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  1. The Importance of Genre
  2. Salingaros on Tschumi 2
  3. Elsewhere
  4. The Structure of Aesthetic Revolutions II
  5. Women, Men, Exercise Classes
  6. Salingaros on Tschumi 1
  7. The Structure of Aesthetic Revolutions, Part I
  8. Shorter Art?
  9. Elsewhere
  10. Kimmelman on Libeskind

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Saturday, April 17, 2004

The Importance of Genre
Dear Friedrich -- Wired magazine interviewed LOTR's director Peter Jackson. Here's a fun exchange: Wired: Your early work features some of the bloodiest scenes ever filmed. What do these movies say about you? Jackson: They all represent the type of film I would be entertained by. That's why you make movies. Because you're interested in a genre. You can read the whole interview (most of which didn't interest me) here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 17, 2004 | perma-link | (3) comments

Salingaros on Tschumi 2
This is part two (of eight) of a new Nikos Salingaros essay. You can read part one here. Architectural Theory and the Work of Bernard Tschumi by Nikos Salingaros Part 2. Bernard Tschumi's Writings. Is this man a theorist? Is he even a thinker? I recommend to everyone Tschumi's two books: The Manhattan Transcripts, and Architecture and Disjunction. The first is worth studying in great detail, since it helped Tschumi to become the Dean of Columbia University's School of Architecture in 1988. It contains a 6-page Introduction and barely 10 pages of text. The body of the book consists of indistinct black-and-white photographs (whose subject often cannot be made out), and line drawings by the author. Those represent cartoons of distorted and broken buildings. Their message is unclear, as is their relationship to the text. The same black-and-white drawings are reproduced, this time filled in with dull purple and red, in a separate section entitled "Colored Plates." The photos in "The Manhattan Transcripts" include the infamous one of a man being thrown out of a window, with the caption: To really appreciate architecture, you may even need to commit a murder. What is contained in this book was judged at the time of its initial publication (1981) to represent a novel architectural theory -- and considered worthy of reprinting in a new edition in 1994. I cannot see any theory here that explains or predicts the effects of architectonic form. If this is not architectural theory, then we need to discover exactly what the text conveys. There is an explanation in the Introduction and in the prefaces to each set of drawings, which sets out the underlying idea. For example, on page 8: The first episode ... is composed of twenty-four sheets illustrating the drawn and photographed notation of a murder. On page 14 we read: And that's when the second accident occurred -- the accident of murder ... They had to get out of the Park -- quick. And on page 8: He gets out of jail; they make love; she kills him; she is free. And again on page 32: But what could she do ... now that the elevator ride had turned into a chilling contest with violent death? This has nothing to do with architecture, of course, but it does help to establish a macabre psychological ambiance that is crucial to the project. If I were pressed to come up with the message of this book (and this is necessarily a subjective opinion) I would say that it communicates violence; and projects violence onto buildings. This is in fact the visual message encoded in the cartoon drawings shown in the Color Plates. Forms that are instantly identifiable as buildings are broken, twisted, and dismantled; their component elements left precariously unstable. Images that someone leafing through this book might at first glance dismiss as silly actually carry the clear message of undoing coherent structure. These images have a special quality that sticks to the reader's mind. By... posted by Michael at April 17, 2004 | perma-link | (9) comments

Friday, April 16, 2004

Dear Friedrich -- * A good taxonomy makes my brain feel like a closet that's just been cleaned and ordered; it can also enhance my grasp and enjoyment of art. Forager23 has a workable and ingenious taxonomy here of the various kinds of caper films. * John Massengale gets off a lot of sharp ones in his posting about the architects Andres Duany and Rem Koolhaas, here. Example: Late Modernism is sometimes analogous to Late Adolescence, which, of course, is the age of some architecture students. John also runs a long passage of Duany's own prose that shouldn't be missed. Example: Modernism -- which is a history of failure -- must evolve at a tremendous rate in order to evade the taint -- the stink -- of failed expectations. That was then ... look at this now! It will work this time. Trust us ... Society continues to grant modernist architects one more chance again and again. * Camera memory cards seem to be handling ever more data with ever more virtuosity. A consequence: digital cameras and digital videocams are beginning to merge. Already, of course, you can make rudimentary videoclips with many digital still cameras. And already a few hybrid still-camera/videocams are available. So far, they're pretty rudimentary too. Moi, I predict that, once it approaches maturity, this product -- whatever it winds up being called -- will become a huge hit. Well, I sure want one, anyway. Here's the latest iteration of the device, which is already accumulating good reviews at Amazon. * Scientific American reports that scientists using brain-imaging machines have located where in the brain aesthetic experience seems to occur, here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 16, 2004 | perma-link | (2) comments

The Structure of Aesthetic Revolutions II
Michael: This is the second of my two-part posting on the 'culture-quake' that occurred in America after the Civil War, rendering the Hudson River school of art almost instantly obsolete and enshrining a series of very different art movements in its place. (You can read the first part here.) The Civil War And Its Acceleration of Social Trends As I mentioned, a number of disruptive antebellum trends went from ‘subversive’ to ‘dominant’ as a result of the shock of the Civil War itself. Of course, the war itself had a significant impact on American life. And what an impact it was. Out of an American population of 31 million in 1860, the military death toll from the Civil War was in the range of 620,000-700,000 (i.e., 2 – 2.25% of the population.) Obviously, in contemporary terms this would be the equivalent of 6-7 million combat deaths. I’ve heard it said, believably, that everyone in America in 1865 knew someone who had lost a family member to the war. In trying to estimate the effect of this trauma on cultural attitudes, one can look to other epochal wars. The Civil War death rates of Americans were quite comparable to those of Britain, France and Germany in World War I. Since the Great War is commonly cited as having a transformative effect on European culture, I think one can safely assume a similar effect had occurred 50 years previously in America. Brady Studio, Dead At Dunker Church, Antietam, 1862 Clearly, the sheer bloodiness of the war dealt antebellum-style optimism a painful blow. One cannot help but suspect that the assassination of Lincoln and the inability of Reconstruction to fully emancipate the now 'freed' former slaves in the face of continuing armed resistance in the South—after all those combat deaths—also had a sobering effect on America’s confidence that all problems were solvable for men of good will. Moreover, the Civil War intensified the growth of urbanization, industrialization and the financial infrastructure that made them possible. It was plain that these factors had been critical to winning the war for the North. The increased stratification of American society that followed was, if not liked, then at least considered an inescapable part of ‘the order of things’ by post-Civil War society. Finally, the war seems to have encouraged the adoption of an evolutionary mind-set, if only for its ‘wised-up’ aura of grim realism. (Again, I must remind you, when the term ‘evolution’ is used, this often refers more to Lamarckian and Spencerian ideas about evolution rather than those of the Darwin himself.) As Mr. Menand puts it: In a society that had just been through a civil war the appeal of [evolution] is plain—as [Henry] Adams, in his mordant way, recognized…[survival of the fittest-style] evolution, he wrote in the Education, was the perfect theory for a ‘young man who had just helped to waste five or ten thousand million dollars and a million lives, more or less, to enforce unity and uniformity on people... posted by Friedrich at April 16, 2004 | perma-link | (13) comments

Women, Men, Exercise Classes
Dear Friedrich -- Have you ever seen a plausible explanation for why so many women prefer to do their exercising in an exercise-class setting, while most men seem to prefer exercising on their own? When I visit the gym, I'm often struck by the way the crowds in most exercise classes are 3/4 or more female. I wonder what the evo-bio crowd has to say about this. Ladies, gents: explanations? Speculations? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 16, 2004 | perma-link | (17) comments

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Salingaros on Tschumi 1
The architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros is, as some visitors know, a 2Blowhards favorite. We've been thrilled to publish a long q&a with Nikos (this page here will give you access to the interview's five parts); a piece Nikos co-wrote with Brian Hanson about the architect Daniel Libeskind (which is readable here); a collection of thoughts about Louis Kahn (here); and a short essay about Bernard Tschumi's New Acropolis Museum; you can read that piece here. So we were excited to learn that Nikos has extended his thinking about deconstruction and Tschumi, and has composed a new essay. It's a beauty: eye-opening, contentious, provocative, humane, and great fun. It's likely to set off new thoughts and establish new connections even if you aren't an architecture-and-urbanism buff. We're pleased to be able to publish Nikos' new essay on our blog. Given that it's a sizable piece of writing, we'll run it in bite-sized pieces over the next eight days. (Alongside our usual hijinks, of course.) Here's Part One. Architectural Theory and the Work of Bernard Tschumi by Nikos Salingaros This is a series of chapters from an essay that tries to make sense of contemporary architectural theory. I will discuss some aspects of deconstructivism, with particular emphasis on the theoretical contributions of Bernard Tschumi. 1. Architectural theory. In order to discuss any supposed contributions to architectural theory, it is necessary to define what architectural theory is. A theory in any discipline is a general framework that (1) explains observed phenomena; (2) predicts effects that appear under specific circumstances; and (3) enables one to create new situations that perform in a way predicted by the theory. In architecture, a theoretical framework ought to explain why buildings affect human beings in certain ways, and why some buildings are more successful than others, both in practical as well as in psychological and aesthetic terms. One important requirement of an architectural theory is to coordinate and make sense of scattered and apparently unrelated observations of how human beings interact with built form. Another is to formalize those observations into an easy-to-apply framework that can be used for design. Sadly, architecture is only now embarking on a long-overdue formulation of its theoretical basis. It is not an exaggeration to say that up until now, the field has been driven by personal whim and fashion rather than being supported by any theoretical foundation. As a result of a serious misunderstanding (due to scientific ignorance by three generations of architects), a voluminous body of writings has been mistaken for "architectural theory", even though it is nothing of the sort. This material is taught to architecture students, and is studied by practicing architects; nevertheless, it merely serves to promote certain stylistic fashions and dogmas rather than an understanding of architectural form. Enough genuine architectural theory now exists to form a nucleus from which the topic can be built. This nucleus consists of the writings of Christopher Alexander, Léon Krier, the present author, and a few others. Genuine architectural theory has... posted by Michael at April 15, 2004 | perma-link | (0) comments

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The Structure of Aesthetic Revolutions, Part I
W. S. Haseltine, The Rocks at Nahant, 1864 Michael: A few weeks ago I was leafing through one of my art books, “Expressions of Place: The Art of William Stanley Haseltine,” when I noticed the odd chronology of Mr. Haseltine’s American career as an 19th century landscape painter. To wit, this seems to have lasted only from 1859 to 1867, when he decamped for Europe at the ripe young age of 32. Even more oddly, his period of domestic success was shorter still—from 1862 to roughly 1865. During this time he was favorably reviewed in the press and his paintings were included in many distinguished collections. However, virtually upon the cessation of the war, the jig was up with his American career, as Andrea Henderson notes in her essay, “Haseltine in Rome”: Haseltine and his [better known Hudson River school] contemporaries—Albert Bierstadt, Worthington Whittredge, and Frederic Church among them—were increasingly savaged in the press for what critics saw as the repetitive and retrogressive nature of the work… Given that Hazeltine was a pretty competent landscape painter, a terrific landscape draftsman, and that his subsequent Rome-based career was financially successful right up to the doorstep of the 20th century, he struck me as an unlikely candidate to have been nothing more than a ‘flash in the pan.’ W. S. Haseltine, Near Otter Cliffs, Mount Desert, 1859 Moreover, it seemed doubly unlikely that the other Hudson River painters listed above would also, as a group, suddenly suffer a lack of artistic quality and go from ‘inspired’ to ‘repetitive and regressive.’ It seemed rather as if Mr. Haseltine’s artistic ship, the Hudson River school, had, hit an iceberg and sunk; that some kind of cultural cataclysm had altered the whole geography of American art. The dates, of course, suggested that the cataclysm might well be the Civil War. Generally, however, I was under the impression that the nation—well, the North at any rate—had pretty quickly shrugged off its battlefield losses and gotten on with making money and enjoying itself during the subsequent Gilded Age (as Mark Twain so memorably named the postwar era.) Hence the exact reasons for this shift in taste seemed rather mysterious; at least until I picked up Louis Menand’s excellent intellectual history of the post-Civil War era, “The Metaphysical Club.” Reading Mr. Menand’s book, I realized that this era constituted a fascinating case study of a revolutionary shift in both intellectual world-view and national taste, and I thought I’d try to share a brief outline of the cultural cataclysm, and maybe even draw some tentative conclusions about how such shifts ‘work.’ What Were Things Like Before the War? Before we can identify the nature of this change, we need to know what things were like before it happened. What, in short, were the characteristics of the antebellum (i.e., pre-Civil War) cultural consensus that was so abruptly altered at the end of the war? In a phrase, the central tenet of the antebellum cultural consensus was American exceptionalism. This... posted by Friedrich at April 14, 2004 | perma-link | (7) comments

Shorter Art?
Dear Friedrich -- Do you find yourself craving shorter art experiences? I do. Over the last few years I've found myself thinking such thoughts as, Who really wants a piece of fiction to be hundreds of pages long? And I find myself thinking more highly of short films, art songs, and poetry with every passing day. Have I become quicker to "get" art and thus more efficient at having aesthetic experiences? (Possibly.) Have I fallen victim to flashy-media-induced Short Attention Span Syndrome? (Possibly.) Is this taste, like my vanishing jawline, yet another function of age? (Certainly.) Tyler Cowen wonders why art can't be shorter too, here. "How about 'high culture' in bite-sized portions?" Tyler asks. FWIW, I've heard from many fiction writers that they find novels so big and overwhelming that they wouldn't write them at all if they didn't feel they had to. Many say they find writing fiction that's story-to-novella length a far more natural, creative, and enjoyable experience than writing novels. And, hey, I just stumbled across this quote from the first-class British mystery novelist Peter Lovesey: If I could make a living as a short story writer, probably that would be a great joy for me. I love writing the short stories ... There one can take risks more and experiment and if it doesn't come off, well, there's no big deal, whereas if you've spent a year, as I do, writing a novel and it doesn't come off, well, you're in trouble. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 14, 2004 | perma-link | (14) comments

Dear Friedrich -- * Here's a fabuloso Timothy Egan piece for the NYTimes about a pork-grab by the Republican Alaskan Representative Don Young, who's doing his best to snag $200 million -- of our money, of course -- to build a bridge the size of the Golden Gate between a town of 7000 and an island inhabited by 50 people. * 2Blowhards regular Maureen, who is visiting her beloved Poland, has begun to blog about her adventures here. As ever, Maureen is a perceptive, rhapsodic and brainy writer: Anais Nin, look out. Maureen wrote a Guest Posting for us here about blindness and beauty. * Thanks to Dave Lull, who forwarded along a NYTimes article warning that Bikram yoga (aka Hot Yoga) -- which I've been doing for the last 6 months and have raved about on the blog -- can be dangerous. The piece is no longer readable without a subscription, but its point was that doing yoga overenthusiastically in a hot studio can lead to injuries. Point well taken. Bikram yoga fans: don't push too hard, and drink lots of water. * I love visiting one of New York's quirkier and newer museums, the Dahesh, which specializes in French academic art of the 19th century -- the very art that the Impressionists rebelled against, and some of the most reviled-by-modernists of all art. Yet when you see this work in person and through eyes that have shaken off the usual 20th-century training -- wow. It's some of the most accomplished art, like it or not, that's ever been made. Here's the Dahesh's website. Here's an Atlantic Monthly article about the Dahesh Museum, which has an interesting history. (It was founded by a Lebanese Mr. Dahesh.) I encourage visitors to NYC to stop by the Dahesh, which is conveniently located in the IBM building at 57th St and Madison Ave. * Fenster Moop strikes me as very sensible about schools and "diversity," here. * We sometimes picture pre-Columbian Native Americans as living in and among raw nature. To what extent is that true, and to what extent a romantic myth? Here's a good Atlantic Unbound q&a with Charles Mann about the impact Native Americans had on their environment. * Lawrence Lessig argues that in the digital era the term of copyright shouldn't be lengthened, it should be shortened, and hence contribute to what he has called the "Creative Commons." I'm 'way over my head where the legal reasoning is concerned, and for all I know might well qualify as a gullible sap. But I find Lessig's arguments appealing anyway. You can read about them here; and here's a q&a with Lessig. He has just published a new book about copyright, and, exemplifying the spirit he advocates, has made it available as a freebie PDF download here. * Those with a yen for the hottest new digital SLR might enjoy eyeballing the ecstatic users' comments about this new Nikon, here. The consensus seems to be that the camera is even... posted by Michael at April 14, 2004 | perma-link | (4) comments

Kimmelman on Libeskind
Dear Friedrich -- Wow: a hard-hitting, to-the-point piece by the New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman about Daniel Libeskind's fabled Jewish Museum in Berlin, a building designed in the shape of what Libeskind has called "a deconstructed Star of David." Some excerpts: "It is the epitome of kitsch." "In Berlin, as at ground zero, the architecture was chosen before a decision was made about how to fill the building. The balance between form and content has been a vexing issue." "The building was opened with nothing in it in 1999. Nearly 350,000 people came to see it before any exhibition was installed. Many writers speculated about whether it might best be left empty, as a Holocaust memorial sculpture, not least because it looked nearly impossible to fill coherently with objects. It has been." "I have visited half a dozen times, occasionally with specialists in German Jewish history. The experience, which derives partly from the strategies of interactive theme park design, has been diverting, although the display has not become much more comprehensible after the sixth visit than it was after the first." "Mr. Libeskind's building turned out to be much costlier than he had said it would be." "Over all the architecture and the exhibition trivialize and overwhelm history. The museum panders to the sort of audience of middlebrow Germans and tourists who don't know any real, live Jews, watering down and sweetening up the past." Given that Libeskind was chosen to master-plan the rebuilding of the WTC area, it sounds likely that New York City will soon find itself wrestling with a goodly number of advanced-architecture headaches. Kimmelman's terrific piece can be read here. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 14, 2004 | perma-link | (2) comments

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Dear Friedrich -- The Timothy Taylor economic history of the US in the 20th century that I've recently finished is, as you'd expect, full of fascinating facts. For example: not only are we, in adjusted-GDP-per-person terms, five times better off than Americans were in 1900, we're twice as well-off as Americans were in 1960. I think my favorite fact, though, is an oddball one about food. According to Taylor, the average American in 2000 ate about the same amount of protein and calories as did the average American in 1900. These days, though, we eat more vitamins, 1/3 more fat -- and considerably less mass. In fact, the average American in 2000 ate 350 fewer pounds of food than did an American in 1900. 350 pounds! Nearly a pound a day less food! I don't know what exactly to make of this, but I'm amazed. Timothy Taylor's four lecture series on economics can be bought here. I've enjoyed them all. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at April 13, 2004 | perma-link | (11) comments

Monday, April 12, 2004

An Age of Orange-xiety
Michael: I don’t know how you feel about this, but it seems to me that at some point in the last year or so we entered an Age of Orange. I’m sure people who are more au courant vis a vis the fashion world are probably sick and tired of the darn color by now, but it only recently struck me that orange is hot, hot, hot. The elevated hipness of orange actually dawned on me for the first time, consciously, last week when my dental hygenist gave me a translucent orange toothbrush and mentioned that it was a new color in the Oral B line. You mean, I thought, Oral B has a ‘line’? Toothbrushes have a fashion dimension? Where have I been? Of course, we’re not just awash in orange, but in orangey-red, copper and bronze-y shades as well, as the following pictures (all taken on today's lunch hour) may illustrate: So, being a Blowhard, I got to pondering what this orgy of orange could, well, mean. I asked a bunch of people when the last time orange was this hot, and—to my surprise—got a reasonably consistent answer: the Sixties! Hmmm, the Sixties. I guess I could see the connection, zeitgeist-wise. On the surface society appears to be in a consumerist dream of mass consumption while below it is riddled with anxiety about a land war in Asia. This back-to-the-Sixties hypothesis certainly seems to be supported by this piece of evidence, which loomed up over me as I came back from lunch: Whatever These Girls Are Selling, I'm Buying The billboard pretty well clinched it for me. Of course, my curiosity then moved on to the fashion-mavens who decide this color stuff. They work, as I understand it, 18-months to 2-years ahead of the current day in their tireless work of scoping out the consumer colors of the future. How could they have known where American society was headed? I could only come up with one theory: they’re a bunch of precogs. Mutants. They really can see the future. I wonder if it has occurred to either the Bush or the Kerry people that they might get a clue to who will triumph in November by consulting fashionistas. Or—well—maybe they’d rather not know. Cheers, Friedrich... posted by Friedrich at April 12, 2004 | perma-link | (23) comments