The Messy Adventures of the Check-In Architecture Gang:
This Week's Exciting Episode!
Artist John Bock's performance-lectures are the things of legend. Weird, funny, and seriously nonsensical to anyone but perhaps Bock, they fall somewhere in-between the Mad Hatter, a physics professor, Joseph Beuys, and Paul McCarthy. He hasn't "lectured" publicly in two years, but one is planned during the opening of his newest exhibition in Milan. Our editor Nicola Bozzi heads to Galleria Gio Marconi in Milan to see if Bock lives up to the hype or if his madness is a put on. Given his playful obsession with Hannibal Lecter, white curly wigs, and language cream, we're pretty sure that whatever you can say about John Bock, he's very, very serious.
The Messy Adventures of the Check-In Architecture Gang:
When we're researching the Travel Bags for the various missions we come across amazing videos on YouTube. The trailer for the movie, The Italian Job particularly titillated us. We're actually doing a mission recreating (as legally as possible) the chase scene. Here's a snippet from the mission script below, but really just watch this clip.
In the Peter Collinson's 1969 film The Italian Job starring Michael Caine, a gang of British crooks steal a bundle of gold bullion from Turin using three Mini Coopers. They sabotage the city's traffic control system, creating total chaos, and then escape the city in one of the best car chases in the movie history, tearing through Turin’s landmarks at breakneck speed.
As an experience, driving explores a way of encountering, conceiving and remaking urban space. It does so by investigating how different kinds of driving, at different speeds and on different roads, produce distinct encounters with cities and architecture and, hence, also produce similarly distinct political and cultural experiences.
Lately, we've been obsessed with maps. Not just as visual representations, though we find these quite sexy as well, worthy of hours of lusty contemplation about all the places we've been and all the places we would like to go. But maps, besides being fetish objects for a very, very slim minority of the population, they are also ways of viewing and interacting with the world, space, politics, landscape, well, everything really. Traditionally the map concentrates on a limited data set in order to filter out excess data that's not useful for a particular task. Though I've always been titillated by Baudrillard's Borges reference in Simulations (I've never been able to find the original story):
If we were able to take as the finest allegory of simulation the Borges tale where the
cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the
territory (but where, with the decline of the Empire this map becomes frayed and finally
ruined, a few shreds still discernible in the deserts - the metaphysical beauty of this ruined
abstraction, bearing witness to an imperial pride and rotting like a carcass, returning to the
substance of the soil, rather as an aging double ends up being confused with the real thing),
this fable would then have come full circle for us, and now has nothing but the discrete charm
of second-order simulacra.
Everyday new maps are invented for new purposes previously unforseen, when Amerigo Vespucci was tricking his way into naming a continent, there's no way the world's cartographers could have even begun to foresee a map of the world's country code web domains...
or this map of the Lunar walk of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin
or (another subset of our obsession) speculative and imaginary maps like this one of the lands of temperance and alcohol (we know where we live)...
Each new generation of maps from the earliest ones scratched into an earth with a stick or the latest nifty, digital topographies, literally is a map of how human beings interact with, well, everything.
Many of these maps were taken from fellow map obsessive blog Strange Maps.
To our American editor, Andrew Berardini, McDonald's is a heart attack dipped in lard and fried. But McDonald's is trying to renew their reputation by going designer, and what better place to launch it than Milan during the Salone del Mobile (lest we forget this translates to "Furniture Showroom"). A designer hamburger sounds to Check-In Architecture like a pig in a bikini, but we'll let Mickey D's, in the form of Paolo Mereghetti and the designer of the new food, Italian chef Claudio Sadler speak for themselves.
The Far East can seem very far, but movies can sometimes bring it a little bit closer. Udine is a city in the far north-east of Italy that for the last ten years has hosted the Far East Film Festival, an international film festival that as become a major showcase for Asian contemporary popular cinema in Europe and point of cultural exchange between the two continents. Once a year, the city is invaded by art films, blockbusters, celebrities, and auteurs, and by a great number of fans that come to watch the movies by day, and party by night.
If the above trailer for the festival is to be believed, Udine is the "sweet spot" of Italy and this festival, mixing culture, architecture, international exchange, and parties is a particular sweet spot for Check-in Architecture.
In a recent issue of the Australian, Rosemary Sorensen digs into the new plans for Australia to develop creative industries, specifically "the arts" so that it can provide a basket of things that people need in one form or another, including (ahem) money.
"It has been seen only as an economic benefit, but there is the idea now that benefit is a quadruple bottom line, not just economic. It must also capture social equity, social justice and sustainability."
Underlying all this is of course it being rather strategic move overall for the benefit of the country, sense of the quality of life, coupled with cultural tourism and attracting interesting businesses by having interesting cities.
The plan laid out in the article by Brad Haseman, professor in the creative industries faculty of the Queensland University of Technology, and called Creative Nation, outlines why the country needs to develop a coherent cultural policy. Bravo for them, but the article is a little thin on how there going to do this, except for the government pledging 17 million Australian of four years for an Creative Economies innovation Centre, perhaps an excellent start, if research becomes action.
Freetown Christiana started as a "social experiment," with Danish idealists trying to take the liberation talk that was circulating around the counterculture in Copenhagen and make it real. An abandoned Navy barracks five minutes from the center of the city was initially broken into by locals upset with the lack of playgrounds in their neighborhood. They were quickly followed by hippies looking to carve out a section of the city for themselves.
This video dating from 1991 is the primary documentary document of Freetown Christiania, and as beautiful as it is, a lot has changed in the intervening 17 years, including the closure by the government of the open hash trade.
We're planning a mission on it, but for now watch Christiania, You Have My Heart!, to see how one group of hippies created a permanent space for social change with all of the problems, negotiations, victories, and defeats that came out of this one effervescent moment.
Here's a link to a rather thorough wikipedia entry on Freetown Christiania.
Amy McGuiness gets paid thousands of dollars to take tourists to the North Pole. What do they do when they get there? Take pictures. The only problem, the North Pole looks exactly like the hundreds of miles of white ice around it. The cost: around $30,000 for 30 minutes.
After deciding to visit a friend in the Peace Corps in Mali, John Bowe decided to hitchhike across the Sahara desert, which is probably the most difficult route imaginable. He carried only a bag filled mostly of books and a single change of clothes. One man's adventure to go off the map, off the grid, away from white people, away from technoculture, to the metaphorical heart of the middle of nowhere, almost deliberately
What's the pleasure of being lost, when you know your safe?
How do you map your own life?
Maps of all kinds in these radio stories to which CIA feels a great affinity which can be found here on This American Life. Don't let the title of the show fool you.. Though many of the stories involve Americans, very little of it actually happens in America. And when you're lost in the middle of the Sahara, like so many other travelers, the last thing you're thinking about is your nationality.
We're going off the map and into the airwaves.
We only mentioned it last post, but we'd like to tell you about the Urban Screen. This massive media facade shoots down content at the passing tourists in Piazza Duomo, doubtlessly featuring in background of hundreds of thousands of tourists snapshots.
And this time, the content will be ours.
We at CIA have never really liked the word 'content,' as it makes art and advertorials one and the same, but let's say instead of content, Urban Screen will be showing the Check-in Architecture documentaries, roughly between 3-4 and 8-9 everyday.
The screen's frightening size renews our faith in the mission. Each of us, your faithful guides and editors, stood in awe of the awesome mediated force of the screen, especially as flickered with our (and perhaps your) vision.
Don't trust us, look for yourself.
The Medium is the Massage.
We paid a lot of attention to the Salone last week, especially to the five quarters drawing the most public attention. Zona Tortona, Via Ventura, Rho Fiera (of course), Bovisa and Milan's little own special village, Isola.
As for the last one, we sent Serena Porrati (we already starred her as a photographer on our free press) and Corrado Tagliabue to shoot one of our videos, soon to be displayed on the Urban Screen in Piazza Duomo. Here's how Serena describes the quarter:
"There is a multitude of handicraft activities, small and 'trendy' independent eco-design stores mixed up with old commercial family-run businesses putting up a resistance. Slick yet cheap restaurants stand next door to Moroccan take-aways and a tabacchi bar run by South Americans. There are also a designer florist's shop and a book store gallery run by a young curator keeping an eye on new trends and sensibilities in international photography."
Check-in Architecture is interested in urban spaces turning green through community collaboration and critical gardening, so we sent Serena and Corrado to investigate and interview some of the people most aware of eco-interventions in Isola, Milan's central emerging counterculture district. Claudia Zanfi introduced them to the Green Island project she's curating and showed them creative interpretations of the local green. Stefano Massimello, one of the Stecca degli Artigiani guys, explained to them their urbanist projects, construction shenanigans and the pain-in-the-ass problems of neighborhood bureaucracy.
by Luca Martinazzoli
Let’s talk about low-cost flights. And not just about tourism or that more people are going to airports. The possibility of taking a plane on the cheap has revolutionized the cultural geography of Europe. And it has changed those of us who happen to take the flights. Check-in
Architecture pauses to reflect on the fact that in ten years we have become faced with a new hierarchy of places. Places where, at a cost of a few cents, airplanes land and take off, jetting you to cities both large and small, and sometimes on the edge. They are nodes that draw a completely different map of areas, institutions, people and businesses.
Of course, today we’ve had the Internet and web 2.0. Pervasive networks keep us glued to devices of various types. But this is not enough. It is not enough because at bottom, places are still the nodes of the system. The debate is dated, but it is worth commenting that the net is not eroding the importance of urban spaces. Just skimming a few boring statistics reveals that cities today are more at the heart of economic production than ever before and that an urban renaissance is underway, to the extent that over 50% of the world population lives in one.
There are various reasons for this, differing across macro-regions of the world. But if we focus on Europe, we are probably unable to ignore the increasingly prominent role of cognitive-cultural industries. They are based on the ability to produce symbolic innovation, the ability to turn symbolic capital into products that accumulate in cities. In this way, cities are changing more or less rapidly, renewing through these industries the central role it seemed to have lost just a few years ago.
In this context, if we look at the division of labor in the field of cultural production, we notice that these professions are clustering around low-cost airline hubs that are able to function as magnets. But today, more than ever, we perceive the reverberation of places that are unable
to sustain a consistent job market. They do, however, produce, incubate, and export images. They are bases for professionals and students that commute around Europe. They are the nodes of a dense network of new exchanges and new visions.
You can find architects working for partnerships in Rotterdam living in Milan. Lecturers at universities in London who spend their days off between Barcelona and Berlin. Music producers that split their time between southern Italy and London. These people imply a new generational attitude, that of the low-cost lifestyle. It is not only the possibility and the necessity of moving frequently that marks them out, but also their ability to adapt to new living circumstances and a flexible, international job market.
They find images, chew them up and produce them. Characters that can afford the luxury of low-cost. Understanding how these people inhabit the city, how they see it and what spaces they create, is one of Check-in Architecture’s objectives.
If low-cost geographies are radically remaking and redefining the nodes of cultural production in Europe, then we desire to identify its hierarchies and relationships. We desire to understand its rhythm.
How, how he rides
Oh, the passenger
He rides and he rides
He looks through his window
What does he see?
He sees the signs and hollow sky
He sees the stars come out tonight
He sees the city's ripped backsides
He sees the winding ocean drive
And everything was made for you and me
All of it was made for you and me
'Cause it just belongs to you and me
So let's take a ride and see what's mine
Singing la la la la.. lala la la
la la la la.. lala la la
la la la la.. lala la la
Hours of countless research (aka procrastination) by the Check-In Architecture think tank have turned up another internet jewel that we think is very interesting. So Google Earth, for those not in the know, is a program you can download from the Google mothership that allows you to navigate geography in a very interesting way, from photos blended into the map to Wikipedia entries so on so forth.
But intrepid programmers, innovators, drifter, and researchers (aka procrastinators) have both scoured Google Earth and manipulated it to create new interactions with time and space. From couples caught in flagrante delicto (always a favorite for the sex crazed 13-year-old lurking inside all of us) to much more complex monkey wrenches being thrown into human consciousness.
On Google Earth Hacks, you can search through a series of add ons, meant to enhance your Google Earth experience. For example, Google Earth is now largely flat, but many are using tools to render the earth in a searchably three-dimensional world. And though mapping satellites, international flights and football clubs are all good and fun, it's when they really fuck with it when things get interesting, like what the Earth would look like if a meteor smashed into in, or Google Planets, searchable maps for Mars, or global warming sped up just a little bit.
Though we've not heard any serious research on the topic, but we think that mapping technologies as they progress are completely shifting/warping/transforming our consciousness about space. Making everything somehow more immediate, easier, bigger, less foreign and somehow more strange. Mapmakers and cartographers are becoming kind of hip for the first time since Columbus, but what do you call someone who messes with map, changes it shape, plays with it to create new experiences, new worlds. Mapbreakers? Deconstructive Cartography?
Why do I feel theirs a sci-fi novel/new program at MIT somewhere in here.
Though we maintain a high level of overexcited earnestness for all of our projects, we sometimes are extra-excitedly earnest for certain missions. Think of a child chasing after an ice cream truck, or a chihuahua humping your leg. We are really this excited! Thus the prodigious use of exclamation points!!!
So once a week, we'll post the abstract for a mission we find especially sexy. Now our version of sexy is probably different than yours. For example, we think Yona Friedman is sexy. You may have a different opinion, but if you're lucky enough to go on this particular mission, your opinion will undoubtedly come to resemble ours. Check-in Architecture: Molding minds to our will, one student at a time!
Here's the abstract. Enjoy!
To: Frankfurt, Germany
Title: Smoke on the Water
Date: Coming Soon
Q: Can water help architecture to build utopias in the city?
Frankfurt is an efficient (and often boring landscape-wise) financial center to Germany and it has little of the utopian cityscape of Yona Friedman's visions. If there is any, that has to be the Portikus space for contemporary art, which is the right place to host utopist architect and theorist Friedman's exhibition, which consists of various installations built for the gallery with help from students and alumnus of the Städelschule, drawing from some of his – now less utopian – ideas.
From Speer’s delirious dreams for Hitler to the failure of harmonious communities to create collective monuments, the last hundred years brought the monument, in concept and form, to its extreme conclusion. And that century came to an end with the destruction of two highly symbolic monuments: the Twin Towers in New York and the Bamiyan Buddha in Afghanistan.
This new millennium begins with an interesting juxtaposition from the ancient desire to build monuments to a new wave of antimonumental impulse. On one hand the traditional, millennia-old attitude towards the logic of monuments, with the new Olympic stadium in Beijing, the skyscrapers challenging the skies of Dubai, Shanghai and Taiwan, or the new walls on the U.S. Mexican-border or between Israel and Palestine; and alongside these, a few more evolved, democratic, and contemporary metropolises that are producing, through spontaneous activities and commissions to young architects, a “new generation” of monuments that are trying to become horizontal. Open centers, creating an atmosphere of freedom and acceptance, change the demands represented by the many worlds that intersect in contemporary cities.
I believe that these urban creations almost involuntarily give rise to the formation of new communities that attempt to satisfy our deepest human need to meet others, to exchange with them and know them. In these micro-spaces, I see the potential to mediate in urban conflicts and also see a way toward a weaker, more diffuse center, a civil form of a secular and open urbanity.
It would be subject to the same flow of social, symbolic and economic transformations that modern cities constantly experience.
These urban fragments are the offspring of a "noble" twentieth century tradition that cross Ciam’s reflections on the ‘heart of the city’ with the restless urban experiments of Team X, Aldo Van Eyck’s playgrounds in Amsterdam and the Urbino shared with us by Giancarlo De Carlo, the street humanity of the Smithsons and the humanist radicalism of Archizoom. These urban and social experiments aim to rethink the scale of the metropolitan minute. They question the shadows at the heart of futuristic hyper-cities by offering a warm, welcoming refuge. They work like enzymes necessary for the detailed, silent transformation of the body politic by building new, recognizable centers. They contain the future and the hope that our cities and architecture are still capable of producing political answers.
That is why we felt that the virtuous mechanism of Check-In Architecture could be an extraordinary investigative tool into this important, unseen part of the European metropolis. Moving through these places, understanding how they are woven into the urban fabric and how people live in them and transform them. Stopping for a few hours within these walls, these public squares open to the world, means attempting to understand if the direction we’re heading in is the right one. Relaxing in the shade of an eco-boulevard in Madrid, playing basketball on the roof of the university cafeteria in Utrecht, walking alongside the new Forum in Palermo, or entering Basel stadium, but also investigating how the fragile monuments for the Olympic Games in Athens or the Forum in Barcelona have been, successfully or unsuccessfully, assimilated into the city. These are all fundamental ways, I believe, not only to understand, but also to generate new actions for the future.
Mega-publisher Penguin books has launched a rather nice six week online project called "We Tell Stories," pairing writers from its stables with new technologies. For Charles Cumming's story, The 21 Steps, the narrative wanders through the landscape London as seen through Google Maps, each turn of the story is a new location on the map.
Hardly Crime and Punishment for the twenty-first century, but it's a far sight better the early wave of hypertext literature where a shiny new toy made of a lot of bad writers temporarily famous for the literary equivalent of being the first kid in class with a calculator. Though we're still working out the kinks on a seamless transition between literature and new technology, both the reader and the technophile in us has taken a shine to this project.
So far Cumming and Toby Litt have stories for you to wander through, and a new one will be posted every week, of which CIA will surely keep you abreast.