Issue 15 Introduction
Waiting to be Revealed. Issue statement by Iker Gil, editor in chief of MAS Context
Maybe because they are hidden, inaccessible, lost or forgotten, I have always found pleasure in discovering elements, places, relationships, and systems that we cannot see: Listening to a story that shines light into a neighborhood that no longer exists. Finding a picture of a forgotten building and imagining the stories it holds. Going to a site of a long abandoned industry that shaped the lives of those who worked and lived there. Seeing an odd structure, hole or artifact in your city and speculating about its function. In short, discovering worlds that might be in front of us but remain invisible.
In Bilbao, the city where I grew up, three areas hidden or inaccessible have always fascinated me: the former industrial landscape of Altos Hornos de Vizcaya, the abandoned amusement park atop Artxanda, and the nuclear power plant in Lemoniz that never opened and remains a phantasmagoric ruin by the coast. All three places are as fascinating for their privileged locations, extra large-scale sites, and odd-shaped buildings as for the role they played in the history and memory of the residents of the city. In a way, they were all part of a city that no longer exists and are waiting to find their place in the future one.
Uncovering physical places as well as the stories that they contain can help us understand our past and learn from it. At the same time, they can help us shine a light onto the way our cities currently work and provide us the knowledge and tools to speculate about the possibilities available in the near future.
With that exploratory mentality, this issue looks into what is waiting to be revealed, from physical to virtual, from built to immaterial, from collective to personal.
Two photographic series open the issue, taking us into the war in Congo and inside the personal lives of a close group of transgender and transvestites of Lahore in Pakistan.
The work of Salottobuono, Stefanie Posavec and Manuel Lima help us understand and visualize the main ideas and hidden structures that define buildings, literature and any other complex network that we can think of.
We also look at forgotten traces present in cities such as San Francisco, Skopje and Detroit. A past that continues to define their present and may have the clues to shape their future.
In other cities, such as Barcelona and Madrid, technology allows us to see what remains dormant under the sunlight or hide the informal reality from the public.
And in between those contributions, five short stories that provide five personal readings on our visibility topic.
With all these contributions, we are bringing forgotten landscapes, hidden away systems and invisible conditions back to the forefront of the public eye, all of them significant in our collective and personal history and waiting to be reexamined.
Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he teaches at the College of Architecture at IIT. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club.
www.mas-studio.com | @MASContext
Photo essay by Richard Mosse
Using discontinued Kodak Aerochrome infrared film, Irish photographer Richard Mosse captures the conflict in Eastern Congo in vivid colors, exploring unknown invisible conditions to interpret reality. The result is a series of almost fictional photographs of nomadic rebels and landscape that blur the boundaries between art and photojournalism. They document the tragic reality while pushing the viewer to see the conflict like never before.
Richard Mosse is a photographer currently based in New York. He earned an MFA in Photography from Yale School of Art in 2008 and a Postgraduate Diploma in Fine Art from Goldsmiths, London, in 2005. Mosse has exhibited work at Tate Modern, London, the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Kunsthalle Munich, among others, and he is representing Ireland at the 55th Venice Art Biennale 2013.
Don’t Ask My Real Name
Photo essay by Zahra Jewanjee
The photographic series ‘Don’t Ask Me My Real Name’ by Zahra Jewanjee documents a close group of transgender and transvestites that entertain at the carnivals, shrines, and street festivals of Lahore, shedding light inside their so-called ‘lost souls.’
The research for this project began in the year 2007, when I started traveling and documenting sub-cultural spaces in Pakistan. This body of work is concerned with the underbelly of society’s rigid strata, and ‘Don’t Ask Me My Real Name’ is a series of photographs taken once I gained acceptance from the close groups of transgender and transvestites who entertain at the carnivals, shrines, and street festivals of Lahore. They reflect a conscious transformation of identity and lifestyle chosen by the transgendered men, most of who suffered from early childhood sexual harassment or were thrown out of their homes because of not conforming to gender stereotypes. Viewed with bemused suspicion in Pakistani society, the transgendered men are commonly known as ‘Hijras’.
Although distinct from society, they live by a prescribed code. Every Hijra follows a Guru-master or a guardian and they practice his teachings and training. They explained to me that they have men’s bodies with a woman’s soul and describe themselves as a third gender, but that physical life is just a part of who they are. They believe their unique duality unifies both their male and female sides, creating a deep sense of harmony and spirituality that allows them to face the world with a unique perspective, transcending normal lives. Even though they are considered to have shunned religion, they believe themselves to be chosen by God and feel that their path is that of the devotee. Every year they make several pilgrimages to holy sites, festivals and shrines. I was invited to join them on a visit to the Muree hills in north Pakistan, where large groups of Hijras gather to honor the Saint Baba Lal Shah, who is regarded as a holy figure.
At the start of the project, a friend introduced me to Neeli. Neeli was a Hijra. He was living in a very poor area in a rundown shopping mall in one of the unused units, sharing the space with three other Hijras. He explained that at the age of 10, he was kicked out of his house and was forced to live on the road and, after a time, found himself living in the red light area in Lahore, where he chanced upon the community of Hijras of which he’s now a prominent member. When he met them, they explained that as his soul and spirit was the same as theirs, he should be one of them. At last, he felt he belonged. As Neeli introduced me to other friends, people from his close group, each welcomed and eventually trusted me with their stories, allowing me into their private spaces and sometimes even showcasing their new performances for me.
Regardless of the stigma and rejection these men live with, they have a philosophical and considered position. Throughout our meetings, their outlook on life was very positive and rational. Things that were not in their control were not lamented upon and they were happy in their own skin. Discrimination and harassment are part of the everyday life of a Hijra, but these men live their lives willfully and many are self-taught literates regardless of their lack of formal education. Observing their personal lives and cross-gender relationships is an awe-inspiring journey, which I plan to continue to explore and to try and understand. These photographs shed light inside their so-called ‘lost souls’.
Zahra Jewanjee is an artist and photographer currently living and working in Dubai. She studied the first two years of her bachelor’s degree in Indus Valley School of Arts, Karachi and felt the move to Lahore would be cathartic for both her and her work. Equally at home painting or behind the lens she seamlessly creates synthesis between the two different mediums informing and articulating her own personal and conceptual landscape. Zahra is currently working on her forthcoming solo show.
Heels to Safer Urban Cycling
Short essay by Annette Ferrara
“You bike in heels and a skirt? Are you crazy?!?”
This is a common refrain when I roll up to a stoplight on my bike in an outfit more suited for a gallery opening than a typical morning commute on the gritty streets of Chicago. I’ll be the first to admit I’m perpetually—nay, pathologically—overdressed for every occasion, but in the case of urban cycling, I trust my outré fashion sense is plain good safety sense. In 15 years of pedaling in cities all over the world, I’ve had only two minor accidents (knock on pavement) and neither was the result of a wardrobe malfunction. To what do I owe this good fortune? I attribute it to a simple fact: I look like I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not alone in this observation. Many cycling blogs have commented on this phenomenon, also known as the “Mary Poppins Effect.”
It goes something like this. Urban drivers expect to see bikers pimped out head-to-toe in spandex, wearing aerodynamic helmets, hunkered down on drop bars, weaving through traffic with high-octane recklessness. And hate to see them. And love to run them off the road for their cycling hubris. It’s Pavlovian. As an occasional driver myself, I’m ashamed to admit I feel the same. But sitting astride my bespoke, upright bike with its woven pine panniers, matching Brooks saddle, and cute cork grips in 4-inch leopard-print platform heels, a silver lamé knife pleat skirt, chunky vintage jewelry, and decidedly unaerodynamic Bern helmet, I’m a unexpected sight. And a highly visible one. I’m humanized. I look like I might fall off or post something cute to Pinterest while I’m riding and because of this, most drivers slow down, give me a wide, wide berth, and wave me past with bewildered bemusement. I bike in a fashionable cocoon of safety. For this reason—and many more—I’m a vocal advocate of ditching ghastly athletic gear in favor of chicer cycling attire. And who knows, maybe my next purchase will be a bike umbrella.
Annette Ferrara is a Senior Writer at IDEO and a seasoned cyclist in Chicago. She loves wearing Chie Mihara heels, all things French bulldog, and pronouncing the word “panniers” in a fake French accent.
www.ideo.com | @anetferrara
Revealing the Secrets Behind the Designs
Diagrams by Salottobuono
In September of 2007, the Italian studio Salottobuono started editing the “Instructions and Manuals” section of the renowned architecture and design magazine Abitare. The series of diagrams they create not only describe the buildings and objects featured on the magazine but, more importantly, they reveal the secrets behind them. The strategic break down of the projects into their basic elements allows us to visualize and understand the key relationships present between their form, function and context.
Casa Museo Barragán, Mexico City, 1948
Published on Abitare 492
Mountain Dwellings, Copenhagen, 2008
Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) in collaboration with JDS
Published on Abitare 485
New Museum,New York City, 2007
Published on Abitare 480
CaixaForum Madrid, Madrid, 2008
Herzog & de Meuron
Published on Abitare 481
John Lewis Department Store, Leicester, 2008
Foreign Office Architects (FOA)
Published on Abitare 492
Nestlé Chocolate Museum, Mexico City, 2007
Published on Abitare 477
New Orquideorama for Medellin´s Botanical Garden, Medellin, 2006
plan:b arquitectos + jprcr arquitectos
Published on Abitare 482
360°Office Chair, Magis, 2009
Published on Abitare 493
Salottobuono was born in 2005 as a collector of research experiences and design production. It investigates the urban space, codifying cognitive devices and triggering transformation strategies. Topics, challenges and programs are occasions for diagrammatic analyses and elaboration of paradoxical visions.
Writing Without Words
Text and project by Stefanie Posavec
‘Writing Without Words’ was the project completed for my final year on my MA Communication Design course, and was influential in shaping how I work with data today. Its intention was to explore various methods of visualizing literature. I gathered data on a novel’s structure, punctuation, parts of speech, and words per sentence in order to generate the final complex patterns. The focus of the project was the novel On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, because of its importance to me as a surly teenager.
To create this project, I gathered all of the data by hand, counting words and sentences, and carefully dividing a battered copy of On the Road into key themes using markers and highlighters. I was able to reduce the entire novel into a stack of paper filled with lists of numbers, a process of compression I found satisfying. The graphics were also created ‘by hand’ in Adobe Illustrator instead of writing any code in order to generate the final visuals.
I came up with three ways of visualizing literature, two of which are described here. For one method I wanted to visualise the hidden structure found within a piece of literature. I liked the idea of visualizing the structure of a novel as a living, breathing thing, and this intent was the basis of my “Literary Organism” visualization. Here, a tree structure is used to show how Part One of the novel is split into chapters, chapters are split into paragraphs, paragraphs are split into sentences, and sentences are split into words. The outcome is a cellular, plant-like structure.
For another approach, I noticed that the number of words per sentence varies depending on the writing style of the writer. Shorter sentences mean the writer has a choppy, terse writing style, and longer sentences imply that the writer writes in a free-flowing, leisurely manner. I used this information to create a system where a line would turn right after each sentence (scaled by the number of words per sentence), and this would create a graphic that I call a “sentence drawing.” In this approach, one can visually discern whether a writer uses longer or shorter sentences.
Stefanie Posavec’s work focuses on projects ranging from information design, data visualization, book cover design, and book design (or anything in between) for a variety of clients. She holds a BFA from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado (2002), and an MA in Communication Design from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, England (2006).
www.itsbeenreal.co.ukm | @stefpos
Iker Gil and Andrew Clark interview Manuel Lima
Manuel Lima is a leading voice on information visualization. In 2005 he founded Visualcomplexity.com, a website that has become the public resource for anyone interested in information visualization, particularly in the mapping of networks. Last year he published the reference book Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information (Princeton Architectural Press). Iker Gil and Andrew Clark talked to Manuel about what makes a successful visualization, examples, trends, and what’s ahead.
IG: Trained as an industrial designer, you are currently a senior user experience design lead at Microsoft and a leading voice on information visualization. Can you talk a little bit about your path to your current work?
ML: Even though my background is industrial design I was always interested in the multi-disciplinary nature of design and its various practices, such as graphic design, interface design, motion design, or 3D animation. After graduating I did an internship at Kontrapunkt, a small design agency based in Copenhagen, Denmark, which despite its size was able to produce work in numerous design fronts, including print, web, and product. This was a very enriching experience for me, particularly due to the well-known Scandinavian design charisma. After this internship I applied for an MFA program at Parsons School of Design. This was by far the most important stage of my professional career, where I fell in love with data visualization and information architecture. Since then I’ve become a blogger, researcher, speaker, and author on the topic of network visualization, and I’ve worked as an interaction/UX designer in companies like R/GA, Nokia, and Microsoft.
IG: In October of 2005, you founded Visual Complexity. What is the idea behind it? What are the criteria in the selection?
ML: I started VisualComplexity.com in 2005, in the aftermath of my MFA thesis research, primarily as a personal bookmarking mechanism, to keep track of various topics I was interested in. Later it evolved into a public resource for anyone interested in information visualization, particularly in the mapping of networks. One of the main reasons why it has been quite popular is certainly the breath of content covered in the site. Even though it has a manifested emphasis on networks, it covers any depiction of this engaging topology, from protein networks, subway systems, or social networks.
The key criteria is that a project should either provide advancement in terms of visual depiction techniques/methods, or show conceptual uniqueness and originality in the choice of a subject. In the end, it’s always a personal and subjective decision that strongly takes into consideration the narrow scope of network visualization.
AC: Describe complexity and why a holistic picture is worth drawing?
ML: Complexity normally describes a system with many interconnected and interdependent parts that form an intricate arrangement.
A few days ago I was part of a panel at Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria, and the main topic of the panel, as well as the entire symposium, was the Big Picture. The notion of providing the big picture, the holistic picture, or simply, the overview, has never been so critical as nowadays. Even though its implications are vastly diverse, visualization can play a key role in uncovering the various principles and behaviors that regulate many natural and artificial systems, from our own brain and the vast biosphere, to transportation infrastructures and the World Wide Web. Normally characterized by a multitude of interconnecting and interdependent elements, where no unit can be altered without modifying the whole, complex systems present us with one of the hardest scientific challenges of our time. As new methods of analysis, modeling, and exploration are needed, in order to unravel the complex connectedness of modern society, visualization will hopefully roll up its sleeves and answer this vital call.
AC: When should we create “maps” of complex information or “tracings”?
ML: Whenever a given system, structure, behavior, or process is not entirely understood, or new types of knowledge and insight can be ascertained. Cartography, as well as its most recent cousin, data visualization, has always been driven by human curiosity and our desire to know more. Both fields simply aim to provide us with tools for insight, understanding, and sense making.
IG: What have been the changes in data visualization that you have noticed since you started Visual Complexity?
ML: Almost as staggering as the assortment of portrayed subjects is the variety of employed visual techniques. Frequently generated by computer algorithms and enhanced by interactive features, most projects showcase a broad palette of visual elements and variations that consider color, text, imagery, size, shape, contrast, transparency, position, orientation, layout, and configuration. Despite this rich graphical diversity, many projects tend to follow noticeable trends and common principles, which in turn result in a type of emergent taxonomy. This embryonic and evolving taxonomy provides a portrait of the current state of the practice and reveals the initial building blocks shaping a new visual language. This alphabet is not entirely new in the sense that many of its letters are recurrent visual metaphors used for centuries. But some are combining and recombining old metaphors in new original ways. This emergent grammar of visualization, particularly network visualization, has been featured in a dedicated chapter of my latest book, Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information.
AC: What are three principles that successful visual information graphics contain?
ML: Easily graspable, evermore insightful, conducive to exploration.
AC: What new types of visualization methods have emerged recently? What can we look forward to?
ML: It will be interesting to observe how Information Visualization embraces other emerging technologies, in areas such as Interaction Design (HCI), Physical Computing or Pervasive Computing, and produces interactive experiences that go well beyond the computer screen. Looking at ambient and immersive visualizations can provide us an interesting look into what the future holds for us. I like to envision a time where large amounts of useful information will be less intrusive and more dissolved into everyday objects and surfaces, and ultimately more in tune with human behavior.
IG: Where are you seeing the biggest trend in data visualization being implemented and having an impact?
ML: I would like to think in the awareness of global warming and the impact of human behavior on our planet.
AC: How do you balance information that is simple to understand and yet visually arresting to pull someone into the information?
ML: Some people tend to see a clear, impenetrable divide between function and aesthetics. However, as numerous studies have shown, aesthetics and novelty are a functional feature of most projects, making the user experience more satisfactory, engaging, and ultimately, more memorable. In fact, aesthetics designs are normally perceived as easier to use than less-aesthetic designs, so there’s a clear correlation between aesthetics and usability.
IG: One of the goals, if not the main goal, of data visualization is to turn raw data into meaningful knowledge. Can you give us some successful examples in which information visualization helps to understand complex situations and generate meaningful knowledge?
ML: One of the most well known cases, and in part responsible for the tipping point of the field, from its academic womb to the general public, is the Map of the Market by Martin Wattenberg.  In this interactive map, a recent classic of the field, one can easily perceive at a glance the daily fluctuations, and inherent complexities of the various sectors of the stock market. Another less-known example is the Cod Food Web, created by David Lavigne.  This convoluted map, illustrating close to 100 interdependent species in the Northwest Atlantic, was created in order to explain the causes of the cod stock depletion and the interconnected arrangement of its natural ecosystem.
AC: Facebook is the one of the most visualized networks, and yet most visualizations are simply representations of the network. How can a visualization tell us little about the power of a network rather than just the image of the network?
ML: It really depends on the initial question one might ask, or the specific topic of analysis. There are hundreds of ways one could examine, investigate, and display a given network, by concentrating for instance on its usage patterns, over-time interaction, shared content, geographic activity, or users’ typology and demographics. A visualization of its topology is just one of them. Perhaps we’re still in an early exploratory phase, where the focus is more on the disclosure of the structure itself, rather than what’s happening inside it.
IG: In your presentation at the See Conference in Wiesbaden, you describe the evolution of data visualization, from the problems of simplicity of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, to the problems of disorganized complexity of the first half of the 20th century, and finally to the organized complexity of the second half of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century. Can you talk a little bit about that transition? Why is it important to visualize the complex networks that exist between seemingly unrelated things? What is/are the biggest challenge/s we are facing?
ML: In 1948, in an article entitled “Science and Complexity,”  Weaver divided the history of modern science into three distinct stages: The first period, covering most of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, encapsulated what he denominated as “problems of simplicity.” Most scientists during this period were fundamentally trying to understand the influence of one variable over another. The second phase, taking place during the first half of the twentieth century, involved “problems of disorganized complexity.” This was a period of time when researchers started conceiving systems with a substantial number of variables, but the way many of these variables interacted was thought to be random and sometimes chaotic. The last stage defined by Weaver, initiated in the second half of the twentieth century and continuing to this day, is critically shaped by “problems of organized complexity.” Not only have we recognized the presence of exceedingly complex systems, with an outstanding number of variables, but we have also recognized the notion that these variables are highly interconnected and interdependent.
Many of our contemporary hurdles, from the way we organize our cities to the way we decode our brain, concern problems of organized complexity that cannot be portrayed, analyzed, or understood by employing a centralized or reductionist model. These new complex challenges deal primarily with rhizomatic properties such as decentralization, emergence, mutability, nonlinearity, and ultimately, diversity. Therefore, they demand a new way of thinking. They demand a pluralistic conception of the world, able to envision the wider structural plan and at the same time examine the intricate mesh of connections amongst its smallest elements. They ultimately call for a holistic systems approach; they call for network thinking.
IG: In the same lecture, you point out a few, really interesting examples of information visualization presented as 3D installations, such as Tomas Saraceno’s “Galaxies forming along filaments like droplets along the strand of a spider’s web” (2008) and Chiharu Shiota’s “In Silence” (2008). Are we at the beginning of the 3D exploration in data visualization? What is the potential in 3D versus 2D visualizations?
ML: Many of the “fake” 3D projects (displayed in a 2D screen) produced in the 1990’s have been considerably unsuccessful, primarily because we have a hard time orienting ourselves through data presented in intricate 3D virtual structures and constructs. Instead, real 3D can offer us a stimulating path to explore, and we have witness interesting attempts on the parallel field of generative art, but it still seems like large, highly immersive and multi-sensorial environments can be a more reliable and efficient alternative. The AlloSphere Research Facility, at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is a great example of this new paradigm.
IG: Most of the data visualizations we are seeing right now are representations of data already collected, static information. With all the tracking devices available nowadays, both personal and collective, are we ready to map the dynamics of real time information? What are the challenges? Who is the possible audience?
ML: Time is one of the hardest variables to map in any complex system. It is also one of the richest. If we consider a social network, we can quickly realize that a snapshot in time can only tell us a bit of information about that community. If time were to be properly measured and mapped, it would provide us with a comprehensive understanding of the social group’s changing dynamics, how it expands or shrinks, how relationships evolve, and how certain nodes become more or less prominent. In some cases, the changes do not take weeks or months, but minutes or hours. And it is not only the network that adapts; whatever is being exchanged within the system also fluctuates over time (e.g., information, energy, water, a virus). There is no doubt that when we embrace time, the difficulty of the task at hand increases tenfold, but we need to make this substantial jump. Most networked systems are affected by the natural progression of time, and their depiction is never complete unless this critical dimension becomes part of the equation.
AC: What visualization recently caught your eye?
ML: In Ars Electronica, last week, I was part of a panel with Golan Levin, Adam Bly, Johan Bollen, and Paola Antonelli. During his talk, Golan revisited The Secret Lives of Numbers, a project produced 10 years ago that aims at mapping the popularity of numbers in the Google search engine. An early classic of data visualization, The Secret Lives of Numbers is also a critical example on how curiosity is the main driver for visualization.
3. Weaver, Warren, “Science and Complexity,” American Scientist, Vol. 36, No. 4 (OCTOBER 1948), pp. 536-544
Manuel Lima is a Senior UX Design Lead at Microsoft Bing and founder of VisualComplexity.com — A visual exploration on mapping complex networks. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and was nominated by Creativity magazine as “one of the 50 most creative and influential minds of 2009.”
www.mslima.com | www.visualcomplexity.com | @mslima
Iker Gil is an architect, director of MAS Studio and editor in chief of MAS Context. In addition, he teaches at the College of Architecture at IIT. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club.
www.mas-studio.com | www.mascontext.com | @MASContext
Andrew Clark is a designer at MINIMAL and a collaborator in MAS Studio. He has designed solutions for communications, brand, vision, experience and visualization projects. His work is featured in “Shanghai Transforming” (Actar, 2008), “Building Globalization” (UChicago Press, 2011), and “Work Review” (GOOD Transparency).
www.mnml.com | @andrewclarkmnml
Short essay by Jon Johnstone
The dying cat was my idea. So was the creepy old guy in the library. I was especially proud of that one. An elderly Romanian man had a part to play in this Hollywood movie because I said so. But I wasn’t on set the day they shot his scene, and he never knew who I was. He never saw me and he never heard my name.
I was hired to fix the script five weeks before production was to start in Bucharest. It was a mess, the script, but they werenʼt moving that start date. And I should say that the mess wasn’t the credited writerʼs fault. He was a hired gun too, and it was a hopeless idea to begin with, and there were too many cooks. There always are.
The Studio Boss took a disconcerting shine to me. I never saw him, and he never saw me. He was a manic voice on the phone, a voice that shot a bolt of terror up many a spine, a voice that turned blood cold. But so far not mine. He had me call him at his motherʼs house on Passover. She sounded like a nice old lady. He picked up the phone and told me he talked to Stephen King about me. He promised me the job of writing the Studioʼs next big horror movie. He said heʼd make me a star, and this man had made stars out of writers before. He asked me how much I was getting paid for this job, and when I told him, he declared that he was giving me a $25,000 bonus. I called my parents: “You might not have to worry so much anymore.” I deserved this. I was good at my job, and it was finally being recognized.
At the Bucharest Hilton, the director and the actors and I sat around a table and read through the script. At some point I made a joke at which everyone laughed (at least thatʼs my memory of it). In Los Angeles, I was not on level ground with these people. But being shipped off to a foreign country together, I was finding, has a way of flattening things out.
In a car on the way to the set one morning, the Starlet thanked me for putting a head on her characterʼs shoulders. She was worried about this movie. I wanted to tell her she should be worried. I wanted to say what everyone knew, which was that the movie was going to be terrible, an embarrassment, and there was nothing any of us could do about it now. But I kept my mouth shut. One day, I told myself, weʼll talk about this and weʼll laugh.
The original script had called for a cat to leap out at her in the dark at a critical moment. Offended by the cliche and convinced it would get a laugh if it got anything, I instead had our girl hear something and open a closet door and find the cat crying and writhing on the floor, mangy and starving and near death (this actually made some sense in context). I didnʼt think anyone would go for it, after all the ideas Iʼd had that were shot down. But this one survived. Iʼm pretty sure that cat was the best work the effects guys did on the project, and I bet they would agree. That cat was a horrible sight.
Iʼd been in Bucharest for two weeks when the Actor told me he was in the process of scoring some drugs. He was working on it, he said. I told him I wanted in. He mightʼve high-fived me. This was all turning out better than I could have ever imagined.
Tragically, I never got to do those drugs. The next day a sheepish producer told me I was getting sent home. I pulled my hat low, said goodbye to no one, and vanished into the Bucharest night. The adventure was over. There was no reason why. When I saw the Actor at the premier, he said: “We were all like, ʻWhere did he go!?ʼ” The Starlet gave me a hug. She was still worried. She neednʼt have been, though the movie is indeed terrible. Her career has done just fine.
I was a ghost on this film, lurking in the shadows on the edges of the set. I didnʼt really exist. I am unknown to the credited writer, unknown to the audience in the theater, unknown to IMDb. But the dying cat was my idea.
Jon Johnstone is a screenwriter in Los Angeles. Before that he was a baggage handler at LAX, and before that he was a private investigator in the San Fernando Valley. He came to the West from the Northeast.
The Disappearing Architect
Four Moves Towards Invisibility
Text by Ya´el Santopinto and Jonathan Wong
As an aging army of starchitects busily broadcast their brands, another generation of practitioners is fast at work making themselves invisible. This disappearing act is composed of a set of daring operations on the the role of the architect — obscuring, shrinking, distorting, inverting. Hidden in plain sight, this practitioner is asking how things are made visible, and by whom. As with so many tales of invisibility, this newfound anonymity is perilous: the act of making oneself invisible is inevitably humbling and disorienting. And yet this disappearing practitioner is steadily developing a new spatial culture in which responsibility, collaboration and conflict play an ever expanding role. What follows is a conversation between the general and the particular: a tentative tool kit for an evolving practice traced alongside the ongoing spatial interventions of architectural designer Jonathan Wong.
As an increasing array of assemblies (social, knowledge-based, political, spatial) gain steam as global agents of change, everyone is being called upon to make sense of these powerful new masses. The architect is no exception, harnessing this collective agency as a spatial technique capable of transforming cities, communities, institutions. The proliferation of international competitions, along with an expanding field of experimentation in crowdsourcing, reveals a growing trust in multiplicity (for better or worse). The architect here takes responsibility for gathering and assembling non-architects — turning the focus on them as potential agents of spatial change. In this capacity, the architect is a mediator — a facilitating agent whose work is to catalyse, enable, and support. In this role, the architect is disguised amidst the growing ensemble of spatial agents — a cultural ghostwriter.
It is crucial to consider what this mediating work might mean within a rapidly multiplying field of players. While a growing field of participants can challenge and transform spatial conditions, there is a hazardous side to this same practice: homogeneous participation might strip participants of responsibility, setting the preconditions for easy consensus rather than creating platforms for meaningful dissent. The ghostwriter architect here takes on responsibility for creating critical platforms for participation. These perilous landscapes of consensus have been mapped by practitioners and theorists such as Chantal Mouffe and Markus Miessen,  and it is with an eye to critical participation that the invisible practitioner does this work of gathering and mediating.
RePlace-ReQuest was a collaboration between the projection artist Angelica Teuta, architect Anne Ehrlich and myself. We wanted to think about how to tackle the idea of a non-neutral gallery space and to reinvent the notion of a public gallery.
The visitor steps into the gallery and is immediately engaged with the projector lights and the pier-like platform. His/her shadow becomes part of the projection. The curved and diagonal form of the platform is an experiment in finding ways to further challenge and activate the visitors, inviting them to become performers as they navigate through the space and gather within and around the pier. Providing multiple vantage points from which to engage with the projections, the diagonal forms create a shifting perception of the space and of the impact of the projections. They perpetually recover a playfulness in one’s perception of the space. Endless and unexpected interpretations of the project are invited and allowed. The public becomes visible.
The aphorism has long been used as a way of supplanting ideological claims — celebrating the gaps between fragments as opportunities for dissent, silence, uncertainty.  The fragment is both emancipatory in its incompleteness, and paradoxically, is a way of seeing a larger picture anew. This observation is a tool of the invisible architect who shrinks the scope of her work — harnessing smallness as a way of allowing things to be seen anew. Indeed, in an era of economic uncertainty, smallness is perhaps the most viable design currency. Unsolicited interventions, pop-up pavilions, mobile structures — these tools are increasingly used by architects as laboratory experiments conducted upon the city.
The architect, deliberately shrinking her realm of concern, uses this reduction in scale as an opportunity to act hyper-locally, calling attention to the spatial specificities at the scale of a body, a detail, a fragment. It is from this microscopic perspective that the whole can be apprehended anew; in a decidedly paradoxical turn, the fragment carries within it a universe of significance.
‘Line Dance’ is a project that reconsiders the space between two houses that appears as a consequence of property lines. It is done by focusing on the act of drawing at 1:1 scale with white duct tape. The drawing highlights one’s movement through the space in such a way that it productively defamiliarizes it. It renders this in-between space as a fragment juxtaposed with other spatial fragments(backyard, sidewalk, sky, etc..). It gives this otherwise invisible space a visible presence and it becomes possible to think of it as a site that can trigger creative manifestations.
Collaboration is another tool employed by the disappearing architect. In an effort to abandon the myth of architectural authorship, the practitioner looks to the challenge of the creative relay. Here, work is taken over by another practitioner for critique and development. This three-dimensional game of exquisite corpse  introduces productive friction and conflict into more traditional practice.
It is precisely this abandonment of singular authorship which distorts the work — as if one hand were drawing a head and the other a body. In seeking out opportunities for conflict, the invisible architect is making possible the manufacture of new spatial territories. Ultimately, these procedural shifts continuously defer a design ‘’solution.’ This indeterminacy is characterized by Bruno Latour as creating a “…series of new linkages that force the constant displacement of goals and multiply intermediary agents.”  This deliberate politicization of the design process heralds the creation of a new arena in which architects are called on to negotiate, repair and rethink in relationship to a constantly shifting context. In abandoning easy notions of consensus, the invisible architect is relentless in poking holes and stirring up controversy.
With the performance for the ‘Feasibility Study’ project, Marcin Kedzior and I wondered how we could engage the public to be part of the discussion around the renovation and reprogramming of the Gendai Gallery. Adopting the exquisite corpse game, we each rethought our separate practices through the notion of dance and space. Using green painter’s tape, I drew directly in space to register one’s movement from the front to the back of the gallery. All the corners of the space are acknowledged and the visitors are compelled by the drawing to walk back and forth through the space and to be in a state of wonderment. They are invited to dance at their own pace and rhythm with the architecture. Kedzior’s response was a performance of construction where he moved wooden boards through the space and onto the ceiling. He jumped and dragged his body between the tape lines at a fast pace to reconfigure the perception of the drawing and the architecture. We attempted to suspend any easy definition of an art gallery through a provocative performance that invited unexpected actors to collaborate with us in renovating and reprogramming the art gallery.
Invisibility affords many benefits, including the creative advantage of the element of surprise. “Chirico,” writes Andre Breton, “could paint only when surprised (surprised first of all) by certain arrangements of objects.” Juxtaposing, comparing, overturning, clashing, relating anew — the disappearing architect is uniquely positioned to enter into an unfamiliar situation and overturn assumptions. This impulse reveals a curatorial urge: might a juxtaposition catalyse a reinvention? The architect as curator is hardly a new meme, but it is an increasingly important one. As an international culture of architecture exhibitions continue to grow (Venice, Rotterdam, Sao Paulo), architects are beginning to turn these same skills to local contexts. If the traditional architect works in an uncontaminated white box, the invisible architect turns instead toward the chaos of the city, opting to curate whatever she might find there. Rather than designing on the basis of an elusive tabula rasa, this architect accepts and plays with unpredictability.
The critical scrutiny required of this kind of curation requires the distancing of the architect from the subject of the work. This altered proximity is an exciting byproduct, underscoring the reduced visibility (and intermittent appearance) of the practitioner. This curatorial role comes with a new set of procedures. For instance, the traditional role of the client-as-patron is subverted in favour of a more complex system of instigating and advocating. By calling attention to invisible processes and imbalances, the invisible architect is, despite his moniker, in the business of bringing things to light.
The ‘Opening Lines’ event happened in the winter of 2011. It consisted of two screenings that took place both inside the main gallery space and outside in the back yard. The screenings themselves featured the work of Walter Ruttmann who was interested in the idea of visual music. For this event, the architectural intervention was made possible by first acknowledging the difference between the inside and outside conditions. At that time of the year, it is a lot colder outside and the sound from the speakers cannot encompass the whole space.
The event started with the inside screening. The spectators took a seat at the back of the main gallery space. They all looked to the front to watch the screening. The sound easily reached to the back of the room as it bounced off the walls and the ceiling. It felt loud. The ceiling itself was clad with wooden sticks that amplified the presence of a covering surface visually and physically.
As the spectators turned around and headed outside for the second screening, they immediately realised that the sound experience was very different. Here there were no covering surfaces, only the dark sky that was miles and miles away. The projection constantly shifted from one surface to the other as the projectionist weaved his way through the spectators. The surfaces themselves were not always hard and flat. Foliage and transparent surfaces were present. One became quickly conscious of the juxtaposition of the film on the varied surfaces. For the outside screening, it was not only about the content of the film. The spectators were not restricted to a single viewing point but were instead walking around the garden, following the sound coming off the projector, for the viewing experience.
While the architectural intervention initially started by dividing the interior and exterior, we became more interested in turning those strict divisions into a living contrast to be able to affect and to produce thinking and feeling.
1. For more on Miessen’s notion of participation and consensus, see Markus Miessen and David Goldenberg, “Re: Participation,” in Fillip 10, ed. Kristina Lee Podesva & Jordan Strom, Fall 2009.
2. There was an ongoing suspicion in the Frankfurt School that the aphorism may have been the form most distant from fascist ideology. Adorno famously uses the aphorism as the base unit of his Minima Moralia: “If the subject is disappearing today, aphorisms take on the weighty responsibility of ‘considering that which is disappearing itself as essential.’” In ‘Dedication’, Minima Moralia, Edmund Jephcott (London: Verso, 1993), p. 15.
3. The Surrealist parlour game which used surprise and collage to draw collaboratively, where one artist would draw a head and another a body.
4. Bruno Latour, “Morality and Technology: The End of the Means,” In Theory, Culture & Society, 19 (258), 2002.
Ya’el Santopinto is an architectural designer in Toronto, who has worked and studied in Montreal, Berlin and Amsterdam.Ya’el holds a Master of Architecture from the University of Toronto and is the cofounder of Gauge Design. Her recent work on alternative practice models includes the design and curation of Griffintown Interrupted, an international design competition.
Jonathan Wong makes spatial interventions through the act of drawing to reinvent the notion of public space. In doing so he also explores issues of affect and collaboration. He has initiated a number of independent projects that temporarily appropriate various urban spaces (back alley, lobby of public institutions, etc…).
Beyond the Figure-Ground
Essay by David Karle
“The subject of the project is the physicality of architecture and the ephemerality of the contemporary city; the evaporation of distance and matter through electronic technology.”
Peter Wilson, Western Objects Eastern Fields (Architectural Association Publications: 1990).
“The projective roles of the architectural drawing in the discipline are simultaneously exhilarating and daunting.”
Perry Kulper “Representing beyond the Surface,” (Arc CA Drawn Out. AIACC Design Awards Issue. 05.3)
The current state of drawing in contemporary practice and design research is one of over simplification, driven by the need to reduce and optimize information. In recent years exploration in architectural drawings have taken a back seat to conventional reductive drawing methods. As a result visual complexity, abstraction, and projection within drawings are under crushing pressure to be augmented, simplified, and reduced to align with the procedural optimization methods of digital fabrication and output devices. But when does optimization become standardization? The role of the computer and streamlined manufacturing techniques has minimized the impact of abstract explorative architectural drawings to discover new spatial relationships and experiences.
Architects Perry Kulper and Peter Cook use drawings as an outlet for experimenting and exploring the unknown projective qualities of a city and landscape. Perry Kulper states, “to overcome the legacy of reductive representation practices, we should conceptualize the construction of drawing as more than a tool for problem solving, organization or expression”.  Drawings should be used as a tool to explore and project future scenarios. Peter Cook states, “the drawings can possible be better than the reality”.  It is time to recalibrate the role of the drawing within architecture. Not as an exotic, over formal juxtaposition of super-realistic renderings but as a tool to aid in the development strategies for a building, city block, and forms of American urbanism.
Refocusing the lens
It is difficult to perceive and represent conditions outside of the preferred pathways of our current frame of mind. In order to tap into the vast subtle potential of our complex cultural condition, one has to operate outside of the limitations of ones daily language. Predetermined thought and habits potentially bind us into an easy or negative form of exploration. By shedding these limitations, drawings become dramatic for the discipline of architecture and hold the speculative potential to facilitate space finding and track the cultural pulse. Drawings should be open-ended and record relationships outside of themselves, both visible and invisible. As scientific endeavor shows us, to make a change in an object is insignificant in comparison to a change made to the lenses the object is viewed through. Refocusing the visual lens is necessary for the discipline of architecture. The process should be less reductive and project future possibilities.  No longer reductively seeking clarity of the center but with the ability to operate outside of our nostalgic tendencies and relationally learn how to practice multiplicity, simultaneity, and hybridity. The methods and processes venture into the study of complexity, loosens predetermined thoughts and habits.
Representing layers of complexity and open-endedness support the production of thoughts. The layers and logics of complexity suggest a different way to approach each condition or space to communicate on multiple levels. A method to achieve this registration is to start in the middle. Starting from the middle, area of known, and working out, areas of unknown, affords a unique vantage point. Working from the middle out suggests the creative process is not reactionary but rather emergent. From the middle, we are no longer looking at objects, events, or space as known elements. This shift enables another way of thinking and operating. Reading a space, city, or condition from the middle, collapses the distance between objects enabling a new form of density not found in most representations.
“…The middle is by no means an average; on the contrary, it is where things pick up speed. BETWEEN things (at the leaks) does not designate a localizable relation going from one thing to the other and back again, but a perpendicular direction, a transversal movement that sweeps one AND the other away, a stream without beginning or end that undermines its banks and picks up speed in the middle”. 
Drawing and representing the thought process allows for spatial and contextual investigations to emerge through a non-predictive attitude towards understanding space, helping to inform real-time programmatic, and contextual relations. Drawings conceived under this umbrella, become a device for capturing and recording logics, and a medium for establishing new ones. They push back on seductive conventional drawings masking complexity. In essence, the goal is to achieve drawing as an action allowing for a tabula rasa of thought, recording a condition and its process simultaneously. Accounting for all the variables and parameters of a given space at one time, can generate a multiplicity of readings. Documenting the process, Perry Kulper describes this act as “ecologies of potential.” Where the “act of drawing itself becomes a form of discovery of logics and structure of the work.”  Positioning the role of drawing as a projective tool in relation to a building, city block, and contemporary American urbanism will enable us to refocus the lens on viewing a city like Detroit.
Case Study: Projecting Detroit
Detroit’s overlapping street grids primarily organized the historic built environment within the city. The Woodward Plan, laid out in 1807 references a hub-and-spoke design, organized the major arterial roads radiating from the city’s center. However, the Woodward Plan was only partially realized and a traditional rectilinear grid pattern was overlaid on top of the existing streets; resulting in an interruption along the cities main arteries allowing for a series of wedge shaped blocks and irregular buildings to emerge.
Over the past six decades Detroit’s population has plummeted to a century low and the city fabric and figure-ground street grids have eroded, leaving a series of isolated buildings. “The ground and the figure are in the process of inversion.”  These isolated buildings previously served as a homogeneous part of the urban fabric now stand devoid of any relationship to adjacent buildings and only reference the historical street grid that once cut through the city. These isolated buildings provide a glimpse into the history of Detroit but in order to understand the role of the current city one must look beyond the street grid, and investigate the roll of the datascape on the city.
Similar to the historic overlapping street grids, a third non-Euclidian streaming datascape provides an alternative reading of the city. Examining the potentials within overlapping systems (physical street grids and emergent datascape) triggers a ‘digital unfolding’ of buildings and space within the city. This augmented reading creates a modern day re-imagination of the built environment, focused specifically on the isolated buildings. The Laboratory of Architecture and Urban Research at the KTH School of Architecture-Stockholm claims, “the ambient presence of the datascape alters the users’ normative sequencing of spaces within the city and introduces a series of multiple temporalities and spatialities.”  The illustrations throughout this paper utilize the drawing technique of projection to explore the latent temporalities and spatialities of the datascape in post-industrial Detroit by projecting the city fabric and a series of isolated buildings.
The technique of projection within representation is used to uncover new ways of viewing and understanding an object or space from different directions. “Projection is not a thing itself, but a relationship between things. As such, its internal relations are not fixed, and can always be reconfigured.”  The ambient construction lines of a drawing produce a temporal spatial projection of space and hold the information required to construct space from an alternative vantage point. Using the technique of projection enables an object or a space to emerge out of set of rules, logics, and constructions lines. The technique allows for a non-prescriptive method of thinking and discovery to emerge through a series of illustrations.
The projection of space, in the representation of the city, occurs at two scales, city context or block, and the individual buildings. The ability to understand the larger city context based on the physicality of a specific building or city block, allows the user to understand the city in terms of the street grid and density. In order to understand Detroit and the relationship between density and perception, one must look beyond traditional representational methods of figure-ground and utilize the method of projection.  As Jason Young points out in his essay Density of Emptiness, there is a false sense of density in downtown Detroit due to the compactness of the radiating Woodward plan. The isolated buildings throughout the city are visually collapsed across city blocks, providing a denser vision of the city.
The second example of projecting space in representation of the city is through the understanding of the ambient datascape streaming around a building. Detroit receives millions of Google results, 425,000,000 web links and 1,330,000,000 images links. These results range from streaming videos to historical maps providing a glimpse into the current and historical city. All of this information is streaming through the air (datascape) and can instantaneously be accessed. Belinda Barnet, a lecturer in Media at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne states, “every street and building has a layer of virtual graffiti I can summon in an instant; my experiences will in turn be archived and will form part of this collective inscription. Although I cannot see these records on the walls and artifacts around me, they are not immaterial; they ‘cannot be accessed except via the mediating processes of the devices that represent this information’ to an otherwise unequipped consciousness.”  The datascape is not systematized or rigid like the physical grid, it is directionless. Paul Virilio states, traditional geographic coordinates are literally valueless in relation to the streaming digital culture. The datascape is a system of free flowing activity streaming through the city. Manuel De Landa states, “most space to today is Euclidian space” , but the streaming digital space is based on a non-Euclidian coordinates system. With the introduction of streaming datascape, the user is conceptually and perceptually projected through the city. Moments of intensity between the physical overlap of the street grid and the streaming datascape allows for the digital unfolding of buildings or spaces. Digitally unfolded space or buildings is the ability to access streaming digital information to comprehend a space, city or building. As the building digitally unfolds via a smartphone the ‘user’ is conceptually and perceptually projected around the building.
An example of this projected space is explored in the representational techniques used in the drawings of the Detroit’s Milner Hotel, which attempts to capture and visualize the ambient relational qualities between object and user. The Milner hotel is an isolated building in the city center primarily influenced by the original Woodward Plan. The Hotel is an example of how the intensities of overlapping physical grids and datascape are articulated in an object or architecture.
Similar to the ambient nature of the streaming datascape within the city, the construction lines of a drawing have equal amount ambient information embedded within each point and line. Both ambient systems contain information necessary to connect and construct different views and experiences within the city and within a drawing. These parameters include physical and atmospheric adjacencies influencing the space and object.
Architectural drawings help facilitate conversations of experience, discovery, exploration, and potential. The role of drawings within architectural discourse and practice has changed but the tangibility of the artifact can never be replaced. Recognizing the need to move beyond historically restrictive drawing techniques such as a figure-ground drawing towards a more dynamic open-ended method of representing a city or space is necessary. Non-reductive forms of communication will position multiple outcomes. By refocusing the lens in which we view the role of architectural drawings within the discourse, new ways of viewing an object or converging forces on a city like Detroit, will emerge.
The illustrations throughout this essay tap into the latent potentials embedded within the overlapping systems in downtown Detroit and provide a new lens to represent a changing city. The drawings utilizing projection to collapse distances, augment spatial relationships, skew, and distort the reading of the city.
1. Perry Kulper “Representing beyond the Surface,” (Arc CA Drawn Out. AIACC Design Awards Issue. 05.3)
2. Peter Cook, Drawing: The Motive Force of Architecture. (Architectural Design Primer), 12
3. Lauren Mitchell, PHD Candidate, Rhetorics, Communication, and Information
4. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus Capitalism and Schizophrenia. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002) 25.
5. Perry Kulper. Representing beyond the Surface. (Arc CA Drawn Out. AIACC Design Awards Issue. 05.3), 18
6. Jason Young, “Density of Emptiness,” Distributed Urbanism: Cities after Google Earth. (London: Routeldge, 2010), 111.
7. Laboratory for Architecture and Urban Research, KTH School of Architecture-Stockholm, accessed June 3, 2011, http://www.arch.kth.se/a-url/.
8. Stan Allen, Practice: Architecture Technique + Representation. (Routeldge: New York, NY. 2009), 12.
9. Jason Young, “Density of Emptiness,” Distributed Urbanism: Cities after Google Earth. (London: Routeldge, 2010), 111
10. Belinda Barnet, “Infomobility and Technics: some travel notes,” accessed June 3, 2011, http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=492.
11. Manual De Landa, “Immanent Patterns of Becoming” (Lecture at European Graduate School. 2009)
David Karle is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, College of Architecture, where he teaches design studio and lectures on contemporary forms of American urbanism. Prior to joining the faculty at Nebraska, David taught undergraduate and graduate level architecture courses at the University of Michigan.
Short essay by Joanna Livieratos
My husband and I left urban Chicago for rural Michigan, trading our two-room attic apartment for 25 acres and a chicken coop. Pigs would make their way into our lives, too, and lots of canning and freezing and dehydrating. It all came as such a surprise that we enjoyed it so much.
I was 30 when I planted my first garden. There’s something terrifying about that first leap, believing that you’re smart enough and strong enough and green-thumb enough to make something grow. As things have always grown. Who am I to imagine it? There in the garden, alongside bugs and powdery mildew and fungus, I discovered a primal and ancient me.
My garden would become a window to my deeper self. We are so many different people, deep inside of us, waiting to be found. I found a girl who enjoyed the repetitive meditation of a row planted in perfect symmetry and the ache of arms too sore to pour a glass of much-needed ice water.
There is peace in dirt. In getting dirty. In finding the primitive and ancestral. Thousands of years ago, the need to procure food was an inescapable inner drive. Now, it’s a drive to a grocery store. The satisfaction that I found from raising my own food felt hardwired, like a lifeline back to my ancestors suddenly visible.
Joanna Livieratos can be found most afternoons on her hobby farm, chasing either the chickens or pigs or her farmer-in-training toddler, selling heirloom organic seedlings at the local farmers’ market, or at the Bangor Community Center where she teaches adult education. She has an MA in Elementary Education, owns a small eco-business, and writes a blog on all things sustainable, The Adventures in Eco-Living.
www.thegreatergreen.com | thegreatergreen.typepad.com/weblog
Visualizing Urban Hidrology
The Design of a Wet Surface
Essay by Carolina González Vives
Within his research about water supply and sewers, the geographer Matthew Gandy includes photographs taken in 1864-65 by Félix Nadar, the first images of the recently built Paris sewers.  The photographs contributed powerfully to a transformation in the way the city was seen and understood. Parisians discovered a new and amazing world beneath their streets, the imaginary map of the city integrating verticality. Gandy used Rosalind Williams words to emphasize “the poignancy of the vertical axis to our understanding of the cultural appropriation of urban technologies, since the subterranean environment is not only a technological construct, but also ‘a mental landscape, a social terrain, and an ideological map’.”
Likewise, the recent publication of the photographic report on Los Angeles’ original subway tunnels reveals another layer of depth to the complex city’s surface, formed by dwellings, front lawns and freeways. The tunnels are added to oil drillings, quarries and excavations, seismic faults and big scale spreading the ground for local aquifer recharge, and developing a wider thickness of urban imagination.
Water flow through infrastructures imposes its necessary geometry and connects body and landscape, domestic interiors and public spaces with distant territories whose runoff is collected for the city. Simultaneously, urban rainwater and sewage disappear from the urban space through drains, working as a vector for disposal of waste from the urban metabolism. Pipes, dams and reservoirs build invisible links of territorial scale and draw the extension of the city’s ecological frontier, preserving upstream land from development to ensure runoff quality and polluting water bodies that receive the effluent downstream.
Those pipes intertwine with territorial drainage lines to produce a new geography, a flow of water integrating the city with its water basin. The continuity of watercourses, streams and dry riverbeds forms a delicate yet relevant net of lines that goes through the multiple layer moiré that forms the urban thickness.
Among the energy fields that explain water movement in the biosphere, two of them are the most relevant and linked with management: the one related to physical hydraulic power (measurable according to mass and height over the sea level) and the one related to chemical state (measurable by its composition and solution capacity). Vertical movement, due to evaporation by solar radiation, raises the water and removes dissolved substances. All the water states describe a potential energy field, one that starts with rain and descends to the sea, where it reaches its maximum entropy level. These movements, going through layers and connecting ecosystems, activate an enormous variety of processes as they go by.
Urban construction usually works as a landscape desertification process. Ground surface is paved and soils cannot retain rainwater that disappears very quickly from the environment, turning it dry and arid. Local watersheds lose their performance as invisible underground pipes manage runoff. Only occasional puddles, the result of system failures, enrich urban space with shine and reflection. However, under this impervious surface, thousands of cubic meters of diverse kinds of waters move through the soil and interweave infrastructures and living systems to give rise to a particular phreatic, one tat transforms the regional scale of aquatic dynamics. The underground is the amalgamation of all the externalization of urbanization.
Overlapping cartographies from different periods of a settlement enable another approach to the understanding of urban hydrology. Urban patterns, street directions and topography acquire significance from the drainage lines prior to the sewers’ construction. Within historical centers, the transformation of the natural features during urban consolidation has been softer, and so the original topography and soil qualities normally remain. Waterways have defined and conditioned the urban fabric, interweaving with and within it. They have lasted as linear voids until today, sometimes transformed into traffic roads or freeways.
It is interesting to note how the toponymy has fixed through words different states of the urban nature, in which water was part of the public realm. Names such as Ribera de Curtidores, in Madrid, or La Ciénaga Boulevard in Los Angeles, openly refer to hydrology conditions. Blue Road in Drachten, Holland, a project by artist Henk Hofstra, depicts at real scale this palimpsest. The blue line marks along 1000 meters the location of an historical channel, where a road can be currently found.
Banyoles is a town located at the shore of the biggest natural lake in the Iberian Peninsula. Traditionally, water channels from the lake went through the town center to irrigate urban orchards and backyard gardens. In the course of time, as orchards disappeared, the channels were progressively covered and used as sewers, losing the relationship of urban space with its surroundings by means of the water flow. The recently-built renovation project by MiAS Arquitectes reclaims pedestrian and water circulation through the city center. Furrows sculpted in the surface of the new stone pavement give form to a water glide. The irrigation system is now intermittently uncovered and eventually it opens into bigger sections, where children can play as if they in front of the aforementioned puddle.
At metropolitan scale, the plan to restore London’s lost waterways pursues the same aim. The project’s website shows an amazing interactive map of the local watersheds and the river Thames’ tributaries that now flow in pipes under the surface. The plan includes multiple strategies within the whole metropolitan area to restore surface drains and waterways, turning them into a continuous system of outdoor public spaces and enabling water to reactivate ground and air qualities.
By understanding the possibilities of ground surface morphology from the layout of local streams, a richer imagination of urban space emerges, pointing out potential transformations to retain and visualize the enormous patrimony of local water and humidity that rain and runoff are. By watching gravity-led water movement, we can identify foldings and ways defined by topography, and concavities that produce natural lamination. It also shows where spontaneous green could appear as a new “riparian vegetation.” Furthermore, opening underground pipes also activates vertical movements; water infiltrates the soil and nurtures autochthonous vegetation or evaporates into the air.
As David Gissen suggests, this approach can be framed into “a peculiar contemporary moment in which ‘reconstruction’ is the modus operandi for politicized forms of environmentalism” and recover hydraulic performance of the traditional city “marking an engagement or partial reconstruction of the city’s now-irrecoverable earlier form.” Hydrologic conditions have evolved as a part of the gradual construction of urban environment. Water’s quality, volume and frequency patterns are different. Water tables have moved away from surfaces and enormous volumes of supplied water through the underground.
This proposition for public space implies considering rainwater and runoff as an asset for the city. Air pollution and pavement dirt (which include all manner of material resulting from urban metabolism) are swept away by water, very far away from idealistic paradigms of an urban nature, yet closer to the magic and synthetic carpet of delirious New York, or the corrupted biotopes of François Roche. The toughness of the urban environment requires the design of an optimized and technical nature, according to the water we have. Growing Water, a proposal by UrbanLab, envisions the transformation of the Chicago city center into a big treatment machine. Linear eco-boulevards, integrated into an urban grid, operate as a decentralized infrastructure. All the sewage and rainwater treated as it flows through these lines to enable its re-use or its return to Lake Michigan, from where the city’s supply starts. These landscape strips go from the water basin border to the lakeshore. The treatment is made via microorganisms, plants and fish: hydroponic systems and ecological processes for sewage and wetlands as low energy filters for rainwater.
By integrating urban form, hydrological dynamics, overlapping public space and infrastructure, a project of is created of a continuous net of outdoor spaces with new attributes: visualizing systems that support urban life and recover “the productive surface” of the city. Mirko Zardini has emphasized the relevance of the asphalt in the transformation of the urban environment, taking away dust, mud and puddles, but this synthetic carpet is capable of much more. To involve the water flow and evaporation in the design of urban surface would make possible the production of environments and different sensorial conditions. Besides energy efficiency, it would intensify somatic experience and create spatial effects and interferences with the numerous physical, environmental and thermodynamic phenomena that take place around us.
Carolina González Vives in an architect and a PhD Candidate at the School of Architecture of Madrid (ETSAM). She is a design professor at the School of Architecture, University of Alcalá and, during Spring 2012, she was a visiting researcher at the AridLandsInstitute in Los Angeles. She is a regular contributor to digital media on urban planning, sustainability and architecture.
www.gonzalezvives.eu | @gonzalezvives
Ghost Streets and Disembodied Workers in San Francisco
Essay by Chris Carlsson
San Francisco, like all cities, is riddled with ghosts, apparitions, schemes, and fantasies. These invisible artifacts of San Francisco’s culture take many forms, from life-like memories of our dearly departed — whose recollection can stop us in our tracks — to the wild, never-realized visions of builders, planners, and politicians. Lines cut across the urban grid, ghostly footprints of now invisible railroads or former freeways. Even the sudden appearance of long-hidden and forgotten advertising signs can reacquaint contemporary residents with imagery, messages, and perhaps states of mind that our predecessors here knew.
Walking San Francisco’s ghost streets offers the disembodied worker a means of connecting to a very real landscape. Intrepid explorers of San Francisco regularly stumble upon the many ghost streets that still hide all over town, rewarding the patient pedestrian for their diligence. Mostly they are on hillsides where steep grades impeded road building at earlier moments in history, but they’re still presented as if they were through-streets on the maps.
Nineteenth century maps of San Francisco notoriously served the interests of real estate developers and speculators, railroad barons, and city builders. Extensive street grids redefined swamps, mudflats, creeks, and towering sand dunes as a thriving city, but the reality lagged behind the images. On this 1909 map of the Yosemite Creek area, streets going NW/SE are numbered and alphabetized, but they later got real names. The perpendicular grid of alphabetized streets was eventually given real names (similar to what happened in the “outside lands” of the Richmond and Sunset). But on this 1909 map, Jennings, Ingalls, Hawes, Griffith, and Fitch (J, I, H, G, F) are followed southeast into the bay by E, D, C, B, and A streets, and five further blocks with the names, Ship, Dock, Tevis, Von Schmidt, and Pollock before arriving at “Water Front” boulevard. Obviously these streets were never created since the bayfill on which they depended never happened.
We can wonder what role maps play for today’s smart-phone-toting pedestrian. After all, the mystery of getting lost in a city, walking up steep hills in the hope of gaining a view that will help situate one vis-à-vis a familiar landmark, are quickly forgotten with a few taps of the screen. The serendipitous discovery that can enrich the urban flaneur’s derive is jeopardized by the inseparable convenience of the phone that “knows” more than you do. Nevertheless, the streets that seem to be there, even on a very smart phone, often aren’t, and you can’t be sure until you go and have a look in person.
My favorite ghost streets are short blocks, usually either bedecked with amazing gardens tended to by loving neighbors, or else just odd stubs that continue to defy the rigid grid-imposing city planners of days gone by. In these small patches of nature, sometimes groomed, sometimes not, we can free our imaginations from the sterile symmetry imposed by endless blocks of asphalt crisscrossing the city. When we whisper to each other “One Lane for Food” or other equally “preposterous” depaving notions, the ghost streets echo back to us a knowing wink with a survivor’s resilience. Probably the best patch of ghost streets in town is the Filbert Steps and the cross “streets” Napier Lane and Darrell Place. The Grace Marchant Garden that fills most of the Filbert right of way on the east side of Telegraph Hill is one of the true ecological treasures of San Francisco, home too to a big flock of much-celebrated parrots.
I live near 24th and Folsom, which gives me a good staging area for visiting the ghost streets of Potrero Hill, Bernal Heights, and both Noe and Eureka Valleys. A couple of my favorites on Potrero Hill are Kansas between 22nd and 20th, and 19th Street between Rhode Island and DeHaro. Potrero Hill in particular used to be a favorite walk many years ago when you could walk up the hillside below McKinley Square and visit the amazing community garden at Vermont and 20th, or take this Kansas ghost path uphill, continue to 19th, and then go right (east) to the ghost of 19th, popping out above the high school and then skirting the Potrero Commons that once graced the slopes above the old Western Pacific railroad tunnel (the train’s right of way makes another ghost of transit past, cutting diagonally northwest from Potrero Hill through the Showplace Square area before petering out in the confluence of Potrero, Division, 10th, and Brannan Streets…).
An undiscovered treasure on the slopes above today’s Castro District (better known in the past as Eureka Valley), close to the intersection of Corbett and Clayton and the charming garden that’s been planted on the corner, is Al’s Park. This curious ribbon of whimsy and nature rises from the mural on upper Market Street (next to the pink historic Joost House) and emerges on Corbett. My 1995 Thomas Bros. map has it labeled as 19th Street (multiple ghostly incarnations for 19th!), but Google’s Satellite map doesn’t show there as being any public right of way there. Enter Al’s Park from Corbett and enjoy a strange, almost 19th century-feeling slice of eccentric San Francisco land use.
Not too far from Al’s Park on the northern slopes of Eureka Valley is the ghost of Saturn street that plunges from a cul-de-sac, where the street seems to end, into a slope with view benches, two staircases, and lovely landscaping that accompanies one down to Ord Street. Just a few hundred feet to the north are the Vulcan Steps, another of San Francisco’s many amazing public stairways serving private homes with cool, inviting porches and elegant, tree- and flower-filled gardens.
Back on Bernal Heights, where hundreds of new stairs have been installed in the past few years, especially around the rim and the eastern and southern slopes, there’s a long legacy of ghost streets. Peralta and Franconia both start and stop from north to the summit and in the case of Peralta all the way down to the Alemany Farmers’ Market, punctuated by incredible views, stairways, and gardens all the way. An east-west street near the southern edge of the hilltop is Powhattan and it has its own ghost block between Gates and Ellsworth. Further to the southeast, Tompkins Street also has a ghost block between Nevada and Putnam. And probably the best known ghost street on Bernal is Esmeralda, which has a brief life as a thoroughfare on the east side of the summit, but is one of the hill’s most glorious stairways down the west side.
A couple of years ago, down near the bayshore, I joined the India Basin Neighborhood Association for a guided tour, and enjoyed the fantasies and plans of the neighbors juxtaposed to the designs of the (now abolished) Redevelopment Agency for that long-lost corner of the city. India Basin is a favorite haunt of mine, home to Heron’s Head Park, India Basic Open Space, and the historic Albion Brewery. It’s been the main access to the Hunter’s Point Naval Base, but these days, with the rebuilding starting and the naval shipyards long gone, the area is just beginning its gentrification process.
A big roadblock to full-scale upscaling is the dozens of 1940s barracks-style public housing projects at Westbrook and Hunters View. I was struck by the ghost streets here, too, staircases filling the zone that could have been Fitch Street or Griffith Street. But out here the landscape is parched, the neighbors indifferent, and the possibilities of flourishing, permaculturally-designed corridors along the stairs remote at best. Even as native species habitat it was pretty bereft.
Interestingly, the Neighborhood Association presented many ambitious development plans for the area, including a “restaurant row” along Jennings, more offices and shops near the open shoreline at the south side of the basin, and another idea that some find a bit disturbing: Hudson Street is a ghostly presence out there, like a derelict alley running east-west just north of Innes Avenue, the main boulevard. But where it should cross Innes and continue westward up the hill into the Hunters View Projects, there is only a fence to mark the city’s “right of way.” The slope here is a hotspot of native habitat, so aficionados of plants and insects of our original eco-niche are especially interested in saving this hillside from becoming a through street. The Neighbors, for their part, saw a through Hudson Street as a way of relieving the heavy traffic on Hunters Point Blvd and Innes Avenue.
Another ghost street, mostly a specter of fantasizing urban planners, is Earl Street, which runs along the fence separating the India Basin Open Space and some private properties from the former Naval Base. As you can see, it’s just a footpath along the fence for a good part of its life, and where it is a street, it’s more like a private driveway.
Remnant open spaces and undeveloped streets become coveted locations as land prices keep rising and wealth keeps flowing in. Most of the places described here are owned by the public, ghosts of a public commons that once encompassed the entire continent. Now the commons is visible only in garden patches on blocks too steep to pave, and along whimsical stairways masquerading as streets. But perhaps in those nearly extinct remnant spaces a new sense of citizenship and shared public ownership can blossom and expand… only time will tell.
Chris Carlsson is a writer, San Francisco historian, “professor,” bicyclist, tour guide, blogger, photographer, book and magazine designer. He has written two books (After the Deluge, Nowtopia) edited five books, and co-authored the expanded second edition of Vanished Waters: The History of San Francisco’s Mission Bay. He helped co-found Critical Mass in September 1992, and has ridden with Critical Mass rides in a dozen cities on three continents since then.
www.chriscarlsson.com | www.nowtopians.com | @Nowtopian
The Wheel Thing
Short essay by Jim Abele
My bowls are happy to hold a bag of potato chips, and when you get to the guilt-ridden stage of realizing you’ve eaten the bowl’s entire contents, you may look down and see that under the crumbs lies a subtle wax-relief design rendered in a celadon glaze. Look closer and you may even notice the spiral of my index finger, gently creating the waves that capture the grease and salt.
Or don’t. Don’t look. Just hold the vessel in your hands.
I am a potter. A descendant of a long line of craftsmen whose artwork lies vaguely between the decorative and the utilitarian. After weeks of throwing, drying, trimming and repeated firings and glazing, my work does not sit front and center. It is visible only in the sense that it completes a larger design context. My ceramic lamps illuminate the architectural contours of your living room. My vases contain the exotic flowers that resonate with the colors of your name-artist painting on the wall on the opposite side of the room. My bowls hold the change from your after-work pocket.
The stoneware’s weight is solid and strong. It can’t naturally decompose. In fact, it may still be here long after we’ve all gone. Consider that. If you’re lucky enough to be holding a vessel that I’ve left partially unglazed, feel the dramatic shift from smooth and sensuous to rough and exciting. Rub those greasy fingers on the unglazed parts and feel things happen elsewhere in your body. Put your mouth to the lip that I’ve considerately formed to keep liquids from spilling onto your lap. You didn’t notice that by just looking at it, did you? That’s okay. There are so many other pretty things in this room competing against each other to catch your attention.
We potters are drawn to our craft by a force larger than just looks. Our visibility can be as vague as the line between decorative and utilitarian. Or as beautiful as a soft lump of wet clay, spinning away on a wheel.
Jim Abele is a potter who makes his living as an actor. His acting work has taken him from Ibsen on Broadway to the bathtub of an erectile dysfunction commercial. His ceramic work takes its inspiration from the mountains and modernism of his homes in Los Angeles and Palm Springs.
I know I’ve seen the Master Plan
Text by Charlotte Malterre-Barthes from OMNIBUS. Photographs by Lorenz Bürgi.
Photographer Lorenz Bürgi and architect Charlotte Malterre-Barthes of the urban research platform OMNIBUS take us to Skopje, Macedonia, where they focus on the traces of the partially realized 1963 Master Plan proposed by Kenzo Tange after the destruction of the city by a 6.1 earthquake.
“I know I’ve seen the Master Plan”
Drugstore & Tom Yorke -El President (1998)
The fascination exerted by post-communist places never seems to wear off. In the perspective of recently published photographic works such as Frédéric Chaubin’s Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed, Roman Bezjak’s Socialist Modernism and Jan Kempenaers‘s Spomeniks, or the latest collaborative book of Armin Linke and Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss Socialist Architecture: The Vanishing Act, the photographic work of Lorenz Bürgi on Skopje could, at first glance, illustrate further and not more than- the romantic attraction of decaying post-communist concrete architecture. But Skopje, capital of the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia, bears a different past than other cities behind the Iron Gate and a particular relation to architectural and urban utopias.
On a summer morning in 1963, it was reduced to rubble by a 6.1-level earthquake. In the dead of the Cold War, this disastrous event took a significant political turn as Marshall Tito-led Yugoslavian Federation was courted by the USSR -willing to warm up relations after the break-up with Stalin and by Western powers alike. Visiting the city in ruins, Tito told its citizens: “Skopje has endured a terrible catastrophe, but Skopje will be rebuilt with the help of the whole society, it will become a symbol of brotherhood and unity, of Yugoslav and world-wide solidarity”. Indeed, 78 countries gave assistance in several ways: money, expertise, supplies of all sorts, and even in the architectural form. Buildings were offered, not only the Swedish shelters or the Bulgarian-donated Concert Hall, but also a whole new city.
In fact, the UN stepped in and organized an international urban planning competition won by the young Japanese architect Kenzo Tange in 1964. ‘Skopje’s symbolic significance, for Macedonia, for Yugoslavia and for a troubled world, had become so great that the basic decision to rebuild it as a model of all that city planning could be was a foregone conclusion’  reads the United Nation book publishing the results. Skopje was to become a Masterpiece of Master planning. According to the jury report on Tange’s entry, “the main conception … is based upon a contrast between the inner city and the rest of the city center, … [with] a strong framing by large residential buildings which form [the] City Wall …, an imposing building group with [a] transportation loop symbolizing the main City Gate”.  The visionary Japanese had drafted a Metabolist city. What was actually built consistently differs from his concept. There are many reasons on why it so , but what has been built nevertheless left a distinctive mark on Skopje’s urban environment. Visibility of the Master Plan is not to be denied, as the Metabolist hallucination materializes in the public buildings commissioned resulting Tange’s project. Marko Musić’s University (1974), Biro77 National Ballet (1979) or Konstantinov’s Post Office (1974) all followed the guidelines, the programmatic frame, the zoning, the esthetics established by the Master Plan. Even Konstantinovski’s City Archive (1968) and the Student Complex (1969) with its Blade Runner-like towers, both built out of the plan perimeter, cannot be denied legacy to the raw-concrete, massive volumes and visionary design of Tange’s. Nothing illustrates it better than the Transportation Center (1968), which preliminary design has been done by Tange himself and where the decaying state of platforms cannot conceal the powerful gestures of the visionary architect. But while parts of Skopje’s urban fabric is still composed of dense areas of low self-built constructions in local and cheap materials or as the ancient city center constituted with antique ottoman constructions, mosques, minarets and one-floor tiny shops, the Metabolist vision turns to delusion: “Skopje is like a metabolists graveyard full with skeletons of long forgotten dinosaurs, too large for the present, too small for the past.” 
Nearly 50 years after the rebuilding efforts, this photographic essay attempts to identify the traces of the 1963 Master Plan, observing decay, documenting scale clashes but also how the city and its inhabitants have absorbed through daily use and appropriation this somehow distant architectural fantasy, attempting to make it their own.
1. United Nations Development Programme. Skopje Resurgent: The Story of a United Nations Special Fund Town Planning Project (New York: United Nations, 1970).
3. Malterre-Barthes, Charlotte. (2012). Skopje, How context fucked concepts and vice versa. San Rocco. 4 (-), 151-154.
4. Ivan Mirkovski, architect and researcher, Skopje.
OMNIBUS is an urban research platform created in 2009 by Charlotte Malterre-Barthes and Noboru Kawagishi. It is a trans-disciplinary structure, meant to be at crossroads of media, art, politics, illustration, landscape, architecture and urban design. It believes that architecture must open up towards other disciplines and should be political and controversial whenever needed.
Lorenz Bürgi is an architect graduated from ETH Zürich. Parallel to his architectural practice, Lorenz pursues a photograph activity characterized by geo-political interests for offbeat places such as Balkans hinterlands (Albania, Macedonia) and political villains (Burma, Syria, Iran). He often collaborates with the urban research laboratory OMNIBUS.
Essay by Antonio Petrov
“Some company recently was interested in buying my aura. They didn’t want my product. They kept saying, “We want your aura.” I never figured out what they wanted. But they were willing to pay a lot for it. So I thought if somebody was willing to pay that much for it, I should try to figure out what it is.
The figurative transformations of the past decade leave no doubt that architecture is yet in another crisis. The ongoing perceptual alternations of the city continue to mainly respond to stimuli of finance, politics, and speculation. We are still obsessed with [generic] objects that symbolize an era of (Wall Street) speculation. This will not change with Wolf Prix’s Venice Biennale faux pas, or the equally hypocritical responses leaving architecture more and more indifferent. It seems as if the popularity of architecture still is in disproportion of what architects believe should be the influence of architecture. Despite the attempts of a new generation architecture still is disenchanted and politically powerless to effectively contributions to the cultural geography of cities across the globe. Sometimes I wonder why we wallow in nostalgia and wonder what happened to the mystical and indescribable qualities of our cities that no ‘second hand’ version will ever be able to replace. Disillusioned by our own inability to ‘effectively’ contribute to the built environment we only serve with an architectural aesthetic no one understands ourselves. Paradoxically, these misconceptions of our cities and the production of more and more objects, for better or worse, leave us with the question what significance can architecture aspire to in a world that is no longer constituted by ideas and motivations of the city?
For that purpose Skopje, 1963 and 2014, perfectly embodies what I believe to be artificially constructed architectural schemes that are based on the disillusions of architects and planners operating in a cultural vacuum.  The architectural discourse is shifting its emphasis from production into re-production of formal systems that are purely based on (imaginary) ideological characteristics manifested in the history of someone’s future (1963), and the future of someone’s history (2014). For Skopje there is more at stake than just a re-imagined history, or future. The question is: Is it possible to experience cultural identity through the “migration”  of a replicated aura? And, can, or should, history, absorbed by the fabric of the city be replicated? I argue that 1963 and 2014 do not avail themselves as “valid terms of the city,”  and that their visibility symbolizes the disengagement from the contingencies of culture, place, and time.
In 1963, a strong earthquake turned Skopje’s rich history into rubble. Skopians did not only loose their “social existence,”  the quake also evaporated the cities memory of intellectual spatiality. In dire need of house and home, Skopje embraced the world’s solidarity (The City of Solidarity) but also had to realize that its own destiny was sliding out of its hands. Parenthesized between the political powers of East and West, the natural catastrophe provided politicians and architects of the 1960s generation the anticipated big-blast scenario necessary to implement the ultimate urban design utopia: a city for the future hovering above terra firma overwriting the factual city.  The elevated ground gesture of the Skopje-metabolism was Kenzo Tange’s winning design for a new city invention. Eager to form an organic body Tange’s fusion of man and machine proposed a megastructure that reorganized Skopje and formed a parallel habitat lifted above the ground leaving the culturally rich Skopian as an ‘unemployed citizen’ floating over the remnants of a now non-existent past.
In 2014, it seems as if the past that was buried deep underground resurrected into a future of history. Based on the new plan, Skopje 2014 distinguishes itself by an invasion of countless sculptures, churches, and a number of re-historicized buildings, including a copy of an Arc de Triomphe, Porta Makedonija. [Fig. 6] Like in a Roland Emmerich movie alien objects invade the city in the mist of nebulous political action. Inspired by grand metropolises the planners of the city’s future imagine a habitat for the Skopians filled with monuments and sculptures.
Instead of utilizing Tange’s existing city in the sky, they dug deep down into the ground to build the new foundation of Skopje on remnants of a questionable past. The political cognizance and the untraceable mishmash of General Urbanistic Plans (GUP) and Detail Urbanistic Plans (DUP) produced a master-matrix, and a not so surgical implementation that will leave the people of Macedonia with a 200-million Euro price tag.
One might wonder what this means for the future of a city that historically saw its social existence by-passed by “the good will and good intentions”  of modern, and now ultra-neo-whatever-classical ideologues. Is this a city––with an existence perceived as nothing but a shallow reflection of an original that never existed––in search of identity under the scrutiny of agglomerated architectural “fields-of-meaning?” 
In the process of creating (and reproducing) new terms for a city, the idea of the ‘original’ in Skopje only seems to exist in imaginary realms. The original is what Skopje remembers as the past, and the factual city as heterotopic. This is a quite fascinating point of reference for a city that can claim to be the only implemented metabolist plan in the world. But what is this worth when the role of the citizens to form their own city collapses into a passive spectatorship with a population standing on the sidelines watching their urbs dissolve its essence into a state of no longer being. The “being-only-once”  city and its vitality no longer belong to anyone, its history evaporated into utopia, and its future is an abortion. The de- and re-historization of 1963 and 2014 imposes itself between symbolism, reality and the imaginary, leaving the city with a mish-mash of symbolic gestures superimposed over one another in space and time. The 1963 signification of “meaning and representation”  elicited the 2014 reaction to “disappearance of meaning and representation.”  This fatal process with no immanence of images and transcending meanings distorts the dialectic of history, and our present perception of the city. Architecture demands presence, and while it is possible to challenge the presence of objects, the presence of architecture, even in virtual terms, is concerned with the metaphysics of being. 
Skopje stands at a crucial intersection examining the temptations of both “pasts” as a means to visibly diagnose the future. Will the city withstand its search for identity with its head in the ground, or up in the sky, or will it be able to develop a critical relationship toward its own self, liberated from the contingencies of a revived history to activate potentials for contemporary questions?
It is evident that the new images present the disappearance of Skopje’s authenticity; they signify a city struggling mainly with its own identity, and the cultural forces producing it. Every society needs to form its own city in which aspirations of “social existence” are constituted in presentness determined by relationships between object and subject, real and imaginary, and history and future.  The city, once again, is in dire need of a house and a home founded on a material presence that relies on cultural, socio-economic, and political processes as a reflection of basic realities to establish relationships between culture and values, embodied in architecture that reconfirms the hegemony of culture that can help assure its continuity. 
The following examples exemplify the processes of cultural production, and illustrate how appearance and reality are informed by instances of (replicated) presence in various contexts. 
1. Jacques-Louis David’s presentation at the Salon in Paris exhibited his historic paintings in a showcase placed opposite a “psyche mirror.” His installation with a mirror as a medium of self-reflection gave the ordinary citizen on the street the opportunity to participate in history and art at the same time. David placed the viewer between the mirror and the painting, and allowed the reciprocity to unfold history, and give it in the present a meaning.  The mirror-reflection positioned the spectator within the painting, and displayed a reorientation of self-definition of the subject toward a history depicted by the artist. David’s concept absorbed the viewer within the painting and the ‘psyche mirror’ mobilized active participation in the production of meaning.
2. The German architects von Gerkan, Marg and Partners conceptualized the role of history and meaning embodied in appearance and reality in the Janus Schloss design. In 2000, the architects proposed a fusion of history and future in a contemporary skin on the site of the former Berlin Stadtschloss. Throughout modern history this site in the heart of Berlin changed its identity from an eighteenth century baroque City Palace to a twentieth century Palace of the Republic, until its still unresolved presence today. After the fall of the Berlin Wall an intensive public discussions evolved around this symbolically important site. Many voices wanted to demolish the symbol of communist power and replace it with a replica of the historic Stadtschloss. Others suggested to renovate the asbestos contaminated structure and open it to the public and the arts as a forum for democracy.
Von Gerkan’s unrealized design, a synthesis of reconstruction and new building imagined an impression of the old Stadtschloss in its original urban volume in which the shape of the castle appears as a virtual image on the façade. Inspired by Janus, a guardian from the Roman mythology, the architecture of the Schloss had the ability to look simultaneously into the history and the future, and break with the figuration between object, subject, spatial, and temporal proximities. The perception of the historic volume and the materialization of the silhouette of the old Stadtschloss emerged like a Mirage and changed its appearance with the distance of the viewer to the object. The Schloss perceptible from the distance changes into a “tinted high-tech façade” in close proximity gives the viewer the opportunity to experience history through space and time. The expansion of appearance and reality into a presence with an imaginary history produces an effect that is a historic relic and a contemporary document at the same time.
These instances between object and subject, and history and future require different frameworks to analyze antithetic conditions that negate each other, or provoke uncertainties in the object by removing both the architect and the user from any necessary control of the subject. David’s psyche mirror gave the beholder a moment between the imaginary and the real; an instant in which one could make sense of location, subject and object, whether imaginary, symbolic, or real. Whereas, the sophistication of the Janus Schloss project allows all of those conditions to take place in instances of which one has the choice between history and future as an active experience through space and time. The injection of illusion makes a new reality possible, and the pastiche of the past, or the future, allows a new sense for individually inscribed authenticity re-inflating the collapsed unreal providing us new aesthetics of reality.
Tange’s weakness during the development of the design for Skopje became fifty years later the strength of his proposal. His design set rules in which the relationship of the referent- (meaning) to production, and the larger system to the individual determined a monospheric framework in which the Macedonian ought to be New Babylonian, liberated himself from a “nomadic art-colony”  to own spaces Tange didn’t consider in his design. The hybridization between the ultra-material and the abstract became the characteristic expression in the representation of sensations and movements. Both, the 1963 and the 2014 schemes make clear that “materiality like almost every feature of our environment is to a large extent a cultural construction”  inscribed in current cultural and economic trends.
That the city is out of breath is not the fault of people trying to make a living below the gesture of a city. Skopje is not a “life-conditioned”  Gesamtkunstwerk, nor is it the backyard of a polarizing sculpture garden. Skopje metabolism became Skopje, and its weakness provided a platform that made it a fantastic scheme allowing Skopians to own utopia. 2014 is not utopia, nor is it a vision, but it’s a voice that needs to be heard. The current city is neither an abortion nor a project. The citizens need to resist the intellectualist vanity that acts out the arrogance of the Gesamtkuenstler, or the indifference of the life-conditioner. Architecture must address the city even when the city has no goal for architecture. In this sense, the city is ultimately the only object and method of architectural investigation that serves the culture it is part of.
Skopje is the host and needs to realize that the city is the place it was born into. The people of Skopje own this newly invented city in transition from the past into the future.  And at this point who cares that Skopje started as a city of the future? On one hand, the city is a ghost that only exists as being-only-once in our imagination. On the other hand, its presence is sensuous and concrete, living and vital, taking on forms and shapes in all its expressions and embodiments. In this sense, 2014 is a product of a society that gave birth to it. Maybe the discussion about 2014 should not be about the fact that parts of the population (symbolically) living in the 1963 part of the city want to rebuild memories from the past that exist in the quarter across the river. Instead of creating images of the past in an unprecedented manner, we should start thinking about how the city of 1963, and the city of 2014, finally can become one city for everyone: celebrating an order that is mystical, imaginary, utopian and real as the ideal form of representation. Whether we like it or not, maybe 2014 is the aura Skopje never had, it’s own-own expression, and it’s social code in which it isn’t even produced by nature, but immediately reproduced. And maybe if we keep pushing the copy of a copy, we will eventually catch up with the present and ask ourselves: is the image of myself in the mirror who I want to be?
1. Alexander, C. (1965). “A City is not a Tree.”
2. Latour, B. (2005). The Migration of the aura, or how to explore the original through its facsimiles. Switching Codes. T. Bartscherer. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
3. Sloterdijk, P. (2007). “Foam City: About Urban Multitudes.” New Geographies(0): 151.
4. Lefebvre, H. (1991). The Production of Space. Oxford, OX, UK ; Cambridge, Mass., USA, Blackwell.
5. Sloterdijk, P. (2007). “Foam City: About Urban Multitudes.” New Geographies(0): 151.
6. Rowe, C. and F. Koetter (2001). Collage city. Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.
7. Alexander, C. (1965). “A City is not a Tree.”
8. Latour Ibid.
9. Baudrillard, J. (1993). The Evil Demon of Images and the Precession of Simulacra. Postmodernism : a reader. T. Docherty. New York, Columbia University Press: 194-199.
11. Baudrillard, J., Iibid. Architecture, or its simulacrum, resists false pretentions, and communicates and distinguishes between reflections of “basic reality, the perversion of basic reality (the image is an evil appearance, inaugurating an age of simulation, when the real is no longer what it used to be nostalgia assumes its real meaning), masking the absence of basic reality (plays at being an appearance), and the image bears no relation to any reality whatsoever, the image is its own pure simulacrum (no longer in order of appearance but of simulation).” Baudrillard
12. Rosalind Krauss and Michael Fried’s: presentness was a moment, which collapsed time into the inexorable present, where there was no difference between thinking and experience.
13. Hays, K. M. (1984). “Critical Architecture: Between Culture and Form.” Perspecta 21: 15-29.
14. A detailed description of these precedents is of limited interest, but to be comprehensive I will outline their main ideas.
15. Lajer-Burcharth, E. (1999). Necklines : : the art of Jacques-Louis David after the Terror. New Haven [Conn.], Yale University Press.
16. Sloterdijk, P. (2007). “Foam City: About Urban Multitudes.” New Geographies(0): 151.
17. Picon, A. “Architecture and the Virtual: Towards a New Materiality.” Praxis 6(6).
18. Baird, G. (1998). La Dimension Amoureuse in Architecture. Architecture theory since 1968. K. M. Hays. Cambridge, Mass, MIT Press: 36-55.
19. Doxiadis, K. o. A., J. G. Papaioannou, et al. (1975). Ecumenopolis : the inevitable city of the future. New York, Norton.
Antonio Petrov received his doctoral degree in the history and theory of architecture, urbanism and cultural studies from Harvard University. He is the director of WAS, a think tank located in Chicago, the co-founder and current editor-in-chief of New Geographies, a Harvard University journal, and the founder and editor-in-chief of DOMA, a bilingual magazine published in Macedonia. He currently teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
I Did This in Twenty Steps
Short essay by Mark McGinnis
Being visible as an artist and designer means you constantly have to provide new material, new ideas to the table. Your work may seem invisible at first but as long as you constantly overlap the old with the new, your work, old and new, will become more visible. This represents that pattern of overlap and the more visible arrows represents your stronger work, the translucencies within the arrows are your earlier older ideas and how they have influenced your newest work.
Mark McGinnis’sillustrations betray his fascination with the corporate workplace, culture and politics. Informed by his background in printmaking, Mark’s hand-drawn and painted images use simple lines and allegorical themes. He lives in Brooklyn where he creates visually and metaphorically rich images for design, advertising and editorial.
www.mistermcginnis.com | @howaboutthis
The Limits of Google
Project by Pedro Hernández
‘What is not in Google does not exist’.
Google has become the source of all knowledge. It is an incomprehensible mass that grows and covers everything. One of its most popular tools is Street View, which allows you to see or walk in remote areas via the computer screen. But, does actually it go as far as it looks?
For example, if we use Street View to observe the city of Madrid and decide to look for ‘slums,’ we can see them in the satellite view, but if we want to travel through these areas, everything changes. The Google car stops and fails to gain access to these spaces. We can’t view what is happening inside.
We are faced with a situation of invisibility. These areas live at the limits of Google… and at same time, in the analog world, we are at the border, the edge of a social, economic and urban existence.
A project originally produced for lagaleriademagdalena www.lagaleriademagdalena.com
Pedro Hernández is an architect and blogger who tries to redefine his interests beyond the traditional labor market. His work focuses on landscape and architecture as political weapons, and how they prioritize certain ways of life.
periferiadomestica.tumblr.com | @laperiferia
Visions Through Data
Research and cartography by Pablo Martínez and Mar Santamaría
The image of the city by day is continuous and made up of traces of the past, raising awareness of a social order which is visible by means of architecture. On the contrary, at night, perception is based on the understanding of lighted fragments which often are historical buildings but also banks, supermarkets and petrol stations. These elements are now building our landscape and our visible memory of night-time, through individual images.
If landscape is an abstract idea based on “what we see” when we look at a territory, nightscape is hardly landscape. In the words of Javier Maderuelo , landscape is the link that enables us to interpret the qualities of a territory or place in cultural and aesthetic terms. But at night darkness makes our perceivable reality disappears, transforming our sensible environment. What happen then with landscape, understood as a conscious gaze that is built between us (individuals) and our milieu, when night falls?
The visualizations that follow are the first results of “Atnight”, a research that seeks to respond to questions raised about the existence of nightscape. A night-time landscape that must be addressed from its potential ability to be, making visible what we are unable to see in the darkness or what remains dormant under the sunlight.
“Atnight” aims to explore the potential of representation techniques of the city image by developing a night cartography (focused in Barcelona), taken as a process of experimentation of the own drawing tools that enables us to assign geometry and measure to intangible aspects of the reality, making the invisible visible (drawing intangibles).
In this sense, data visualization has emerged as a key tool for urban design thinking that harnesses the immense power of visual communication in order to explain, in a transversal manner, the relationships of meaning, cause and dependency established between citizens and their environment.
Moreover, the need for further description of landscape as a cognitive and sensitive relationship between people and their environment creates a new context for identification of citizens with their territory which is based in digital technologies. According to the irruption of the smart city model, the process of “identity construction” has apparently changed trough social technologies that have intimately hybridized our behaviors towards the environment.
Given that recent technological developments have led to the consolidation of an urban model which unfolds the use of sensors of all kind to monitor urban life in real time (weather, traffic, flow of people, contamination, etc.), what if these same digital achievements allow us to use the data in reverse, enabling a creative process to build a common imaginary from the collective and collaborative contribution?
In this regard, “Atnight” not only uses data visualization to set up a possible interpretation of night values but also to generate a model of intervention which unveils the possible landscapes hidden behind the visible. We believe that the opportunity to lay the basis of nightscape design and other intangible assets involves the construction of a valid representation of itself. A model according to which we could share, discuss and develop ideas, that should transcend from singular to shared experience, by means of an abstraction process that should teach us to look at the territory with aesthetic interest.
The following images  aim to be a first step towards building the image of the night, a necessary first contribution to the (re)definition of the nigh-time identity. Through the development of an interpretive model, which should be able to establish a link between thought and real world, “at night” landscape would be explored as a possible model of intervention to other invisible landscapes which make up our intangible heritage.
Night landscape is in the eye of the beholder.
The first set of views show an initial approach to the visible structure of the city, obtained by mapping geolocated information stored on Flickr. At first glance, the image may seem a satellite image of Barcelona as we are able to recognize the main elements of its urban morphology (mountain and coastal geography and territorial and urban axis). But a more accurate approach reveals a loss of compactness in favor of the uniqueness of certain areas which are represented by a higher density of points, which have been superimposed according to different grade of opacity. The evocative power of this image invites us to rethink the framework that lies beyond urban materials and patterns.
The image of the city
Like other instruments and methods of representation, the aerial view reflects and constructs the world. What is revealed in this extensive visual panorama of Barcelona, which has been drawn from the previous data assigning a sphere of influence to each point, is an organic interdependency between physical and visual structure of the city. If the Pla Cerdà has given Barcelona its urban form based on a bidirectional pattern (mountain-sea), this aerial view plays on certain abstraction such as making visible strategic organizations of elements across the ground plane or revealing certain interrelational structures that are not visible in Cerda’s layout. In this sense, we could probably affirm that most visible areas design the shape of the city as perceived by their inhabitants and visitors. Monuments like Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell or Agbar Tower and large public spaces as Plaça Catalunya or Plaça dels Àngels construct a synoptic image of Barcelona.
Barcelona night and day
If previous images possess an internal eloquence while revealing aspects of the land that would otherwise remain hidden or unseen, the following step demand to decode the city in terms of night and day perception by assigning color to each point according to time of day (blue for the night and orange for the day). The resulting representation shows us that day time maintains the rigor of continuity trough the basic grid of streets (La Rambla-Passeig de Gracia, Paral·el) and its associated monuments while night perception produce a discontinuous but complex and varied city which extends from the center to the periphery. This first experience raises questions about the configuration of the nocturnal image of the city that, although it remains the same in its materiality, it is completely altered in appearance, not only in color but in the hierarchies of elements that compose the urban form: values, reference items and, in general, any dimension of limit.
In contrast to the previous set of images where the shape of the city was perfectly recognizable based on most visible areas or night and day perception, the last representation in the series harbor a more poetic and creative potential. The cartogram of Barcelona, which is a deformation of the layout of the city according to the density of points within a grid of 130 x 130 m, reveals that perception is more continuous in the boundaries of the city as the alteration between night and day appearances is higher in the center than in the periphery. In the same regard, day perception is based on the uniqueness of certain central areas (Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell and Plaça Catalunya are the most distorted sites) while at night city takes the form of multiple focus which apparently could seem anonymous places in a map, but actually uphold urban identity. As a first conclusion, we could affirm that nightscapes are built upon presences and absences, the latter understood not as gaps in the mesh of the visible but as the basis on which the visible is based.
The inscriptions, additions, and deletions that we subsequently make to these maps embody, however, an attempt to acknowledge the primacy of visual image in the forging of the nightscapes while revealing the fictional and metaphorical dimensions of the night construction. These first results will be further completed by a new set of data visualization based on information stored in social networks
with the ultimate aim of generating a model of intervention which unveils other possible landscapes.
1. MADERUELO, Javier (2005), El Paisaje. Génesis de un concepto, Abada, Madrid.
2. This first series of images have been obtained based on data stored on Internet from Flickr and geoprocessed (GIS) by Pablo Martínez Díez and Mar Santamaria Varas with the collaboration of Jordi Bari Corberó (data expert).
Pablo Martínez is an architect based in Barcelona who concentrates his activity around light. His work focuses on design of objects and spaces, engaging himself in various architectural, curatorial and artistic projects, in order to generate a critical dialogue on the role of lighting through teaching and research (Atnight project). He has received several awards for his work.
www.pablomartinezdiez.net | www.atnight.ws | @300000kms
Mar Santamaría is an architect based in Barcelona who focuses her activity on research and teaching (ETSAB). Her theoretical and educational activity investigates the understanding of new territorial and urban processes through landscape projects. She has engaged herself in the development of new cartography tools to represent urbanity (Mirades Urbanes and Atnight project).
www.marsantamaria.net | www.miradesurbanes.net | www.atnight.ws