“… The presumption of the Gods of The Market is that we passively crave, above all else, the accessible, the approachable, the unchallenging, the bland, the readily legible. It is, I suspect, its very subjection to an unrelenting diet of these base qualities that has prompted a generation to decline saccharine architecture, fast-food architecture, “eezee-lisnin” architecture, instant gratification architecture in favour of the grown-up’s architecture of getting on for half a century ago.

There was good Brutalism and bad. But even the bad was done in earnest. It took itself seriously, which is a crime in The Market whose insistence is on mindless fun and moronic fun…”

Jonathan Meades (15.09.2014), “There was good brutalism and bad, but even the bad was done in earnest”. Dezeen (read the full article)

Seemed worth sharing..

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“Son of a b*tch..!”

You know that feeling when you know that what you just witnessed was an act of genius? That feeling you get when seeing how simple yet powerful something is that you wonder how come you haven’t come up with it yourself, but yet you haven’t? The feeling of awe mixed with disappointment?

During my recent visit to the Netherlands, I went to Rotterdam – my architectural birth place, as I call it – to see how and if the city has changed since the last time I’ve been there (internship with Erick van Egeraat back in 2008). One of the things – or buildings, to be precise – I wanted to see was, obviously, OMA’s De Rottedam. And I have to say – I was quite impressed.

Honestly, looking at it from across the river Maas, it didn’t seem all that special. The parti – shifted blocks – was clear to the point it was bland. However, as I started crossing the Erasmus bridge, getting closer to the structure, it started to speak. For all the talk of “Manhattan on Maas”, I have to say – this building actually did it: it is a true piece of Manhattan, but a surreal one – which makes it that much cooler.

All of us probably remember the cover for the later edition of “Delirious New York” – the picture of the facades of the Rockefeller Center extension on 6th avenue. Well, De Rotterdam is the clone of those buildings, only made 3-dimensional. The facade’s and parti’s blandness start working magic when you are at mid-range: from far it’s nothing but a stupid vertical pattern and a few blocks, from close the detailing isn’t great (as is almost common with OMA’s buildings). But mid-range – that’s when it makes you dizzy as the building starts seemingly mirroring, multiplying and overlaying itself. The building is almost fractal being big, but small, but big still (definitely huge for R’dam’s scape). The sequence of interior spaces in the public part of the building is classical Koolhaas: a meeting room suspended over a parking garage which looks “honestly” right into the atrium – not a “filthy” pragmatic “support” space, tucked away somewhere no one can see it, but a space in its own right, totally worthy of being shown off as a luxury. It is all a little too grey, and a little too stark, and a little too Rotterdam, but damn, does it work!

Now, I do have to say that I only visited the “public” part of the building. I did not visit any offices or apartments. I am sure critics will find there’s plenty wrong with them. I do not know that, and can’t judge or tell you anything about them. However, what I did see – I loved.

Good job, Mr. K. and Co. Loved it.

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When I was in school, I remember our professors telling us that only about 10% of the people educated to be architects will actually end up being architects. I never really understood how that can be, but already now it seems to be true. Out of all my ex-classmates, few are actually practicing architecture. Instead, they tend to focus on auxiliary fields, related, but not strictly speaking architectural. A couple folks have started a joint CAM outfit, 3D-printing objects, laser-cutting models and such. Another couple of people I know started rendering businesses. Others focused on code and architecture, programming presentations and digital models, or doing spatial installations. A good number switched to interior design. And all that in addition to countless people I know who just changed their professions altogether. I guess it’s pretty hard to be an architect-architect after all – actually produce projects and build buildings. Don’t think we are dying out – there are just too many of us for the current market. Plus, the financials of architecture are complicated, provided the difficulty of defining the “product” of architecture and why we charge this and not that for projects. All this makes a lot of us reconsider our professional trajectories, and some of us simply fail. Something to think about for some of us on the first day of school.

Here’s to all the fans of Dutch GRAPHIC design and advertising. =)

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Ad. Den Haag, Netherlands, 2014

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Estonian Song Festival. Image credit: http://blog.ut.ee/in-search-of-the-true-estonian/

In a peculiar way, this year’s Song Festival made me meditate on the topic of democracy.

Estonian Song Festivals are a unique part of this little country’s culture. If you are interested, check out the documentary “Singing revolution”, which does a fair (although not unbiased) job explaining the importance of the Festivals for the country. In a nutshell, once every five years about 10-15% of the entire population of the country gather at the Estonian Singing Grounds in Tallinn, and sing songs dedicated to the nation’s freedom. Typically there would be around 30,000 actual singers and then 100,000+ audience. The population of the country is a little over 1,3 million, and they (we) have been singing those songs for years…

On the other hand, Estonia is an aspiring tech country. If you’ve ever visited or read anything about Estonia, chances are you’ve been exposed to its hard-core tech propaganda. E-government is (arguably) so advanced here that it can be considered one of our national exports.

During the Festival, these two factors blended in my mind. With its constant feedback between the audience and the singers, ability to shout “Korrata!” (“repeat”, in Estonian – which the audience would sometimes start shouting, if they want to hear/sing the song they just sang again), and send live “waves” across the Singing Grounds, the Estonian Song Festival is a great exercise in direct democracy. The feedback is immediate, decision making – instantaneous, consequences – felt by all. These qualities of the Festival, overlayed on our tech-savvy, made me wonder if E-government and technology could bring government closer to original direct democracy: something similar to a Greek “Agora” – or the Song Fest itself. The goal of E-government should not be the individualization/alienation of citizens, substituted by fancy abilities of voting or filing taxes online (although impressive in their own right). It should be bringing citizens closer together and making them all feel part of the whole. Digital is good at annihilating the restrictions of physical space (distances) as well as temporal differences that have rendered direct democracy impossible in the context of our overpopulated modern world. From what I see, digital is currently employed by government mostly for the ease and speed of its processing. We need to revise this and put the anti-spatial (or should I say “alternative-spatial”) qualities of the digital to work big time. Not a tech-centered society, but society-centered tech.

This is already being explored through various apps and participatory online services. However, E-government is still pretty far off. May-be our Singing Festival can serve as inspiration.

I don’t know why, but after all the times I’ve been to Russia, I still find it amusing how in that country the names of international brands are spelled in Cyrillic.. It’s just a little surreal, I think. Check out a few examples below.

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McDonalds

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McDonald’s menu in Russian, containing only two originally Russian words: “двойной” – double, and “картофель” – potato. A great example of the influence globalization exerts on languages.

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Dunkin’ Donuts

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Starbucks Coffee

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Wendy’s

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Just a weird building on Novyj Arbat St. (Новый Арбат)

Fun-fun-fun!

For us – architects – it is important to somehow live out our insanity. Many of the things – in fact, most of the things our profession actually craves to do – are just not possible in the world that is trying to be rational. All the curved, angled, huge, megalomaniac stuff that many of us dream about (and the schools are promoting) is just not going to happen. In our daily practices we need to produce buildings – not boundless spatial play. So, how do live out our insanity?

Daniel Libeskind

Daniel Libeskind, Micromegas

Rem Koolhaas

Rem Koolhaas, Zeebrugge Terminal

Zaha Hadid, The Peak Leisure Club

Zaha Hadid, The Peak Leisure Club

Doing architecture, I believe, is a balancing of acting out this insanity and adhering to the needs of rationality. The more insanity we are able to incorporate into our built designs, the happier we are as professionals. Perversely, architecture – the profession of spatial play – is not able to satisfy our craving for molding space. For that we need other media – media allowing for less responsibility. And may-be that is for the better, too. Would we actually want to live in our dreams? I doubt it. Other media help us keep our denial of reality at bay, and cope with our madness. It’s not that architects “can draw, and do sculpture, too”. We have to do that in order to stay sane.

Ivan Sergejev, Utopia

Ivan Sergejev, Utopia

Ivan Sergejev, Rubik City

Ivan Sergejev, Rubik City – a three-dimensional city grid

Ivan Sergejev, Rubik City detail

Ivan Sergejev, Rubik City detail

Ivan Sergejev, The In-between

Ivan Sergejev, The In-between

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