Feathers and Stones

I know Steven Holl reads Knut Hamsun, but is he also a Paul Auster fan?
From an Auster-centric post earlier this week, emphasis added:

The plot summary of the play reminded me of Paul Auster’s The Music of Chance. It’s the story of two incredibly eccentric billionaires, Feather and Stone (who are so rich that at times they feel immortal), who have decided to use their money to pursue some very peculiar passions.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum Extension Book:

Stone & Feather: Steven Holl Architects / Nelson-Atkins Museum Expansion.

Conicidence? Common metaphors? Or literary homage?


Paul Auster and Charlie Kaufman’s Cities Within Cities Within Cities Within…

Last week, A Daily Dose of Architecture reported on a new movie written and directed by Charlie Kauffman, he of Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine fame. Synechdoche, New York, is about “a stage director who ambitiously attempts to put on a play by creating a life-size (!) replica of New York inside a warehouse.” A synecdoche, for those non-English majors out there, is a figure of speech in which a part of something is made to represent the whole; e.g. “all hands on deck.”

The plot summary of the play reminded me of Paul Auster’s The Music of Chance. It’s the story of two incredibly eccentric billionaires, Feather and Stone (who are so rich that at times they feel immortal), who have decided to use their money to pursue some very peculiar passions. Feather collects what can only be described as byproducts of history. Almost irrelevant artifacts that I suppose he sees as a synecdoche of that particular historical event (see what i did there?). Feather, however is not the more compelling of the bizarre duo. This honor falls to William Stone, who is not a collector, but a builder. He modestly refers to his passion-project as “The City of the World” – an enormous scale-model of Stone’s ideal city. As he says “It’s the way I’d like the world to look.” It’s also a quasi-autobiographical asynchronic temporal utopia. Within the City of the World, Stone has included representations of himself at various important moments of life – his childhood, his wedding, the day he won the lottery, and most notably, the portion of his life he has spent working on The City of the World.

When asked what will be built in a large blank area on the massive table, Stone replies “I’m thinking about doing a separate model of this room. I’d have to be in it, or course, which means that I would also have to build another City of World. A smaller one, a second city to fit inside the room within the room.”

A model of the model. Of course, following Stone’s logic, there would have to be another model and another and another ad infinitum. The idea of this perpetual model — surely any architecture student’s vision of hell — does not disturb Stone in the least. He has been working on The City of the World for five years and he fully intends, in fact he embraces the fact that he will indeed be working on it until his death.

This brings us back to Kauffman’s film. Will his director survive his ambition? Unlike The City of the World, there is (presumably) no reduction of scale in the New York synecdoche, so what happens if we discover that the full-size portion of New York he is building includes the very warehouse within which the model is being constructed? Must then, the play include an actor hired to play the director, who then hires an actor to play himself? Will this create some sort of infinite spacial vortex, like two face-to-face mirrors, the land-o-lakes butter label, or some sort of spatial Tristram Shandy?

I guess we won’t know for sure until the as-yet-unannouned release date. Let’s hope Kauffman doesn’t disappoint with his directorial debut.


Life Without Books – British Built

Focusing on emerging practices with professional, but not necessarily national, connections to the country, British Built is the sequel to the ubiquitous SuperDutch. – the book that was, at some point, on everyone’s desk when you were in college. Um… that is…if you were recently in college, I mean. British Built lives up to its popular predecessor.
The architects represented in the book are largely responsible for Britain’s multicultural identity – a microcosmic representation of the degradation of both physical and virtual borders in Europe. The young offices represented are multi-scalar, multi-tasking, and multi-national. In her introduction – one of a few excellent essays on the past, present, and future of British design – Lucy Bullivant recounts the shifts in social climate and government initiatives that have encouraged new development and nurtured what could be considered some of the most innovative architecture in the world.

‘non-style’ is so important to many of the featured architects and their peers: a style implies repetition, not a fresh, bespoke response to a situation or cultural context. In formal terms, these architects reject universal recipes in favor of ingenious custom-designed solutions that are no bombastic or self referential. For them, a building needs to work holistically as an urban space, contributing to the construction of the city and its sense of civitas, by offering a generosity of character.

Architecture has become as fluid as the social patterns it is entrusted to accommodate, wit its meanings easily appropriated or debased to make a fashion or marketing statement.

The predetermined, self’referential sculptural presence of building is no longer the primary means by which architecture is made to communicate; that approach has been transcended by the marriage of process, socio-spatial concerns and adaptation to new information and uses.

As you can tell from the excerpts, these architects aren’t afraid to break with (dying?) trend of iconic, signature, overly styled buildings. Two firms who really stand out from the talented crowd of British Built, are FAT (Fashion Architecture Taste) and the painterly/poetic David Adjaye (whose Houses is another gorgeous book).
FAT are true post- modernists (although not quite Postmodernists). Their aim has been to “bandish the self-referential abstractions of modernism and to counter their failure to engage in a cultre outside architecture.” They’re everything I think a young architecture firm should be today: diverse and risk-taking with a broad understanding of what Architecture can be, how it can be understood, and perhaps most important, they don’t take it too damn seriously! More architects need to have a sense of humor! It won’t take away from your work, I swear. Loosen up a little bit.

Go to FAT’s website, check out their work and while your at it, learn step-by-step how to become a famous architect: [ex. step: “Now its time to develop your mystique. This is all important, because it is what you are selling. Remember, you won’t have to design a building for at least ten years. And in this time you will live off your mystique, so make it good. Mystique is what you say, and the way that you say it. If you come from continental Europe, great. If you don’t, pretend that you do. Mystique should also suggest revolutionary politics and french philosophy.”]

The Commentary on some of the represented firms can sometimes be a bit of a tease; sometimes I wish there was more focus on the projects and less on the firm. Regardless though, there’s enough to get you excited about what these firms are doing; enough to encourage further reading and research. always a good quality in a book.