Archinect

Columbia GSAP (Derek Lindner)

 

Archived

Jan '05 - Mar '06

 
  • Masses: Media, Culture, Housing, or, Rent-boy's Dilemma.

    [I was going through some stuff from last semester, and came across this entry that I started then and never finished, so I'm posting it now. Better late than never.]

    Someone remarked the other day that housing studio is
    particularly earnest this year. Last year, the studio site was on
    Manhattan's west side, and though the aim was to design public
    housing (as it always is), it was still in the proximity of art
    galleries, shopping and urban amenties, offering the temptation
    to incorporate these as the prominent contextual elements.

    This year we're working in Brownsville, a neighborhood that
    claims New York's highest rates of poverty and incarceration. The
    sites that we have have to work on are adjacent to large arrays
    of 60s superblock public housing, elevated train lines, vacant
    lots, and derelict buildings. A lot of students (including
    myself) admit to feeling a certain malaise. It's difficult to
    face the most brutal parts of America's housing policy legacy and
    the egregious failures of whatever social contract this country
    can be said to have. Worse, the seeming inability of architecture
    to make any significant difference adds insecurity to depression.
    What action can we take in such a position? Where do we start?

    In the context of Brownsville, the social issues that influence
    the project are difficult to obscure behind formalisms. Throw in
    a studio critic who likes to lead discussions that engage (which
    is not to say embrace) Marx and Adorno, and the issues become
    inescapable. In these discussions, we talk about 'the masses', as
    the term is used commonly in the writings, but it is now a term
    that I (like most Americans, I imagine) usually encounter only as
    part of a few select phrases--huddled masses, mass housing, mass
    media, mass culture--and nearly never on its own.

    The 'huddled masses' (always yearning) provoke, perhaps, the
    strongest connotations of poverty and marginalization. However,
    the term is today only a bromide to conjure images of immigrants
    and refugees and evoke patriotic notions of freedom and
    opportunity. 'Huddled masses', I would venture, survives almost
    exlusively in the context of American history and heritage
    (particularly since immigration policies today embody a less
    generous view of foreigners than at Lady Liberty's peak).

    'Mass housing' shares the same connotations, but also has
    currency in usage. Mass housing conjures ideas of the least
    fortunate and least self-sufficient segments of society, deemed
    worthy of direct subsidy to meet basic housing needs. These
    masses are often assumed (whether justifiably or not) to be
    unskilled and undereducated.

    Mass media and mass culture, however, embody a distinctly
    different notion of the masses. 'Mass media' describes the most
    widely circulated messages and images in our society, and the
    means by which they are produced and distributed. Through
    constant repositioning, the media usually aim to be broadly
    inclusive, in order to achieve the largest audience. In doing so,
    the media have traditionally helped to define and exclude the
    margins.

    Mass culture can be described as the feedback loop between the
    public and the media, the process of appropriation of media
    imagery into American life, its translation into desire and
    consumption, and subsequent re-presentation as new consumer dream
    imagery in the media. The media become a vector of conformity,
    directing the course for the mainstream of society: the American
    middle class. The masses here are defined as the 'target
    demographic'.

    So masses can be cultured or huddled, that is to say, they can be
    the mainstream or the margins. Curiously, mass media draw the
    line between the two: the transition between these strata of
    lower and middle class is marked by the willingness to subjugate
    oneself to media messages, to become part of the mass culture.
    It's like the rant Renton (aka Rent-boy) gives in Trainspotting--

    Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family.
    Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars,
    compact disc players, and electrical tin openers. Choose good
    health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-
    interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose
    your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose
    a three piece suite on hire purchased in a range of fucking
    fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who you are on a Sunday
    morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing
    spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food in your
    mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your
    last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to
    the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace
    yourself. Choose your future.


    Rent-boy's dilemma, yuppie vs junkie, is perhaps an extreme
    case--certainly not everyone who is poor or lives in mass housing
    has a drug problem--but it serves to highlight the gap between
    the two masses. To be associated with mass culture doesn't carry
    the same stigma (nor, it must be said, confer the same street
    cred) that mass housing (or a heroin addiction) does, Rent-boy's
    diatribe notwithstanding.

    The stigma of being part of the (huddled/housed) masses is built
    into a long-standing model for housing in the US, one that says
    that housing is temporary assistance for poor residents to get on
    their feet, and that once they become financially stable, they
    can move into a market rate apartment. In aiding the transition
    from the poverty of 'the projects' to the middle class lifestyle
    of mass culture, the purpose of mass housing has a parallel with
    that of mass media: as a society, we encourage everyone to make
    Rent-boy's choice.

    The stigma has given birth to euphemisms invented to avert
    potential associations between the two types of masses. Mass
    housing is usually called 'public housing' (superceding the
    earlier 'housing project') and mass culture has been rechristened
    'popular culture'.

    I'm not going to vilify middle class America and those who aspire
    to join it (that would be rather hypocritical of me) and I have
    no intention of romanticizing poverty and drugs, but there should
    be an option to joining the target demographic. Is there such a
    thing as 'popular housing'--a hybrid of pop culture and public
    housing--and do we want it?

    Lately, countertrends to mass media and mass culture have been
    growing--niche marketing, personalization, blogging (and other
    DIY media), the long tail--that resist the genericizing
    tendencies of media and that tweak our current notions of
    individuality and subculture. As these gain momentum, the idea of
    'the masses' will recede further, becoming even less common.
    How can we even conceive of mass housing in this context?


  • the problem with voronoi

    "voronoi tessellation is like a blender. it doesn't matter what you put into it, it comes out looking like a voronoi." - DP, an astute student


  • a new semester

    I've just finished the first three weeks of my second year. Here's the lineup: studio, Enclosures and Environments 2, History of Theory, and a fabrication lab based on using the school's new waterjet cutter. Studio is Columbia's infamous housing studio. Everyone works in pairs, so I have a studio...


  • *how* much longer?

    critic: How many days until the final review? student: Ten days. critic: Ten days. 240 hours... that's... six 40-hour weeks. Minus, say, 25% for sleeping, so... four and a half weeks left. You guys can get a lot of work done in four and a half weeks.


  • Turning up the Volume

    The GSAPP is housed nearly entirely in Avery Hall, a building far too small to contain all the activity that comprises the daily life of the department. The school is short on resources and high on density, one result of which is that the department is still highly flyer- or poster-oriented, and...


  • what can you do with a wire?

    A presentation by Michael Silver this afternoon on new fabrication technologies got me musing about the mathematical problems involved with the use of two computer-controlled machines he showed: a hot-wire foam cutter and a bandsaw. With both machines, you're bound by the limits of only being able...


  • OpenOffice for Architects

    I'm trying out OpenOffice, an open source MS Office suite replacement, for all my word processing and spreadsheet needs this semester. Though I haven't had opportunity to use OO extensively, so far it's working out. In fact, it is completely exceeding my expectations at the moment. Either the...


  • KVA rocks

    Wednesday night is lecture night at Columbia. Wood auditorium fills with local architects (famous and otherwise), Wigley spins one of his nigh-unbearably-witty intros, the lights dim, and we get a 90-minute show. Afterwards, cheap wine flows. There are always one or two rock stars on the roster...


  • v-day in studio

    I haven't gotten a cheap supermarket valentine with candy hearts in about 10 years. This morning, my desk (and all the other studio desks) was graced with a Batman valentine and three necco hearts. Mine bear the valentines-appropriate messages 'only you,' 'get real,' and--the best--'let's read.' I...


  • Loos is a hoot

    "We call [the plumber] installateur. That's wrong. For this man is the upholder of the germanic way of life. - Adolf Loos, The Plumbers I'm in the midst of Frampton's History 2 (1880-1960) course. This week we look at Loos, the firebrand of Vienna, defender of plumbers, bathers, and shoe-cobblers...


  • One down, five to go

    This past week began my second semester (of six) at Columbia. Reasons to be excited about the coming semester: WMDs. Columbia is augmenting its 'WMD program' and building a new fabrication lab. In addition to the 3D printer and laser cutters, we have a new 5-axis CNC machine ("five axes does not...


  • ×Search in:
 

Affiliated with:

Authored by:

  • Derek Lindner

Other blogs affiliated with Columbia University:

Recent Entries


Please wait... loading