Open City: Existential Urbanity Symposium, the New Museum, Friday November 20, 2015
A two day symposium marking the official release of Open City: Existential Urbanity, an anthology of student work from the Architecture of the City studio, conducted by Professor Diane Lewis and the faculty at The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture. Focusing on work from 2001 to 2014, the book features drawings, models and project descriptions that regard any contemporary intervention into the city as an integral work of architecture, art, and sustainable infrastructure.
The Bowery: Architect & Continuum Panel
Panel Speakers: Ezegbebe Eribo, Milan & Legos (Opening Reading), Daniel Meridor, Nader Tehrani, Karen Wong, Francois De Menil, Erika Hinrichs, XuanLuo, Devon Moar, Derek Lange, Stephanie Yeung, Tyler Putnam
It is appropriate to begin the chapter of the book, by addressing the neighborhood of the Copper Union, which is ‘The Bowery’. A neighborhood, as noted in the chapter, that was a place where many of our artistic innovators/provocateurs lived had an impact on contemporary culture. A group of artists searching for how to capture the questions of our world and reflect it back to their audience, which defined a particular view of the world. Then take that map and overlay it onto an area with such a rich and illicit history as the Bowery… I imagine a tension between what is “real”, “known” or accepted challenged by the search for an alternative visionary architecture. I would like to reference “the Bowery” as described by Luc Sante’s book Low Life- A place where once mansions housed the wealthy barons of a thriving industrial world, to a place overrun by inhabitants providing service for those interested in vice and entertainment, where others visit but do not live- to then an overcrowded den of illegals capturing the attention of a city with its crime and disorder. All of this making the Bowery a place with its own mythology, a place all about a moment in time, disconnected from the city as a whole. But perhaps, the projects referenced here in the Book present a potential for new texts that can record the memories of place in our current city and its future.
As students of architecture, we often begin with what we know. For me, coming to Cooper in the mid-80’s, I brought with me a personal history of an imbedded “high art” education: classical ballet, fine art and music. Once here, the foundation exploded my thinking with new visions, new curiosities, new challenges… a flood of thoughts that you may not know what to do with...
For me early in my education, experiences from multiple disciplinary works impacted my visual vocabulary for architecture and space. Two such works come to mind which still ground me today- a dance piece by Twyla Tharp entitled “Fait Accompli” with music by David Van Teighem, 1984, and the chamber/opera “10,000 Airplanes on the Roof” set by David Hwang, music by Philip Glass, 1988.
Memory 1 - “Fait Accompli” was inspired by the boxing trainer Teddy Atlas. The piece focused on the strength and endurance of the body with its intensity of movement and degree of difficulty in its positions. This paired with the music of David Van Tieghem which collaged together the sounds of the city and various beats projected into a wall of sound. A moment in part 2 is one I recall- a line of male dancers start from the rear wall and begin to move forward moving in strong slow-motion toward the audience, each moving in a theme and variation of choreography between each other slightly aware of its repetition. A second line of bodies emerges from the rear starting to move forward, and so on until the stage is full with a grid of powerful bodies, a force moving slowly toward the proscenium. The moving body in slow motion, each becoming a skyscraper as their scale became monumental and with the repetition of movements the shape of void space emerged, between the “body-scrapers”. Being acutely aware of the space in-between. The dancers turn and retreat.
I get spatial flash-backs of this experience from some of the projects- the forms within a grid and frame of space in the Theater/Opera, the disassembled/ assembled architectural parts in the ‘Forum of the Spoken Word”, the figuration of spatial volumes in relationship to the grid in the City Hall Gates, and the discovery of spatial volumes carved between the think pages of space in the Library for New York Authors.
Memory 2 - “10,000 Airplanes on the Roof”, marked a moment when early technological advances came to the theater. The whole stage, floor to ceiling became a tilted plane to receive a full projected “holographic” image. During the performance actors moved across the plane which held the projected image seamlessly without reading the infrastructure by which the actors moved. The projected images were of different scales- views of the city- at one moment the actors are monumental walking over the elevated datum of a skyline and the next moment inverted where the scale is microscopic. The spatial experience is flat and abstracted.
I see the base tower of the Brooklyn Bridge impact itself onto the streets and building of the Bowery creating new scales of space, the displacement of elements like found archeological artifacts participate in a new spatial field in the Public Theater Library, and a Mural becomes space in plan & section carving into a cities tenement block in the Keith Haring Museum
As a maker and thinker I would state that my own pedagogy is the search for representing the space which captures the absent body. I see a shared desire in the works presented in this chapter through the challenge of drawing the variable scale between the city, space and body.
My offering to this symposium comes from an experiential place rather than a philosophical one, in which I reflect and share the inquiry on “how we see” or to “ways of thinking” in our architectural discourse.
As for The Bowery currently, the place seems like a return to the wealthy real-estate barons cited by Luc Sante in Low Life… perhaps we can keep the overlay of the architectural question of space and with it the grit of our imaginations will flourish, to provide provocations for future architects which will keep us all on our toes.
Panel Speakers: MersihaVeledar, Michael Webb , Merrill Elam, Jonathan Kirschenfeld, Frederick Biehle, Andrew Ferentinos, Dasha Khapalova, Giandomenico Pellizzi
Frederick Biehle discussed:
At the beginning of book five in his Ten Books of Architecture, Vitruvius relates a little story:
The Socratic philosopher Aristippus, being shipwrecked and cast ashore on an unknown coast, despaired, until he observed geometrical figures drawn upon the sand, whereupon he cried out to his companions, “let us be of good cheer, for I see the traces of man”.
For Vitruvius, a composition of lines, because they have been drawn specifically in a relationship to each other, is capable of suggesting not just the presence of another person, the maker of the marks, but an entire culture, a civilization and its accomplishments. For a student, the kit of parts introduces these same geometric possibilities, from which he or she must learn to reinvent the accomplishments of history, as an evolving ritual of self-knowledge.