Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


Architecture that Destroys



"Christie Malry's Own Double Entry" is the story of a renegade clerk, written by the English avant guard novelist B.S. Johnson. His character, Malry, takes double entry bookkeeping and uses it to define his relationship with the world. Morality, hurt, injustice, unfairness are logged as debts - just as a business might log financial debits. Malry begins to collect his own form of credit. To begin with, these are minor incidents: "Oct 1 : Unpleasantness of Bank General Manager : 1.00" or "Oct - Apr: Small kindnesses from Joan: 0.28". Through the story, Malrys perception of debt increases. His demands for recompense rise accordingly.

Chistie Malrys hypersensitivity of 'debts' owed to him by society warp his view of the world. One such example is logged as: "May 1: Restriction of Movement due to Edwardian Office Block - 0.05" This entry refers to an incident which occurred crossing Hammersmith Bridge, and confronted by a building blocking his desired route. "Who made me walk this way? Who decided I should not be walking seven feet father that side, or three points west of nor-nor-east, to use the marine abbreviation? Anyone? No one? Someone must have decided. It was a conscious decision, as well. That is, they said (he said, she said), I will build here. But I think whoever it was did not also add, 'So Christy Malry shall not walk here, but shall walk there.'"

His umbrage at those responsible 'for standing this building in my way, too, limiting my freedom of movement, dictating to me where I may or may not walk in this street' is set out in his account ledger: "May 1: Scratch on Facade of Edwardian office block: 0.05"

Johnson's novel is a grand confusion of capitalism and morality, the personal and the public. It explores these issues through a logical system taken to an illogical extreme. It makes accountancy into something dark, surreal and dangerous - which I suspect is actually a more accurate picture than its usual dull image.

Christy Malry might be paranoid, but he's also right: Buildings destroy as much as they create. They restrict the infinite possibilities of a Greenfield site through the iteration of a single proposal. Architecture turns a field into a planning authority regulated, building code limited, singular thing.

Maybe architects were right when they said 'less in more'. They usually mean it when referring to buildings made out of glass and steel with minimalist detailing. However, they don't actually say what they mean by 'less' or 'more'. If they had meant 'Less architecture means more possibility' then they could have been on to something. Architecture turns landscape into concept. And that concept is embedded in the culture and society that create it.

Like most things, architecture reveals its true nature in extremes: When it's angry, aggressive, or defensive. At one extreme, a prison shows architecture that is motivated by denial. Its walls are barriers, isolating the interior from the exterior. The architectural intent is crystal clear. Architecture is performing a task of enclosure - on behalf of society, at the behest of the state. In the case of a prison, the walls enclose to isolate a piece of land. An island, not made from arrangements of land and water, but of ideologies.

The difference between the inside and outside is exaggerated. Which turns the architecture into a strange interface. One that's explored, probed, and questioned by prisoners escape attempts. Tunnels dug with spoons, hacksaws contained inside cakes, keys cast in soapbar moulds are architectural interventions, attempting to undermine the ideology of the building. This was perhaps most dramatically played out at Colditz Castle - the Second World War German prisoner of war camp. It was used to contain prisoners who had attempted escapes from other camps. On the one hand, the stone walls of the castle, the barbed wire perimeters. On the other it was riddled with all kinds of ingenious schemes to breach the architecture of captivity.

Prisons are specific and specialised. Sometimes, the scope, scale and ambition of architecture as ideology becomes vast. When ideology, identity and geography collide, it's usually on a map. At the lines drawn between one thing and another, or one place and another, or one state and another. There is an overlaying of an idea - an abstract concept - over the geological reality.

Politics, power and economics define territories. They distort landscape. We have remade the world into ideas, abstracted it into words and images - representations that have come to change the very surface of the planet. Winston Churchill remarked that 'we shape our buildings, and our buildings shape us' - but in reality, we shape maps, and the maps bash us into new shapes.

The walls of your house create a division between the city and your private domestic world, between warm and cold, wet and dry. The same fundamental construction can make barriers between other kinds of things, at other kinds of scale. The Berlin Wall erupted between two ideologies - Pushed up like a mountain range between tectonic plates made out of ideas.

The Berlin Wall may have divided a city, but it also divided the planet. Its scale was huge to begin with: Imagine a wall that divided a city. Consider the territory it partitioned : to Moscow in the East and Washington in the West. It's a wall that functioned both locally and globally. It's perhaps the most all-encompassing piece of architecture ever built. A perversion of a medieval walled city with the Warsaw ghetto.

These are failures of global politics, of societies, of religions that are played out in the form of urban design. In such extreme situation, it reveals qualities about a wall that are usually just latent. The difference between one surface and the other, the mass, height, material whose qualities prevent the passage of particular items: people or sticks or bombs.

The 'Peace Line' in Belfast is a six-meter-high steel, concrete and chain-link series of walls - flung up over decades to protect "interface communities" - flash points of sectarian violence. It separates areas such as the Catholic Falls Road from the Protestant Shankhill Road. The fences were originally intended as temporary measures when construction began in 1969. Over the years it's become taller and longer and proliferated. Though not continuous, the barriers are collectively known as a single entity. There are currently around 40 sections, with a total length of 13 miles. The bottom section of the wall is made of concrete blocks that have been painted white. On top of this is metal sheeting painted green. In parts, a metal grill attempts to prevent missiles from being thrown over the wall. At low level, scrawls of graffiti by tourists unable to comprehend divisions deep enough to result in the Peace Line.

In 2003, Israel began construction of a security wall. Following the "second intifada" in 2000, Israel faced a dramatic increase in attacks and suicide bombings. Its response was to construct a wall along the West Bank border. The barrier is still under construction. It is architecture reduced to a basic element, and made impossibly large. It's a gesture of colossal scale, demonstrating Israel's singular intent. A symbol of power. It is architecture as pre-emptive strike. If it is completed, the final barrier will run for approximately 400 miles.

If all this modern history seems depressing, lets zoom back in time to a picturesque moment in history, to the edge of the Roman Empire in AD 122, where Hadrian ordered the construction of a wall between Roman England and the Scottish tribes. Like the wall at the end of the garden, it marked the end of a domain. Except this garden was an Empire which stretched all the way back to Rome. Like the other examples, this wall was permeable: gates allowed passage through. The significance of the wall is to attempt to exert control.

When we think of architecture, we should remember that it is a set of decisions stacked up. Each of those decisions has consequences, effects both positive and negative. It's important to ask, who benefits? Asking this question is a way of revealing the ideological and political dimension of buildings. Buildings possess the strange facility of making these dimensions almost total invisible, hidden. The behaviour it encourages or discourages, the symbolism it promotes or demotes. Thankfully, most environments are not as extreme as the examples we've looked at here. Though the politics might be less extreme, it also becomes more complex. The polarisation that conflict creates obscures the more complex, faceted, graduated reality of everyday life. The way in which walls, windows, thresholds, staircases and other architectural elements reflect, embody, or indeed create these complexities. Every building is a fuzz of encoded morality, control, and social expectation. These implications are often invisible to the designer, client of a building. What Cristy Malry saw when he crossed Hammersmith Bridge was the everyday reality that at its core, architecture is the imposition of intent upon the landscape.



Posted by anothersam at October 12, 2005 7:45 PM.

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Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

On Christmas Trees, Folk Forests and Staples Office Supplies

Hampton Courts Shrouded Sculptures

Named Fabric: 20 Sponsored Pieces of Architecture at the New Museum

Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

Nelsons Cavern

Foam Gargoyle

New Tory Logo: A Hazy Shade of Politics

Jeff Koons, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine

Souvenir Empire

Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

Suburban Growth: Matthew Moores Field of Dreams

Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

Picture of the Week 1

A Little Light Product Placement

Some Advice To A Young Designer

London and on and on

In the Gallery of Ice Creams

Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

LegoLand London Cluster

In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

Marchitecture. Architectural things to do in London this March

Metallic Jet Powered Cloud

"When we got married I had no idea he would do something like this, he just said he was going to do some decorating."

The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

Commitment ...

Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

What happens when you cross a pen with a car?

Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

TomTom Mobile 5 / GO 700

Winning Design

Another Croydon

Holiday Snap II : Giant Glowing French Balls

Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

Pecha Kucha London

Anatomy of an Architectural News Story

Big Bens

First Cut - Case Closed

The Texas Tower

Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

White Cubed Blues

Poundbury, unexpectedly, in the rain

The Exploding Concrete Inevitable. Lou Reed and the Casa da Musica

Swingball

Untitled (Plastic Sack and Timber)

Berlin 1945 - The Obscene Picturesque

Pizza Planet

Goal Sculptures

Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane

Previewing Cedric Price

The Mardas Touch

Building a Lionel Richie Head

Ornament is Grime 2

An Incredible Smell of Roasting Coffee

Flatpack Frenzy at New IKEA

Langlands & Bell - The House of Osama Bin Laden

Labour is kind of working

Happy Death Men

Build to Let

Architectural Criticism gets Sharp

Niagara Falls

Ornament is Grime

FA(ke) Cup

Q&A: Wouter Vanstiphout

X-treme urinals

Unigate Cowscape

Spray-on Snow

From the Baffler ...

One in a Taxi

The Queen Machine

The Knork

Venturi, Scott Brown and my love that dare not speak its name.

Polictical Placards

The Ketchup Conumdrum

Douglas Coupland: Design and Fiction

It's a Small World

Images de Parfums

Soft Carcass

Christopher Dresser at the V&A

Blow up Pub

Municipal Mummification

The Matt and Ron Show

Semi - detached

Half Timbered Van

Feltham Future

Favorite Things

Fugitives and Refugees' - Chuck Palahniuk

The Pop Vernacular

Design by Chefs

Just What is it That Makes Yesterdays Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

Sorry Mies

The Flaming Lips - Live.

Everything Counts - The Sound of Geography Collapsing.

Carlton Terrace Extension

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