Contextual Scripting: A Critique of Performativity

Architecture enables a certain human behavior, and interaction is channeled into being a monitored, definite movement, not necessarily one that is momentarily influenced, but as a series of continuous structured loops influenced by a fixed dimension-space. Performance is typically not thought of as a medium in itself – it is an element of certain media that manifests itself differently in different media.[1]  How can architecture aim to provide an agile environment, where the users are driven to an extreme sense of being and belonging? How can architecture encourage people to become performers? This article ties politics and architecture through this veil that is performance, to emphasize the cliché that most things are scripted, something architects are highly skilled at doing.

“The process of planning is very valuable, for forcing you to think hard about what you are doing, but the actual plan that results from it is probably useless.” – Marc Andreessen

At most times, the practice of architecture is antithetical to performance. Drawing parallels across politics and architecture illustrate an ideology conducive to understanding how agility and the legibility are a part of the architectural discourse. There is an intersection in the times we live in where complex roles are carried out by individuals (who could be placed in different levels in the hierarchy of organizations if need be) in pursuit of shared goals. The architect could be an ideal example to illustrate this argument, by identifying four major archetypes.

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Archetypes of the Architect

 

 

Note: These archetypes are all mutually exclusive, with no intersections between one another. The academician uses heavy programming conducive to the freedom of performance, making the discussion more subjective and agile. The builder is the pragmatist, designing a programmed, legible order of events and functions. The journalist in this case is the architect who is critical in a focused way, bringing out issues and formulating theories that may or may not be based on hard fact, reflecting on the subjectivity of the profession. The innovator is the designer, academician and the journalist, striking a balance between practicing and analyzing architecture.

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Comparing the Galaxy Soho, COSMO by Andres Jaque or the Monterrey Housing by Aravena in Mexico, not by typology or scale, but strictly through the performativity of the space by the agency of design could further the discussion on designers, their buildings and performance. These examples almost contradict each other, asking the all-important question whether a building needs to be more agile than legible for it to be successful. The contrast between private and public space is harder to gauge because of the role public spaces play-as places of protest, as camp grounds, as places for leisure. From the Ganesh Visarjan processions in Mumbai that see tens of thousands of people take to the streets in celebration to the recent ‘Subway Therapy’ wall at Union Station in New York, the performativity of public spaces is now perceived as more malleable and conducive to varying degrees of occupancy.

Part 1: Legibility

Milo Yiannopoulos-Technology editor for Breitbart news

Whether it is Trump making Breitbart founder Steven Bannon Chief Strategist after he managed the former’s campaign, or whether it is Breitbart’s expansion into France and Germany, the growing success of the alt-right is far from being ignored. According to the Economist, Breitbart’s website had 45 million unique visitors in July this year and between May 13th and June 13th, they had the highest social media interaction for political content beating out all competitors. Heidi Beirich, in the Bloomberg article, about Milo Yiannopoulos says “It’s like he’s joking: ‘Haha, let me popularize the worst ideas that ever existed’. That’s new, and that’s scary.” The alt-right was hard to interpret, until now. We were introduced to new characters and interesting links making the narrative stronger and now, there is a plateau in mainstream media that I’m curious to see break. Richard Spencer’s recent speech reiterated the position of the alt-right, only heightening the base the alt-right have been building up and almost channelizing their statements through media in a pattern sequence that makes it seem rehearsed, and therefore, less interesting to me. What makes the alt-right different from other conservative groups is particular their way of performance and interaction with people-through the internet, media and designing their narrative to be provocative to anybody with a seemingly sane conscience. Our interpretation of the broader picture – trolling, wars in comment sections on alt-right videos on Facebook, racism on Twitter- it reminds me of a quote by Jack Bowman who said, “It (performance art) is difficult to censor since it has a good possibility of never being done before”. Their first step towards mainstream success was incorporating an unfamiliar ideology to most people in the context of a political campaign.

 

Patrik Schumacher followed this trend, and with his recent comments on de-regularization and the privatization of public squares in London, he claimed that his was “no more than a media caricature constructed to shock and entertain”. The example of the Galaxy Soho is relevant here because of its heavy contrast to the courtyard homes and the narrow alleys around the site.

When it comes to architecture, legibility by design, navigating through physical spaces and especially virtual representation techniques have constantly been evolving with the rise in technological interventions. It is almost harder to identify the architects behind the limitless designs and renderings of projects we see on the internet, because they speak a similar language, to strive for legibility amongst the broadest audience. Running grasshopper scripts for form finding based on parameters that are not necessarily well defined becoming commonplace in schools to the line blurring between vernacular and contemporary design, in the case of architects like Caruso St John reflects on the performativity of the built form and the perception of it, affecting both agility and legibility. For design to be legible means for it to be scrutinized by people on social media and other platforms, allowing for it to be judged on the agility of an entire scheme.

Part 2: Agility

In an article by Peter Pomerantsev on Surkov in the London Review of Books, he says that in today’s Russia, if you’re smart enough, you can be free socially and exercise your creativity as long as you comply to political ideologies when required. I find a great similarity to the work architects do. Whether it is for a competition for a public open space or meant for a private developer, the agility of the architect to perform, present and cater to multiple scenarios is noteworthy. Being optimistic and indeterminate may be lead to heightened agility, but that is a compromise on the legibility of the project. To be safe and ‘legible’, it’s safer to stick to the quadrant on the bottom right. The convenience of it seems like layers of agreements to portray stability in an unstable environment.  The reference to Derrida in Russian political discourse could be drawn in parallel to the duality of a performance- who is the performer and who is the audience, or in terms of architecture, how do you place users within fixed brackets today? In Russia’s society, this is hard to gauge. In architecture, digital tools for form finding, limitless resources for flexible programming, virtual and location independent design take center stage. Do we need to deconstruct and define one in order to define the other? The complexity in the system, and the complexity of a good performance or good design, in the context of Russia, US politics or architecture should be deconstructed to understand that dichotomies upon which the entire discourse is based are too simplified.

[1] Mal Alhern, Performance/Performativity, Winter 2003, The Chicago School of Media Theory

 

Chasing Lights and Parallel Stories Pt. II

“We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.” Maybe travelling helps us expand and define the landscape somehow. I was extremely lucky to be in sunny London and involve myself in numerous discussions about the weather (there’s no end to it), watch the sun set over snow capped mountains while I flew over the Arctic Circle, watch the Northern Lights two nights in a row, watch legendary musicians play my favourite song of all time and live in a house in Norkisa with two beautiful cats. There were too many influences through this trip that changed my perspective of culture, design, cuisine and living. I learnt from music- watching smaller bands as well as legends; visits to great design schools, art- street/ graffiti and classical contemporary, museums, food and people.


London

Walking through charming old central London streets and exploring museums with my darling sister who is a financial consultant, exploring record stores and hipster markets in Shoreditch with my friend Jordan-an architect like myself; eating my first proper English fish n’ chips meal with Maria, a  friend I met after ten long years who is pursuing a Ph.D. in Physics, gave me such varied perspectives of London. Apart from people discussing the weather, standing on the right on escalators and sticking to a monochrome wardrobe- there is no stereotype I can think of for Londoners. My favourite experiences aren’t limited to the following.

– A coffee and walk through Neal Street in Covent Garden

Sipping on bitter, delectable Monmouth coffee from their tiny store while strolling through quaint, pretty streets until your feet start to hurt is always a great idea. Walk through Neal Street and Covent Garden towards Leicester Square to experience street artists and stores that range from upscale to quirky boutique. Lunch at Abeno Too- locally sourced, organic meat in something called an Okonomiyaki was fabulous. Another stand out was Inamo, which has a brilliant, digital table top that lets you play games, oversee your order or change your mind by picking something else on a drop down menu. All on the table. And they have a great sushi menu. What’s not to love?

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Neal Street, Covent Garden

– Spend a Sunday afternoon exploring Shoreditch

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Eclectic, vibrant, urban Shoreditch in East London is a living canvas. Explore old warehouses reformed with interactive art exhibitions, vintage retail or food markets that extend onto the streets with graffiti in the background by Banksy and the lesser known Brazilian artist Luis Bueno, whose art I absolutely loved.

The Boxpark market caught my attention while I walked back from Brick Lane street to the subway station. It has shipping containers as pop-up shops that change periodically; uber cool, pedestrian friendly and a great example of revitalisation of an empty urban plot. Another must-do in Shoreditch if you like music is a visit to the Rough Trade record store. I read that it was previously a Stella Artois brewery (I’m unsure if it makes the store any cooler than it already is). The USP is that every vinyl record has a written description, making it easier for people to educate themselves and browsing fun. Proceed to The Blues Kitchen or the Old Blue Last (if you’re an Arctic Monkeys fan) for a meal and beers before heading out of this grunge scene.

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Rough Trade, Shoreditch

– Walk, walk, walk.

To museums, art galleries, that hipster cafe you read about on your hipster friend’s blog, through Kensington/ Hyde Park, Tate, Canary Wharf, wherever. I ate at Borough market, at St. Katherine docks, visited the inside-out building against the fairly classical surrounding that I appreciated very much and experienced a beautiful sunset by the Tower Bridge after an interesting time at the Design Museum amongst other things. Another concept close to London Bridge that made for a unique experience was ‘Alcoholic Architecture‘ by architects Bombas and Parr set in an old Victorian building. You don’t get drunk in the cloudy room of breathable cocktail, and it makes for fun, unusual night out. The Design Museum will have to be my favourite in London. They say “someday other museums will be showing this stuff”, letting you know there are innovative and remarkable exhibits to experience or see. Exhibits from the Design of the Year competition included work by Alejandro Aravena (this year’s Pritzker prize winner) and an ‘air purifying billboard’ by the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru. Revolutionary, this.

– Experience live shows

I explored Camden Lock Market on a weeknight and watched The X Ambassadors at Dingwalls, a hole-in-the-wall performance venue. The small, intimate setting added to the effect songs like Unconsolable have had on me. I got a spot right in front of the stage and caught a copy of the set list. It was my first time hearing Hidden Charms, who opened for them. So so much great energy! Proper Brit Rock. Check them out on their Soundcloud page. I got my dose of the London underground live scene here.

On a much larger scale, I caught Odesza, who were phenomenal live- both visually and aurally. Koko, an old restored theatre seemed like the perfect venue for them. Loud, live drumming by the two, trumpet and trombone players over their dreamy digital tracks and absolutely fantastic visuals by Luke (@japanesedad on Instagram) made for an incredible night.

You know when you’re in the queue to get in to the venue and everybody seems close to your age, waiting to watch their favourite high school band that the night’s going to be special. Death Cab for Cutie was nostalgic and emotional. 24 songs made up the ultimate set list, my favourite being the piano solo beginning of Brothers on a Hotel Bed. The entire audience shed collective tears (everybody around me including myself). The progression of I Will Possess Your Heart and the audience singing along in unison to Transatlanticism were hauntingly beautiful. Forever memory right there with the few friends I made at the show.

Apart from looking forward to a natural phenomenon, I was counting down days until I watched Dave Matthews, Carter Beauford and Tim Reynolds slay it on stage to make the most diverse, seven piece band in performance existence seem like a dream. The Prudential Blues Fest had the Dave Matthews Band and  the Tedeschi Trucks Band perform at the same time. Made of stardust. It was towards the end of my trip and considering this the culmination of nights of listening to their music for years, a tattoo and only dreaming of their live performance closer to home, the company of my sister and brother was ideal. Experiences like this are infinitely better when shared.From loose, jazzy blues and tons of sass, a heartwarming performance of Satellite, my all-time favourite thirteen minute rendition of Jimi Thing packed with extensive solos and a dream closing with Two Step, this was the best I’ve experienced. I looked around as Carter rolled on and couldn’t see the end of the space. It was like an infinite array of light and the most beautiful sound. At the O2, Dave Matthews Band made my world absolutely alive and magical.

There are delightful plays to watch, fireworks to see, absurd, interesting activities to be a part of and fine cuisine from anywhere in the world to indulge in. However, the most endearing character of this wonderful city is the scale. Beautiful juxtapositions of the built, the people and a constant factor of high relatability made it one of my favourite cities in the world.

Note: This was earlier 2/2, but is now part 2/4.

 

Love Excellent Food Presentation?

How Michelin Star Restaurants put the Best Design Principles on a Plate

Using food as merely a metaphorical reference in design is long gone. Michelin star restaurants have been the epitome of not just the quality of food, but the superior visual experience fine dining has to offer. Now, with food shows hosted by celebrity chefs and Michelin star rated restaurants having websites, who wouldn’t be inspired to create dishes that are appealing visually as they are to taste? You must be wondering if it requires more than just creative genius and great instinct to present a dish that’s worthy of a Michelin star. The verdict: Of course! After all, “food is edible art”.
These are a set of design principles banked upon to create these culinary wonders. For those of you interested in any field of visual art or architecture, these would be familiar in an instant.

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Photo Credit: Ken Thorne

Colour and balance: Red and black is a combination we’re all well versed with. This attractive dish, created by Michelin starred chef Matias Perdomo who is from Uruguay, speaks volumes about how understanding the balance of colour and contrast promotes the character of a dish. The sharp glossy finish of the main portion of the dish truly stands out when it’s set against the black base. It intrigues you in a glance and leaves you wondering what it would taste like! It surely is non-conventional, but that’s where excellence begins.

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Photo credit: Pont de Ferr

Density- Tranparency and Opacity: Have you ever wondered how to make a large portion of food seem light? This eye pleaser is a signature dish at the three Michelin star rated Fat Duck located in Bray, Berkshire, England. It is considered by most conoisseurs to be the best restaurant in the world. Run by chef Heston Blumenthal, one can only expect the technique to be extraordinary. In this dish, the transparency of the snail on the opaque julienned ham and puree creates an illusion of different textures that is tempting, don’t you think? It certainly looks worthy of being a star rated dish because of the fascinating textural contrast it creates.

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Photo credit: Charles Haynes

Sculptural technique: With the rise of food pictures on Instagram, how about eating something that is so beautiful, you decide to take a hundred photos of it before, without doing enough justice! This is a delicacy created at the Fat Duck that has people going back for more. It signifies perfect harmony even though it is asymmetrical. The vertical focus is right at the center with a gradation of ingredients around that leaves a strong impact. The technique and skill that goes into crafting a dish like this one is indeed very hard to match, but you’re welcome to try this at home!

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Photo credit: Charles Haynes

Line, space and focus: With the most basic skill, the gradation and perspective this masterpiece creates is astounding, simply because the focus isn’t obvious. Another fabulous example from the Fat Duck menu- the line of vanilla mayonnaise diminishes into the poached salmon, which is the focus of the dish. The little spaces around the grapefruit cells and artichoke make it visually perfectly balanced. Apply this principle to a dessert with cake and vanilla finishing it off with chocolate chips, perhaps?

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Photo credit: Charles Haynes

Geometry, texture and form: The duo Frantzen- Lindeberg have a restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden that is listed as one of the top 50 in the world according to the Restaurant magazine and we know exactly why. Here is a little trick that only the masters seem to put into practice. While plating a finished course, try experimenting with the cutlery and arrangement. Use contrasting textures to bring out the form of the delicacy. It’s quite straightforward and looks spectacular too!

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Photo credit: Ann-Carlotte Jonsson

Musings of an Architect

I proudly mention to people I meet that I am an architect because I love the built form and have acquired a positive sense of space.

2008, and I wasn’t as open to the idea of the study of building and construction, as I understood it. I had the aptitude. I could draw a straight line on an A4 sheet and had a vague idea of complimentary colour. Straight into college, a lecture about a dot on a plane didn’t hold any relevance to me primarily because I was ill-read of the subject and unaware. I was too lazy to ask questions but in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t. Architecture is like music in so many ways. Fine art. Subjective. The beauty lies in the difference. There are principles that define the science that took me a while to understand and philosophies I linked them to. That was when it all started to make sense.

It is unfortunate that I cannot look back at my five years at architecture school and remember quotes from lectures or workshops that taught me the value of this art. Conversations about architecture with my mother and one of my closest friends through college were probably what acted as the cornerstone. Just like your favorite song playing during that perfect sunset by the sea, it is overwhelming at times. You realise that it is all a part of the oldest story ever written; that every human, social and cultural condition continues to influence built form and habitable space.

Architecture is design. A very cohesive term. Good design to me would mean great aesthetic with a usability quotient that is either well defined or limitless. I’m not sure I would be a practising architect for the rest of my life but I’m certain there will always be moments I look fixedly at a facade for a long while or maybe a tile or fixture in a cafe only to be interrupted by the smell of a well made cappuccino.