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ART-e-FACT, STRATEGIES OF RESISTANCE   ISSUE #03, TECHNOMYTHOLOGIES
 

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Hilary Koob-Sassen

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Architecture in the Digital Era
Rendered stills.
Vinko Penezić and Krešimir Rogina

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THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE POST-URBAN MAN

At the end of the 20th and at the beginning of the 21st century,the way of reflecting upon contemporary architecture can be defined as a certain heterochronous turn into a new dimension of lost spatiality. Constantly threatened by an apocalyptic disaster, to which all the biggest cities of the world are subjected, every project of functional building as we know it, intended for the “eternity”, should be brought to zero movement point. Spectacular terror, arising from the essence of the globalisation terror, becomes some kind of terror of spectacle in a high risk society. Living with the everlasting possibility of destruction of grand, stunning and spectacular buildings of western post-industrial societies means to accept the reality of catastrophe. In the inspiring book of a philosopher’s, Jean Baudrillard’s, conversations with the architect Jean Nouvel, the line dividing the relation between “theory” and “practice” is already partly erased by the fact that the architect does not necessarily become a philosopher of building in global space, in the same way in which a philosopher does not any more build his “system” as a construction of pure mind, like once Kant did, blessed by the enlightenment, but “theory” and “practice”, as well as the real possibility of disaster, are total events. Therefore, competent contemporary conversation partners do not nostalgically withdraw into the past and do not show a cynical attitude to the future as an open space for de-realisation of architecture in general. What remains is a dialogue of active utopian thinking as an alternative to the rule of contemporary technocratic positivism and experimental nominalism.1

While the first option follows the logic of global profit economy’s demands as “aesthetics” of pseudo-towers of Babel (after the model of the destroyed Twin Towers), the second movement follows the principles of the international avant-garde style, in favour of which everything representing remnants of glocal relationship to tradition is swept away in the name of architectural creative autonomy by resurrecting the unified cultural identities of “subjects”. Today, two dominant architect figures determine the remnants of the vanishing denied history: the architect as a global technocratic executor and the architect as an international terminator of everything glocal. We could almost reshuffle the motto of one of the last Venice Biennials of Architecture – more ethics, less aesthetics – and in the line of Baudrillard’s and Nouvel’s thinking say: more or less aesthetics has no impact on the ethics of new architecture. What matters is cutting loose from the fatal dichotomy of paradigms and models, as well as the awareness of the necessity of architecture as the “third way”, past the technocratic globalists and international terminators. Because the world, as a readymade product of the new architecture, has itself become an “aestheticised object”, not even the pleading of false modesty, New Age ethics, for a post-humane era, leads into the right direction. Where are the traces of a possible way out of this vicious circle of architecture as a vocation and the architect as a player who does not consent either to the treatment of his “work / event” in space as a merely functional object, or to act as a post-modern “life-stylist” who only aestheticises the already fundamentally aestheticised environment and the world of life? Multiple dialogues between philosophers and architects, in the manner of Baudrillard and Nouvel, in a different context and with different comparisons say the same thing as Jacques Derrida and Eve Mayer in the long-gone year of 1984 and make sense only in critical pointing to inherent limits of our “world”, where the ideology of endless development is still predominant, creating the illusion of architecture as the new bio-power, speaking in terms of Michele Foucault.

One of the self-conscious examples of the breach with the dualist model of architecture – the architect as a servant to global capital and as a decadent artist with the (im)possible mission of destroying the net of glocalist meanings – is represented by the concept of post-urban man’s architecture as an open event by Vinko Penezić and Krešimir Rogina. From 1979 until today, as shown by the recently published “book” trilogy, consisting of “Tokyo Works”, “Noncompletions” and “Reality Check”, the radicalism of their new architectural ideas is based on two complementary activities: theory and architectural design in the space of the “new nature”. In their architecture, the quest for utopian spheres of the “man’s” position as a being among other beings and not as a centrally positioned, self-oriented ruler of space and time at the “end of history”, is presented as a program of critical breach referred to by Baudrillard and Nouvel when they speak about the “third way”. What does actually the seemingly weird phrase, architecture of the post-urban man, mean?

Can the approach to the “new nature” be contemplated in any other terms then the observed culturalisation of the (man’s) nature as a digital machine in the environment determined by possibilities and limits of new information and communication technologies? The discourse about the heterochronous turn2 , as the modern art theoretician Boris Groys analyses Douglas Gordon’s installation as a paradigmatic case of temporalities’ sequence in visual art, seems to be the adequate concept of space temporalisation for Penezić & Rogina’s architecture as well. Because the structure of such heterochrony uses three different times for “the same” within Gordon’s installation (printing machine, photography and light), and they are mathematical, Messian and cyclical time, in the case of Penezić & Rogina’s architectural projects we can show the way of surpassing the geometrical concept of architecture through the insight into the essence of post-urban’ man time, who is a subject and object of the digitalisation of the world.

The research into the possibilities of architecture of the post-urban man reached its peak in the work Surround DataHome: Reality Show Para-Site House from 2001, which won Penezić & Rogina the sixth subsequent prize at the “Shinkenchiku” journal competition and the invitation by the art director of this year’s Venice Biennial of Architecture, Kurt W. Forster to exhibit it in Arsenali under the new title Absolute Internet. This project is undoubtedly the most radical architectural approach to empty temporality of events as a “shock of absolute fragmentation and dislocation”, which is Bernard Tschumi’s determination of a paradigm for the city of future as the experience of absolute nomadism3. The breach to the other side of the geometric concept for Penezić & Rogina did not only mean passive following of Tschumi’s vision. It is sufficient to remember the book of “Tokyo Works” and see in which direction the authors’ quest went, then starting from Spengler’s idea that only the most vital structures can accept destruction as a creative act (Diokletian’s Palace). What they anticipated by this approach was a radical turnover: liberation from the illusion that architecture could follow the canons of functionalism and the ironical ornamentalism of the post-modern period. Aldo Rossi, Jean Nouvel, Hiroshi Hara, Fumihiko Maki, Toyo Ito, Kazuhiro Ishii and Kengo Kuma have noticed that their projects follow a completely different line. But how, at the same time, was a penetration into the post-modern hyper-realism of events possible without resistance, where the body itself, the living machine of movement, is a participant in the self-centred culture of spectacle, bearing in itself something completely opposed to this “new transparency” of the world – the return to sensibility as a tactile experience of the post-urban man? Is not such linking of the incompatible actually hybrid architecture of shock in space, which willingly condescends to impossibility of display and absence of the intimacy of “middle-class urban life”, without which a free man of modern civilisation is unthinkable? After the Style for 2001 from 1984, Glass House 2001 from 1990, Simplicity / Complexity from 1995, Possibilities of Non-movement from 1996 and Architecture that Respects the Earth from 1999, the project to the topic “Surround DataHome”, chosen by the juror Winy Maas, was recognised in the work of Penezić & Rogina as an original solution to the problem of surpassing the geometric concept of modern architecture. The logical continuity of their projects, that trust the tactile ability as a basic sensory and discursive activity of man, “blind” to heavy, monumental objects, too old-fashioned and unable to cope with the demands of the virtual and simulative paralogics of our time’s spirit, is crowned by a work of pure “aesthetisation” of events. The work on the previously set topic implied an investigation into the reaction of urban structure and the individual within interfering forms. If it is obvious that the classic definition of house / home in western tradition, as explained by Winy Maas, is a guarantee of space for singling out the subject in an “inborn” landscape, how can we design a new house / home in a time of vanishing modern subjectivity as a kingdom of middle-class urban intimacy? In endless worlds of global finances, shown as non-displayable spectacle of everyday life, Penezić and Rogina have interpolated the situationalistic theory of Guy Debord4 about the society of spectacle and included the new house / home for post-industrial society into the meta-city. It does not any more use fixed structures or typologically determinable building parameters. It does not include the intimacy of “common interest” neighbourhood.

The chosen material is glass, because it enables the optical illusion of (non)transparency. In the society of non-displayable showing of public traumas, dreams and perversions, a house / home becomes a space of virtual movement. When Paul Klee announced that objects are not illusions, but subjects of the Other’s view, we could not expect that this statement would have something of a prophecy coming true. Baudrillard’s notion of “seducing” in the world of singular architectural objects, to which Penezić and Rogina refer by defining action as something between seducing and production, is here determined by interactive relationship to objects in space. Like a reality show, in which random and necessarily interested players act themselves “live” by impersonating the world as a stage of Warholian frenzy of glory, nothing is any more a taboo. In the modern society, pornography does not any more have a subversive function. We are living in the world of post-spatial urbanism, believe the authors. Therefore, the re-location of the meta-city requires the creation of overriding places of traffic, pastimes, capital and pleasure. The house / home in such artificial environment of digitalised economy serves the purpose of uncovering public privacy. Non-displayability in the space of new nomadism, where the notion of “neighbourhood” is most arbitrary, like a consensual temporary contract of private language users, as Jean-François Lyotard determines the essence of a post-modern societal association, and where the reality show characters take on the function of the Other, which at the same time shows us total self-centredness and stripping the subject to schizophrenia network clusters, demands movable and shifting landscapes.

 


 
Absolute Internet Project (Surround DataHome)
Stills.
Žarko Paić


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Nothing is typologically determined, because nothing is solid and durable any more. However, the spectacle surpasses Debord’s ideas about the demonic face of global finances as a “picture of pictures”. It is an event taking place everywhere and nowhere. For Penezić and Rogina the modern man is a being of high meta-urban culture. Therefore, his adequate home is the environment organised according to the principle of steady non-historical and self-centred network (“surround datahome”) of data about life, which is in the multitude of fluid objects again reduced to “elementary particles”. The mysticism of touch is for the authors almost the sole thing into which the future architecture can have faith. Their project could seemingly be placed under the notion “Urban Entertainment Center”, in Vienna conceived by the architects Jean Nouvel and Coop Himmelblau. It is about new global finance zones in which people live, buy and sell, meet each other, publicly announce their last desires, try to be like the stars, mimic the “life”, devoid of the differentiation between the working and the so-called “free” time, and everything becomes working off freedom for the glory of pleasure in the global capital without borders. That is why this project by Penezić & Rogina is the most radical step by the kind of architecture which dismantles the structure of reality ideologised by neo-liberalism, using its hardest metaphors.

The discourse on a para-site house must necessarily include the idea that the whole city is nothing else but a total functional screen of activities, mobile and non-centred. The new picture of technological infrastructure requires a kinematical migration of inhabitants. The very category of “inhabitant” is stripped of any static national and state markings. Like in Virilio’s essays on vanishing of reality in the light of the meta-mega-city, in the project by Penezić & Rogina we face a wall of sound and light of ultimate “perversion”5. In a perverse society, where the monumental is reduced to only temporary, free from the obligation to sacral immortality of a house as a monument, the house / home as a place of intimacy belongs to the past forever. That is why this project is difficult to name in “fixed” terms. The architecture of the post-urban man is in this work some kind of anti-Messian temporality as an “eternal now” subjected to the rule of mathematical time measuring the circulation of capital / pleasure. It is a product of internet-based interdependence of time and space in all-encompassing simultaneity, in which the man in his limited existence knows only that he has become a “thing”, an object among other objects. The pleasure in the perversion of a view has become a materialised pleasure of reification6. This is the biggest perversion of desire for total displayability in the society of spectacle. Therefore, it does not wonder us at all that such a radical concept of absolute voyeurism, in which everyone is a subject-object to the view of the Others, could only be described by comparisons from Lars von Trier’s films. This is really not architecture for the middle-class taste of mass public. This is a para-house for the society of spectacle, in which global capital links information with pleasure, profit with pastimes, rational fanatics and perverse “idiots”. The new nomadism does not include only alternative cultures, marginal inhabitants, strays and people seeking shelter, but also people who come from “nowhere”, to witness at one place the realisation of the world as spectacle, as a scene of their own image on a public screen. The house / home of middle-class intimacy is converted into public space of self-display. By doing so, architecture has entered the phase of its spectacularisation in the same way visual art has, by a performative-conceptual turnover, become its own installation in the topology of Nothing. Striving towards the answer to the question about the status of digital architecture and the notion of “reality” for the time when every reality is already de-realised to a great extent, the last work started 2003 therefore bears a programmatic title Architecture in Digital Era. The research into the possibilities of information technologies for creating a new, multisensory nature is actually a “natural” continuation of a millennium project. The “new nature” appears here as a digitalised world of life. The idea of culturally different “lifestyles” of the users of post-urban man’s architecture does not mean a mere consent to the illusory notion of global capitalism about the pluralism of lifestyles. Penezić and Rogina are mainly interested in only one issue: how can architecture acquire the “means” of new information and communication technologies for designing space without fixed objects and lasting and continuous subjects of unchangeable identity. The continuation of contemplating the consequences of the “story” about the house / home in the society of spectacle is now closed by the idea of a digital Library as a simultaneous time of the general supermarket of information, media pictures and electronic, virtual communication. Architecture for the digital era is a solution found to the question of the post-urban man’s status. It is a “fiction” of culturally changeable identity as a carrier of different “lifestyles”. The choice of the Library object does not any more consider an idea similar to the library in Alexandria for the informational society. That would also be senseless and for the whole intention of Penezić & Rogina under their contemplation level.

The project is conceived as an “electronic tent for modern nomads”. The essence of information is shown in continuous, exponential growth of data selected for the needs of changing users. That is why the Library in digital time changes the status of encyclopaedia. Here we have a realised and meaningful approach to a kind of “fragmentation of digital design”..7 Analogue properties of a classical library, reaching into modern times, are replaced by digital characteristics of “datascapes”. Such tactile-corporative mirror image abandons all previous bonds to the “real world of life” of the nature or environment in which the man has a direct relationship to other nature. That is why the culturalisation of nature as a new identity is at the same time a display of new sensibility as essentially fragmented, dispersed, fractal. A library of digital era has no walls, no remaining “sacral” connection to the object of knowledge storage. Like a virtual museum of visual (contemporary) art, such a library is de-realised in the space-time of a pure simulational event of information. The only remnant of “reality” and the event of the user’s contact with something solid, still reminding of the inner space of knowledge institution accessible to everyone is, paradoxically, a phone booth. Instead of de-realised cyberspace a “phone booth” establishes a “bridge of cooperation” between pure virtuality and the illusion of material world. In this work, Penezić & Rogina continued to playfully destroy objects in continuing space and time. The digitalisation of the world as a supermarket of “lifestyles” is therefore not a utopian space of the future, but a “bad infinity” of the present, which abolishes itself by guided development of IT (information technology). For Penezić and Rogina IT is not a mere means of idolising the possibilities of virtual architecture as a new substitute for old means of creativity. From the typology of creativity as a possibility of organic destruction (Diocletian’s palace) to Architecture in Digital Era led the cognitively hard work on finding the “third way” of a theoretical architectural vision, which from the essence of a mirror image as a “reality” of the IT-architecture creates the new reality of architecture for the post-urban man. What is the actual ontological status of the post-urban man? Analogically to the post-humane environment, in which biogenetic technology generates the reality of “new nature” through transmutations of living organisms, the post-urban man appears as a hybrid trans-cultural nomad, migrating from his inborn, modernist “home towns”, “home countries” and “nations”. The architecture for the digital era is a turn or a “step back” into original tactility as a primary experience of man as a being among other beings. Fragmentation and discontinuity of events in time means much more then success or failure of the last IT-architecture project by Penezić & Rogina. It is about the insight that radically erases borders between architecture, visual arts and theory. It is therefore almost essential that the event of turning the reality of “singular architectural objects” into imaginary, illusory, playful entities of IT “plural subjects” in the world of life must manifest itself as a fantastic game on the verge of dis-solution from the digital code of the world. The new form of architecture in this way surpasses every “formal” and “structural” relationship with the time of previous realisations. The cut and turning point in creative achievements of Penezić and Rogina is not the usage of IT-design for the digital era, but quite on the contrary. It is a question about the limits of IT-design for architecture in general, functioning as a labyrinth of the big Text of “new nature”, a question that remains disturbing for us all.

 

1. Jean Baudrillard / Jean Nouvel, The Singular Objects of Architecture, The University of Minnesota Press, 2002

2. Boris Groys, Einführung in die Heterochronie, in: Topologie der Kunst, Carl Hanser, München, 2003

3. Bernard Tschumi, Architecture and Disjunction, MITPress, London, 1999

4. Guy Debord, Društvo spektakla (Society of Spectacle), Arkzin, Zagreb, 2000

5. Paul Virilio, The Information Bomb, Verso, London - New York, 2000

6. See the provocative explanation of the notion of desire for transformation into a „thing“ in Crispin Sartwell's essays, published under the topic „Suvremena umjetnost: stanje poslije šoka“ (Contemporary Art: a Posttraumatic State), Tvrđa journal, 1-2 / 2003

7. Kengo Kuma, Fragmentation of Digital Design, in: Penezić and Rogina, Reality Check, Zagreb, 2003

 


 



CONTENTS







ART & THEORY
Model City
Bik Van der Pol


SPATIAL CONCEPTS

Globalization and Unsettlement: Whither Design?
Saskia Sassen

Electronic Baroque: Jerde Cities
Norman Klein

The Super-exposed City and the New Limits of the Public Space
Alina Şerban

Architecture of Post-urban Man
Žarko Paić 



ART WORK
SYSTEMS

 
 
 
 
 
 
 



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