Friday, November 11, 2011

Death of the Commune

Whatever happened to the commune? I don't speak of the Hippy Communes of the '70's, which to some extend exist in various communities globally. I speak of the artist communes, in particular the Architect Commune. Artist Communes like the hippy communes exist in some extent, but the architect commune has essentially disappeared.
Tange (centre) and early Metabolist members
Kenzo Tange, Frank Llyod Wright, Le Corbusier and possibly many more all utilized the commune as a sort of ideological incubator, reinforcing their respected architectural movements. While I have no evidence, Archigram to some extent formed a commune, even though they might have never lived together. I am using a broader sense of the commune and transposing it onto the idea of the 'movement'. 

Wright (back facing) and his commune

movement (ˈmuːvmənt) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]
1. a.  the act, process, or result of moving
b.  an instance of moving
2. the manner of moving
3. a.  a group of people with a common ideology, esp a politicalor religious one
b.  the organized action of such a group
4. a trend or tendency in a particular sphere

Tange and Wright formed the commune in the most precise meaning, a close-knit community of people who share common interests. By the creation of this commune they were able to work closely with a set of minds to generate a singular line of thinking. While I have less belief that Wright worked equally with his disciples, Tange has shown that he worked equally with his commune to produce a singular line of thinking; Metabolism. 

How does the architectural commune differ from that of an architectural office? The office is firstly a structure for individuals to generate income and practice architecture secondly. While I do contend that yes an office can be firstly a place to practice architecture, it however runs into an ideological barrier when paying members of its staff. The architecture first office, or the Academic's Office is usually in the form of a group of professors/academics who's salary is generally independent of the offices success. The workforce of the Academic Office takes the form of part time contracts and abducted students, whose hard work is usually rewarded with academic credit. 
Architectural (Mass Production) Office
The standard architectural office lacks the true ideal of the commune or the freedom of the academic office. People who are individually reliant on income typically will form ideas that follow inline with their employers. Can employees truly dictate the ideals of the firm? Its hard to say. I would sense that there are some unique firms out there were the ideals of the staff are transferred into the office culture, but I feel most employees ideals are compromised for the vision of the architect. 
Hierarchical Office Structure a la The Office
The architectural commune disrupts the architectural office concept by making all the employees reliant on each other. As more individuals share the same ideals, the stronger the commune becomes. The hierarchical structure of the commune removes the barriers that the architectural office forms. Individuals works equally on all aspects of a project without the need for giving remedial work to a lower serving staff member. The thought comes to me that the architectural commune makes a brief appearance in the formation of a new office. A group of architects who band together to start an office are usually polarized in one direction. With limited funds these architects will work equally to share the work load without the need of hiring more costly employees. But at a point this commune structure erodes. Does the need to increase company profits in order to lessen the burden on the architects breakdown the commune structure? 

The architectural commune can create a social structure that largely remains elusive in the architecture office. I think architects enjoy the hierarchical structure, the ability to oversea and control the outcome of a set of personal beliefs. But the communes' structure generates a much more powerful sense of control. I am suddenly reminded of Samuel Mockbee's Rural Studio which brought together students and academics to provide solutions for the impoverished rural Alabama. Its the most contemporary architectural commune, but it still lacks that overly cohesiveness. There was still the teacher-student hierarchical structure... an intellect passing down a set of ideals to a new generation. What I am looking for is the architectural commune with a singular mindset, and passion for an ideal that bands individuals together in one direction... to bring forth a Movement.
Jonestown Utopian Commune dead after drinking cyanide laced punch
The architectural commune is dead, just like the architecture Movement. Both are inherently reliant on each other. With our increased individualistic culture, the bringing together of singular ideals are evaporating. 

Maybe I am asking for a call to arms... Why can we not have an architectural Movement today? How can thousands of years of architectural movements suddenly stop today? I say lets bring forth a new movement, a movement that can steady the course of architecture while bringing architects back to the forefront of public opinion. This is not a style or classification of design movement... aesthetics have to be removed from the movements philosophy. Aesthetics remain the biggest divider today... my Apply product is better than yours... 

A new focus must be present... something that we as globalistic creatures can universally back. Is the new focus of the movement the environment? Or a direct rejection of all that we currently are?

I am not sure of this new movement, but its something that I will be exploring.. maybe I will form a new architectural commune after its 50 year hiatus. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Project Japan: Metabolism Talks...

So my book I pre-ordered finally arrived this morning... There was some fear it would not arrive for a long long time after Amazon informed me that the pre-ordered book was delayed. However, out of no where I was informed that the book would be shipped immediately last Friday.

And here it is... Project Japan: Metabolism Talks...
The book is a assembly of interviews with the last remaining members of metabolist movement and people the people directly involved with those members. It is an interesting piece of work as it details the last remaining architectural movement in the 20th century. As many architects already know now, architectural movements are fractured and lack a cohesive direction as they once did. 
I have not yet read through the book, but only flipped the pages and already salivating from the information I will glean from its pages. I hope once I have read through the book I'll be able to post my own book review. I plan to over the next while to post my review of a few architectural books I have brought back from Japan. 

Stay tuned for more book reviews...!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Authenticity vs. Nostalgia

Today I am overseeing the cooking of my mothers baked beans. As she's out, I more or less make sure the beans havent jumped out of the oven and ran off. 

Part of her bean recipe includes the use of molassas which has inspired todays blog.

I was out at the grocery market to buy the aft for mentioned molasses and had to choose between two varieties, Cosby's or Grandma's Fancy Molasses. I was sure, I saw my family use the Crosby Molasses so I picked up that variety. When I got home my mother disappointed, pointed to the mostly empty Grandma's Mollasses container that she likes to use the Grandma's over the Cosby's. 

I picked up the two containers to see what they said differently about each other and found to my surprise they are exactly the same. Same company, same producer location, same company logo, and even the same text on the side of the containers... Cosby's Fancy Mollasses is Grandma's Molasses (or is it Grandma's is Crosby Molasses?). 

This brings me to my issue of the day, Authenticity vs. Nostalgia. My mother likes to use Grandma's because she has used it since she was a child, this is her nostalgia. She would purchase the product because she has always. Now there is likely a market that has always purchased Crosby Molasses. Nostalgia is a powerful aspect of human selection, but at some point in the past, Crosby and Grandma's became a single company. Is it still relavent to keep nostalgia? The company thinks so, that is why it continues to produce two different packages for the same product. But did Grandma's Molasses taste better or worse than Crosby's? We may never know, as each camp of users will say their's tastes superior to the others. The authenticity of the products is gone.

But what about architecture? Is there such a thing as Authenticity vs. Nostalgia? Would it matter to someone if they lived in a Frank Llyod Wright home and then later moved into a Wright replica? Does copying the design aspects of one architect diminish the authenticity of that architect?
Chicago Worlds Fair 1893
The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 saw the construction of gleaming white Baroque pavilions to dazzle and wow the crowds. But these were merely replicas of historic motifs, beneath those white facades was plaster lath and a steel skeleton. The Chicago World's Fair chose the Nostalgia of the Italian Baroque period, while the buildings of the fair had little authenticity. If we look at the World Fair's of today, we still see many examples of nostalgia trumping authenticity. Canada's pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010 attempted to create its own authenticity while Thailand's Pavilion chose nostalgia and created a temple replica. Does the temple represent what Thailand is today? Or is the Canadian Pavilion tapping into nostalgic ideals of Canada's past?
Canada Pavilion 2010
Thailand Pavilion 2010
We cling to nostalgia because it gives us comfort. As the world moves forward we as humans need things to comfort us; things to link our memories to happy times. In the end authenticity means little if it does not make the individual happy. Cultural nostalgia, especially in architecture, is a tool to connect ones present culture to  a past identity. At times rapid modernization creates upheaval and nostalgia is able to soften that future change. But, as an architect I warn that nostalgia can stagnate a cultures identity. Even historic motifs changed overtime and we must let our nostalgia continue to modify so we can continue to retain our own authenticity. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Completed Portfolio

So I was in Toronto the past weekend visiting friends and getting away from my tiny hometown... back to some civilization. While in toronto one of my main goals was to finally finish off the working copy of my portfolio. I needed to get a new cover printed and three sides of the portfolio cut down. 
Once I installed the new cover and cropped the document, I have the finished result.
The new portfolio is terrific i think. I am quite happy with the outcome of the style and form of the portfolio. The only issue I had was the sticky notes I used to mark out the areas to crop from the document, ended up embedding themselves into the cover... I tried to peel the sticky notes off, but they ended up leaving a residue. Oh well, this is only my test portfolio and the next couple prints will be sent off to firms in perfect condition.

I feel this is the end of my portfolio for now. The next iteration will only come after I have enough new work to warrant a new design. However a full redesign will probably be unlikely. I like the formate and feel it should last for some time.  Some minor colour changes and tweets will be needed. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Assembling a Portfolio

After a long and troubling process of finding out how I will assemble my portfolio, things last week finally fell into place. The main issue I had was the printing of the portfolio. Originally I was going to print one continuous long portfolio and then fold the document into an accordion. The accordion would then be glued together to form a book. That process turned out to be too costly and hard to locate an 11" wide plotter. 
13x19" Canon iX6520
The next method was to reduce the document in size and print it off on sheets of 12x18, but this turned out to be highly expensive method... some printing shops quoting me $6.99 a sheet. So I decided to BUY a printer outright, which actually turned out to be the most cost effective method so far. 
So I bought a 13x19" printer by Canon that was on sale at Canada Computers. One issue with buying a printer was that I had to buy 1600 sheets of the 13x19 paper! From a cost point of view buying 20 sheet packages was 27 times more expensive than buying 1600 sheets... so a carton of paper I ordered. In all, after buying the paper and printer I will recover all the costs in only about 4 printed portfolios. Not bad for 4 portfolios and now I have a printer that prints awesome sizes. 
To construct the book style portfolio I began of course by printing all 45 pages of my portfolio. That took no time and looks awesome once I found the plot settings in Photoshop. (always check this out, it makes a huge difference. Colours went from a close reproduction to being an exact reproduction from the screen). 
The next step is to painstakingly fold each page exactly in half. Something that is easier said than done. The repetitive folding can bore you to death. 
After folding all the sheets of paper I created a jig so that when I assemble the portfolio each page will be perfectly in line with the next. After the jig I also created the gluing zone for all the sheets. I covered the entire table in newspaper, elevated the gluing area and put up spray barriers around the glue zone. The elevated barriers help keep the misting glue from traveling everywhere. 3M Super 77 is great stuff, but it coats everything in a sticky film. Ideally one should do this outside, but with the awkward jig and the fact it was raining today forced me to stay indoors. 
Folded Portfolio
Each page is glued on one blank side and placed (hopefully perfectly) on the following page. Spraying and assembling took about an hour. I figured a way to achieve a more symmetrical gluing process by gluing batches of sheets together. This allowed me to keep the book relatively straight. The slight offset nature of the pages will be hidden by the 1/4" bleeds I printed with. 
Using my old sketch books to compact the whole package
After all the gluing I had my finished portfolio... sort of. I still need to put the cover on, but I failed to consider how thick the document would be. The thickness doesn't allow me to fold a 13x19 around the booklet. I'll have to get that printed a print shop for an extra cost... learn as I go. 
The finished booklet though looks great. The wide format images and the vibrant colours work perfectly at the larger scale. Once the cover is glued into place I'll have the booklet chopped at a printers to the right size. Once its at the right size I will post what the finished document looks like. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Digital Portfolio

Now I have uploaded online my digital portfolio. Its been a long process to get my portfolio to this stage... definitely something that could not be rushed. However I have a problem... the digital online version lacks the intimacy of the physical version I created.

This brings to me to the whole 'tablets will kill the book' argument. I agree that tablets will likely take over certain reading markets, but I disagree that it will take over the entire market. I find my portfolio online looks too sharp and crisp, lacking the softness that paper instills. Right now its difficult to duplicate that softness through a screen. Yes we have the 'Epaper' replacement for a lot of eReaders, but its not yet here for the standard computer screen. Epaper will have the image quality I achieved with a physical portfolio, but unless the screen is in the format of the paper, it will still be missing the feel I am trying to achieve.

Now I could format my entire portfolio to mimic the formats found on tablets, but which tablet do I choose. The popular Apple format? The dozens of other formats that range from 7" to 12" screens... OR do I just go for the phone app market...

This is why the portfolio as a physical object will and must continue on. The physical portfolio provides my own definition and not an imposed definition by technology. Taking experience from Japan I've developed a physical portfolio that lacks a centre groove, a key feature taking my portfolio from two demarcated pages to a single wide format.

Next week I'll be producing my portfolio in a physical format and will document the process of creating a grooveless book.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mini Portfolio

Currently I am developing my new portfolio... Version 3.0...
The differences between v2.0 and v3.0 is staggering... as though my portfolio went from someone who couldn't design to someone who had half a sense of composition.

Not tooting my own horn, but I am far more pleased with the rough cut result of my portfolio design than any of my previous portfolio iterations. My last portfolio was a creation on a time limit. I was afraid the job industry was tanking in 2010 and I wanted to get something out to employers fast... in the end I don't think my portfolio did much for my job prospect, but at least I had something.

My new portfolio is developed more as a book/digest of my projects and career. I am attempting to achieve a level of simplicity without creating a dull document. Text is reduced in scale to be less apparent and white voids are embraced readily. My v1 and v2 portfolios were maximized with content that appeared more as technical manuals and not an artists representation.

I've also embraced more full page images... if I could I would just have a portfolio of full scale images... its much more appealing and I always figure no one reads the text. However my new portfolio has increased text 5 fold to achieve the 'book' feeling I desire.

Today I finally printed off a test portfolio... Printing was half the work, cutting and assembling took its time too. Presently my portfolio is 1/2 format and is very appealing to me. While too small to be a realistic portfolio, it definitely opens the doors for creating other documents at a similar scale.. 

This is my first blog in probably over a month... I hope to ramp up the blogging over the next while at get back to my random thoughts...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Digesting Japan

I have now been back to Canada for 2 and half weeks and I have been able to digest a little of my experiences in Japan. Reflecting back on Japan has been much different than it was when I looked back on things when I returned from China.

When I left China I was stressed and tired of the the conditions that I was living in and the work I was doing, not to count that I was attempting to prepare for a thesis more than 7000km away from school. However, I left Japan grudgingly. I did not want to leave Japan and did a lot to try to remain in the country.

I applied to more than 20 firms in Tokyo and the surrounding area in the hopes that I could land a decent job. A few firms replied to my applications with mostly the same answer, they had no positions at the time. One firm wanted to hirer me immediately, but could not pay me anything. One would think that due to the events in the north of Japan that there would be a boom for construction, it was not the case. While construction was taking place, Japanese complicated system of corporations took the majority of the work. This left smaller firms out of luck. Unable to get the architectural job I was looking for and having an expiring entry permit, it was time for me to leave Japan.

I miss Tokyo. It has been hard to process things in Japan while I reside in my hometown. The juxtaposition of the dense urban environment of Tokyo and the familiarity of my rural hometown has left me feeling lost. I was only gone for exactly 3 months and while everything in Japan was new to me, return home in that short time to see a world I left the exact same. What felt like many months of living in Tokyo was only a short period of time felt back home. Many times my family and friends would not see me for periods of time longer than 3 months with school, work and living hundreds of kilometers from home.

I miss Japan. Anyone who have traveled to Japan for any extended period of time always feel a longing to return. Its a world completely opposite to ours, but opposite in a wonderful way. Its a world that many of us could replicate on some scale social, politically, and architecturally way. The density of Tokyo provided me an almost comforting claustrophobia. You were never far from many amenities and if you had a distance to travel, it was easily reachable. Now living in my rural hometown, vast distances and open space feel frightening.

I miss structure. I have been swimming in the Ottawa river near my hometown and I see it in a totally different perspective. My time in Japan has altered my perception of the space around me. I appreciate the openness I have here, but miss the proximity that I had with people and places. I was altering my lifestyle in Tokyo and was starting to enjoy the living style I could have there. To be back I have longed to continue that lifestyle, but have been having a hard time pushing myself back into it. I fear that I may slump back in to the routine I had before I left.

I miss my friends in Japan. I met many people in Japan, many more than I did when I was in China. My friends in Japan folded me into their groups where I was able to meet many more friends. Not counting my friends in Canada, but the friends I made in Japan was far easier to make than here in Canada. I found that I could make friends with vastly different types of people in Japan while in Canada I find that people lump themselves into tight social groups. The social structures in Japan seem to be a bit more fluid, where the work social structures could be abandoned for a different social structure. But what I miss most of all about my friends was the eagerness to remain friends. Many of my newly made friends would continuously follow up with me when I hadn't communicated for a couple days and others would urge me to come join them for parties and events.

I miss the unknown. Tokyo presented me with an almost continuously changing landscape to explore. I would never be able to see all of Tokyo, and even if I could the turn over of spaces in Tokyo would render my previous explorations useless. Tokyo is a massive organism that is continuously changing, rebuilding, collapsing and modifying itself. My fondest memory of Tokyo is my train rides to work where I would stair across the never ending urban landscape. The city went on forever and so could my explorations.

I will be back to Japan. I has changed me to the core and I must get back to Japan.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Reason Why I am an Architect

Today (or more accurately yesterday) I travelled to Yokohama to see the architectural wonder, the Yokohama International Ferry Terminal. Designed by FOA is has caused a large stir in the architectural community and has been the focus of many books. Most of these books equate the terminals design to the mark the transition into Landscape Urbanism, a sort of sandwiched/compressed topography of programming space. Whatever way you want to see the terminal, its still a fantastic piece of architecture.

Waking up early I got ready to commute to Yokohama. Luckily where I live I have access to an commuter express train and made it too the ferry terminal's nearest station in under 30mins. Approaching the ferry terminal I was overjoyed. I studied this building extensively for my thesis and now I was finally able to step foot on it. 

It was blazingly hot this day, but there was a strong ocean breeze that helped to keep things cool. I bathed in sunblock before I got to the terminal, so fingers were crossed that I would not have another baking incident. I roamed all over the terminal taking pictures and enjoying the many unique spaces and conditions that were created by the surface variations. Very few people were at the terminal, so it made for some good photographs. I was a little disappointed however to realize for such a hot climate FOA only designed a few awnings to protect people from the sun.

After traversing the length of the terminal I made my way down into the inner folds of the terminal's landscape. I first entered the exhibition space,but it was in use by a group so I could only take some pictures at the entrance. Moving along the edges of the terminal I entered into the main terminal space. A grand space with its distinct folded ceiling. I was overjoyed at this point, I always wanted to see and interact in this space.

Something started to dawn on me though, as well as all the details were done in the terminal by FOA, it did little to allow for adaptation. While FOA stated in their theories about the terminal that it could modify itself to changing requirements, the newer interventions were done with little grace. While the terminal did not have one 90 degree surface, the juxtaposed walls of the kiosks and shop stalls broke up the natural flow of the terminals design. It was an unfortunate condition. Advertisements and other billboards littered the space and broke up the almost church like qualities of the space. I do not know if this is a failure of FOA to integrate these ideas or was the terminals owner's failure to have properly integrated features (I tend to lean on the latter as I could think of a few alternatives that would have retained the integrity of the stations design). 

After shooting more than 100 photos of the terminal I finally pried myself away from the building to continue on with my days plan. One aspect of the plan was skipped due to the hot weather. I wanted to walk over to a nearby pier to take a look at a refurbish brick factory building (similar to Toronto's Distillery District), but the 37C weather and lack of sun protection on the pier forced me to change my mind.

Continuing on I headed over to the famed Yokohama's Chinatown, and it was a big let down. If you are from Toronto you understand Chinatown (or Chinatowns) as places where actual Chinese frequent for all their entertainment and goods. The Chinatown in Yokohama was nothing more than a tourist trap filled with repeated restaurants and novelty stores. Thinking as though this Chinatown was like Toronto's I wanted to have dim sum for brunch, but not a single restaurant sold purely dim sum... big let down. Most of the Chinese food was a sort of mainland mix, but mostly focused on Shanghai cuisine... which is alright, but lacked the seafood's of Cantonese styles and spicy foods of Sichuan. Oh well, deciding that lunch was not a good idea here I decided that I will do lunch at the Ramen Museum... I was not disappointed.

The Ramen Museum as the name states is a museum for the famed Chinese noodle adaptation, Ramen. Situated in the most bineign area (got lost trying to find it in a no name street), the Ramen Museum is the sort of place you'd walk by everyday and not care to know whats inside. But what's inside is amazing.

Once getting your ticket and passing through a Metro style gate you are presented with..... the boring gift shop... I was not impressed, nothing there won me over with the faux pristine noodle station with novelties piled on it. But then you find a stair case that takes you below.... you start to notice that the place seems dirty, and maybe a little old...

 and you go deeper... older and dirtier... 

and then you enter the main space.

You are transported back to a 1930/40's Tokyo! The city as been compressed into a courtyard and you are witnessed to an almost Back to the Future sort of situation. The faux interior is augmented by the real Ramen shops which feature a different ramen recipe from across the country of Japan. 

Starving I beelined for the nearest and least busy noodle shop. Not sure of what the menu presented me I ordered from the ticket machine of what seemed to be the most popular dish at that shop... and of course a pint of beer. The miso ramen was delicious!!! smooth and delicious.... and the pork slices were heart stoppingly delicious... I gorged on the soup and beer and was done in no time.... I was stuffed... really stuffed... I wanted to try more of the ramens, but I could barely move... 

I decided that I needed to walk around and burn off some of that food. The museum turned out to be a real gem of a place and reminded me of how museums used to be fun as a kid. The whole place was different alleyways of real and faux shops. Some were ode to shops of days past and others were functioning period bars. The place is so popular that everyday salarymen from the area come there for lunch and dinner to enjoy the space. 

After burning off some of the ramen I waited in line at what seemed to be the most popular Ramen shop... and I was definitely not disappointed with!!! The ramen soup base is traditionally made with miso and dashi (fermented soy bean and Japanese fish/kelp stock), but this ramen soup base had a twist. The original ramen soup base was thickened with bonito (smoked fish flakes) and ground dried fish... it was amazing... a dish I will never forget... it will give me nightmares now... I am going to try to replicated this dish and I know I will not succeed. It was a heavenly delicious...!

When I fished that dish I was stuffed... sick almost... I thought I was ordering the sample dish but mistakenly ordered the full size dish... oh well... I had two amazing ramen dishes and it gives me a reason to come back to the museum to try more! 

I travelled home with a full gut of food and a smile. I crashed in my bed and slept soundly after....