UC Berkeley (Nick)



Aug '08 - Jun '10

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    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.


    • congratulations nick.

      Jun 18, 10 1:39 pm  · 

      Congratulations! Your blog is fantastic and will be a great inspiration to others following similar trajectories.

      Jun 18, 10 2:38 pm  · 

      hello, hello - i don’t know why you say goodbye i say hello.

      bye and congrats, nick. hi and congrats, michael.

      Jun 18, 10 7:48 pm  · 
      vado retro
      Jun 19, 10 9:09 am  · 

      Hi Nick,
      Congrats and thanks.
      I particularly enjoyed the "prnt dsk" entries...sometimes you can’t beat a good old Photoshop photomerge!


      Jun 20, 10 11:30 am  · 
      Brian Koffman

      I saw Mr Blues, Willie Dixon at a small club in Toronto many many years ago. What a master craftsman. Build for pleasure, not for speed.

      Mar 31, 11 6:31 pm  · 

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