Monday, September 10, 2007

Subtopia in Architect Magazine

Some more good coverage of Postopolis! and the “new generation of architectural pundits” in a recent feature article in Architect Magazine called Meet the Bloggers. Last month ICON’s Bill Millard wrote a good piece, and this month we can thank Gideon Fink Shapiro who writes, “The ranks of small, independently published magazines that enlivened architectural discourse in the 1960s and 1970s have left few direct off spring in print. Instead, that culture of intrepid architectural commentary has reemerged online, in the form of blogs.”

The article surveys a bunch of great blogs out there on the topic: Architecture MY Ninja Please, Archidose, Miss Representation, Life Without Buildings, Super Colossal, Curbed, and of course my comrades BLDGBLOG, City of Sound, and Inhabitat.
To further quote the article (which of course you can read for yourself right here):

Although the most thorough research and criticism of buildings is still done by scholars and professional journalists, bloggers are transforming the forum of architectural discourse through topical creativity as well as the sheer speed and accessibility of their medium. Blogs have reinvented the concept of “breaking news” in a notoriously slow-paced profession. New renderings and photos may traverse the web months before mainstream design journals print an editorial. On the other hand, some bloggers shun the journalistic “scoop,” preferring to venture deep into the realms of theory, commentary, and fantasy.

I agree this seems to be how the medium breaks down in terms of disseminating news and acting as its own medium for journalism. I would also add to that the archive nature of blogs as “discourse through topical creativity”, which is another one of the defining characteristics of blogs: their levels of specificity and niche with the ongoing accumulation of pseudo-research and compiled speculation. At least that’s what I think Subtopia does, instead of “breaking news” before it has been broken in a sense I think the strength of Subtopes and others is the fact that they are creating this well of focus on a topic or theme, a subject, a central location for a very given perspective, which usually gets lost amidst larger scale media venues.
I want to thank Gideon for writing this piece and highlighting the blog space of architecture, which is certainly amassing and expanding the spheres through which we observe and refer to architecture that is all quite delicious to observe from both the side of a reader as well as a blogger.
Incidentally, Gideon had asked me a few questions about Subtopia that got me thinking about how I should articulate the relevance or objective of the blog that I have avoided explaining on the site in general. So, I am going to post a bit of that email exchange here for new readers who still may be a bit confused about this whole ‘military urbanism’ thing and why is it so important in the first place. Hopefully this will help a little in that direction.

[Architect Magazine] How was Subtopia conceived and born? How has it evolved over the past couple of years?

[Bryan Finoki] Subtopia was originally going to be a website to just sort of gather a bunch of random research broadly on the topic of a ‘military urbanism’ (without really knowing what would come of it) that I had grown very curious about and eager to document and organize in some fashion – especially after 9/11 and the ways in which I observed the urban world responding.

Prior to Subtopia I’d been assembling a densely-linked series of dispatches for the Archinect news feed called ‘at the border…’ which filtered an array of stories and items and subsets of news pieces I regularly culled together to begin to sort out my real interest in architecture. Very quickly it became evident that my chief curiosity was examining architecture in different political contexts, on the periphery of typical architectural focus (to some degree), and as a fundamental stage for both activism and militarism.

As time went on, the focus became more specific, the research more precise, and Subtopia really just sort of took off on its own as an ongoing chronicle of how different Orwellian trends in urbanism engaged a larger geopolitical process of materializing cities. There certainly has never been a shortage of content when considering the global landscape in light of contemporary militarization, and so the more devoted I became to mapping out the topic the more vividly I think it came up on other people’s radars as well. Soon, I realized that Subtopia had become a kind of de facto mini-hub for a lot of other people out there already working on these issues, acting as a type of feeder for them and their own research hovering in and around the multiple overlapping spheres of architecture, geography, sociology, art, and politics.

For me, it’s been a crazy exploration and development of my fascination with the way national border space is constituted in an age of hyperbolic neoliberalism, and how militarization has imbricated the landscape, and to some extent engineered its own spatial backlash, if you will; or, a kind of counter-landscape that is emerging in response to hyper-urbanization tainted by perpetual political violence. Within that exists a whole spectrum of spaces and sub-landscapes relative to globalization, and I am continuously amazed at how connected everything seems the more I peer through this Subtopian lens.

[Architect Magazine] How does your interest in the militarization of space fertilize the architectural content of Subtopia?

[Bryan Finoki] Well, because I see architecture as so inherently political I cannot really even for a moment separate the two: spatial militarization and architecture. I think in its most bare essential terms architecture is about the arrangement of a set of walls, organizing them either to provide some sort of shelter, or to enable or prevent movement in some way. In its rawest sense, architecture to me is about the fostering – or, the limitation – of a right to movement. And the ‘right to movement’ seems like one of the most vital and crucial of human liberties, especially today given all the hubris around globalization. So, along those lines I am most fascinated by architecture as a spatial dimension of power – often one of military power, or perhaps even its counterpart.

On the flip side, the practice today to which the military seems to exert its control over space provokes a new and critical architectural reflection. There are so many vast new layers to the ways in which the military is able to exercise power given advances in surveillance, new tactics of urban warfare, and even the general domesticization of militarism that has ensued as a result of multiple world wars and now the different spheres which have been cultivated as a result of the so-called “Global War On Terrorism.”

For me, the real intrigue about architecture and militarization is in their mode together as a political production of space; the military as a kind of urban developer, or architecture as both a theoretical and literal disciplinarian device; an enforcer of behavior, an actual spatial weapon as well as a means to shape political process. I am fascinated by the evolution of this relationship and how the practice of architecture has always been – or, become more so – complicit with militarism and the agendas of using space to propagate the ideals of the military. I want to help decode, if you will, the syntax that has been established by this relationship that allows the military to achieve different spatial forms of public control.

In general, I don’t think people consider the daily relevance of a militarization of space, or – for that matter the political relevance of something as obvious and pervasive as architecture. It’s all been rather peripheralized within the collective conscious. But, from my vantage, the most radical re-constitution of the global landscape today seems to be led by this ubiquitous context of militarization and securitization.

• • •

Anyway, I still want to apologize for the recent silence here these past couple of weeks but there is a lot going on that you will here about in the near future, so stay tuned.


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