23 March 2012

Butt Ugly Blight

Let’s face it – much of our built environment is a horrible mess. Architects are often complicit in this, but more times than not, the advice and skills of architects, planners, urban designers and landscape architects are not only ignored, but contradicted outright. The bankers, developers and capitalists have had their run. We have had policy based on support of two industries: the fossil fuel industry and the automotive industry. Accommodation of the automobile has made a wasteland of our country, and turned our people into fat dumplings incapable of locomotion.
Unbridled development coupled with risky lending practices led us to a fiscal meltdown. And what did we get out of it? The greatest building boom in our nation's history, and we have built a bunch of shit sprawling all over the landscape. It is clear that building is one of the driving forces of our economy. In terms of energy, buildings consume 50% of annual consumption. the industrial capacity for buildings and the stuff that goes in buildings (furniture, fabric, lighting, etc.) probably accounts for half of our economy. But the designers of the built world are not accorded the respect and authority they deserve. Design is not aesthetics. Designers solve problems - they make things work. Architects, interior designers, landscape architects, urban planners and designers are hired to make things work. The financiers and politicians have made a mess of our economic system, it's time for the architects to have the opportunity to make a mess now.


I have to acknowledge some of my heroes and influences in my artistic life - people whose work I have admired and, in some ways, influenced my thinking. I grew up in a house with some art. It was strange stuff - my half brother said it was like visiting the Addams family. My father was a friend of Leonard Baskin, and his works hung around the house, as well as prints by Kathe Kollwitz. Then there were the strange drawings of my father, Ed Crawford. These drawings are obviously figurative, whereas mine are primarily formal and architectural. But I also hope to frame something about the human condition in some of the work. There is also a mood to which I aspire. I like the darkness, but I also try to express a level of hope in my own work. There is a level of social consciousness to which I aspire, but rarely reach.

Cry - Leonard Baskin

Rebellion - Kathe Kollwitz
Prisoners - Kathe Kollwitz
Plowing - Kathe Kollwitz

Ed Crawford


I think it is necessary to define terms. Oddly enough, I like the wikipedia definition of poetry. For my purposes it is the best description of the act as I experience it:
Poetry (from the Greek "ποίησις," poiesis, a "making" or "creating") is a form of art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its ostensible meaning... Poetry often uses particular forms and conventions to expand the literal meaning of the words, or to evoke emotional or sensual responses. Devices such as assonance, alliteration and rhythm are sometimes used to achieve musical or incantatory effects. Poetry's use of ambiguity, symbolism, irony and other stylistic elements of poetic diction often leaves a poem open to multiple interpretations. Similarly, metaphor and simile create a resonance between otherwise disparate images—a layering of meanings, forming connections previously not perceived."

With few changes this can work for architecture, painting, drawing, and many other arts. Visitors to Wikipedia will see that I was highly selective in my quoting, taking only the elements that further my point. I am going to parse some of the terms in this definition.
1. I like that the original Greek root for poetry is "making" or "creating." Of course linguists and classicists will be quick to point out that this is very different from "fabricating," and was a term reserved for words and ideas. The visual artist is engaged in the act of both making and fabricating, for the object is imbued with meaning.
2. "Language is used for its aesthetic qualities in addition to its ostensible meaning." Thus the sound of words and their relation to other words is as important as its meaning. This is also the case in architecture, where the form and materiality of say, a door, adds to its ostensible meaning or use.

The literary devices listed in this definition have corollaries in the visual arts.

22 March 2012


Here's a free market approach to the bail-outs of the big corporations: Instead of pumping up failing industries, industries mired in the old economy (auto companies, giant banks), instead give the bail-outs to people. The argument for saving GM was the preservation of jobs. But jobs that produce what? Why not give the money to ordinary citizens, and let them dictate the winners. The money will generate jobs. Of course, you can't win. That makes the assumption that the ordinary citizen and the market in general has any idea of what they are doing any more so than government and politicians. Also, the ordinary citizen will likely spend the money to pay down debt rather than on ordinary consumption. A total economic meltdown was averted, but perhaps that is what is needed. Germany and Japan are two of the most prosperous nations on earth, in large measure because not only their economies were leveled, but also all their industry and huge swaths of city. We kind of need a good calamity to jolt some action.

Hiroshima 1945 and 2010

12 February 2012

Vertical Farms in Nairobi


Here's an alternative concept to vertical farming. Dickson Despomier's work at Columbia is inspiring. MVRDV's Pig City is another such example of how to restructure agriculture. Would that we, as a culture, had the political will to achieve such visions. The reality is that we have a billion people on the planet without consistent access to potable water. We have a billion people who are malnourished. The solutions to this are probably a lot more humble and disperse than the megaproject, which ultimately requires large amounts of capital to produce.

11 February 2012

Is Drawing Dead?

This weekend at Yale there was a symposium that addressed this topic. A pretty renowned cast addressed the topic: Massimo Scolari, Peter Cook, Stanislaus Von Moos, Antoine Picon, and many others.

For me, the first presentation by Cammy Brothers of U.Va probably had the most resonance. She talked about "drawing being relieved of its responsibility in the making of buildings." Also the question of the knowing the rules but willfully breaking them. And finally an issue of temporal simultaneity.

I could not stay for the entire 2 days. There was a lot of talk of the digital, as any discussion of the topic of drawing today is not only obliged to do, but required to do.

But here is my take.

Arthur Danto, in "After the End of Art" indicates that art has ended. What he goes on to describe is that the thrust of art in terms of representation came to its end in various denials of representation. This vein was exhausted. Art has ended. This does not mean that art making has ended, its just that its focus or emphasis has shifted. What has replaced it is philosophy, in Danto's thesis. Art becomes about ideas.

The role of the drawing in architecture has similarly come to an end. With the rise of BIM, parametric modeling, all manner of 3d modeling software, even things like Ecotect, the role of drawing in the representation of a building has all but ended.

What of drawing given this condition? Drawing becomes liberated from its responsibility. Drawing is freed to explore ideas. Drawing can be about drawing. Drawing, at least as it relates to architecture, is freed in much the same way as painting was freed after the invention of the camera. Drawing can focus more purely on the ideas.

To quote Mark Twain: "reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated."

12 January 2012


What usually interests me is the manner in which humans have invented forms for dealing with water - protecting from it, drinking it, storing it, using it for movement, and forms of pure enjoyment.

it's complicated

It is a very strange world in which we live. We could live in a garden of Eden, yet we accept pollution, environmental degradation, over population, squalor and ignorance. We prefer war over discussion (even at the level of interpersonal relationships).

Yet, it is a wonderful world! Trees sprout from the sidewalks, fish swim in the Gowanus canal (occasionally). Life is tenacious, complicated, beautiful.

09 January 2012

The Greeks shall inherit the earth

I love that Monty Python interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount.

But according to the NY Times, that is just what young Greeks are doing: they are opting out of the global corporate hegemony in favor of artisanal  agriculture. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/09/world/europe/amid-economic-strife-greeks-look-to-farming-past.html?_r=1&hp

I have been looking a lot at contemporary agriculture and urban agriculture, in relation to overall systems of buildings that produce rather than simply consume. The global trend has been towards increased urbanization. Globally today, 50% of the world's population resides in cities. But upon what is the prediction that this will continue? The number of farms in Maine, for instance, increased this year for the first time in decades, reversing a trend towards consolidation. It is a complicated decision, based on economics, lifestyle, politics, philosophy... This is not an isolated trend. We see it in Brooklyn and Detroit and Nairobi as well.