In Context | Chris Berthelsen
In-Context in Context
I am sitting next to a man who used to be the oldest registered architect in New Zealand, and Company Architect for New Zealand’s once-monolithic Winstone Group.  In between nodding-off and perking up, blood infusions, pills, and cheese-on-toast I absorb fine details of company headquarters to copper church steeples, remote holiday homes to gib-board factories, gin-toting bosses’ wives, and secretaries sleeping under drawing boards.
In this context I find it hard to dangle multiple tabs and try to scrape some personal meaning from the diverse archives of MAS Context; Petro-urbanism/ city branding/ networked subjects/ securitization/ melancholy/ curation as critical practice/ democratizing technologies/ these were not considered while supervising the construction of a rural New Zealand tile factory, or when self-building his homes in Auckland (then without basic services, now highly sought-after beachside suburban spot). But I can, in his life, see how the architect as a designer/builder, manager, craftsman, friend and antagonist plays a part in pockets, blocks and tracts of the city and country. At the moment, I feel like I can gain more rare insight into questions of place in time, history, landmarks, communication, and “who and what defines the city” by talking to him rather than drying out my eyes on e-readings. (I’m sorry).
His life-drawing is shit (failed undergrad courses bear witness) but he is on-point concerning the dead art of by-hand draftsmanship (Image 01) and will locate the discrepancies in a set of working drawings with precision…. My childhood was infused with German artifacts in antipodean suburbs – Staedtler (Mars Magno, Mars Plastic, Pigment Liner), Rotring (Radiograph, Kapillarpatrone); and tracing paper, masking tape, t-squares, scale rules, razors, and sandpaper (Image 02).
A consequence of Nurture (perhaps), I prefer to work in diagrams that provide structure to coherent inputs – Writing is a burden. My sentences barely let themselves be scraped out, and are often hallucinogenic.
Further I guzzle through words, but retain them as if I hadn’t. Trying to sense-make MAS Context on these long, slow days caring for a solid-as-a-rock practitioner feels like it will sink me.
My makeshift arrangement, then, to respond to the treasured invitation to contribute to In Context involves scratching, then sketching (Image 03), through previous editions to divine points of meaning. Trying to grasp what more lucid minds behold. Towards loci of shared understanding. Noting connections and pathways that draw lines of coherence. It is my always-selfish practice of pocketing traces of other peoples ideas for my own use.
My semi-arbitrary plottings (Image 04) suggest myriad pathways through which to understand how others have taken on the archives of this publication. This soothes me greatly.
I move from history, through transmedia landscapes, to a trinity of communication, translation, and curation – the suggestion that the blurry and ambiguous open doors to the new and unexpected reassures me. Regarding history as an affront to the now brings me to think about a present that is a utopia that speeds up and passes us, all the while having history folded back into it. At the foundation of my scratched mess (lower part of Image 04) are the real actions of humans in the tension between authorities and activism, located in the broader aspects of politics and place, contextual crises and consequences, and social practices that work on the question of city definition.
For my work, there are useful traces here in ideas of place in time, history, melancholy, unconventional practices, and energy. You can find your own.
Letters in square brackets are the initials of in-context articles used in the sketching of the above digram – BC (Brendan Crain), DA (Diego Arraigada), DPR (DPR-Barcelona) JA (Javier Arbona), MK (Michael Kubo), MS (Martine Syms), MW (Mason White), MZ (Mimi Zeiger), TS (Tomas Skovgaard)
Download a high-res version from here.
Sketching out the ideas of many, tabbing through the archives of MAS Context, I got caught up in my own flights of fancy – logistics orifices, altered proximity, the contemporary informational sublime, and genealogy and meditation in Japanese architecture. These topics caught my eye at the start. They remind me of my scrappy academic past in economics and international business, a pleasurable time researching the Tokyo landscape, and tawdry experiences in designing for online retail.
But really, I don’t have the skills or the mental tools to work with this stuff. I’m sorry. Enjoy the diagram!
My left ear conduits useful advice: “Always check your boundary pegs” “Get in a registered tradesman.”
Anyway, Thanks, Dad
1. To the best of my knowledge.
2. A firm that “literally create[d] New Zealand cities from the ground up”, according to folklore and the company website.
Essay by architect Deborah Richmond
Issue: 16 | PRODUCTION WINTER 12
THE DISAPPEARING ARCHITECT: FOUR MOVES TOWARDS INVISIBILITY
Text by Ya´el Santopinto and Jonathan Wong
Issue: 15 | VISIBILITY FALL 12
LOOKING FOR A THEORY OF REAL-TIME KNOWLEDGE
Essay by Troy Conrad Therrien
Issue: 11 | SPEED FALL 11
Essay by architect Ioanna Angelidou
Issue: 9 | NETWORK SPRING 11