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robertogreco : darrananderson   4

Imaginary Cities: An Interview with Darran Anderson – RhysTranter.com
"When a city is dominated by one vision, it becomes either a sterile corpse, however pretty it looks, or, at worst, an all-out tyranny. I’d go as far to say that the very idea of a city is predicated on it being a plurality. When it is singular, it becomes something else; namely a citadel that benefits the powerful, whoever that may be in a given society. That’s one of the reasons that planned cities very often (though not always) fall flat. We forget to build in accidents and resistances – the dialectics of urbanism where different ideas are colliding and synthesizing and pushing things creatively forward in the process. When cities, and indeed countries, adopt a siege mentality, they stagnate and the inhabitants go slowly mad. We’re about to find out a lot of things about what Britain really is. I suspect, given certain cherished illusions await shattering, it’ll be a huge and very dark wake-up call indeed. Nothing would delight me more than to be wrong on this incidentally but I can see it getting decidedly Children of Men sooner than we think. On a less pessimistic note, it will also be a real test of British cities as international outward-facing metropolises, a challenge that anyone with a progressive atom in their body needs to fight in advance rather than retreat. We are mongrel peoples on these islands. We do well not to begin attempting to dismantle ourselves or anyone else for that matter. The future, if we wish to be part of it, is plural."



"We have a tendency to think of books as ends in themselves, which has always seemed somewhat ludicrous, even a bit arrogant to me; the assumption because you’ve read Isherwood’s Berlin novels, you’ve got the Weimar Republic sussed (I don’t mean that detrimentally to Isherwood, whose work I love, incidentally). It’s like that bucket list approach to experience, when you hear someone say they’ve ‘done’ Europe or Thailand. However great a book is, however ‘definitive’ it is on a subject, it strikes me as only a point of beginning or as temporarily conclusive, as time and perspectives are constantly changing. I’ve always had enough self-doubt to be resistant to definitive narratives so I wanted Imaginary Cities to be full of points of departure, contradictions and questions. That’s one of the things I loved about Calvino’s Invisible Cities, which the title is also a nod to. The sense of poetic incompleteness to it. The feeling that the story is continuing on somewhere beyond its pages."



"I’ve always been interested in the thresholds and crossovers of disciplines. “Architecture begins where engineering ends”, the great Walter Gropius said. I think there’s a sort of shifting hinterland between the two, where often the most exciting things are happening. We limit ourselves when we separate things too much. That works for all disciplines. There’s a lot to learn from peering over the walls we’ve built. And I’d question the motives we have in building most of these walls; very often it’s quite petty obscurantism, which ultimately holds us all back.

The first writer I ever fell in love with was Robert Louis Stevenson and I think he had a lasting influence; by his example, you have the permission to wander, literally and figuratively – you can write adventure stories and fuse them with psychological, geographical and historical observations, you can write memoirs, children’s stories, explorations, you can travel with a donkey in the Cévennes if you want. And you can do it all with a continual voice and purpose that threads through everything, even when it seems like chaos or a cacophony.

The writers I’ve loved since, from Montaigne to Borges to Solnit have that same sense of roaming, of proving “why not?” when stepping over frequently-artificial boundaries. It’s not for everyone but I love literature that contains this tendency to roam. It goes beyond even literature I suppose. There’s a colossal amount of be gained from learning from people in other artforms, cine-essayists like Chris Marker or musicians like Brian Eno. I’m not really interested in literature that just speaks to itself. I’d rather literature be a dense and messy city than an ordered monastery."



"We might think of them as problems but I think they’re essential to keep cities alive. I spoke about this at the Venice Architecture Biennale a few months ago and every day since, post-Brexit, it’s got more and more apparent how vital this is. When a city is dominated by one vision, it becomes either a sterile corpse, however pretty it looks, or, at worst, an all-out tyranny. I’d go as far to say that the very idea of a city is predicated on it being a plurality. When it is singular, it becomes something else; namely a citadel that benefits the powerful, whoever that may be in a given society. That’s one of the reasons that planned cities very often (though not always) fall flat. We forget to build in accidents and resistances – the dialectics of urbanism where different ideas are colliding and synthesizing and pushing things creatively forward in the process. When cities, and indeed countries, adopt a siege mentality, they stagnate and the inhabitants go slowly mad. We’re about to find out a lot of things about what Britain really is. I suspect, given certain cherished illusions await shattering, it’ll be a huge and very dark wake-up call indeed. Nothing would delight me more than to be wrong on this incidentally but I can see it getting decidedly Children of Men sooner than we think. On a less pessimistic note, it will also be a real test of British cities as international outward-facing metropolises, a challenge that anyone with a progressive atom in their body needs to fight in advance rather than retreat. We are mongrel peoples on these islands. We do well not to begin attempting to dismantle ourselves or anyone else for that matter. The future, if we wish to be part of it, is plural."



"If you live in a city, every aspect of your life takes place within urban space. The journeys you make are charted through it. The experiences you undertake have a stage. Space seeps into your memories and, by association, your memories seep into space. There are very obvious examples to this – hospitals, churches, graveyards – but also train stations where you saw someone for the last time or pubs where you met for the first time. Streets that mean nothing to most have profound connotations for others. They are the setting of our own private mythologies."



"Bookish folks like you and I explore this largely with literature as an aid but, though I believe books will always have a place, they seem to be more peripheral than we’d like to admit. As much as culture helps define our perception of cities, it has its limits. For me, the starting point for Dublin is Ulysses, just as Kafka is for Prague, and Dostoevsky or Bely is for St Petersburg and yet when I go to places like those, I find that these presumptions are attractive illusions. So much time has passed since those works were written and it was all subjective to begin with. That’s the beauty: the city is not the same thing to any two people, no matter how it is branded. One of the things I’m interested in is how the urban influences us, and the way we see ourselves, in ways that are often overlooked or come by implication. When we look at the Romantics, Sturm und Drang or American Transcendentalism, we tend to take them at their word and focus on rural arcadias or encounters with the sublime in the wilderness. To me, they are profoundly urban. They are the glorious side-effects brought on by the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the huge drive of urbanisation that followed. So even our ideas of escaping to the sanctuary of the countryside, even our conceptions of what the countryside is and for, are profoundly shaped by the appearance and evolution of cities."



"In the near-future, I see the manner in which our identities merge with our surroundings becoming acutely apparent. In terms of technology, it’s easy to see the cumbersome interfaces that we navigate with, the smartphone for example, disappearing. I see this happening somewhat with the book as well (though I’ve no doubt it will remain as an escape into another type of space). The literary approach to cities will become much more interactive with the environment. This isn’t a new idea. The Situationists, who I’m not uncritical of, hinted at this by shifting the focus away from academic texts to games, maps, graffiti, and the streets themselves. With developments in augmented reality, I can see the city becoming a form of text, not just with buildings annotated but actually offering creative input and manipulation. We already read cities without thinking about it. We may come to write them too."
darrananderson  urbanism  architecture  cities  2016  community  society  siegementality  planning  urban  italocalvino  space  identity  memory  augmentedreality  books  writing  interactivity  interactive  situationist  urbanization  ar 
october 2016 by robertogreco
The buildings of the future will keep rearranging th...
"One of the great laboratories of the future and its side-effects is science fiction. ‘The wall flickered partially out of existence as he stepped through to the corridor,’ wrote Arthur C Clarke in his novel The City and the Stars (1956), ‘and its polarised molecules resisted his passage like a feeble wind blowing against his face.’

Typical of the symbiotic relationship between science fiction and fact, Clarke seems to have got this idea from the physicist Richard Feynman, who in 1945 predicted the possibility of molecular engineering. Feynman argued that any material could one day be constructed from the atom up – and, moreover, that complex miniscule mechanisms (‘nanobots’) would become viable, ‘a billion tiny factories, models of each other, which are manufacturing simultaneously’. It was conceivable not just that concrete, for example, would be strengthened with polymers but that it could come to resemble a living substance, mutating on demand. And then where would that leave architecture?

Time passes differently for buildings. Eero Saarinen differentiated the ‘elephant time’ of architects from the writer’s ‘rabbit’ time. One of the central tensions of architecture is how the brevity of human life, let alone fashion, collides with the longevity of stone and steel. Flux is an unavoidable characteristic of modern urban life. How do we anticipate, guide or simply survive this tendency?

One answer has been to embrace it. ‘The fundamental characteristics of futuristic architecture,’ pronounced the 1960s London-based avant-garde group Archigram, ‘will be expendability and transience. Our house will last less time than we do, every generation must make its own city.’ In Japan, there is a longstanding tradition (wabi-sabi) of facing transience. Inspired by the Ise Grand Shrine, which is dismantled and rebuilt every 20 years (remaining always new and always old), Kisho Kurokawa of the Metabolists proposed architecture ‘growing… as a constantly changing process. Impermanent beauty, immaterial beauty… a new aesthetic based on movement’.

The problem the radicals confronted was a view of what the future city should be because of what it has been. Despite recent flirtations with ‘blobism’ and amoeba-like biomimetic shapes, we remain wedded to the idea of architecture as solid, permanent, averse to evolution. This has remained the case even during the modern era. The big problem with Brutalism was perhaps not so much its controversial aesthetics as its inability to develop; when form follows function, and then function changes, what are we left with? Yet the purpose of buildings often changes; think of the Hagia Sophia in Instanbul.

Buildings are simply structures that are built. They remain so regardless of the material used. What we take for granted as natural was first invented and then developed over millennia. In ancient Çatalhöyük, people entered houses not through the design innovation of the door but through a hole in the roof. In the same spirit of continual refinement, there have been many attempts to move beyond our present way of thinking. A recurring vision of contemporary futurologists is of apartments in which partitions move around to maximise and pluralise limited space. At its flimsiest, this resembles set design, but it might become a much more fluid process.

To go further, we need to ask what architecture is. For the Blur Building, Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio and Charles Renfro shrouded a platform in Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland in a haze of water droplets. It is a building made of mist, using computers to monitor and adapt the structure according to climatic conditions. Sean Lally has proposed an architecture that does not just inefficiently contain energy but rather is made from it. Challenging ideas might simply be those whose time has not yet come. Retrospect often makes prophets of the curious.

Let’s elaborate Arthur C Clarke’s prophecy a little. Nanobots would create a programmable architecture that would change shape, function and style at command, in anticipation or even independently. Imagine an apartment where furniture fluidly morphs from the walls and floor, adapting to the inhabitants, an apartment that physically mutates into a Sukiya-zukuri tea-room or an Ottoman pleasure palace or something as yet unseen, while outside the entire skyline is continually rearranging itself. Architecture might become an art available to all.

The advantages of nanomaterials are already becoming apparent; consider the strength of graphene, the insulation of aerogel. The idea of a self-repairing, pollutant-neutralising, climate-adapting ‘living’ architecture no longer seems the preserve of fiction. Resistance to the idea of buildings that could grow (as in John Johansen’s forms) or liquefy (like William Katavolos’s designs) is almost as much a question of our conservatism as of technical limitations. But as the materials scientist Rachel Armstrong has observed, this vision of the city as a biological or ecological manifestation is not so much a leap into the unknown as a maturation of ancient Vitruvian ideals.

Every advance will have repercussions. The idea of walking through walls that simultaneously scan us for illnesses might sound promising – but what else will they monitor? Who will they answer to? What will it mean for human creativity, let alone employment, when there are buildings that can build themselves?

We might put any fears we have about nanotechnology down to an age-old terror of the unseen; the all-consuming, self-replicating nano-swarm of ‘grey goo’ is akin to a viral pandemic; the fear of continual surveillance is the fear of a watchful omnipresent god. Yet these fears are, at their root, simply a fear of ourselves; what our rulers and indeed we would do with such power. Perhaps the fears are well-placed; the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal, in which cars were engineered to deceive their investigators, seems like one portent of the emerging Internet of Things. The US and Russian militaries have employed nanotechnology to improve the transmission of energy in explosives, meaning that certain future buildings and their inhabitants definitely won’t remain solid. The problem, as ever, is that, while technology changes, human nature remains the same."
mobility  darrananderson  architecture  design  2015  nanotechnology  reconfiguration  adaptability  graphene  aerogel  arthurcclarke  metabolists  blobism  dillerscofidio 
december 2015 by robertogreco
“I bristle at the idea that the only thing Susan Sontag or David Foster Wallace had to offer is advice for me.” | biblioklept
"“I bristle at the idea that the only thing Susan Sontag or David Foster Wallace had to offer is advice for me.”
BY BIBLIOKLEPT

"If I had first encountered Anaïs Nin by reading a quote of hers about love or dreams or fulfilling your potential or massaging your inner child superimposed on an insufferably twee image, I would never have picked up her wonderful remarkably-transgressive books. Perhaps this shows the shortsightedness of my own prejudices but it’s still not a fair or substantial representation of her work. What I want when I encounter Anaïs Nin is Anaïs Nin, not a therapist or a motivational speaker. The same goes for Susan Sontag or Henry Miller or David Foster Wallace or any of the other incandescently brilliant writers whose writing has recently been cherry-picked and repackaged as glorified self-help tracts. The quotes are certainly theirs, being culled from diaries, journals, speeches and interviews (with the double meaning of culled being entirely apt). The sentiments may well be true. Yet it seems to me duplicitous because the quotes have been carefully selected to fit a pre-existing agenda – us. I am a ludicrously solipsistic and selfish person but even I bristle at the idea that the only thing Susan Sontag or David Foster Wallace had to offer is advice for me. At the risk of impertinence, if I chance upon someone using the currently virulent “there is actually no such thing as atheism” quote by Foster Wallace out of context to bash atheists (ignoring its implicit ‘worship God precisely because He is so ineffectual He can’t harm you’ angle) with no further interest in his writing or life, I’m going to nail a copy of Infinite Jest to their collective forehead."

—From an essay that had me enthusiastically mumbling yes the whole way, “Albert Camus and the ventriloquists” by Darran Anderson. Read it."
davidfosterwallace  susansontag  advice  anaïsnin  infinitejest  henrymiller  albertcamus  darrananderson  via:selinjessa  camus 
july 2013 by robertogreco

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