Driving cross-country from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Jennifer Bonner and Volkan Alkanoglu start a conversation about taxonomies, renderings, pavilions, and hip-hop somewhere between Flagstaff and Little Rock. . . .
*image: Bryant SUH, “Kinetic Tower.” Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). Volkan ALKANOGLU, instructor.
image: Henry CHEUNG, “Machinic Veils,” plan drawing. Woodbury University School of Architecture. Jennifer BONNER, instructor.
Volkan ALKANOGLU: Within the past two years, I’ve pleasantly noticed the use of taxonomies within current modes of architectural representation. These drawings tend to either represent a process (cue card) or a collection of potentials where one chooses or selects the strongest candidate (survival of the fittest). This can be interpreted as an excuse for presenting a case for multiples versus a reaction to making linear decisions. Check out two different taxonometric approaches by contemporary female artists Jorinde Voigt and Armelle Caron.
Jennifer BONNER: I always cite Umberto Eco’s book Infinity of Lists to students when discussions within the studio arise about variation, multiples, and the question of difference. In his book, Eco presents cases for the “practical” list (shopping list), “pragmatic” list (telephone directory), and the “poetic” list (the catalogue of ships in Homer’s Iliad). He goes on to say that the practical list is finite, the pragmatic list is infinite, and the poetic list is inventive.1 Students able to oscillate between all of these parameters tend to produce interesting work. In reference to the taxonomy drawing that Volkan mentioned, this framework allows students to engage the multiple and the list at the same time. As a drawing, the taxonomy allows for a collapse of the cultural list and the architectural list.
VA: Architects stopped looking at representation as a means for the production of architecture several times in history—once, directly after the early 1970s oil crisis drawing (post-Zaha, post- Libeskind), and again, after the 1980s drawing (post-Hejduk). A drawing type that has attempted to rival these representational milieus might be the rendering. When the global economy spiked from 2004–2008, the photorealistic rendering was a specialty. In London, you had to call in the rendering consultant for a big client meeting, with one exterior perspective going for 4,000 pounds. If you consider the last 10 years of architectural education, we have seen a tremendous number of digitally produced renderings and animations used as a means for convincing juries. During this period, the rendering turned from an atmospheric means of expression (with the ability to set up a new paradigm) to a capitalist tool. I too am guilty of this. But now I’m suffering a sort of render fatigue that has, most recently, turned into render exhaustion. Recently, architect Marcos Cruz called the rendering “digital modernism.”2 He was not speaking to the hyperreal views of buildings, but to occlusion, a subcategory of rendering comprised of hundreds of shades of white and gray (not dissimilar to how modernism is rendered in photographs). Cruz makes the rendering irrelevant by calling it status quo. Today, back in the midst of yet another economic crisis, we should once again draw our way out of it. In my seminar and for an upcoming symposium on drawing techniques, my students and I are investigating work by Jan Kaplicky, James Stirling, and Norman Foster in much the same manner that Zaha worked on Russian Constructivism and Hejduk looked to Corb and Mies.
JB: With the recent passing of the commercial artist Thomas Kinkade, we might actually see a rebirth of the rendering through his legacy! Look, I grew up watching my grandmother make “renderings” with paint-by-number sets from Walmart. I think a series of Kinkade’s pastoral landscapes in combination with a didactic technique would be fascinating. Can someone reading this dialogue take this idea on as a thesis project?
VA: Sylvia Lavin declared the pavilion dead this past summer.3 After heavy investment in the pavilion through digital fabrication curricula, we are all left with piles of coat hangers, woven speedos, aggregated plastic bottles, bent cane, multicolored ropes, and riveted aluminum. However, looking at fashion styles over time, versions of skinny jeans, plaid shirts, mustaches, and big glasses have all been perpetually reintroduced. So, if we accept this fashion analogy as well as Lavin’s claim, when the pavilion does make a comeback the question will be: In what manner? I assume it will most likely be through conceptual ideas rather than fabrication logics.
JB: Our predecessors had the luxury of building houses for their mothers. Robert Venturi’s first commission was a house for his mother. During graduate school, Charles Moore designed and built a house for his mother in Pebble Beach, California. Ciro Najle’s house for his mother is actually called “Motherhouse.” My generation’s only hope for testing out our first architectural ideas is to work on a pavilion or to take on a tactical urbanism mantra.4 But this raises a question about the architectural myth, because pavilions are generally temporary, built on low budgets, weather poorly, and, like Volkan mentioned, take on the found object. They have an inherent set of logics surrounded by digital fabrication and material that probably won’t conjure up discussions of the avant-garde like those we’ve seen with the Vanna Venturi House. Where are we headed? Either all of our mothers need to ask us to build them houses again or the pavilion needs to become self-critical, to grow up.
JB: I’m currently running a studio titled “Dirty South” at Georgia Tech University in Atlanta. I guess everyone who’s reading this knows that the term Dirty South refers to Southern hip-hop—a music subgenre created out of a reaction to the rivalry between East Coast and West Coast rap. Applying this analogy to the well-established East Coast and West Coast architecture camps, I’m asking students: How might we position new productions of architecture in the city? How can they formulate a critical voice as outliers? In New York City, Sean Combs headed the record label Bad Boy Records. Artists like Biggie Smalls and Junior Mafia represented the East Coast. They were lyricists (or shall we say theorists) and prolific MCs. Suge Knight ran Death Row Records on the West Coast, where artists like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Tupac represented the “real.” Their lyrics were about the pain, hate, and violence associated with the infiltration of crack cocaine and the Los Angeles riots. Dirty South artists like OutKast and Goodie Mob accepted a “backwoods” stereotype and played up the sound of the slow, Southern drawl. As far as I can tell at the moment, this rap analogy holds true.
VA: Jennifer, are you talking about “OutKast architecture?”
1. Umberto Eco, Infinity of Lists (New York: Rizzoli, 2009), 113–29. ↩
2. Marcos Cruz, presentation at “London Eight” symposium, curated by Peter Cook, Southern California Institute of Architecture, March 19, 2010. ↩
3. Sylvia Lavin, “A discussion with Sylvia Lavin,” interview at Architecture and Design Museum, Los Angeles, California, May 10, 2012. ↩
4. See Mimi Zeiger’s essay on “tactical urbanism.” Zeiger, “The Interventionist’s Toolkit: Our Cities, Ourselves,” Design Observer, September 12, 2011, http://places.designobserver.com/feature/the-interventionists-toolkit-part-3/29908/. ↩