The Architecture of: Breaking Bad / The Room / Antarctica

A round up of writing elsewhere:

Over on BD is a guide to the Architecture of Breaking Bad. Here is an excerpt:

The Crystal Ship

It’s the image Breaking Bad opens with: an RV careering though the desert and crashing into a ditch. A wild eyed man in underpants and a gas mask emerges and frantically records a confession into a video camera. It’s a signature cold open leaving the viewer entirely confused, dumped right into the middle of things.

It’s a while before we get to see the RV again. But when we do, ‘The Crystal Ship’ as Jesse christens it, becomes something close to a lead character in the early part of the series.

It’s where Walt and Jesse really begin to bond and where Heisenberg’s blue meth is born. It symbolises a sense of liberation. Just as an RV gives holiday makers the freedom of the open road, it gives Walt, for a moment at least, a sense of liberation from his circumstance of debt, illness and failed responsibility.

The Offices of Saul Goodman & Associates

Saul Goodman is the deliciously dodgy lawyer-cum-fixer who assists Walt with increasingly illegal acts. His somewhat interpretive relationship to the law is manifested with great clarity in his office.

Located in a strip mall, it has an inflatable Statue of Liberty teetering above along with a sign reading ‘Better Call Saul!’, the tagline for his TV ads (‘Welcome Lawbreakers!’).

A wood paneled waiting room like a minicab office where a room full of unfortunates wait watched over by his super sized security guard Heull. Inside, a huge blow up of the constitution forms a backdrop to Goodman’s desk which is decorated with a Scale of Justice and conceals an seemingly endlessly supply of burner phones. A diploma from the University of American Samoa assures clients of his credentials.

The back wall curves as though it were the Oval Office. And around the room the high Classical language of the American state is invoked by polystyrene ionic columns that totter dangerously around the edge of the room.

Hollow and fake, Goodman’s office is a moment of comic relief. But behind its ersatz brashness there’s a more chilling reading: the machinations of the law are not always in the service of justice.

More here (I think you can register to read, rather than subscribe)

On Dezeen, a piece about smartphone game The Room, fantasy sci-fi design and how digital culture has changed the way we see the history of design.

The game is set in a series of creepy, dusty, dark half abandoned rooms. But it might be more accurately be titled Furniture as it really centres around a series of strange pieces of furniture. What exactly they are is hard to say. Part desk, bureau, chest, clock, sideboard (and much more) they are nothing so singular. That’s because The Room is really a puzzle, one that comes with it’s questions, riddles, games of skill and observation encoded into fabric of super-hybridised furniture.

But I’d argue that it’s exactly the strange hybrids of history and technology that we find a real expression of the contemporary in. I’d argue that this kind of ultra-techno-retro rewires our received narratives of design, suggesting new tendencies and possibilities: fast-forwarding while rewinding at the same time.

This seems entirely appropriate given the way digital culture is transforming culture. It’s certainly changed how we access design. Flattening traditional scholarly hierarchies, breaching what were once secure boundaries between stylistic schools, jumping across chronologies all in a flurry of Google image searches and Pinterest boards. One might add, given the idea of remaking history, that internet culture has accelerated a certain strand of conspiracy theorising that rewrites history with abandon according to highly specific contemporary points of view.

More Here

And I’ve contributed an essay titled High Tech Primitive: The Architecture of Antarctica to the show Ice Lab: New Architecture and Science in Antarctica commissioned by the British Council and curated by the Arts Catalyst. You can download the catalogue of the show (in an amazing array of digital formats) from Arts Catalyst website, which also includes an essay by Dr David Walton of the British Antarctic Survey. An excerpt:

Architecture, as it is usually practiced at least, is created in dialogue with these layers of human history and concerned with issues of context and tradition, whether for or against, point or counterpoint. Designing and building are acts that are intricately enmeshed and shaped by political social and economic forces, and architecture occurs when these interests converge with demands for shelter and enclosure, at the intersection of environmental, social, cultural, legal, economic and political issues. It can never exist outside of these frames. But it is not just the climate in Antarctica that makes these issues stranger than anywhere else on earth. To understand its architecture we need to understand the region’s own peculiar socio-political conditions.

The first human laid eyes on Antarctica as recently as in 1820; the first person actually set foot on it perhaps a year later. That is to say, the continent only enters the human world as fact, rather than speculation, supposition or myth, after the industrial revolution. Consequently, Antarctica isn’t a place we understand in the same way as the rest of the world. Even its name reveals something different about its status as a territory. It is etymologically derived from the Greek antarktikos, meaning opposite the north, and has always been imagined as different, as an opposite of normal territorial conditions and definitions of place.

On Antarctica the marks made by human habitation are fainter and more provisional, and this is explicitly preserved through an international agreement called the Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959 and the bedrock on which all activity on the continent is based. This defines Antarctica as a scientific preserve and bans military activity (the continent was subject to the first arms control agreement during the Cold War). The Treaty’s ambition is set out in a guiding phrase that claims it is ‘in the interests of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord’. And yet Antarctica is not entirely free of worldly concern. Seven states maintain territorial claims in Antarctica, and not all in agreement. Geopolitics rests lighter on the surface of Antarctica, less embedded in the continent’s geography and geology, but concepts of state, ownership and threshold are juxtaposed like a pie chart against the blank page of its topography nonetheless.

The idea of the primitive hut provides a lens through which to view the architecture of Antarctica, the last earthly wilderness, almost untouched by human inhabitation. Within this landscape, each station acts as a shelter, a bubble containing and enabling society to formulate specific outposts of culture, behaviour and knowledge. This is true even for the most contemporary stations, which may seem centuries ahead of the first simple huts. Indeed, the history of Antarctic architecture seems a hyper-accelerated history of architecture itself, progressing from the hut to the space station in just over a hundred years.

More Here

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