Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Birth of the Red and White Pole

Paul Seletsky, the Digital Design Director for the global firm SOM based in New York, spoke yesterday more or less about the digitization of design process, and using the datasphere to keep tabs on and manage all aspects of the design in a single coherent data tracking system. I am not going to relay his presentation, really, (a video should be online soon enough) but something he pointed out in his introduction I found particularly, well, subtopian, I guess I will say.

He began by making an analogy to the use of the old bloodletting and purging techniques from the second millennium, as a way of exorcising ailment, pinpointing the arteries of disease, acting upon an assumed geo-anatomy of bodily sickness, which often times -- to the lack of their knowledge -- caused bodily damage in other unknown places, if not exacerbated whatever problem the practitioners thought they were addressing. Seletsky stressed the cause and effect interconnectedness of the body, and specifically referenced an ancient device known as the ‘scarificator’, calling it an early type of architecture. Built with multiple blades it was used to exact precise cuts into the body in a way that was actually much more merciful than previous tactics and tools.

[Image: A schematic drawing of the "scarificator", a primitive multiple -bladed device used in exacting precise forms of bloodletting.]

This was all, he seemed to imply, suggestive of the kind of dissective nature of architectural development, where treating one aspect of the building may have considerable repercussions on the rest of the building. An odd metaphor, I thought, and was quite surprised he began with this. Also, being the large corporate firm that SOM is, starting his talk about the ancient technique of bloodletting was a little eerie. But it made sense when he went on to discuss the notion of using a dataspheric approach to designing buildings more surveillance-consciously and respective of their entirety, rather than not using the power of data and digitization to track the effects of the architect's tweaking and design manipulation and how that might have an undesired or unknown consequence on the rest of the design.
However, what is interesting to me is how this ancient practice has made its permanent mark on some level of architecture today. Back then, the duty of bloodletting was assigned mostly to the barbers. And when I looked this up on wikipedia what Seletsky had to say seemd also verbatim, so let me just quote from this short history lesson here:

Even after the humoral system fell into disuse, the practice was continued by surgeons and barber-surgeons. Though the bloodletting was often recommended by physicians, it was carried out by barbers. This division of labour led to the distinction between physicians and surgeons. The barbershop's red-and-white-striped pole, still in use today, is derived from this practice: the red represents the blood being drawn, the white represents the tourniquet used, and the pole itself represents the stick squeezed in the patient's hand to dilate the veins.

Needless to say, I had no idea where the red and white striped pole came from, which is really pretty creepy actually, if you think about it. The idea that we have over time cast this primitive medical treatment (bloodletting) which in some cases was associated with torture, as a classic symbol on the streets for barber shops today. At some point the blue stripe was added and I am not sure why exactly. Perhaps to round out the other two colors with a show of patriotism, I don't know. Either way, now that I know, the barber shop seems like the last place I want to go for a good old fashioned shave.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Border Bound

Real quick, some updates on the U.S./Mexico border.
In case you haven’t been following the news, a 6-foot-long cross-border tunnel was recently discovered a few weeks ago underneath a section of border fence at the U.S.-Mexico line in Otay Mesa, California; a sort of capital of border tunnels in the least few years, especially after a 2,400 foot long “Grand Tunnel” was discovered extending 35-50 feet underground below public roads, buildings and open spaces from inside a warehouse in Tijuana to San Diego. However, this "very primitive" tunnel was measured at only 30 inches in diameter, just wide enough to be used for human smuggling, officials said. Just a mere “gopher hole” as the Tunnel Task Force jargon would call it.
From reports I've read, this puts the total border fences discovered along the border at over 50 now, though the news tends to report 40 I think to perhaps downplay this scenario.

[Image: Border tunnel found end of March, Photos courtesy of the Mexican Attorney General's office.]

The plan now has been to pour concrete sheets into the bigger tunnels plugging them in the northern side of the border, until more massive concrete plugs can be funded that would fill up the entire northern tunnel passage. Also, read our last post on border tunnel infill for a bit more on some of the main tunnels that have been found and are being planned for plugs.

But, so far, enforcement hasn’t really proven able to devise a reliable solution despite building these types of fences, rather we have seen increased violence along the border and the development of new migration fronts, like Yuma, for example, which oversees 62 miles of the border and where agents are catching 300 to 450 immigrants a day (which is apparently normal, but with tightened patrols in Nogales and Douglas, AZ. - there have been massive spikes in daily flows). Obvious other fronts are pushing either underground (the rapidity of tunnel exposure continues to dramatically increase), deeper out into the desert (where more and more migrants die almost daily), stashed in vehicles, and even in Border Patrol or ICE corruption. The result of enforcement almost exacerbates the paths of illegal immigration instead of abating them.

[Image: Towers scan border in Tucson, Arizona. Photos by David Sanders / arizona daily star, 2007.]

On a good note, the Senate recently voted unanimously on a bill that would make it mandatory for “federal authorities to consider concerns raised by states, local governments and property owners in places where fencing would go up.” This comes after much debate has circulated in Texas where local officials have staunchly resisted plan to build fencing along certain portions of their southern border, like in Val Verde County.
Basically, the DHS went down there with a massive map of all the proposed places of fencing they planned to build from Texas to California, which ticked off lots of locals for having not even been considered in the plan.
Eventually, the DHS relented some and said they would work with locals to determine what was the best solution for everyone, but in disregard of several reports have circulated finally making more light of how fencing would destroy much of the environment apparently there has been a fast tracking of the barrier construction process to build in the Rio Grande Valley. Additional reports even indicate that some of this barrier construction would violate part of an international boundary treaty with Mexico over international water flows. I quote:

Sally Spener, spokesperson for the IBWC, said that impermeable fences on US territory but between existing rivers and levees could violate the treaty by deflecting or obstructing the natural water flow. The treaty established the Rio Grande and the Colorado River as the international boundary between the two countries, and established provisions to avoid the loss of territory by either party as a result of changes to the river's flow due to causes other than natural lateral movement.
Even though Congress approved several months ago a plan to build 700 miles of border fencing it turned out the necessary funds were never approved. Nevertheless, seventy miles of border fence will be built by the end of the year, though, according to this article none in Texas until 2008.

[Image: Map of future border fence construction in Texas. By AARON NELSEN, The Brownsville Herald, May 6, 2007.]

Part of the plan is to complete a 34-mile section of barricading in Arizona along the Barry M. Goldwater U.S. military artillery firing range (which is already being tampered with and seen as a wink link). “Several other chunks will be built in New Mexico, California and in other parts of Arizona. They’re seeing a combination of illegal incursions, and we will address these areas of vulnerability first.” 153 miles of border fencing will actually end up in Texas at some point, 70 of which will be in the Rio Grande, while the remaining fencing out of 375 miles is still in some sort of planning phase. The cost for this 375 miles? Estimates are between $6 billion and $25.9 billion over a 25-year period.

Anyway, I am busy doing Postopolis! right now and will try to get more posts up soon. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Subtopia heads to NYC

So, less than a week from right now Subtopia is off to our first ever public event at the Storefront for Art and Architecture Gallery. And, incidentally, my first experience in New York City! How exciting is that? Yeah, I know – it’s crazy! I’ve been around the world, dozens of countries (if we meet there I promise to babble your ears off all about my travels), but – it's true, this will be my first time in New York, and, well, I’m quite thrilled at how it is turning out so far. It should be great. New York has resisted me long enough.
With my fellow cohorts, Geoff (BLDGBLOG), Dan (City of Sound), and Jill (Inhabitat), I’ll be hanging out in this awesome gallery, interviewing and talking to people all day, writing little bits, taking short little walks to meet others, to explore Manhattan, meeting hopefully a few of you, all the while introducing this mad list of speakers in and out of the gallery all week long.
Lebbeus Woods, Mark Wigley, Laura Kurgan, Michael Sorkin & Mitchell Joachim, Stanley Greenberg, Joel Sanders, Susan Szenasy, DJ /rupture, Andrew Blum, Jake Barton, William Drenttel, Tom Vanderbilt, Michael Bierut, Lawrence Weschler, Robert Krulwich, Benjamin Aranda & Chris Lasch, Randi Greenberg, Allan Chochinov, Julia Solis, Ada Tolla & Giuseppe Lignano, Scott Marble, Paul Seletsky, Robert Neuwirth, Wes Janz, James Sanders, David Benjamin & Soo-in Yang, Eric Rodenbeck, Kevin Slavin, Gianluigi Ricuperati, Quilian Riano, Miss Representation, Enrique Gualberto Ramirez, George Agnew, Chad Smith, Abe Burmeister, John Hill,Tobias Frere-Jones, Matthew Clark, Jeff Byles, Lifeform, Keller Easterling, and the list isn't over yet.

[Click here to enlarge.]

Seriously, I can’t wait.
Five days listening, chit-chatting, recording, schmoozing, scribbling, note-taking, hanging out, drinking tons of coffee, munching good falafel, drinking a few beers, and just thinking about all this spatial stuff: like, for example, building cities with ecological fortitude; or, how the ‘War On Terror’ has unleashed a ‘new military urbanism’ across the global landscape; or, consider the engineering nuances of designing the world’s greatest manmade acoustic structures; if that’s not your cup of tea, how about a conversation looking at public art as it intersects with architecture towards different strategies of space reclamation. Ever wonder about the modern history of the art of demolition? Or, the distinct characteristics of economically depressed shrinking cities, the American rust belt and how from there might emerge a new architectural scrap futures market? Are you ready to comprehend “the self-organized chaos of Lagos”? How about your interest in the homeless and the design activism of innovating solutions for supportive housing? Care to take a literary journey through New York’s subterranean infrastructure? Or, what is meant by the “spatial products of globalization”?
Well, obviously, I could keep going. But you get the idea. Tons of speakers, tons of topics, or as Jav noted, tons of “topophilic grist.”
Check out the schedule here, though, it is currently being given some last minute time slot treatments, but – that’s the gist of it anyway.
And don’t forget, Saturday, a few fellow Archinectors along with a small gang of local New York City based archi-scribes are gonna throw down an early evening blog-o-matic tag team of short talks and peeps into their own blogs and crazy angles covering architecture on the web. So don’t miss it if you happen to be in NYC next week. If anything, come down for a few drinks, we’d love to meet you!
And, I'll be there a full week, from Sunday May, 27 - Sunday, June 3, if anybody wants to meet up either prior to, or after the event.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Babylon's Crowning Achievement

Well, real quick, despite all of the reconstruction woes and abysmal failures that we keep hearing about plaguing the primitivized state of Iraq right now, it seems that the U.S. government is managing to complete at least one project on time and on budget.
Question is, can you guess which one?

[Image: World's Biggest U.S. Embassy May Not Be Quite Big Enough, Washington Post, May 16, 2007, By Daniel Berehulak -- Getty Images.]

Yup, that's right - the U.S.'s New Embassy Compound (NEC) hulked down within the Green Zone. That wasn't really to difficult to figure out, was it? And I don't mean to overlook any of the other successful projects that have actually made a significant infrastructural difference over there, but it just seems so symbolic right now. Even more so, is the fact that the new embassy apparently hasn't calculated enough armored housing for its roughly 1000 employees. The Washington Post reports, that while "there are more than 600 blast-resistant apartments in the NEC, there's a need for several hundred more apartments."
Furthermore, many of the embassy employees are currently occupying "tin-can trailers" with "no overhead protection." So, as they are, understandably so, freaked out by frequent enough mortar and rocket attacks the same article also says that "New guidelines" have told them "to wear helmets and flak jackets when walking in the open" - really? Thanks for the solid advice. Some employees have gone as far as to ask for "bullet-resistant Kevlar blankets" to protect from shrapnel in case blasts occur while asleep.

[Image: A portion of the new US embassy under construction is seen from across the Tigris river in Baghdad, Iraq. Ed Pilkington in New York, Monday May 21, 2007, The Guardian. Photograph: AP.]

In case you missed our last post about the magnitude of this thing, the Guardian breaks it down like this: "It will cover 104 acres (42 hectares) of land, about the size of the Vatican. It will include 27 separate buildings and house about 615 people behind bomb-proof walls." There are of course the special amenities for the ambassador and his deputies, like a pool, gym, and their own power and water supply.
Needless to say, it will be the biggest U.S. embassy on earth at an estimated cost of $592m and, as previously stated, will most likely be finished as scheduled by August.
And so, years after the lynching of Saddam's great statue and the permanent vacation of Saddam from all of his fortresses, the people of Iraq now have this to look at in their place. Wow, they must feel so much more liberated and secure already just standing in this great new shadow. Oh, but the embassy is not approachable enough to even stand in its shadow.
What will become of this preeminent monstrosity not 200 years from now, but, how about - 50? Seriously, the long term prospect is probably more conceptually interesting but the more immediate consideration is crucial - will the Americans still occupy it, and what would that mean for not only Iraqi politics but regional politics as well? Either way, it looks designed for permanent battle use, to say the least. Say they abandoned it - one wonders what will and should become of it then, if anything, after it has been evacuated, overtaken, or merely turned over? Or, can such a fortress persist only towards an inevitable destruction? Will its very architectural existence always ensure that conflict will surround it? Can these types of buildings ever be considered out of context? Of course they can, but I am confounded by all of the military urbanism that is left on the planet, like an ocean floor littered with bombastic vessels and semi-buried sunken structure, where mankind's military legacy completely reconstitutes the landscape.
Crazy to think about what the future of the New Compound Embassy will be. What it will go on adding to already being, or whether it can become something completely brand new. Or, whether it can only end in total destruction.

(Thanks Rob!)

Friday, May 18, 2007

2 Books on Ireland's Haunted Walls

Sean O'Hagan, writing for the Guardian, points out in a nostalgic little article entitled All along the watchtowers... the symbolic timing of photographer Jonathan Olley's recent publication Castles of Ulster. "As the Troubles slip further into history" he writes, "the black-and-white photographs of Northern Ireland's police stations, army barracks and watchtowers is a record of what might be called 'indigenous Troubles' architecture'," and whose only remains, he warns, may one day be this collection of brilliant images.
Of course, I haven't seen Olley's book yet, and must admit -- I don't know nearly enough about this slice of Irish history as I should -- but just check out these photographs on his website. Could the studded walls, paranoiac towers and imprisoned outposts of Ireland's troubled past have been captured any more perfectly?

[Image: The 'Borucki Sanger', Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Northern Ireland, UK. Photo by Jonathan Olley.]

Anyway, because O'Hagan came of age in Armagh (a small city in N. Ireland), he tells us, he experiences a precarious nostalgia for the Castles of Ulster today, as it seems like many of the residents there do, too. Even though the Castles induced a "feeling of trepidation" and "sense of oppression that seemed built into the concrete and steel," they were -- despite this psychological scarring -- the quintessential landmarks of his childhood.

[Image: Photo by Jonathan Olley.]

Could the unfortunate link between architecture and memory ever be more apparent? O'Hagan describes some of them:

From the hilltops of South Armagh and County Down, the British army had a panoramic, 360-degree view and surveillance equipment that could see clearly into the sitting rooms of houses five miles away. Listening devices tracked the conversations of motorists queuing at the security checkpoints far below.

Around South Armagh, a predominantly republican area, the police state manifested itself most oppressively in Crossmaglen's RUC station and barracks, the infamous 'Borucki Sangar' (a sangar is a temporary fortification), which loomed, stark and medieval, in the middle of a row of shops and pubs on the main square, its watchtower all-seeing.

As the buildings themselves disappear, these images may well become one of few testaments to their presence, a rare glimpse of a not-too-distant past that is already being airbrushed for posterity.

While Olley's photos are evidence of a distinctly terrorized Irish landscape the more frightening truth about them for me is that they could almost be, in so many regards, the filmic traces of any number of places around the world today.

[Image: Photo by Jonathan Olley.]

If we were just to focus on the brutish walls and violent features of defensive accouterment, it wouldn't be that inconceivable to mistake N. Ireland for, say, parts of Jerusalem or Gaza, or even Johannesburg, maybe downtown Manilla for that matter - possibly a neighborhood in central Egypt or Lebanon; conflicted places which are facing some of their own most cruel histories with political walls and entangled battle urbanism still today.

[Image: RUC police station, Grsvenor Road, central Belfast, County Down, Northern Ireland, UK. Photo by Jonathan Olley.]

Just as these crude building cages, barbed towers and hilltop bunkers could ultimately meet their physical fate if North Ireland officials continue to go the direction of total demolition and indigenous Troubles' architecture erasure, these shameful structures still manage to tragically appear elsewhere in the world along other fissures of an even larger more volatile urban geopolitical faultline. So while we celebrate Ireland's progress for finally transcending such a haunted architectural past, the day also dawns a stark reminder of parallels that can be drawn to other locales unfortunatley enduring the legacy of a similar urbanism of violence right now, which are equally reflected in these images.
Which actually makes me think of a very harrowing prospect in the future - for some heavily financialized global fortress scrap market where perhaps Haliburton comes to operate an international conglomeration of embattled building parts collectors through out different conflict zones - as an urbanistic trading ring for various national armies and nascent paramilitary outfits who are eager to make their streets all the more impenetrable.

[Image: Photo by Jonathan Olley.]

So, as Ireland decides to retire much of its infamous barricades other countries come forward to bid on them, and one day the 'Borucki Sangar' or the one at Crossmaglen ends up re-deployed somehwere in Kabul or Kashmir. Memory-charged sniper towers and remnants of police barracks from Armagh would be won by Hezbollah through some sort of proxy auction. Meanwhile, Haliburton's dismantling crews perpetually hover around war zones chomping at the bit to profit off of both a territory's urban de-militarization as well as another place's re-militarization. As if military urbanism were a natural element of the modern environment to be traded like anything else - as just another architectural resource on the planet. So, ironically enough, The Great Wall of China could actually one day be completely reconstituted along the entire 2,000 mile stretch of the U.S./Mexico border. How scary would that be?
Absurdly unimagineable, I know, but sometimes I wonder - what will happen 400 years from now to all of these more or less shameful constructs?
However, given today's spread of urban warfare the demand for re-militarization seems like it would always outweigh that for de-militarization, sadly. So, I'm not exactly sure where that puts this recycled fortress thing.

[Image: Photo by Jonathan Olley.]

Though, one day, like ridiculously coveted art objects -- or some kind of new precious landscape antiques -- these random historic barriers, memorable gates and high-valued corner turrets would increase in both capital and cultural value, as they gradually become bizarre obsessions of connoisseurship - like futuristic military urbanism trophies, if you will. Defense forces and security real-estate buffs all over would secretly engineer curious moments of regional peace and stability simply in order to have the historic walls de-commissioned and collected for their commodified posterity, and then would hire teams of a-political sell-out architects to fancy an epic border wall museum that promises to stretch tourists, migrants, soldiers and secret operatives together along an incredible stroll overseas, through jungles, across freshly snow-capped desert peaks, through thousands of border towns, down patrolled valleys, through restricted tunnels, past classified military installations, all the way to the invented frontiers of some endless new conflict.
The world's current scattered output of military urbanism bartered for and traded, and eventually re-devised into a single dominant armored structure that would later on be owned mostly by Trump's great great grand-daughter, a memory-deprived history enthusiast with a half-baked interest in architecture and delusional notions about global tourism development.
Or, maybe not. Whatever, it's a dismal little scenario, I'll be the first to admit: the globalization of a military urbanism parts market.

[Image: Magilligan Ranges, Magilligan Point, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, UK. Photo by Jonathan Olley.]

Alright, since you've had enough of my babble here are a couple of other articles worth reading on the urban remnants of the Troubles' and what it means for the people who live there today after enduring such a skittish epoch.

The Troubles: a walking tour

Fragile calm behind Ulster's 'peace walls'

The other book I wanted to quickly mention is The Maze by Donovan Wylie, which looks incredible, if you are into this sort of thing.

[Image: The Maze, by Donovan Wylie, via Slate.]

Let me quote the book's description:

For nearly 30 years, the Maze prison, 10 miles outside Belfast, Northern Ireland, played a unique role in the Troubles. Built in 1976 to house terrorist prisoners, it became a microcosm of the struggle between loyalists and republicans. It was the scene of violent protests, hunger strikes, mass escapes, and deaths of both prisoners and prison staff. In September 2000, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, the prison was closed, and today, nothing but the H-blocks remain. In 2003, the Northern Ireland Prison Service gave Donovan Wylie exclusive permission to photograph the complex without supervision. The result is a book that aims to document the place and to give the viewer an experience of the psychological impact of being inside the Maze.

[Image: The Maze, by Donovan Wylie, via Slate.]

And indeed his photos are amazing, as you can find many of them right here on Slate. Unfortunately, there aren't more detailed captions to go with them, but the images are so powerful on their own I am not even sure what more needs to be said.

[Image: The Maze, by Donovan Wylie, via Slate.]

See them all for yourself.

(Thanks Nama and Geoff!)

'Enclosure, Emancipatory Communication and the Global City'

[Image: Photo from New Jersey by Dave Beckerman.]

'Enclosure, Emancipatory Communication and the Global City' is an upcoming conference with Dan Schiller, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Dorothy Kidd and Dee Dee Halleck, and a keynote address by Mike Davis. From the website:

The field of culture and communication manifests struggles between contradictory tendencies. On the one hand, pressures from capital and state sometimes promote various forms of enclosure — the private appropriation, suppression or marginalization of socially-produced public expression. [...]

On the other hand, progressive forces, from artists and academics to broad social movements, are not only resisting such enclosure, but developing practices and policies that prefigure emancipation — new ways of re-organizing culture and communication democratically. [...]

These forces of enclosure and emancipation increasingly come together in the global city, a site which stands at the nexus of changing national cultures and policies, of transnational migrations and markets, of media flows and audiences, and of consumption and surveillance.

[Image: Photo from New Jersey by Dave Beckerman.]

The Union for Democratic Communications (UDC) conference will be held in Vancouver, Canada, hosted by Simon Fraser University’s School of Communication on October 25 - 28, 2007.
Something to definitely check out for any readers in those parts at the time.

Peripheral Milit_Urb 16

[Image: Number One Observatory Circle (Vice President's House). Via Virtual Globetrotting.]


TOP SECRET, In plain view...: Pretty fascinating article on the business of aerial satellite imaging and the censorship -- or lack thereof -- that is practiced / (un)enforced when it comes to capturing photographs of highly sensitive security locations around the world.

Contingencies for nuclear terrorist attack: The U.S. government is "working up plan to prevent chaos in wake of bombing of major city," based in part on the Preventive Defense Project (PDP).

Iran's Invulnerable Bunkers?: "A few weeks back, the Air Force detonated out its most powerful bunker-buster yet. But a new Iranian super-strong concrete might make it almost useless before it reaches service."

[Image: The Federal Reserve Board operated a 140,000 square foot radiation hardened facility in Mount Pony, Culpeper, VA. Photo via FAS.]

Billion-Dollar Bunker: "During the Cold War, plans to provide nuclear shelters for the public were rapidly shelved after the atomic bomb gave way to the multi-megaton hydrogen bomb. But, as NJ McCamey’s Cold War Secret Nuclear Bunkers recounts, there were deep and hardened shelters to protect essential military and government assets and help with national reconstruction afterwards. One of 'em held billions of dollars in cash."

Get Your Own Embassy: "Looking for a distinctive vacation home? There are 29 U.S. embassies for sale worldwide, several with prices under $500,000."

US puts trust in Alaska missile shield: "Hidden deep in the Alaskan wilderness lies America's latest weapon in its war on terror. The heavily defended Fort Greely is the centre of America's missile defence shield."

[Image: An iceberg floats on a glassy ocean at the mouth of the Jakobshavns ice fjord near Ilulissat, Greenland. Photo by Bob Strong / Reuters.]

Pentagon vs. Nature: "The CIA and the Pentagon would for the first time be required to assess the national security implications of climate change under proposed legislation intended to elevate global warming to a national defense issue."

The Unspoilt Beauties of Nature: Bouphonia leads us on a little tour of the news concerning chemical weapons.... and also responds to Berardi's City of Panic that I blogged about a few days ago. Riffing off me, Phila writes "If we want to, we can find “implicit panic” in everything from seatbelts to non-slip shower mats. I think that what’s important about Bryan’s examples of “architectures of control” is who they represent as a threat (i.e., the poor, minorities, foreigners, and so forth), and to what extent we experience that representation as gratifying, or convenient, or what have you. From this standpoint, one could argue that Berardi is wrong because he misses the point that “cities of panic,” far from being too complex, are too simple, inasmuch as they tell us what we want to hear. (Unlike, say, the somewhat more ethically demanding City of Refuge.)"

[Image: Chinese architect Ma Yansong's model for a greener, cleaner Tiananmen Square Photo via The Guardian.]

autoautism on military urbanism and new plans for China's Tianamen Square: "Perhaps the greening of Tianamen doesn't represent the elimination of military urbanism, but rather it's utilization, atomization, and slow diffusion. Perhaps the future landscape of our cities will be as much about control and defense as it is about citizenship. We are building an entirely new form of walled city, one where the moats and battlements are part of the fabric, not surrounding it." Much more at Archinect.

An Island for Destroyed Cities: Given the endless destruction of buldings as a result of war, either deliberately or otherwise, Geoff writes, "For instance, all the gravel, dirt, and foundation stones from ruined buildings and cities around the world could be dropped into shallow waters off the western coast of Greece – forming the base of an artificial island, as large as Manhattan, on which to build your memorial to cities and spaces killed by war..."

[Image: In Surat, India, a 35-year-old evacuated building collapses in a cloud of dust, the apparent victim of overadvertising. The structure began tilting after high winds buffeted the giant signs, which were attached to foundation columns, for several days. Photo by Bob Strong / AP Photo.]

HOLLOW STATES: "One of the most confusing aspect of modern insurgency for the "experts" * is that nearly every guerrilla group worth observing is advancing on the objective of state failure rather than state replacement.** As in, why would Hezbollah want to rule Lebanon? Who would want that headache? The reason that state failure, or a hollow state, is preferable to state replacement derives from the same counter-intuitive rationale that Lawrence (of Arabia) based his campaign against the Turks upon: partial failure offers many more benefits that complete failure. In this modern case, a hollow state is preferable because:...." (also: Inside the Brave New War, Part 1, Inside the Brave New War, Part 2).


Bringing Them Home, To Homelessness: "Tens of thousands of veterans are suffering from mental illness and homelessness, and as more soldiers return from Iraq those numbers are expected to grow."

A monstrous war crime: "It estimated that 650,000 Iraqi civilians had died since the American and British led invasion in March 2003."

Beyond the Green Zone's 'Gated Community,' Bush's Surge Is Failing: "Bush's "surge" has put army and police checkpoints everywhere in Baghdad but Iraqis are terrified approaching them because they do not know if the men in uniform they see are in fact death squads."

Whoops! US forgets to build housing for reconstruction staff in Iraq

Iraq’s cloudy horizon: "The insurgents in Iraq are forcing the United States military into a tactical corner and thus casting shadows over its surge strategy."

Signs that the PMC industry may survive a US withdrawal from Iraq: The Iraqi parliament has hired a PMC to protect itself.

[Image: Illustration By: Josh Cochran for Mother Jones.]

Security Contractors: Riding Shotgun With Our Shadow Army In Iraq: "The only way to avoid being seized by one of the many militias that terrorize Iraq is to travel with your own militia, and so the documentary film director I am working for has paid $7,000 to a private security company to take us to Baghdad." MoJo takesa crazy ride...

Outsourcing the War: "Jeremy Scahill, bestselling author and investigative reporter for The Nation, testified May 10 before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense on the impact of private military contractors on the conduct of the Iraq War. This is the full text of his remarks." (See this earlier post on Blackwater).

No idea how many contractors in Iraq: "Four years and $500 billion into the Iraq war, the U.S. military still has no idea how many U.S. contractors are at work there."

Defense Skirts State in Reviving Iraqi Industry: "Brinkley and his colleagues at the Pentagon believe that rehabilitating shuttered, state-run enterprises could reduce violence by employing tens of thousands of Iraqis. Officials at State counter that the initiative is antithetical to free-market reforms the United States should promote in Iraq."

War Profiteering and the Concentration of Income and Wealth in America: "How Escalation of War and Military Spending Are Used as Disguised or Roundabout Ways to Reverse the New Deal and Redistribute National Resources in Favor of the Wealthy."

PROGRESSIVE RECONSTRUCTION (PDF): "A methodology for stabilization and reconstruction operations" by Karl C. Rohr, June 2006

[Image: Chinese authorities tore down half of this apartment building in Hefei to make room for road expansion, but allowed residents in the demolished half to move into the half that's still standing. Presumably some families will have to double up. Photo via Jianan Yu / Reuters.]

Deconstructing reconstruction: (Beirut) "City Debates holds multidisiplinary seminars on effort to rebuild in wake of 2006 war."

War as Theater: "Modern conflict is now deterritorilized, focused on ideology, culture, society, or economics. Secondary is the physical space. Modern battlefields discount the need for enemy’s order of battle. Increasingly important is knowledge on media availability (foreign and domestic), audience receptivity (will they listen), public opinion (what will they think if they do listen), and the roles and functions of information systems to understand what could be termed “information channels”."

helmut at phronesisaical, who is readying a book on the subject of torture, says this about Padilla. He is "a bad man who is also, now, a product of torture, an objectification of torture. In other words, as I've argued about torture, he is whatever the torturers wish him to be. This is of the very essence of torturing for "information." Now, we will see this human product displayed in a courtroom where, even more so than in typical court cases, the entire case will be played out as a struggle between competing notions of reality where the tortured object becomes simply a fulcrum, an instrument, on which political reality turns."

[Image: Shot Spotter via Wired.]


Shot Spotter: "Last year there were 148 homicides in Oakland. Today, when someone fires a gun on a city street, a network of hidden microphones kicks in — triangulating the exact location. And alerting police. Can a tech startup help put a dent in violent crime?"

"Illusions of Security" (podcast): "Canadian human rights lawyer and activist, Maureen Webb, argues that the new global security system is threatening both American and global security, and undermining democracy worldwide. She talks with openDemocracy's editor-in-chief Isabel Hilton."

Talking video cameras in England scold citizens: Just check out the video.

[Image: via Boing Boing.]

Lip Reading Surveillance Cameras to Stop Terror: "Shouting, face scanning, eavesdropping, X-Ray firing and now lip reading CCTV, do you still feel free?"

Seeing through walls: "Have you considered that someone could be reading what's on your monitor from a few rooms away? It's unlikely, but possible, as work by Cambridge University computer security researcher Markus Kuhn shows."

Clive points me to this piece Bots on The Ground: "In the Field of Battle (Or Even Above It), Robots Are a Soldier's Best Friend", and the emotional attachments soldiers face sending their little buddies to go get blown to smithereens.

[Earlier peripherals ... 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15]

Friday, May 11, 2007

Urbanization of Panic

I recently came across an interesting little piece called City of Panic written by Franco Berardi in the journal Voices of Resistance from Occupied London.

Berardi describes the state of urban territory as striated by new dimensions of panic where the mental and physical environment of the city overlap in an over-saturation of signs “that create a sort of continuous excitation," he writes, "a permanent electrocution, which leads the individual mind as well as the collective mind to a state of collapse.”

[Image: Signs in Boston indicate presrcibed evacuation routes for the city. Photo via Bike Nerd.]

In short, he talks about how human beings as social organisms are excessively agitated by the urban experience to the point of existing in a constant state of panic. A cultural agitation exacerbated by technology which has enabled a new economy beyond the production of material goods to one of “semiotic goods,” as he calls them, that functions within a kind of hyper-sprawl of frenzied sociality and contagious information. Berardi writes:

The problem of panic is generally connected with the management of time. But we can also see a spatial side to panic. During the past centuries, the building of the modern urban environment used to be dependent on the rationalist plan of the political city. The economic dictatorship of the last few decades has accelerated the urban expansion. The interaction between cyber-spatial sprawl and urban physical environment has destroyed the rationalist organisation of the space.

In the intersection of information and urban space we see the proliferation of a chaotic sprawl following no rule, no plan, dictated by the sole logic of economic interest. Urban panic is caused by the perception of this sprawl and this proliferation of metropolitan experience. Proliferation of spatial lines of flight.

The metropolis is a surface of complexity in the territorial domain. The social organism is unable to process the overwhelmingly complex experience of metropolitan chaos. The proliferation of lines of communication has created a new kind of chaotic perception.

[Image: Mapping comunications networks and global web traffic, photo via.]

He then portends that the urban terrain is no longer understood as a mere economic pattern but as a psychopathological one as well. While this “digitalization and info-sphere” largely defines the complexion of today’s metropolis, the result he says is a political and economic crisis of bursting attention span, pressurized time management, and neverending cognitive anxiety, all of which translates to a City of Panic.

I imagine it as panic en-globalized. Or, panic as a new prototypical capitalist form, or something. The economic engines of the world spurred on by frenetic geographies of panic development; panic as more than just an urban dimension but as a 21st century planning principle. Is it a transnational institutionalization of panic through global urbanism that makes the world go round today?

Back to Berardi's point, however, if I understand him correctly (and in my own words), human society as a system for social organization is compressing and fragmenting under the pressures of its own urban psychosis, self-constituted in the nature of these "semio-cities" (as I might choose to call them), and that civilization is kind of burying itself in the environmental traces of this collective panic, as if cities were mass psychospatial fossils, if you will, ready to leave the future imprints of our psychic breakdown in the skin of the earth forever.

[Image: "Human Streams" from Waxy Poetic.]

Taking the City of Panic a bit futher in Subtopian terms, panic has become the main ingredient that binds the urban experience, perhaps even determines the geopolitical climate as well, if we think of globalization and the 'War on Terror' purely in terms of the spaces it occupies. We could examine the implicit panic in structures like border fences and detention centers, bunkers and nuclear shelters, urban conflict zones, foreign embassies, paramilitarism and slumaphobia, etc. There are entire Cold War landscapes modeled on a panic preparedness. Berardi likens this ubiquitous panic to an electrical charge, but I also see it is a critical vibration in some way - or, maybe more like a resident frequency that signifies the simultaneous (in)stability of the global city's core social and structural foundations. Panic as a volatile urban harmony. We have engineered a range of metropolises that vibe on the edge of collapse at every level.

I get a little leery of some of the language in his article (but I get even more so of my own in relaying it!), so, in other words, while the article riffs off some classic post-modern theory on media saturation, semiotic bombardment, information barrage, globalization, and ultimately a culture of fear that has already been written about extensively, it also provokes good reflection on the ways fear is transmitted in the very genetic make-up of our cities, in the spatial logic that organizes and rearranges the social infrastructure of global capital.

[Image: Unfortunately, I Googled Imaged this one and can't recall the site. I will try to cite this one soon.]

Berardi’s article not only shares the title of Paul Virilio's recent book but leans towards similar observations, namely how the contemporary city is defined by a kind of de facto psychopathology that is embodied in the very spaces and architectural rationales that order urbanization today, from gated communities to urban surveillance landscapes, to the last dying refuges of public space that have been overwhelmed by privatization and a complete hyper securitization of the built environment at all scales. It is not entirely unobvious that panic appears almost as if it were a chief modus operandi for much of the world’s planning strategy. We've moved past the kind of bombastic but functional fear that the nuclear threat brought towards a more dysfucntional domestic terror that keeps everything on edge where at any moment something on a smaller local scale could suddenly cause considerable mayhem. Either way the current urban response is less on how to prevent crisis and more so on how to armor ourselves from its penetration.

Perhaps more so than ever cities today are defined by a collective psychology whose roots flourish in the very physical forms that constitute the metropolis. This is a topic I am very interested in myself, particularly in the ways the production of cityscapes are used as a means for devising a 'culture of fear,' or what could be also referred to as a hysteria of fortress urbanism. I am extremely curious about the psychological effects of armoring our skyscrapers, fortifying our public spaces, walling ourselves off from every possible threat. And I wonder, how are these threats themselves reproduced or perceived in the very process of trying to secure ourselves from them? How must we consider such trends in urban design from a psychological vantage? What do our obsessions with securing our environment mean in the cross-pollination of global culture? It is the direct correlation between landscapes, anxiety and cognition that is of interest to me in the context of a City of Panic.

[Image: From a film called Half Life by Matt Hulse, 2004.]

Part of the goal of Subtopia is to try to look at the pervasive discourse around a security culture through a psycho-spatial lens, to better understand, f.e., how gated communities, security fences, and ubiquitous surveillance are expressions of a deeper cultural pathos. And so, I wonder how the militarization of urban space not only acts as a planning tool for controlling cities (or, perhaps, designing them for the sole purpose of military occupation), but also as a psychological apparatus for expanding the ideals of militarism, i.e., to militarize our egos, our religions, our cultural identities, and so forth. The city as the ideal military recruiter.

One might ask, based on the panic-stricken nature of our culture, what is the current diagnosis and mental health state of western democracy? Or, how can the city be viewed as an architectural weapon to enforce behavior, to mandate neo-liberalism in a way, to turn a population into an obedient supporter of rampant commerce? What are the inherent narratives of power that run through spatial constructs like maximum-security prisons, shopping malls, refugee camps, suburban sprawl, and the hardened borderzones between nation-states? Is there a psychopathological connection between them? Is there a new urban archetype here to be deconstructed? I suppose to some degree I am trying to document these realms of environmental design and, hopefully in the future be able to offer in more constructive terms the behavioral implications of such place-making. In the end, I hope Subtopia can help qualify some of the consequences of this psychological underwriting of a what we might call a globalized architecture of control.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Inhabiting The Wall

You may remember, a few years ago back in ’04, when the story was first brought to light of how one Arab family in the occupied territories had taken a defiant stance against the expansion of the Israeli security wall in their neighborhood by refusing to move from their home that was situated almost, if not directly, in the proposed barrier’s construction path.

Immediately I was blown away that a) their home had not been demolished like so many others had, b) that after the rest of their land had been taken they still managed to survive without having to relocate, and c) that quite literally their home had been enfolded within the wall itself into what was called by Israel’s Channel 1 television station at the time an open-air prison.
In case you’re not familiar with the story of the Amer family, a prison is by no means any exaggeration. As Kim Bullimore for Green Left Weekly pointed out in her article, “To the east, within 20 metres of their house, the Israeli state erected the now familiar eight-metre-high slabs of concrete.” To the west of their home, “there is a four-metre-high reinforced steel fence topped with another four metres of barbed wire, separating the Amer family from the illegal Israeli colony of Elkana which has been built just 25 metres from their back door.” As if that weren’t sufficient enough to fulfill the prison metaphor, she continues to write, “To the north is another reinforced electronic fence, which cuts across what once was the main road to the township of Mas’ha. To the south a fourth electronic fence with barbed wire and locked gates lead to an area regularly patrolled by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and Israeli Border Police.”

Forgive the considerable quotations from her article, but she goes on to tell us how for seven months the family was not even given a key to the “huge heavy steel-framed gate set in the electronic fence located adjacent to the concrete wall.” During this time, Munira and Hani were only given access to their home three times a day, “and only if one of the Israeli security forces was present to open the gate for them.”

It’s really quite unbelievable, actually. Not just for the obvious reasons of imprisoning an entire family that has lived there for 32 years farming the land, but that the wall itself could serve as the spatial membrane for enacting such a thing, that this “security barrier” could in essence devour a family, enfold them into it’s construction – literally!

I’ve talked about the perhaps far-out notion of a theoretical global border wall consuming migrants, or even entire border communities – like some sort of wall-induced digestive annexation; people in the future not only being swept aside for the plotting and construction of these futuristic border fences, but being swept inside its gullet, detained within the architecture of the border fence itself.

Leave it to the IDF to pioneer such a strategy.
Anyway, I bring all of this up because a couple of journalists recently paid the Amer family a visit for whom still remain imprisoned in their home, but have also somehow gone on to become symbols of a certain resistance that I could not pass up bringing to everyone’s attention.
Without simply relaying the entire story (for which you should just go read for yourself) I will offer you a quick summation. The Israeli settlement ‘Elkana’ has in Hani’s estimates “confiscated at least 7,000,000 square metres -- eighty percent -- of the land of Mas'ha,” which is in the Qalqilya district, and was fancied out of an old military compound used by the British, the Jordanian and eventually the Israeli army.
The first Jewish settlers came to live on the compound “in mobile caravans” during the eighties, before the IDF expanded and built the wall which now encloses “about eighty percent of Mas'ha.” We learn that back in the early nineties part of the Amer home was demolished for being too near to the concrete wall, where Hani also once had a nursery and farm for agriculture which was either demolished or confiscated. Only a tiny portion of farm land remains within the family's grasp.

Having protested demolition orders numerous times in court, faced intimidation tactics from the IDF, Hani and his family still have managed to keep their home even though now it is essentially a prison guarded by the IDF and wall sensors that alert them any time visitors come near the home of the Amers.
This prison island of resistance is however about as symbolic as any single instance can get (that I can imagine) for displaying the kinds of dehumanizing effects the Israeli security wall has on the people through out the West Bank, as well as the flexibile nature of the barrier - if it does not destroy everything in its path it simply incorporates it. If not as a means for walling off entire communities as seen in Bethlehem, then the wall can (as proven here) hijack your own home like some post-urban behemoth or viral architecture and literally turn it into a part of its own structure - the home as some kind of bait for the wall which in the end becomes an expanded embodiment of the foreign occupation itself, engulfed, digested, re-adapted through some process of architectural biotransformation, or something. It's border militarization consuming the shelters of resistance for its own urban fortification.
Uh......yeah. Craziness.

Anyway, here are some more articles from which these images have been borrowed from:
The one-family Bantustan in Mas’ha one year into its residents’ demise (February 6, 2004)
A prison with your own key all in the name of security! (March 21, 2004)
Living as prisoners in their own home (The Globe and Mail; 4 January 2006)
Children, Artists Paint Mural on Apartheid Wall at Mas’ha (July 18, 2004)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Well, I haven’t had much reason to make too many announcements in the past, but I am very excited to make one today. At the end of May I will be participating in an extremely cool event sponsored by the Storefront for Art and Architecture Gallery in New York City, an awesome venue that has been pushing the boundaries of architectural discourse in the art world for years now. So, for five days, Subtopia, along with three other blogs that I’m sure you are familiar with (and if you aren’t now is the time), BLDGBLOG, City of Sound, and Inhabitat will all come together to occupy and convert this sweet space in Manhattan into our very own public outpost for a week-long blog-a-thon titled Postopolis!

During that time the four of us, Geoff Manaugh (who authors the super fantastic and wildly futurist BLDGBLOG from Los Angeles), Dan Hill (a Londoner who for years now has written City of Sound which was one of the first and coolest urban culture blogs I’ve ever come across), and Jill Fehrenbacher (whom you probably know for having started the immensely popular green-conscious design blog Inhabitat), will go into a complete blogging frenzy while hosting a series of interviews, public discussions, panels, slideshows and other engaging talks with speakers from a wide array of disciplines related to architecture. The goal is to bring the phenomenon of blogging into a live and public domain where we can directly engage with people while also highlighting the impact that bloggers have made in exploring the bounds of architectural conversation.

Check out the official announcement here.

Honestly, I can barely wait for this. Postopolis! will take place from Tuesday, May 29, to Saturday, June 2, with a constant stream of activity. Perhaps even the best part will occur on the last day itself, Saturday, when we invite local architecture bloggers to join us at the gallery to take turns sharing your own blogs with the general public. I know there are many of you out there who are writing about architecture from some really unique angles, and we hope this will be a great opportunity to get everyone together and mingle over a few beers in what must be the first ever mass architectural blog-in.

So, on that note, if you are in or anywhere near New York City, make your plans now to come on down and join us at the Storefront and hang out for a bit. We would love to meet you and hear what you are up to. This should be a furious week of crazy interesting dialogue and good old fashioned fun. If you have any questions, or reason to contact me, don’t hesitate, otherwise be good and spread the word!

I will make further announcements as time draws nearer, but in case you are a new reader of Subtopia, or any of the other blogs that will be featured for that matter, go have a look right now: BLDGBLOG, City of Sound, Inhabitat, and Subtopia - Postopolis!

Concrete: Canvas of Resistance

Thanks to Niloufar for dropping us a comment on our previous post about the Great Urban Divide and the historical use of phsyical walls as a means for taming the people of an occupied territory, we find an article in Spiegel via rebel:art with some great pics of Baghdad residents painting the American walls.

(All images come via Spiegel Online and AFP.)

In case you missed them, here are a couple of other recent posts on using walls and border fences as canvas for political expression, resistance and solidarity: Face to Face; At the Checkpoint; U.S. vs. Mexico (Border Ball is on!); Wall(s) of Light; a little guardian angel barricade...; Three Ehxibits: on Walls & Political Divide; "Thinking of Walls"