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Blog is not made with brain; The Labour of Wichit Horyingsawad

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Unpacking My Library: Architects and Their Books

Stan Allen

Jeff Kipnis, The Ohio State University

For more than two decades Jeffrey Kipnis’s work has shaped the thinking, imagination and creative work of architects and critics. From seminal studies of the work of such key practitioners as Philip Johnson, Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas and Daniel Libeskind, to theoretical reflections on the intellectual, cultural and political role of contemporary architecture in such essays as Toward a New Architecture, Twisting the Separatrix and Political Space I, as well as his award-winning film on the work of Frank Gehry, and his exhibitions on architectural drawing and design, Kipnis has brought a restless, generous and provocative originality to bear on the issues that have defined contemporary architecture.

Kipnis holds a Masters degree in physics from Georgia State University, USA (1981), and in 2006, he was awarded an honorary diploma by the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, in recognition of his contributions to the discipline of architecture as a teacher, critic, and theorist. Other honors include the AIA (Georgia Chapter) Bronze Medal for Service to Architecture (1985), a Professional Development Award from the Architectural Society of Ohio Foundation (1992), and an Ohio State University Distinguished Research Award (2005). He is professor and overlord of architecture at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He has been a visiting professor at Columbia University, New York, and the Southern California Institute of Architecture, Los Angeles, the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Boston, and is currently a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Applied Arts Vienna (Angewandte Kunst). Kipnis taught at the Architectural Association from 1992–1995, where he was the founding director of the Graduate Design Program. He also curates Architecture and Design at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio.

As a critic he has written for many different periodicals, including Assemblage, El Croquis, Architectural Design, Harvard Design Magazine, Log, and Quaderns.

As a designer, Kipnis collaborated with architects Reiser and Umemoto (RUR Architects) on the Water Garden in Columbus, Ohio (which won a 1998 PA Design Award) and the Kansai-kan National Diet Library. During 1990s he collaborated with the Iranian architectn Bahram Shirdel (visiting lecturer at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and the Architectural Association School of Architecture) on the design of influential projects such as the Scottish National Museum, Montreal Urban Design 1990-2000, and Place Jacques Cartier.

(Source: vimeo.com)

Detroit: the last days

Detroit is a city in terminal decline. When film director Julien Temple arrived in town, he was shocked by what he found – but he also uncovered reasons for hope.

An abandoned car wash in DetroitVegetation engulfs an abandoned car wash in Detroit. Photograph: Films of Record

When the film- maker Roger Graef approached me last year to make a film about the rise and fall of Detroit I had very few preconceptions about the place. Like everyone else, I knew it as the Motor City, one of the great epicentres of 20th-century music, and home of the American automobile. Only when I arrived in the city itself did the full-frontal cultural car crash that is 21st-century Detroit became blindingly apparent.

Leaving behind the gift shops of the “Big Three" car manufacturers, the Motown merchandise and the bizarre ejaculating fountains of the now-notorious international airport, things become stranger and stranger. The drive along eerily empty ghost freeways into the ruins of inner-city Detroit is an Alice-like journey into a severely dystopian future. Passing the giant rubber tyre that dwarfs the nonexistent traffic in ironic testament to the busted hubris of Motown’s auto-makers, the city’s ripped backside begins to glide past outside the windows.

Like The Passenger, it’s hard to believe what we’re seeing. The vast, rusting hulks of abandoned car plants, (some of the largest structures ever built and far too expensive to pull down), beached amid a shining sea of grass. The blackened corpses of hundreds of burned-out houses, pulled back to earth by the green tentacles of nature. Only the drunken rows of telegraph poles marching away across acres of wildflowers and prairie give any clue as to where teeming city streets might once have been.

Approaching the derelict shell of downtown Detroit, we see full-grown trees sprouting from the tops of deserted skyscrapers. In their shadows, the glazed eyes of the street zombies slide into view, stumbling in front of the car. Our excitement at driving into what feels like a man-made hurricane Katrina is matched only by sheer disbelief that what was once the fourth-largest city in the US could actually be in the process of disappearing from the face of the earth. The statistics are staggering – 40sq miles of the 139sq mile inner city have already been reclaimed by nature.

One in five houses now stand empty. Property prices have fallen 80% or more in Detroit over the last three years. A three-bedroom house on Albany Street is still on the market for $1.

Unemployment has reached 30%; 33.8% of Detroit’s population and 48.5% of its children live below the poverty line. Forty-seven per cent of adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate; 29 Detroit schools closed in 2009 alone.

But statistics tell only one part of the story. The reality of Detroit is far more visceral. My producer, George Hencken, and I drove around recce-ing our film, getting out of the car and photographing extraordinary places to film with mad-dog enthusiasm – everywhere demands to be filmed – but were greeted with appalled concern by Bradley, our friendly manager, on our return to the hotel. “Never get out of the car in that area – people have been car-jacked and shot.”

Law and order has completely broken down in the inner city, drugs and prostitution are rampant and unless you actually murder someone the police will leave you alone. This makes it great for filming – park where you like, film what you like – but not so good if you actually live there. The abandoned houses make great crack dens and provide cover for appalling sex crimes and child abduction. The only growth industry is the gangs of armed scrappers, who plunder copper and steel from the ruins. Rabid dogs patrol the streets. All the national supermarket chains have pulled out of the inner city. People have virtually nowhere to buy fresh produce. Starbucks? Forget it.

What makes all this so hard to understand is that Detroit was the frontier city of the American Dream – not just the automobile, but pretty much everything we associate with 20th-century western civilisation came from there. Mass production; assembly lines; stop lights; freeways; shopping malls; suburbs and an emerging middle-class workforce: all these things were pioneered in Detroit.

But the seeds of the Motor City’s downfall were sown a long time ago. The blind belief of the Big Three in the automobile as an inexhaustible golden goose, guaranteeing endless streams of cash, resulted in the city becoming reliant on a single industry. Its destiny fatally entwined with that of the car. The greed-fuelled willingness of the auto barons to siphon up black workers from the American south to man their Metropolis-like assembly lines and then treat them as subhuman citizens, running the city along virtually apartheid lines, created a racial tinderbox. The black riots of 1943 and 1967 gave Detroit the dubious distinction of being the only American city to twice call in the might of the US army to suppress insurrection on its own streets and led directly to the disastrous so-called white flight of the 50s, 60s and 70s.

The population of Detroit is now 81.6% African-American and almost two-thirds down on its overall peak in the early 50s. The city has lost its tax base and cannot afford to cut the grass or light its streets, let alone educate or feed its citizens. The rest of the US is in denial about the economic catastrophe that has engulfed Detroit, terrified that this man-made contagion may yet spread to other US cities. But somehow one cannot imagine the same fate befalling a city with a predominantly white population.

On many levels Detroit seems to be an insoluble disaster with urgent warnings for the rest of the industrialised world. But as George and I made our film we discovered, to our surprise, an irrepressible positivity in the city. Unable to buy fresh food for their children, people are now growing their own, turning the demolished neighbourhood blocks into urban farms and kick-starting what is now the fastest-growing movement across the US. Although the city is still haemorrhaging population, young people from all over the country are also flooding into Detroit – artists, musicians and social pioneers, all keen to make use of the abandoned urban spaces and create new ways of living together.

With the breakdown of 20th-century civilisation, many Detroiters have discovered an exhilarating sense of starting over, building together a new cross-racial community sense of doing things, discarding the bankrupt rules of the past and taking direct control of their own lives. Still at the forefront of the American Dream, Detroit is fast becoming the first “post-American” city. And amid the ruins of the Motor City it is possible to find a first pioneer’s map to the post-industrial future that awaits us all.

So perhaps Detroit can avoid the fate of the lost cities of the Maya and rise again like the phoenix that sits, appropriately, on its municipal crest. That is why George and I decided to call our film Requiem for Detroit? – with a big question mark at the end.

Requiem for Detroit? is on BBC2 on Saturday 13 March at 9pm

Doshi: Chapter 1 - “Eight months with olives and cheese.”

Review: Sydney Morning Herald

The film “Doshi” follows the life and work of the famous Indian Architect Balkrishna Doshi and was conceived directed and scored by Premjit Ramachandran and Bijoy Ramachandran of 100hands who are based in Bangalore.

Doshi worked with Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier, two of the giants of 20th century architecture. Both had a profound effect on his work and life and modern day India, however he has sought to reinterpret this modernism of Europe and America to local conditions and climate, site and available technology.

At 81 years old Doshi is still very much engaged in building and in life and we are offered more than a simple outline of his work. The film and commentary give you an insight into the history and transformation of one of the 21st Centuries superpowers and the means by which its people have moved from a relatively agrarian and feudal society into a modern and technologically advanced country. It does so through the medium of architecture but I imagine the same may be applied to many areas of intellectual and technological activity.

Le Corbusier went to India to design Chandigarh, a capital city for the newly created state of the Punjab, and a post-independence symbol of progress and modernity. Doshi was a young architect at the time and worked for Le Corbusier on this and other projects in India. He thoroughly learned the lessons of modernism, but in time has modified these models with his particular understandings of the Indian way of life and its people. “India”, he suggests contemplatively, “has survived and celebrated through a particular frugalness… by ingeniously finding several ways of using the same thing”, this can be applied to clothing, furniture, buildings, music and technology.

His own office Sagath which in Sanskrit means moving together through participation is in essence a village, “trees, gardens and steps” and offers a real insight into how the outside world and influences are consumed, understood and reconstituted as his own. In this building or more accurately institution, you can see the influences, Chinese mosaic, Gaudi, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, “everything is there…. It is like a good food that you enjoy but made by the best chefs, But you are the one that is digesting this food. You have to convert this into your own blood and your own life.. Borrow everything and finally become yourself” … Gandhi put it this way, “open the windows but see that your roof is not blown out, make sure that the foundations are strong. “…. You have to be deep inside an Indian who is frugal, who can invent, who can take a chance and who can starve”.

His institutional buildings, his schools, his low cost housing, his own home, all show a profound understanding of architecture but also of people, how they live and connect. He is full of reverence and with an Indian take on the meaning of “God”, who is still profoundly wound up with his belief system and understanding of life.

“Life is to be lived not regulated” he states. But he has concerns for the future, he laments that much of the architects time is now taken up with mundane survival. “What can you give me, for how much money and in how much time?” The pragmatism of modern capitalism is also being felt in Doshi’s life and work. He notes that increasingly we are interested in conclusions; we have no time to understand process. “How can you enjoy the food if you have not aware of how it was cooked and how it all came together.”

He also asks us to consider the future and the past comparatively. How did people in the past have such profound understandings of material, scale, the size and even the kind of elaboration and joy of working you witness in ancient monuments? A place to sit, a place to rest your hand, “how come we do not think of this public realm today?” he asks.

In modern India he laments the lack of institutions, of communities, of civic spaces that inspire you. “What will we have to show as our heritage, our contemporary heritage? Yes you may have a beautiful house but what is outside it? What kind of street? Car parking, hotels, entertainment of a cheap type… we want to be alone isolated and enjoy ourselves, socially relevant architecture I do not think we have anymore, institutional architecture is gone.”

The architectural profession has become submissive and has nothing to do with society at large, Doshi feels, and apart from rare instances this is may also be true in our own society. What value to we place on the public realm? This is a beautiful film that offers some very relevant insights into the production of great architecture, institutions and what age and wisdom brings to a truly creative life.

Chapter 2 - “I’m not an architect… for me its a search.”
http://vimeo.com/13386350

Chapter 3 - “Indian plan is not centric.”
http://vimeo.com/13406758

Chapter 4 - “You are representing God.”
http://vimeo.com/13413333

Chapter 5 - “The end result is not as exciting as the process.”
http://vimeo.com/13427864

Chapter 6 - “Architecture is a matter of transformation.”
http://vimeo.com/13599950

Chapter 7 - “Human being, by nature, is a warm compassionate animal.”
http://vimeo.com/13613210

Chapter 8 - “So, what is our heritage?”
http://vimeo.com/13616075

Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage

This is a short 19-minute documentary about recycling and waste in the U.S. Base on the book of the same name by Heather Rogers. The film has great facts and funny archive, it exposes the often magical (but false) feeling we get from ‘helping the earth’ by ‘recycling’ It also points out the real problems, over production and industrial pollution. Plus it explains corporate greenwashing and our economic system of ‘built-in obsolescence’.

faceoutbooks 

Work: The Meaning or Emptiness of Life?

Technology promised a world of freedom and leisure. Yet many of us define ourselves through the nature and success of our working lives. Is this a symptom of modernity ; and capitalism or is work fundamental to us? Does work provide meaning and purpose or is it a distraction from the real business of life?

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