reCAPTCHA Mansions

When did reCAPTCHA start using photographs of house numbers?

Architecture’s Exquisite Corpse: Another Kind Of Folding In Architecture

A while ago at Studio X in NYC, I ran a what was billed as a “An Evening of Psychometric Drawing Experiments, Architectural Non Sequiturs, and Free Association”.

Over the course of the evening we tried a series of drawings games. We played an invention called Architectural Consequences, a game that works just like picture consequences (or Exquisite Corpse for the more high falutin’ amongst you). Except in this case, instead of the normal head/body/legs/feet sequence, we substituted roof/upper floor/ground floor/basement. Each section drawn in secret, folded over and passed to the next person to draw the next part of the sequence. Pitched roofs, for example, perched on skyscrapers that rose out of caves that sat on burial chambers.

We then played Urban Consequences, in which the sequence ran countryside/suburb/industry/downtown. These produced equally unlikely urban plans, generated by the same kind of accidental coincidences that the Surrealists loved.

In a game of Exquisite Corpse, the normal consistant narrative – and style – of a drawing of a person is ruptured. A different hand imagines and drawing each body part on each fold of the paper. The whole image is only known at the end when the sheet is unfolded. The things we expect a body to have – to belong, say, to a consistant genome, sex, class or occupation – are all mixed up by fragmentation and multi-authorship. Applied to the logics and codes of architecture and urban planning, the same ‘impossible’ bodies emerge. But there is no transgenic impossibility to these visions. Sure, we can (yet) have a creature with a crocodiles head, a cowgirls body, a kangaroos legs and a frogmans feet, but we can, if we choose, engineer a building with exactly the same level of difference.

It would offend all of our convictions of what architecture and (especially) urban planning are supposed to be. Their qualities are, instead, anti-logical, un-visionary and revel in accident. Yet we could argue that many of the apparent logics of architecture and urban planning are simply codes of convention, and that accident and un-logic are real tools that can help us out of the self-replicating horror of contemporary architecture and urban design.

For more pictures of the evening check Studio X’s Flickr stream

Obscure Design Typologies: Fire Training Towers

Fire training towers are the structures that the fire service use to practice firefighting. They mimic a range of architectural conditions that firefighters will most likely encounter: height, stairs, doors, rooms and so on resulting in constructions that almost look like buildings. We could think of them as heavily edited versions of architecture, familiar kinds of buildings reduced to a particular set of situations.

This brief image trawl seems to show up marked difference between British and American versions of fire training towers. The British versions tend to more vertical, often appearing like a fragment of a 50’s or 60’s housing block, even built from the same pallet of materials for extra authenticity. American versions instead present a hybridised model, where it seems a number of building types seem to have swallowed each other.

But if both types still look like other kinds of buildings there is one example that seems to invent its own architectural language from the programme and performance criteria of the brief. The Fire Environment Building is part of the Louisville Fire Department training facilities. Built in 1988, it is a strangely beautiful sculptural concrete thing, highly expressive yet obviously driven by utilitarian practicality.

Below is a selection of studies of fire training towers by Steven Price, one of my students at the AA this year.

Ground Xerox at the AA

A few images of Inter 12’s exhibition as part of AA projects review. It features a beautiful milled blue foam replica of a completely average wall, plug sockets, radiator, shonky pipework and all. It sits as a physical reflection of the adjacent wall, a kind of reflected apparition of its context.

The show is open Monday to Friday 10.00–19.00, Saturdays 30 June, 7, 14 July 10.00–17.00 until the 14th July.

Events This Week

A heads up for three events I’m involved in this week.

On Tuesday 3rd July I’m in conversation with Jimenez Lai at the Architecture Foundation where we’ll be talking about his installation, his book ‘Citizens of No Place’, Bureau Spectacular’s work … and what we might be working on together in Chicago this autumn.

More info here

On Wednesday 4th I’ll be at the AA for Chat Show Format with Shumon Basar talking about the architecture of Chat Shows.

And on Thursday 5th I’m chairing an event at the Purcell Room at the Southbank where Saskia Sassen, Will Self, Anna Minton and Stephen Gill will talk about the Olympic site and how the empty industrial landscapes of Hackney have been host to hundreds of projects over several decades, dreams of possible futures by residents, architects, writers, artists and politicians (including Cedri Price’s Fun Palace). More info and tickets here.

Aesthetics / Anesthetics at Storefront

96 Storefronts

Delighted to say I’m contributing to Storefront’s Aesthetics/Anesthetics, an exhibition of 30 newly commissioned architectural drawings by 30 emerging and established architects. Each of the 30 commissioned architectural drawings will be auctioned at the end of the exhibition. Proceeds will support Storefront for Art and Architecture’s exhibitions and programs. Opening June 26th 7-9pm at Storefront, 97 Kenmare Street, New York.

You can bid on this and the other contributions in Storefronts silent auction here.

Commissioned Architects Include:
Vito Acconci [New York]
Aziza Chaouni [Toronto and Fez]
Luis Callejas [Colombia]
Teddy Cruz [Tijuana]
Frida Escobedo [Mexico]
ESKYIU – Eric Schuldenfrei and Marisa Yiu [Hong Kong]
Ling Fan [Beijing]
Interboro Partners [New York]
Sam Jacob [London]
Andres Jaque [Madrid]
Meyer-Grohbrügge&Chermayeff [Germany, New York]
Perry Kulper [Ann Arbor]
Jimenez Lai [Chicago]
Juergen Mayer H. [Berlin]
Leong Leong – Chris Leong & Dominic Leong [New York]
LTL -Paul Lewis, Mark Tsurimaki, David Lewis [New York]
MOS -Michael Meredith & Hilary Sample [New York]
OFFICE – Kersten Geers & David Van Severen [Brussels]
Jorge Otero-Pailos [New York]
Productora [Mexico DF]
Philippe Rahm [Paris]
Noura Al Sayeh [Bahrain]
Sho Shigematsu [OMA New York]
Julien De Smedt [Brussels-New York]
STAR strategies + architecture – Beatriz Ramo [Rotterdam]
Superpool – Selva Gurdogan – Gregers Tang Thomsen [Istanbul]
VisionArc -Landon Brown-Toshiko Mori [New York]
WW – Sarah Whiting, Ron Witte- [Houston]
Michael Young [New York]
Alejandro Zaera Polo [London-New York]
Andrew Zago [Los Angeles].

For more information, visit

660 Storefronts

660 Storefronts takes Storefront legendary plan, a strange wedge of space with a line of columns, and mirrors it to form a far more ordinary rectangular plan. Storefront is mirrored again and again creating a generic-repetitive field from an exceptionally quirky unit.

Ground Xerox at the AA

The AA projects review opens tonight, and I’m delighted to be showing our units work as part of the exhibition.

We’ve been working under the title ‘Ground Xerox’ and spent the year thinking through the idea of the architectural re-enactment as a design strategy. This has led us in a number of directions, some surreal, some highly practical (and some that are surreally practical).

The topic has asked us a series of questions that go to some fundamental architectural issues: the relationship between form and meaning, how material substance relates to authenticity and the idea of authorship.

We’ve found that remaking something requires tremendous close looking, amazing ingenuity and invention, and a really clear idea of what and why one might be re-making in the first place.

We’ve seen how the buried histories of a site can be resurrected as active contributions to the contemporary city, how new ambitions and narratives can be launched through re-enactments.

We’ve examined the bureaucratic machinations of conservation where arguments between planners, lawyers and developers creates imaginary versions of the past right at the moment when they try to fix architectural authenticity.

Illustrated here are images of a project by Felix Brinkhege. His work has looked at the Lansbury Estate in Poplar, it’s origins as the living architecture exhibition of the Festival of Britain, the changing attitude to both housing and the welfare state. Hi project proposed a new public amenity combining waste disposal (as a public activity to be celebrated) reinstating original cafe from the Festival of Britain, and a monument to public housing in the form of Gremlin Grange, an exhibit from the Festival that argued for modernist housing by exposing the faults of old housing stock.

Excerpts and Extracts

In the face of the current quietness on Strange Harvest, here is round up of some links / excerpts of stuff I’ve been doing elsewhere.

A few links:

This to piece on So-Il’s new Kukje Gallery in Seoul for Domus

A love letter to tarmac and the infrastructual botox of London’s pre-Olympic roadwork frenzy in Building Design

A review of an Electronic Cigarette in Icon describing the strange fictionalised enactment of the sensation of smoking.

And … tonight (21/6) is the London launch of the Strelka Press down at the Architecture Foundation. Interesting to see how their ‘digital first’ publishing experiment will pan out. Though only available on Amazon, you don’t actually need a real Kindle to read it. Any Kindle app on a phone / computer / ipad or whatever will do. Anyway, here is an extract of my piece Make It Real: Architecture As Enactment
, a longform essay starring Jay-Z, Woody Allen and a guy named Randy:

‘The danger is that it’s just talk; then again, the danger is that it’s not. I believe you can speak things into existence.’ Jay-Z, Decoded, 2010

‘The Great Roe’, Woody Allen tells us, ‘is a mythological beast with the head of a lion and the body of a lion, though not the same lion.’ In the Great Roe, the fictional and the real combine into a seamless composite. Though radically spliced, the line between myth and biology is invisible – there’s no way to tell where one begins and the other ends, which part is myth and which is real. Do its front paws walk on real ground and its rear on mythic landscapes? Or are both front and hindquarters real, with its mythological status located in the splice? Other mythological creatures – the half-human, half-animal satyrs, fauns, centaurs and the like – distort reality into crypto-biological arrangements of pure fiction. The Great Roe, though, embodies a strange and absurd condition where the opposite conditions of fiction and reality are contained within the same physical entity. One does not undo the other. Instead, its idea (its mythic fiction) and its form (a real lion) coincide exactly.

In constructing this comedic absurdity, Allen has accidently provided us with a fitting description of the way architecture occupies the world. Because architecture, like the Great Roe, is simultaneously mythical and real. Mythical, in the sense that it is the invention of the society that creates it – the ‘will of an epoch made into space’, as Mies put it. Real, in the sense that it is the landscape that we inhabit. The perfect registration between these two states provides architecture with its own supernatural power: its prosaic appearance cloaks its mythic, imaginative origins entirely. To begin to understand architecture’s Great Roe-ish state we must first think of how architecture mythologises and fictionalises itself, and then examine how it transmutes these fictions into reality.

Like a mythical beast, architecture emerges from the psycho-cultural landscape of its social, political and economic circumstances. Its body may be an exquisite corpse of (biologically impossible) architectural limbs, torsos, heads and tails, yet it is animated, active and alive like Frankenstein’s monster. At any given moment it projects its historical situation – the great teeming mass of narratives that prefigured its existence – into the contemporary world. And in doing so it fundamentally rewrites that history, splicing and sewing the narratives together to make a radical new proposition for the future.

The representation of history is, of course, highly politicised. As Churchill tells us, history is written by the victors. He suggests that history is at least part fiction, and that its writing is a spoil of war. In its own way, architecture is also a spoil of war, arising out of ideological, aesthetic, economic as well as military conflicts. But in contrast to written history, architecture’s victorious narrative manifests itself as reality. It not only represents and illustrates this fictional history but physically embodies it, playing it out through real substance, space and programme.

This radical re-enactment of history is a fundamental mode of architectures development. We might begin a historical survey of architectures re-enactments with the Egyptian column. The primitive tree and reed columns transformed into architecture when they became stone columns carved to look like a tree trunk or a bundle of reeds. Right here, in a foundational architectural moment, we see re-enactment as the primary architectural idea. The primitive tree-column returns at the moment it is technologically superseded. The original gesture of the tree-column is radically altered through its re-enactment in stone, producing a ritualised symbol that re-stages its origins just as it escapes their gravity.

In Greek architecture too we can read architecture’s compulsion to re-enact. Not only is the Egyptian column re-staged in the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders, but re-enactment generates the entire language of classical architecture through the re-staging of primitive timber Greek temples. As with the Egyptian column, stone replaces timber, but here the entire temple structure is transubstantiated. And in this transformation, architecture represents its own origin just as it becomes something else. We see this in details such as triglyphs, the vertically channelled blocks in a Doric frieze that are understood as stone representations of the original timber end-beams – even though these beams are unnecessary in stone construction. Under them are stone guttae that re-enact the wooden pegs that would have been needed to stabilise a timber post-and-beam structure but here are vestigially rhetorical. In these examples one construction technology is re-enacted in another creating paradoxes where the image of one intersects with the other’s substance. These transmaterial technological glitches are moments where the status of the re-enactment is made visible – like seeing a Civil War re-enactor on a mobile phone. They act like the splurges of a Warhol silkscreen or the howl of feedback, where the medium itself distorts the subject, where the act of reproduction becomes an active part of re-performance.

For more, you’ll have to click on through to Amazon

‘Make It Real’ Published by Strelka Press

I’m currently in Moscow where we are launching the Strelka Press, the publishing arm of the Strelka Institute

Directed by Justin McGuirk, the Strelka Press is a publishing house for original writing on architecture, design and the city. It’s format is, currently, digitally focussed , commissioning long-form writing in the shape of short e-books.

I’m excited to be amongst the first set of Strelka Press essays, with a piece titled “Make It Real – Architecture as Enactment” which is available from Amazon.

Other launch titles are:

Across the Plaza: The Public Voids of the Post-Soviet City by Owen Hatherley.

The Action is the Form: Victor Hugo’s TED Talk by Keller Easterling.

Edge City: Driving the Periphery of São Paulo by Justin McGuirk.

The Dot-Com City: Silicon Valley Urbanism (In Russian) by Alexandra Lange.

Dark Matter and Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary by Dan Hill (of City of Sound fame).

Splendidly Fantastic: Architecture and Power Games in China by Julia Lovell.

Most excitingly for me, Make It Real has been translated in to Russian and has its own cover:

Strange Harvest Resurrection

After a massive and mysterious death, Strange Harvest has been rebooted from its digital grave. Everything should be here still … though perhaps not in exactly the right places. Old links, for example, no longer work (unless someone out there is a WordPress expert and can get some kind of redirect going), a few images seem out of place and I’m sure there are a few other creaky issues. Please do let me know if things aren’t quite working.