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Geography X

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jan 04, 2012 02:42 AM
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by Geoff Manaugh ( last modified Feb 10, 2011



A traveling exhibition called Architecture of Consequence opens in Mumbai today, kicking off with a series of events moderated by Mark Wigley, dean of Columbia University's GSAPP, and Ole Bouman, director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute.

Its opening is timed with the inauguration of Studio-X Mumbai, the newest location in a constellation of Columbia University-sponsored research labs, currently anchored in Amman, Beijing, Moscow, New York, and Rio de Janeiro.

Architecture of Consequence describes itself as a concentrated look at the role of architecture "in formulating solutions to widespread global problems through sustainable designs for the future." An accompanying book was released last year, called Architecture of Consequence: Dutch Designs on the Future, edited by Ole Bouman. Divided into thematic clusters—Food, Health, Energy, Space, Time, Social Cohesion, and Value Creation—the book attempts to apply architectural thinking to what Bouman refers to as "the crisis."

"Conjure up images of the crisis," he writes, "and what you see is architecture: jammed roads, packed airports, automated transshipment centers, vast cowsheds, battery farms for pigs and chickens, meat factories, fast food outlets, shopping malls, hypermarkets and quarantine zones, worldwide material transportation, urban sprawl, condominium cities in the desert of Arizona, no-go areas and security walls, abandoned homes in ghost towns like Detroit or Sesena Nuevo."

For architects, Bouman suggests, "the crisis" is simply "too valuable an opportunity to let slip by, a chance to turn back to where architecture starts, in the creative spatial organization of life—not in style choices or concept analyses, but in the identification of new spatial constellations; not in the spatial allocation and accommodation of a given program, but in helping to create a spatial organization for multiple programs; not in making things in space, but in organizing processes in time; in short, not in the object, but in the performance."

It's interesting to note, however, that, while it's more or less clear in the context of Bouman's essay that he is referring to the global financial crisis, there is, nonetheless, a sense of referential abstraction to the phrase—"the crisis"—leaving the door open for it to refer to... well, to everything: the systemic errors, inefficiencies, misapplications, interruptions, and breakdowns that constitute everyday life for billions. Read this way, "the crisis" becomes abstract shorthand for the everyday conditions of the 21st-century, which could thus be seen as already taking place amidst the rubble of earlier, contingent disasters for which no single group or institution can be held liable.

Sinking into self-pity or cultivating a deranged sense of post-apocalyptic bravado is not what Bouman advocates for in response to this "fraught period of multiple emergencies," whose signs are most visible, Bouman insists, in the spatial products of urbanism and architectural design. He pushes, instead, for design—perhaps even what Benjamin Bratton described, at Postopolis! LA and again at ETech, as undesign. In both cases, these terms call for critically—sometimes even physically—dismantling the conditions that brought about "the crisis" in the first place.

[Image: Mark Wigley at Studio-X Mumbai].

In any case, as I mentioned, the opening of the Architecture of Consequence exhibition comes simultaneously with the launch, today, of Studio-X Mumbai, and the two overlap in both themes and approach.

Mark Wigley describes the overall Studio-X initiative as a "global network of advanced research laboratories for exploring the future of cities." "In recent years," he writes, "GSAPP has adopted the label 'Studio-X' to refer to its most advanced leadership laboratories for the future of the built environment"—laboratories that need "to evolve at the same rapid speed as the urban environment itself."
    Typically located in the historic downtown of a global city, each Studio-X acts as an open platform for collaborative research and debate with a publication gallery, an exhibition gallery, a lecture space and an open studio workspace. During the day, the Studio-X is an active workshop, with combinations of ever-shifting teams of local experts and visitors from the region or globe working on designs, reports, exhibitions, books, competitions, films, magazines. etc. During the evening, the Studio-X acts a hub of social exchange and intense debate with a lively program of exhibitions and events. It is a hot spot in the city, buzzing with social energy, invention, and dedication to a better future.
In theory, then, Studio-X is a kind of acupunctural series of linked pressure points along which spatial and architectural research can occur. It is research with consequence, we might say.

On the other hand, I'd say, it would be interesting to see Studio-X pick up on a different and more subtle geography than one that is defined only by cities. Cities, after all, require—and aggressively manipulate—hinterlands, whether that means relying upon broad networks of food distribution, mineral extraction, waste management, or even dependable weather.

A Studio-X of farms, mines, and landfills, for instance, would be just as interesting, I suspect, as a Studio-X Paris or Studio-X Havana.

In fact, it could be surprisingly consequential to push away from a focus not on points at all but on regions, zones, and latitudes. A Studio-X Mobile Arctic Research Lab, Studio-X Mountain Altitudes, Studio-X Meridian—this exploration of a more abstract geography could trigger previously unforeseen collaborations and connective sinews that city-to-city networks might otherwise miss. Not acupuncture, we might say, but pressure fronts and tropics.

Or, for that matter, a Studio-X Aerotropolis. A Studio-X Heathrow. A Studio-X Transsiberian.

[Image: Studio-X as diagram].

To return briefly to Benjamin Bratton, he writes in "Undesigning the Emergency" that he is interested in "the global emergence of new modes and scales of political and collective subjectivity, neither exactly inside or outside of government and representative democracy, and not exactly inside or outside of markets, either. Not exactly microscale or macroscale: mesopolitical." To this we might add: not exactly inside or outside of cities.

This "global emergence" helps coax into existence unpredictable new spaces of action and research, or "new spaces of political and collective subjectivity," as Bratton might call them: indefinite and collaborative spaces that are neither entirely public (attached to a nation-state) nor exclusively private (corporate landscapes without a concept of citizenry). They are neither university nor corporation. They are x-spaces.

These emerging geographies—that will never exist within one nation or one jurisdiction, without precise scale or even local address, as amorphous as the weather and as fragile as an ecosystem—seem to offer an incredible opportunity for architectural thinking, research, and design.

And—this is an open question—I wonder what form or location Studio-X could next take in order to be most effective at exploring this: what mutation in the concept of address, what geography more subtle than cities, around which to crystallize a new, conceptually aggressive form of spatial study.

In any case, don't miss BLDGBLOG's earlier interviews with both Mark Wigley and Ole Bouman—and, if you're in Mumbai, don't miss the Studio-X opening festivities.




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