Critical Engineering Summer Intensives

tower1[Image: Original photographer unknown].

The Critical Engineering Summer Intensives offered in Berlin this summer sound fascinating. They kick off in the second half of August, and include topics like biosurveillance, software-defined radio, and “offline publishing.”

Software-defined radio is easily the course I would take:

In this 2 day intensive, participants will learn how to use a 12 Euro USB dongle with free and open-source software to read, record and appropriate a vast world of signal around them. From weather satellite imagery to the International Space Station, police and military radio, pirate and amateur bands, software-defined radio allows for a laptop to become a powerful ear into a world otherwise unheard by the devices we use.
Outdoor excursions with antennae will be made to ensure participants have real-world experience discovering and recording RF phenomena. Skills, terms and concepts learned are then directly applicable to further self-learning in areas such as DIY cellular infrastructure, pirate and packet radio, radio-astronomy and wireless counter-surveillance.

Read about the other seminars and find sign-up details over at their website.

(Via @julian0liver).

Documents, Maps, and Files of a Fictional Architecture

[Image: The Nesin Map by Protocol Architecture].

One of the more interesting student projects I’ve seen in a long time used a “document-based” approach to architecture to fabricate an entire fictional world—one in which top secret underground research labs, militarized bacteria, artificial earthquakes, and much more were all found conspiring beneath the streets of Berlin, Baghdad, and Istanbul.

A group project by three students at Columbia’s GSAPPYuval Borochov, Lisa Ekle, and Danil Nagy, under the guidance of professor Ed KellerProtocol Architecture was pitched as a team that “investigates potentials for future design through the creation and analysis of hyper-fictional documents. These document sets create evidence for future scenarios that string together a specific history of political, social, and technological developments.” As such, Protocol’s work becomes less architectural than it is archival:

By focusing on the space of the document, we can avoid simplistic predictions of the future while creating a database of potential evidence which can be analyzed and interpreted by a wider audience of designers.

The resulting fictional archives—or “fabricated histories,” as the architects describe them—allowed the group to question “the role that fact and evidence plays in how we perceive our own history and our place as designers within it.”

[Image: The Nesin Map (detail) by Protocol Architecture].

As Yuval Borochov explained to me in an email: “Protocol Architecture is a forum for investigations that challenge the traditional design process and situate every project in its own tangential line of history. We found that… the design opportunities within the plot holes of history are quite liberating. You know, I read a statement by Rem Koolhaas, in a book of his conversation with Peter Eisenman, where he explains his attempts to become the ‘architect as journalist.’ I think Protocol Architecture is akin to this mode of operation. Perhaps architects as historiographers.”

Their semester’s worth of work was remarkably varied—and mind-bogglingly prolific—and it can all be explored on their website. However, I want to focus here on three aspects of their document-based approach: The Rühmann Notebook, The Nesin Map, and The Wilbert Contracts.

Before I go much further, though, I have to say that I genuinely think this approach—and the resulting work—bears comparison to books by writers like China Miéville or Franz Kafka, even filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro, for whomever might find those coordinates intriguing. These fictional documents frame entirely self-contained imaginary worlds, and each one of these ideas deserves radical expansion elsewhere, in forms beyond architectural design; as such, they seem at least as appropriate for discussing with a literary agent as they are with the dean of an architecture school.

[Image: The Rühmann Notebook by Protocol Architecture].

The Rühmann Notebook
The first part of Protocol Architecture’s project, the so-called Rühmann Notebook, was produced, we’re told, in early 2002 when Berliner Martina Rühmann “documented her observations of a linear pathway across former East Berlin. The path connected the Berlin Wall in the north to the wall in the south, cutting across the site of the former Palace of the Republic.”

What Rühmann’s mapping project allowed her to discover was a linear network of “small but prominent science research centers” beneath the surface of the city.

It was believed that the hidden route (subsequently discovered and documented by Rühmann) was used for communication and transfer of scientific documents and material in the 1970s and 1980s between the East and West, a time when West German scientists were making significant early discoveries in the fields of microbiology and nanotechnology.

The story here has shades of Lebbeus Woods—for instance, Woods’s ingenious proposal for a film called Underground Berlin. That film revolves around a disillusioned architect, a missing twin brother, neo-Nazi activities in the divided city of Berlin, metallic underground tunnels connecting east to west, and “a top-secret underground research station rumored to be somewhere beneath the very center of Berlin.” There are even rogue planetary scientists investigating “tremendous, limitless geological forces active in the earth.”

In any case, Rühmann’s labs, we learn, were studying bacterial technologies—specifically the use of Bacillus Pasteurii, “a bacteria with adhesive qualities… to stabilize ground in earthquake-prone cities,” and Shewanella, “a bacteria capable of naturally producing electrically conductive nano-tube filaments, now able to produce nano-electric devices.” The architectural implications of these bacterial species begin to loom large in the overall narrative. (If you like the sound of this, by the way, don’t miss Magnus Larsson’s work, featured here on BLDGBLOG in April 2009, or our earlier look at geobatteries).

The locations of these underground biotechnological seismology research labs are what we see documented in the The Rühmann Notebook. The “notebook” itself consists of photos and notes collaged inside a Moleskine.

[Image: Istanbul’s Galata Tower, as depicted on ephemera related to The Nesin Map by Protocol Architecture].

The Nesin Map
We now move from Berlin to Istanbul, where The Nesin Map documents a seemingly unrelated network of “concealed buildings” in the city:

Harem Nesin, a Turkish journalist for the Istanbul newspaper Dünya Gazetesi, began photographing concealed buildings in Istanbul sometime in 2017 for his personal records. The buildings captured by Nesin had recently been destroyed by a fire or evacuated due to some other instability of the structure, and were later covered by scaffolding, tarps, or screens. Nesin correlated his collection of photographs to a map of Istanbul, indicating the location of each abandoned building. Through the mapped locations Nesin discovered a triangular geometric pattern across a portion of the city on the European side, from the Golden Horn to the Bosphorus. Nesin used the Galata Tower as a place to survey the buildings in question, indicated by his collage of aerial photographs taken from the Tower. Additionally, in his observations Nesin recorded the means of concealment (tarp, wood, fence, screen) and the address for each structure.

First of all, this is an amazing set-up for a story, somewhere between Borgesian urban paranoia and Debordian psychogeography; and, second, the map itself is very, very cool. Here are the two images of it again.

[Images: The Nesin Map by Protocol Architecture].

So what did Nesin discover as he correlated his data and began to map it all out? A diagrid of “injection points” located at geologically precise points around Istanbul: “Harem Nesin’s map reveals strategic locations used by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality as injection points for Bacillus Pasteurii, a microbe able to transform sand into sandstone by depositing calcite (calcium carbonate) throughout the granules, fusing them together.”

The authorities, in other words, were earthquake-proofing the city from below, in “the first application of the bacteria, which had been under development since the mid 1970s through joint research between Germany and the US.”

The Wilbert Contracts
Finally, to Baghdad. The The Wilbert Contracts are a series of files tracing the work of John Wilbert and Co., a quasi-military subcontractor working on a project for Monsanto “between the years 2028 and 2031” in Iraq. Monsanto’s SoilStone® initiative used soil-stabilization biotechnologies to replace concrete walls with more flexible barriers, such as elastic membranes and bacterially-activated sand (i.e. SoilStone®).

[Images: The Wilbert Contracts by Protocol Architecture].

We learn, however, that “linear connections can be perceived” between the multiple sites at which Wilbert and Co. used this technology—indeed, “certain documents from the US Army which are still classified imply that underground tunnel systems were dug between 2028 and 2030.”

It is further inferred, the architects explain, that “pre-programmed nano-bots” were being used in the project as construction machines, selectively injecting Bacillus Pasteurii bacteria into the sands. This technique thus created a semi-mobile, makeshift system of subterranean spaces through which the US military could move. The Army is down there, in other words, stabilizing classified tunnels beneath the streets.

[Images: From Berlin 2050 by Protocol Architecture].

In the end, after a fascinating internal design competition that I simply don’t have the time to cover here—with a jury that included Reza Negarestani of Cyclonopedia fame and Jamie Kruse of smudge studio, among many others, and with entries that ranged from sentient clouds of nano-flies to stabilized earthquakes as a form of urban planning—the group assembled all of their ideas into a proposal for underground spaces in Berlin. These final proposals, however, as well-rendered as they are, simply don’t hold the imaginative appeal for me that the earlier studio material all but burns with.

And that’s the rub: at the end of the day, most architecture students—unsurprisingly—think they have to take this stuff, put it all together, and produce something clearly definable as a building. But the research, in many cases, is more worthy of attention (and well worth the time it takes to produce it). In other words, the research—the preliminary material, the periphery, the narrative excess, the unwanted fringe—is very often most provocative before it becomes a building, when that inchoate mass of possible future projects, storylines, techniques, and more offers a million alternative directions in which we have yet to go.

[Image: The Wilbert Contracts by Protocol Architecture].

I only say this here because it is extraordinarily exciting to see a project like this, that out-fictionalizes the contemporary novel and even puts much of Hollywood to shame—to realize, once again, that architecture students routinely trade in ideas that could reinvigorate the film industry and the publishing industry, which is all the more important if the world of private commissions and construction firms remains unresponsive or financially out of reach. The Nesin Map alone, given a screenwriter and a dialogue coach, could supply the plot of a film or a thousand comic books—and rogue concrete mixtures put to use by nefarious underground militaries in Baghdad is an idea that could be optioned right now for release in summer 2013. HBO should produce this immediately.

My point is not that architecture students should somehow be expected to stop doing the very thing they are in school for—i.e. to learn how artificial enclosures are designed and constructed. I just mean that they should never overlook the interest of their own preliminary ideas, notes, sketches, and scenarios. After all, with just a well-timed email or elevator pitch, all of that stuff—all those bulletin boards, browser tabs, sketchbooks, notes from late-night conversations, site maps, and more—needn’t become just more crap to get filed away in your parents’ house somewhere, but could actually be turned into the seed of a film, novel, game, or comic book in another cultural field entirely.

Don’t give up on your ideas—and don’t overlook the value of something simply because it can’t be turned into a building.

Check out Protocol Architecture’s work in their own words—and with many more images—over on their website. And consider supporting the trio by purchasing their book on Lulu.

(Thanks to Ed Keller for inviting me to see Protocol Architecture’s work as a guest critic).

Linkology

[Image: The Mobile Fabrication Unit by Gramazio & Kohler, soon to be building at Storefront for Art and Architecture].

Some things to read on a Monday afternoon:

—Architect Bjarke Ingels of BIG dominates the stage at TED. I was able to walk around BIG’s recently completed Mountain Dwellings in Copenhagen the other week, as part of an amazing drive around what felt like all of Denmark with Johan Hybschmann and Nicola Twilley. The building’s now-famous parking garage, we suggested only half-jokingly, would make an amazing venue for an architecture conference: its terraced parking decks overlook and focus upon a kind of inadvertent auditorium. Drive-in films, drive-in lectures, drive-in pirate radio concerts – it’s too fantastic a space not to try.

—Lebbeus Woods offers a glimpse of a film he outlined, designed, and later co-wrote with Olive Brown, called Underground Berlin. It involves a disillusioned architect, a missing twin brother, neo-Nazi activities in the divided city, metallic underground tunnels connecting east to west, and “a top-secret underground research station rumored to be somewhere beneath the very center of Berlin.” There are even rogue planetary scientists investigating “the tremendous, limitless geological forces active in the earth.” Woods’s graphic presentation of the idea is incredible, and absolutely worth a very long look.

—Meanwhile, farmers in the UK have been asked “to implement measures which would reverse the UK-wide decline in skylark numbers.” This means shaving small rectangular plots into the midst of productive cropland, because “rectangular uncropped patches in cereal fields allow skylarks to forage when crops become too dense for them.” We will prepare our landscapes for other species.

—Is your iPod maxing out the U.S. electrical grid? Perhaps it doesn’t matter: New Scientist looks at how to short-circuit the grid altogether – and would-be saboteurs the world over are still taking furious notes. Alternatively, just follow the fantastic On The Grid series by Adam Ryder and Brian Rosa to see where the electrical network really goes.

New Scientist also scanned beneath the south polar glaciers to find “Antarctica’s hidden plumbing” – and, as it happens, “the continent’s secret water network is far more dynamic than we thought.”

—Ruairi Glynn’s new book, Digital Architecture: Passages Through Hinterlands is now out; it documents Glynn’s related exhibition.

—Moving online, New York’s Architectural League has redesigned its website – joining the Canadian Centre for Architecture, who also redesigned their own site earlier this summer.

—Back in England, the BBC reports that pigs are being used “to help restore” parts of Worcestershire’s historic Wyre Forest. This comes at the same time that Cairo has realized that its absurd slaughter of every pig in the city last spring in order to guard against swine flu has led to an extraordinary garbage crisis. “The pigs used to eat tons of organic waste,” the New York Times reports. “Now the pigs are gone and the rotting food piles up on the streets of middle-class neighborhoods like Heliopolis and in the poor streets of communities like Imbaba.” Meanwhile, Edible Geography points our attention to the fascinating labyrinth of subsidiary products made from the bodies of dead pigs; welcome to “Pig Futures.”

—On io9 Matt Jones suggests that “the city is a battlesuit for surviving the future,” and he cites Archigram, Kevin Slavin, Dan Hill, Warren Ellis, the architecture of sci-fi, William Gibson, and much more to make his point. Speaking of Warren Ellis, Icon magazine recently published a long conversation between Warren, Francois Roche, and myself; you can check it out on Flickr.

—Were artificial hills, henges, and monumental earthworks a kind of “prehistoric sat nav” installed across the British landscape? And does this same question seem to be asked at least once every few years?

—The 2009 Solar Decathlon approaches.

—Gramazio & Kohler’s Mobile Fabrication Unit will arrive soon at New York’s Storefront for Art and Architecture. Between October 5 and October 27, it will be busy assembling “the first temporary public installation to be built on site by an industrial robot in New York.” Then, however, on Halloween, it will become possessed by incomprehensible forces from the Precambrian depths of the city, and, in a horrifying night of thunderous brickwork, it will wall off the island of Manhattan forever…

The Enemy by Design

[Image: The Berlin Reich Chancellery, designed by Albert Speer].

Jim Rossignol’s recent guest post about the architecture of “evil lairs” reminded me of a brilliant vignette from Deyan Sudjic’s 2005 book The Edifice Complex.
In a chapter called “The Long March to the Leader’s Desk” – a virtuoso example of architectural writing, and easily the best chapter in the book – Sudjic describes how Emil Hácha, Prime Minister of what was then Czechoslovakia, came to visit Adolf Hitler in his Albert Speer-designed Reich Chancellery in Berlin.
The Chancellery – Hitler’s “evil lair,” if you will – proved so psychologically overpowering that Hácha, “a short man in his late sixties with thinning and receding hair,” according to Sudjic, suffered a heart attack and very nearly died after walking through it.

[Image: Hitler’s office in the Chancellery].

Quoting Sudjic at length:

Hácha was white faced, anxious, and dizzy as he made his way across the entrance lobby, completed just eight weeks earlier. He was exactly the kind of visitor the Chancellery was designed for. If ever architecture had been intended for use as a weapon of war, it was here. The grandeur of the Chancellery was an essential part of Hitler’s campaign to browbeat Hácha into surrender. Beyond the courtyard, itself a kind of summation of the Nazi state, was an elaborate sequence of spaces inside the Chancellery, carefully orchestrated to deliver official visitors to Hitler’s presence in a suitably intimidated frame of mind. After a quarter-mile walk, visitors were left in no doubt of the power of the new Germany.

Indeed, Sudjic suggests that Hácha experienced the building “like a spelunker, moving from one giant underground cavern to another, never sure exactly where he would find himself, or what he would have to confront next, as an intimidating and bewildering sequence of spaces unfolded in front of him.”

Past the chancellery guards and out of the way of the floodlights, [Hácha was led] across the porch and into a windowless hall beyond, its wall inlaid with the pagan imagery of mosaic eagles grasping burning torches garlanded with oak leaves, its floors slippery with marble. There was no furniture, nor even a trace of carpet to soften the severity of the hall. (…) Under the hovering glass and the massive marble walls, the bronze doors at the far end of the hall shimmered and beckoned and threatened. Visitors were propelled down its length as if being whirled through a wind tunnel. As Hácha walked, he was aware of his heart accelerating in rapid fluctuating beats.

At this point, Hitler’s Chancellery begins to sound like the boss level of a particularly unnerving video game:

The hall that they walked through was thirty feet high. On the left a parade of windows looked out over Voss Strasse, and on the right were five giant doorways, each seventeen feet high. They stopped at the central pair of double doors, guarded by two more SS men in steel helmets. On a bronze scroll above the door case were the initials AH.

Even here, at the very door to Hitler’s study, Speer’s spatial theatrics weren’t finished.
Passing through those gigantic doors, Hácha found himself standing at one end of a 4000-square-foot room, surrounded by “blood-red marble walls.” At the other end, in front of a fireplace, was “a sofa as big as a lifeboat, occupied by Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring” – and nearby was Hitler, seated at his desk.
Incredibly, “To walk from the door to the desk took a nerve-wracking full minute.”
By that point, though, Czechoslovakia’s fate was sealed: Hácha’s will collapsed as soon as Göring began to describe the Nazis’ military capabilities, and he suffered a heart attack.
Not before signing his country over to Hitler, of course – “a humiliation that he had ample time to reflect on,” Sudjic writes, “during his endless walk back through the marble and mosaic halls of the Chancellery.”

Forgotten Architects

[Image: A spread from Pentagram Papers 37: Forgotten Architects].

Earlier this month, Pentagram released a pamphlet called Pentagram Papers 37: Forgotten Architects.

In the 1920s and early 1930s, German Jewish architects created some of the greatest modern buildings in Germany, mainly in the capital Berlin. A law issued by the newly elected German National Socialist Government in 1933 banned all of them from practicing architecture in Germany. In the years after 1933, many of them managed to emigrate, while many others were deported or killed under Hitler’s regime. Pentagram Papers 37: Forgotten Architects is a survey of 43 of these architects and their groundbreaking work.

The work thus presented is based on research performed by Myra Warhaftig, and it is available both online and in a small, beautifully designed booklet. Four of the images you see here are spreads from that publication, courtesy of Pentagram.

[Image: Spreads from Pentagram Papers 37: Forgotten Architects].

As Warhaftig wrote in an introduction to the project:

On 1 November 1933, a few months after the German National Socialist Government came to power, a decree was issued banning Jewish architects from the Reichskulturkammer für bildende Künste, the state-governed association of fine art to which membership was required to practice architecture. Their academic titles were revoked and they were denied the use of the professional title “architect.” Just short of two years later, on 15 September 1935, another law was adopted, further excluding from the association all so-called Half-Jews and those who were married to Jews. In total, nearly 500 architects were affected by the ban and forced to leave Germany. Those who stayed had to go into hiding or were deported to ghettos or concentration camps.

[Image: A spread from Pentagram Papers 37: Forgotten Architects].

She continues:

After long and circuitous routes, I have succeeded in locating relatives of the deceased architects. Scattered across all continents, they were able to offer additional authentic material. These historical documents and biographies, as well as photographs of the architects’ buildings, are published for the first time in my book German Jewish Architects Before and After 1933: The Lexicon.

Many of the buildings these architects produced were absolutely extraordinary – and, frankly, it seems impossible not to look at these images and judge 20th century Germany in light of the catastrophic stupidities that led to its murderous exile of the creative classes, whether those were physicists, novelists, abstract expressionists, or even architect members of the Bauhaus.
Indeed, it’s impossible to look at today’s European landscape in general and not spot absences, or losses, voids here and there punctuating the 21st century town and city.

[Image: Tietz Department Store in Solingen (1930?), designed by Georg Falck; photo via Archive Dr. Hagspiegel].

The images here show some of the buildings that Myra Warhaftig’s research, performed up until her death only three weeks ago, uncovered. Many more shots are available on Pentagram’s project website.

[Images: Showcase House, Werkbundsiedlung Breslow, by Moritz Hadda (1929); Terraced Houses, Berlin, by Alfons Anker (1929-30); Arnold Zweig Residence (1929-30), Eisner Residence (1927), and Schulze Residence (1928-29), all in Berlin and all magnificent designs by architect Harry Rosenthal; and a police station in Berlin by Richard Scheibner (1930-31)].

Referring to the architects whose work is featured in the above seven photographs:
In 1933, Georg Falck fled with his family to the Netherlands: “In Amsterdam they survived in hiding until the end of the war. Falck died in a New York Hospital in May 1947, just six weeks after he and his family had emigrated to the USA.”
Alfons Anker‘s business partners joined the Nazi party in 1933; six years later, he “managed to flee to Sweden, but never succeeded in re-establishing his career as an architect. Anker died in Stockholm in 1958.”
Harry Rosenthal, architect of three houses featured above, “was born in Posen (today Poznan, Poland) in 1892. He lived and worked in Berlin where he ran a successful architectural practice. In 1933 he managed to flee to Palestine, but suffered from the subtropical climate. In 1938 he emigrated to England, where despite numerous attempts, he did not manage to re-establish his architectural career. He died in London in 1966.”
In 1941, Moritz Hadda “was deported to an unknown location.”
Richard Scheibner‘s “fate is unknown.”

(Thanks to Michael Bierut and Kurt Koepfle at Pentagram for sending the booklet and spreads).