UC Berkeley (Nick)



Aug '08 - Jun '10

  • A farewell

    Nick Sowers
    Jun 18, '10 12:14 AM EST

    We-ell, I can't quit you baby,
    but I got to put you down a little while
    We-ell, I can't quit you baby,
    but I got to put you down a little while

    --Willie Dixon, 1968


    I can quit this baby. A student no-more, I reckon it's time to finish this school blog. Graduation was a month ago. I can probably check my grades, but I don’t think I’ll bother. Most importantly, the thesis document has been submitted with signatures from my advisors. It. Is. Over. Yes!!

    {Please excuse me: To the stragglers hanging around the Echo Red Conference, we have word that the architect is out playing golf with the military engineer, and so there will be no conclusion after all. Sorry to disappoint. See you on the 18th...

    ...hole, that is}

    But also: the 18th of June. I’ll be rocking the military soundscape with two familiar faces on Archinect: Bryan Finoki and Javier Arbona. We are leading a workshop titled Decoding Military Landscapes as part of the conference Toward a Just Metropolis. If you’re in the Bay Area, sneak into room 214B in Wurster Hall tomorrow at about 10:30 am. We’ve got an ambitious agenda which you can scope out over here or follow the discussion (or follow me) on Twitter via the hashtag #demilit. We hope to get some like-minded folks to make it a good conversation.

    The consensus of the three of us is that militarization is the preeminent spatial crisis of our century as it aligns our cities and landscapes toward the clandestine conduction of power. In a way this is not a crisis but a permanent condition, as cities have always been linked to a military production of space. The crisis as we see it is more one of perception, of seeing and accessing--of archiving--how these transformations occur. How are we collectively, as citizens, dis-empowered from recording the transformation from civilian governance to a militarized abuse of space? As architects and designers, how can we instrumentalize such an archive toward a 'just metropolis'?

    I am bringing to the workshop a particular focus on sound and recording military landscapes as one of several media to compose the archive. It's exciting to me because I have had these two threads running through my graduate student work and they have manifested themselves in various ways on this blog, yet now that I am out of school, it's time to turn the theory into practice.


    Reaching back for a moment, this blog exhibited the birth of my own interest in military space, progressing oddly enough from the tank to the swiftlet. In the middle of this school blog, I was fortunate to receive a traveling fellowship to study the condition of military space around the globe, and it’s been a great pleasure to write about these travels and hear your comments as my work has developed.


    What I feel is most lacking, however, and what presents a unique opportunity as I bridge from academia to practice, is to wrestle down a moral position with respect to military space. I am convinced that sound is the medium par excellence to explore the tenuous relationship between art and politics, as a medium freed from the politics of construction and development that shroud traditional architectural production.

    {Heck I don’t need a client; all I need is a set of loudspeakers.}

    {insert explosion sound clip here: louder than a ghost army, softer than a silent film . . .

    end clip}

    I returned to architecture school because I hadn't yet found a thesis to carry forth into practice. As a student you want to push yourself toward the limits of architecture; it's what a thesis should do and it is no easy task. Magazines show us how easily the avant garde is usurped by the center. Avant-gardism is futile and we know this. I wanted a means to produce my own path toward the edge, and this also meant finding the many paths others have taken which overlap my own.

    I haven't discussed it much here on the blog but I am particular compelled by the trajectory of Gordon Matta-Clark. He brought his own agency to the production of space. He had clients, to be sure, and codes and regulations existed and interfaced with his carvings and demolitions, but the point is this: he had a vision for a new spatial paradigm, a thesis not written on paper but jack-hammered into the ruins and detritus of our cities. He is the ideal architect for the 21st century, an architect who reshapes the city with his and her own tools and hands. And there is much waste to be found. As we aspire to build, we must keep demolition--and reclamation--in the architect's toolbox.


    But these can be nasty, unwanted thoughts with respect to architecture: destruction, ruination, the military, etc. Shouldn't architects just strive to make beautiful things? In my own work, I’ve stared into this numbing, strangely fascinating realm of military architecture, and often wondered about this. Hardly comprising the avant-garde, military architecture is concurrently at the periphery or 'outside' of architecture and within architecture's own foundation. I’m talking about the military engineer as an insidious ghost haunting the architect.

    After all, Vitruvius, the Roman military engineer, suggested in Ten Books that the architect should not forget the essential skill of tuning a ballista. Further, of his famous three qualities of architecture, firmitas, utilitas, venustas, two are inherently military virtues--fit-ness and firmness. And I’ll never forget Greg Lynn stating in a February 2008 lecture in Berkeley that he couldn't wait for the war in Iraq to be over so that he could play with the machines of the military-industrial complex. Apparently these defense contractors were too busy developing body armor to make his teapots.

    {whatever happened to venustas--beauty?}

    I'll start to wrap this up with sage advice from Commander Shears, addressing Major Warden, in the 1957 film Bridge on the River Kwai: "Live like a human being, don't adhere suicidally to the rules."

    So what's next? I'll be building up a new agenda on my permanent blog over at Soundscrapers. Expect more sound, less silence, though don't rule out the sound of silence. I'm going to finish my exams and get the license so I can finally call myself an "architect" en route to relentlessly questioning what it is to be "an architect."

    To conclude, I encourage prospective and current students to say "the hell with architecture school" from time to time. Find productive means of becoming what you think an architect is while still under the shelter of your chosen academic institution. Be defiant of its rules, and don’t forget to live like a human being. Always make time to teach, write, and cook; tend to your garden; be fair, be nice, make some buildings so you can pay the bills, and long live Archinect. View full entry

  • Branner Lecture video: Military Atmospheres

    Nick Sowers
    Jun 5, '10 7:45 PM EST

    Before we get to the concluding report from this past Monday's Conference Echo Red, check out this video from my February 10th lecture titled "Military Atmospheres" given in the main lecture hall at UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design.Military Atmospheres from nick sowers on Vimeo. View full entry

  • The Sonic Archivist

    Nick Sowers
    May 31, '10 4:58 PM EST

    The following report is an abridged version of "Ears Eyes Nostrils Open!" to be presented today at the Conference Echo Red: Military Archaeologies and Architectural Trajectories.Ears Eyes Nostrils Open! The soundscape of Guam has undergone a profound sonic metamorphosis. Listening today, we hear... View full entry

  • The Ornithologist

    Nick Sowers
    May 28, '10 9:29 PM EST

    The following report is an abridged version of "Ornithology and Camouflage: A shroud of Swiftlet-space" to be presented at the Conference Echo Red: Military Archaeologies and Architectural Trajectories on 31 May.A Shroud of Swiftlet-Space Guam is an exciting place to study birds due to the varied... View full entry

  • The Forensic Engineer

    Nick Sowers
    May 26, '10 2:56 PM EST

    The following report is an abridged version of "Mechanisms Behind the Failure of the Jet Noise Barrier Structure" to be presented at the Conference Echo Red: Military Archaeologies and Architectural Trajectories on 31 May. The National Park Service has brought me to Guam to measure the progress of... View full entry

  • The Landscape Preservationist

    Nick Sowers
    May 20, '10 2:28 AM EST

    The following report is an abridged version of "Toward an American Military Pastoral" to be presented at the Conference Echo Red: Military Archaeologies and Architectural Trajectories on 31 May. Military bases help to preserve landscapes from development and thereby produce valuable spaces of... View full entry

  • The Geologist

    Nick Sowers
    May 9, '10 7:33 PM EST

    The following report is an abridged version of "Zones of Military Speleology and Laminae Along a Linear Band of Uplifted Karst in Northern Guam" to be presented at the Conference Echo Red: Military Archaeologies and Architectural Trajectories on 31 May. [Fig. 1-1: Pacific Faults. Guam lies on the... View full entry

  • The Archaeologist Presents

    Nick Sowers
    May 3, '10 4:54 PM EST

    I am standing at the edge of a precipice. From below the dense jungle of new growth rainforest sweeps away toward the horizon, where the island of Guam ends and the ocean begins. The rainforest is consuming the remains of Andersen Air Force Base, once part of a global network of United States... View full entry

  • It's over

    Nick Sowers
    Apr 27, '10 6:23 PM EST

    Thesis at Berkeley has come to pass. With the fossils found, the evidence exhibited, the towers toppled, mysteries not solved but muddled, terrains trespassed, and infrastructures inspected; I think we can all go home now. View full entry

  • prnt dsk 7

    Nick Sowers
    Apr 19, '10 4:42 PM EST

    Graduate student Taylor Medlin can only see the world through a fisheye lens.[prnt dsk 7, photographed by Taylor Medlin] Take a quick look at his thesis work which is now taking volunteers for a research expedition to Antarctica. [more] The end is nigh. View full entry

  • prnt dsk 6

    Nick Sowers
    Apr 13, '10 4:39 PM EST

  • prnt dsk 4+5

    Nick Sowers
    Apr 10, '10 2:16 PM EST

    no time to talk. two weeks to go. constructing space with sound. this morning two weeks ago see ya later. View full entry

  • Printing Concrete

    Nick Sowers
    Apr 8, '10 2:06 PM EST

    I am rapid prototyping concrete models using Ron Rael's hijacked starch printer. It's stronger than starch and achieves an identical resolution. One potential drawback is that it's extremely water soluble, which means I could have a lot more fun with melting these things.... after the presentation. View full entry

  • It's Alive

    Nick Sowers
    Apr 5, '10 6:53 AM EST

    At about 3:20 am Pacific time on Monday, April 5th, a monster was born in the thesis studios of Wurster Hall. It was short-lived. Following an attempt to build a bigger monster, the woofer was blown. A blown speaker is a very anticlimactic thing. (Strikes one and two) Strike three: It's time to... View full entry

  • I'm a sonic reducer

    Nick Sowers
    Apr 4, '10 12:51 AM EST

    I got my devil machine Got my electronic dream Sonic reducer Ain't no loser I'm a sonic reducer Ain't no loser -Dead Boys View full entry

  • The Minimum Maximum

    Nick Sowers
    Mar 31, '10 5:45 PM EST

    There are 24 days until final thesis reviews here at Berkeley. This fact has many of us letting out prolonged sighs. The pressure to produce something which culminates our time here is mounting. To make things worse, the pressure is coming from yourself. We all fumble half-blindly for the release... View full entry

  • to Sejima

    Nick Sowers
    Mar 30, '10 2:54 AM EST

    and to Ryue too i cannot send you flowers but shisendo, spring View full entry

  • November_Red

    Nick Sowers
    Mar 26, '10 8:23 PM EST

    [Image: Okinawa, delineation of beaches for the Marine landing on 01 April 1945. Map prepared by the Intelligence Section Amphibious Forces Pacific on 20 Jan. 1945.] Almost sixty-five years ago to the day, 60,000 Marines landed on the island of Okinawa, meeting little to no opposition from the... View full entry

  • Because destruction is more fun

    Nick Sowers
    Mar 24, '10 12:28 AM EST

    Preciousness of models does not interest me. If I am producing models, I am interested in their decay and destruction as much as the opposite condition. Certainly, in this thesis which examines the life-cycle of a US military base on Guam, what happens when the resources of construction and... View full entry

  • Desert Obscura

    Nick Sowers
    Mar 22, '10 6:17 PM EST

    I'm back from three days in the Mojave desert. We drove six hours from Berkeley last Thursday, and the moment we pulled up from the Central Valley floor to the high desert, I felt the strangest feeling--it felt like home. It is the wide open horizon that I love, the clear visibility of objects... View full entry

  • Thesis = failed experiments

    Nick Sowers
    Mar 12, '10 12:04 PM EST

    The Cornstarch Monsters fall down like cymbal crashes two blo-wn speakers View full entry

  • prnt dsk 3

    Nick Sowers
    Mar 8, '10 8:41 PM EST

    I am building a machine for refining jet engine sound.[enlarge] View full entry

  • Ninjas must be good listeners

    Nick Sowers
    Mar 5, '10 4:30 AM EST

    Today was a day of recovery from a midterm thesis binge that was immediately followed by a Korean BBQ/karaoke binge in Oakland. By the way, Koreans can lay down some legit rap. And typos in the lyrics also significantly boost the entertainment value. Now that I have a chance to breathe, I can... View full entry

  • prnt dsk 2

    Nick Sowers
    Mar 2, '10 1:22 PM EST

    Faysal from the AA school blog is doing a great series called prnt scrn so I thought I'd continue my own series started here.view full size And, this from a 1972 interview of Bruce Nauman with Lorraine Sciara: They gave you a studio and said fill it up, and you didn't have to do anything else. You... View full entry

  • IN[ARCH]

    Nick Sowers
    Mar 2, '10 12:54 PM EST

    I am teaching undergrads architectural drawing this semester, which is a pretty fun task in these times. It's their first studio, and so whatever tools and techniques you teach are necessarily influencing the way they think about design. That's an awesome thing, actually. With what tools does one... View full entry

  • Infiltration

    Nick Sowers
    Mar 1, '10 5:23 PM EST

    There's a guest here on the 9th floor of Wurster, a University of Michigan grad student named Dan who is visiting his buddy here at Berkeley. It's spring break for Michigan, though he has tons of work to do. So he's occupying a desk in the middle of Thesislandia, laptop open and cranking away in... View full entry

  • Glacier/Island/Storm pt 2: Super/Typhoon/Wall

    Nick Sowers
    Feb 26, '10 6:12 PM EST

    In the opening pages of Sonic Warfare, Steve Goodman cites a newspaper account of a "sound bomb" created by Israeli low-flying jets over the Gaza Strip, painting a sonic image of "broken windows, ear pain, nosebleeds, anxiety attacks, sleeplessness, hypertension, and being left 'shaking inside'."... View full entry

  • Glacier/Island/Storm pt 1: Design to Fail

    Nick Sowers
    Feb 22, '10 1:12 PM EST

    This is the first of two posts which are part of Geoff Manaugh’s “Glacier/Island/Storm” studio underway this Spring at Columbia University. Be sure to follow the online conversation as it unfolds this week! I have been invited by Geoff to write something in response to the studio... View full entry

  • What's around my desk

    Nick Sowers
    Feb 18, '10 2:29 AM EST

    Thesis is an atmosphere. It's a condition you inhabit, with its own climate system and rules of physics. The beauty and the death of this atmosphere lies in the fact that it's you who is in control. Only you get to say "yes, this belongs here" or "no, I will ignore that." You define the... View full entry

  • The Branner Lecture

    Nick Sowers
    Feb 8, '10 6:15 PM EST

    I've been absent. Both the thesis and preparing an exhibition and a lecture about my travels in 2009 have kept me pretty busy. If you are in the Bay Area, I hope you can come out to hear a talk that I will be giving this Wednesday titled "Military Atmospheres" in conjunction with the other two... View full entry

  • ×Search in:

Affiliated with:

Authored by:

Other blogs affiliated with University of California, Berkeley:

Recent Entries