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September 11, 2004

Katarxis #3 Is Now Online

Michael Blowhard writes

Dear Blowhards --

Although I've got lots of wonderful books sitting around the apartment clamoring for my attention, the reading I'm most eager to get to right now is Lucien Steil's architecture webzine, Katarxis. Issue number three is fresh out of the oven, and it's a full-of-goodies doozy, with words and thoughts from such brilliant lights as Christopher Alexander, Andres Duany, Nikos Salingaros, and Leon Krier. The issue even does us the favor of reprinting an immortal 1982 debate, a romper-stomper-style smackdown between Pattern Language superhero (bravo! yay!) Chris Alexander and deconstructivist arch-fiend (boo! hiss!) Peter Eisenman.



posted by Michael at September 11, 2004


God, I agree with you. Dunno who's the worst, Libeskind, Eisenman, or Tschumi. But linguists do the same thing: turn a living discipline into abstract theoretical miasma.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on September 12, 2004 1:08 PM

Interesting article. I'm by no means an architect but it sounds like the Postmodernist likes to mess up things for the sake of messing up things and supplying a contrast to what made sense before. Sort of a cheap way towards innovation. Or feking things up because they can . . . and who knows? Maybe something good will come out of it? As long as they're using voluntary funds, what the fek? Some strict method of the way things should look just because they've looked that way before doesn't seem to be too innovative thinking, though a regard for the architecture of differing regions of the globe and how these things evolved seems an appreciation that even a architectural hack like I could appreciate. Maybe an appreciation of the past but a willingness to innovate while recognizing that mostimes there's good reason for why things were although life and experience is dynamic and perspectives can change as our senses re-evaluate input with broader ranges of awareness as context.

What I can deciper out of the majority of practically senseless prose that I've seen Postmodernist's use -- appears to me that if they're offering anything of value, outside of a bullshit, esoteric, nomenclature that gives a facade of scholarly learning: is that they're making the 'exception' the 'rule' and hence seeing how it plays out.

The artsy/fartsy angle gives more depth to many things we take for granted. It is a facet of perception that adds to consciousness and one of the reasons that i'm likely to read posts here. Basic utility is easy to disdain the Arts for conjecturing over intangibles yet there's music in the other senses even if there's no sound.

Posted by: reader on September 12, 2004 7:18 PM

Winifer -- That's a good way of putting it. Seems to be something academia encourages. Even when they dismantle a theory, they somehow turn "dismantling" into a new theory. The academic mind ...

Reader -- Glad to hear you enjoyed poking around the site. It's an interesting bunch of thinkers and do-ers. There aren't many arts fields more buried under layers of bullshit than architecture. Me, I suspect this is because the academic-media-avant-garde establishment wants to keep the rest of us ignorant. As long as we're baffled by what they're saying, and it seems complicated and impressive (and a little plausible), then they can go on marketing their nutty wares and awarding each other prizes. What would happen if normal people ever came to their senses and called the elites on it?

To my mind, much of what's great about Duany, Alexander, Krier, Salingaros, etc, is that they're bringing common sense back into architecture. The avant-gardists would have you believe that everything needs constant reinvention. This bunch would say, hey, wait a minute, a lot of perfectly good solutions to recurring problems have already been hit upon. Why scrap them -- in order to come up with less elegant solutions? The establishment would have you thinking of architecture as a field of free self-expression like any other art field. These guys would say, Wait a minute. A building isn't like a poem. No one has to read a poem, while many people have to live in, work in and live around a building. So why not take into account what's already known about what works, and what people like? That's only decent and respectful.

I was thinking about this today as I walkd around the city. There are lots and lots of dud "parks" in NYC -- they don't work. Full of trash, dangerous, or just unused. And most of them were innovative when they were built, often modenist-innovative. The cutting-edge would have you believe all kinds of crap about the zeitgeist and how difficult it is to create a working public space, etc. But the fact is that the rules of good park-making are well-known, and have been for a long time. If only you aren't afraid of following traditions, all you have to do is follow these rules, and chances are four out of five that you'll wind up with a really nice park that works well instead of dead, trash-strewn modernist "empty space." The Katarxis guys are basically saying, well, let's examine those rules -- the history, the approach, the ratios, the considerations. And let's work with them, and within them, to create new parks that work in human terms.

It's the respect for known human terms (human preferences and pleasures) that really distinguishes these Katarxis guys. When you think about it, it's bizarre that the establishment knows as litlte as it does about what people like and what gives them pleasure, let alone about what makes a good park or a thriving neighborhood. You'd think such things would be the most important things they'd teach young architects. But they aren't.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 13, 2004 12:33 AM

Parks, you say...
Look at the avant garde landscape architects designs for Cornerstone Festival Of Gardens, which I came across reading City Comforts blog.
Click on any designer, let's say - Martha Schwartz or Claude Cormier. Would you enjoy their creation for a slow stroll at lunch time? Ok, may be they're not meant for the city: would you plan your Saturday countryside trip there? Would you guess the concept without written explanation?
Or click on Ted Leader (leader, indeed):
"Break-out is about barnyards, porches and Johnny Cash...The sound of worn screen doors creaking open and occasionally slamming shut is something lodged deep in our psyches ..."

Not in my psyche, evidently. What comes to my mind is - Mommy, get me out! Out of this pseudo-topiary labyrinth - it's an ugly threatening nightmare!
NYT called this exhibition "blurring the boundary between landscape architecture and art"... among other things.
I think I'd prefer reinforcement of said boundary. May be even concrete wall on the border, Israeli-style, while I'am hiding on the Lily Pond terrace of Brooklyn Botanic Garden...

Posted by: Tatyana on September 13, 2004 12:58 PM

Good gosh-a-roonie! Once again, "artists" self-define as "designers of absurdities and horrors that normal people have to take care to defend themselves against." What a strange episode in the history of art. Many thanks. You write: "I think I'd prefer reinforcement of said boundary." That's a funny line.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 13, 2004 1:47 PM

Now you see why am I so loudly protest any attempts to called me an artist.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 13, 2004 2:23 PM

Sorry, I was in a rush.
That should've been "call me".
Also, enjoy this 360 deg perspective of the Lily Pond Terrace - for comparison.

Posted by: Tatyana on September 13, 2004 2:52 PM

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