In "Little Frank and his Carp", a 2001 video of a performance by artist Andrea Fraser, architecture, replete with its institutional frame, becomes a stimulus for masturbation. Is this architecture at its most provocative? No, unless this was part of the architect's design intention; something which only Frank Gehry can tell us for sure. Architecture can't take all the credit here: it takes two to tango.
Spanish architecture is respected the world over, if the number of exhibitions, publications, Gaudí fans, and archi-tourists who visit this country are any indication. Yet the current Spanish government wants to de-professionalize professions such as architecture with its anteproyecto de Ley de Servicios Profesionales. If this law were to be passed, then an engineer would be allowed to design housing, schools, hospitals or museums.
The reason Spanish architecture is so respected is because its professionals are educated very rigorously; much more rigorously than in most other countries. An architectural thesis, or proyecto de fin de carrera, is not only comprised of a design and a theoretical treatise, but also a complete set of contract documents, i.e. a set of working drawings, structural calculations, details, specifications, etc. As a result, a graduate from a Spanish architecture school is competent in the art and science of building, and can be entrusted with a high degree of public responsibility. Given the complexity and density of Spanish cities, that is a good thing; not only for aesthetic reasons, but also for reasons of public safety, health and livability. We are what we build.
I have nothing against engineers. The only airplane I will set foot in is one designed by an engineer. But by the same token, I don't want my child attending a school designed by an engineer. There are good reasons for specialists in a technologically complex society. Why the current government of Spain wants to change this is beyond any comprehension whatsoever. The argument is that it will make Spanish professionals "more competitive". But judging by the record of Spanish architects who have won international architectural competitions, this argument is ridiculous. C'mon: what's the real reason?
Today, I ran into a small protest: a squadron (herd? platoon? pack?) of young architects protesting dismal working conditions. Other than the obvious questions of 1. why the character emitting the speech bubble is a duck, and 2. what's with the set squares?, it was encouraging to see that young architects have finally decided to organize, and to do so with some humor and good cheer despite the dismal outlook here.
Architecture is one of the hardest and most rigorous fields of study in Spain, and to have to go through six years of sleep deprivation and humiliation--while the business students seem to be permanently drunk--only to work for peanuts upon graduation--whereas the drunken business graduates soon, for the most part, go on to make a killing--is not exactly the definition of a meritocracy. If that's not living proof of the old adage "it's not what you know, but who you know", then I don't know what is.
Having grown up in Montreal, I was instantly reminded of that city's famous Guaranteed Pure Milk Company water tower. But then North American cities are places one would expect to find these kinds of quirky pop-constructions (the Orange Julius, a chain of roadside juice stands in the form an orange, is Montreal's answer to a Las Vegas duck). Barcelona, on the other hand, is not the first place that comes to mind when it comes to NON-pedigreed architectural whimsy, so it is very endearing indeed to stumble across something like this in my adopted hometown.
|Plastic green wall at a fashion boutique on La Rambla dels Estudis.|
You know green walls have become trendy when a major fashion label puts one up that's made of plastic. Kinda defeats the very point of a green wall, doesn't it? Silly me. I thought green walls were invented so that carbon dioxide-depleting vegetation could be cultivated in places otherwise impossible, like dense urban centers (which just so happen to produce far more CO2 than they can regenerate). But it looks like green walls have now become signage instead. Plastic signage, to boot.
It just goes to show the ease with which an effort designed with the best of environmental intentions can end up becoming an environmental problem in the end, thanks to its very fashionableness; which is to say, in our media-age, thanks to its own "success". Will we now see Made-in-China green-walls at shopping malls everywhere? I mean, the plastic ones don't need expensive irrigation systems or maintenance, and they still pull in the suckers. Oops, I meant to say customers.
Next time someone invents something that improves the environment, please don't publicize it, OK?
The construction of the new Mercat dels Encants / Fira de Bellcaire (Barcelona's flea market), by b720 Arquitectos, is not only spectacular but also quite unusual, as it is being built completely without scaffolding. Large sections of the building are first fabricated on the ground before being elevated and fastened into place, a process similar to the way the nearby MediaTIC building by Cloud 9 was erected. However, there is a marked difference here: the columns along which the market's roof segments slide up are incredibly slender, looking as though they might collapse at any moment under the loads they support. In the end, it is of course the very roof structure that will finally provide lateral stability to the building. But until that moment, this site remains an unnerving sight.
Was it Frank Gehry who famously said once that buildings are generally more interesting under construction than finished? It will be interesting to see if that holds true in the case of this building.