of whom were engaged in the survey of India and uniform. Jewish spaces existed among vast Arab spaces,
then moved to Palestine. It was never a purely scholarly both pre-1948 and immediately post-1948. Extending
Volume 17

project. In the colonial era science, politics and empire the limits of the territorial conception further and further
were totally entangled. outward became imperative in the early State period.
JI In the case of Israel, you say that archaeology Moreover, while Zionist ideology presupposed that this
doesn’t reflect prevailing political beliefs and was the land of Israel and that the Jews were returning
61 narratives about the people and land, but that it home, when the European immigrants arrived – particularly
prior to the State – it was a deeply foreign, alien and in building the Old City (the new Jewish Quarter) they
alienating landscape. Archaeology substantiated the produced a site that signals its relationship to the ancient
belief that Israel was not an alien land, despite the fact past, specifically the moment of the First and Second
that the phenomenological experience was not one Temple, in reference to which the Israeli state was often
of coming home, but of going to an alien territory that called the ‘Third Jewish Commonwealth’. One of the
was often experienced as hostile. most straightforward arguments is that Israeli archae-
JI How exactly did archaeology become what you ology is a nationalist project in that it seeks the remains
call a national hobby? of Jewish history. I argue that it’s not that straightforward
NA Archaeology converged with the practices of in that it specifically seeks the material remainders of
yedi’at ha-Aretz, which meant ‘The Knowledge of the state-level events. Until relatively recently Israeli archae-
(Home)Land’. This convergence was only possible ology was never really a project of everyday life, but of
because of a strong and already existing Labor Zionist finding remainders of the kingdom, of the city-state, of
commitment to traveling the land and working the land Second Temple life in Jerusalem, the wealthy, Herodian
as a way of becoming acquainted with it which was Upper City. Ruins signal not just connections between
embedded in and engendered by the ethos of the New the present and the past, but signify what are considered
Hebrew. Unlike the Jews of the Diaspora, who were historically significant events.
urban and detached from the land, the New Hebrew JI What is the relationship between archaeology
was imagined as someone who would have contact and urban design? The archaeological project is not
with the land, walk the land, work the land and know just an affirmation of particular pasts, but extends
it in order to engender a sense of ownership and famil- and becomes integral to the urban design of the
iarity. The question again was how to become unalien- Old City. Helping to define new configurations for
ated as an immigrant ‘returning’ to what is in fact a a city around a present imperative.
foreign, unknown place. How can one develop an NA Archaeology becomes specifically integral to urban
intimate relationship – to know and connect with the design projects in the Jewish Quarter which now com-
space – or a sense of belonging with the Land of Israel prises approximately one-fourth of the Old City and
in its entirety from the Upper Galilee down to the Negev? which is much larger than it ever was historically. In the
There was a very phenomenological commitment to period when it was built there was a kind of mantra in
seeing, traveling and experiencing the Land of Israel Israeli architecture and urban design that one can’t just
in its entirety, as both a historical and contemporary design something that is new. One must design the
concept. It’s about producing a kind of citizen-subject new to signal an appropriate historical reality. The new
tied to the land by walking across the expanse of space Jewish Quarter was never intended to be just new, but
and working in direct contact with it. simultaneously a living and an historic space. The Jewish
There is a complex history of how and why archae- Quarter had to be a place of contemporary Israeli
ology was integrated into that larger yedi’at ha-Aretz Jewish life and a place that constantly reminded one of
project (composed partly of nationalist and partly of the prior histories and prior destructions out of which
disciplinary interests) but in effect, it was through that the present was built. It is in that sense that Theodor
integration that archaeology emerged as a so-called Herzl referred to Palestine as an ‘old new’ homeland.
national hobby. The Jewish Quarter had to embody within it the memory
JI You discuss urbanism and archaeology in of that past and resurrect the key elements of that past
studying Jerusalem’s Jewish quarter. Can you in the present.
explain how ruins are not found, but made? JI It is intended to be a place that is very much
NA There are different ways to think about ruins lived in and actively occupied, not a museum of
being made. The techniques of excavating create sterilized objects.
different kinds of archaeological artifacts on sites NA Absolutely. The design of the new Old Jewish
and there is also the question of how you preserve Quarter attempted to make artifacts part of the living
them and what they come to signify in the larger urban fabric. There are museums that are literally the base-
architectural landscape. ment levels of contemporary Yeshivas and homes.
Ruins aren’t simply found. You can create very The present is built stratographically on preserved
different material histories depending on the historical archaeological remains that form the lower level
questions posed and the techniques used for exca- of the landscape. There was a conscious decision
vating. I don’t argue that ruins are made out of nothing, to directly integrate these remains into a lived space.
or that archaeologists are making things up, but rather One sees this lower level of history and it embodies
that the different ways in which archaeologists cut this idea of resurrection or renewal.
through the landscape can produce different historical There were very explicit debates about how to
remainders. It’s a generative project and not merely answer those two imperatives in the design: to preserve
a practice of discovery. this past and to live in the present. What should con-
My research expands on science studies literature temporary buildings look like, and how should they
that thinks of experimentation as an intervention, that integrate earlier histories? Sometimes a single contem-
in an experiment we’re not just representing nature, but porary building incorporates older architecture that
intervening in it. The argument does not suggest that was destroyed in 1948 within the lower level with newer
there’s no materiality, but that the material itself is far stones placed on top of it after 1967.
more complex than the object produced by scientific JI What are you working on now?
Volume 17

techniques and instruments. NA I’m looking at a subset of genetic anthropology

In that same sense ruins are not simply material projects that try to reconstruct the origins of groups of
objects, but material objects that are rendered histor- people on the basis of genetic and genomic evidence.
ically significant for the present through particular tech- I’m focusing – though not exclusively – on projects that
niques. For example, in rebuilding or, more accurately, have tried to recreate the history of the Jewish Diaspora: 62
whether the Jewish population originated in Palestine
and whether contemporary Jewish communities around
the world are related more closely to each other than
to their ‘host’ populations.
The project thinks about contemporary Jewish
identity politics in relation to the histories of different
biological sciences: I look at Zionism and its relation-
ship to race science in the 19th and early 20th centuries
alongside Israeli population genetics in the 1950s and
60s. In part I’m revisiting the articulations of Modern
Jewish politics, nationalism and identity in different eras
from the perspective of the practices and projects of
different biological sciences.
I’m also using specific genetic anthropology
studies to think about the politics of genetic anthro-
pology more broadly, approaching it as a natural
science that is making historical claims. These projects
attempting to reconstruct the origins of a population
are made possible by an intersection with specific devel-
opments in the larger discipline of genomics because
they piggyback on mainstream genomics and post-
genomic research and they intersect with a set of
political and cultural configurations. If archaeology
had a particular affinity with nation-state nationalism,
genetic anthropology has a particular affinity with
the politics of identity and more specifically with
a diasporic politics of identity.
There’s a line of social theorizing that turns
to various diasporas to think out an alternative to all
the problems produced by nationalism: the demand for
homogeneity, the politics of exclusion and inclusion,
discrimination against minorities, all the problems that
have emerged from nationalism. These theorists see
diasporas as a more playful, creative, hybridized, alter-
native political space. Genetic anthropology has an
affinity with the politics of diaspora, but it’s a politics of
diaspora that, contrary to that line of social theorizing,
is not an alternative to nationalism. Instead it is a politics
of diaspora configured through the grammar of a
nation-state. In other words, this isn’t an anti-nationalist
diasporic politics but one forged within the terms of
nationalism. While it may not want to return to or ground
itself in the land, it is nonetheless a view of peoplehood
that is refracted through nationalist ideology.
Volume 17

Content-Managing the
Urban Landscape
Joseph Grima
‘There is no noun that can’t be verbed’. So goes an adage of the pre-internet era
widely attributed to IBM’s marketing department, the people who gave us such
malformed taglines as ‘A New Way to Office’. It might come as a surprise to the
average member of the profession that the noun ‘architect’ is no exception to
this rule; The New Oxford American Dictionary sanctions its transitive use in the
passive voice, citing the phrase, ‘few software packages were architected with
Ethernet access in mind’ as an acceptable example of its usage, particularly within
the realm of computer science. What exactly makes ‘architected’ preferable to
‘designed’ remains unclear. As with the word ‘architecture’, the term’s fast-paced
semantic evolution is underway. Tempting as it may be to borrow back the IT
industry’s understanding of the word, it would be relatively fruitless: buildings would
be ‘regulators of flows’ and cities would become ‘physical content management
systems’, definitions too reductive and banal to be of much interest.

That is not to say that architects, urbanists, designers home in Britain – had been classified; a purpose that
and spatial practitioners in general have not been could capitalize on the system and deliver the content
impacted (another questionable verbed noun) by the to a market remained to be invented.
information revolution. Over the past five years, the It didn’t take long to appear. In 1979, California
internet’s evolution has redefined our relationship with Analysis Center, Inc. (CACI), a data-analysis company
space to an extent that was unimaginable only a few that had recently set up shop in the UK, realized the
decades ago. Mapquest, Google Earth, Google Street- potential of the postcode, as an invaluable tool for
View and the mashups thereof have brought GIS to mapping and understanding the relationship between
the YouTube generation, empowering those with even space and consumption in the UK. They embarked on
minimal computer literacy to embark on godlike, data- an ante litteram mashup of the 2.4 million postcodes
rich surveys of the landscape. The question is not and the data derived from the most recent census. From
whether this abundance of information will influence a marketing perspective, the stakes were enormous:
the physical and social conformations of cities and land- anyone capable of mapping and predicting, in detail
scapes, but how. That having been said, has content and with certainty, the nuanced purchasing preferences
management – in the true, data-driven sense of the of consumers in any given neighborhood was sitting
term – ever been attempted on an urban scale? on a goldmine.
The answer is yes. While the postal engineers who CACI soon realized that raw statistical data, how-
devised it in the late 1950s could not have foreseen all ever accurate, was unsalable to the average marketing
its implications, the UK’s postcode system constitutes department. Richard Webber, a professor of geodemo-
an almost flawless framework for content management graphics at University College London, was brought in
on a national scale. Between 1959 and 1974, the Royal to create another level of classification, using the data
Mail carved the country into a patchwork of 2,412,885 to describe British household types. The purpose of
alphanumerical ‘postcodes’ explicitly conceived as a the system was to describe in accessible and intuitive
kind of spatial tagging system intended to facilitate the language the values, social traits and – most importantly
mechanical sorting of mail. As geographical reference – the purchasing preferences of the population. It had
systems go, the resolution of this map is staggering: to be detailed enough to be useful, but not so detailed
the average postcode contains just 12 addresses and as to be useless, as turned out to be the case with GIS
Volume 17

15 families. By contrast, the typical five-digit American systems which were incomprehensible to most marketing
zip code is home to 3,400 people. The system was operatives. Webber opted for 57 categories divided
so detailed that the full address became redundant into five groups and named the system ‘A Classification
information: write a postcode and street number on of Residential Neighborhoods’, ACORN. Cross-refer-
a letter and it will be delivered. The content – i.e., every enced with the 2.4 million postcodes in the Royal Mail’s 64
All images courtesy Joseph Grima
database, ACORN was the first geodemographic ‘prod- the ‘Low Income Singles in Small Rented Flats’, the
uct’ to go on sale in Britain. Its success was immediate. ‘Affluent Greys; or the ‘Well-Off Working Families with
CACI spent the following three decades enriching Mortgages’ that inhabit the neighborhood.
its understanding of British consumption patterns. In Today, the British landscape is a truly algorithmic
1985, credit card activity and county court judgments entity: miniscule variations in the demographic and
were included as sources. Over time, income levels, socio-economic composition of a neighborhood trigger
house prices, shareholdings, lifestyle data, insurance gold rushes or profit warnings, with the consequent
information, electoral records, neighborhood statistics appearance or disappearance of retail outposts.
on crime, population, health and housing were all added Urbanism is of the fly-by-wire variety: entire districts are
to the mix. The algorithms that allocated categories to carved up and allotted from an upper floor in a Canary
postcodes became more nuanced and adapted to the Wharf office block. The result? Walking down the high
emergence of new merchandise such as computers street of a British city conjures up reminiscences of the
and internet-based products. quintessential experience. ‘People who
Current datasets on the geography of British bought the Grande Mochaccino you are sipping also
consumption patterns sell for tens or even hundreds bought denim in this Gap store…’, whispers a soft voice.
of thousands of pounds, but abbreviated ACORN The message is unambiguous: this is a city that has
information can be accessed simply by typing any UK been architected, not designed.
postcode into

MK4 2DP, a central location in the new town of

Milton Keynes, near London
Type 5: Older Affluent Professionals
These people are financially astute and have the highest
uptake of ISAs [of all ACORN categories]. They also

England, Scotland and Wales

Postcode district boundaries
invest in stocks and shares, high interest accounts and
guaranteed income bonds. Their monthly credit card
spend is relatively high. In their leisure time they enjoy
golf, hill walking and gardening. Their social life tends
to be home based, where they enjoy having a glass
of wine rather than going out to restaurants. They like
to spend their money on holidays. They travel abroad
regularly, either to the Mediterranean or long haul for
their main holiday. They also take winter sun and week-
end breaks. Many are happy to research and book
their holidays online.

SR8 5DY, a post-industrial suburb of Sunderland,

in the northeast
Type 45: Low-Income Older People in Smaller Semis
In these areas the retired are unlikely to have any
Individual postcode boundaries

pension provision beyond that provided by the state.

Working people will be in routine jobs in shops, on the
in central Sunderland (UK)

factory floor or in other manual occupations. This results

in low incomes. Whether due to their age or previous
work, a number of people suffer from long-term illness.
The housing is small, usually one or two bedrooms. It is
generally rented from the council or housing association.
Fewer than half of these households have a car of any
sort. With so little spare money, spending is limited
to a funeral plan, playing bingo and the lottery, betting
and going to the pub. These people are unlikely to be
frequent high street shoppers, preferring to buy from
West Street, and South Street in Sunderland (UK)
Center Square, Market Square, Walworth Way,

catalogues by mail order.


DS & R
83 82

4 - 4A

The executives of CACI were swift to realize a counter-





intuitive fact: that the exhaustiveness of the descriptions



Plan of retail premises by occupant






was less important to their customers than the ability









to conjure up an image in the mind of the marketing















team that their products could be bounced off. Would

13 15

















a Type 45 frequent a Starbucks? Probably not. Would

(2 RET

















17 - 19


GOO R 71
CONFECT 72 - 73 43 - 44


a type 5 patronize a William Hill betting outlet? Unlikely.




WEA 41







(2 RET




(2 RET






These companies are CACI’s prime customers: chains 17 - 18












19 - 20







23 3








25B 5
Volume 17





of every kind, but always chains. From the presence










ES &















(or absence) of Caffè Nero coffee shops or Borders












bookstores, Tesco Metro grocers or Foot Locker foot- GAP

14 - 15


wear retailers, BSM driving schools or BMI private health- H&M





65 care clinics, even the amateur demographer can detect LIFTS

Technically Speaking
Marc Simmons interviewed by
Jesse Seegers and Jean Choi
Marc Simmons is a co-founder and partner of the façade consultancy FRONT, Inc.
As a façade specialist, Simmons directly shapes the public image and reception
of a building. His designs integrate these representational functions into an array
of technical and economic demands. FRONT’s expertise includes the design,
optimization, prototyping and even procurement of all aspects of the exterior. The
firm’s unusual variety of skills enables them to work with diverse design languages,
negotiating between technical requirements and the aesthetic sensibilities of
architects ranging from Frank Gehry to SANAA. Simmons speaks with Volume
about the gritty details of beautiful surfaces.

Volume 17

Jesse Seegers Now that clients are increasingly intelligent and an agenda to do something that’s
concerned with the environmental performance naturally ventilated. Very often those are conflicting
and resource efficiency of their buildings, how requirements that you can’t satisfy. In designing CCTV,
does this development, which is as much political Arup, working with OMA and Front, spent several weeks
as ecological, affect the design of the façade? writing a report on why the building should not be a
Marc Simmons You might have a client explicitly inter- cavity wall and why it should not be naturally ventilated
ested in realizing a zero-energy consumption building through the façade. There’s an array of reasons why it
with the most advanced environmental technologies shouldn’t be a naturally ventilated double façade includ-
and lowest carbon footprint possible, where the form, ing all the equipment inside, humidity levels, environ-
the site location, the materiality, everything is driven mental control and security issues. But that is what the
by that one ideological concern. It’s an interesting idea, client wanted because of the perception that that is
but while some environmental advancements are state of the art, and therefore has a higher added value.
expressed visibly, an awful lot of them aren’t. A desire It’s not an unreasonable request, but soon we realized
for sophisticated environmental technologies will not that there are many liabilities associated with doing
by itself produce a sophisticated architectural form. a double wall. We also felt from an operational mainte-
Often more conventional buildings perform the same if nance standpoint that it would be untenable when
not better than what seem to be the most environmen- combined with these other costs.
tally advanced buildings. You might design a building JS You finally arrived at a solution using ceramic
that looks like it came from an Andrés Duany New Town fritting. Was that to make up for the environmental
and achieve a better performance without wearing it performance lost by not having a double wall?
on your sleeve. MS No, the ceramic frit only contributes marginally in
I don’t think environmental efficiency always needs terms of environmental performance. It was very much
to be expressed, and often its willful expression is in an aesthetic decision to unify the building and give it
fact a highly deliberate act in the service of certain a luminous quality on a massive monumental scale. It
political and ideological values pursuing a certain end. creates the effect of 237 meters of uniform reflectivity
JS You have a unique role in that means to an end. throughout the frame. And it works – on certain days
As a façade specialist, you don’t work on a façade it’s just sublime. It has this amazing abstract quality.
unless it’s a crucial element in the building’s tech- Jean Choi You’re also doing the Mandarin Oriental
nical and representational performance. Clients Hotel which is on the same site as CCTV. A luxury
and architects only come to you when they want hotel has a very different relationship to the public
to advance a set of ideas or an agenda which you than a state-operated building like CCTV. How is
help them to express. that difference expressed in the design of the façade?
MS In the CCTV building in Beijing, the curtain wall may MS In the initial phases of the design there was no
be structurally expressive, but not in the simple way operator, so Mandarin didn’t have much of a voice at the
that some critics have suggested. As it happens, the outset. Of course that can be a problem, because it
combination of the program as a national media outlet helps to have the operator on board from the start. The
and the structural diagram requires a highly blast metallic wrapper that encases the building was there
resistant façade of fifty-one stories. Apart from its blast very early on and was maintained even while the building
resistance, you have a one million-square-foot over- changed in height and geometry. The way that the
hang continuously subjected to gravity, so the forces corrugations work with the folded planar geometry of the
going through the building are enormous, with some wrapper is very complex, because of how each plane
elements permanently under tension and other under meets the corrugations couldn’t be orthogonal. In the
compression. The result is that the façade consists of end they are parallelograms that shift along the height
very large steel sections spanning from node to node of the building so that the corrugations track across
with a crumple zone behind the steel façade to protect the planes of the wrapper. While the corrugations look
the structural steel brace. Some people say it’s a merely straight and continuous, they’re actually making tortur-
representational façade because it tracks the structure ous adjustments. It was a complication in the service
behind it. Of course you can’t expose the structural of an idea.
steel for thermal and corrosion reasons, not to mention JC How did you arrive at the façade design for the
security concerns. In that sense the façade is expres- pixel-style glass boxes that fill the wrapper?
sive, but it was only created because of a performance MS There were hundreds of models studying variations
requirement to function as protection. of the idea. It could have been a lot of different things
Architects don’t normally go into lecture halls and and it was kind of a compromise in the end. The hotel
talk about the subtle relationships and shifts between rooms were conceived as a single sheet of glass, like one
real performance requirements, real programmatic piece of glass for one pixel. Eventually there was a limi-
requirements, how they generate certain technical tation on the procurement side – the glassmaker didn’t
requirements and how they become aesthetically want to do jumbo glass for these hotel rooms. In the
expressive. While CCTV’s façade is expressive, many end the glass is split down the middle by a single mullion,
interpretations of why it is are not accurate. If someone but apart from the mullion each façade is floor-to-ceiling,
dismisses it as being gratuitous simply because it’s wall-to-wall glass. The quality of an all-glass room is
expressive, they’re wrong, but they will never know why rather interesting, so we went through a lot of gymnas-
they’re wrong. tics and a lot of heartbreak to try to make that happen.
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With many buildings, the performance and repre- JS What kind of relationship do you try to cultivate
sentational requirements work at cross purposes or at with the architects when working to realize a
least don’t directly correlate without substantial recon- building?
figuration. There might be an agenda to do a complex MS It depends on the collaboration. One of our deeper
67 form, an agenda to do something environmentally collaborative relationships is with Hani Rashid and Lise
The Glass Pavilion, Toledo Museum of Art

The Glass Pavilion, Toledo Museum of Art

All images courtesy FRONT, Inc.

Volume 17
Anne Couture of Asymptote. When we work on a project foundation with a lot of private money mixed in.
they’re obviously the author, the architect, but we work The Seattle Library, on the other hand, was an
with them almost as a second team, making drawings unequivocally public project entirely funded by the
and models with them, voicing opinions. It’s very satis- raising of a public bond. The city decided that the
fying because as architects and engineers we don’t building would cost $160 billion. That’s how much they
really want our role to be relegated to checking mullion allocated, and that was what we had as a budget. Our
sizes. There are many other firms who can do that. desire to use metal mesh glass wasn’t possible within
OMA has also been very open in part because that budget, so Josh Prince-Ramus and Rem asked
their working method is based on a critical or reflective for permission to raise funds independently. The client
approach that enables the design of a project to would only provisionally approve that option based
change very quickly. That kind of process is perfect for on proven support from the Seattle elite, and it’s an
us. While other people might fear the chaos of working interesting idea that a donor can buy the quality of light
this way, we relish it. Front is one of the few consultants in a building as opposed to putting his or her name
whose principals have done all-nighters in OMA’s model on a room. They were paying for natural light, because
shop cutting blue foam. We don’t really care if the design otherwise the building would have had dark grey glass
changes twenty times from schematic design to con- and been very different.
struction documents. In fact, that’s why we do it. JS How do you consider the political implications
JC How do you see the role of the office expanding of working for a particular client, receiving funding
from its highly specific field of expertise? from a particular donor or specifying materials
MS One area where we’re seeking to expand is design- from a particular source? For example, the projects
build. Currently about 20% of the projects in the office that you’ve worked on in China.
are design-build, where we do all the construction MS In addition to the building projects in China, we also
drawings and fabrication. For example, we’re the builders source the steel and glass from China for other projects.
on the façade for Neil Denari’s High Line 23. We have I think that ship has sailed. Even with the Toledo Glass
about 100,000 pounds of steel under fabrication, in Pavilion – in the center of glass fabrication in America
addition to the glass. – the glass came from China.
As part of our long-term plan we’re trying to inte- JS Did the client object?
grate the roles of developer and engineer. Over the MS They did not object because the money we saved
past five years we’ve made a fairly heavy investment in made their project possible. There were a few questions
CATIA and it’s becoming one of our core working plat- from board members at the museum, but Toledo does
forms. We’re exploring using tools like CATIA to fully not make its money from architectural glass; it makes
design and engineer projects, to allow us to do our its money from selling glass to the automotive industry.
own cost modeling, scheduling, work construction They’ve already invested to increase the sophistication
sequencing and construction management. Our goal of their glass fabrication techniques and actually the
is to supply about 40% of the dollar value of everything glass used in the museum, while impressive, pales in
in the building including the steel frame, enclosure, comparison to the complexity of automotive glass.
miscellaneous metals package and then perhaps even They make their money on one side and then they buy
occupy it as our office space – to be our own guinea pig. a trophy building on the other.
It’s not that easy to acquire a skill set that includes archi- Well, it’s actually a bit more complex than that.
tectural design, façade design, procurement logistics Libby Owens Ford (LOF) started in Toledo, but it was
and financing. I spend a great amount of time reading acquired by Pilkington, the British company, which has
real estate books, because ultimately we want to since been acquired by Nippon sheet glass in Japan,
become an autonomous organization that can finance, so LOF is actually indirectly owned by the Japanese.
design and develop its own buildings. LOF wanted to supply the glass for the building, but
But that vertically integrated model must run the only way to affordably fabricate it was to ship the
parallel with select collaborations with different clients glass from Shenzhen, curve it, laminate it and then ship
either as architects, façade designers or engineers. it to Ohio. That’s the modern world.
Because in the end, we’re very interested in how the JC Do you think that the downturn in the American
values, desires and needs of the owner or client economy will affect the typologies of projects that
influence the design of a building. the office undertakes?
JS How do the contexts of those relationships MS Yes, it has changed. Residential is dead, and a
inform your projects? number of big projects have been put on hold, but
MS When you enter into a project it’s worth the effort they’ve been replaced by institutional and international
to understand who the constituencies are, who is pro- work. We’ve been trying to make a slow entry into inter-
viding the funding and what matters to them. For the national work. We’re considering working on a big tower
Wyly Theatre in Dallas the client is the Dallas Center in Bangkok, which is very interesting, and about four
for the Performing Arts Foundation which was set up projects in the Middle East. There’s a lot of work out
to manage and control the development of these arts there and it’s starting to come to us without our really
assets. It gets its money from municipal bonds and looking for it. We’re looking at a few big things in
private donors so you might ask who those donors are. Singapore right now as well as in Hong Kong and
If you do, you realize you’re not working with a municipal Kazakhstan.
organization, but rather with the cultural business JS Some of those places you just mentioned are
Volume 17

establishment of Dallas. That might not seem like such semi-authoritarian countries. To what extent does
a difference, but you must be clear that they’re who that matter for you?
you’re working for. Whereas if you’re working for Prada, MS I lived in Singapore for six months and in Hong Kong
well, you’re working for Prada. It’s a very different for six years. Most of my early career was in Asia. To
69 experience when you work for a pseudo-municipal arts quote Bob Stern: ‘I’m an architect. I’m not a politician.’
Corrugated zinc envelope mock up, TVCC, TVCC, Beijing, PRC Façade construction, TVCC, Beijing, PRC
Beijing, PRC

CCTV construction, Beijing, PRC CCTV façade panel, Beijing, PRC

All images courtesy FRONT, Inc.

Volume 17
Image courtesy FRONT, Inc. Image courtesy REX

Volume 17

Façade mock up for Dee and Charles Wyly

Theatre, Dallas, TX

Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre façade detail drawing

Communicating Content
Oliver Domeisen
The view from my drawing room window would be dominated by the typical
Bloomsbury potpourri of Georgian and Victorian brickwork interspersed with
the occasional sycamore tree were it not for the domineering presence of a
forbidding tower that ruptures the gentle canvas with the blunt force of a monolithic
truncheon. Senate House, at 210 feet high, is London’s ‘second skyscraper’
(after 55 Broadway, built by the same architect, Charles Holden). Completed
in 1937, situated at the southern end of the University of London campus, it
currently houses the city’s second largest library and parts of the institution’s
administration. Despite its sheer size and dominance over its surroundings,
the building remains utterly mute. Its envelope of pale grey Portland stone is
completely devoid of ornament and reveals nothing about the container’s content
or location. With its ziggurat-like, successively receding blocks and upwardly
diminishing window sizes it evokes a monumentality that we would indeed more
readily associate with Moscow, Berlin or New York. The absence of any decoration
or statuary prevents us from speculating on the building’s intended purpose – yet
speaks volumes about its intended nature.

During WWII the building was occupied by the Ministry and pre-empted the public suspicion that would haunt
of Information, the British propaganda machine that Modernism in Britain for decades to come.
laid the foundations for today’s spin-doctors. Behind
the tower’s featureless facades, political ‘content’ Eloquence
was managed to reemerge as an impenetrable web Across the road from Senate House stands another
of national identification. One occupant and ministerial monolith hewn from Portland stone. Preceding the
employee, Eric Arthur Blair (a.k.a. George Orwell), later tower of dark imagination by a decade, this container
immortalized the building by making it the template hides true danger. The London School of Hygiene &
for the ‘Ministry of Truth’ in his novel Nineteen Eighty- Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) was founded at the height
Four (1949). Here history would be continuously of the British empire (1899) to overcome the losses suf-
rewritten and edited to suit Big Brother’s autocratic fered in the ‘White Man’s Grave’ of the tropical colonies.
purpose. The eponymous film version (1984) used Its current home, designed by architects Morley Horder
Senate House as the setting for the Ministry of Love, and Verner Rees, and funded by the Rockefeller Foun-
where, in room 101, the protagonist’s spirit would dation to the tune of two million dollars, was finished
finally be broken when facing his ultimate fear of being in 1929 and soon became the epicenter of research
consumed by rats. on protozoal and arboviral diseases.
The building has allured a remarkable, yet suspi- At first glance the building appears almost identical
cious, array of real as well as fictional characters. In the to Senate House, at least stylistically, but closer
late 1930s Oswald Moseley, leader of the British Union inspection reveals a subtle layer of carefully placed
of Fascists, intended to house his Parliament here after ornamentation that identifies the purpose of this
having overthrown the government. Hitler is said to have structure eloquently. The most dominant ornamental
selected Senate House as his preferred party head- motifs are contained within a frieze surrounding the
quarters in England after a successful invasion. Most building. Here we find the names of 23 pioneers of public
recently Batman Begins (2005) used the interior as health and tropical medicine between laurel wreaths.
Gotham City’s courthouse. The appeal that emanates The resulting gravitas is reminiscent of the impervious
from the building like a toxic perfume can only be monumentality of Sir Edwin Lutyens’ Cenotaph in
explained through the mix of aesthetic absence and Whitehall (1919), yet fails to engage the passerby
Volume 17

monumental presence. Its deafening silence and illusory beyond a sense of reverence. What really catches the
magnitude invite fantastic projections of occupation eye is a series of small gilded bronzes that adorn the
and appropriation. Completed almost 30 years after balustrades of the second story windows. Glistening
Adolf Loos’s Ornament and Crime, Senate House in the sun and closer to the observer’s eye, they reveal
casts a dark shadow over his cities of ‘white walls’ themselves as most peculiar ornaments. Evenly distrib- 72
uted along a datum line, we find a family of mosquitoes, ornament disease’. From a contemporary perspective,
snakes, rats, ticks, mites, fleas and flies. Bloodsucking these arguments do not reveal the septic underbelly
arachnids and disease-ridden rodents, flattened into of ornament, but the underlying pathological obsession
semi-relief and brightly gilded, are all scaled to fit within with an image of cleanliness.
the same square module. Instead of the familiar orna- Today our cities do not shine like white walls, but
mental abstractions of nature one might expect to find flicker like television sets. Our buildings are often not
on a building, such as carved stone rosettes or wrought ‘comely in the nude’ (Louis Sullivan), but badly dressed.
iron scrolls of foliage, we are taken aback by the incon- Demands of contemporary capitalist cultures of
gruous scaling and celebratory materiality bestowed representation and social trends towards individual
upon pests and vermin. But then this is not just any expression are colliding with the homogenizing
building. It is a veritable Pandora’s box of pandemic modernist idiom in an architecture that is inarticulate
disease. Malaria, sleeping sickness, Dengue fever, tick- and uncomfortable within the world it inhabits. Mean-
borne encephalitis and tuberculosis are just a few of the while, the seeming resurgence of ornament in recent
virulent strains contained within. This is where research architectural discourse only obscures a long-standing
is conducted in the fields of medical entomology and aversion to the figurative and symbolic, and a continued
microbiology, parasitology, bacteriology, protozoology retreat into abstraction by declaring any cladding
and preventive teratology (congenital malformations). that relies on complex geometry to be ornament, thus
The LSHTM is the institution that proved the mosquito opening up the definition of the term so widely that it
transmission of malaria by letting them feed on two becomes all-inclusive and almost meaningless, not to
healthy men. Here Orwell’s room 101 does not just exist mention hopelessly irrelevant to contemporary cultures
as a figment of the imagination, but as a necessary reality. of representation.
The building thus adorns itself with the harbingers For architecture to become meaningful within
of death, the transmitters of disease. At once it com- cultures that favor communication, experience and
municates to the observer the intended purpose and the excess, the discipline must rediscover a more scholastic
celebrated achievements of the institute. It also declares and relevant conception of ornament: namely ornament
what it contains and what must remain inaccessible. as architecture’s intrinsic mode of communication. The
Finally these figurative representations project a warning language of ornament will emerge only from a thorough
of invisible dangers, much like the gargoyles on a gothic knowledge of the history and theory of an element of
cathedral, but also imply the possibility of control architecture that is as old as the discipline itself, from
through categorization and containment. Set into steel its deliberate placement upon the structure as a whole
frames, the insects, reptiles and mammals are presented and from the integrity of a chosen motif that commu-
to us as if they are specimens mounted in slides to be nicates a set of visual and conceptual messages, which
viewed under a microscope. A precedent for this could elevate a structure beyond expressions of its own
be found on the Romanesque facades of the Natural existence or utility. Neither the seamless surfaces of
History Museum (1881), part of South Kensington’s Maya renderings, nor the parametric tiling or patterning
Albertopolis, where the terracotta tiles contain repre- of a building’s envelope will reveal the real functions
sentations of flora and fauna. While the ornamental and transgressive powers of ornament. This is why the
scheme here predicts the systematic linear arrangement language of ornament is understood most clearly
and containment of the figures at LSHTM, it also acts through the bold use of figuration defining Herzog & de
as an explicit critique of Darwin’s theory of natural Meuron’s printed leaves on the Ricola Factory building
selection by distributing living species on the west wing (Mulhouse 1994) or OMA’s subversive portrait of Mies
and extinct ones on the east wing, therefore disputing adorning the McCormick-Tribune Campus Centre (with
any continuity between the two. Once again ornamen- graphic designers 2x4; Chicago 2003), and it is why it is
tation allows the institution to communicate, through drowned out by the incoherent mutterings of decoration
its architecture, worldly ideas and ideologies beyond in so many other contemporary projects that dress up
the vocabulary of architectural styles and composition. Modernism in the emperor’s new clothes.
It also prevents fantastic projections of occupation
and appropriation.

The LSHTM was completed in the same year as Le
Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. One must acknowledge the
irony in the fact that the foremost European institution
concerned with hygiene and public health eschewed
the pathology that was so carefully constructed around
ornament by the Modernist avant-garde in favor of
traditional applied ornamentation. Le Corbusier wrote
in ‘The Decorative Art of Today’ (1925): ‘…this taste
for decorating everything around one is a false taste,
an abominable little perversion’. Instead, he proposes
the ‘healthy, clean, decent’ alternative of the ‘Law of
Ripolin’ (white paint), echoing Loos who in ‘Ornament
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and Crime’ (1908) declared: ‘…the ornament has not

only been produced by criminals; it commits a crime,
in the sense that it damages the individual’s health’.
Even before Loos another Austrian, Richard Schaukel,
73 in ‘Against Ornament’ (1908) coined the term ‘the
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Morley Horder and Verner Rees, London 1926-1929

Entrance detail, London School

of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Balcony detail, London School Balcony detail, London School

of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Image courtesy Oliver Domeisen Image courtesy Peter Gregson Image courtesy Oliver Domeisen

Volume 17
Image courtesy Oliver Domeisen
Image courtesy Steve Cadman Image courtesy Oliver Domeisen

Volume 17

Senate House, Charles Holden,

London 1933-1937, Entrance Hall

Senate House, Charles Holden, London 1933-1937

The Politics of the Envelope
A Political Critique of Materialism
Alejandro Zaera Polo
Before delving into the argument, I should probably admit a personal aversion to 1 ‘The conflict over the basic terms of
political ideology that goes beyond its application to architecture and which probably social life, having fled from the ancient
has a biographical origin. My experience of Spain’s transition to democracy has arenas of politics and philosophy, lives
left me with a rather cynical view of political ideology as an effective tool for under- under disguise and under constraint in
standing or transforming reality. I was born in a dictatorship and I remember the narrower and more arcane debates
having to learn to vote at school as one of the new protocols of the new democracy. of the specialized professions. There we
As a left-leaning adolescent, I remember longing for the Western powers to inter- must find this conflict, and bring it back,
vene against Franco’s dictatorship, an episode that came back to haunt me thirty transformed, to the larger life of society’.
years later when pondering Western intervention in Iraq, in a far worst dictatorship Roberto Mangabeira Unger, What Should
and in a far more globalized world. In Spain I first witnessed Javier Solana, Legal Analysis Become (New York: Verso,
then Spanish Minister of Culture under the Socialist Government, campaigning 1996).
for Spanish integration into NATO. Then came the termination of compulsory
military service by Aznar’s right-wing government, with the Socialist Party in 2 Following the description proposed
opposition, which reinforced my doubts about political ideologies. On the other by Bruno Latour in Politics of Nature:
hand, I had witnessed the subversive effects of foreign tourism on sexual behavior How to Bring the Sciences Into Democracy
during Franco’s strictly Catholic era and the impact of low interest rates, home (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
ownership and massive infrastructure construction on social mobility. The demise Press, 2004). Latour retrieves the
of the Aznar government, brought down by text-messaging, convinced me of the Heideggerian notion of Ding (‘thing’ in
deeply transformative political potentials of seemingly neutral technological and German) to coin the neologism Ding-
economic processes. politik as an alternative to Realpolitik.
It is precisely in the most pragmatic, concrete operations where contemporary In the Latourian conception thing is an
politics are to be found.1 The current American presidential campaign proves that assemblage between humans and non-
within contemporary politics, an all-encompassing mass politics focused on class, humans, politics and nature as well as
gender, race, creed and identity and built upon partisan ideologies is less effective concerns and facts that is neither merely
than more nimble molecular politics capable of engaging swing voters. Within the a natural object nor a socially constructed
contemporary processes of the built environment, where an increasingly complex one, but an assemblage of both, the
interaction between different agents takes place, ideological politics often become object and its attachments.
an obstacle to urban development.
The discipline has been split between those who believe architecture is a
mere social construct and those who believe that architecture’s facts are determined
by the inexorable laws of physics, economics, buildability, climatology and ergo-
nomics. Recent attempts to shift the grounds of the architectural debate away
from technology and production toward political critique and ideology are rightly
aiming to recover some political ground that has been missing for some time within
the discipline. However, they haven’t succeeded in coupling political genealogies
or ideologies with disciplinary traits, and therefore have been unable to produce
effective political strategies in architecture, let alone new architectural possibilities.
The attempts to politicize architecture have emerged from the hypothesis that
architecture is a ‘social construct’, a cultural fabrication and an embodiment of
political concepts, disassociated from an architecture governed by natural laws,
statics and climatic demands.
But architecture is as much a physical construct as it is a social or political
one and to understand architecture as a mere representation of the political is as
problematic as to declare architecture entirely ruled by natural laws. In order to
enable a viable strand of architectural politics, we need to politicize the discipline
as the mediator between humans and non-humans, culture and technology and
as the mechanism that will enable us to produce problematized matters of concern:
Things rather than Objects.2
This text is an attempt to initiate an effective link between architectural
Volume 17

technologies and politics and to advance a new political critique of architecture

capable of addressing the challenges posed by globalization by incorporating
political content to architectural entities.

The Powers of Architecture 3 This was a condition already announced
During the last two decades we have witnessed a substantial reformulation of the by Tafuri: ‘From the criticism of ideology
political stance of architectural practice vis-à-vis the development of global capitalism. it is necessary to pass on to the analysis
As a result of new conditions through which cities and architecture are produced, of techniques of programming and of the
the politics of architectural practice have changed, but their impact on the discipline ways in which these techniques affect
has not yet been fully theorized. The increasing complexity of global developments – the vital relationships of production. For
the distribution of power within the world economy, the transnational competition those anxiously seeking an operative criti-
between cities, the development of world-wide environmental policies, the growing cism, I can only respond with an invitation
importance of media as a political force, the increasing presence of private agents to transform themselves into analysts of
in the provision of services and infrastructures – are redefining the politics of archi- some precisely defined economic sector,
tecture and urbanism. Multiple and ubiquitous communication technologies have each with an eye fixed on bringing together
eroded the power of dialectics and discourse as a political instruments, while the capitalists development and the processes
rising profile of city governance relative to national politics and the surge in violence of reorganisation and consolidation of the
and military activities as a contemporary form of geopolitics are indexes of a working class’. Manfredo Tafuri, Archi-
physicalization of the political. tecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist
Despite having become a crucial political battleground, architecture and Development (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,
urbanism appear to be unable to find a role within this new politics. Architects’ 1979), xi.
traditional role as visionaries and ideologists has become redundant as the sheer
speed of changes overtakes architects’ capacity to represent politics ideologically. 4 ‘…the beginning of building coincides
Within a reality far more complex and multi-faceted than any visionary formulation, with the beginning of textiles. …The wall
an ideological position devoid of a close link to actualization and corporeality will is the structural element that formally
remain disempowered. Paper architecture has lost its effectiveness as a political vehicle; represents and makes visible the enclosed
like utopia, it is restricted to pure representation without the attachments and space as such, absolutely, as it were, with-
frictions capable of politicizing matters. In order to guarantee a minimum level of out reference to secondary concepts. We
agency, architects need today to engineer their acquisition strategies, procurement might recognize the pen, bound together
routes, etc. to sustain a certain level of research. And those decisions become an from sticks and branches, and the inter-
integral part of the project. woven fence as the earliest vertical spatial
Within this context it is vital to produce an updated politics of architecture enclosure that man invented. … Weaving
in which the discipline is not merely reduced to a representation of ideal political the fence led to weaving movable walls.
concepts, but conceived as an effective tool to produce change. Rather than returning … Using wickerwork for setting apart
to ideology and utopia (as some critical theorists are proposing) a contemporary one’s property and for floor mats and pro-
politicization of architecture needs to relocate politics within specific disciplinary tection against heat and cold far preceded
domains – not as a representation of an ideal concept of the political but as a political making even the roughest masonry.
effect specific to the discipline.3 Wickerwork was the original motif of the
The building envelope is possibly the oldest and most primitive architectural wall. It retained this primary significance,
element.4 It materializes the separation of the inside and outside, natural and artificial actually or ideally, when the light hurdles
and it demarcates private property and land ownership (one the most primitive and mattings were transformed into brick
political acts).5 When it becomes a façade, the envelope operates also as a representa- or stone walls. The essence of the wall
tional device in addition to its crucial environmental and territorial roles. The building was wickerwork’. Gottfried Semper, ‘The
envelope forms the border, the frontier, the edge, the enclosure and the joint: it is Textile Art’ in Style in the Technical and
loaded with political content. We have focused on the envelope as an optimal domain Tectonic Arts: or, Practical Aesthetics (Los
to explore the politicization of architecture and, possibly, the development of a Angeles: Getty Trust Publications, 2004).
Dingpolitik.6 A political critique of the envelope will hopefully help us to reconstruct
the discipline as an effective link between material organizations and politics. 5 Aristotle mentions the management of
Despite the envelope’s original role, the political performances of architecture property as one of the primary reasons
have conventionally been located in the plan or the section, even if the protection for the need of a political organization
from the elements and the securing of a physical domain were the primary reason of human communities. The binding of
for building. The plan of the building organizes the political structure and protocols goods and physical domains to the com-
hosted within it, while the section organizes the social strata and its relationships munity or the individual is at the root of
with the ground. For example, centralized or symmetrical plans have been thought power structures and political behavior.
to contribute to the stability and hierarchy of political structures, while distributed, Legislation and constitutions are very
clustered or labyrinthine plans are supposed to preserve the independence of localities much based on the structuring of property
from a central, panoptic structure. The traditional differentiation between the attic, over material goods. In one of the first
the basement and the piano nobile, as well as the modernist homogenization of the known expositions of Tragedy of the
section through the use of pilotis and plan libre are some of the political effects that Commons Aristotle wrote, ‘that which is
have been available to buildings to date. In the past, the envelope has never had this common to the greatest number has the
capacity to directly effect and structure communities and has been traditionally least care bestowed upon it. Everyone
relegated to a mere ‘representational’ or ‘symbolic’ function. The reasons for such a thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all
restricted political agency may lie in the understanding of the envelope as a surface, of the common interest; and only when
rather than as a combined effect of the construction technology of the building’s he is himself concerned as an individual’.
skin and the specificities of its massing. In addition, he says when property is
The choice of the building envelope as an object of research aims to thicken common there are natural problems that
Volume 17

the range of attachments of the surface, a field of research that has recently returned arise due to differences in labor: ‘If they
to the architectural debate with unexpected strength, albeit within a rather isolated do not share equally enjoyments and toils,
scope. The envelope exceeds the surface by incorporating a much wider set of those who labor much and get little will
attachments within the issues of construction and representation that converge in necessarily complain of those who labor
77 the design of the physical limit of a building. It includes the crust of space affected little and receive or consume much. But
by the physical construction of the surface, by the scale and dimension of the space indeed there is always a difficulty in men
contained, by its permeability to daylight and ventilation and by its insulation values living together and having all human
and solar-shading capacities. It also involves the space that surrounds the object, its relations in common, but especially in
orientation in respect to sun, wind, views, etc. This includes its capacity to re-present, their having common property’. Aristotle,
not in the sense to which the architectural critique has accustomed us, but in the Politics 1261b34 (Oxford: Oxford
ancient political role that articulates the relationships between humans and non- University Press, 1999).
humans in a common world.7 The envelope is the surface and its attachments.
The envelope is a core concern of the discipline affecting materiality and 6 Dingpolitik is the term coined by Bruno
construction, environmental performance, energy efficiency and other issues, but it Latour to address the politics resulting
also engages several political forms: economical, social and psychological. Yet there from the crisis of objectivity triggered by
is no such a thing as a unitary theory of the building envelope in the history of archi- the collapse of modernity and the search
tecture. Previous theories of the building envelope have addressed either problems for a new model of objectivity in which
of representation and composition or construction technologies. Semper’s analysis politics are one aspect of the object, its
of cladding materials and Durand’s proposals for an adequate expression of the sciences and nature at large. See Bruno
different typologies are examples of these partial approaches. The Loosian ornamental Latour and Peter Weibel’s introduction
crime and the modernist abstracted ‘whitewash’ of the façade are other episodes that to the exhibition catalogue Making
relate the design of the envelope to what happens behind. Colin Rowe’s aesthetic Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy
critique on ‘Character and Composition’ and ‘Literal and Phenomenal Transparency’8 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005).
insists on similarly compositional issues concerning transparency. Venturi’s theory
of the decorative and the representational are also precedents to this discussion, and 7 This borrows Bruno Latour’s proposal for
of course there is a large body of knowledge addressing the environmental and a political ecology capable of politicizing
structural performance of envelopes: Fuller, Le Ricolais, Banham... science without resorting to the idea of
Like the skin of a living creature, the envelope is the primary actor in the an entirely ‘socially constructed’ nature.
complex process of maintaining homeostasis in the building.9 In human life, however, Latour, Politics of Nature.
the closed circle of homeostasis is opened up by psychological, political, social and
cultural surpluses. The façade of a building functions not only on a purely biological 8 Colin Rowe, The Mathematics of the Ideal
level. It assembles the building’s interior, which it protects, and the external public Villa and Other Essays (Cambridge, MA:
realm with which it communicates. The surface of the building has a kind of double MIT Press, 1982).
existence intervening in two disparate worlds: the private inside and public outside.
It is a boundary which does not merely register the pressure of the interior, but 9 Jean-François Lyotard has applied this
resists it, transforming its energy into something else. And vice versa. The envelope term to social ‘power centers’ he describes
is the result of an act of violence on both spheres. as being ‘governed by a principle of
In the same way that artificial intelligence and genetic modification have homeostasis,’ sometimes ignoring radical
become key political subjects, the building envelope is central to a political discussion new discoveries or changes of environment
of material practices. It is not by chance that we have become interested in the because they destabilize previously-
envelope at a time when energy and security concerns have replaced the earlier accepted norms or the status quo. See
importance of circulation and flow as subjects that structure contemporary material Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A
practices. A unitary theory of the building envelope may be an answer to the decoupling Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis:
of politics and nature and an opportunity to construct a hybrid world of Things, University of Minnesota Press, 1984).
rather than political subjects and natural objects.10
Globalization has propelled a set of spatial typologies primarily determined 10 See Bruno Latour’s critique in Politics
by the capacity to conduct flow. Architects have tried to engage with this new of Nature.
borderless space, the ‘space of flows’,11 by dissolving the envelope as an obstacle to
flow and spatial continuity and presenting an image of the world as a chaotically 11 Manuel Castells, The Informational City:
flowing magma. However a new picture is emerging in the form of bubbles and Information Technology, Economic
foams, containers of a liquid reality. The proliferation of bubble buildings, bubble Restructuring, and the Urban Regional
furniture and bubble objects in the last decade is difficult to explain as a simple Process (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989).
coincidence: Foster’s 30 St. Mary’s Axe and London City Hall, Grimshaw’s Eden
Project, Future Systems’ Selfridges and Lord’s Media Centre, Herzog & de Meuron’s 12 Peter Sloterdijk, ESFERAS I Burbujas.
Allianz Arena and Beijing Olympic Stadium, Paul Andreu’s Beijing Opera – to Microesferología. ESFERAS II Globos –
name just a few very iconic buildings – demonstrate the powerful attraction of this Macroesferología. ESFERAS III. Espumas.
aesthetic trend within the contemporary architectural Zeitgeist. The power of archi- Esferología plural (Madrid: Ediciones
tecture is not just iconographic but also organizational. The lower envelope ratio Siruela, 2003, 2004 and 2006
that bubble buildings produce in respect to buildings of comparative volume is an respectively).
index of the rarefaction of the exterior surface, perhaps as a result of increased
security and energy concerns. These are social and political forces that have direct
bearing upon the physical, material nature of the envelope.
Peter Sloterdijk described this new paradigm in his Sphären Trilogy12 most
eloquently. His powerful imagery evokes the world as a foamy space filled with
bubbles and balloons of different scales and qualities. This capsular society and its
phenomena such as global provincialism, the politics of climatization and the social
uteri describe a new paradigm that requires not just a reconsideration of the tech-
Volume 17

nologies and economics of the building envelope, but of its political, social and
psychological implications.
Another crucial factor in the renewed importance of the envelope as a central
problem of contemporary architecture derives from the evolution of its production
technologies. The rise of global capital markets and the transfer of urban power from 78
Image Cayetano
institutions to private agents have generated a global, market-driven building culture 13 Explicitation is the term used by Sloterdijk
of predominantly private commissions, as even institutional clients are increasingly as an alternative process to revolution and
seeking private-public partnerships (PPPs) as a means of delivering and maintaining emancipation. The history of explicitation
vital public infrastructure. While most other aspects of the architectural project are is made increasingly intelligible in the
now in control of other agents (e.g. project managers, specialist contractors) that spheres and objects to which we are
ensure the efficiency of the project delivery, the increasing facelessness of the client attached. The categories of the French
gives architects license to invent the building’s interface. The envelope has become revolution and left and right, both with
the last realm of architectural power, despite the discipline’s inability to articulate their particular techniques of classification
a theoretical framework capable of structuring its renewed importance. Mobilizing and of positioning, no longer correspond
a political critique of the envelope capable of addressing its multiple attachments to the order of things that is no longer
and complexities may enable us to frame architecture not merely as a representation hierarchical but heterarchical. Whether
of the interests of a client, of a certain political ideology or an image of utopia, but as we talk about carbon footprints, deregu-
an all-too-real, concrete, and effective political agency able to assemble and mediate lation, genetically modified foods, con-
the interests of the multiplicities that converge on the architectural project. In order gestion pricing or public transport, these
to realize these potentials we need to generate a definition of the discipline that issues give rise to a variety of political
remains attached to reality and yet resistant to consolidation. A discipline that rather configurations that exceed the left/right
than aiming at revolution as a political ambition, focuses on explicitation.13 Within distinction. The left/right divide still
professional practice we can find a positivist model of naturalization in which the exists, but has been diluted by a multitude
discipline is driven toward seemingly quantifiable processes where statics, construction of alternative attitudes. See Peter
processes, economy and lately environmental performance are seen as the backbone Sloterdijk, ESFERAS III.
of architecture, excluding the political questioning of the models of quantification.
For example, the tests behind a LEED certificate include parameters like job creation, 14 ‘“It’s very cheap and easy for architects
ethnic diversity, carbon footprint and use of renewable energy sources – each of and artists and film-makers to pull out or
which is a politically loaded subject. Are biofuels truly sustainable? Are the carbon to make this kind of criticism,” Herzog
footprint parameters applicable world-wide? Is a liberal job market – which creates says. “Everybody knows what happens
and destroys jobs at a faster rate – a more sustainable employment policy? Can you in China. All work conditions in China
offset embedded energy with recyclable materials? Admittedly, the number of para- are not what you’d desire. But you wear
meters contained in the assessment would even out potential biases in the quantifi- a pullover made in China. It’s easy to
cation models of some of them. But once a ‘gold’ certification is issued, the building criticise, being far away. I’m tempted
is beyond any question of its sustainability credentials. almost to say the opposite...How great it
Within architectural academia, disciplinarity has been caught up in a critical was to work in China and how much I
model of negation that unfolds in two directions: a critique of interiority or a critique believe that doing the stadium [and] the
of exteriority. A critique that assumes the autonomy of the discipline enables the process of opening will change radically,
development of its codes in the absence of external attachments but limits the trans- transform the society. Engagement is the
formative potential of the discipline. A critique that assumes the attachment of the best way of moving in the right direction”.
discipline to external constraints questions the performance of architecture on a Excerpts from a conversation between
wider political level, usually focusing on a political discourse which architecture can Herzog & de Meuron and Tom Dyckhoff
only represent. Disciplinary knowledge has fallen captive either to a univocal idea in The Guardian, March 14th, 2008.
of nature or political representation. Neither approach can effectively engage in the
transformation of reality – that is, to work politically – and simultaneously update
the core of the discipline. The question is whether it is possible to open up the
definition of the discipline to the impact of market forces and technical advances as
a drive to evolve its codes and simultaneously engage in practice while operating as
a critical agent. Is architecture socially constructed, or is it a faithful representation
of reality? Or is it rather the missing link between the community of humans and
the community of things as political entities?
Previous theories of the building envelope have not been capable of directly
relating the technical and physical properties of envelopes to their political, social and
psychological effects. As with the impact of certain technical fields (artificial intelligence
and genetic modification, for example) on the political arena, a general theory of the
building envelope could reconstitute a political discourse of architecture with the capacity
to produce effects that may actually destabilize power regimes rather than functioning
as mere representations of politics, whether of the status quo or its resisting parties.14
This theory needs to be constructed on a careful analysis of the contemporary
envelope’s phenomenology as different aspects of the envelope have the capacity
to produce specific effects. For example, a more intricate design of the limit between
private and public increases the contact surface between both realms, like a radiator The Eden Project, Cornwall, UK.
adopting an intricate form to increase the surface of heat exchange with the air. Grimshaw Architects.
A more permeable definition of the property boundary is more likely to effectively
accommodate a fluid relationship between private and public in an age when the
public realm is increasingly built and managed by private agents. The envelope of a
retail complex or the enclosure of an office building lobby are powerful mechanisms
Volume 17

of social integration; the façade ratio of a residential block determines the environ-
ment’s level of artificiality; a gradual delimitation between the natural and the
artificial in the façade of an office building could help to improve energy efficiency
and minimize its carbon footprint; a more ambiguous appearance may allow for the
79 reprogramming of the building’s identity...
It is at this level that the discussion of the qualities and structure of material 15 ‘Subpolitics is distinguished from politics
organizations – such as difference and repetition, consistency and variation, flexibility, in that (a) agents outside the political
transparency, permeability, local and global and the definition of the ground – that or corporatist system are also allowed to
architecture becomes political. The politicization of architecture may also be induced appear on the stage of social design (this
by virtue of representation – and not just by synthesizing physical expressions of group includes professional and occupa-
political concepts, but by literally redesigning typical living conditions or lifestyles – tional groups, the technical intelligentsia
or by disrupting political norms or assumed environmental imperatives. What is at in companies, research institutions and
stake here is the possibility for architectural entities to acquire the status of Things, management, skilled workers, citizens’
to develop various attachments to a multiple reality, to enter the realm of the contested initiatives, the public sphere and so on),
entities rather than remaining the inevitable product of established forms of power and (b) not only social and collective
or the mere representation of alternative ideologies. agents but individuals as well compete
Political, social and economic factors shape architecture; the question is with the latter and each other for the
whether architecture can in turn alter the distribution of power. The hypothesis of emerging power to shape politics’. Ulrich
this text is that the relationship between politics and architecture is one of mutual Beck, The Reinvention of Politics:
influence. Instead of resorting to predefined and all-encompassing political ideologies Rethinking Modernity in the Global Social
or utopian references to frame the practices of architecture, we aim to map possible Order (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1997).
correlations between architectural strategies and political effects in order to mobilize
the discipline on a sub-political level. 15 The question now is not whether certain 16 Ulrich Beck in The Reinvention of Politics,
architecture is aligned to the right, to the left or to a certain political party – as in Bruno Latour in Politics of Nature and
earlier embodiments of architectural politics – but rather what architectural strategies Peter Sloterdijk in ESFERAS III attempt
may trigger effects on the distribution of power. We may question whether explicitation to theorize the politico-technological
is sufficient; but in any case, we may need to disengage from conventional political complex that drives contemporary life.
forms in architecture in order to politicize society at large.16 Until now, buildings They have written extensively about an
considered to have a political program included, for example, city halls, schools, social emerging political dynamics that is no
housing, parliaments, airports... To be able to discern the politics behind a retail park, longer ruled by party lines, class, gender
a commercial complex or a residential development, we need to resort to a political or race and has become mediated through
analysis of architecture that has not yet been integrated into the discipline. technologies such as genetics and
The introduction of certain cladding and roofing technologies, such as curtain- information technology.
walling systems, silicon joints and plastic waterproofing membranes, has eliminated
the need for cornices, corners, pediments and window reveals. With respect to
envelope technology, the difference between the roof and the walls has disappeared
and fenestration is no longer a critical building problem. The growing number of
buildings adopting supple envelopes with differentiated patterns is not mere coin-
cidence, but is an index of a convergence of factors leading to a particular design
choice. One of the important forces behind this tendency is the evolution of building
technology. While just a few decades ago the crucial question for architects was the
choice between pitched roofs and flat roofs, today we are considering the choice
between the box and the blob as the primary articulations of the building envelope.
Given the advancements in envelope systems, the choice between the box and the
blob is therefore a specious one, unable to structure a robust theoretical frame to
discuss the convergence of political forms and architectural technology.
Yet the erasure of those primary articulations of the envelope arises simultane-
ously from an increase in the complexity of the faciality of buildings. What is the
nature of public representation in the age of PPP when both corporations and public
administrations are procuring their buildings and infrastructures from developers
who are sourcing their capital from private equity, hedge funds and Real Estate
Investment Trusts (REITs)? Even if the rise of sovereign funds and the re-empower-
ment of central banks – following the downfall of Northern Rock, Bear Stearns,
Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Lehman Brothers – succeeds in removing fluidity
from the identities of power, the building envelope will still be required to fulfill
a complex set of performances, as the primary regulator between public and private,
inside and outside.
The contemporary city is built for corporations run by administrative boards
for multinational shareholders’ interests; it is built by building emporiums serving
multinational interests as well, who procure the buildings and often run them for
decades, taking care of maintenance, security, refuse collection, energy supply and
even the provision of infrastructure. All this is happening in a market in which cities
are competing fiercely for well-educated citizens and foreign investment, making
urban identity a crucial weapon, even if in the wake of more distributed ownership
structures identity has become contingent. The choice of the developer and the
contractor, the primary agents of urban production, is not democratically managed,
and yet they are not entirely free of political – or sub-political – influence. These are
Volume 17

the kind of mechanisms that need unmasking if we are to engage with contemporary
urban politics.
In order to develop a political discipline, we will try to draw the links between
spatial typologies and political modes. Richard Sennett’s concept of spaces of
democracy is an interesting precedent for the articulation of this type of discipline: 80
his identification of the edge as the most politically active zone of a material organi- 17 ‘Do we find it (democracy) in those
zation sets up a model for tracking the political content of an architectural entity. spaces or places where the word recedes
Sennett theorizes that deliberative democracy, which is primarily mediated through in importance? A different democratic
language, can be traced back to Greek democracy and located in the Pnyx, while model would be a place where it does not
associative democracy is mediated through the body and unfolds primarily in the matter whether people understand each
Agora.17 The Pnyx is a central organization built as a theater and based on political other verbally, but they understand each
representation and submission to the majority, while the Agora is characterized other by their bodies. They can only do
by the Stoa, the limits between the public and the private space, where community- that through the form of association in
building takes place informally by mere coexistence. Sennett concludes that it is which they are both together, aroused by
precisely this peripheral position of the Stoa, rather than the centrality of political each other’s presence, but still kept distinct.
rhetoric, that can produce forms of politics driven by difference rather than by That is the democracy with the living
indifference and submission. Establishing a parallel with natural populations, borders edge. And that is what I believe in, and I
appear to be the most biologically active and diverse zones: the areas where inter- think it is something that architects and
action between groups happens, where exchange intensifies, where mutations occur. planners can make’. Lecture entitled
They are also where political energy is concentrated and activated by difference. ‘Democratic Spaces’ by Richard Sennett
Likewise, a general theory of the building envelope aims to draw a direct link at the Berlage Institute on March 3rd 2004.
between spatial typologies and political modalities or forms of political organization See also Richard Sennett, Respect in the
through the identification of a series of concrete domains of architectural performance World of Inequality (New York: WW
with attached political potentials. Environmental performance, the drawing and Norton and Co., 2003). The concept of
definition of borders, the structuring of interfaces and the representation of com- associative democracy is borrowed from
munities are some of the political domains where specific architectural actions may Paul Hirst, Associative Democracy: New
trigger substantial political effects without resorting to all-encompassing political Forms of Economic and Social Governance
paradigms and ideologies. (Amherst, MA: University of
The structure of this theory of the building envelope has been based on the Massachusetts Press, 1994).
hypothesis that the political possibilities of the envelope are primarily related to
its dimensions, and that every dimensional type can trigger specific technological,
social and political effects. Admittedly, the dimensions of the envelope are not usually
left for the architect to decide and are usually associated with the type of project,
the site constraints and the client’s requirements. Therefore this analysis is primarily
aimed at laying out the field of political opportunities within the constraints – the
attachments – that come with these different envelope typologies. Within those
constraints and within each envelope type, there is a wealth of possibilities that can be
activated that would transcend the mere technical problems and affect the wider
political performance of the buildings. The structure of this analysis has been con-
sistently organized into four categories of envelope: flat-horizontal, spherical, flat-
vertical and vertical resulting from the specific ratios between the envelope’s primary
dimensions. What are significant in each category are the technical and the political
variations that trigger the particular potentials that this theory attempts to identify
in the following chapters. These four categories are aimed at establishing an effective
taxonomy capable of bringing together environmental and political performances in
a new discipline of the building envelope. Obviously they are particular cases of a
much more gradated speciation of envelopes that ranges across them. While there
are buildings that occupy an ambiguous position within this taxonomy, it seems
improbable that we can initiate a revision of the discipline without resorting to some
form of taxonomy, however precarious and ephemeral it may be.
Volume 17

X≈Y>Z. Flat-Horizontal Envelopes. Loose Fit. 18 David Harvey, The Condition of Post-

Image Dennis Gilbert

The first category of building envelopes comprises those in which the horizontal modernity (London: Blackwell, 1998).
dimensions are considerably larger than the vertical. Buildings like stations, airports,
train stations, industrial buildings, trade fairs, convention centers, markets as well 19 The notion of an artificial atmosphere is
as retail and leisure complexes generally belong to this category. Flat-horizontal particularly vivid in this type of envelope,
envelopes perform by delimiting edges, frontiers and boundaries and sheltering the which returns us again to the work of
domains they enclose, operating primarily on the articulation between natural and Sloterdijk on the artificial diversification
artificial. Since their comprehensive perception can only be obtained from an aerial of the atmosphere within the capsular
perspective, flat-horizontal envelopes are experienced in a fragmented manner and society. The human island, the capsule
are therefore less concerned with representation and figural performance than with and the greenhouse are the prototypical
the organization of material flows: traffic, ventilation, daylight, security, etc. devices for a new generation of buildings
The capacity for buildings to handle large flows of transient populations and committed to this diversification of the
goods is one of the mechanisms of spatial displacement18 that global capitalism has atmosphere in which this envelope
created as one of its basic infrastructures. Their ability to host crowds, enclose public typology features prominently. Peter
space and control flow in an artificially controlled environment, as well as their Sloterdijk, ESFERAS III.
conflictive relationship with the local, qualifies flat-horizontal envelopes as highly
politically charged.
Flat-horizontal envelopes are crucially determined by the structural performance
of the roof membrane, as their floor-consuming functions are usually coupled with
long-spans. Often, they are also determined by flow control mechanisms: in the case
of transportation buildings – stations and airports – the footprint of the envelope
is usually related to a security protocol, while in retail parks, stadia and convention
facilities the importance of access points and interface with the public space constitute
the crucial determinations of the building outline.
From a structural perspective, flat-horizontal envelopes can be generally classified
into two groups: those that bring gravitational loads down to the ground at regular
intervals, like shopping malls, and those that span between their walls across the
space, such as trade fair halls and sport venues. The structural system, the spatial
organization and the depth of the envelope are interrelated parameters: if the function
is centrally organized, the structural depth increases to avoid intermediate supports
as the span grows larger. Distributed flat-horizontal envelopes are built on a struc-
tural base unit that covers the ground by repetition, thus economizing resources.
The roof pattern, driven by structural modulations or daylight and ventilation supply,
is one of the regular features of this typology.
The flat-horizontal envelope induces a strong differentiation in terms of
performance between its predominantly vertical and horizontal surfaces. The primary
performance of the vertical surfaces is first defensive and then ornamental, primarily
determined by the relationship of the object to the outside. Alternatively, if we
consider the roof – the predominantly horizontal component of the flat-horizontal
envelope – the most critical determinations are primarily environmental and
atmospheric performances.19
Due to the volume of air they contain, flat-horizontal envelopes are crucially
determined by environmental constraints: the potential of the roof design to provide
daylight, solar shading and enhance natural ventilation are critical concerns that will
gain importance in the near future as energy becomes a costly commodity. Retail
malls, a particular case of this typology, are generally designed as sealed envelopes
where interior and exterior are strictly detached environmentally. On the other hand,
trade fair halls, stations and airport terminals are often designed as permeable skins,
capable of filtering daylight, enhancing natural ventilation and opening views
between inside and outside. We can therefore identify two divergent lineages in the
evolution of this typology: the first toward a privatized and artificially controlled
environment and a sterilized atmosphere; the second toward a more gradual integration
of nature and public space within the building. The fact that retail malls are privately
owned while transport infrastructure and trade complexes are usually run by public
bodies may be the reason for this divergent evolution of this type, beyond the
functional specificities.
The global economy has triggered some processes that affect the evolution Stansted Airport, Uttlesford, UK.
of these typologies very directly. As public infrastructures become increasingly Foster + Partners
procured by the private sector, and the private sector becomes increasingly concerned
with the public nature of retail developments, the degree of engagement between
the flat-horizontal envelopes and the surrounding urban fabric intensifies. As flat-
horizontal envelopes keep getting larger to provide for a burgeoning urban population
Volume 17

and the consequent growth of consumers, goods and transient populations, an

interesting dynamic powered by the contradiction between permeability and
energy-efficiency emerges.
As energy concerns grow, the incorporation of passive technologies such as
daylight provision and natural ventilation is quickly entering the mainstream: sealed 82
Image Jerde Partnership
Image David Martin envelopes are no longer the default solution as a more gradual engagement with the 20 ‘Political ecology’ is the term Bruno
surrounding atmosphere is proving to be more sustainable. While compactness is Latour proposes to describe an anti-
one of the most energy-efficient qualities of an envelope, the edge surface and the fundamentalist politics of nature in an
roof may be able to enhance the relationship between the internal and the external attempt to overcome traditional
environments – both as a climatic device and as a physical and visual boundary. distinctions between nature and society,
The material and geometrical configuration of the edge is crucial to the articulation subject and object as well as human and
inside and outside: insets of the footprint or corrugations of the vertical surface and non-human. Bruno Latour, Politics of
the use of permeable materials may contribute to enhancing osmosis between the Nature.
contained program and its surroundings.
The problem of inserting a large shed into an urban fabric is well known. 21 See interview with Bjarke Ingels in
The lack of active frontages turns flat-horizontal envelopes into large-scale obstacles Volume n. 13 (2007): 48-51.
to urban flows, sterilizing their surroundings with a usually forbidding edge. Stadia,
stations, retail malls, trade halls and factories are all structures primarily driven by
the necessity of roofing over a large area and tend to present a very low level of environ-
mental engagement, as these containers do not usually contain activities with a strong
interface with the outside. A classical solution to this problem is to wrap them with
complementary programs capable of producing active frontages.
One of the specificities of this envelope type is a very high ratio of solar exposure
per square meter of covered floor plate which makes the roof features crucial to the
environmental performance of the building. The flat-horizontal envelope’s roof
produces an extended horizontal limit that provides shelter from temperature, rain
and excessive solar exposure, but is also required to allow daylight and ventilation
into the enclosed volume. Due to its waterproofing functions, the horizontal limit
of building envelopes was traditionally rather definitive, but as the envelope becomes
more extensive, a certain degree of opening is necessary to allow for ventilation and
daylight unless an entirely artificial environment is implemented.
One of the most interesting concerns of the flat-horizontal envelope is whether
its relationship with nature is one of exclusion or inclusion, and furthermore, what
sorts of natures this relationship implies. The flat-horizontal envelope usually engulfs
nature in an idealized form, as all those bamboo gardens and water features in airports
and convention centers demonstrate. The proliferation of biospheres and biotopes
as part of this envelope typology resonates with Latour’s proposal of a political ecology
based on the multiplicity of natures, as an opportunity to challenge mononaturalism.20
The possibility of a manipulation and eventual reformulation of the ground is
an alternative challenge to the idealized version of nature that is frequently deployed
in these projects and that usually excludes political considerations from its conception.
Yet these opportunities are often misspent. The technologies of the flat-horizontal
envelope roof can be effectively used to produce the rearrangement of daylight,
airflow and solar intake for the production of a specific atmosphere without having
to resort to the radical detachment of interior from exterior. Could interior gardens
be used to reduce carbon dioxide inside the building in order to minimize the air
renewal cycle, and therefore the heating loads in winter? Can vegetation act as a humid-
ifier helping to cool the air in the summer? Is nature an ideal notion to be represented
inside these large envelopes, or is it an integral part of the building systems?
On the other end of the spectrum of possibilities, the roof of the flat-vertical
envelope can operate simply as a new datum: an artificial ground which does not Roof as ground-infrastructure: Namba
engage in atmospheric continuities, but challenges a uniform concept of nature and Parks, Osaka, Japan. Jerde Partnership.
alters a politically loaded architectural element. The treatment of large-scale roofs
as new natural grounds seems to have become a default solution for buildings today
as green credentials and organic features have become a favorite with both politicians
and urban activists.21 The success of a certain infrastructural approach to architec-
ture in recent years suggests a similar process of multinaturalization of the human
The use of large flat-horizontal envelopes as grounds, often employed in land-
scape design, can be found across a variety of programs and locations. The COEX
Center in Seoul, the Suntec City Mall in Singapore and the West Kowloon Mall
Roof as atmosphere-inducer: Southern
in Hong Kong are examples where retail facilities act as connective tissue to a large Cross Station, Melbourne, Australia.
urban complex, forming a socle or ground onto which other parts of the program Grimshaw Architects.
are placed. The sort of nature that is constructed on these artificial grounds is often
an idealized one rather than an exploration of potential interferences between nature
and the artificiality of its physical support.
Digging the program underground or generating multiple grounds through
Volume 17

bifurcation avoids the disruption that flat-horizontal envelopes may produce within
the urban fabric by blocking arteries and destroying active frontages. If in the modernist
ideal the democratization of the ground was produced through its reproduction
(the Maison Domino or the elevated walkways built in the 1960s as a solution to the
83 intersection between pedestrian and vehicular traffic), these new strategies of urban
ground bifurcation are usually attached to active frontages on several levels and 22 Some examples of this strategy of public
incorporate a very high density of program, particularly retail. The advantage of this space bifurcation on two or more levels
type of intensified ground is that it produces a series of gradations between natural can be found in projects by the Jerde
and artificial capable of adjusting to the intensity of the urban field they are serving.22 Partnership, for example in the Beurs-
Generally the requirement to make the roof more permeable to light and air traverse in Rotterdam, Namba Park in
implies a lower capacity to work as a ground, as a physical infrastructure. The question Osaka and Kanyon in Istanbul.
for flat envelope roofs is then whether the natural – or rather, what natural – lies
below or above the envelope. Does the design attempt to produce an atmosphere by 23 This is something that Buckminster Fuller
reducing artificial lighting, moderating the temperature variation and inducing identified some time ago. His proposal of
natural ventilation? Or is the purpose to act as a ground by increasing thermal mass a giant dome over Manhattan in Operating
and insulation, retaining storm-water and absorbing carbon dioxide with vegetation? Manual For Spaceship Earth (New York:
Once the flat horizontal envelope has ceased to act as insulation between the natural E.P. Dutton, 1971) was a groundbreaking
and the artificial, it will develop entirely different mechanisms to qualify either proposal in the development of atmos-
as an atmosphere-inducer or as a ground-infrastructure. In order to produce a more phere design.
gradual determination of the atmosphere, we will find unitized roofs built from a
base unit resulting from the intersection between structural solutions, drainage 24 Peter Sloterdijk, ESFERAS III.
paths, daylight provision and natural ventilation. Stansted Airport is a particularly
interesting example of the modular construction of an atmosphere, integrating all 25 See ‘Junkspace’ in AMO-OMA/Rem
environmental control systems in a base unit that builds the whole by repetition. Koolhaas et al, Content (Köln: Taschen,
As carbon footprints and energy prices become key subjects of global geopolitics, 2004), 152-161.
energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions will become crucial political
performances of a building. Building technologies can substantially improve these 26 ‘Enclosed within a vast mega structure
performances by increasing the insulation capacity and thermal mass of the envelope, covering a total floor area of 2.5 million
but energy consumption is primarily a geometrical problem, a function of compact- square meters – the project’s scale is
ness: the less external façade a building has, the easier it becomes to maintain its unprecedented. Conceived as a self-
internal temperature.23 contained city within a city, it contains a
Technically, the limits of a large-scale envelope derive from the provision of rich mix of buildings including museums,
daylight and fresh air, but there is already an arsenal of systems to solve this problem theatres and cinemas, to ensure that it
without having to resort to energy-intensive artificial lighting and air conditioning: is a major new destination for the whole
mechanically oriented mirrors bring daylight deep into the space, water jets and of Moscow’. ‘Crystal Island will have a
wind turbines produce adiabatic cooling and atria can be strategically distributed to range of cultural, exhibition and per-
produce natural ventilation through stack effects. The capacity to enclose and formance facilities, approximately 3000
manage vast volumes of air and produce energy-efficient artificial atmospheres hotel rooms and 900 serviced apartments,
capable of minimizing the consumption of natural resources crucially depends on as well as offices and shops, designed to
the capacity of the envelope to regulate flows of solar radiation, air, water, people, maintain a dynamic and animated public
vehicles, etc. realm throughout the day. Residents are
Sloterdijk’s ‘politics of climatization’24 points to a process in which growing able to work and live within a densely
sectors of urban space are given to private agents to develop and maintain: gardeners, planned area where every amenity is
event managers and private security agents are part of the design of these atmos- within easy walking distance, including
pheres. Koolhaas’ junkspace25 is another description of the same phenomenon of an international school for 500 students.
sanitization of ever-larger areas of the city, providing a safe –environment, assuming Mixed-use also presents a strong case for
we are prepared to surrender police duties to private security services. Norman Foster energy balance, with individual com-
has just announced Crystal Island,26 a project in Moscow that will contain 2.5 million ponents using energy at different times,
square meters under a single envelope, the world’s biggest building, approximately while reinforcing the breadth of economic
five times the size of the Pentagon building. The project is described as an example and social activity of the area’. ‘This
of sustainability, able to improve the environmental performance of the building by terracing creates a series of wintergardens,
swallowing ever larger areas of the city under a single envelope designed to enhance which form a breathable second layer and
natural ventilation and daylight. thermal buffer for the main building,
Whatever contempt we may feel for the junkspace megastructures and other shielding the interior spaces from
social uteri, they have an undeniable popular appeal and their energy performance Moscow’s extreme summer and winter
is quickly improving and may eventually surpass the conventional city fabric where climates. A vertical louver system sheaths
the requirements for natural ventilation and daylight force the adoption of a smaller the internal facades to ensure privacy for
envelope texture with a much higher envelope ratio. The question is whether the the individual apartments’. ‘Dynamic
environmental achievements of Crystal Island and the refinement of its skin devices enclosure panels slotted into the struc-
to allow for atmospheric gradations across the surface will be sufficient to guarantee tural framing allow daylight to penetrate
an adequate political performance. The political dangers of the scale of the flat- deep into the heart of the scheme and can
horizontal envelopes lie in the scale of space they regulate: the fundamental difference be controlled to modify the internal
between, say, Yona Friedman’s Ville Spatiale and the Mall of America is that the environment – closed in winter for extra
first is not an envelope but primarily a frame, while the second is a container with a warmth and opened in summer to allow
thoroughly sealed and dressed envelope. Because of its smaller grain, traditional city natural ventilation. Energy management
fabrics were perhaps better adapted to intensifying a social mix and the coexistence is at the heart of the design, with additional
of diverse population groups in a space. The only way to ensure that the skin of flat- strategies to include on-site renewable
Volume 17

horizontal envelopes does not create a radical split between those who are included – and low-carbon energy generation’.
let’s say shoppers with a certain acquisitive power – and those who are excluded is From Foster + Partners website,
to devise equally sophisticated mechanisms of permeability across the skin. And the
larger the envelope becomes, the more sophisticated the interface has to be to guarantee
an appropriate level of mix in the population of the envelope. The transparency of 84
Image Foster + Partners
the membrane, the projection of an image of exclusivity or accessibility and adjust- 27 In 2005, Bluewater Shopping Centre,
ment to the surrounding urban fabric are devices that can be used – in addition to birthplace of the ‘chavs’ – a teenager
the security policies27 – to enhance the mix. The politics of climate offer the possibility movement in the UK characterized by
for environmental technologies to disrupt the logic of the controlled envelope. Just wearing sports clothing with hoods and
as the air conditioner enabled large areas of horizontal space to be enclosed, the sealed gold jewelry and a cult of consumerism,
envelope is in turn superseded by open, permeable horizontal spaces whose openness drug abuse, anti-social behavior and life
is justified on environmental grounds – for example in the Masdar project from on benefits – forbade entrance to indivi-
Foster and Partners in Abu Dhabi. The eco imperative becomes a means to break duals sporting hooded sweatshirts or base-
down the impermeability of membranes and to intensify contact between populations. ball caps. The policy allegedly increased
An interesting case study to analyze in this respect, particularly significant the number of visitors to the center some
for the relationship between large-scale flat-horizontal envelopes and urban fabrics, 20%. Bluewater Shopping Centre, the
is the retail developments done in second tier cities in the UK in the last ten years. largest mall in the UK, has been identified
This process started in 1996 with the Sequential Test, a planning policy issued by also as a major target of radical Islamic
John Gummer, the Conservative Secretary of State for the Environment, which gave groups.
priority to mix-use development and inner-city sites over out-of-town locations
as a response to failing city centers and the failed strategy of privatizing the urban
regeneration processes. Urban centers in Britain had reached levels of substantial
degradation in the mid-1990s and the Sequential Test was designed to entice the
private sector to invest in inner-city sites by making the price of inner-city property
so low that moving retail to the suburbs, as in the American model and promoted
in the UK by early Thatcher policies, reached its extreme in the completion of the
Bluewater mall and no longer made sense. Inner-city locations came together with
infrastructure and catchment population. This policy has resulted in large sectors of
the city centers of Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester,
Sheffield and Southampton being bought up and redeveloped by private developers
while being closely monitored by intense public scrutiny. This process has unfolded
through the New Labour tenure which promoted these developments as strategically
vital to the survival of city centers, triggering a shift in the orientation of UK retail
development and planning in the late 1990s toward a focus on urban regeneration.
A beefed-up public planning infrastructure was put in place by the Labour Govern-
ment to continue what John Gummer had already started during the conservative
governments; The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE)
and the Urban Task Force were set up in order to promote denser urban cores and
an ‘urban renaissance’. City councils pioneered the link between retail and urban
regeneration as a central component of a strategy focused on the development and
promotion of urban cores. In turn, the notion of such a ‘place building’ – which has
been at the heart of New Labor’s urban policy agenda – has become entwined in
current revisions of retail planning policy.
The resulting struggle between old urban structures and the junkspace invaders
is certainly being played out on the domain of the envelope and performed as a
negotiation between developers, who want to swallow as much space as possible
within their complexes, and urban planners, who want to keep as much permeability
as possible throughout these complexes and extend the city fabric through them,
producing active frontages and intensifying permeability. The final form becomes
a hybrid between the existing urban fabric and the diagram of a suburban retail
massing. The question is whether this is actually a regeneration of the urban centers,
as New Labour claims, or whether it is the takeover of the inner cities by a sort of
alien organization with air-conditioning and private security. In effect, the process
denotes politics played out around the concept of the envelope: the urban fabric
may be understood as a single envelope pitched against the envelope of the retail
mall. As with the example of climatization, it seems that the description of the politics
of each condition can be expanded through a dialectical conception: the urban core
versus the suburban envelope. The envelope as a concept becomes a way to politicize
all typologies (new and old) and represent in any given example the intersection of
technology, social values, environmental or security performances and human con-
stituencies: a vehicle for the discipline to define political, social and cultural terms.
The possible outcomes of this gradation range from the small grain of the Crystal Island, Moscow, Russia.
traditional urban envelopes, proposed by the New Urbanists and Prince Charles, Foster + Partners
to the omnivorous envelope of Crystal Island. In the first model, the envelope coin-
cides with the demarcation of public and private spheres. There are clearly delimited
responsibilities for public and private agents in policing, maintaining, cleaning and
controlling the environment with a clear division between the public and the private
Volume 17

at the envelope line. The second model requires a more complex political structure
in which a single operator – in the case of the British inner-city retail complexes, a
private one – is capable of ensuring the maintenance of a piece of the city, including
both private and public areas. One could argue that the privatization of the public
85 realm by the retail sector on a planetary scale is a politically corrupt urban strategy
in which large sectors of public space are given to profit-seeking operators. Yet as 28 In 1994, the Supreme Court of New

Image Terry Calvert

energy become a scarce resource, we may reach a threshold where minimizing the Jersey passed judgment on a sentence
building envelope may strongly favor the process of hybridization between the against J.M.B. Realty Corporation, the
public and the private spheres. The New Urbanist development of Seaside and the owner of several suburban shopping malls
new town of Poundbury, despite keeping a strict consistency between the envelope in New Jersey in favor of the New Jersey
that separates public and private and inside and outside, are hardly examples of open Coalition Against War in the Middle East
public spaces. Whether the commercialization of the public realm is the inevitable who had demanded the right to demon-
outcome and whether the management of such operations should be left in private strate and hand out pamphlets against
hands are different matters. But as environmental technologies make these structures the first Iraq War in several malls owned
more energy efficient and regulations strive toward energy efficient, high density by the plaintiff, arguing that the malls are
urban development, there is no reason why those spaces may not eventually revert effectively public space, despite private
to public ownership and management.28 ownership. This decision demonstrates
To exactly what degree architecture can effect social integration, the redistri- the legal status of retail compounds as
bution of wealth and the maintenance of social mobility is difficult to determine. public. See New Jersey Coalition Against
But without reducing the political potentials of the building envelope to a question War in the Middle East v. J.M.B. Realty
of energy efficiency and resource usage, it is clear that architecture can have decisive Corporation. Supreme Court of New
environmental effects. Buildings account for 48% of carbon emissions and over Jersey, 1994.138 N.J. 326, 650 A.2d 757.
60% of energy consumption. Carbon emissions will be a crucial geopolitical issue
that will have to be globally managed to avoid a few economies causing global damages
to the ecosystem. A global carbon footprint map shows the relationship between
wealth, carbon emissions and the consumption of energy resources: wealthier states
are ‘invading’ the poorer ones by exceeding their carbon footprint. Energy prices,
rising quickly due to the massive increase of the middle class in emerging economies,
are dramatically affecting the global economy. Fossil fuel energy sources, concen-
trated in selected areas of the globe, are a major source of geopolitical strife. When
a building substantially reduces its energy consumption, it contributes to defusing
global tension. In using renewable energy sources, a building reduces energy
dependence and mitigates global warming. In order to do this it needs to engage
local climatology and resources.
The engagement with ecological concerns is contemporary architecture’s most
direct path to political effect, and this performance largely depends on the envelope’s
design. A political ecology enables architecture to regain an active political role and
overcome the division between nature and politics. The design of flat-horizontal
envelopes can play a decisive role here by ensuring a gradated transition rather than
a boundary of exclusion, both environmentally and socially, and producing a
multiple concept of nature.

Retail development as urban regen-

eration: The Bullring, Birmingham, UK,
showing Future Systems’ Selfridges.
Volume 17

X≈Y≈Z. Spherical Envelopes. Relaxed Fit. 29 As Nigel Thrift has pointedly noted,
The spherical envelope’s dimensions are approximately equivalent to each other; contemporary politics are progressively
cubic, spheroidal and polygonal geometries are also particular cases of this typology. less reliant on representation and pro-
In principle, the spherical envelope has the lowest ratio between its surface and position and more dependent on the
the volume contained within. The specificity of this type is precisely the relative production of affects. See Thrift, Non-
independence that the skin acquires in relation to its programmatic determinations, Representational Theory. Space, Politics,
as function is not usually determined by proximity to the outside and therefore by Affect (London: Routledge, 2007).
the form of the envelope. This often implies a wider variety of programs inside, each
with different environmental requirements. Spherical envelopes generally enclose
a wide range of spatial types with specific functions, rather than being determined
by the provision of a repetitive spatial condition, as in residential or commercial
projects. Unlike other envelope types in which the border between public and private
occurs on the surface of the container, the spherical type often contains gradients
of publicness within. Spherical envelopes often correspond to public buildings,
buildings that gather a multiplicity of spaces rather than a repetitive type of space:
city halls, court houses, libraries, museums, indoor sports facilities, etc.
Because of the low strength of attachment between surface and contained space,
the design of the spherical envelope focuses on the surface itself. While in other
envelope typologies the massing of the container is more directly driven by the func-
tional determinations of the programmatic grain – for example the depth of a
cellular office or of a bedroom – the spherical envelope usually contains a community
of diverse functions. The spherical envelope – like the flat-horizontal type – has been
decisively affected by the evolution of building technologies, because of its low surface
to volume ratio. The availability of air-conditioning systems and the development of
curtain-wall technology have made fenestration optional as an envelope system and
released the structural constraints, enabling tilts, curves and bends in the envelope’s
surface. The continuity between the roof and the wall – an improbable trait in con-
ventional building – has been made easy by the incorporation of plastics into the con-
struction industry, eliminating the cornice line as a necessary articulation; the corner,
a singularity derived from construction geometries and property alignments, is also
weakening as the limits between private and public fade and the structure of ground
ownership becomes challenged by contemporary urban development instruments…
Political expression and identity are particularly important in the dynamics of
the envelope as regulators of exchanges between inside and outside. The fenestration
pattern in a building’s façade has psychological and symbolic connotations and has
been historically attached to political representations. The symmetry and asymmetry
as well as the regularity and irregularity of the fenestration have long been associated
with political concepts such as order and freedom, equality, diversity and transparency.
For example, the fenêtre en longueur was an index of the lack of compartmentali-
zation and internal freedom associated with the plan libre. Herman Hertzberger used
to joke that in his student years, left-wing architects were those who used horizontal
windows, while right-wing architects had a clear preference for vertical windows.
The correlation between the patterns of fenestration and those of inhabitation, and
the coincidence or divergence of physical, visual, thermal and atmospheric trans-
parencies across the envelope membrane are acquiring a new relevance through
currently developing environmental and security concerns.
But, beyond the emerging technological possibilities there is also a whole new
politics of faciality at play affecting the envelope as the locus of political expression.
The emergence of new political forms runs in parallel to the development of envelopes
that resist primitive models of faciality. As swing voters become the most crucial
electorate and political tactics move away from party-line ideologies and political
rhetoric, favoring instead sub-political mechanisms such as trends, movements and
other affect-driven political forms,29 we are witnessing the proliferation of modes of
faciality that can no longer be structured by the oppositions between front and back,
private and public, or roof and wall. Once cornices, corners and windows are no
longer technically necessary and the private and public are tangled in an increasingly
complex relationship, the hierarchies of their interface become more complex: the Seattle Public Library, Seattle, US.
building envelope must adopt more complex reference systems to become a field Office for Metropolitan Architecture
of intersection between identity, security and environmental performances. From
Seattle to London to Beijing, the faciality of the envelope has proliferated to such
a degree that the pattern of construction joints seems to have become the new scale
of articulation. This is most visible in the spherical envelope because of its association
Volume 17

with public building typologies and because of its low envelope ratio. The spherical
envelope features the lowest level of environmental constraints and the highest levels
of representational demands.
The classical approach to the envelope as a vehicle of expression and
87 identity was to use a conventional architectural language inscribed on the surface.
Eighteenth-century French academic theory held that the façade of a building 30 See Alan Colquhoun, ‘The Façade in Its
should reflect its program and purpose, a doctrine that was adopted by the modern Modern Variants’ Werk, Bauen + Wohnen
movement and that dismissed the classical tradition according to which the façade n. 12 (2005): 12-19.
represented the building allegorically as a signifier that located the building within a
hierarchy of socio-political meaning. Instead, the façade was seen as the logical result 31 Colin Rowe, ‘Transparency: Literal and
of the program – not as its representation. The architecture of the Enlightenment Phenomenal’ in The Mathematics of the
still referred back to classical architectural languages as a sort of revival of Greek demo- Ideal Villa and Other Essays (Cambridge,
cracy, but simultaneously grounded itself on modularity and a rigid metrics of space MA: MIT Press, 1976).
as organizing principles representing the egalitarian values of the Saint-Simonian
ideal democracy. During the modern period, the façade ceased to be an allegory 32 ‘The history of the façade between 1910
altogether, and instead became a symbol: the external surface of the building, cleansed and the 1960s exhibits two partly parallel
of any reference to stylistic convention, was now supposed to act both as an indis- and partly sequential tendencies. The first
sociable part of the whole building and as a symbol of modernity.30 Faciality had tendency is the impulse to destroy the
entered a crisis, and the envelope was directed toward the maximum degree of trans- façade as such. The building should not
parency, literal or phenomenal.31 The question became how this transparency should be considered as consisting of plan and
be structured, because the lack of an overt allegory in the façade did not necessarily elevation but as an organic whole in which
imply the façade’s disappearance as a quasi-autonomous element capable of repre- the external surface of a building is a by-
senting a building’s internal organization. It is undeniable that façades are still designed product of its internal organization. The
to communicate, although in an uncoded mode, unlike in pre-modernist practices. building is thought of as transparent and
If the political history of the 20th century could be interpreted as the exploration fluid, and should not be divided into
of public freedoms in respect to the normative basis of democracy, the development of rigid compartments or bounded by solid
the building envelope could be partially described in parallel terms. The modern walls. This fluidity also has an ethical
movement was invested in making the façade disappear, merging it into an organic component. It symbolizes a non-
whole in which the external surface of a building would become a mere by-product hierarchical democratic society. Spatial
of either its programmatic organization or its constructive technology. As Alan boundaries are symptoms of social op-
Colquhoun has described, these investigations follow two primary lineages: an pression. This tendency has an “idealist”
evolutionary, technical and aesthetic approach shared by the Esprit Nouveau and and a “materialist” side deriving on the
Neue Sachlichkeit movements of the mid 1920s, and a more ideologically charged one hand from Rousseau and German
approach represented by Expressionism, Futurism, De Stijl and Constructivism, in idealism and, on the other from Marxism.
which the building is considered transparent and fluid rather than divided into rigid In terms of architectural history, this
compartments or bound by solid walls. This fluidity has an ethical component, ideology belongs to the first pre-war
as spatial boundaries are seen as symbols of social oppression to be avoided in a non- phase of modernism. It is represented by
hierarchical, democratic society.32 And yet, faciality could not entirely disappear: Expressionism and Futurism, but
in Chandigarh, Le Corbusier strove to synthesize the figures of function by literally continues with De Stijl, Constructivism
removing the façade plane while producing an element, the brise-soleil, supposedly and the avant-garde magazine ABC.
designed to reduce solar heat gain, but truly devised to compensate for the loss of Beiträge zum Bauen after WWI, still with
structural expression in the modern curtain-wall, providing an opportunity for the contradictory idealist and materialist
façade to retrieve some of the plastic interest and representational potential it had connotations. The second tendency is less
lost with the removal of the classical orders. In Ahmedabad, Louis Kahn expanded philosophically radical. It sees the façade
this idea of transparency into a potent faciality by exposing the spatial structures in evolutionary, technical, and aesthetic
and programmatic units in the building. Yet even if an identity grounded in (rather than ethical) terms. This view was
faciality was in crisis, the concept of modularity, reinforced by the idea of industrial shared by the Esprit Nouveau and Neue
production, remained solidly in place as a symbol of a democratic and egalitarian Sachlichkeit movements of the mid 1920s.
society. Mies van der Rohe targeted another form of transparency and faciality The façade is not abolished but continued
by revealing the load-bearing structure and the fabrication of the envelope as its “by other means”‘. Alan Colquhoun,
primary expression. ‘The Façade in Its Modern Variants’.
As the modernist world order collapsed at the onset of globalization at the end
of the 1960s, faciality was rehabilitated and legitimized. The post-modern period
reinstated the relevance of the envelope as a representational mechanism, taking
advantage of new building technologies to create plastic effects alienated from their
contexts, in correspondence with the prevailing capitalist ideology of individualism
and the spectacle. This architecture implied a future urbanism that differed as much
from the traditional city as from the utopian cities of the 1920s, as well as from the
models advanced by the critics of utopianism in the 1950s. Architects like Venturi
attempted to redeploy language and allegory, even in an ironic mode, as a legitimate
component of envelope design in the age of rootless and spectacular capitalism.
As language becomes politically ineffective in the wake of globalization, and the
traditional articulations of the building envelope become technically redundant, the
envelope’s own physicality, its fabrication and materiality, attract representational
roles. Globalization has on the one hand neutralized the effectiveness of architectural
language, propelling the iconic and symbolic as communicative devices while
increasing the demands for the envelope’s capacity for insulation and immunization
Volume 17

as a technical problem. As the envelope type that comprises most public building
typologies, the spherical suffers from a particularly intense conflict arising from the
demand to provide a consistent identity for the community and the demand to
insulate and immunize, environmentally and security-wise, against an increasingly
abrasive global atmosphere. 88
Image Nacasa & Partners. Inc.
The design of spherical envelopes has consequently focused recently on the 33 See “Year Zero: Faciality” in Gilles
construction of the surface itself, both as an environmental and security device and Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand
as the locus of symbolic representation. We can observe the proliferation of spherical Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
envelopes tending toward a multi-directional, differential faciality, which resists (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
traditional protocols in which representational mechanisms can be precisely oriented Press, 1987).
and structured. Nouvel’s unbuilt, yet influential Tokyo Opera, Gehry’s Guggenheim
Museum, Future Systems’ Selfridges Department Store, OMA’s Seattle Public 34 John G. Blair observes that when the word
Library and Casa da Musica and Herzog & de Meuron’s Prada Tokyo are notable module first emerged in the sixteenth and
examples of these tendencies. This differential faciality is often achieved by dissolving seventeenth centuries, it meant something
the envelope’s articulations as in Foster’s Swiss-Re building in London in which very close to model. It implied a small-
the cladding system is extended to the top of the building. There is no crowning or scale representation or example. By the
cornice line in this building, the closest element being a floating rail for the cleaning eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
cradle hanging toward the top of the building. The pediment is missing and the the word had come to imply a standard
form narrows toward the bottom producing an effect of instability. Freed from the measure of fixed ratios and proportions.
technical constraints that previously required cornices, pediments, corners and ‘A modular system is one that gives more
fenestration, the articulation of the spherical envelope has become increasingly importance to parts than to wholes. Parts
contingent and indeterminate. OMA’s Seattle Public Library or Gehry’s Los Angeles are conceived as equivalent and hence,
Disney Hall are also notable examples of this challenge to the conventional faciality in one or more senses, interchangeable
of public buildings. The demise of the primitive figures of building faciality – the and/or cumulative and/or recombinable’.
white wall/black hole system in Deleuzian terms33 – has found resonance in the avail- Blair, Modular America: Cross-Cultural
ability of certain technical possibilities (such as printing technology and CAM manu- Perspectives on the Emergence of an American
facturing) which have enabled architects to play not only with tessellation geometries Way (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988).
and material textures, but with a wide repertory of layers that may sometimes play
an ornamental role, but also perform technical functions such as solar shading and
visual obstruction. The decoupling of the patterns of visual, thermal and atmospheric
permeability has opened unprecedented possibilities of multiple facialization of the
envelope by dissolving or intensifying the joints at will through the phasing and de-
phasing of these layers, for example in Herzog & de Meuron’s Eberswalde Library
or Ricola Factory. The conventional figures of building faciality have been replaced
by a more nuanced interfacial embodiment in which different layers of performance
are played out against each other to produce a far larger range of effects.
The current appetite for the envelope as a device of insulation and immunization,
as well as the devaluation of language as a means of architectural expression, has
shifted the envelope away from language and signification toward a differential
faciality in which the materiality and tessellation of the surface have become critical
design mechanisms mediating between simultaneous demands for iconicity and
immunization. The geometry of the tiles, their degree and variation, as well as
the pattern and nature of joints, have assumed the task of architectural expression.
As the articulation of the volume becomes infinitely pliable, it is the construction
of the envelope that is charged with architectural, social and political expression.
The general tendency toward the reinforcement of the envelope’s air-tightness
is played out in the joint pattern and modulation rather than the fenestration structure.
The emergence of polygonal tessellations as a contemporary tendency in envelope
design – for example PTM’s Beijing Watercube – may be related to the bubble
geometries of differential faciality, but it is also an index of a contemporary desire for
insulation. The construction of bubble envelopes is made possible by polygonal Prada Aoyama, Tokyo, Japan.
geometries which may also reduce joint length: polygonal tessellations have smaller Herzog & de Meuron
joint length per surface unit than rectangular grids. Gehry’s fish-like skins are another
index of this tendency aimed at the erasure of the hierarchical faciality and modular
joint grid that characterize standard curtain-wall cladding systems. In doing so they
may be also exploring the expression of a sort of politics that move away from the
ideal, modular democratic organization based on indifference, independence and
interchangeability. If modularity was typically a quality of a democratic system that
prioritizes the part over the whole, some of the emerging envelope geometries seem
to be exploring modular differentiation as a political effect.34
This explosion of the spherical envelope’s faciality tends to produce an air-tight,
seamless material texture in which the consistency between the surface tessellation
and the geometry of the envelope and its singularities – folds, edges – has interesting
political resonances: is the pattern of the envelope consistent with its frame, with the
geometry of the envelope? This is a difficult consistency to produce once we move
away from the geometries based on flat vertical surfaces that have constituted the
core of traditional faciality. For example, OMA’s Seattle Public Library is remarkably
Volume 17

oblivious to the articulation between the tiling of the faces and the overall geometry,
particularly visible at the edges of the volume. In contrast, Herzog & de Meuron’s
Prada Tokyo exploits this consistency and extends it even to the section of the building
which is in a way a reversal of the modernist ambition of transparency, enacted
89 from the pattern of the envelope toward the internal volume. Is it possible to remain
transparent in the age of spectacular capitalism and immunization? Prada Tokyo, 35 Manuel De Landa, A New Philosophy
a paradigmatic building of this condition built for a super-brand that requires a of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social
certain level of exclusivity – and perhaps of exclusion and atmospheric insulation – Complexity (New York: Continuum
developed a contemporary form of transparency that is one of the most interesting International, 2006).
attempts to address the contemporary demands placed on the envelope.
As transparency has proven a politically naïve tactic within global capitalism,
where the design of an adequate public interface requires detachment between
expression and building efficiencies, while growing security and environmental
concerns legitimize the consistency of the envelope, faciality is being deployed with-
out apologies. Yet this renewed self-consciousness is now embedded in the physicality
of the skin, pervading the materiality of the construction itself. Given language’s
devaluation as a means of expression and representation within global capitalism,
the contemporary envelope – the primary depository of contemporary architectural
expression – is now invested in the production of affects, an uncoded, pre-linguistic
form of identity that transcends the propositional logic of political rhetorics. These
rely on the material organization of the membrane, where the articulation between
the parts and the whole is not only a result of technical constraints but also a resonance
with the articulation between the individual and the collective, and therefore a
mechanism of political expression.
In Sennett’s definition of associative democracy, Latour’s Actor-Network Theory
and Sloterdijk’s foams the articulation between individual and society, part and
whole, is drawn by influences and attachments across positions, agencies and scales
that transcend both the individuality of the part and the integrity of the whole.
The emerging social structures theorized by De Landa, using Deleuze‘s theory of
assemblages, to posit trans-scalar social entities from sub-individual to transnational
that characterize globalized societies and their heterogeneous populations are coinci-
dent descriptions of emerging forms of social and political organization that cannot
be expressed by modular grids.35 Assemblages are non-essentialist, historically con-
tingent actual entities (not instances of ideal forms) and non-totalizing (not seamless
totalities but collections of heterogeneous components). In these emerging social
assemblages, individuals, groups and other possible actants are primarily defined by
relations of exteriority and need to engage with different assemblages without losing
their identity. The relationship between an assemblage and its components is complex
and non-linear: assemblages are formed and affected by heterogeneous populations
of lower-level assemblages, but may also act back upon these components, imposing
restraints or adaptations in them.
The modular grid, indifferent to the relative weight of individuals or politically
active subgroups, very much embodies the ideals of democratic equality and liberal
individualism. It demonstrates a preference for non-hierarchical organizations and
other ideal notions of democracy in which individuals are equal subjects to the will
of majority. ‘Weighted’ models of democracy – either those committed to the exercise
of civil liberties or those that are driven by a hierarchical bureaucratic regime over-
laid onto basically democratic protocols – tend to relate better to allometric modularities
or variable repetitions as traits of expression to reintroduce a collective purpose to
a modular system without resorting to primitive forms of hierarchy. Associative
democracy’s space is primarily mediated through matter rather than language as a
vehicle of representation and the envelope’s materialization and modes of faciality
are a primary subject for this tendency. The drive toward seamless differentiation
is in turn mobilizing a variety of technical alibis: whether a differentiated view or a
differential solar exposure, the envelope’s tessellation patterns are now under pressure
to produce contemporary political affects. Simple modularity gives way to a weighted
modularity that resonates with the swarm-like organizations characteristic of both
associative and weighted democracies, depending on whether they are formed bottom-
up or top-down. Two examples of spherical envelopes, Herzog & de Meuron’s
Signal Box in Basel and the Ricola Storage Building, are experiments in producing a
differentiated envelope capable of dissolving the figures of faciality into a multiple,
differentiated skin. The façade of the Dominus Winery, another Herzog & de Meuron Tesselated façades: Olympic Stadium
building, goes even further in the redefinition of a relationship between the part and and Aquatics Center, Beijing, China.
the whole in the construction of a building envelope by resorting to the contingency
of a material pattern to produce differentiation.
Within contemporary politics, power seeks to represent itself in a very different
way from how other political regimes did in the past – think of Stalinist Russia or
Volume 17

Fascist Italy. It is not politically correct to demonstrate power, so its manifestations

are much more ambiguous and subdued. It is fascinating to see how China is now
choosing its architectural representation as the basis of its new global might. The
Olympic Games were a huge experiment in the formation of a new national identity
and the deliberateness and precision being used in its architectural formulation is 90
breathtaking, independent of the agents and authors used to build this image. The 36 ‘“We wanted to do something not
Olympic Stadium, the Aquatics Center and the CCTV building display a similar hierarchical, to make not a big gesture as
massing strategy: a more or less non-articulated shape built on a huge scale. There you’d expect in a political system like
is no illusion of transparency or openness, rather the ambition to construct a well that,” de Meuron says, “but [something
defined envelope. So far, we have not strayed far from Mao, but a closer analysis of that for] 100,000 people [is still] on a
these skins draws out the differences: the three cases have been systematically struc- human scale, without being oppressive.
tured with a varying pattern, probably aimed to portray a culture of diversity and It’s about disorder and order, apparent
collective spirit – rather than an individualistic, modular one – in spite of the gigantic disorder. It seems random, chaotic, but
scale of the projects being implemented. These buildings speak volumes about the there’s a very clear structural rationale”‘.
regime36 and the message seems to be that they can still organize massive projects for ‘“The Chinese love to hang out in public
a huge population while being sensitive enough to integrate specificities or multiple spaces,” Herzog adds. “The main idea
agencies rather than driving everything through a central command. Or, they may was to offer them a playground”. The
be saying that communist equality cannot simply be translated into the independence Chinese government, they say, has carried
of individuals who act within the rules and that certain adjustments may apply, as out their wishes to the letter. They make
in a swarm formation. In any case, the blue suit has been dropped as inappropriate a distinction between creating a building
to China’s new political identity, and the homogeneous mass of proletarian public that fosters a country’s ideology - say,
has been replaced by those differentiated skins carefully constructed by the authorities Albert Speer’s work for Hitler - and one
for the Olympic Games. that seeks to transform it’. Excerpts from
The question is whether these differentiated facialities and tessellations of the a conversation between Herzog & de
spherical envelope correspond simply to a strategy to reinforce the impermeability Meuron and Tom Dyckhoff in The
of the building envelope as a membrane of immunity and insulation while representing Guardian.
an ideally differentiated public or whether they are genuine devices to proliferate
the faciality of the envelope and allow it to relate to a much larger variety of concerns, 37 Phantom public was coined by Walter
environmental, social, economic, etc. Also of concern is whether they inflect in Lippmann in his critical assessment of the
response to multiple agencies and incorporate specificities, rather than resorting to public within modern democracies as an
the mere production of political affects, spectacular embodiments of the phantom artificially constructed entity. This work
public of global capitalism.37 triggered a more optimistic reply from
Because of the contemporary proliferation of agencies in contemporary politics, John Dewey about the relations between
it is no longer sustainable to hold to the ideological assumption that a more regular information and the formation of
or a more differentiated pattern, one more permeable or more closed, is better at democratic communities in what has
representing a certain society and the production of transformative effects. The political become a famous polemic. Walter
accuracy of a certain envelope needs to be judged in respect to very concrete assem- Lippmann, The Phantom Public
blages. The most interesting envelopes among the iconic Olympic projects are (London: Transaction Publishers, 2002).
probably those in which the architects have succeeded in creating a plausible alibi
for the differentiated pattern wrapped around the massive unarticulated volume of
the buildings, where a resonance between performance and affect has been achieved.
This is where a new discipline of the envelope becomes politically operative, as it is
the discipline that can act as a piece of resistance without getting caught in the negative
project of the critical tradition or in the use of architecture as a mere representation
of politics.
Volume 17

X≈Z>Y. Flat-Vertical Envelopes. Tight fit.

Image Rafael Franca

The flat-vertical envelope, better known as a ‘slab’, is a category that includes those
envelopes that have predominant dimensions parallel to gravity distributed along
a line and in which the width of the building is greater than its depth. Flat-vertical
envelopes are generated by the horizontal displacement of a section of space, which
in order to support a specific function, optimizes density, daylight, ventilation,
structural constraints and the building’s relationship with public space and infra-
structure. Land-uses and orientation are also important drivers for this type of
envelope. We can probably include within this category most mid-rise residential
and many office buildings as they respond to the need to host a large volume of
homogeneous program. The flat-vertical envelope is primarily determined by the
façade-to-façade or façade-to-core depth, hence its laminar organization.
Modern urban fabrics tend to be predominantly matrices of flat-vertical
envelopes combined in various configurations and suited to a particular climate, use
and culture. For example, the façade-to-façade depth for office buildings will vary
from 12 to 36 meters (approximately 40 to 120 feet) or more. In Germany and the
Netherlands, glass-to-glass depth is limited to less than 15 meters (approximately
50 feet) in order to enhance daylight and natural ventilation. In the US’s energy-
intensive culture, the façade-to-core dimension of an office building will usually require
more than 15 meters because of a tradition of an artificially controlled working
environment and the demand for higher flexibility and compactness. In residential
buildings the façade-to-façade depth will vary between 9 and 24 meters (approximately
30 to 80 feet) depending also on the access system (double loaded or single loaded
corridors) – which is also determined by cultural uses – and residential typology
(double or single aspect).
The flat-vertical envelope characterizes the modern city where optimized
functional performances have prevailed over the cumulative structure of natural
topography, property boundaries, territorial limits and community thresholds and
float in the resulting tabula rasa. Functionally driven flat-vertical envelopes emanci-
pate from the traditional urban fabrics at the point where internal forces – daylight,
ventilation, structure – override the property boundaries and divisions between
public and private. In modern housing typologies, where we can find some of the
most illustrative examples of flat-vertical envelopes, orientation, ventilation, salub-
riousness, constructive rationality, etc., have taken priority over traditional deter-
minations of the urban fabric such as the alignment to the property boundary and
the definition of private and public spheres.
Historically, from Durand to Khrushchev, the flat-vertical envelope has often
been associated with political programs and the desire for a new society free from
natural and historical constraints and governed by healthy, egalitarian and rational laws.
It also relates to a variety of social and cultural performances involving ownership
structures and political representation. Haussmann’s interventions in Paris deployed
flat-vertical envelopes as a wrapping for surgical incisions on the old urban fabric.
Gropius and Hilberseimer’s orthodox flat-vertical residential typologies exploited the
freedom provided by modern property structures – extensive capitalist development
or state-driven residential programs – to abandon street alignment and property
boundaries and engage with climatic conditions and functional determinations.
The contradiction between the alignment with street patterns and property
boundaries – containing and defining public and private space – and the search for
an ideal orientation of the units is a classic problem of urbanism. Whether the resi-
dential units are contributing to the legibility of the community structure or to the
optimization of the units’ environmental performance, it is the physical constitution
of the envelope that plays a crucial political role.
The flat-vertical envelope opens up a gradation toward a structure of publicness
and ownership that was unavailable within more traditional urban structures. Its
position within the urban field affects structures of both representation and property
and determines the limits between open public and private spaces. The traditional
Gifu Kitagata Apartments, Gifu
19th century bourgeois urban block, for example in Barcelona, illustrates the conflict Prefecture, Japan. Kazuyo Sejima
between the envelope’s cultural and political performance and its environmental and Associates.
capacity. The flat-vertical building envelope is often deployed as a border between
communal open space (courtyards or backyards) and public open space (streets or
plazas), forming a threshold between public and private space and establishing the
faciality of the building, its significative structure within the city. The Barcelona
Volume 17

block – like many other 19th-century urban extensions in Europe – was achieved by
bending a flat-vertical envelope to align with a property boundary. This operation
is a legitimate disciplinary challenge: the consequent loss of daylight and ventilation
in the corner areas and the surrender of the ideal orientation of the units to the role
of structuring the border between private and public is a well documented technical 92
Image Michelle Chlebek
problem. Each side of the envelope is treated differently: the external face focuses on
the expression of the buildings, their signification and the provision of active frontages
while the internal face is primarily driven by functional constraints of solar shading
and ventilation. Siedlungen, Höfe and Mietskasernen are additional examples of the
problematic relationship between the flat-vertical envelope’s functions as an environ-
mental membrane and as a surface upon which urban representation is inscribed.
In Le Corbusier’s City for Three Million Inhabitants the paradigm of the high-
rises in the park aimed to defuse any hierarchy of open space, erasing the presence of
the site’s property boundaries: all land is public space and there are neither frontages
nor backyards. The dramatic failure of Pruitt-Igoe, Toulouse Le-Mirail, and the
Bijlmermeer – as well as many other examples of this envelope typology applied over
urban grounds no longer affected by traditional property structures – derives from
their inability to estimate the impact on the municipal economy of maintaining
such large amounts of public space. Most importantly however, their failure can be
traced back to the absence of a faciality structure that would make these complexes
understandable: there is neither front nor back but rather a deliberate attempt to
avoid addressing the signification of the buildings and their role within the construction
of a public realm. In the most accomplished examples the envelopes are distributed
across the site seeking the best orientation for the units and the right distances
between volumes to avoid blocking the sun from each other.
As an envelope type that accounts for the majority of today’s collective urban
dwellings, the flat-vertical envelope lies at the crux not only of how the population
of the contemporary metropolis is lodged, but also how it perceives itself in relation
to the city and to the public realm. Is the contemporary city a locus of social inte-
gration or a mere device for the co-habitation of culturally diverse populations?
Is social integration necessarily achieved by the submission to a series of common
protocols and laws or is it possible to form an urban culture made of exceptions
through a public endorsement of difference? How does an increasingly differentiated
urban population respond to locally defined iconographies, environmental specificities
and lifestyle patterns? These are some of the crucial opportunities for political
performance that we can find today in the flat-vertical envelope.
The most active surfaces in the flat-vertical envelope are the vertical surfaces
where technical requirements to insulate, ventilate, light or shade collude with
representational concerns. During the first half of the 20th century, the collective
residence adopted a monumental language in order to represent the emergence of
new communities of the urban proletariat, such as in the Red Vienna Höfe or the
Stalin-era housing complexes in Moscow. By contrast, modernists sought to recover
transparency between the function and the face: the Unité d’Habitation and the
Lake Shore Drive Apartments represent two alternatives to the idea of modernist
transparency. While the Unité d’Habitation explores cellularization as a modular
system of individual units, Lake Shore Drive submits to the repetitive rationality
of industrial production, resulting in an envelope that prioritizes the unity of the
container over the identity of the units, although modularity remains. Le Corbusier
expresses the modular nature of modern culture, emphasizing the independence of
the inhabitants, while Mies expresses a new collectivism based in production through
constructive rationality. Neither needs to resort to applied languages, but to an
explicitation – Sloterdijk’s term – of the cellularization of habitations or the modularity
of the new industrialized production of collective residence.
After the post-modern revival of the envelope as a surface of inscription and
representation, we witnessed during the 1990s an attempt to use the skin of the
residential building to represent diversity and multiculturalism through a literal
embodiment of social collage. In this paradigm individuals are different and can no
longer be represented by a homogeneous, repetitive tessellation of the façade, either
by expressing cellular units or in the modular nature of the envelope’s manufacture.
Dutch architecture became the epicenter of this experimentation, capitalizing on
a local tradition of cultural tolerance and multiculturalism as well as large housing
construction programs. The Dutch case is exemplary not only because it was where Silodam Apartments, Amsterdam,
the industry was more active, but also because of a Calvinist tradition of engagement The Netherlands. MVRDV
between the residential typologies and the urban space that continues up through
Big Brother, a quintessentially Dutch invention. Dutch traditional housing has con-
sistently blurred the boundaries between the private and the public: large windows
on the ground level are supposed to be left open for the public to keep an eye on the
Volume 17

private activities of citizens, while the traditional Dutch front window comes with
a projecting mirror for comprehensive surveillance of the public space.
In this sense some of the work developed in the Netherlands in the 1990s indexes
an interesting position both with respect to the Dutch tradition of transparency and
93 as the embodiment of the new paradigm of a global culture of individualization and
mass customization. MVRDV’s Silodam and West8’s Borneo Sporenburg in 38 ‘“What some minorities have to accept
Amsterdam are some of the most paradigmatic examples of this phenomenon. In these is that there are certain central things we
projects, units are differentiated in order to provide a diversified product for a dif- all agree about, which are about the way
ferentiated population and the differences are intensified by color-coding them, for we treat each other – that we have an
example, so that the ensemble becomes a patchwork of forms and colors, a graphic attachment to democracy, that we sort
image of a multicultural, global community. The Calvinist literal transparency has things out by voting not by violence and
been replaced by an artificially enhanced one that intensifies difference as a cultural intimidation, that we tolerate things that
statement. The idea of a fragmented, ideally diverse population brought together we don’t like. Short of people menacing
under the collective umbrella of a modern, multicultural society is at the origin of and threatening each other, we have free-
these envelope strategies. The arrangement of colors and spaces in this work may dom of expression. We allow people to
affect people’s feelings and actions and encourage individualism as opposed to offend each other’”. Trevor Phillips in The
modernist cellularization. But then again it may only encourage residents to act as Times, April 3rd, 2004. Phillips endeavors
a conformist, homogenous herd united by an illusion of individualism. In the anti- to illustrate with paradigmatic precision
podes of the patchwork approach we have Némasus, the experimental housing the complexities of contemporary cultural
designed by Jean Nouvel in Nîmesin 1987, where a totally homogeneous system of politics: his statements triggered a
double-aspect, loft-like spaces is proposed under the idea that a bigger home is a virulent reaction from the traditional left
better home. The Gifu Housing by Kazuyo Sejima or the VM housing in Orestad which accused him of trying to kill multi-
by PLOT are intermediate alternatives that explore different possibilities between culturalism or of being a racist. After the
repetition and differentiation. Yet isn’t it consistency rather than difference that con- demonstrations against the Muhammad
temporary global communities need to build across coexisting cultures? The future cartoons, he requested Muslims wanting
of multiculturalism and diversification in the post 9/11 age is open for consideration to live under Sharia law to move out of
and there are reasons to believe that the politics of the globalized world will be moving the UK, but defended the rights of local
toward the enforcement of sameness rather than difference as the fracturous nature Imans to criticize homosexuals, locating
of multicultural societies becomes apparent. Europe is a particularly interesting case Britishness beyond the traditional
in this respect: both the French ban on religious displays and the project of ‘British- categories of political discourse.
ness’ are exemplary of the overcoming of fragmentation as a viable aesthetics to
regulate contemporary politics. The French law on secularity and conspicuous religious
symbols in schools was passed by France’s parliament and came into effect on
September 2nd, 2004, at the beginning of the new school year. At approximately the
same time, Trevor Phillips, then the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality
in the United Kingdom, stated in a controversial interview in The Times on April 3rd,
2004, that multiculturalism was outdated as it encouraged ‘separateness’ between
communities. As an antidote he called for a greater emphasis on integration stating,
‘We need to assert that there is a core of Britishness’.38 Against the naïve celebration
of the ‘United Colors’, multiple identities and their and juxtaposition in a cultural
collage, Phillips points to the necessity of applying strategies of consistency and
convergence to replace the multicultural policies of the 1970s.
The project of Britishness is remarkable because it seems to return to a pre-global
model of cultural identity: the nation. This construct requires certain values grounded
in history and the update of previous models of ‘primitive’ national identity, a series
of operative criteria aimed at establishing minimum common denominators across
diverse populations. But in order to be effective it will also require a continuous up-
date to protect its inherent historicity from potential utopian or static formulations.
An interesting debate in this respect took place at the Berlage Institute circa
1990 between Alvaro Siza and Hermann Hertzberger regarding the project that Siza
had just completed in the Schilderswijk Ward in The Hague. This was a decade
before September 11th and the murder of Theo van Gogh by a deranged Muslim
fundamentalist. Both Siza and Hertzberger were totally innocent of political conser-
vatism: Alvaro Siza was a veteran of the Revoluçao dos Claveles and Hermann
Hertzberger was known as the paladin of Montessori education. Siza explained in his
presentation that most intended residents were to be from the large Muslim com-
munity in the Netherlands and that he had devised an ingenious mechanism that
used a movable partition to enable Muslim families to split a private area within the
unit where women could hide from male visitors. After Siza’s presentation Hertzberger
replied that public housing in the Netherlands should not support social habits that
run counter to Dutch morality and its belief in gender equality. The construction
of an additional layer of concealment inside the domestic space is certainly very alien
to the local spirit of Dutch cohabitation. Was the exfoliation of the private/public
threshold to the inside of the unit a politically advanced decision, appropriate for a
tolerant, multicultural society to embrace? Or was it a sign of unacceptable political
behavior that defies the most basic definitions of human rights? Incidentally, this
building includes other features that are more agreeable to local customs such as very
Volume 17

sophisticated pedestrian access to the units that further develops the Dutch tradition
of walk-up residences and the use of the Amsterdam School’s local brick and
fenestration, an intensification of local architectural traits as identity engines.
Resolving the contradiction between the domestic protocols of the multiple
cultures that populate the contemporary metropolis is nearly an impossible task at 94
the level of political discourse. This is proof that architectural devices may have
greater potential for shifting political impasses than do traditional ideological or
discursive practices. If the French ban is probably best represented by a Gropius
block, 1990’s Dutch residential projects are a perfect intersection between the
Calvinist logic of transparency and the ideal model of a global culture that celebrates
differences, while a possible embodiment of the Britishness discourse is implicit in
Hertzberger’s critique. Siza’s option can provide consistency across cultures without
having to make the choice between an irreducible multicultural collage (Dutch
patchwork residential architecture) or the enforcement of a core of cultural identity
(Hertzberger’s critique). It enables a higher variation of private/public thresholds
within the envelope; this may serve to restrict private areas of the unit or enable a
variety of alternative purposes. Like the best examples of flat-horizontal envelopes,
the Schilderswijk project is capable of detaching the inside/outside of the envelope
from the private/public boundary, producing a richer gradation of conditions across
those dichotomies. The reason why it is difficult to find a corresponding political
enunciation of Siza’s typology is because it is politically incorrect.
Volume 17

Image Paul Howes
Z >X≈Y. The Vertical Envelope. Slim Fit.
The final category of envelopes is that with a predominantly vertical dimension and,
unlike the flat-vertical type, a multi-directional orientation in the plan. The specificity
of this envelope category is an intense relationship between physical determinations
and performances. Because of its scale and technical complexity, functional and
environmental performances such as daylight ingress and natural ventilation need
to be maximized, while the formal qualities of the envelope play a crucial role in the
building’s structural stability. The vertical envelope’s geometric determination
crucially impacts both the spaces that it encloses and its surroundings. In addition,
the visibility of the vertical envelope makes it particularly conducive to iconographic
performance. If in the spherical envelope the gap between representative and environ-
mental performances reaches a maximum, in the vertical envelope both sets of
performances are at their highest level. The collusion between extreme technical per-
formance and high visual impact produces the maximum tension between efficiency
and expression, a condition that runs deep in the history of this building type.
Political stakes are high for this building envelope type as it is one of the
most active sectors; according to Emporis, 40% of the world’s high-rise buildings –
buildings above twelve stories – have been built since 2000 and around 8% of the
world’s stock of tall buildings is under construction right now. If tall buildings have
traditionally constituted a statement of urban power and prestige, their sudden
proliferation is now paradoxically connected to a process of urban democratization.
There is an irrepressible trend toward the densification of existing urban centers as
the planet’s human population flocks to urban cores where already over half of the
world’s population now lives. The pressure on urban land and infrastructure this
process is triggering will require more intensive land use in order to allow migrants
to settle in cities and a high density of construction is probably the most effective
solution. Examples of this democratization of the high-rise city can be found every-
where from London to Kuala Lumpur, Moscow to Panama, Dubai to Madrid.
Once the preserve of the most rich and powerful inhabitants of the world financial
centers, tall buildings are no longer an expensive extravagance but a crucial develop-
ment vehicle engaging the middle classes. In this process of democratization the high-
rise has exceeded its natural milieu as a workspace and pervaded all aspects of urban
life: the most high-rise-intensive city in the world – Benidorm, Spain – already has
one high-rise building for every 180 inhabitants. There is even a high-rise cemetery,
the Memorial Necropole Ecumenica III, in Santos, Brazil. Paradoxically the opposite
phenomenon is also true: high-rise buildings continue to be seen as a symbol of
urban power, exclusivity and uniqueness. The political performance of a high-rise
largely depends on the articulation of this dichotomy, either as a device for the demo-
cratization of urban life or for the consolidation of the urban elite.
The vertical envelope lies at the intersection of the global processes of densifi-
cation shaping contemporary urbanity and increasing cultural and environmental
concerns, often driven by local pressures. As the level of investment these structures
require is often linked to global economic progress, foreign investment and migrant
populations, the typology has become an ideal battleground between big global
business and local urban activism. As a result, the vertical envelope has started to
move away from the generic extrusions which optimized technical and economical 30 St. Mary Axe, London, UK.
performance during the second half of the 20th century to develop a wide range Foster + Partners
of local variations in both its geometrical definition and its architectural expression,
usually driven by more populist and iconographic concerns.
The conventional high-rise envelope has conventionally been primarily driven
by economic purposes resulting in the extrusion of a floor plate and a structural grid
derived from internal efficiencies of construction technology and program. However
the current urban core densification is reviving the monumental drive for high-rise
construction. Tall buildings are paradigmatic of the representation of power in the
city, be it that of a corporation, a city or the might of a political regime. This is most
visible in a series of image-driven high-rises that once again seek to play an urban
role through iconicity. For example, in London there is a series of iconic skyscrapers
that have immediately been given nicknames: The Gherkin (Foster’s 30 St. Mary Axe),
The Shard (Renzo Piano’s tower in London Bridge), Helter-Skelter (Kohn Pedersen
Fox’s Bishopsgate Tower), and Walkie-Talkie (Rafael Viñoly’s design for a tower
on Fenchurch Street) among them. In New York, where simple extrusions were the
norm, the Twin Towers’ unapologetic simplicity is being replaced by the more com-
Volume 17

plex profiles of buildings like the Freedom Tower and Hearst Tower. Two recent
competitions, for the Tour Phare in Paris and for the Gazprom Tower in Moscow,
are paradigmatic of the representational role that vertical envelopes have acquired
within contemporary processes of urban development.
Although the configuration of the skin does not play as important a role as in 96
Image Jorge Sáez
the spherical envelope due to the perceptual distance resulting from the scale of the 39 See my ‘High-Rise Phylum 2007’ in
typology, an elaborated, graphic skin has become an economical device to respond Harvard Design Magazine n. 26 (2007).
to the market demand for uniqueness. In other cases the manipulation of the envelope’s
crowning, where the technical determinations are weaker, is the technique to distin- 40 The analysis of residential high-rise typo-
guish buildings otherwise designed as mere extrusions of an optimized footprint. logies across a global geography displays
The deployment of an iconic image on the envelope is probably the most radical the wide differentiation across cultures
version of this search for significance within the contemporary vertical envelope: and climates. For example, in a proto-
the tiered pagodas of older Chinese architecture in the Jin Mao Tower and the typical residential high-rise development
image of gold ingots used in Taipei 101 are the most prominent examples of this in Dubai, the average façade ratio would
totemic approach. be around 0.45 square meters per indoor
A more nuanced alternative in the design of vertical envelopes to the one-off square meter, in London 0.50 square
iconic extravagance aimed at the pure representation of power is the correlation meters per square meter, in Miami 0.55
of technical efficiencies and symbolic performance. The deployment of images that square meters per square meter, in Seoul
resonate with local iconographies or figurations as geometrical determinations can 0.60 square meters per square meter,
set in motion a productive engagement with environmental or structural efficiencies in Kuala Lumpur 0.75 square meters per
of the envelope: the rotated square footprints of Asian Muslim towers in the case square meter and in Hong Kong 0.85
of Petronas offer an increased façade ratio by striating the skin of the building. The square meters per square meter. This para-
desert flower in the case of Burj Dubai provides a geometrical basis for the three meter relates the financial and environ-
tapering buttresses that lower the center of gravity. mental implications of an envelope design:
Representation is an important part of the vertical envelope and those who fail if the ratio is high it means greater capital
to take it into consideration have been sometimes punished for it: Kohn Pedersen expense; if it is low daylight and venti-
Fox’s Shanghai Hills World Financial Center, which in an earlier scheme featured lation may need to be artificially supplied
a round hole at its crowning, suffered a last minute redesign to incorporate a square therefore generating higher maintenance
opening, since the circle was deemed too reminiscent of the Japanese flag. Owned needs and costs.
by the Japanese Mori Corporation, its image had to be altered to avoid offending
the locals with a monumental manifestation of Japanese power.
Yet these epithelial, graphic and iconic treatments, unlike Hugh Ferris’ setbacks
for daylight, Louis Sullivan’s ornamented ceramic panels for fire-protection or Fazlur
Khan structural diagrids, are the epitome of a schism between technical efficiencies
and political representation (as the contemporary inner-city high-rise is inevitably
a location of power) which disables the discipline’s political agency. The expressive
layer that some of these buildings adopt is not alien to the history of the vertical
envelope, but the tension between efficiency and expression in the design of tall
buildings has never been greater than it is now. If we follow the logic of explicitation
that Sloterdijk proposes as a political program of modernity, the iconographic
treatment of the vertical envelope would act as a cover-up for the technical or social
processes taking place.
The most common approach by avant-garde architects in the design of high-
rises is to challenge the conventional, to produce the unique, to be revolutionary.
Instead, the proposition here is that the most effective approach to mobilize the
political in the vertical envelope is to express the efficiencies of the current demand for
urban density and high-rise construction. The most crucial task of a politically engaged
vertical envelope design may actually be to give new expression to the most generic
efficiencies of a high-rise city, to simply make visible the processes that drive its for-
mation. The search for the contemporary high-rise phylum39 is a project of explicitation.
There are a number of parameters that affect the processes of high-rise con- Benidorm, Spain. One high-rise
struction that are increasingly obscured by the drive toward the iconic high-rise. per 180 inhabitants.
To convert them into physical tropes, to make them physically evident and to give
them expression would perhaps be the most critical political program for the vertical
envelope in an age when virtually anything is technically possible. The efficiencies of
the vertical envelope range across a set of parameters that embody local specificities,
for example climatic conditions, lifestyle, trade protocols, and market demands:40
program-driven façade-to-core dimensions, environmentally-driven façade and
fenestration ratios, market-driven population ratios, compliance with certain models
of structural efficiency and procurement systems… As the envelope increases in
visibility and iconographic potential, so do the environmental and structural demands.
Floor plans of a Hong Kong
It also increases its potentials for views and solar exposure. As a result of this intensifi- residential tower showing a
cation of the environmental parameters the vertical envelope is becoming increasingly highly inflected envelope.
complex and anisotropic. It is reacting very specifically to the surrounding urban
context with specific inflexions that provide views, solar exposure, natural ventilation
and profile. The envelope in this case not only affects the interior space but it also
has a massive impact on its urban surroundings. The intensification of technical and
Volume 17

economic demands coupled with the demand for environmental efficiencies can be
expressed in a more inflected envelope producing a more intense physical relation-
ship to its surroundings which will move beyond the iconic and the graphic.
Looking at some of these processes now taking place which may be explicitated,
97 probably one of the most important is the strong global tendency for tall buildings
in residential markets. This tendency is one of the most interesting forces behind

Image Isaac Mao

a more articulated and diverse vertical envelope. As a result, the high-rise envelope
is now evolving toward a re-engagement with nature, away from its original milieu,
the artificial environment of workspace, and toward an integration of the tall
building with the patterns of residential use.
Because of its engagement with domestic protocols and specific climatic
conditions, the vertical envelope is now producing culturally-specific, vernacular
varieties. There is a direct relationship between the geometry of the envelope, the
local climate and the local culture: a higher façade ratio implies more daylight ingress
and natural ventilation but also more heat loss, while a more compact envelope
implies a more artificial environment. For example, a residential tower in which the
wet rooms are required to be adjacent to the façade will consume a much larger
amount of the façade than a building with internal, mechanically-ventilated kitchens
and toilets. The former will have a strong link with the outside, while the latter will
rely primarily on an artificial environment.
Contemporary high-rise residential envelopes across the globe are radiographies
of cultural hybridization and the synthesis of local variations. There are deep cultural
and political implications of the geometrical determinations of the vertical envelope.
For example, in Southeast Asia the residential high-rise has been largely naturalized,
while in the West high-rise life is still associated with extreme artificiality. A high level
of environmental mechanical control is acceptable in high-rise residential units in
the West and the Middle East, while the further we move toward Southeast Asia the
more common is the requirement for all rooms to have direct contact with the
outside and to be naturally lit and ventilated. In Western models residential units
rely heavily on full air-conditioning while in Southeast Asian prototypes natural
ventilation and under-floor heating are standard even when air-conditioning equip-
ment is also installed. The argument for this increase in the façade ratio in Southeast
Asia is often based on the humidity of the climate but it is more likely the result of
certain living patterns that Asian cultures are not prepared to give up even in a high-
rise residence. Local cooking has developed kitchens with dry and wet areas; com-
plex systems of service access and entrances into service areas exist within apartments
of a certain standard denoting a certain class structure; a culture of bathing while
being able to enjoy views and daylight is fuelling some expensive traits of the Asian
residential high-rise such as the systematic location of bathing areas on the façade
of the building. Kuala Lumpur and Hong-Kong are certainly very humid and when
the air-conditioning is turned off there may be problems, but there is no reason to
think that temperate zone cities like Seoul or Beijing need very different residential
structures from Paris, Manchester, New York or Chicago. Yet in South Korea a
high-rise apartment without adequate orientation may see its price halved compared
to those with optimum orientation within the same building. The combination of
these factors has interesting effects on the resulting geometry of the envelope of the
building, effects which tend to produce local species.
Even the tessellation of the skin is affected by cultural differences: a lawyer’s
office in the UK and most Commonwealth states will consume three meters of façade,
while an American lawyer’s office will take approximately 3.6 meters. In locations
such as London or New York where firms from both sides of the Atlantic share the Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang,
available space, the selection of the envelope modulation is important and will affect North Korea.
the rhythm of fenestration and the interior planning grids.
If the corrugation of the façade is one of the most powerful effects of this process
of democratization and naturalization of the vertical envelope, there are also several
possibilities in which the current tendencies in high-rise construction may become
explicit in the sectional configuration of the vertical envelope. We can find an inte-
resting example in the correlation between the current tendency to use concrete as
structural material for high-rise residential buildings and the preference for pyramidal
envelopes. As the residential sector accounts for most of the tall building stock under
construction, concrete is surpassing steel as the preferred material for high-rise con-
struction. The ductility and lightness of steel, which gave it an advantage over
concrete in the early days of the type, makes it inadequate for residential construction,
as it has a level of deflection and sound transmission which are not ideal for domestic
environments. Instead concrete structure provides a solidity that reduces deflection
and noise transmission and provides more thermal inertia for the building. Con-
sequently, the construction industry has geared up to produce concrete construction
Volume 17

technologies able to deliver high-rise buildings efficiently. Slip-form construction

systems have now accelerated the rate of construction to one floor every three days,
which makes it basically equal to steel construction up to 50 story buildings. Beyond
this threshold concrete structures become problematic for very tall buildings.
In response, the building mass has become a crucial structural device for concrete 98
construction in tall buildings: there is a generation of mixed use super-high-rises
being built with a spire-like envelope optimizing the structural use of the building
mass. Tapering the envelope toward the top produces a higher structural section and
moment of inertia in the lower sections of the building, making the form coincident
with the stress diagram of a tower. Burj Dubai is probably the best example of the
return to an almost gothic type of structure; Renzo Piano’s Shard in London, Jean
Nouvel’s MoMA Extension Tower in Manhattan and Norman Foster’s Russia Tower
in Moscow also respond to this tendency of partially residential towers in which the
shaping of the envelope carries crucial structural efficiencies that have been made
explicit by the use of a pyramidal envelope.
The pyramidal shape, which has traditionally been an icon of stability and
hierarchy, has now become an expression of high-rise domesticity, a new earthiness,
as if the high-rise lineage was becoming increasingly grounded. Both the Ryugyong
Hotel in Pyongyang and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur are extreme examples
of the political role that vertical envelopes may play in representing a political regime;
both feature pyramidal sections. William Pereira’s Transamerica Pyramid in San
Francisco now hosts the headquarters of the Church of Scientology and OMA’s
CCTV building in Beijing is chiselled out of a pyramidal envelope. OMA’s CCTV
competition model had Egyptian-like low-reliefs as if it were a remainder of some
gutted-out pharaonic monument.
Commercial determinations are also producing substantial distortions of the
extruded vertical envelope, but in exactly the opposite direction. As height becomes
a desirable commodity, there is a growing disparity in the rental values on different
building levels. In a commercial high-rise, the lower levels are desirable because
of their proximity to the street (for retail or high density uses like trading floors).
Upper levels are desirable because of their views and isolation from street noise. In
residential high-rise buildings as the value per square meter increases with each floor
it is common to have fewer, larger apartments for buyers with higher purchasing
power. Therefore the larger the floor plate becomes at the higher levels, the more
valuable the building becomes. There are also several examples of contemporary
high-rise projects in which this commercial logic has been mobilized to produce
an aesthetic effect of instability. The structural and commercial logics seem to be
operating in opposite directions in the vertical envelope, opening unexploited potentials
that will produce effects of stability or instability depending on the vertical envelope’s
massing. The effects of the buildings may then become an explicitation of certain
efficiencies, whether structural, technological, programmatic or commercial, and the
problematization of these efficiencies becomes an interesting political field.
The sheer scale of some of these building complexes is another new parameter
to address in the design of vertical envelopes. The simultaneous thirst for critical
mass and synergy that drives the dramatic increase in scale of these typologies is
leading several projects toward a configuration of interconnected towers capable of
providing adequate daylight while exploiting synergies across ever growing con-
centrations of urban activity. OMA’s Togok Tower, Louisville Museum Plaza and
CCTV projects have been designed as ‘an alternative to the traditional diagram of
the super-high-rise’ and to ‘avoid the isolation of the traditional high-rise’. They are Burj Dubai, Dubai, UAE, under
excursions into the unprecedented scale of some contemporary high-rise projects. construction. Skidmore, Owings
Our own Bundle Tower, a project for the Max Protetch show “A New World Trade and Merrill.
Center” was an attempt to develop a structural concept for a new generation of super-
high-rise buildings aimed at turning the fragmentation of volumes that becomes
almost unavoidable in projects above 300,000 square meters into a structural advan-
tage. The sudden proliferation of these branched versions of the vertical envelope
indexes the convergence between certain efficiencies in the design of very large com-
plexes and the emergence of the image of a network, that most contemporary icon.
All these parameters, often ignored when discussing the merits of high-rise
projects, constitute the material grain of the contemporary high-rise phylum. Vertical
envelopes constitute a field of convergence between the physical, the technological,
the perceptual and the symbolic, an important political performance. One of the
most important possibilities is obviously the development of more environmentally
conscious envelopes; for example, by increasing the façade ratios – at the price of
higher capital costs – we can largely avoid mechanical ventilation and artificial
lighting and generate energy savings and carbon emission reductions that may have
important political effects. Beyond their renewed aesthetic hipness, tall buildings
Volume 17

offer a high-density model that helps preserve the green belt from the ever-expanding
suburb and has a smaller ecological footprint than alternative urban models. The
ecological superiority of the culture of congestion and the green credentials of the
elevator core as an alternative to the gas-guzzling six-lane highway are becoming
99 universally accepted facts and this gives the vertical envelope type an initial advantage.
But the environmental impacts of these structures, their relationship with infra- 41 ‘The current mania for flamboyant
structure and public space, their imposing presence and most of all the scale of skyscrapers has been a mixed blessing for
resources and development procedures that they imply poses serious questions about architecture. While it has yielded a
their implementation. stunning outburst of creativity, it has also
In this sense, the current demand for spectacular high-rises41 runs exactly in created an atmosphere in which novelty is
the opposite direction of what we can describe as a phylum of the vertical envelope often prized over innovation. At times
or in other words what Sloterdijk proposes as a process of explicitation. The current it’s as if the architects were dog owners
search for novelty follows the 20th century’s tradition of revolution or emancipation proudly parading their poodles in front of
in which truly significant facts need to radically transform the real. On the contrary, a frivolous audience’. Nicolai Ouroussoff,
what we believe is politically relevant regarding the vertical envelope design is the ‘Towers Will Change the Look of Two
way it can contribute to making certain urban phenomena explicit. Starting with World Cities’ in The New York Times,
the global process of urbanization and moving toward the densification of the resi- December 4th, 2006.
dential fabric, environmental concerns and the technologies developed to enable these
processes combine to form a truly engaged vertical architecture capable of making 42 Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro
these current processes explicit and turning them into percepts or tropes, like the Koizumi launched the campaign for the
‘Cool Biz Campaigns’ in Japan and South Korea, where the business attire code was ‘Cool Biz’ dress code in June of 2005
changed in order to both implement and signify a new environmental consciusness.42 in order to help save on air-conditioning
The spectacular high-rise, the one that is contingent to the phylum, the one and reduce carbon emissions. The
that pretends to be novel, exceptional and revolutionary, is exactly the one that campaign promoted promoted removing
contributes most to the maintenance of the power structures. It is precisely the dif- the customary business suit and tie in
ferential departure from the conventional, the permanent flight from the status quo, order to raise the threshold of air condi-
rather than a radical opposition, that can actually reveal and subvert the dominant tioning to 28°C (82°F) during the
urban powers. summer season. The South Korean and
UK governments initiated the same
policy a year later.

43 As Manuel De Landa states, it may be

necessary to entirely replace the term
Capitalism by the terms markets and anti-
markets in order to be able to address
the complexity of the current system of
economic integration. Manuel De Landa,
‘Markets and Anti-Markets in the World
Economy’ in Technoscience and Cyber-
culture, ed. Stanley Aronowitz et al
(London: Routledge, 1996).

44 Examples of this tendency are Zaha

Hadid and Patrik Schumacher, Latent
Utopias (New York: Princeton Archi-
tectural Press, 2003) and Martin Van
Schaik and Otakar Mael, Exit Utopia:
Architectural Provocations 1956-76
(Munich: Prestel, 2005).

45 The emergence of ecological concerns

is an obvious example of this tendency
which extends to more strictly political
arenas. The recent interest within the
academy in the work of Antonio Negri
and Michael Hardt as a post-post-critical
revival of utopian and critical thought
and the return to a discourse with explicit
political alignments is one of the indices
of the current political reawakening with-
in the discipline. ‘Meanwhile, utopian
realism must be thought of as a movement
that may or may not exist, all of whose
practitioners are double agents. Naming
them, or their work, would blow their
cover. (They may or may not all be archi-
tects.) Those who could voted for Kerry.
Volume 17

(So you, too, could be a utopian realist.)’

Reinhold Martin. ‘Critical of What?
Towards a Utopian Realism’ in Harvard
Design Magazine n. 22 (2005): 104-109.
Epilogue: Some propositions for a directed political ecology of architecture 46 Asked on September 17th, 2001 at a press
The question whether architecture and urbanism can or should be critical, projective, conference in Bayreuth for his view of
progressive or utopian, and whether speculative architecture can remain an effective the events, Stockhausen answered that
practice, is still a much debated issue that needs to be addressed in respect to our the attacks were ‘the greatest work of art
proposed general theory of the building envelope. The hypothesis of this essay is imaginable for the whole cosmos’.
that progressive architecture has an important role to play today as an instrument According to a tape transcript from public
capable of producing crucial improvements to urban life and therefore as an instrument broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk,
of change as well as technical, social and political experimentation. Architecture and he went on: ‘Minds achieving something
urbanism mobilize such a scale of resources that unless the practice is kept at a in an act that we couldn’t even dream of
purely speculative level it is difficult to sustain it without becoming, to a certain in music, people rehearsing like mad for
degree, an accomplice of power. This is why, in order to regulate its relationships 10 years, preparing fanatically for a con-
with power, with the status quo and with emergent social structures, a progressive cert, and then dying, just imagine what
architecture needs to develop political strategies to maintain a relation with power happened there. You have people who are
while simultaneously challenging and opening its structures. that focused on a performance and then
The challenge to established power has been traditionally enacted through the 5,000 people are dispatched to the after-
proposal of alternatives developed in relation to a certain ideological position. But life, in a single moment. I couldn’t do
the crisis of representation and objectivity triggered by modernity and in particular that. By comparison, we composers are
by the advent of globalization has put into question the transformative capacities of nothing. Artists, too, sometimes try to go
ideology and utopia. As an alternative to ideology as a tool for a politically engaged beyond the limits of what is feasible and
architecture and utopia as its form of representation we have been testing an archi- conceivable, so that we wake up, so that
tecture of explicitation – to use the term coined by Peter Sloterdijk – through the we open ourselves to another world’. Asked
analysis of the architectural envelope. Within the model of explicitation, political further whether he equated art and crime,
practices are increasingly attached to artificial environments in which we live and Stockhausen replied: ‘It’s a crime because
with which co-exist, where disciplines become the primary link between humans those involved didn’t consent. They didn’t
and non-humans, politics and nature. This model implies structuring the critical come to the “concert”. That’s obvious.
mechanisms around spatial and material organizations rather than relying on the And no one announced that they risked
great revolutionary narratives and their ideological conceptions of history. losing their lives. What happened in
The question then is whether architectural explicitation is sufficient for archi- spiritual terms, the leap out of security,
tects to regain a certain level of political agency in order to affect the current processes out of what is usually taken for granted,
of urban and environmental transformation. How does explicitation discern between out of life, that sometimes happens to
the failure or success of policies and designs? How does it ensure an appropriate a small extent in art, too, otherwise art
distribution of power? The uncertainty of these questions is currently provoking a is nothing’.
growing nostalgia for the days when there was a coherent political project that could
be described through ideology and represented in utopia. On the contrary we are 47 ‘Now, you’re thinking of Europe as
excited by the prospect of moving beyond a single narrative of how the world is or Germany and France. I don’t. I think
feels, or where it is headed. In fact, it may be good to stop speaking of power in general, that’s old Europe. If you look at the entire
or of the State, Capital, Globalization in general, and instead address specific power NATO Europe today, the center of
ecologies comprising a heterogeneous mixture of bureaucracies, markets, antimarkets, gravity is shifting to the east. And there
shopping malls, airport terminals, residential towers, office complexes etc., and are a lot of new members’. ‘They’re not
specific exercises of power within and between these organizations. We may need with France and Germany on this, they’re
to avoid abstract notions of power, such as the capitalist system, capitalist power, the with the United States’. Secretary of
power of the State, Global Capitalism and Empire, and instead focus on specific Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, briefing at
bureaucracies and economic institutions, and engage in a more concrete analysis of the Foreign Press Center, January 22nd,
institutional, social, financial and spatial dynamics.43 2003. ‘Freedom’s untidy, and free people
An interesting occurrence within the political framing of contemporary are free to make mistakes and commit
artistic, architectural and political practices is the invocation of utopia,44 as well as crimes and do bad things. They’re also
the increasingly common resort to dystopia as an alternative to the great revolutionary free to live their lives and do wonderful
narratives and utopian propositions. The architectural visionary has often been things. And that’s what’s going to happen
grounded in some sort of epic formulation that provided the practice with political here’. ‘Looting is not uncommon for
directionality. Recently we have witnessed a resurgence of utopian thinking and countries that experience significant
even some attempt to re-establish political correctness as a precondition for adequate social upheaval. Stuff happens’. Secretary
architectural practice.45 As an alternative to the superlative rhetorics of the politically of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, briefing
correct, the practice of the politically incorrect is an altogether more compelling and at the Pentagon, April 12th, 2003.
transformative practice, if it is directionality we seek. The politically incorrect breaks
down the consistency of ideological politics and indexes the emergence of micro- 48 “I do not believe in principles… I am a
politics: Stockhausen’s comments in the wake of September 11th,46 comparing the whore and I am paid very well for build-
attack to an artwork on a universal scale, are an extreme example of political mischief ing high-rise buildings”. Philip Johnson
capable of triggering the sort of contradictions that reveal cracks in the fabric of lecturing in 1982.
established molar politics. Deployed from a position of power, Donald Rumsfeld’s
cynical comments on the surgical splitting of Europe into “old and new” and the 49 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History
potential bond between freedom and crime and between military action and pillory47 and the Last Man (Free Press: New York,
are far more critical (and dangerous) than the sanctimonious ideological rhetoric of 1992).
Volume 17

his neoconservative colleagues.

Within the field of architecture the politically incorrect is a machine for breaking 50 ‘The division of things between pro-
down molar identities into molecular components that can then be treated within gressivist and reactionary ought to be
the specific realm of the discipline through categories such as difference and repetition, abandoned precisely because the
101 consistency and variation, transparency and opacity, and local and global, rather topography of time, the repartition of
than through the traditional political categories of class, gender, creed and race. The political passions, has been overturned.
politically incorrect is a mechanism of explicitation of latent political potentials that Because in modernism, we were relatively
currently remain covered beneath layers of ideology. easily oriented towards a progressivist
Our own invitation to New York to “forget September 11th” in our Max direction. So we could distinguish between
Protetch Bundle Tower statement and its subsequent conversion into an embodiment progressivist and reactionary attitudes
of “United We Stand” for the “Latent Utopias” show are in no way the result of with relative ease, reactionary being
historical ignorance or a political impasse, but are a calculated short-circuiting of linked to the attachment to the past and
contradictory political discourses by a material organization. Its polemical effect was progressivist to future emancipations.
apparent on both sides of the Atlantic and motivated censorship of parts of our Today, however, things have changed to
statement by the Max Protetch Gallery in the publication of the book. Our recent the extent that attachments are not only
re-reading of our own work as a cynical orchestration of a series of populist repre- in the past but also in the future. For
sentational techniques follows a similar political game with a tradition that can be example, ecological questions, issues
traced back to the famous statement by Philip Johnson comparing himself to a concerning the city and urbanism etc.
whore48 and that has been systematically played by Rem Koolhaas in his serial claims We have gone from a time of Time to a
over Atlanta, Singapore, Lagos, Pearl River Delta, Dubai and shopping as the new Time of Space, from a time of succession
models of urbanism. Toyo Ito’s Pao for the Tokyo Nomad Girl and Diller + Scofidio’s to a time of co-existence. As a result the
Soft Sell on 42nd Street in New York are examples of a genre of dystopian politics differentiation is now based on the type
that is not more common because architects still have to perform primarily as organic of attachment rather than on the old
intellectuals. Rather than rejecting the political in architecture, the attack on political reactionary and progressivist scenography.
correctness is an attempt to avoid architecture becoming simply a vehicle for political So we are obliged to change the political
representation and to become instead a viable political instrument. While the passions while they still remain relatively
politically incorrect may be a discursive operation more than a material one, it should classic, attached to the whole package of
not be understood as apolitical but as a powerful instrument to loosen ideology’s progressivist/reactionary, liberal/neo-
monopoly on politics. In combination with the search for alternative political liberal, anti-globalizing/globalizing. In
qualities and arenas, the politically incorrect may be seen as part of a two-pronged effect, in the details, we have to open the
strategy aimed to dismantle conventional politics in order to liberate material package to understand the allocation of
organizations from political representation. attachments and the dose of emancipation
While the politically incorrect and the dystopian are consistent with the project of and attachment they presuppose... On
redefining the politics of architectural practice, they still rely on a strategy of negation. the contrary, politics turns around objects
What would be a politically engaged and affirmative practice of urbanism or archi- of interest, “issues”, “affairs”, “things”,
tecture in the age of global capital? Despite the claims that globalization would aiti¢a in ancient Greek. So it is of no
terminate history and politics,49 within its short history we have already witnessed at importance to know whether one is a
least two different eras: the origins of the system during the Cold War and the post- reactionary or not, but to know what those
September 11th world order. We may be facing a new change with the collapse of objects are that one holds dear, and the
the international credit system. Global capital has simply inaugurated a new breed types of things to which one is attached’.
of market-mediated politics which we are still struggling to embody architecturally. Bruno Latour in conversation with
To define what is a politically progressive or reactionary, projective or critical, Konstantin Kastrissianakis for Re-public.
revolutionary or service-oriented architecture within global capitalism is perhaps not
a very clarifying exercise and probably even condemned to failure as it is aimed at a 51 For a critique of affects as an essentially
moving target.50 But we can make some hypotheses about what domains, processes contemporary political modality that
and qualities are needed for architecture to acquire transformative agency today, even overcomes representation as a more
if it is on a provisional level. The following is a series of propositions that attempt traditional political form see Thrift, Nigel
to establish some directionality for an architectural politics of explicitation. Non-Representational Theory. Space,
Politics, Affect. London: Routledge 2007
Contemporary politics is primarily active within disciplines.
There are a growing number of new forms of political action which herald both the 52 ‘“Politics will become what he (Sloterdijk)
emergence of different political qualities (such as affects) and domains (such as every- calls ‘spherology’ which is about the
day life).51 Contemporary politics are giving way to a new wave of powerful material habitats, artificial environments, artificial
organizations, belongings and attachments, which are literally redefining political surroundings in which we are and co-exist.
space. Both governmental agencies and corporate organizations are moving toward In arguments of this type, it is true that
multiple layers of governance with intensified connections between them. We are the central metaphors tend towards space
witnessing the emergence of a heterarchical order which increasingly constructs its rather than time. They are formed pri-
power by both producing and using diversity. As a result, the challenge to instituted marily in architecture and in co-existence
power can only be selective and a division of political labor has to be addressed by rather than in the great revolutionary
multiple disciplines operating independently and simultaneously and not necessarily narratives that reigned for centuries in
in a multi-disciplinary relation. A singular politics of resistance is no longer capable their left or right versions of history.
of challenging contemporary forms of instituted power. It is necessary to engage in Sloterdijk proposed another more inte-
the political critique of disciplinary problems – such as the one proposed here, the resting term to replace that of revolution:
building envelope – in order to acquire transformative agency. ‘explicitation’. The history of explicitation
is made increasingly intelligible in the
Contemporary politics is physically grounded. spheres and objects to which we are
In the globalized world, the communities and interest groups on every project have pro- attached. Therefore the problem is not to
Volume 17

liferated enormously and communication technologies have become so ubiquitous that order things according to time or space.
representation and symbolic reasoning have lost substantial efficiency as political medi- It is no longer hierarchical but heter-
ators.52 The new political forms are shifting away from stasis, but also from representa- archical. Rather, today we must try to
tion, dialectics, words and time toward material and spatial organizations, populations approach these new attachments, these
and intensities and are crucially invested in the modes of production and exchange. new political passions. The categories 102
In the light of this, the possibility of a form of politics extensible to non-human of the French revolution, the left and the
entities and interested in engaging with the transformation of reality, as opposed to right, with their specific categories and
a form of politics driven by representation and judgment, is critical to attain political particular techniques of classification, of
agency. While traditional political practices were based on discursive forms, iden- positioning, no longer correspond to the
tities and dialectics and were subject to the permanent need to envision parallel order of things. Whether we talk about
realities and all-encompassing systems, contemporary power structures operate as global-warming, delocalisation, GMOs
physical aggregates where behavior is created through the localized complex associa- (genetically modified organisms), habitat
tion of molecular components, hence the importance of attaching political content or public transport, there is each time a
to a certain type of material organization, such as the building envelope. The typo- different configuration of these positions.
logical classification of envelopes and their political attachments that we are pro- It is not that these divisions no longer
posing is an attempt to create a related discipline. This Politics of Things, or object- exist, but that they have been drowned in
oriented politics,53 runs in parallel to the development of alternative models of physically the multitude of other attitudes”‘. ‘“Politics
grounded,54 produced intelligence (also called behaviorist AI) than to symbolic always was object-oriented. It is simply
reasoning and representation. The AI models for this operative system are distributed that in the modernist scenography, where
computing, subsumption architecture, and object-oriented software, all of which are politics was one sphere amongst others,
forms of artificial intelligence that operate by breaking down intelligence into mole- such as those of civil society, economy,
cular, concrete components that relate independently to external inputs, collabora- nature, we were under the impression
ting with or canceling each other depending on the particular assemblage and that we could define politics in a proce-
specific location.55 dural manner. An arena through which
Another relevant case of how the politics of cultural production has evolved all kinds of affairs could pass but repre-
under the effect of globalization and digital technology can be found in the culture sentatives would treat them in such a way
of contemporary electronic music: as opposed to rock’n roll’s revolutionary indivi- so as to standardise them. What happens
dualism, the culture of techno has neither an overt revolutionary aspiration nor a today is that the techniques of political
utopian formulation. It operates within the system.56 In order to do this techno representation no longer seem capable
music replaces more traditional musical figures – melody and harmony – with texture of absorbing the multiplicity of positions
and rhythm, as primary forms of expression. The image of the rave, a collective and, in any case, they are no longer
environment capable of mobilizing crowds of people into a single rhythm appears to capable of standardising them”‘. Bruno
be a perfect incarnation of associative democracy as a coexistence of heterogeneous Latour in conversation with Konstantin
populations and informal associations. The production of political affects through Kastrissianakis for Re-public.
material organizations is, as in the example of contemporary electronica, a critical
potential of architecture and is particularly relevant for building envelopes. 53 Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, intro-
duction to the exhibition catalogue
The global market is the primary milieu of contemporary architectural politics. Making Things Public: Atmospheres of
There are two basic forms of political structures that have historically organized the Democracy.
exchange and flow of resources, skills and command structures in time and space:
markets and bureaucracies.57 They are the two domains where architects may try to 54 The term is borrowed from Rodney
construct their agency. Within the global economy the market has become predo- Brooks, a pioneer of behaviorist AI, who
minant as a mechanism of organization capable of integrating a larger number of has promoted the idea of a physically
agents in its processes within a shorter time. Bureaucracies are organizations of power grounded artificial intelligence from the
which are based on a hierarchical totality operating in stable conditions for extended field of robotics as an alternative to
periods of time and can hardly survive the pace of change and level of complexity centrally structured coded wholes based
required by a global economy. While within bureaucracies the agents and their on symbolic reasoning. Rodney Brooks
relationships are fixed over time, markets are organizations that organize power through has argued persuasively against symbolic
a complex and constantly changing set of agents and factors. As the form of political processing approaches to creating intel-
organization better suited to integrate ever expanding domains, the market is a ligent machines, which had been the
powerful force behind the failure of ideology and utopia as effective political devices, focus of AI since the days of Alan Turing,
as they would require a centralized power if they were to be implemented. The directly tracing back to the work of
market is probably a better milieu to articulate the current proliferation of political Gottlob Frege. Brooks’ biologically-
interests and the rise of micro-politics.58 This should not be mistaken as an invisible inspired architectures and physically
hand approach. In fact, intervention is possibly needed more than ever, but it is only grounded systems (e.g. subsumption
effective if mediated through the market. The traditional opposition between State architecture) address basic perceptual and
and Capital is no longer effective once the degree of integration between them has sensorimotor tasks as the basis of intel-
reached the current levels. The rise of sovereign funds and the injection of cash into ligence. These had been largely dismissed
the market by central banks to mitigate credit problems are present-day examples of as uninteresting by the mainstream AI
how bureaucracies are now embedded in the market, with their primary role having community which was more interested in
been transformed into market regulators, precisely to fight anti-market forces. No reasoning about the real world than in
matter how devious the rules of the global market may be and how great the level of interacting with it. Conversely, Brooks
bureaucratic control needed to avoid catastrophic effects, for architects to reacquire argued that interacting with the physical
political agency today it is necessary to engage with the market as the most world is far more difficult than symbo-
important medium of power distribution within the global economy. Those lically reasoning about it. ‘There is an
advocates of ideology who hope for a return to a state-driven, ideologically-enlightened alternative route to Artificial Intelligence
society as a remedy to the miseries of the market economy and as an alibi for the that diverges from the directions pursued
Volume 17

reconstruction of a representative, significant, even utopian architecture would do under that banner for the last thirty some
well to remember the miseries of bureaucracies and consider how possible institu- years. The traditional approach has
tional interventions can be channeled through the huge machine of the global emphasized the abstract manipulation of
markets to prevent them from becoming sclerotic. The greatest advantage of markets symbols, whose grounding, in physical
103 in respect to bureaucracies and ideologies is, precisely, that they are unstable. reality has rarely been achieved. We
Contemporary politics is based on change and imbalance. explore a research methodology which
In the Western tradition, progressive politics were traditionally associated with an emphasizes ongoing physical interaction
equalization of power across different population groups, such as class, gender, creed with the environment as the primary
and race and their independent identities, for example class equality, gender equality, source of constraint on the design of
racial equality and religious tolerance. It is becoming apparent that those allegedly intelligent systems. We show how this
progressive political principles of Western democracies (equality, indifference, sub- methodology has recently had significant
mission to the will of the majority, etc.) are becoming an unwanted export among successes on a par with the most success-
cultures that are perhaps more prone to either informal associations (such as mafias, ful classical efforts. We outline plausible
tribes or families) or hierarchical bureaucracies. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, future work along these lines which can
the resistance of China and Russia to submit to Western political standards and the lead to vastly more ambitious systems’.
emerging resistance to Western models in Latin-America are examples of a certain Rodney Brooks, ‘Elephants Don’t Play
cultural friction between ideal models of Western democracy and models of Chess’. See also his ‘Intelligence without
governance implicit in cultures driven by more informal associative principles. Even Representation,’ both in Cambrian
in the West contemporary politics are already reacting to the new economic and Intelligence: The Early History of the New
technological order by opening forms of political activism that have moved away AI (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999).
from parliamentary democracy toward a multiplicity of agents, vehicles and fori.59 See also Brooks’ ‘The Relationship
It is precisely change and imbalance that constitute the most powerful engines Between Matter and Life’ Nature n. 409
of creativity today, while the traditional form of political ideologies and utopias (2001): 409-411.
is a static organization, whether hierarchical or horizontal. While a parliamentary
democracy is characterized by a partial empowerment of everybody, one of its best 55 For example, the interesting development
qualities as a political system is that it produces a regular revision of power structures. of the Linux software as an assemblage
The proposition here is that progressive politics today is enabled through dynamic of programmers in an evolving system
disequilibrium, not static evenness. Rather than a politics of indifference, indepen- where the different agents interact con-
dence and evenness, progressive politics promote connected unevenness, inducing tingently, forming assemblages and
difference and interdependence. And this is where architecture’s material mediation alliances for a concrete purpose, rather
becomes crucial for updating political models, as we saw in the example of Siza’s like in a bazaar. See Eric Raymond, The
Schilderswijk Housing in The Hague. The building envelope is critical for estab- Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on
lishing a homeostasis between the internal environment of the building (and the Linux and Open Source by an Accidental
community that inhabits it) and the environment outside and other neighboring Revolutionary (Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly
envelopes, hence its importance and the relevance of designing envelopes capable of and Associates, 1999).56 The techno-
regulating flows in and out of spaces and through changing conditions. underground is anti-corporate but not
Political directionality is a property of systems guided by a concept of history anti-market: it expresses the fight of
and nowhere is history more evident than in the dynamics of economic power, micro-capitalist units (small labels and
where the capacity to manipulate the prices of inputs and outputs of the production clubs) against the mainstream entertain-
process as well as their supply and demand produces a continuous fluctuation and ment industry, following a model of viral
evolution of markets. The contemporary paradox is that even if history has pervaded production. It challenges individualism
material organizations, we can no longer rely on the arrow of time as a pointer for and subjectivity as the author tends to
an evolution of political systems, but rather must engage the intrinsic qualities of disappear into the technical milieu (sound
material and spatial organizations to direct and regulate flow and exchange. Con- ceases to be associated to physical gestures,
temporary forms of power are generated through the ability to initiate, track or music is made by machines, Roland 808,
modulate flow with increasingly systematic and sophisticated devices. Networks, Moog, Rhodes…). Electronic music
flow architecture, infrastructures, heterarchy, complexity, etc. enable the relocation expands perception through an increase
of bodies and other objects both governmental and corporate on an unprecedented in complexity, through process rather than
scale and extent. interpretation. It is not music as com-
The proposal here is a transversal political practice that is constantly evolving munication but as communion, going
and accumulating new political concerns as new events unfold and that, through with the flow, connecting across cultures,
such accretion, builds a whole that is more than the sum of its parts but remains and at the same time it is site-specific and
open. In that sense an architecture of explicitation involves more complex political has a deeply tribal context. It is addressed
directionalities as it transforms the space and the material organization of the built simultaneously to the mind and to the
environment, even if those transformations cannot be inscribed in a holistic political body as it is made for dancing. For a
program. For architecture to express the domestication of density and high-rise life description of the politics of contemporary
through specific massing strategies in tall buildings is a legitimate political perfor- electronic music as an interesting model
mance of an architecture of explicitation, as it is to convey that certain tendencies in for a revision of politics in material
the articulation of the building envelope capture new political affects and processes practices see Simon Reynolds, Generation
of diversification, to communicate that certain manipulations of the ground and Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave
the roof index the politicization of nature, or to explain that the breakdown of the Culture (New York: Routledge, 1999).
correlation between interior and exterior and private and public signals more advanced
social structures. And as such, this architecture does not need an overt alignment to
a political program or ideology, nor to subscribe to a utopian formulation, to become
politically directed. As an alternative to historical directionality, what we are pro-
posing is a study of the political dimensionality of space. The dimensional analysis
of building envelopes is an attempt to reground architecture’s political performance
Volume 17

in space and material organizations.

The particular interest in envelopes as political devices is that they constitute
the element that confines a system and regulates the flow of energy and matter in
and out of it. If traditional politics were based on equilibrium and closed systems,
the contemporary mechanisms of social and economic integration suggest the need 104
for open systems. As in thermodynamics, equilibrium is only valid for closed systems 57 For example the manipulation of the
where the overall amounts of energy are always conserved. If one allows energy to input and output mechanisms of pro-
flow in and out of a system, the number and type of possible historical outcomes duction and prices, regularly practiced by
greatly increases. Instead of a unique and simple equilibrium, we now have multiple global corporations, is a fundamentally
ones of varying complexity.60 By analyzing the building envelope, we have tried to anti-market technique aimed at control-
identify some of the possible entrances into the political within architecture that ling supply/demand dynamics. Likewise,
may be able to re-empower the discipline as a truly transformative force. anti-trust legislation is a product of
bureaucracies aimed at preventing markets
from evolving into monopolies. See
Fernand Braudel, A History of Civilizations
(New York: Penguin Books, 1993).

58 Ulrich Beck, The Reinvention of Politics.

59 ‘“The Parliament is a place where very

little happens. We could argue that it has
become largely irrelevant. Not because
the Great Politics has been sidestepped
by economic forces, but because the tech-
niques of representation of the official
political arena have not evolved in the
same speed as the multiplication of hybrid
forums around ‘matters of concern’. This is
what we tried to stage with the exhibition
‘Making Things Public’. The Parliament
was there as a particular technique among
the multitude of other hybrid, non-official,
not necessarily legitimate forums which
are very effective involving a variety of
things: from the supermarket, and finance
to law, technology, debates over nature,
etc. Therefore there is a proliferation of
‘micropolitics’, to use Ulrich Beck’s term.
In my opinion the dream of macro-
politics, the sphere that could cover all
these forums, has disappeared”‘. Bruno
Latour in conversation with Konstantin
Kastrissianakis for Re-public.

60 Ilya Prigogine revolutionized thermo-

dynamics in the 1960’s by showing that
the classical results were only valid for
closed systems where the overall amounts
of energy are always conserved. Thermo-
dynamics of open systems do not operate
within an overall equilibrium model, but
present multiple states of equilibrium
(static, periodic and chaotic attractors).
Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers.
Order out of Chaos. (New York: Bantam
Books, 1984).
Volume 17

Art as Urbanism
Michael Govan interviewed by
Jeffrey Inaba and Benedict Clouette
A director of a large art museum plays many roles: organizer, thinker, critic
and fundraiser. But, urban designer? In his relatively short time at the helm
of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Michael Govan has done just that,
commissioning large-scale pieces to transform the museum’s urban campus.
Unlike previous generations of museum directors, he is defining a city district
through works of art rather than buildings. Volume spoke with Govan about
overseeing an encyclopedic museum and its urban design.

Copyright 2008 Museum Associates/LACMA

Volume 17

Jeffrey Inaba Dia:Beacon reverses container and mediate urban context. As a result LACMA now
content. Even before entering the museum, which looks more like a district with artwork as the primary
is of course typically thought of as a container of building blocks of its urban plan. To describe a
artwork, the visitor is already immersed in art. There really crude historical schema of museum director-
are large-scale pieces located around the building ships, you could say that once directors sought
museum-goers encounter before they experience to build a collection, then their ambition turned to
the architecture per se. Can you discuss your creating a landmark building and now in your case
approach to the design of the museum complex? it’s –
Michael Govan Some saw my work on the Dia project MG To build an environment and a perspective.
as being anti-architecture. Quite the reverse: to claim JI Yes, and in building an environment, art
that I was anti-architecture is a total distortion of archi- production has become a form of urban design.
tecture. At Dia we understood architecture as the MG There is an idea related to signature architecture
environment, the way things are organized, how we that the bigger building is the better building and the
move in space and the sequence of events. resulting image is a big building with a little piece of
One notion was to blur the line of the museum sculpture at the entrance. At LACMA we’ve played with
entrance: to question what the threshold is and how to reversing that concept so that the largest object on our
organize the experience of the threshold. You’re in the campus will be a Jeff Koons piece: a train hanging from
museum before you know it. Many people don’t realize a 160-foot-tall crane, which performs three times a
that the parking lot itself is a work of art. It’s part of day when they run its locomotive. So it functions like
Robert Irwin’s concept. He organized the way the parking a ‘campanile’ in a town square, to mark time and place.
spaces would be set, the arrangement of the earth, grass Renzo Piano’s architecture – its grid-like form and sim-
and trees. The trees are fields of color—they’re green plicity – invites art to be a strong presence. He actually
in the summer, white blossoms in the spring and for most likes it if the art is bigger than the building. He thought
of the winter they’re an incredible field of red berries. that the character and height of the Jeff Koons proposal
JI There is also an intentional blurring of content were fantastic.
and management. Generally with museums art JI The Grove is a successful retail center not far
is regarded as the content and the architecture from here in Los Angeles that for all intents and pur-
manages the image of the museum by way of the poses has managed to solve the chronic problem
building’s exterior. It is also often the case that of parking. The developer Rick Caruso refined the
on the inside a museum’s architecture is relatively system to get a high car count in and out of a com-
generic – a container that does not over-determine plex located in a dense and highly trafficked area
the experience of the artwork. But at Dia the of the city. In an interview, you refer to the Grove
exterior and interior pieces commissioned for its as an example of people’s willingness to venture
inauguration are so central to the museum’s first by car to central, urban destinations despite the
impression and experience that they condition its potential pitfalls of doing so. Can you discuss your
identity – perhaps even more so than the architec- thoughts about attracting local visitors to the
ture. Can you discuss the dynamic between the museum?
building and the permanent artwork in this regard? MG Yes, I think it’s a huge issue. Somebody once asked
MG The question is whether some spaces can be shaped me how the Dia experience, which is so niche, can apply
by the specificity of artwork. At Dia the architecture to LACMA, which is so huge. It’s a civic project, not
was transgressive by most museum standards. Most a destination. I think that it influences it in every way
museums are a container into which objects are placed, possible. The lessons learned at Dia can be deployed
and Dia’s notion was that the artist would shape the on a civic scale. You put art up front. You get people
environment with their work. The majority of Dia’s com- into art first, before they enter the museum. That’s a
missioned artworks like Heizer’s or Irwin’s even puncture principle at Dia and that’s a principle that will play out
the building, readjusting the fabric of the container here at LACMA.
itself. In other instances, like at LACMA, the reading When Caruso made the Grove he spent a huge
of the artwork is determined by the presence of the amount of time studying the psychology of the desti-
building. Inside the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, nation, the small village and how to create that in Los
the ninety-foot-tall Barbara Kruger piece is a bit anti- Angeles. My point in the article was that if you can get
monumental in that you have to read it in fragments millions of people there, you can’t then tell me transpor-
because the movement of the elevator disrupts a single tation is the reason for low attendance! [laughs] I started
gestalt. With the Tony Smith piece displayed in the to imagine that given how sprawling Los Angeles is –
Ahmanson building we created a tight fit similar to that it’s geographically non-hierarchical – every place is a
at the Corcoran in order to create a feeling that it’s destination. So the question is how to make it worthwhile
specific to the space. So in that case it was constructed. once you’re there. I think a lot about how to create a des-
The thing for me is to create a certain quantity of these tination. I’m curious about LACMA being a destination
instances of specificity. It’s not an exact science, but it in a center city location. You can imagine it as a nexus.
changes your reading of everything else in the museum, That idea of a nexus is reflected in the works we’ve
including the generic spaces for the rotating exhibits. realized at LACMA. For example, Chris Burden’s project,
JI At LACMA you took this approach to an urban ‘Urban Light’, establishes an LA ‘street temple’ with two
scale. Rather than focusing on commissioning hundred urban lamps from the 1920s and 1930s taken
Volume 17

a signature building to become a new identity for from streets in different neighborhoods. Each has a
the museum, you’ve worked with artists to create personality and a different notion of civic pride and urban
spaces in front of and around the existing buildings. design. They’re all painted grey so they’re all the same
Art is a medium to realign and reform relationships color; it’s an incredibly beautiful sculpture. Almost like
107 between extant buildings as well as with the im- the Campidoglio in Rome with earth brought from the
Seven Hills to make the mound, the Burden piece is a MG Contemporary art imagines, or perhaps better rec-
belly-button space where these lamps from every quarter ognizes, that history is always remade and reread; a work
of Los Angeles are situated here at the center of Los of contemporary art is new, but it also forces a rereading
Angeles County. Along with Robert Irwin’s palm trees, of everything else. LACMA’s approach is similar.
these two aspects of the LA streetscape formalize the In an encyclopedic museum you feel so strongly
architecture and make it almost ceremonial. that the objects in the collection have been displaced.
JI Unlike cities such as Paris, LA is not imageable; So I’ve been looking for collections that can facilitate
that is, it’s not a city that can be understood and dialogue between the museum’s urban location and
grasped from one vantage point. Similarly, the urban those displaced objects. An example of facilitating
design and architecture of LACMA’s campus is, well, dialogue with our local context is an installation we’ve
diverse. It too is not imageable. Can you discuss the just opened, a temporary reinstallation from our pre-
identity of the museum vis-à-vis the architecture? Columbian collections designed by the artist Jorge
MG LACMA is the last encyclopedic museum and Pardo. The exhibition competes with the art and the art
probably the only one that has a chance to rethink itself. is completely displaced from any representation of its
As a malleable, encyclopedic museum, LACMA has the original context. It’s been given a thoughtful new one,
most interesting opportunities at the present, including a contemporary one that links it to this place. You can’t
architecturally. It isn’t overwhelmingly coded in one way make the whole museum eccentric like this, but you can
or another. Museums on the East Coast, where a great do things that make people more aware of the institution
deal of wealth was concentrated at the end of the as a framing device and that awareness carries through
19th and in the 20th centuries, were built on the classical, to your experience of the whole museum.
European Enlightenment model. All those buildings are JI Given that there is no longer the expectation that
built out of stone and you’re just not going to change an encyclopedic museum needs to be comprehen-
the façade of the Met[ropolitan Museum of Art] or the sive and constantly on the lookout for omissions,
Chicago Art Institute or the Cleveland Museum or the it can turn to a different acquisition and exhibition
Boston MFA, because they are so successful and so set. strategy. One such strategy is to have an infinitely
Moreover you can’t make any more encyclopedic malleable and evolving scope that takes advantage
museums because you can’t collect the material. You of the breadth of its initial conception. What do you
can’t get classical works or works out of South America, see as the potential of broadcasting, as LACMA is
Mexico or China even with all the money in the world. doing, in contrast to the narrowcasting of boutique
We have one of these collections and our buildings museums?
are more or less built out of cardboard because of the MG Encyclopedic museums – a bad word for it and very
mild weather in LA. It’s a precious opportunity and an complicated – embody a worldview and reflect the
enormous responsibility to rethink what’s possible and ambition of a civic environment. We might better con-
we’re aware of that every day. sider encyclopedism as a frame of reference that allows
JI Given the vastness of LACMA’s collection it too a museum a wide bandwidth. We could read it as inclu-
is not imageable. It has a wide range of material siveness, rather than as bringing exotic spoils from afar.
and no one type of work or one single work such The broadband quality allows us to be in dialogue with
as the ‘Mona Lisa’ at the Louvre represents the the audience of our urban context. LACMA goes with
museum’s mission or identity. What is the design- the situation in LA. In a city that speaks over a hundred
image of LACMA? languages, the encyclopedic museum can justify its
MG There’s a condensation of the world in an encyclo- existence and relevance based on a conversation about
pedic museum: you have objects from all over and the present day with an audience from every part of
throughout time mapped onto one dense surface. It is the world.
and it isn’t imageable depending on how it’s organized. JI What’s the cultural forecast for LA–where’s it
In terms of content management, there’s a distinct going, what’s its potential and how is it different
difference in organizing content in three-dimensional from other cities?
space versus the nature of the digital realm where things MG New York was the cultural capital for a moment.
are sortable and searchable. By adding interpretation Innovation on that level is not sustainable. You’d be
or framing we can stimulate some of that non-linear hard-pressed to call New York the center of innovation
thinking. But it’s a big responsibility to put things in actual any more, but like London and Paris it’s an incredible
space, because then every decision you make is read. platform for the presentation of an already codified,
If you walk into the Metropolitan Museum of Art you celebrated culture. It’s also the center of the market.
see Greek and Roman art on your left, Egyptian on your LA is in the process of becoming a center, one of many
right, and European painting upstairs. That’s a big centers. Los Angeles has a unique kind of innovation.
message about the order of priorities. In the organization I’m not sure if it’s true, but are more images made in
of LACMA one can almost imagine the whole campus Los Angeles than in any other place in the world? What
as a timeline: the Broad building is the contemporary, would compete, if you consider advertising, computer
your moment of entry, and the historical collections imaging, gaming, Hollywood and all the art that’s being
extend backwards in time to prehistory, to the tar pits, produced here? It’s an incredible sense of production
this fantastic, pre-human historical artifact. So you and intensity.
have the present, human history and pre-history. Benedict Clouette How does ownership of a col-
JI Given the wealth of artifacts in its collection, an lection affect the way a museum creates a brand
Volume 17

encyclopedic museum is in a position to invoke or an identity for itself? And on the other hand
the imagination of visitors by contrasting historical what are the advantages of having fluidity in the
and contemporary material. At other times, an relationship between the museum’s identity and
encyclopedic museum can organize a show that the work it presents in cases where the collection
combines and relates the two. is not strongly identified with the museum? 108
MG There are models on both sides regarding the
question of fluidity versus permanence, and identity of
programming versus the identity of the institution. There
are institutions with a permanent collection and a great
identity. The other extreme is the Kunsthal, which is
intended to be an empty shell with loaned content
flowing in and out of it. Obviously we’re thinking about
this back and forth quality. It’s a civic and county
museum and therefore the notion of permanence and
identity, especially if constructed in an interesting way,
is important. But fluidity is also important in order to per-
mit more open readings of identity. Our current building
plan calls for an exhibition pavilion without a collection
in order to provide at least one space that almost floats
like a pavilion in the park without a specific identity,
and that can at times relate to one of the permanent
collection spaces, while at other times it can be an
empty space with a very flexible relationship to the
Copyright 2008 Museum Associates/LACMA

landscape of the park. I think we’re a big enough place

‘Urban Light’, Chris Burden, February, 2008

that we must have gradients, from less determined
to more determined backdrops, places and contexts.
That’s obviously up to curators and the artists to make
of it what they can.
Copyright Jeff Koons Studio/LACMA
Photo copyright 2008 Museum Associates/LACMA

Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM)

Eli Broad and Michael Govan in the

press preview, February, 2008

third floor west gallery, Broad
‘Train’, Jeff Koons, 2007
Volume 17

Architecture is Merciless
Jacques Herzog, from a lecture at
Columbia University, May 13, 2008
This past August, Herzog & de Meuron’s Beijing Olympic Stadium became
the site of the most widely broadcast media event of the year. The stadium
assumed a public image that few buildings can hope to achieve, becoming
a highly recognizable icon around the world overnight. It was a demonstration
of architecture in the public domain, an image freed from authorial control to
be appropriated for a variety of uses. Its circulation was facilitated by television
coverage, magazines, blogs and Flickr streams, as well as by advertisements
for Coca Cola, among others. Yet the international attention lagged behind the
profusion of its image in China, where long before the opening ceremony the
popularity of the building was attested by bird’s nest toys, cakes, homemade
models, hats and billboards. Jacques Herzog presented these images at a lecture
at Columbia University in May 2008 in which he discussed his hope that the
public embrace of the building would continue after the games.

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‘Of course, we would love everyone to say how great the stadium is, but in the
end we’re only interested in what people do with the building after we’re finished.
It isn’t open yet, so we don’t know if it’ll work, but we’re pretty sure it will work
because the way they’ve embrace it – all these advertisements, toys, and gimmicks
– tells me it will work. A building survives because people love it and care for it,
not because someone tells them that it’s a “great building”, but because they
embrace it and almost swallow it whole. We’ve been very fortunate in the past,
for instance with the Tate, which is very successful as a public space. But it could
have been just the opposite – people might have found it too monumental or too
stupid or just not liked it, but it works and they use it. That’s what we try to leave
for the public.’

Volume 17

‘A building can be made out of glass or paper, but if people love it and care for it,
it’ll last longer than if it were built from stone. What the building means to people
isn’t something I can dictate as an architect; neither is how they will use it or how
its existence is justified. That’s all ridiculous and ideological, just advertisements
and PR and we’re not interested in that. Architecture is merciless: it is what it is,
it works or doesn’t, and you can clearly see the difference. Sometimes it works
even if it’s stupid and ugly, and sometimes it works if it’s nice and beautiful. Of
course we try to combine all these things, but you never know. There’s always the
risk that we may fail.’
Volume 17

Talk of the Town
AOC interviewed by Jesse Seegers
While architects in the past have welcomed public participation in the design
process, it has long been underappreciated. Recently, its value has been
reappraised, at least by one team of architects. Like their ‘80s-era predecessors,
the London-based collaborative, AOC believe in talking with users as well as
clients in the process of designing buildings and towns. And like others involved
in content management today, they recognize group participation as way to rally
people and resources for a collective goal. AOC formulate the contents of
a commission into a set of shared concerns that in turn build an informal social
network of individuals whose skills help the architects and community to realize
public works such as housing and schools. In that regard, they not only design
collaboratively, they also design collaborations.

Image courtesy The AOC

From left to right: Geoff Shearcroft, Vincent Lacovara,
Daisy Froud, Tom Coward

Volume 17

Jesse Seegers How does collaboration effect how as rewarding as making something physical and that’s
you arrive at a design? something we try to develop. It’s a particular kind of
Geoff Shearcroft Very rarely do we draw a specific shape. skill and interest that benefits those housing authority
It’s often a found shape that then changes and changes projects. We’ve done quite a few projects in which it’s
and changes during the course of which we very quickly been more about bringing people together who haven’t
lose individual authorship. So with almost every project necessarily ever designed anything.
we do it’s impossible to say ‘that bit was hers and that GS We began AOC based on Cedric Price’s idea that
bit was his’, which was kind of why we set up AOC. often a building is not the answer. By having a non-archi-
We often create what we call a spatial constitution tect in your group, not only can you say and do that,
for a project which is where we bring together things but you can follow it through with meaning and even
that are a bit like a building, but still are not quite a incorporate it into your business. So while you may kick
building. So it’s spatial and it’s of the world, but it’s not yourself when you say, ‘no, you don’t need that extension
a design. You draw it all in one hand so suddenly it has or that new building, you need to talk more or go down
a unity such that the jump to the building is a lot more the road and use that existing facility,’ in fact that
legible, a lot more accountable. We create a great generosity often comes back later.
number of drawings to try to capture that process. One We talk a lot about generosity because it’s a word
of the nice things about that approach is that the oppor- that tries to convey something about a public or public-
tunity for happy accidents is far greater and the longer ness. It’s quite hard to talk about it without it sounding
the project, the more that comes into play. cheesy and idealistic, but if someone’s generous you
JS Is it difficult to work with that collaborative, one know exactly what they mean. We try to design buildings
in which everything is uncertain and subject to that are generous in the sense of doing more than
change, and then go through tender documents they’re meant to do as concerns their function and
in which everything must be rigid and finalized? structure, particularly in the public realm. We’re slowly
GS Yes, but you learn to get better at that. As part of exploring this with our buildings and some of our other
the collaboration you need to talk to residents and the projects, but it’s quite hard to really define. I think in
contractor in order to get them on board. The role of an twenty years we’ll be able to look back and say, that
architect is as much cheerleader as designer. It may be was generous and that wasn’t.
that most people don’t care what the final product is, JS Do you consider that a long span of time in
but they care about the program, they care about the your work?
budget and they care about checking a box. You may GS We find it particularly useful in designing schools.
be the only one who cares about the end product, but A lot of schools want a long-term vision about where
if you can get everyone along the way excited about it, they’re going because they don’t want to end up with
then you’re far more likely to get there. a portakabin. Actually if you get everyone from the
When we worked on Wood Dene, a master plan- school and all the parents to come into a space together
ning project in South London, Peckham, the first thing then it helps on so many levels. Schools are such fan-
we did was to get everyone involved from the Council tastic mini-communities and when they bring in the
on the site. A lot of them hadn’t been. parents they realize that among those parents they’ve
Vincent Lacovara It seemed like an obvious thing to do. got a banker, a fund raiser, a lawyer and so on. Suddenly
The first day we took a walk around the site, gathered they’re all contributing to the school community using
together representatives from the housing office, plan- everyone’s skills. That doesn’t seem like much, but by
ning department, local police, client group and some talking about a new welcome area or whatever it starts
local residents from the residents’ association. We a bigger conversation and that helps the school to
walked around the site together and the group included begin generating a vision which might eventually involve
people who had been working together for a long time some buildings.
but had never met. Some had emailed each other or JS In your approach of bringing together Pop visuals
sent a fax once a couple years ago, but they’d never à la Superstudio or AMO and a more socially
walked around the place together. conscious ideal à la the Smithsons you generate
JS And you facilitated that meeting? something that’s less reliant on the image of the
GS Facilitating makes it sound so grand, it’s more – building and more on process, content and public
VL We just arranged a meeting – participation. Are you scared this might be mis-
GS It was quite casual. When everyone turned up people construed by the public or the architecture profes-
were wary because they hadn’t done it before. They sion as too conservative?
wondered, ‘Well, this is strange. Why are we all sitting GS That’s the best question I’ve ever been asked
around this table together? Are we going to be made to because it sums up everything we’re interested in and
do some kind of crazy workshop?’ Someone said some- I think the answer is: we don’t really know.
thing like, ‘I’m not going to stick anything on my head.’ But if you’re re-appropriating or collaging the past
GS That’s where Daisy’s input was really valuable. to move forward, then the things you produce are more
Partly because of her background, she’s very good at familiar and less avant-garde, less extreme. Generally
promoting that kind of conversation. Just putting people with anything we do the first task is to find something
at ease and encouraging them to relax instantly helps relevant from the past and massage it before moving
the project along. It’s a way of trying to preempt formal forward, and even then the move forward might be
conventions with informal processes and possibly incremental. So in that sense it can be seen as conser-
Volume 17

because of our relative youth and sometimes faux vative, but then it’s more likely to resonate with people
naivety we can pull it off. and therefore more likely to work. For that reason I never
VL There is a genuine interest in catalyzing things and thought of it as conservative.
we all feel we achieve something. On that first day VL My immediate reaction is that conservative is
115 we brought those people together. I definitely find that the last thing anyone would ever want to be called. If it
means keeping things the same as they are, we definitely object has quite a strong character, but it might have a
don’t think we’re conservative. I’ve heard these kinds different style. James Joyce always ripped off different
of things about people who are described as doing work styles and claimed a variety of styles as appropriate to
similar to what we do and it might have something to do his work. We’re trying to work out an appropriate style.
with referencing the familiar such that it can be construed It’s incredibly hard but it’s something we’re exploring.
as not necessarily radical and therefore conservative. TC Well, trying to convince the client…
GS We believe that the revolution doesn’t have to look GS It may be appropriate to do a classical building, but
odd. It could look deeply familiar and in fact it should we haven’t had that situation yet; it may be appropriate
look deeply familiar. I’m intrigued by that. to do, I don’t know, a blob. It’s bound to be appropriate
VL I’d hate for it to be misconstrued as conservative, to do a blob sometime…
but… VL Do you think it’ll be appropriate to do a flowscape?
GS But, as we know, it has been called conservative. TC Nah…
Remember when we did the Architecture Foundation VL That’s never appropriate.
competition? Kieran Long commented that the building
was rather deeply conventional. Now, he meant it as
a flattery because he likes that sort of thing, but at the
time we were caught very much by surprise.
GS It is a four-story lump of glowing gold – it’s not
that conventional!
Tom Coward In a way though, if you want to do some-
thing engaging it must be neither too commonplace, nor
too remarkable. If something is really, really remarkable
everyone will look at it and say, ‘wow!’, but they’ll be
too scared to touch it, sit on it, eat it or whatever. And
if you do something too commonplace it won’t get
noticed. So actually the furtive approach is in that
middle territory.
GS That’s another reason why we’re interested in social
housing, because to make social housing good is radical,
even revolutionary.
VL Indeed, what’s radical about it is not trying to make
it radical. We’ve talked about that before. For example,
housing is about making it work as really good housing.
That’s kind of it.
GS So for example, our project The Lift is a temporary
demountable performance space. It’s a big tent and
we’re now developing a pattern to apply to it. We want
it to be deeply familiar, to work on an urban level and
‘The Lift’, demountable performance

very up-close, yet not be like anything else which seems

very contradictory.
Basically we took the metaphor of a quilt and
found a quilt pattern by googling ‘quilts.’ From about
five hundred search results we chose one called ‘best
of all’ because it actually was the best of all of them.
and meeting space

We got everyone in the office to color it in different ways

according to a set of rules and then brought them all
together and collaged them into a pattern. We showed
it to the clients and they thought it made a very big,
odd object seem very homey which was exactly what
we were trying to do. The residents said they’d never
seen anything like it and yet it wasn’t too loud or too
different. An Islamic woman said it really reminded her
of many of the things of her past, yet not too overtly.
A spatial constitution, ‘The Lift’ – A collage

So the idea is to design an object which works for a

number of people who have very different aesthetics
and associations, but without it being too labored.
And yes, technically it’s a tent – a steel frame with PVC
of ready-made spatial elements

stretched over it – and yet the form and pattern trigger

lots of different associations in people which hopefully
means they feel they can own it and therefore go into it.
In the end our ambitions are to be known for a
process and produce many different buildings in very
Volume 17

different styles but which all have a shared generosity

and a process that engages the user as well as the client.
In the eighties there was a lot of talk about community
architecture and consultation. That led to a very weak
architectural language. With what we’re generating the 116
Volume 17 All images courtesy The AOC

‘Polyopoly’, urban cultivation game – Appro- ‘Polyopoly’, the game in the city – Players
priating the model but subverting the logic imagine their way around the board, appro-
of a well-known board game, Polyopoly swaps priating existing elements and adapting the
hard cash for time, skills and knowledge, landscape as they go. Conversation and nego-
and production-line hotels for a collage of tiation generate open questions about the
opportunities. environment. Possible stories are played out.

‘New Centre for Architecture’, Southwark, London – An easy icon, wrapped in gold, the form
is deeply familiar, rich in associations and actively encourages adaptation.
Life Support

Image courtesy Iñaki Ábalos

Iñaki Ábalos interviewed by
Mariela Alvarez and Alfonso García del Rey
As one half of the Madrid-based duo Ábalos & Herreros, Iñaki Ábalos has designed
some of the most adventurously subtle buildings of the last decade. Incorporating
ecological concerns and relentlessly modern machinery, his buildings, as well
as his research and writing, are a sustained examination of the relation between
processes of modernization and architecture, with particular attention given
to the skyscraper. Ábalos’ buildings propose architecture as a form of dynamic
life support, a technology that enables the life cycles of its contents and their
continuing evolution. In his new firm, in partnership with Renata Sentkiewicz, Ábalos
continues to advance these lines of inquiry. He discusses with Volume the radical
functionality of his buildings and the elegance of pragmatism.

Volume 17

All work images courtesy Iñaki Ábalos
Mariela Alvarez In digital media, content manage-
ment can be understood as a set of processes and
technologies that support the evolutionary cycle of
information. Many, if not all, of your buildings have
specific kind of functionality to them, a life or a life
cycle, you might say. Could you talk a little about
what it means to build architecture that fundamen-

La Chapelle Tower, Paris

tally deals with function, for instance in buildings

Section with program,

like the recycling plant you designed in the
Valdemingómez area of Madrid?
Iñaki Ábalos Industrial buildings are radically functional.
We won the recycling plant competition because we
treated recycling as a system of thematic and functional
layers that could imply a variety of uses. This has a lot
to do with the issue of content management.
In the recycling plant we understood that the site
had a unique splendor, and we wanted to extract its
beauty as a theme and contrast it with the industrial
aspect of our intervention. We included recreational
and cultural programs as means to maximize the contrast
between natural and artificial, and produced a hybrid
building that plays with that distinction.
MA Sanford Kwinter described your projects as a

View from Rue de la Chapelle,

‘piece of social equipment’. Could you talk about

La Chapelle Tower, Paris

what it means for an architect to be rooted in an
intangible phenomenon such as social effects?
IÁ The idea of social equipment can be understood
as a metaphor to describe how the technological and
the social correspond or influence each other in their
advancements. For instance, I’ve always understood
that there was a relation between the production of
prototypical modern skyscrapers, like Mies’ Seagram
Building, and the development of bureaucracy. As the
production of information changed, the need for a
new type of building grew in response to this change
in how information was produced and the type of
office space needed to carry out the processing of
that information.
MA In your work, how does social performance
shape the design of a building? For example, in the
recent Tour de La Chapelle, how did the extreme
variety of programs – cultural and academic pro-
grams, corporate offices, retail, residential and
sports facilities – effect the form?
IÁ The question of program as an activator and trans-
formative agent in the building is an interesting one.
The structure of the Tour de La Chapelle changes as
it ascends, so its programs are not the typical arrange-
ment of commercial on the ground floor, with specialized
spaces above. Instead, program becomes a kind of
vertical path for the university’s public to an elevated
classroom and lounge. The idea is to create a young
and international center: a hybrid of an academic
campus and commercial office space that is public and
vertical. The program is capable of integrating different
groups of people (young students and professionals)
Front view, La Chapelle Tower, Paris

in a space that is incredibly accessible.

Yet mixing use and program does not always
need to be linked to the physical aspect of the building.
The construction of buildings that physically express
the differentiation of programs has no technical justifi-
cation, but I’m very interested in this contemporary
Volume 17

expressionism, not for its technical aspect, but for the

programmatic approach that it offers because it lets
us play freely with the architectural function and the
content of the building while worrying less about the
119 compositional aspect.
MA You’ve said that a tower should be a city in itself. esque view from the window. Instead, we treat natural
What cities would you compare your buildings to? and artificial as multiple layers of a complex system rich
IÁ Skyscrapers are a kind of imaginary city. I’d compare enough to allow us to negotiate with its varied parts.
the skyscraper to some type of archipelago, like the The relationship to nature is rooted in the social
city of Venice or the city-states on the plains of Germany. elements of our projects. It’s not limited to the realm
I love this analogy because these cities are located of objects, but rather involves the social and intangible
within a natural system that allows for the creation of qualities we try to incorporate in our buildings. The com-
some sort of hybrid between natural and artificial. The plex forms of sociality that architecture can engender
natural entity in Venice is the lagoon, and in Germany, and their relation to nature are far more appealing.
the plains. MA At this point in your career you’ve successfully
MA Contemporary content management systems, completed a great variety of buildings of different
such as internet sites like YouTube, promote the programs and typologies. How do you manage
production of content by their users rather than by your own ideas, agendas and concepts? How do
a single authoritative entity. What do you think the you implement what you’ve learned from previous
architect’s future role will be in the organization of projects in your current designs?
the the content of a building? IÁ I practice a rather unorthodox methodology of
IÁ The architect’s job is to creatively transform a series working with a limited number of themes and materials.
of chaotic ideas, suggestions, data and materials into It is much more efficient and productive to work with
a coherent system. It’s important to organize these four, five or at most six themes to which you persistently
abstract and intangible elements into something that’s return. I recognize that almost all of my projects reflect
memorable because simply having access to so much a series of similar preoccupations. For example, the
information could become insignificant if, as architects, interest in technique, the idea of pragmatism, the use
we’re incapable of making that transformation. of simple materials and the simplicity of form, geometry
There are a number of tools changing the way and composition. By constantly manipulating the same
architecture is produced. The possibilities introduced themes I can extract more from them each time I employ
by phenomena such as YouTube are quite serious them. It’s both modernist and anachronistic to be
because they threaten the maintenance of separate constantly trying to resolve the same problem. Take for
fields and promote the integration of different disciplines. example Joseph Albers, who spent all his life painting
I’m very interested in how the profession adapts and the same fucking squares! Still, more recent projects
integrates these new tendencies, since they could have taken unexpected turns since I’m always working
potentially maximize the capabilities of collaboration with new people and new teams which provide new
and technologies. perspectives.
Alfonso García del Rey How would you define your MA You describe your design as pragmatic. How
approach to technology and technique, and how do does that approach affect the process of designing
they influence the construction and performance a building?
of a building? IÁ I’ve maintained an affinity for pragmatism for two
IÁ I’m interested in the combination of high and low reasons: I like to maintain a close relationship to the
techniques applied simultaneously. Those architects contemporary technological world and I believe in the
only interested in high technology and techniques have elegance of simplicity. Scientifically speaking, elegant
an affinity for the design of the object. In particular, an solutions are those that solve the most complex prob-
object that has a unique and new character. I’ve always lems with the utmost simplicity. One can be pragmatic
been interested in blends. I prefer the fertile ground by creating projects that are simple and elegant. This
of mixing whatever techniques are at hand to the sterile is especially the case in Spain: a country with limited
pursuit of only the most technologically advanced resources, but a great demand for buildings.
This is the result of my psychological disposition;
I can’t design every little corner or doorknob. I like to
work with what is necessary and no more. I like my work
to come together from the rest of the project’s factors.
Just thinking about designing everything and being in
absolute control of the entire project mentally exhausts
me. There must be an appreciable margin left for the user
to intervene. I prefer raw, even ugly spaces to designed
ones. These contain much more grace, more humor
and more possibilities than projects that specify every
little thing. I’d commit suicide if I had to live in an over-
designed interior!
AGdR What is the relationship between natural
and artificial in your work, and how does it relate
to the radical functionality of your buildings?
IÁ We’ve never maintained a simple relationship with
nature in our work. Instead we prefer a dialectical
Volume 17

tension. I’m not talking about putting a polycarbonate

panel against a green wall – it’s slightly more complex
than that. I don’t believe organic shapes are the means
through which we come to understand our relation to
nature and I’m also not interested in making a pictur- 120
Volume 17 All work images courtesy Iñaki Ábalos

Model view, Torino Tower

Elevation, Torino Tower


All images courtesy Christian Vogt

Vogt Landscape Architects explore how nature can be reinvigorated by its trans-
plantation into a constructed context. In their project for the Masoala Rainforest
Hall at the Zurich Zoo, Vogt transplant nature as a kind of ex situ conservation,
removing the plants from their threatened ecology and preserving them in an
artificial state. In their courtyard for FIFA, Vogt insert simulated nature, fiberglass
molded into the shape of tree trunks, as a support for live plants that will grow
over these armatures. By relocating a natural ecology into an artificial, managed
setting, Vogt conjure the ecology’s origin, and the fragility of living environments.

Forum 3, Novartis Campus, Basel, 2005.

A total of fourteen hundred plants were planted in the Room
of Plants, including eleven giant trees. All of these come from
large-scale nurseries in Malaysia, Thailand and Florida.

Volume 17

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Home of FIFA, Zurich, 2006.
’The Game of Continents’. In the 40,000m2 inner courtyard eight
sculptures in the shapes of dead trees loom upward.

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Masoala Rain Forest Hall, Zurich Zoo, 2003.
10,800m2 of constructed nature.
Volume 17

Seeds of Paranoia
By C-Lab
Billed as the planet’s doomsday agricultural back-up system, the Svalbard Global
Seed Vault aims to protect the world’s crop biodiversity by safeguarding the
widest possible range of seeds. Its existence is founded, appropriately or not, on
the fear that in the future any of a number of scenarios could threaten the ability
of crops to survive. As a system for protecting content, it anticipates and defends
against the worst possible environmental devastation through a protocol intended
to best ensure that crops withstand and adapt in the wake of natural and man-made
upheaval. As changing weather patterns, civil strife, increasing world population,
and looming food shortages come closer to jeopardizing the ecology of some
of the world’s most biodiverse areas, it remains to be seen if the managerial logic
of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is adequate to its own paranoia.

Volume 17

Volume 17 Image Dag Terje Endresen

A seed storage box
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is an ex-situ conserva- is designed to keep the seeds dry and cold even in the
tion site deep into a permafrost mountain on a remote event of global warming and rising sea levels. Svalbard
island in the Arctic Circle. The vault’s architecture was also chosen for its geological stability and low
attempts to respond to a wide range of possible cata- environmental radiation, as well as the relative political
strophes. Its isolated location (roughly as far north stability of Norway. The vault’s bunker-like architecture
from Oslo as Oslo is from Algiers) is intended to limit was designed for a nearly endless lifespan.
unauthorized access, while its siting in a frozen mountain


Oslo, 2
120 m
X-dimension The vault is embedded
nearly 120m inside a mountain. This
allows for natural refrigeration in
case of power loss, and also adds
resistance to nuclear blasts.

Y-dimension The facility is situated

approximately 130m above the
current sea level, keeping the
seeds well above water even after
global warming. 1. Local Resource Protection
While the vault is monitored by motion sensors and web
cameras, it is not physically guarded by humans. However,
polar bears inhabiting the local environment act as a deterrent
to would-be thieves.

Sea Level 0m 2. Limited Accessibility

To heighten security, the vault has only one entrance with
massive security doors and an airlock separating the seeds
from the entrance area.

3. Infrastructure
Access to the seed vault is gained through a tunnel with a
sleeve of 5m diameter steel pipe to protect against erosion
and 1m thick reinforced concrete walls for blast resistance.
The tunnel leads to three air-tight vaults that can each hold
up to 1.5 million seed samples.

Volume 17

The vault holds 4.5 million seed samples, which is fodder and small quantities of plants with medical uses
equivalent to two billion seeds. The contents at Svalbard such as opium. Unlike local seed banks, the Svalbard
are genetic duplicates of existing seeds from seed banks vault is not physically accessible on a regular basis. In
around the world. The seeds enter the vault by way of the event that seed sources from local banks have been
a stringent process in which 20 major institutes gather destroyed or exhausted, only the institute that delivered
samples from 1400 local seed banks, package them the seed can access the Svalbard sample. However,
in moisture proof aluminum packets and ship them to the seeds are documented and entered into a database
Svalbard. Human staples like rice, wheat and beans where they are electronically accessible for research
account for 65% of the contents, but the vault also and management.
includes other edible and non-edible plants, animal



Proportions of stored


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1400 20 1
Local Seed Banks Globally Major Seed Institutions Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Seed Bank History

1940: The First Seed Bank 2008: Svalbard Global Seed Vault
The first seed bank was founded by The Svalbard vault is the project of
Russian geneticist Nikolai Vavilov. It was American environmental biology professor
Volume 17

diligently preserved even throughout the Cary Fowler. He is currently the executive
28-month Siege of Leningrad. Reluctant to director of the Global Crop Diversity
compromise its contents, one of Vavilov’s Trust, the Rome-based organization that
loyal assistants starved to death in runs the Svalbard vault.
131 essentially a storehouse of edible seeds.
The Value of Seeds price-tag for cleaning, packaging and shipping the
The seed industry is a surprisingly large economy, seeds to Norway, as well as maintaining the vault itself.
generating revenue comparable to that of the entertain- The operating costs are funded by the Global Crop
ment industry in Hollywood. Yet safeguarding the Diversity Trust, a foundation dedicated to food security.
industry’s genetic raw material is relatively cheap. The It raises and manages money for the vault’s operations,
Norwegian government paid 9.1 million USD to cover including funding for the institutes and local banks that
construction costs, and consequently owns the vault. send samples to Svalbard.
While storage space in the vault is free, there is a

Comparison Of Annual Revenues




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Volume 17

$100,000 per year operating cost

$9.1 M Facility Cost Paid by Norway

$142,855,320 Trust raised by

Global Crop Diversity Trust 132
The Contributors
The largest contributors to the Global Diversity Trust
are nations (mostly in the developed world). Private
foundation donors include well-known philanthropists
Bill and Melinda Gates, who have raised almost 30 million
USD for the trust. Corporate contributors include
agribusiness giants Syngenta and Dupont/Pioneer.


5.0% Corporate
0.5% NGOs

72% Nations

0.4% 99.6%
Undeveloped Developed
Nations Nations









UK $

ay $
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an y $1
$ 9.3
4.3 M
nd $
Irela $1.0 M
Volume 17


Cary Fowler, Director , Global Crop Diversity Trust of the depositing seed bank. If not done properly, the
Interviewed by Jean Choi and Forrest Jessee seeds you put back in will be different than the seeds
you took out. The quality of the seed at Svalbard is only
Jean Choi Our interest in the Svalbard Global Seed as good as the quality of the management regime and
vault comes from it functioning during an ultimate the quality of the seed from the depositing institution.
doomsday scenario. It’s acting as the world’s most JC How has the typhoon in the Philippines and
advanced back-up hard drive, but with the rise of other similar destructive scenarios affected the
political instability, economic conflict, and environ- idea of Svalbard as a safe-deposit box?
mental catastrophe, Svalbard still might not be CF Both 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina were fresh in our
enough. How do you think Svalbard responds to minds when we started talking about the idea of some-
these threats? thing like Svalbard. We realized there are over 1000 seed
Cary Fowler When we started to design this facility, collections around the world, and at any given moment,
we had neither reason to believe nor any expectation there are at least a few that are in trouble or vulnerable.
that anyone would pay any attention. We lose different One could say the loss of biodiversity in seed banks
varieties of our agricultural crops on a daily basis in is simply inevitable. I think we have a responsibility to
existing seed banks due to mismanagement and equip- guard against the extinction of crop diversity, given it is
ment failures, not to mention natural disasters, war, and so important for the future of agriculture and humanity
civil strife. If there were a global catastrophe, we think on earth.
there is a reasonably good chance this facility could be JC The art installation by Dyveke Sanne is a
a useful facility. Though of course you and I can image beautiful monument visible from miles around the
a scenario where the facility itself wouldn’t survive. vault, but unfortunately no one can look it. Please
There are no guarantees. Svalbard functions as a safety describe the piece’s intention and the infrastruc-
deposit box where existing seed banks place a copy of ture of the vault.
the samples they have. When you analyze how secure CF Well, we couldn’t make it a Disney World for seeds.
existing arrangements are for conserving this diversity In essence it’s a tunnel into the mountain with a very
in the long term, you need to look at the entire system, functional design. What you see from the outside is the
which ideally should have each unique sample in two portal building; it’s a triangular shaped wedge that pro-
different seed banks in two different countries that are trudes from the mountain. The outside needed to be
managed according to international standards – plus simple and elegant and send a message of security and
Svalbard. That would be the ideal; however, frankly we’re strength with a view toward the future. I’ve given a
not going to reach that any time soon, but at least we number of tours to VIP’s and scientific groups, and
have the insurance policy of a really robust location in people tend to walk up to the facility with a big smile.
Svalbard, operating as it is now. Ironically it is one of the most known and recognized
Forrest Jessee We’ve read there is an issue with structures in the world that virtually no one has ever seen.
the nomenclature of cataloging and storing seeds. JC We’re curious what your favorite crop is…
Each seed bank has its own process of collecting, CF Favorite crop? Well, there’s one I have an emotional
storing, cataloging, and naming the seeds. Is there attachment to.
any central order? Does Svalbard establish an It’s called lathyrus, or grass pea. It’s grown
organizing system that could aid and inform the and eaten primarily in Ethiopia, Pakistan, India and
efforts of the other seed banks? Bangladesh. It’s a leguminous crop, which means it fixes
CF Right now, no such system exists. If you’re a plant nitrogen from the air to the root, so it doesn’t really
breeder and are looking for a disease resistant strain require fertilizer, and it is extremely high in protein. It’s
for the latest disease that’s striking wheat, you go from a crop for all seasons and grows almost without water,
one seed bank to another to try and find what you want. which makes it great in drought situations. It can
It’s a problem… withstand floods. It’s just a fantastic little crop. It’s an
JC Have scenarios been established for their important crop for the poorest of the poor people. It can
redistribution? Who owns the seeds? easily be the only crop that you need to provide food
CF There is no transfer of ownership. The more compli- for yourself and your family. But, it has a problem. It
cated things get, the more risks you introduce. Norway contains a neurotoxin that causes permanent paralysis.
specifically denies that it owns any of the seeds, which If you eat enough to ward off starvation, you also will
is stated very clearly in the signed depositor agreement. eat enough to paralyze yourself. It’s an awful choice
If a country or an institution loses a particular variety, that the most unfortunate people on earth have, which
they would notify us, and we would make arrangements is to starve to death or become paralyzed.
to ship the sample in Norway back to them. However, That’s where I think the seed vault comes in. Within
if a unique variety has been lost, then the question is this crop there is a fair amount of diversity, and some
whether the depositor wants us to send all of the seeds varieties have less toxin than others. We use the collec-
back. Things could happen. The seeds could get lost tions to breed new varieties that have all the great
or the airplane could crash. qualities I just mentioned without the bad quality. If we
FJ One of the interesting contradictions of Svalbard can do that, we can provide the poorest people on
is that seed banks are living collections. How does earth with a great incurance policy. In a sense, I know
Svalbard strike a balance between its secure the attraction of the doomsday vault is doomsday, but
location and the need for a seed bank to be near I really see the whole seed vault as somethin remarkable
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viable ecosystems? and positive. You and I both know the world has a lot
CF When the germination rate falls to a certain percen- of dangers. The world is naturally a dangerous place.
tage, typically which is 85%of the original germination The question is, are we going to address those dangers?
rate, it’s time to take some seeds out, re-grow them, In the case of the Global Seed Vault we are really doing
and put fresh seeds back in, which is the responsibility something about it. 134
Measuring Biodiversity at Svalbard defined as a sample taken from a breeding event or
Biodiversity is often measured according to the number an exchange event, and is therefore a more dynamic
of species in an ecosystem. In species diversity, rice measure of biodiversity. This system recognizes that
would be one unit of biodiversity, the species Oryza genetic variations develop over time in different locations,
sativa. At Svalbard, biodiversity is measured not by yielding a diversity of genetic material within a species
a taxonomy of species, but according to the number that may make a certain accession better than another
of accessions of a variety of crop. An accession is for a given climate or agricultural application.

1 vs 100,000
=( ) (y) (100,000)

y = breeding event, donation, time,

Sativa geography, habitat

All Living Things


Division Angiosperms
1. Flowering Plants

Class Monocots
2. One cotyledon in seed

3. Bracts


4. Fibrous Root Systems

5. Leaf Cell Structure

6. Grasses

7. Single Flowered Spikelets
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8. Dry Environments

Do We Need GM Crops? Crop Biodiversity
The highest concentrations of biodiversity occur in South
America, Africa and South East Asia, where thousands
of years of traditional agricultural practice have created
highly specialized and localized crop varieties. While
genetically modified (GM) crops and industrial agri-
culture provide higher yields and can reduce hunger in
impoverished nations when properly managed, they

Oil prices
Since January 2005, oil prices have risen more than Biodiversity Timeline
400% globally, greatly increasing the cost of crop
production. Apples World
Crop 9 10 GMO
Biodiversity Plantings
thousands thousands
of species of hectares

Varieties 5
13% of the U.S. corn crop was used to produce
4 billion gallons of ethanol in 2005. If the use of biofuels 3
increases, so will the percentage of agricultural land Varieties
dedicated to their production.

0 Year




No More Apples

Rising meat production

As developing nations become richer, meat consumption
increases, requiring more fodder crops for animals.

Productive Land Timeline

Productive World Population

Land 15 10 billions
billions of
UNICEF estimates that some 16 million people face
6.6 billion
immediate risk due to drought. GM crops can be
10 1.5 hectares
engineered for greater drought resistance, potentially per person
8.5 billion
reducing famine in drought-prone areas.
6 hectares
per person 5

0 Year




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effectively decrease crop biodiversity by standardizing
production and relying exclusively on a few high-yield
varieties. The expansion of these technologies into geo-
graphical areas previously dominated by traditional agri-
cultural practices threatens the diversity of crops that
those areas have cultivated over centuries. Unless seed
diversity is preserved, GM manufacturers will lack the
genetic material needed to create new varieties of seeds.

Crop Biodiversity Hotspots

Diversity Zones (DZ):

Number of Species per
10,000 square km

DZ 7 (2000-3000)
DZ 8 (3000-4000)
DZ 9 (4000-5000)
DZ 10 (>5000)

High Biodiversity Zones

Major GM Crop Production Countries, 2006

5.4 M Hectares
Soybean, Maize, Canola
0.05 M Hectares
USA Romania
47.6 M Hectares 0.1 M Hectares
Soybean, Maize, Spain Soybean
Cotton, Canola 0.1 M Hectares
Maize China
3.7 M Hectares
Columbia Cotton
0.1 M Hectares
Soybean, Cotton 0.05 M Hectares Philippines
Cotton India 0.1 M Hectares
0.5 M Hectares Maize
0.05 M Hectares Brazil Cotton
Maize 5.0 M Hectares
1.2 M Hectares
16.2 M Hectares Uruguay
0.03 M Hectares South Africa Australia
Maize, Soybean,
Soybean, Maize 0.05 M Hectares 0.2 M Hectares
Maize. Soybean, Cotton Cotton
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Existing Use of Genetically

Modified Crops

High Biodiversity Zones

Crises ranging from political instability to environmental
catastrophe negatively affect crop biodiversity. These
threats frequently overlap with those zones with the
greatest species diversity.

More Than 30% Malnourished Children

More Than 10 Droughts Since 1974

Susceptible To 3 Or More Natural Disasters

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Instability, High Species Diversity Overlap
Species Diversity > 2000 per 10,000 m2
Instability, High Species Diversity Overlap

Less Than 14% Arable Land

Over 3% Population Growth

Most Politically Unstable

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Paranoia Will Destroy Ya
In fact, the areas of the world with the most biodiversity
are also the areas of greatest political instability and
climatic uncertainty.

Paranoia Hot Spots

THE BOOM – INDIA 1960s-70s

Another Green Revolution For Africa In the early 1960s, India was headed toward a massive famine. The
government, working with the Ford Foundation, invested in fertilizers,
irrigation development, pesticides, and new plant varieties. They
encouraged use of a high-yield rice, later dubbed the ‘Miracle Rice’,
to increase its production throughout the 1970s, and reducing the
threat of famine.


The Green Revolution started in Mexico as an
attempt to feed its rapidly expanding population
by increasing agricultural production using
new varieties of wheat. It was largely a success,
allowing Mexico to become self-sufficient in
a little over a decade.


While the Green Revolution seems to have stalled in Africa, several
countries are taking small steps toward introducing some of its tech-
niques. To address the wide range of climate and soil conditions,
these countries have employed a decentralized process focusing
Species Diversity > 2000 per 10,000 m2
on localized environments to create gradual increases in crop
Multiple Paranoia Hotspots
productivity. One of the first steps was to employ high-yielding crop
Existing Use of Genetically Modified Crops
varieties, such as a rice called ‘Nericas’ that have already been
Emerging Use of Genetically Modified Crops
introduced in several African countries.
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Large Population Growth Rate Environmental Instability Political Instability Economic Instability 140
A New Green Revolution?
From September 2007 to April 2008, the price of rice
doubled, leading to riots over the unavailability of staples
in several Asian and African countries. With the steep rise
of food prices and multiple instabilities affecting crop
production, many believe we may be in the first stages
of a global food crisis. Unless crop yields increase,
feeding future populations will require doubling the
amount of land now under cultivation. The Green Revolu-
tion – the transformation of agricultural practice through
the introduction of new varieties of crops, fertilizers,
pesticides and industrial harvesting – has made Mexico
self-sufficient and India in tune with its burgeoning
population through increased agricultural production.
The technologies that increase agricultural yield, how-
ever, also decrease crop biodiversity, potentially leading
to an even greater crisis should strains of seeds with
greater resistance to future threats be irreplaceably lost.
Attempts are underway to initiate a Green
Revolution in several African countries that desperately
need a solution to food shortage, but as yet, they have
found little success. But, if the Green Revolution were
to succeed in Africa, it would come at a great cost to
some of the last regions of crop biodiversity in the world.
Given all of the threats to crop varieties, will the Svalbard
seed vault be enough to safeguard this precious

Many find an irresistible antidote to the threat of scarcity
in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault: a baroque managerial
system that evokes abundance while simultaneously –
like any good bunker – sitting untouched. Yet what,
specifically, about the vault is so reassuring? The fact
that we ourselves are unable to access it: touring it only
through broadcast photographs and news stories?
The successful encapsulation of biodiversity within a
controlled, uncompromised environment? Or, the sheer
existence of a physical and policy structure that allows
this to happen? Does the knowledge of the vault distract
public attention from concerns such as poverty and
global warming? Moreover, is it a manifestation of fears
around these increasingly severe problems?
Just as Cold War urban planners considered the
atomic bomb to be a survivable threat (suggesting that
city dwellers should seek shelter in underground subway
stations when the bombs eventually drop), today’s
specialists may fail to grasp a generation’s full power
to self-destruct. By meticulously collecting, classifying
and overseeing the world’s genetic heritage in the
inhospitable and frozen north, it may be wise to question
whether the Seed Vault is paranoid enough.
Volume 17

Still Metropolitan After
All These Years
Philippe de Montebello interviewed by Jeffrey Inaba
Piped through portable audio guides, Metropolitan Museum of Art Director
Philippe de Montebello’s recorded voice leads countless visitors through the
venerable New York institution’s vast collections on a daily basis: bridging the
gap between visitor, curator and art with detailed descriptions of works on display.
A name synonymous with the institution itself, he has led the museum for 31 years,
overseeing landmark exhibitions and ambitious building expansions. He is equally
well known for contributing to the cultural life of metropolitan New York through
his passionate commitment to the museum’s public. Shortly after announcing that
he will step down from his post, he talked with Volume about content at the Met.
Equestrian court, Arms and Armor Galleries, Wild Bill Studios

Image Richard Lombard

Philippe de Montebello with Andres Segovia in 1986

Volume 17

Jeffrey Inaba You’ve been the director of The Metro- fifty thousand visitors. It was packed! Now whether
politan Museum of Art for over 30 years, and your it was because everybody had seen that great picture
recently announced retirement has been said to of the monk with the cowl in the National Gallery in
mark the end of an era in the history of art, museums London which was reproduced everywhere and wanted
and culture. During your extraordinary tenure, to see more ascetic pictures I have no idea. I still don’t
you’ve forged a unique bond between the Met and know why they came in large numbers. I wish I knew
its public. Can you talk about how you see your what drove people to certain subjects and not to others.
engagement with the public and also how you think It would still not make a difference. I would still
about and estimate the intelligence of the viewing mount a show of Girodet – whom nobody’s ever heard
public? of – because they should know. The totality of the
Philippe de Montebello We exist to preserve art, but why history of art is what we’re all about.
do we do this? We do it so that they may be accessible JI It’s interesting that Americans from around the
and touch people in this and future generations. country gravitate to the Met. When they visit New
The museum-going public – people who choose York, they want to go to the Met. On the other hand,
to visit museums, which immediately places them in a the Met’s works and collections are largely not
somewhat separate category from the masses – is a very American. I think one reason they visit is to learn
curious, very alert public that actually seeks something about other cultures and in that sense the Met is
other than entertainment. They know the difference an important platform from which Americans view
between a rock concert and The Metropolitan Museum the world. In that regard you’re our ambassador to
of Art. They make a conscious choice to come for a other cultures.
pleasurable experience, for the wonder of art and to PdM I would not necessarily draw the conclusion that
learn. They tell us that and if that public, our audience, this is something unique to New York. Millions of people
keeps returning it’s because they have a sense that go to the British Museum, where you can count on one
they’re not being catered to, that they’re not being hand the number of British works of art. The Louvre has
pandered to, that we’re not giving them the flavor of the a great French collection, but it also has the great art
day and that there’s a degree of seriousness with which of the rest of the world.
we approach both what we do in mounting exhibitions In a perverse way this aspect of the Met is being
and exhibiting works of art as well as a seriousness contradicted by the new retentive nationalism that wants
in how we treat and consider the public. We don’t talk to dismantle the British Museum, the Louvre and the
down to them. Met and send back all of their works to their countries
The public knows the difference; stunts only work of origin so that we should become a new museum
for a short period of time. The momentary notoriety of of American art, so that everybody’s identity should be
a particular subject will attract people, but if you try to located in the old country.
pull the wool over their eyes too often they’ll learn and JI Yes, and the Met has resisted that reactionary
then they won’t come back. People come back because largess and continues to play a central and impor-
they realize they’re getting the real thing and that it’s tant role in educating its visitors about art from
not diluted for the purpose of the ticket sales or what- around the world. That said, the Met is rooted to
ever it might be. New York. You’ve made it clear that visitors must
JI They recognize the consistency of the high quality come here. Though the museum has collaboratively
of the dialogue between the museum and the public. exhibited work abroad, it has resolutely rejected
PdM Yes, it’s the ultimate dialogue, or trialogue: the the idea of franchising. What is your view of
work of art, the curator and the public. This is the key franchising the Met’s name?
to communication. PdM We have not ‘franchised’. We have not ‘branded’
JI Have there been pleasant surprises in the public or whatever all those terms are. Yet I guess I grow
reception of an exhibition? Are there examples that indulgent in my old age and must recognize that often
stand out where in creating what you felt was a the policies of museums differ because museums them-
very interesting exhibition you were nevertheless selves differ. The director of a museum such as the
uncertain about what its reception would be? Guggenheim and the director of a museum such as the
PdM It’s happened in different ways. I’m probably one Metropolitan have very dissimilar roles. They are very
of the very few people in this institution who doesn’t look dissimilar institutions. If you occupy a landmark building
at numbers or the attendance sheet. It doesn’t interest such as the Frank Lloyd Wright and you have a miniscule
me. I don’t do things for numbers. Needless to say, I can amount of space for a vast collection it’s perfectly
tell simply by sight if an exhibition I care deeply about understandable that one would find other outlets
is not strongly attended. Of course, you do things in because once in a while one would wish that some
order for people to see them, to be enriched, to discover of the Kandinskys had other chances to be exhibited.
new art or new ways of looking at the arrangement of So on a certain level such museums would find a way
art and so forth. So one obviously wants people to see to diversify.
what one does, but one doesn’t do it for the purpose Branding for us, as The Metropolitan Museum of
of bringing in a large number of people. So if you were Art, was unbecoming. So we haven’t done it. Although
to ask me today how many people are coming to one we have many international programs, we don’t brand
show versus another I’d have no clue and it doesn’t them. For example, we have very strong links and
interest me. I know that certain exhibitions will by defi- exchanges with museums in China. We exchange
Volume 17

nition draw fewer visitors than others. So be it! I’ve programming and people and provide training without
mounted many exhibitions that have not drawn well. any sense of exclusivity.
There are occasional surprises. Years ago we The difficulty with branding in one specific place
mounted a show of the work of Zurbarán, the seven- elsewhere is that you create a subsidiary, so to speak.
143 teenth-century Spanish artist and I thought we’d get It is not, as it appears on the surface, that you’re sharing
the art with the world, you’re actually pinpointing a single a digital form, so that the vast quantities of people who
place where you’re doing business. You’re creating obviously cannot see all the individual exhibitions can
an exclusionary arrangement where the art becomes see it. Then there’s a second stage when you handpick
unavailable to other museums mounting serious exhibitions in certain places. People who are truly
exhibitions because it’s part of a single nexus. I have a interested will then go and see the original works of art.
problem with that. But I have to learn to understand it. JI It is interesting that in a world with content
One must look at the issue in historical terms; increasingly online, the things that are finite in the
museums did not exist until the late eighteenth century. world – material, historical and cultural objects –
Before then if people wanted to see art, they went to become even more precious and valuable.
Rome and saw it in churches. From the late eighteenth- PdM All of this information, all of these images you find
through the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries, art has online will ultimately lead to an improved experience
tended to move from east to west and from south to when you encounter the actual work of art. The innocent
north because art has always followed money. They gaze is wonderful and it yields certain things, but there
always go hand in hand. Why was Florence such a is no question that the eye is an organ tied to the brain
great center of art? Because it was the banking center and that the more you know about something, the
of Europe. If you look also at sub-Saharan African art deeper you go into it, the more you get out of it. If you
in, say, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it’s the have to wait to get to the museum and read a label and
Kingdom of Benin or elsewhere where the tribes were so forth, you’re much better off having learned a great
powerful where artists and patronage developed. So deal before.
through European imperialism during the colonialist era Yet there are some aspects of the experience that
we’ve seen art coming from Mesopotamia to the Louvre, the internet will never replace. For example, the internet
to the British Museum, to the Met or from the East – the will never replace scale. Have you ever been to Ghent
Chinese, Japanese, the Silk Road – Langdon Warner and seen the Ghent altarpiece? It’s the size of this wall!
bringing these things over to Harvard. When Charles I How big is your computer screen? The great Veit Stoss
buys the Gonzaga collection of Italy, England is powerful in Krakow or the Portinari altarpiece in the Uffizi are
and Italy by the sixteenth century is less so. gigantic. How can you represent the Sistine ceiling on
What is happening today? We’re talking about a computer screen?
an odd form of mutual exploitation. Now we’re seeing If you go to the Prado and see Vélasquez’
wealth in China, wealth in the Arab countries and art ‘Meninas’ you know this is the picture that was in the
is starting to move in those directions. This is opportun- king’s bedroom, that he gazed upon it and you too are
ism where those countries are seeking art for legitimacy, gazing upon it. If it were merely a fantastic reproduction
just as the Louvre was created to give legitimacy to the of it, the forms would be the same, the subject would
new government that had decapitated the king. At the be the same, presumably the colors would be the same.
same time, it’s opportunism on the part of the West, That’s achievable, I suppose. But what would be
which is renting out its collections in exchange for missing is that magical moment when you join the
currency. Assets are changing hands: art in one instance, 17th century and the court, that you too might have the
currency in the other. privilege of standing in front of something that the king
JI And do you see examples of an intelligent might have actually put his finger on. That you cannot
sharing and exchange of art? replicate through a simulacrum.
PdM A lot of work is being done. Many of the exhibitions We forget that our great-grandparents experienced
at the British Museum are being sent abroad. This is a world of continually moving shadows. As a child I went
a legitimate sharing of art. There’s a point at which the to bed carrying a candle up the stairs to my bedroom
whole issue of technology in a different age comes terrified of the dark and of the shadows it created.
in, where museums and those who hold in trust works Artists’ chiaroscuros were painted as a function of
of art are going to have to realize that works of art are candlelight, of moving shadows. This is something that’s
not chattel to be traded and marketed. They are an been absolutely, totally lost to the modern world. It
irreplaceable and fragile asset and with every move, does not exist anymore. One must learn to look using
every packing and unpacking, every change of climate these historical senses, trying to recreate and under-
condition while the naked eye may not see changes, stand the circumstances. A good museum, a good
there is an inevitable, gradual deterioration. university, should bring a historical sense to things.
For a great many audiences the initial contact JI Reflecting upon your tenure, how do you think
with works of art doesn’t need to be with original works the Met ought to program henceforth? I’m not
of art. I’m not being an apostate when I say that my suggesting you be prescriptive about what the
first contact with works of art was through books. I had next director should do, but the legacy of your
at home the little square Skira books and I used to look directorship will surely cast a long shadow, if you
at their illustrations. We were all reading Malraux’s books, will, on its future. Do you care to give your thoughts
The Arts of Mankind and the Petit Larousse Illustré, and on that?
I used to look at the illustrations. I learned and realized PdM I gave my answer in January of this year when
something about the art. I moved from there – like most I stepped down. I was basically saying that I’m of a
Westerners – to the visiting of museums, triggered by certain generation and I ran the Met decently, I think,
an interest in seeing the originals. But to use originals for thirty years. Now I have nothing but questions
as if they were the color plates in a Skira book is putting about the future and very few answers. It’s up to some-
Volume 17

them at risk. body younger. I will watch carefully.

There is a plan in Beijing being put together by
Wang Limei to create a kind of huge digital museum to
show the art of all the world. To me that makes a lot of
sense: it is their Skira book. So you first show the art in 144
Volume 17

Philippe de Montebello with Duccio
Content Management
By Ari Marcopoulos

The cliché goes something like this: the public image of architecture begins
littered with children holding balloons surrounded by waving flags and ends
without a person in sight of an incandescently lit interior under the burning glow
of dusk skies. The first instance is meant to lubricate the development process;
the second is to communicate good taste. The first is performed by architects
and architectural renderers; the second by architectural photographers. There
are too many versions of good taste in architectural photography to enumerate,
and the glowing interior at dusk is only one. Yes, it may be dated (to Julius Shulman
perhaps) as is the tendency for those who refine in search of good taste. Ari
Marcopoulos is as interested in capturing a contemporary sensibility as Julius
Shulman but as his friend I can testify that he is constitutionally allergic to good
taste. Although his images are resplendent with fine art and design objects his
photographs bring these objects to life in a way that they are not free standing
and therefore are not as culturally mobile as signs for discriminating luxury. His
photographs are documentary in that he either photographs things in action or
he enlists his friends and collaborators to put things to use, often in ways that
environments are not intended. He is more interested in capturing where buildings
get tagged or used by skateboarders than in the exquisiteness of their detailing.
He is less a critical outsider than a trade secret. Just look at the architects he
is shooting the work of. I believe his sensibility to bring buildings and cities to
contemporary life points to one of the futures for architectural photography; a
future less concerned with confirming good taste than confirming vitality and
relevance – Greg Lynn.

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Faculties for Architecture
Arjen Oosterman

The attention paid to the burning down of the archi- was about what the building contained, for the alumni
tecture faculty building at Delft Technical University in and professionals what had happened there.
May of this year was remarkable. It made the 8 o’clock In fact, most involved didn’t shed a tear and some
news, the national newspapers and was reported inter- secretly or even openly applauded the opportunity to
nationally. But what triggered all this attention? We’re create something new. They thought it finally the chance
not talking about the loss of a famous building or listed to correct the autistic, inward character of this building,
monument. There was the odd heritage specialist to remedy its isolation, to replace its ugliness. It was
bemoaning the loss of its monumental qualities, but the finally a chance to provide ample space for the faculty’s
public at large hardly knew the building even existed. steadily growing population (currently over 3,000 stu-
This interest could not be explained by concern for the dents, while the Van den Broek en Bakema building dat-
continuity of architectural education either; a few days ing from 1970 had been designed for some 850 students;
after the fire, tents and an empty administration building and finally it constituted a chance to reconsider the
temporarily compensated for the lost educational spaces essence, organization and expression of a 21st-century
and no one paid attention anymore. It wasn’t much of a Faculty of Architecture. Actually one might call the
sensation or a good human interest story either. A high- short circuit in a coffee area on the 6th floor, where the
rise on fire is always exiting, but no one was killed or fire started, a blessing in disguise.
even injured. The main concern was about…its content. It was ironic that an informal, supplementary
There was some talk about the loss of personal belong- function like a coffee corner ‘brought the house down’,
ings, drawings, models and student work (the possible but the exact nature of that irony only became apparent
loss of the very fine library was hardly mentioned), but a bit later. Three weeks after the fire, multidisciplinary
first and foremost journalists worried about the faculty’s student teams formulated initial ideas (‘visions’) for the
collection of chairs, in particular some unique Rietveld new building in a competition design workshop. It was
chairs. a warm-up exercise for the upcoming real competition
For the public, the loss was made conceivable in and for the students, a chance to become directly invol-
terms of concrete cultural value: a Rietveld chair is a real ved in their own school’s future. What is the architectural
piece of history and at auction would command a healthy school of the future? Which qualities are most important?
sum. That immediately generates the cry, ‘What a shame! As the starting shot of the two-day workshop,
Volume 17

What a loss!’. That’s concrete. Professor Fons Verheijen provided four points of parti-
The professional press (magazines, websites) cular interest: the urban setting (which should be more
ran obituaries, recalled sweet memories and sung the urban and less isolated), the functional design (which
praises of what had been a great educational environ- must be based on studio training and thus remain un-
ment, no doubt, and that was it. For the public the loss changed), architecture’s future orientation (expression) 152
and, inescapably, sustainability. The jury reduced this list
to three criteria for its purposes: sustainability, learning
environment and architectonic articulation. All this well-
intentioned guidance did not, however, distract the
students from their own core values. They actually had
just a single theme in their heads: social interaction.
For that was the essence of their training: the informal
exchanges between students and with their teachers
as they had taken place chiefly in the halls and corridors
of the burned down building. The new design should
add an emphasis on interaction with the city and society,
to be sure, but that possibility for exchange, that
informal working climate, had been a rock-hard quality
of the old building.
It must be really very nice for an architect to have
one’s building understood and appreciated as intended.
One can only look back with envy and a bit of wonder
at a period in which even the specifications for an archi-
tecture building – architecture for architecture – brought
with it no particular problems of architecture itself.
An architecture museum or architecture building these
days is inevitably first and foremost a statement about
architecture. The Delft architecture building was primarily
a good building within a certain developmental line of
modern architecture. The Faculty of Architecture building
Van den Broek en Bakema built was the result of a
program, a belief, and bureau experience which grew
over the course of decades – as such certainly a tenet
– but it was not (well, hardly) a demonstration of ‘archi-
tectureness’. That innocence, if we can call it that, has
become virtually impossible. The third point of the work-
shop jury, ‘architectonic expression’, emphasizes this
once again.
It is thus all the more remarkable that the student
proposals shifted focus from architectonic meaning
and expression to architectonic function, from product
to process. That shift offers new options to approach
architecture’s content, assignment and method. Nat-
urally there is need for a building to provide space for
teaching architecture and the other architecture-related
departments (urbanism, real estate and building tech-
nology). According to Francine Houben (Mecanoo),
responsible for Delft Technical University’s urban archi-
tecture plan, the new ‘architecture’ must be organized
horizontally. Yet before we come to the dimensions and
arrangement of the premises we should perhaps briefly
discuss the domain of architectural design, as a kind of
second overture to the competition. What is architec-
tural training about? What skills and experiences must
it offer students? If we are to take content management
as presented in this issue of Volume seriously as the
disciplinary core, then this has consequences for the
kind of research and social embeddedness that training
requires. No iconic establishment, but a much more
nomadic institution. No ‘Faculty of Architecture’, but
‘faculties for architecture’, the theme of the Dutch
pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year. The call for an
actualization of architectural training, for the inclusion
of other kinds of practices, is strong enough among
the onrushing generation of architects. They have a
renewed interest in the organization of involvement,
use and performance. Perhaps the new architecture
Volume 17

is a cross between a terrace, a factory workshop, a

recording studio and a multimedia center; this faculty
‘new style’ will take place much more outside the walls
of traditional institutes. It’s exciting to imagine what
153 kind of architecture it will need…
Masters of Science in Critical,
Curatorial, and Conceptual
Practices in Architecture
Director: Felicity D. Scott

The Masters of Science in Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices in Architecture
(CCCPArch) is designed to offer advanced training in the fields of architectural criticism,
publishing, curating, exhibiting, writing, and research through a two-year, full-time course
of intensive academic study and independent research. The program recognizes that archi-
tectural production is multi-faceted and that careers in architecture often extend beyond
traditional modes of professional practice and academic scholarship, while at the same time
reflecting and building upon them.

The CCCP Arch program includes a mixture of required core classes, elective lectures, and seminars,
and it culminates in the preparation of an independent thesis under the supervision of an advisor
from the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP). This could take
the form of a written thesis or other sustained demonstration of rigorous, original research or it
could involve the conceptualization, design, and even production of an exhibition, publication, or
detailed prospectus thereof. The GSAPP faculty is unparalleled in offering a wide-range of expertise
in the history, theory, and criticism of architecture, urban design, landscape, preservation, and
spatial politics as well as in the conceptualization and production of publications and exhibitions.
The CCCP Arch program’s emphasis is on forging new critical, theoretical, and historical tools,
and producing new concepts and strategies for researching, displaying, and disseminating modern
and contemporary architecture and closely related fields. The program is aimed at those with a
background in architecture who wish to advance and expand their critical and research skills in
order to pursue professional and leadership careers as architectural critics, theorists, journalists,
historians, editors, publishers, curators, gallerists, teachers, and research-based practitioners. Applicants
might be seeking further academic training or specialization after a professional degree or years of
teaching, or even at mid-career. They might also have worked in a related field and be seeking an
academic forum to develop additional specializations in architecture. The program also provides
the highest level of preparatory training for application to Ph.D. programs in architectural history
and theory. For more information, visit,

Applications are due January 15

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Volume 17

Volume 17

Colophon Volume 17 Contributors

VOLUME Independent quarterly for architecture to go beyond itself Iñaki Ábalos is an architect and writer. He co-founded the Madrid-
based firm, Ábalos and Herreros, and now works in partnership with
editor-in-chief Arjen Oosterman Renata Sentkiewicz.
contributing editors Ole Bouman, Rem Koolhaas, Mark Wigley Nadia Abu El Haj is an anthropologist and author, the Director of
features editor Jeffrey Inaba Graduate Studies for the Department of Anthropology at Columbia
editorial consultants Carlos Betancourth, Thomas Daniell, University and an associate professor of anthropology at Barnard
Bart Goldhoorn, Markus Miessen, Kai Vöckler College.
Chris Anderson is editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine and author
VOLUME is a project by ARCHIS + AMO + C-Lab + … of The Long Tail.
ARCHIS Lilet Breddels, Joos van den Dool, Amir Djajali, Christian AOC is a London-based firm founded in 2003 by Daisy Froud,
Ernsten, Edwin Gardner, Maria João Ribeiro Geoff Shearcroft, Tom Coward and Vincent Lacovara.
AMO Reinier de Graaf Shumon Basar is a London-based architect, educator, curator
C-Lab Jeffrey Inaba, Benedict Clouette, Dana Karwas, Jesse Seegers, and editor.
Gavin Browning (Studio–X), Mariela Alvarez, Cody Campanie, Rene Daalder is a futurist, screenwriter and filmmaker based
Jean Choi, Luke Daenen, Monica Datta, Alfonso García del Rey, in Los Angeles.
Claudia Gerhaeusser, Forrest Jessee, Winnie Lam, Anabelle Pang, Philippe de Montebello is the director of the Metropolitan Museum
Liz Stetson of Art and a professor at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.
Julien De Smedt is an architect and founder of JDS Architects, which
Materialized by Irma Boom and Sonja Haller is based in Brussels and Copenhagen.
Oliver Domeisen is an architect and director of DLM Architectural
VOLUME’s protagonists are Designers LTD. He teaches at the Architectural Association, London.
ARCHIS, magazine for Architecture, City and Visual Culture and its Cary Fowler is Executive Director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust,
predecessors since 1929. Archis – Publishers, Tools, Interventions – located in Rome.
is an experimental think tank devoted to the process of real-time Ken Goldberg is a professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations
spatial and cultural reflexivity. Research at UC – Berkeley. He is an artist, writer, inventor and Director of the Berkeley Center for New Media.
Michael Govan is the Director of the Los Angeles County Museum
AMO, a research and design studio that applies architectural thinking of Art.
to disciplines beyond the borders of architecture and urbanism. Joseph Grima is an architect and the Director of the Storefront for
AMO operates in tandem with its companion company the Office for Art and Architecture.
Metropolitan Architecture, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Jacques Herzog is an architect and co-founder of the Basel-based architecture firm, Herzog & de Meuron. He teaches at Harvard
University and ETH Zurich.
C-Lab, The Columbia Laboratory for Architectural Broadcasting is an Arianna Huffington is an author and editor-in-chief of The Huffington
experimental research unit devoted to the development of new forms Post.
of communication in architecture, set up as a semi-autonomous think Greg Lynn is the founder of Greg Lynn FORM and teaches at the
and action tank at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and University of Applied Arts in Vienna.
Preservation of Columbia University. Rachel Maddow is the host of The Rachel Maddow Show on Air America radio and MSNBC.
Ari Marcopoulos is a photographer and filmmaker.
VOLUME is published by Stichting Archis, The Netherlands and Lars Müller is the founder of Lars Müller Publishers and a graphic
printed by Die Keure, Belgium. design professor at the Hochschule für Gestaltung und Kunst in Basel.
Marc Simmons is the co-founder of Front Inc., a New York City
English copy editing and translations David Lee based façade consulting firm.
Administrative coordination Valérie Blom, Jessica Braun VOGT Landschaftarchitekten is a Zurich based architectural
Editorial office PO Box 14702, 1001 LE Amsterdam, The Netherlands landscape firm founded by Günther Vogt.
T +31 (0)20 320 3926, F +31 (0)20 320 3927, E, Mark Wigley is the Dean of Columbia University GSAPP. He is the
W co-founder of Volume Magazine as well as an architect, scholar,
Subscriptions Bruil & Van de Staaij, Postbus 75, 7940 AB Meppel, educator, and writer.
The Netherlands, T +31 (0)522 261 303, F +31 (0)522 257 827, Alejandro Zaera Polo is an architect, theorist and co-founder
E, W of Foreign Office Architects in London.
Subscription rates 4 issues, € 75 Netherlands, € 91 World, World Heritage: Oryx or Goat? Research and graphics by Jean Choi,
Student subscriptions rates, € 60 Netherlands, € 73 World, Forrest Jessee
Prices excl. VAT Seeds of Paranoia Research and graphics by Mariela Alvarez,
Cancellations policy Cancellation of subscription to be confirmed Luke Daenen, Monica Datta, Alfonso García del Rey
in writing one month before the end of the subscription period.
Subscriptions not cancelled on time will be automatically extended Disclaimer
for one year. The editors of Volume have been careful to contact all copyright
Back issues Back issues of VOLUME and forerunner Archis (NL and E) holders of the images used. If you claim ownership of any of
are available through Bruil & van de Staaij the images presented here and have not been properly identified,
Advertising, For rates and details see: please contact Volume and we will be happy to make a formal, click ‘info’ acknowledgement in a future issue.

General distribution Idea Books, Nieuwe Herengracht 11, Corrections / additions

1011 HR Amsterdam, The Netherlands, T +31 (0)20 622 6154, Volume 16: Gabu Heindl’s name was misspelled. The credit for
F +31 (0)20 620 9299, page 130 is Paul Wehby. Our apologies to both.
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