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I was going through a tonne of my old architecture work, deciding what to keep and what can be deleted (most of it…) and I came across some interesting work I did for a project based in and around Guy’s Hospital in the London Bridge area.

Brutalist revamp of Guy's Tower. The tallest hospital building in Europe.

Brutalist revamp of Guy’s Tower. The tallest hospital building in Europe.

The project itself wasn’t brilliant but in the build up I created some conceptual collages. I can’t remember why or for what reason – the actual project was to open up the rigid, internalised layout of the hospital tower to create new spaces and alternative programs. Lifting the stuffy mood of injury, pain and death to take advantage of the superb views of London while giving both patients and visitors reasons to forget about their health concerns. Something like that.

Anyway, the collages I created have very little to do with that description, but they interest me now far more than the rest of the project. It struck me as a sort of dystopian scenario, and having read novels such as Brave New World, 1984, even The Road recently, they sparked some imagination into my mind.

Thinking about it now, I believe I was speculating on the risks of making hospitals into more public spaces, and the idea of altering their use into something that could benefit the whole community. While I wanted to open up the hospital to family and friends of the hospital patients, here I show what could be identified as a worse case scenario. Perhaps the NHS becomes greedy and starts the immoral practice of allowing the paying public entry to the hospital to observe operations or surgeries, unknown to the anaesthetised patients.

The public watch an open surgery session. The patient will wake up with no idea there was an audience present.

The public watch an open surgery session. The patient will wake up with no idea there was an audience present.

Queues span along the streets for the latest London attraction, but this being a hospital, entry becomes similar to military checkpoints where the public are stripped down, decontaminated and any media devices such as phones or laptops confiscated upon entry.

Bored of chain restaurants and gastropubs the citizens of London crowd to see new, morbid attractions.

Bored of chain restaurants and gastropubs the citizens of London crowd to see new, morbid attractions.

Or maybe these ideas were the result of a lack of sleep. Another night / early morning spent staring blankly at my computer screen with caffeine coursing through my veins.

I’ve set up a tumblr.

I wanted another blog which displays more visual images, something I can perhaps take a bit less seriously than this one (yeah because this blog is so serious). With this blog, I like to take care and effort before putting posts up, and this can lead to days and weeks without posts. This tumblr will allow me to post content at a quicker rate. I’m planning to use it for work I’ve done previously, work i’m doing now but mostly anything that inspires me or I find that motivates me.

The nature of tumblr is much more visual with photographs, videos, gifs and art being shared, liked and reblogged. I feel that my wordy, more analytical posts on wordpress and the more artistic, design based posts I will be liking and reblogging on tumblr are best kept separate. There will be times where something I’ve posted on wordpress I will also share on tumblr (and vice versa), if I feel it’s relevant or I’m really happy with it. Or (more likely) if content is starting to dry up on this page, which has happened in the past.

So generally the tumblr will keep a steady stream of more graphical content, separate from this blog.

A conceptual model for a third year architecture project, set in and around Guy's Hospital in London Bridge.

A conceptual model for a third year architecture project, set in and around Guy’s Hospital in London Bridge.

I’ve also started using Pinterest again. The aim is to keep these sites (both tumblr and Pinterest) as active, if not more so, than this blog, pinning and reblogging anything I find remotely interesting or useful to me.

I didn’t really get the point of Pinterest, but I’ve given it another chance and it’s actually pretty useful. You can search for any images and if you like them, you can pin them to keep them saved and available for your friends and followers to view. You can then start building up pinboards where all pinned images share a common theme. For example I’ve got boards for various artwork, digital media, graphic design etc. Simon Stahlenberg is an artist whose work caught my eye a few months back and has wonderfully captured the present day with brushes of alien technology in Corel Painter.

I want to keep posts on this blog meaningful. The odd update every now and then is fine, but I want most of the content here to be detailed and worthwhile. tumblr and Pinterest on the other hand are much quicker ways to show off things you think are pretty cool or that inspire you. There may even be some original content I’ll share here and repost on tumblr. I’ve added links to the sites mentioned in this post in the blogroll menu on the right of this blog.

I didn’t enjoy studying architecture. I think it’s a fantastic profession, a really interesting subject and Brighton is a superb university (especially for design based degrees). But it wasn’t for me; I didn’t have the same passion my course mates had for it, and in terms of my actual ability I was always average at best. If I’m honest I probably rushed into picking a course I thought I might enjoy. I did learn a lot, and parts of it I really did enjoy. Writing the dissertation for example. I achieved my highest mark of the whole three years and achieved a first for my work, so I thought I’d share it on here.

Rem Koolhaas is one of the world’s most renowned architects: an architect, theorist, urbanist, author, filmmaker. He has brought fame, attention and controversy to the profession – there is never a dull moment with Koolhaas. His first major publication, Delirious New York (1978) thrust him into the spotlight, and it was this book that caught my attention and imagination a few years ago. Written in such a bizarre, dream like style, the city of Manhattan was brought to life and the book has been a favourite of mine every since.

This essay focusses on Koolhaas and Delirious New York; how it shaped his architectural standing, what his influences were, how he achieved his success with the book, and how it went on to influence his architectural career. And I would recommend anyone, with or without an interest in architecture, to at least flick through Delirious New York. Visually stunning and playfully written, it is a strangely compelling read.

An attempt to visualise and summarise my topic in poster form.

An attempt to visualise and summarise my topic in poster form.

Please note: these excerpts from the dissertation have simply been copied from the original text, I have not adapted them to necessarily make sense on their own. There may be references to pictures which are not visible here, and footnotes and citations will be missing; rest assured, there are all present in the actual body of work which can be found at the bottom of this post.

The Fabrication of Evidence in Rem Koolhaas’s Delirious New York

Introduction

In 1978, Rem Koolhaas’s first major publication, Delirious New York, was published, and described in Koolhaas’s own words as “a retroactive manifesto for Manhattan”. But what is a retroactive manifesto? As New York has already been built and shaped by the architects at the beginning of the 20th century, Koolhaas analysed Manhattan knowing its history, how it came to be, and aided by years of research, was able to create the ideology of ‘Manhattanism’: “How to write a manifesto – on a form of urbanism for what remains of the 20th century – in an age disgusted with them? The fatal weakness of manifestos is their inherent lack of evidence. Manhattan’s problem is the opposite: it is a mountain range of evidence without manifesto.”

The aim of this essay is to investigate the fabrication and strategy behind Koolhaas’s analysis of Manhattan, and whether Koolhaas has created his own fiction in order to make a compelling manifesto, researching numerous articles, interviews and critical responses to Delirious New York, as well as the involvement of Koolhaas’s wife Madelon Vriesendorp, and how her paintings were incorporated into the book to enhance the narration provided by Koolhaas.

The Paranoid-Critical Method and Koolhaas

In order to fully understand and appreciate the influence that Dali’s theory had on Koolhaas (as well as Vriesendorp), it would be beneficial to discuss the Paranoid-Critical Method (PCM) in more depth. Developed by Dali in the early 1930s, it was a Surrealist technique where Dali aimed to train his brain to irrationally link objects. This ability, to perceive connections between objects which would not rationally be linked, was described by Andre Breton as “an instrument of primary importance for Surrealism”. Dali, on his theory, wrote, “I believe that the moment is at hand when by a paranoid and active advance of the mind, it will be possible to systematize confusion and thus help to discredit completely the world of reality”

Reminiscenza archaeologic by Salvador Dali (1935).

Reminiscenza archaeologic by Salvador Dali (1935).

Manhattanism and the Culture of Congestion

Koolhaas then gives us a Surrealist take on how the form of the Skyscraper came to be. He studies two structures that took centre stage at the first New York World’s Fair in 1853 (Fig. 9): a version of the Crystal Palace of London, complete with a large dome (the globe), and the Latting Observatory, a 350ft high tower (the needle). “The needle and the globe represent the two extremes of Manhattan’s formal vocabulary and describe the outer limits of its architectural choices.” Here we see Koolhaas using the PCM to link two objects, the needle and the globe, and give them characteristics, a relationship between one another.

Koolhaas describes Ferriss’ The Lure of the City (Fig. 10, 1925) as the “Ferrissian Void…a pitch black architectural womb that gives birth to the consecutive stages of the Skyscraper”, and perhaps gives us an insight as to how Manhattanism was birthed from Ferriss’ painting (Fig. 9) Ferriss’ renderings (particularly the void’s murky vagueness) have inspired Koolhaas to look at them as a incubator for a number of styles of architecture, design and art, and it is here where his manifesto is born, as he concludes “Manhattanism is conceived in Ferriss’ womb.”

Fictional Conclusion / Introduction

Explaining the Appendix of Delirious New York, Koolhaas writes “The fifth block – the Appendix – is a sequence of architectural projects that solidifies Manhattanism into an explicit doctrine and negotiates the transition from Manhattanism’s unconscious architectural production to a conscious phase.” This Fictional Conclusion – or perhaps, more fittingly, Fictional Introduction, as the works contained within were all composed before Koolhaas had written the book – consists of several collaborations between Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis, often with Vriesendorp and Zoe Zenghelis providing illustrations and paintings. These illustrations and concepts are the very evidence that Koolhaas fabricated in order to begin writing the book.   

The City of the Captive Globe (1972) was one such concept, a method of exploration for Manhattan, created by Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis, and illustrated by Zoe Zenghelis (Fig. 11). With the grid firmly in mind, a series of blocks surround the Captive Globe, suspended in the centre. These plots have a foundation of granite, from which a “philosophy” is based (“Each science or mania has its own plot…”), and each has “the right to expand indefinitely toward heaven… The collapse of one of the towers can mean two things: failure, giving up, or a visual Eureka, a speculative ejaculation.” These blocks each contain a ‘city-within-a-city’ that Koolhaas has described in Delirious when talking about the grid. And the purpose of the Captive Globe itself? “…all these Institutes together form an enormous incubator of the World itself; they are breeding on the Globe”. Brayer notes “The City of the Captive Globe (1972) illustrated this Manhattanesque culture of congestion. In the middle, the terrestrial globe was in a state of incubation, rising up in time with the development of ideas, with each block forming the pedestal.” This project hints at a return to the ideologies of captivity that were present in Exodus, albeit on a global platform. Koolhaas has used this construct, with its ideas of the grid, the city-within-a-city, using the PCM, to enrich his analysis. He is building his own tools, which are then being used to construct his own manifesto, fabricating evidence.

The Grid, and The Downtown Athletic Club

Koolhaas focuses on The Downtown Athletic Club in the chapter “Definitive Instability”, where the Skyscraper is used as a Constructivist Social Condenser: a machine to generate and intensify desirable forms of human intercourse.” It consists of space for sporting activities on the lower floors, such as squash courts, swimming pools, a gym, even a golf course, and upon ascending there are floors for lounges, roof gardens, dining halls and bedrooms. From reading this chapter, the reader is led to believe this particular Skyscraper is some sort of paradise for bachelors, as Koolhaas writes: “The Downtown Athletic Club is a machine for metropolitan bachelors whose ultimate ‘peak’ condition has lifted them beyond the reach of fertile brides”

Koolhaas narrates stories and scenarios throughout Delirious, and one of the most recognised is the image of the bachelors taking a break between a bout of boxing, relaxed and naked, eating oysters (fig. 15).  Again, Saunders is more than a little sceptical at Koolhaas’s suggestions of the scale and fantasy of the mixed-use skyscrapers, particularly the Downtown Athletic Club:“There is little reason to believe that Manhattan skyscrapers ever were significantly mixed-use, that office pods for the humanly dead transactions of the great grey corporate world were not… these buildings’ overwhelming activities. Rockefeller Centre a richer environment? Certainly. The Downtown Athletic Club, with its fluid building sections and mixed programs, scene of “eating oysters with boxing gloves, naked, on the nth floor” a setting for maximum creative living? Certainly not, unless your idea of such living is a rich man’s hedonism.”

"eating oysters with boxing gloves, naked, on the nth floor...", illustration by Madelon Vriesendorp.

“eating oysters with boxing gloves, naked, on the nth floor…”, illustration by Madelon Vriesendorp.

Koolhaas and Vriesendorp

Koolhaas explains the Paranoic and the Critical roles in the PCM in Delirious, suggesting it “is a sequence of two consecutive but discrete operations.” In an interview towards the end of The World of Madelon Vriesendorp, Shumon Basar muses to Rem Koolhaas: “Delirious New York seems to have been written with the help of Salvador Dali’s paranoid-critical method (PCM). Proofs are important for his method, even if they are wrong or fake. I’ve sometimes thought that in Delirious New York the proofs are missing, and this is where Madelon’s paintings come into play. You described the critical part of PCM as being to fabricate artificial proofs for an idea. In your collaboration, Maddie seems to be the critical part, and you the paranoiac one.”

[To which Koolhaas replies:] “You’re right. Her ability was totally crucial.”

Here we see that Basar has identified the two roles here needed for the PCM to be successful, with Koolhaas as the paranoiac, with his irrational, poetic, fantastical analysis of Manhattan, and Vriesendorp as the ‘critique’, developing these stories, compressing them and fabricating these paintings which give life to Koolhaas’s ideas, allowing the manifesto to be credible and compelling.
Koolhaas and OMA: Post Delirious New York

Looking at the projects Koolhaas and OMA have designed post Delirious, several seem to have been inspired by Manhattan buildings featured within the book (such as the Downtown Athletic Club and the Rockefeller Centre), in that they rarely have one pure function.  For example, the Educatorium in Utrecht (Fig. 23), built in 1995-97. As the name suggests, rather than just a University campus or a series of lecture theatres, there are a range of programmes, including auditoriums, lecture halls, cafeterias and more. The curving, bending floor planes are design to give a single trajectory throughout the building, and these curves allow for moments of playful ‘delirium’.

Conclusion

“Koolhaas has written this hugely influential, engaging book on Manhattan, and deservedly received critical acclaim and praise for it. It thrust him into the spoliglight of architectural critics across the globe. However Delirious should not be remember soley as a Rem Koolhaas work. Vriesendorp, with her Manhattan paintings, anthropomorphised skyscrapers and fictional drawings, gave much more power to Koolhaas’s writing, more so than ever could have been achieved by Koolhaas alone. And alongside Vriesendorp, Elia and Zoe Zenghelis played a huge part in the collaborations leading up to Delirious’s genesis. Exodus, and projects such as The City of the Captive Globe and The Story of the Pool from Delirious’s Fictional Conclusion / Introduction were the building blocks that enabled Koolhaas to construct his argument, his views and his architectural position.”

Madelon Vriesendorp, Flagrant Délit (1975)

Madelon Vriesendorp, Flagrant Délit (1975)

Link to the full essay: The Fabrication of Evidence in Rem Koolhaas’s Delirious New York