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Alberto Cruz Covarrubias and Godofredo Iommi

A couple of months ago, I read Road That Is Not a Road and the Open City, Ritoque, Chile (1996), by Ann M. Pendleton-Jullian. It’s about Ciudad Abierta (Open City) an ongoing project started by Cruz (more) and Iommi, who founded the modern version of the architecture program (school website, aka e[ad]) at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV) in Chile.

En el año 1952, la facultad contrató al arquitecto chileno Alberto Cruz y al poeta argentino Godofredo Iommi (entre otros), quienes imprimieron su particular visión de la arquitectura, y formularon las bases, que generaron el desarrollo actual de la aproximación a la arquitectura que presenta la facultad.

En 1969, los profesores de la facultad, fundaron una cooperativa privada, hoy conocida como Corporación Cultural Amereida, la cual adquirió un extenso terreno en el sector de Punta de Piedra, ubicada entre las localidades de Con-cón y Quintero.

My fondness for e[ad] stems in part from my time living in Chile and studying at PUCV. I didn’t take any classes at e[ad], and I was suspicious of places like it during that time of my life, but even then it had an aura about it that piqued my curiosity. In the years since, I have come to love what Alberto Cruz Covarrubias and Godofredo Iommi created. I assembled a few clippings from the book to highlight aspects of the architecture school and Ciudad Abierta that speak to my interests.

Joseph Rykwert in the Foreword (1996):

The Viña del Mar/Valparaíso school is unique in that it is autopoetic; it has quite literally built and planned itself, with each building seen as a poetic act.

Giancarlo De Carlo in the introductory essay, “The Ritoque Utopia” (1993):

I asked why they chose such an elusive approach to the circumstances and means proper to architecture. Because, they answered, it is necessary to put forward radical alternatives to current architectural practice, which is subject to economic power and is therefore commercialized—in that it focuses on quantity and has a hypocritical attitude in regard to quality, providing ambiguous simulacra with the complicity of opportunistic or ignorant criticisms.

I must add, as I am afraid it is not clear from the above synthesis, that all this was expressed most quietly and gently, with the serene aloofness of people who are at peace with nature and all human beings.

[…]

So, what is the Ritoque utopia about? Well, it opens a series of questions that may be worth reflection and discussion—for example, that the primary concern of current building activity is financial, and so its products are mostly marketable commodities. Those who design and build as a profession engage in operations that must yield profits to their promoters, so they cannot evade the requirements of economic power and become inherently a party to making architecture a commodity. This complicity is consummated at a level of unawareness or hypocrisy, as in fact architects are always talking about philosophy or poetry, but most of their products are simply marketable. The extremes of this distortion are to be found in architectural education that, instead of preparing young architects to be disinterested inventors of spaces responding to the multiplicity of human needs, trains them to produce spaces as standardized as possible and thus more easily marketable. Ritoque’s utopia, like every serious utopia, does not admit uncertain hypotheses—for example, that it is probably intrinsic to architecture to have to resolve apparently insoluble contradictions—and so aims at an absolute alternative, making use of all the hazards and certainties that its deliberate estrangement can offer.

And Ann M. Pendleton-Jullian’s words from Chapter 1:

[…] In fact, the site is all movements, rhythms, and sounds: the sea, the sand, the wind, the light, and air, the motor traffic and train.

Two impressions form. A first impression: the site is land and space in one of tis most transparent, ephemeral, and mutable states. A second impression: because of or in deference to these qualities of the land, the constructions on the site of the Open City are light. They attain a status of lightness. Consequently, there is an apparent lightness of physical impression onto the site.

Lightness because the way in which the constructions touch the ground does not demarcate territory of building through strong physical impact and authoritarian footprints but, instead, lets the land initiate the configuration of territory and space in both plan and section. Because of the movement of the sand by the wind and movement of the ground (earthquakes), building weights and volumes are supported by many points of contact distributed according to structural and spatial needs and intents. Volumes lifted off of the ground allow the natural migrations of the sand to continue uninterrupted, whereas those buildings that do make physical contact with the ground, whether it be shallow or profound physical contact, allow the physical forces of the site into their space. One gets the impression that if all the constructions were removed from the land, the land would not hold their memory.

Lightness, also because the materiality of the constructions at the Open City is related to a type of constructions that is artisanal, which remains attached to the physical process of building at the scale of the artisan and not the machine. It therefore reveals the hands of the builders and is a representation of human occupation of the site and not the mechanical domination and reconfiguration of the site. One sense the presence of raw nature and not manipulated landscape, of footsteps and not tire tracks.

And status of lightness because there are no apparent imposed formal ordering devices that regulate the development of the constructions. Instead ordering devices that regulate the development of the constructions. Instead each constructions is attached to the space of the site through ideation and ideaphoria, which manifests itself as spatial strategies with spatial form and relationships. However, the forms and formal ordering devices do not come first and are not fixed but can transform as spatial specifics and tactics are developed. Because formal ordering of space is rendered through this mental activity and not through the (super)imposition of formal devices, physical center and boundaries do not exist in any conventional way. Each building has a center of gravity of sorts that remains unpunctual and difficult to locate with any precision because these centers are never formalized and because they migrate as constructions are added to or transformed. Occasionally groups of buildings, such as the Banquet Hospedería conglomerate, overtime begin to reveal sets of centers of gravity: constellations, in that they produce, in addition to the individual centers of gravity, a center common to the set. Again, however, this point is not fixed but can migrate because it is a resultant, not a determinant, of construction activity. Often edges of constructions are even more illusive than their gravity centers just as the edges of the city have never been defined by walls or fences.

And status of lightness, also, because not only are physical centers an edges illusive but there is also a tendency for meaning to migrate and transform within single buildings and within the city as it has grown and matured over time: as new buildings are added to the site or existing buildings revised; as constructions are overtaken by the sands, winds, or other natural forces and left ruined or rebuilt and reoriented to the forces of the site.

For more information about Ciudad Abierta, see the pair (one and two) of Domus articles on the subject, as well as any of several videos (one example). If you read Spanish, you might also be interested in Amereida, the poem collectively written by members of the school in 1967, and “La Ciudad Abierta de Amereida. Arquitectura desde la Hospitalidad” by Patricio Cáraves Silva. The extensive Archivo Histórico José Vial contains photographs, video, audio, drawings, writings, etc. from the school and makes great use of SoundCloud, Flickr, and Vimeo. The resources in the archive also cover (and map using Google Maps) the Travesías taken each year since 1984.

Las travesías son viajes poéticos por América que realiza anualmente la e[ad] Escuela de Arquitectura y Diseño PUCV a partir del año 1984. Estos viajes son integrados por los alumnos y profesores de Arquitectura, Diseño Gráfico y Diseño Industrial. Este sitio corresponde al registro de dichos viajes por el continente e invita a todos quienes han participado a colaborar en esta bitácora colectiva.

En las travesías se realizan obras desde la creatividad del oficio, en algún punto de América fijado a través del estudio que desarrolla cada Taller.

América ha de recorrerse en su extensión; es preciso ir al continente, ir a él para reconocerle y habitar su emergencia. El 1965 los fundadores de la Escuela decidieron partir en esa visión:

partida mañana a las siete antemeridiano desde santiago escalas del avión santiago puerto montt punta arenas los nueve están – jonathan boulting alberto cruz fabio cruz michel degury francois fédier claudio girola godofredo iommi jorge pérez román edison simons – henri tronquoy nos alcanzará en medio de la patagonia1

Esa primera travesía abre el horizonte dentro de los procesos educativos y de aprendizaje en el ámbito académico; en 1984 se incorpora al currículum de los alumnos de Arquitectura y Diseño la realización de una Travesía anual dentro del ámbito de cada Taller. El continente se extiende y nosotros con ellos vamos a él para habitar su intimidad y su mar interior al que amereida canta. Se han realizado ya más de 100, en donde la totalidad de los talleres de la Escuela, alumnos y profesores realizan obras concretas de Arquitectura y Diseño, en algún punto de América fijado a través del estudio que desarrolla cada Taller. Estas Travesías se llevan a cabo durante el tercer trimestre de cada año y duran alrededor de un mes.

Funny how our busted weird messy unwieldy code constructions resemble… every other human endeavor over a certain (tiny) size. Erin Kissane.

Slow Life, Daniel Stoupin (via Anne)

"Slow" marine animals show their secret life under high magnification. Corals and sponges are very mobile creatures, but their motion is only detectable at different time scales compared to ours and requires time lapses to be seen. These animals build coral reefs and play crucial roles in the biosphere, yet we know almost nothing about their daily lives.

Some I know quite well, and they have been lost to their alumni associations for decades, while living exemplary lives and accomplishing needed and innovative work in the everyday world. They are, as a Taoist once put it, “sages disguised as melon growers in the mountains.” Gary Snyder, A Place in Space (via Charlie)
I’m more interested in the sovereignty of the future. David Ryan in response to Tim Maly’s mention of “the future of sovereignty.”

Who are you now?

My friend Thomas asked “Who are you now?" His prompt, which I’ve taken in another direction, and my short post about grit have left me with many thoughts, mostly questions. This draws from and is included in my ever-growing collection of ideas about smallness.

I.
The expectation now is that you are more powerful than you were, that you rank higher and have more authority, that you have accumulated more (wealth, possessions, larger home, etc.). We promote and we strive for bigger and better, for more fame, grander visions, and wider impact, but do we ever celebrate smaller and better, the known-by-few, simpler visions, and narrower scope? Can we celebrate those who have stayed where they are or those who have taken a step back?

Schools and colleges frequently celebrate the grandiose accomplishments of their students, alumni, and faculty, but they usually don’t profile and celebrate the loving parent, the non-professional caring for the sick or the dying, the school volunteer, the person reading what others are writing, the life that doesn’t scale up. Why not? Is it because these stories are boring? Don’t we diminish their importance by not including them?

A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth. —Bill Watterson

Being a good mom, being a good dad, being a good neighbor – these things are every bit as urgent and political as self-consciously being “radical” no? —Randall Szott

"By embiggening the import of national abstractions, it pulls us away from good opportunities to work on simple, tangible, everyday things. […] We should make as big a fuss tending the culture right in front of us – raising children, jury duty, block parties." —Charlie Loyd

"I am done with great things and big things, great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny, invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which if you give them time, will rend the hardest monuments of man’s pride." —William James

"I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.”
Naomi Shihab Nye

II.
Do we set up children for peaking early and not provide them with the tools to deal with decline? Do we make them feel important (class/school/city/state champions, valedictorian, class president, queens!, kings!, etc.), but forget to put that into perspective with regard to the size of the pond?

III.
Do we ever consider that the “winners” have actually taken from the “losers”? If there are finite resources available to us, especially attention, then when someone receives a lot of it, doesn’t someone else have to get less? Can we take the competition out of our lives? Can we stop obsessing about “personal branding,” the number of followers, the size of audience, the breadth of impact, the connections to big names? Can we step away from the ground breaking and focus on the ground sustaining, the ground healing? Can we emphasize the power of the day-to-day, the beauty of the local and small?

IV.
In schools, our attempts at global awareness often amount to spending money, getting on planes, and burning jet fuel. They leave us with slide shows and little understanding of the long-term effects and the lack of positive impact that our parachuting-in approach has on the lives of those we visit, observe, and often disrupt. Do we have to travel far to have a global perspective? Doesn’t Wendell Berry’s take on the matter make more sense?

I don’t think “global thinking” is futile, I think it is impossible. You can’t think about what you don’t know and nobody knows this planet. Some people know a little about a few small parts of it … The people who think globally do so by abstractly and statistically reducing the globe to quantities. Political tyrants and industrial exploiters have done this most successfully. Their concepts and their greed are abstract and their abstractions lead with terrifying directness and simplicity to acts that are invariably destructive. If you want to do good and preserving acts you must think and act locally. The effort to do good acts gives the global game away. You can’t do a good act that is global … a good act, to be good must be acceptable to what Alexander Pope called “the genius of the place”. This calls for local knowledge, local skills, and local love that virtually none of us has, and that none of us can get by thinking globally. We can get it only by a local fidelity that we would have to maintain through several lifetimes … I don’t wish to be loved by people who don’t know me; if I were a planet I would feel exactly the same way.

Maybe sometime I’ll write up my thoughts about the power of audiences of one, which is arguably less powerful than being an audience to one. I’m off to work at the latter now.

The modern economy privileges pure profit, momentary transactions, and rapid fluidity. Part of craft’s anchoring role is that it helps to slow down labor. It is not about quick transactions or easy victories. That slow tempo of craftwork, of taking the time you need to do something well, is profoundly stabilizing to individuals. Richard Sennett, Crafting A New World (via plsj)
The “generosity echo” is one of many concepts Paul Soulellis describes  in Resistance: Scenes from a designer’s counter-practice. Read it slowly. Ask yourself, “What is my counter-practice?” Answer slowly.

The “generosity echo” is one of many concepts Paul Soulellis describes in Resistance: Scenes from a designer’s counter-practice. Read it slowly. Ask yourself, “What is my counter-practice?” Answer slowly.

Bill Watterson on Human Worth

There’s a new interview with Bill Watterson circulating the Internet today. I’ll probably post a quote from it at some time or another, but for now, I’m sharing a clip from the commencement address he gave at Kenyon college in 1990, “Some Thoughts on the Real World by One Who Glimpsed It and Fled)”:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

Mental Floss has the new words from Watterson.

Except

Now that you have gone
and I am alone and quiet,
my contentment would be
complete, if I did not wish
you were here so I could say,
“How good it is, Tanya,
to be alone and quiet.”

—Wendell Berry (via Luke, because)

Having spent several years transforming children’s drawings into plush sculptures and other art, we were ready to give these creations even deeper meaning. The result is an ongoing project called One and Only. The project is partly inspired by Phillipe Starck’s TeddyBearBand and an anecdote from Gretchen Ruben.

We’re working with children and/or their parents to help them create their own plush art. While the development of craft skills is important to the process, the project’s primary concern is a conversation about sustainability, slow living, relationships, and the beauty of imperfections and seams, both in the objects we cherish and in the people we love.

I’m reminded by a passage Ariel Kaminer wrote in a letter to David Rakoff, shortly before his death:


  Here is the simplest lesson you taught me: Don’t trade up.
  
  In terms of three-word volumes, it ranks right up there with “It gets better.” Like that more famous line, it starts out as a bit of simple, practical instruction — don’t back out of a social engagement just because a snazzier offer came along — and broadens out into an entire perspective on how to live. Don’t grade friendships on a hierarchical scale. Don’t value people based on some external indicator of status. Don’t take a competitive view of your social life. There are very few rules I carry around with me every day. Don’t trade up is one of them, and I truly can’t tell you how many seemingly complicated situations it resolved into clarity and fairness. I am grateful to you for that.


Children making their own plush companion, parents making one for their child, or older siblings making one for a younger sibling, One and Only comes with the suggestion that this will be their one-and-only plush toy. It’s theirs to keep, but hopefully they will also be willing to share their story and photographs of their creations, like the elephant above that nine-year-old  Margot made with us a few months ago.

Having spent several years transforming children’s drawings into plush sculptures and other art, we were ready to give these creations even deeper meaning. The result is an ongoing project called One and Only. The project is partly inspired by Phillipe Starck’s TeddyBearBand and an anecdote from Gretchen Ruben.

We’re working with children and/or their parents to help them create their own plush art. While the development of craft skills is important to the process, the project’s primary concern is a conversation about sustainability, slow living, relationships, and the beauty of imperfections and seams, both in the objects we cherish and in the people we love.

I’m reminded by a passage Ariel Kaminer wrote in a letter to David Rakoff, shortly before his death:

Here is the simplest lesson you taught me: Don’t trade up.

In terms of three-word volumes, it ranks right up there with “It gets better.” Like that more famous line, it starts out as a bit of simple, practical instruction — don’t back out of a social engagement just because a snazzier offer came along — and broadens out into an entire perspective on how to live. Don’t grade friendships on a hierarchical scale. Don’t value people based on some external indicator of status. Don’t take a competitive view of your social life. There are very few rules I carry around with me every day. Don’t trade up is one of them, and I truly can’t tell you how many seemingly complicated situations it resolved into clarity and fairness. I am grateful to you for that.

Children making their own plush companion, parents making one for their child, or older siblings making one for a younger sibling, One and Only comes with the suggestion that this will be their one-and-only plush toy. It’s theirs to keep, but hopefully they will also be willing to share their story and photographs of their creations, like the elephant above that nine-year-old Margot made with us a few months ago.

Perhaps our true weakness lies not in our inability to push ourselves past limits, but in our refusal to take care of our very selves. Mark Llobrera

"More than anything, the work is about time and affection."

Maria Nepomuceno: Tempo para Respirar (Breathing Time), at Turner Contemporary (more)