UC Berkeley (Nick)



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    Urban Islands day 1

    Nick Sowers
    Jul 13, '09 3:17 PM EST
    4:01 a.m. Sydney

    Good morning? If nothing else, this is a welcome return to studio life. I'm at the end of the first day of the Urban Islands studio on Cockatoo Island, Sydney. It's been a huge day that began nearly 20 hours ago with a bumpy bus ride through traffic from my digs near Manly Beach to UTS. I'm really excited to be here, and extremely lucky that my fellowship both affords me the time and the means to get down to Sydney for what promises to be an epic (poem?) two weeks.

    This is the fourth year of the Urban Islands studio, one year of which was taught by Berkeley's own Lisa Iwamoto and her partner Craig Scott of IS.Ar. There are about 50-60 students enrolled, almost entirely from universities around Sydney. There's one student from RMIT in Melbourne and another from Rice. It runs for a solid two weeks, out of which will come some awesome installations and propositions for what to do with a former prison/ship-repair and -building island in the middle of Sydney Harbor. More about the Island after our site visit tomorrow morning.

    So this year has a "rock star" line-up, including someone pretty well known around here, Geoff Manaugh of is-it-even-necessary-to-provide-a-link-to-his-BLOG. It was great to meet Geoff this morning and put a face-and-voice to the blog. Of Pamphlet 28 and Bartlett Unit 11 prestige comes Mark Smout. And in from Denmark is Mette Ramsgard Thomsen of CITA.

    After some provocative remarks by the organizers of the studio, we heard the studio descriptions. First up was Geoff. He showed some slides of his book just to whet the appetite before teasing us with a description of what he plans to do in the next two weeks. (Can you just imagine, two whole weeks with Geoff Manaugh? You could imagine, like, a million new cities--that's a new city every .6 seconds) I'll just regurgitate some words from his brief:

    The overall goal of this studio is to explore different ways of producing narrative-based speculation about an architectural site or project. 1) To develop what could loosely be called a deck of "tarot cards" themed around the minor details and major spaces of Cockatoo Island 2) To put those cards to use in the generation of new building and/or design programs for the island.

    A tarot deck!? He inserts a disclaimer in the brief that he is not implying that we need to adopt "any kind of alternative spirituality in this course", but instead wishes to generate "complex narrative diagnoses" from the tarot method. It sounds like a really sweet idea, and very BLDG BLOG.

    Second up was Mark, who after talking briefly about his own work, unloaded a phantasmagoria of models and drawings from his Bartlett unit. His proposal was equally engaging, peppered with English wit:

    Ballistic Instruments

    We are preoccupied with the fluid and yielding nature of landscape and how this can be embraced to generate and investigate Architectural responses. [his capital A] ... Cockatoo Island, a restless landscape with fluctuation g uses and transitory inhabitants will be a springboard for bold, abundant and inventive architectural installations. We will follow the brief Ballistic Instruments to explore temporary and dynamic relationships between the natural and manmade environments that surround us.

    There was mention of pyrotechnics. Did we also mention ballistics? It was the full English Breakfast. A lot of chatter followed his presentation.

    Third up was Mette. She engaged us with a handful of historic uses of textiles as they mediate between inside and outside, public and private. One of my favorite examples from her presentation was from the Enlightenment, when nobles would sit in tents outside their Bavarian castles and imagine themselves cruising through the Orient. The stand-still Grand Tour. She showed some beautiful images of her work, though echoing in the back of my mind was a scathing critique by one of my thesis prep instructors of digital fabric-type work: "we've had enough with tortured blankets". That aside, her presentation was indeed enlightening.

    Here are some words from her brief:

    Invented Interiors

    When questioning the urban we tend to think its infrastructures, its cavities and spaces as that which happens between the exterior of its architectures. As such we tend to suppress the relationship to its interiors: to the lives and intimacies that take place within it. Our proposal is to question how a constructed interior could suggest new ways of thinking the urban condition… The last decade has seen an extreme development of the textiles industry...This studio explores how techtonic textiles challenge the way we think, design and build architecture.

    After the presentations, we put in our votes. It was really tough, but actually my first choice was really clear: Geoff Manaugh. The other two studios also look incredible, but I leaned toward Mette even though both have elements that relate to my thesis work. There were rumors that a lot of people ended up with their second choice pick, and from my little sample of the student's choices, Geoff was well in the lead. Heck, in some ways it doesn't matter which critic I end up with, just being here and studying this island as a sample of post-military space is huge for my thesis work.

    I'll have to save for next time a description of the opening exercise, and the reason why I am still up now at 5:01 a.m. In two hours I will wake up and get on the Manly Ferry, transfer at Circular Quay to another ferry, and soundscrape the island called Cockatoo.

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