UC Berkeley (Nick)



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    Stab Two: A Thesis Declaration

    Nick Sowers
    Nov 8, '08 2:53 AM EST's hoping that my explanation (lineage), set of assumptions, and direction, are now more clear...........

    “War leaves its mark on the social body; it is because, through the intermediary of military institutions, it has general effects on the civil order as a whole.” (Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College de France. p. 159)

    "Keep hair neat, clean and well groomed. Hair above the ears and around the neck shall be tapered from the lower natural hairline upwards at least ¾ inch and outward not greater than ¾ inch to blend with the hair style. Hair on the back of the neck must not touch the collar. Hair shall be no longer than four inches and may not touch the ears, collar, extend below eyebrows when headgear is removed, show under front edge of headgear, or interfere with properly wearing military headgear. The bulk of the hair shall not exceed approximately two inches. Bulk is defined as the distance that the mass of hair protrude from the scalp." (Navy Male Haircut Standard, taken from Navy Uniform Regs Ch. 2)



    In 20th century warfare, tanks provided armor and mobilization for the body, enabling the control of vast stretches of territory. The tank is effectively a performative wall: occupiable, mobile, and fearsome. By the end of the century, the battlefield moved into dense urban areas, thus the tank as human armor and instrument of territorial control evolved and is evolving. The symbiosis of man and machine of which the tank is emblematic is giving way to a new order, in which the binary relationship is expanded into a gradient between man and machine, ranging from machinic surveillance and control to robotic prosthetic limbs.

    The end of the binary in architecture (man/machine, inside/outside, city/landscape) demands a fundmental rethinking of the “tank” of architectural institutions: the wall. To reconsider the wall is to challenge our assumptions of space, what it is to enclose space and secure it. It is to ask what is defensible space.

    Context: what follows is my impoverished reading of the history of architecture and my attempt to see where this thesis fits in.

    We begin with the notion that war and struggle for territory is at the root of civilization. Architects have often been engaged in matters of war (Vitruvius, Vauban, Viollet Le Duc, Speer, Mendelsohn (thanks Smokety), etc.)

    The task of the architect was to exclude war and chaos via the institution of the wall: walled cities, walled houses, walled gardens, walled neighborhoods. Through the mechanism of exclusion, architecture is at the service of power.

    The Moderns’ space as enclosure relied upon a distinction between inside and outside, city and country, even as it aspired to the disappearance or smoothing of these distinctions. The empowering forces of so-called-progress encouraged fluidity but instead created chasms of difference. The space of the increasingly rationalized interior stood in contrast to an increasingly complex and uncontrollable exterior.

    Le Corbusier: “The War was an insatiable 'client,' never satisfied, always demanding better… We may then affirm that the airplane mobilized invention, intelligence and daring: imagination and cold reason. It is the same spirit that built the Parthenon.” (Vers un Architecture)

    Modern architecture (more so than any architecture before it) is at service of the war machine. It adopts too literally the mechanism of the war machine into that of architecture, in the ceaseless search for innovation and progress.

    To counter this inhumane Modernism, we have Aalto: “I have a feeling that there are many cases in life where the organization of things is experienced as too brutal. The architect’s task is to make our life patterns more sympathetic.”

    Architects ignore instead of translate the violence and chaos which is perceived as ‘outside’ of architecture. The tank is the metaphor for this trampling of difference, but Aalto's call is to recede into the mythical space inside of the "tank." While insisting on easing modern life for the individual, it presumes to be independent of accident, of circumstance, of death.

    From Robin Evans in "Persistent Breakage" The Projective Cast, it is clear that the desire of the post-modern is to create and replicate fracture as a mythical space in which we may accept the true continuity of our daily lives - a continuity made thorough by globalization.

    Since progress is no longer a pure aim of architecture (Le Corbusier), the post-modern must create it artificially. This comes at great expense to the true affect of architecture. Evans: as we multiply the layers of architectural language about a core "meaning," the affect of architecture reduces in proportion.

    The contemporary “post-critical” movement in architecture takes a laissez-faire attitude toward politics and its translation into built form, exemplified by Greg Lynn, readily accepting the conflation of globalism and militarism. At a recent lecture at Berkeley, he half-jokingly stated that he couldn't wait for the war in Iraq to end so he could gain access to the fabricators who produce his toys.

    As a response to the laissez-faire post-critical attitude: “(T)he responsibility of professionals in the new world order is confined to facilitating the arrival of the “new,” while washing their hands of the overdetermined historical narratives - and the dead bodies - through which this new is named.” (Reinhold Martin, “Critical of What?” Harvard Design Magazine. Spring/Summer 2005)

    The issue at the surface level is how to produce an architecture of resistance, so that we are not mere facilitators of capitalist production. Is it possible to restore a unified movement in architecture, in which we may demand as Le Corbusier did, Architecture or Revolution? This time, however, the question of revolt is not because we want to level history; it is because we must find a new translation of it.

    Walter Benjamin: “The intention of the poet {read: old architect} is spontaneous, primary, graphic; that of the translator {read: new architect} is derivative, ultimate, ideational. For the great motif of integrating many tongues into one true language is at work.”

    Is it possible to return to a utopian project, a metalanguage for architecture? Is it possible to make an architecture out of the translation of the mechanism of the expanding tank/landscape relationship, the transformations of the many "tongues" between military and civilian, without succumbing to the desire to mollify the differences?

    A bad translation is one which seeks to bring the meaning of the original through to the translation via a dutiful rendering of its syntax and form. A good translation is transparent: the original is evoked, all the while -and this is the critical moment for architecture- the translator's language is forced to find new forms which speak to a universal language.

    Benjamin: "It is the task of the translator to release in his own language that pure language which is under the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work. For the sake of pure language he breaks through the decayed barriers of his own language."

    The language of contemporary architecture has decayed through a persistent fragmentation, whereby the ability of architecture to act is negated and to speak is muted. The most recent strides to restore action and affect to architecture still serves claustrophobic regimes of power. This thesis seeks to question that servitude of architecture to power and find new ways to translate the tank and the suppression of harsh realities for which it stands.

    Architecture is both translation and revolution.


    • ∑ π ∓ √ ∞

      nick, liked the response to my thoughts. here's another point; in this post 9/11 world, video cameras have taken the place of beat cops, you know cops responsible for quality of life crimes, it's become less about engaging in a territorial mediation/flag capture in big cities, it's now about the fear/paranoia inducing state. so, acknowleding that, i could extrapolate that to the use of droidtanks in the cities as a means of policing/capturing without capturing flags. it's not going to be about occupation anymore - not enough boots - but about the idea of holding people in control by the remote control state.

      Nov 9, 08 8:48 am  · 

      afterthought: tank and a house of cards

      yesterday, while waiting for Changeling to start:
      "With the help of the city's electricians, the engineers had fastened lightbulbs to the garlands on the tanks. It was similar to the way in which before the war festive lights were attached to the masts of ships on parade. The decorative lighting transformed the tanks into the tractors they'd once been."
      Alexander Kluge, Cinema Stories, p. 38.

      coincidently, Piranesi died 230 years today.

      Nov 9, 08 10:02 am  · 

      house of cards=thesis

      I like the story about tanks going back to tractors. Reminds me of folly that is the Bridge Over the River Kwai--you cannot properly return the machines of war over to the machines of progress without a spectacle.

      and isn't it all madness...

      Nov 10, 08 2:21 am  · 

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