bas princen, future harbor III. van kranendok gallery

standing out among the many fascinating bits of informal flair on display at barcelona's centre de cultura contemporània as part of the post-it city : occasional urbanities show, curated by martí peran, filippo poli, giovanni la varra and federico zanfimarti, were the massive prints of bas princen. in due time i'll do a brief review of the entire show, but for now i want to concentrate on princen's utopian debris series, which documents various public works projects in china.

in princen's photographs, we are confronted by vastness devoid of romanticism. one particularly beautiful shot has workers digging a future cruiseship harbor into the earth. a hill is perforated by a highway bridge, cuts etched into its sides, poured with concrete, trees left in random patches. an unfinished skyscraper peeks behind the hill like a fairytale monster. on the skirts of the hill a "floating population" of workers are having a jumbo impromptu campout. a closer look brings out little scenes of everyday: showering, eating, cooking, resting.

princen's china pictures bring to mind the lavish absurdity of d.w griffith's babylon set for intolerance. despite the seeming grandeur of the interventions, these are landscapes maimed by insignificance. there is little of the proud, viril dominance of technology over nature. princen's vision is dour. in his work, monumental progress offers little solace. these scenes of the almighty man and his brave attempts at terraforming are a withered déjà-vu of the grand infrastructural photography of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. princen himself mentions asahel curtis, in particular a photo of his depicting the regrading of denny hill in seattle, in the early 1900's, as a reference for his work. the feel of princen's photos is full of doubt more than awe at the scale of the enterprise. in a sense, he has reversed the spirit of curtis's photography. before he left mountaneering and treehugging for boostering and promoting the tourist development of mt. rainer national park, curtis said in face of the summit:

"the trivial things of life; the petty cares that to us seem so great slink back in the presence of this majestic mountain."

in bas's work, on the contrary, it is this human "pettiness" that exudes a strange power. these little ant people, going about their everyday business, have a particular resonance, not in the sense of progress and success, but of our own misplaced power that we misunderstand as helplessness.



le corb sailed towards manhattan and:

"saw a fantastic, almost mystic city rising up in the mist. there is the temple of the new world. but the ship moves forward and the apparition is transformed into an image of incredible brutality and savagery. here is certainly the most prominent manifestation of the power of modern times."

he named nyc the catastrophe féerique, the great enchanted catastrophe.


supermarkets are getting scarier and scarier. never mind the mutant three-bulb in one onions, or the gargantuan squash, or the seedless pitless plastic-like bell peppers. it's the weekly rise in prices that's got me worried. last week i bought the same old bag of onions (4 or 5 depending on the size) for about 1.3 euro. this week, same bag of onions (brand and everything) had not 4 not 5 but 3 fucking tiny onions for 1.39 euro. same thing with garlic, three instead of the usual five, for the same price. cherry tomato canisters are now sold half-full. my weekly trip to the super for 2 (which ran me around 50 or 60 euro only a couple of months ago) has turned into 2 or 3 visits a week, never paying less than 35 euro. for the first time ever i've refrained from buying lemons (not parmigiano reggiano, not cojonudo white asparagus, not overpriced english jam, but lemons, for chrissakes!) because i felt they were way too expensive at two-fifty a kilo. i've cut my weekend trips to santa caterina in search of fresh seafood, herbs and mushrooms. the little cocina económica around the corner from work has also reduced its usually generous and colorful sides to half a baked potato and half a tomato. times are pretty bleak for my poor little gourmandise tripa.


moho 2008

following up on eikongraphia's yearly review of the most popular architecture blogs, i've decided to create my own list: moho 2008, or the most hottest of them all architecture blogs of the year (or the semester i guess). my method is completely impartial and authoritarian: i just pick the ones i think are the hottest. here they are:

1. pruned: alexander trevi has done what very very few people thought possible: squeeze literature out of BOTH architecture (landscape, no less) AND blog posts. passion and intelligence abound @ pruned. it is therefore a true rarity.

2. strangeharvest: taste, wit, pop, spike. what else could you ask for?

3. things: ok, this might not really count as a blog, but things magazine is simply outstanding.

4. archinect: again, not really a blog. still, archinect injects more into the blog scene than most personal blogs out there.

5. varnelis: always sharp and always relevant.

6. we-make-money-not-art: some say wmmna isn't an architecture blog. true: it's more than that. régine's blog is what architects SHOULD be reading.

7. where: more urbanism than architecture, which is exactly why it should be on any architect's blogroll.

8. loudpaper: mimi zeiger has put together a savvy and eclectic site. suave. shame on those who think women don't architecture blog.

9. lifewithoutbuildings: manages to go against the current without departing from architecture.

10. a456: total snob. in the good sense.

11. kosmograd: scrumptiously soviet. brutal and brutalist. please post more.

12. a daily dose of architecture: if you're an architect stranded on a deserted island and can only pick one architecture blog, this should probably be it.

13. subtopia: at his best, bryan finoki is combative, potent and dirty. never forgets architecture is politics.

14. brand avenue: if it didn't take itself so seriously, it could make the top 10. not to be missed, all the same.

15. angelidakis: i'll never understand why neen hasn't picked up among architecture bloggers. coolest of the bunch.

16. part iv: unleash the antiarchitect within.

17. bldgblog: ok, so i was a bit harsh on geoff before. i just felt i had to, everybody loves him, and it's sort of gotten to him. but there's no way he could be left out of this top 25. i just really liked the old bldgblog, and feel he should keep pushing himself instead of just basking in the sun.

18. dezeen: amidst the shimmer, the occasional pearl.

19. city of sound: who knew blogs based in austrailia could be so refined.

20. iconeye: so mainstream, so posh, and yet so great.

21. inhabitat: i can't help but smell greenwashing whenever i come in, but just the effort of sticking to sustainability and posting at the rate they do generates respect.

22. bollocks to architecture: just the name is enough to get it into the top 25.

23. architectradure: architecture as a yummy gizmo.

24. the sesquipedalist: if the next best thing to building is publishing, then the next best thing to criticizing architecture is criticizing architecture books.

25. noticias arquitectura: i only wish latin america truly looked this good...

* 26. eikongraphia: i forgot to put it in. should be on your toplist.

* 27: bloglikeyougiveadamn: colin is on leave apparently, but he has to get back to posting.


my thoughts on eikon's mopo 08

1. bldgblog
snowball effect. yes yes, genderbender refreshing exceptional and novel view on architecture. in 2006 maybe. has become rather stale and formulaic. too many new scientist references. good as starting point for external links. i really can't take much of geoff manaugh's writing or his dorkish fixations (over and over again). populist.

2. city of sound
all in all smart and wholesome. good writing. a bit elitist, but there's nothing wrong with that. i can't stand the random book reviews and other promotional bits, though.

3. archidose
the same old fantastic source for things architecture on the web it always has been.

4. pruned
tiptop. never fails to lure and surprise.

5. interactive architecture
don't really know this one.

6. architecture.mnp
wallpaper* ish, but lighthearted.

7. subtopia
sometimes dense and gripping, sometimes just stuffy. i would keep the posts shorter. out of the "niche" or themed architecture blogs, this is one of the better ones. maybe just because i like the theme.

8. life without buildings
clean, unceremonious and a little eccentric from time to time. doesn't conform. i dig.

9. tropolism
a little too sparse and irregular for my taste. but then, so am i.

10. mirage studio 7
only visited a couple of times. can't really say.

11. strange harvest
i *heart* sam jacob. reading makes me wanna lick my screen.

12. architechnophilia
nothing new. spottings and pretty pictures.

13. the where blog
where is a dweeb, but a totally likable dweeb. brendan's efforts to make urbanism/planning interesting and accesible are something to admire. come back!

14. the arch
never been there.

15. super colossal
i liked gravestmor better.

16. sit down man, you’re a bloody tragedy
never seen it. but sounds way too british for me.

17. brand avenue
again, great "theme", less than great blogging. if i have to choose, it's thumbs up.

18. architecture chicago plus
don't know it. how does a blog on chicago make the top 18 architecture blogs, ANYWHERE? there's probably something wrong here.

19. hugh pearman

20. varnelis
i love kazys too. he's like the not so old teacher or uncle you wanna hang out with instead of revere. but that doesn't mean you can't learn a shit-ton from him.

21. lebbeus woods
nineties. late (blog) bloomer. i'd rather read on lebbeus than lebbeus himself.

22. part IV
naughty. a little too local. i likey, though.

23. eye candy
the name sounds too much like my own blog, without the sarcasm.

24. architectural videos

25. kosmograd
would be superstupendous; if he actually posted every now and then.

now reading : bayley

"the very many awful modern buildings that scar the towns and the countryside are not awful because they are modern. they are awful because they are...awful. simply, bad architecture: badly briefed, poorly conceived, badly proportioned, poorly excecuted, badly maintained."

stephen bayley, general knowledge
. . . > (welsh)(1951)(likes manchester)(and tom wolfe)


toppings 12 : night and the city

in 1949, jules dassin left the states fleeing mccarthy and his blacklist. this is how his 1950 night and the city got to be filmed on location in postwar london.

the city is fog and grey and like eliot on crack. in the opening sequence, we're dropped into this thick stew of soot and scoundrels: the smoke (i.e. london) is portrayed as a foul underbelly of streetlife and nightlife and streetypes and angels of the night. it seems the whole city, scarred and traumatized form the war, sustained itself on vice and swindle: from the petty thieves and information peddlers (taxi drivers and waiters are the prized informers of the main character in the film, harry fabian, a nightclub "promoter", conman and hustler) to the usual big bosses that control the law enforcement, the quids, and the entertainment (sex joints and wrestling). picaddily is clogged with street vendors and black market traders and hordes of professional beggars and drunkards. the effect isn't quite dickensian: more than victims and pour souls, we're presented a merciless jungle of every man and woman for him and herself. and all of it is accepted, planned, choreographed, market-driven. the quest for development (for power and advancement) is suicidal. progress is reduced to making it big, which in turn requires falling (in the biblical sense). the city is the dark after-dark, the darkness after darkness (even the daytime shots are full of darkness). the remains of urbanity, the gentlemanly ways and the civilized conversation are part of the farce: "excuse me sir, would you be so kind as to allow me to break your neck, please?" but before you can reply, out of common courtesy, you've already been snapped.

compared to night and the city, cronenberg's eastern promises is cotton candy exotica. it's not the russians that are rotten.

* i'm recovering the toppings themed posts, but since this whole blog has pretty much become a shameless deviation from architecture itself, i'll just stick to poking at architecture and citythings in film.



barcelona is full of cavities. i love the weary industrial remains of poble nou or poble sec, the empty, windowless weddingcake castles of older parts of the eixample. even though the city pains itself in presenting a dazzling and sophisticated face for tourists and urban consumers (formerly known as citizens), barcerlona can't really help herself from exposing her dirty bottom every now and then. i love the for sale signs popping up everywhere like bad weeds, hinting at the housing crisis that should sooner or later have spain by the balls. i love the failed attempts at wiping the naughty away in sake of tourists (the raval, or the little "forest" in glòries that still caters to midnight–even midday–cruisers in search of a quick fix, despite being right next to nouvel's cucumber)(actually, it probably serves as inspiration to do the nasty). i love the after-tourist dawns down the ramblas or the gótico, with the day's refuse piling up, and the fresh stench of piss and guts.



i'm staring at the cover of the latest issue of harvard design magazine. it's an ugly cover, with this generic ciudad perdida shot (could be bogotá, rio de janeiro or the outskirts of mexico city) and a really bad render of some sort of wacky aluminum-clad community hub connected to a ludicrous aerial tram system (public transport, i assume). this is typical of the "western" (first-world) or "westernized" (u.s. or europe-trained) perspective on what architecture (formal) can do for "non-formal" cities.

first off, there is no such thing as a non-formal city (just like there is no such thing as a "formal city"). you can speak of informal settlements, economies, housing, interventions, dynamics, processes, architectures ... but not cities. the clear split between formal and informal, especially at the city scale, is pretty much useless. one always pervades the other and vice versa. one engenders the other and vice versa.

i open up to page 3, the editor's letter. i find it relatively insulting: he talks about dirty work and third world urbanization, and then goes on describing the rest of the issue (computer-generated ornament and parametric design) with a terribly narrow statement of: "meanwhile, back in the developed world..."  this is the usual inability i find most primermundistas have when trying to grasp the extent and pervasiveness of informality, and recognize it not as a localized or "culturally determined" phenomenon, but as an active product of globalization.

it reminds me of the speech impairments most gringos (and spaniards, and french people for that matter) suffer from when they try to learn a foreign language, they are so little exposed to this type of difference, and feel they have little to none incentives to actually make an effort.

but the thing is they do need to make an effort, now more than ever. it's not a matter of waiting for informality to creep up on the pure and pristine and algorithmic west. they're already knee-high in it.

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before china earthquake news falls to background noise (remember myanmar just days ago?)

currently, the media is unsurprisingly focused on rescue and relief measures. no doubt there will soon be an afh call to build houses for the victims. and then architecture headlines will go back to the soon to be completed jaw-dropping olympian projects, the koolhaasian cctv tower, etc. by then, all will be well and forgotten (architecture is just a dandy vehicle for distraction, evasion and distortion). responsibility and other issues will probably stay well buried along with remains and the debris.

for me, the eartquake rang bells from 1985. the devastation that tore through mexico city at dawn on september 19th that year generated not only rage, and despair and loss -material and personal, physical and emotional- but a true political and architectural aftershock.  the rotting rule of  the PRI (many of the grand buildings that were completely wiped out by the earthquake were actually public buildings: hospitals, housing complexes, government offices, etc. built in the heyday of the authoritarian "desarrollista" or developmentalist state) became unbearably exposed. the root of the political and social organization upheaval that eventually led to a local (and then national) challenge and end to the one-party-rule system can clearly be traced to the terremoto.

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i saw a seagull kill and eat a pigeon this afternoon



last week two women were (simultaneously) run over by a car and a motorcycle in front of my apartment building. it was the third accident of this kind in the last two months that i've witnessed from my balcony. the city has responded by spraypainting warnings at the points of crossing:

in barcelona, one out of three traffic-related deaths is a walker. attention! we are all on the road!

so now, it turns out, we who are carless should be particularly careful with the crazy fucks who actually have cars but are pretty much careless. why don't they spray these big ass signs on hoods?



in barcelona, weekends in may are starburst colored. perfect for fun in the sun. i hate the beaches here though. they're dusty, the sand is more like dry mud than sand, it cakes on your skin like a fake suntan, the ocean is gooey and smelly, and everywhere is full of drunken redfaced fatties who flew in from midlands. the beach i despise less here is the forum, because there is no beach. only concrete slabs that dip straight into the ocean. no tourists here either: only tight pubescent moroccans or gypsies from la mina (the projects), swimming, diving and stealing wallets in their underwear.


every city should have a landing pad for the young, restless, and poor...



i love the open-air escalators that climb the hills of barcelona.

this morning on the escalator, i smelled the following sequence:

1. cat piss
2. new grass
3. chemically treated water
4. pot roast
5. pigeon shit
6. old lady
7. spring