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I am not dead

September 28, 2009 at 5:47 am

… and I am slowly getting back to work. I’ve been helping friends with projects, enjoying summer, and swimming a lot. also bike riding. I’ve also been working on a bunch of self-figuring-out, which is ongoing and in progress! Some crazy romantic stuff has gone down. Two of my best friends and project collaborators, Andrew Oesch and Meg Turner, are about to leave town: AO for some epic travels on a balky diesel schoolbus, Meg for an exciting & challenging job in a far-away city where she has always wanted to live. Summer has been awesome, lovely, and really intense — but I haven’t gotten much work done. Now, by necessity (both financial, deadline-wise, and psychologically) it’s time for some work to happen… hopefully I’ll be able to write more here soon about projects in progress.

bucklin street warehouse

I’ve seen this building since forever on one of my often-traveled bike routes through Providence. For as long as I have known it, it has been covered in vertical painted metal sheathing (as seen above, under the cornice), with a smattering of small windows along its length. I had always assumed that it had a metal structure as well. Earlier this month, they started pulling the metal off, revealing insulation, many windows, earlier brick-pattern asphalt shingles, earlier wooden siding, and its original wooden structure. Man, just look at all those windows!!!! (It seems like it’s being renovated, which is a relief — I’m tired of watching buildings disappear.)

A couple of weeks ago I caught it in this great state of semi-dismantlement, as the workers were stripping it down to the original wooden board sheathing. Meg & I returned the next day & peeked inside as well as we could. I was delighted by all the overlapping layers, the history made visible. (Also one of my favorite things is fake brick patterning on anything!) Meg loves the point at which the forces of human action and natural disintegration are in balance upon a building: the time frame between when the building has been neglected to weather and age, but before it collapses — a realm of possibility…

bucklin street warehouse - short end

Looking at these photos now, I feel a strong kinship to this building. Its outer layer is pulled off, and what’s revealed is kind of patchy, not very well fitted together, and possibly a little precarious. However, what is now visible is more true and more real than its former, tacked-on facade was. The insulation and the weatherproofing is gone, so the building is more vulnerable to the elements and to external forces… but the source of its strength is clear. However, it is obviously a work in progress, under construction, and changing constantly even as we speak…

dimensions

July 16, 2009 at 6:07 pm

drafting desk setup

At the moment, I am transferring my ideas from a sketchy house plan to a dimensioned, scaled drawing. The original drawing was on graph paper, for two reasons (since Meg asked):

  1. to make it easier to keep lines roughly at right angles to each other, without having to use a straight-edge and a triangle all the time
  2. and

  3. to hold myself to a uniform notion of the square footage and measurements across the drawing, without having to use a scale all the time.

Staying away from rulers simplifies and streamlines the drawing process, and keeps ideas flowing, not weighed down by details. Also, drawing freehand (even on graph paper) allows me to retain the sense of the building as a not-yet-completed design: once lines start getting sharp and precise, they start to feel like they are fixed and permanent, a construction document as opposed to an idea. With a ruler-drawn line, you tend to start thinking, “Okay, that’s where the 2x4s go!” as opposed to, “This is roughly where the structural wall is going to be.”

(This, to my mind, is the main problem with computer drafting — which Sketchup now seems to be offering a remedy for — it makes sloppy, badly-thought-out drawings look finished — even to the people who drew them, who should know better than anybody else how unfinished they are!)

As I sketched into and modified the drawing, I would tape on sheets of tracing paper, so I could change things without totally destroying what had come before, and try out new ideas on a clean slate while still keeping the underlying dimensions the same. As I added layers of tracing paper, the exact measurement laid down by the graph paper’s grid would get a little fuzzy and vague. So, now that I have a pretty good idea of what the layout is going to be, I’m drawing the plan again, with rulers, a scale, and specific dimensions.

I’ll write more about this house plan in a future update, but here is a hallways of varying widths, with a built in couch of some kind and lots of shelves.

hallway drawing

One thing that putting a specific dimension to things lets me do is see where things do *not* work: in the detail below, the shelves in the hallway, where you walk in from the living room area (center left of the photo) make it too narrow to pass through. … Erase! Erase!

brroken hallway

My big drafting desk is up in the 3rd floor studio; here’s the kit of essentials:

3rd floor work setup

from top to bottom:

  • graph paper / tracing paper drawing (attached to drawing board)
  • adjustable triangle (for drawing angles)
  • circle template (door swings)
  • scale (the fancy one, that I can use now that I have soft floor pads under my drafting desk & am not worried about it breaking, since I drop it all the time!)
  • wallpaper-wrapped brick (to keep the propped-up drawing board in place)
  • toilet paper (to wipe lead dust off after sharpening)
  • lead holder (aka pencil)
  • non-smudging eraser-pencil (this is a great thing that I recently got, it totally solves the smudgy problems that beset me on previous vellum drawings)
  • random ballpoint pen (I’m not using this, not sure why it is on the table)
  • lead pointer (aka pencil sharpener)
  • paper scale (made out of folded graph paper, I’m using it to take approximate measurements off the sketchy drawing)
  • water cup
  • POLAR ORANGE DRY!!!!!!
  • compass
  • two more lead holders (they all have different hardnesses of lead in them, though for this drawing at the moment I’m only using 2H)
  • small piece of chocolate!

[This drawing is actually done now, and I’ve started a new one based on it, dealing with walls & doorways — this was mostly written, and the pictures were taken, a couple of days ago.]


Reading & reference:

  • short comics from Will Krause, a new friend who is about to leave town… :(
  • Complexity & Contradiction in Architecture by Robert Venturi (again)
  • Understanding Structures by Fuller Moore, a basic architecture school textbook (again)
  • Tomorrow’s House by George Nelson & Henry Wright, 1945: book for the layperson proselytizing modern architecture in home design. Sample quote, emphasis theirs:

    There is no possible way to turn the clock back. In designing houses today we have to be ourselves — twentieth-century people with our own problems and our own technical facilities. There is no other way to get a good house. No other way at all.

    BZANG.

  • Ninja by Brian Chippendale: this is a huge graphic epic that I had read parts of in mini-comic form; it was published in a giant (12″x18″) edition a couple of years ago. I finally read the whole thing, in a concentrated manner, over the course of three or four nights, a week or so ago. I’m re-reading it now again, going slowly, trying to sort it all out and make all the connections… In some ways it’s a narrative of Providence, of a time that I also lived through, and it brings back to me very strongly the anger, emotion, and outrage of that time. Disjointed, hilarious, disturbing, and inspiring…

Okay, speaking of pencil-lead hardness, I’ve also been doing some just plain old observed drawings, which are really grounding and exciting, in a calm way. (That might make sense, or not.) Using a 4B (super soft) pencil is really fun, because it calls for a lightness of hand as you lay things out, but allows for real darkness if that is what is needed. The only problem is that if you are keeping the pencil sharp, it gets shorter real fast!

soft pencil drawing

It is a view from the 3rd floor of our house, looking out over the Woonasquatucket valley… and will be in a drawing show at Stairwell Gallery that opens on Sunday.

The neighbors who live behind us have been playing the same romantic dance song over and over again, for a number of hours each afternoon, for the past couple weeks. Possibly they are rehearsing for a dance of some kind, or else they just really like this song. My housemates are slowly being driven crazy, I think, but for me, it’s not that bad: sometimes I barely recognize the song, then other times it brings the slow acknowledgment of half-recalled memories, of a distant past that might or might not be my own. The song, combined with the faintly heard ice-cream tunes that cross and re-cross the neighborhood at intervals, gives the audible atmosphere of our house a nostalgic familiarity. . . . . I’ll be sad when the rehearsals are over.

Summer is awesome by the way.

[no longer] !

June 25, 2009 at 6:19 am

1) I am drawing? It is good. I am engaged, staying up late, forgetting to eat. (That doesn’t sound good, but it’s better than getting distracted by making cookies.) It looks like a house? Kind of, getting there.

advancing the drawing

The way that this happened was that Andrew OOO came over and sat at my second desk tonight, we drew at the same time. THANK YOU AO. (That also means that both my desks are cleared off. Also, not coincidentally, the floor is clear of clothes and the cat litter is freshly changed. This is a big deal.)

2) Yes, I am more or less where I was at 11 months ago.

I think that’s okay? or at least it’s gotta be.

3) Yes, this is the print series print #2. all right. it is, for real, happening.

4) And, francis d.k. ching‘s Building Construction Illustrated is the best book ever. Clearest explanation of everything he explains, of anybody I’ve ever seen. Plus the whole thing is HAND LETTERED. god damn.

5) best acronyms of “out of order” sticker:

messes up the formica

medical condition

band name?

colloquial translation

so they cheered Muntadhar al-Zaidi

somewhat overblown operatic production

sorry…

my favorite.

thanks to cross-country internet architect friend Eric for the [brackets]!

cleanups with benefits

March 24, 2009 at 1:21 am

… such as finding cool old drawings in the flat-file. Here’s a detail of one that I was psyched to come across a couple of days ago, complete with tea-stains. Clicking will take you to the full image.

community barge detail

I made this, as far as I can remember, at the request of artist, animator, and friend Dave Fischer for inclusion in his “soulless publication of the arts” Providence Machines. PM was a PDF zine, which means that it had no paper distribution, nor was it intended to be read on-screen: you download it, print it out, staple it, then read it. Dave did the layout by hand-coding PostScript (a language that computers use to describe pages to their printers, which humans are never really supposed to lay eyes or hands on…).

The issue that my drawing appeared in (download here) was about cities and the future. Dave had asked me to draw a vision of a future city (to go along with the Italian Futurists’ manifesto which he was planning to reproduce in the zine), a little while after the 2004 Oak & Troy mill-space evictions.

Nadav Benjamin, one of my then-housemates, put together this slideshow of his photos from fall-winter 2003-2004. The photos are mostly of people in their rooms/studios/spaces, as well as some pictures of shows, and one of snow seen from our fire escape. I’m in there, once with an awkward haircut, and once behind a mouse mask (identifiable by my trademark habit of grabbing the edge of my shirt at shows, to stop myself from nervously picking at my hangnails…).

After being evicted, we all were really scattered and thrown to the winds. This poster also comes from the months after the evictions: it felt like we were all just eking out our existences with corners and scraps of spaces. People were definitely dreaming about having a giant building/city where you could live with all your friends, and which you could take anywhere in order to avoid zoning laws, fire codes, and any kind of municipal control… so this drawing definitely comes as a product of that collective dream.

Also, Jacqui had just given me a box of hard colored pencils, which I think is where this red/pink one came from, and I was way psyched on perspective. Obviously.


This post is also an apology for erroneously posting my to-do list to this public page… then retracting it in a fluster 7 or so hours later when I realized what I had done.

My to-do lists are absurdly extended & ongoing, and as Jacob commented, every one of them could well begin with:

  • make to-do list

which would then be crossed off. (and, uh, I actually do do that on some of my lists. sometimes it seems like just sitting down to make the list is an accomplishment in itself.)

Making them on this ‘updates’ page, then putting a bookmark to their category in the bookmark toolbar, is mostly a trick to get myself to a) look at the list when I am sitting at the computer, then b) remember that I need to get stuff done, and c) get up and walk away from the computer! Working well so far (one week in).

The lists I make are a pretty informal and unprocessed look at my life, and would probably actually be more interesting, in some sense, than what I do write about here, which is relatively filtered… But if I’m going to write lists that have any kind of usefulness, they need to be private. whoops!

Edit: a sample to-do list is now posted as its own page. Yes I am thinking about all of that stuff, or the same amount or more of different stuff. Yikes.

“we are not frightened by ruins”

March 15, 2009 at 10:39 pm

The deadline was here, so I paused on other work and wrote this short essay about my Buenaventura Durruti poster, Providence, and the 2002-2003 mill demolitions in Eagle Square. The print is being included in a book of/about anarchist art, which will be published by the UK Anarchist Federation. They asked for some writing to go along with it: specifically looking for artists to articulate their visions for a post-revolutionary society, and the connections that they see between art and anarchism… in this case, between building (or architecture, though not formal “architecture”) and anarchism.

I wrote & re-wrote and, finally, in a last-ditch attempt to get it all to make sense, wrangled everything I was trying to say through an actual outline. Writing outlines has always been extremely difficult from me — this one was no different, but it proved essential to organizing my ideas and presenting them logically.

Here it is! I posted an edited & improved version March 26th. If you have thoughts, please comment below, or email me, if you prefer: secretdoor.projects (at) gmail.com. Thank you!


durruti poster

We Are Not Frightened By Ruins

an essay for a half-demolished textile mill, a quote from Buenaventura Durruti, and a world that is constantly changing.

Jean G. Cozzens

I made the drawing for this print in 2002, in response to the demolition of old factory buildings that I loved. The Olneyville neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island, to which I had recently moved, was dense with massive brick structures that had once housed the operations of the textile industry. The buildings had been crowded and active from the early 1800s to the 1940s, during the time when Providence was a center of industrial production and innovation. In the 1960s and 70s, that era sputtered to an end as fabric manufacturers fled the Northeast, first to the Southern states, then overseas.

The mills that the textile companies left behind, built huge and super-sturdy to hold vast arrays of weaving, spinning, and knitting machines, offered flexible spaces that could serve almost any purpose. Though no longer featured on the letterheads of the companies whose names they still bore, they remained heavily utilized, since their rough and un-precious state meant that anything could happen within them. Their interiors were divided up to provide an inexpensive, versatile home for local businesses and workshops, the few light industries and production facilities that still remained in the city, and the creative studios – and cheap, illegal residences – of artists and musicians.

In order to inhabit this space, the tenants had built lofts, ceilings, kitchens, bed-nooks, studio corners and work tables, practice rooms, recording enclosures, skate ramps, bathrooms, libraries. Some areas had been left open and spacious, in order to host the crowd that would attend a rock show, or just to let light flood in through the high windows. Even in the adaptations that were purely utilitarian, built by the secondary industries that had replaced the departed textile companies, self-construction and customization had accumulated, sub-dividing the spaces and providing creatively for storage, offices, work areas, and break rooms.

The buildings had been transformed from a scale meant for the mass-production of a commodity to a variety of scales that were uniquely human. They had been customized to the users’ individual needs by a purposeful combination of construction and sculpture, guided by whimsy as well as by necessity.

 *  *  *

In 2001, I was living in an old mill that was being painstakingly renovated by a group of artist-developers, across the street from a 14-acre tract of factories that were slated to be torn down to make way for a shopping plaza. Around the city, many other factory buildings were being demolished as well, due to neglect, arson, or the desire to make space for new buildings, parking lots, or highways.

I had always been fascinated by old buildings. At the time, in my third year of architecture school, I was becoming more and more frustrated with contemporary attitudes towards construction, and more and more interested in old ways of building. To me, the demolition of the mills was senseless and wasteful: it seemed that it would never again be possible to create buildings that had the quality, aesthetics, and strength of the old factories. I knew of no new buildings that were designed with such conscious care, or constructed with materials that were as simple and well-crafted. The mills were a valuable and severely limited resource. Why would you destroy something that could never be built again, something that was locally relevant and specific to our city – in favor of making a cheap cookie-cutter replication of a shopping center that could be found anywhere across the country?

I started getting involved in the activist struggle to try to save the buildings that were slated for demolition – the first ‘activist’ project I had felt strongly enough about to really jump into. I got to know some of the artists who were living in the buildings, and little by little became a part of the communities that had grown up there. Fostered by the cheap rent and endless possibilities offered by the giant, rough spaces, a shared life was flourishing, vibrant and creative, and as I began to participate in it my outrage and anger only grew stronger. Not only were the shopping plaza’s developers destroying the physical structures, they were displacing my friends and dismantling the culture and the structure of our community, as well as other communities that were supported, in different ways, by the small businesses and workshops harbored in the mill buildings.

 *  *  *

A fellow activist pointed me in the direction of some reading that was new to me, and I began to find global parallels for the dynamics at work in my neighborhood. I became aware that the issue went far beyond this group of mill buildings and their tenants, and that we were yet another iteration of the way that global capital tended to deal with local uniqueness and variation. Slick-looking, centrally-controlled chain stores being promoted over less-polished, homegrown businesses and projects; the replacement of the ‘light industries’ and production-based businesses with ‘service industries’ and consumer-based shopping; the destruction of complicated historic landscapes to create flattened, simplified new ground; the privileging of the marketable over the un-marketable, the new over the old, the safe over the quirky, the branded over the local… it had all happened before, was still happening everywhere.

The campaign to ‘save the mills’ progressed, with setbacks, accomplishments, and frustrations. After much heated debate, a certain amount of political art, and many impassioned City Council meetings, the company conceded to re-designing their development with ‘mill-style’ brick facades, creating a bike path, and preserving four of the fourteen original buildings. The rest would be demolished, and all the existing tenants would be, of course, evicted. Our high-profile protest had raised awareness of the contribution of arts and industry to the city, and had probably pushed the developers to do a little bit better than their banal norm. The group I had worked with claimed at least a partial victory.

As the weeks passed and work on the site began, however, what we had achieved seemed more and more symbolic and hollow. A feeling crept over me that the most crucial element had been left out: we had not been able to protect any of the messy, useful, inexpensive possibilities that the mills had offered. I began to wonder about the love I had initially felt for the old mills – by focusing on their physical structures, had I been missing what was really important about them?

 *  *  *

Even if the mills were saved and restored, even if the rebuilding was carried out by well-intentioned developers, there would still be limits on who could rent there, on what could happen inside. If the renovations were done with care, skilled labor, and quality materials, a certain amount of preciousness would result: the desire to protect the newly pristine structure from inadvertent abuse by working artists or production facilities. Even if the buildings could find owners who were excited to harbor a creative mess, the financial and legal demands that would be placed on them – to keep the investors, the lender banks, the city inspectors and code officials all satisfied – would inevitably tamp down much of the possibilities that the owners might have originally envisioned. In any case, the freedom that comes directly from living or working in a somewhat neglected rough-and-tumble structure would vanish. Whether demolished or converted, the mills would cease to provide space for industry, productive businesses, small entrepreneurship, and creative work. Renovation would cast the buildings in amber, preserving them while also freezing their ability to transform, to harbor activity, life, innovation, production, to be messy and changeable.

In one of the books I was reading, I had come across this quotation:

We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts, and that world is growing this minute.

It was printed in a large ‘inspiring’ typeface, and was attributed to Buenaventura Durruti. Who? There was little explanation or context in that book, and the only further research I did at that time was to figure out that he had been in an anarchist militia in Spain, fighting against the fascists in the 1930s. Durruti’s words seemed to speak directly to me, comforting and encouraging me in the face of the piles of ruins that, by that point, were indeed growing at a steady clip across the street from my living space. He reminded me that buildings aren’t relics, they are not irreplaceable, they don’t need to be regarded as precious. They had been built, after all, by people like us, creative and inventive and hard-working. They were useful, yes – but we will be able to build useful things again, if we decide that that’s what we want to do. The quotation also reinforced my growing awareness that what was important wasn’t the physical structure, as much as the life that happened within it; and that that life could carry on in the hearts of humans even if the world was destroyed around them.

These sentences from Durruti offered me hope for the re-creation of possibilities, the re-opening of the world of action even after this destruction of space for freedom. I had been wanting to make a poster about the mill demolitions, to share my sadness about their loss, and it became clear that the Durruti quote – and the hope it spoke of – belonged on that poster. In February of 2002, on a sunny-but-still-cold day, I found myself sitting outside on a pile of rubble to draw one of the mills in the middle of its destruction… and a couple of days later, realized that I had made the drawing that would go along with Durruti’s words.

 *  *  *

It took me a long time to make that poster. I had other commitments, to school and to work; and I wanted the print to be really coherent, not just hastily dashed off. I decided that I wanted to dig up more of what Durruti had said to include on the poster, because I felt that the quote as I had first read it wasn’t connected clearly enough to history and labor struggles, and that “building a new world” might be able to be interpreted as justification or encouragement for renovating the old mills into fancy new apartments. Finally, in the fall of 2006, during a break between other projects, I started researching a little bit more about the Spanish Civil War, and found a couple of versions, in Spanish, of an extended excerpt of Pierre Van Passen’s interview with Durruti, from which the quote I had found had been taken. Using my basic Spanish and recruiting the help of some friends, I was able to make a more accurate translation of the passage.

I worked on the poster off and on through 2007, then printed it in January of 2008 – six years after I had begun it. My thoughts have continued to develop and change, but I find that the quote still speaks to me very strongly in March 2009, as I print a second run of the posters, a little more than a year later. I continued to live in Providence after I finished architecture school, and watched my city continue along the same paths that had led to the demolition of the mills. The city’s marketing team focused its ‘re-birth’ efforts on promoting what a great hub it was for creative people – at the same time as it had its workers shut down independent show spaces, kick artists out of their studios, and scrape screenprinted posters off of walls and streetlight poles. Destruction was not only carried out by bulldozers: I saw ‘upscale’ mill renovations continue to push industries and workshops out of their buildings, watched the housing market become absurdly inflated by investors’ speculation, then witnessed the bubble burst, my neighborhood hit hard by foreclosures in a flurry of board-ups. All the supposedly constructive strategies of modern capitalism – actions based on the logic of profit – seemed intent on ‘blasting and ruining’ the world that we live in.

 *  *  *

In the years since making the original drawing for this poster, up to the present moment, I have thought constantly about buildings and spaces, measuring them and drawing them, observing (formally as well as informally) how people live in them, and of course, experiencing built spaces myself every day. All of the places I’ve lived were shared with groups of people: sometimes under headings such as “collective” or “cooperative”, sometimes taking on no title, but just living together, respecting and supporting each other, giving each other time and space to be alone while sharing other aspects of our lives.

I’ve also been part of various group projects, among them a community garden, a shared shop for sculpture and woodworking, a horizontally-organized afterschool arts program, and the collaborative designing and construction of a collective-house kitchen. In each of these situations, I’ve seen different models of interaction play out. People choose different ways to use, share, or refuse power; give each other freedom to experiment, take risks, and fail; challenge each other to learn new skills; figure out ways of communicating their needs, sharing space, re-thinking their expectations, building new alliances… all to be able to accomplish more than they could have on their own.

Over time, these spaces – the project spaces as well as the living spaces – have changed, and changed, and changed again, to fit the lives of the people who are using them. Some of the changes are repeated or adjusted on an hourly or daily basis, such as moving chairs into the right arrangement for a conversation, or setting up a big table to work on a project. Less frequently, there’s an opportunity to nail together shelves, re-organize a room, or re-position office dividers, in order to store tools better, change up the space, or get some privacy. Once in a long while, it’s possible to tear down some of the walls and re-think how the whole place could be organized, starting from an open floor plan.

Even in apartments or commercial offices that were originally intended for humans, the inhabitants actively modify them as much as they are able to, just as the artists and other tenants modified their spaces in the giant mills. Very few of these modifications have any input from professional architects – yet these are the crucial actions that make our spaces inhabitable and useful for our daily lives. The ‘architecture’ I had learned about in school – in which buildings were designed by architects, built by construction crews, and then lived in, passively, by ordinary people – was very different from this model of ongoing, incremental change.

Just as we practice new ways of relating to each other, trying to create new models for non-hierarchical interaction, we are also testing out our relationships with the space around us. Sometimes we slip into habits, getting stuck in patterns of social interaction that we find hard to change. Sometimes our space hems us in, restricts us from doing what we’d like with it, doesn’t allow the kind of interactions that we want to have. Occasionally, however, we are able to actually create a space that fits us; we are able to succeed in changing our frustrating ways of interacting. Just as we modify the way the spaces we inhabit are set up, we are able to build new networks of exchange, learning, and mutual support.

 *  *  *

This understanding offers me new insight on the quotation from Durruti. I wonder if the new structures that we carry in our hearts are not just physical spaces, but are the relationships we build and practice among ourselves.

Implicit in Durruti’s thought is the conviction that we are building this new structure now, already, at this very moment, as we creatively practice living together every day. We are not waiting for society to collapse or for centralized power to wither away before we begin living the lives we want to live. Risking, learning, and growing can happen at any moment, before the ‘revolution’ as well as after the disaster. These attempts, our continual practices of listening to and understanding each other, working and living together in co-operation, are already becoming the the materials from which we are building our new world.

The former textile mills remain an inspiration to me, for the flexibility of their spaces and the way that they can harbor a growing creative and productive life within them. I have also been inspired by the communities that we continue to create in the rest of our city, in small apartments and in garages and basements, in garden plots and backyards, in mill spaces where we still have them, in kitchens, on sidewalks, and in the streets. All of these places, constructed by the profit-focused mechanisms of our current society, are problematic and barely functioning: they have already been left to us in ruins. However ill-suited or restrictive they might be, they are our raw material, and they have a lot to teach us.

Instead of nostalgically re-creating old building types, though, we will need to imagine new spaces and develop new methods of construction that will fit us better, that will help foster our changing lives. The right forms for buildings, and the right structures for society, cannot come from the drafting table of a single, radically enlightened architect or anarchist. We will figure them out together, beginning with how we are living together now, starting from the skills and materials we already know.

The vitality of our lives together, and of whatever new society we build, will depend on the fact that our structures and relationships will not ever be fixed into a ‘perfect’ form, will never be completely known or fully understood. We will always be making new experiments, trying, failing often, succeeding occasionally, learning from our experience, and trying again. At times, we will have to ruin even the structures we create ourselves, whether they are societal or physical, so they do not become petrified and immovable. What I ultimately take from Buenaventura Durruti’s words is that we cannot be afraid to dismantle our lives – we must continually un-build and re-build the various frameworks of our own existence – to keep them flexible, to allow us and our communities to continue to change and grow.

Pierre Van Passen (a journalist):

And even if you win – you do know, don’t you, that you’re going to inherit piles of ruins?

Buenaventura Durruti:

…We have always lived in misery, and we will accommodate ourselves to it for some time yet. Don’t forget, though, that the workers are the only producers of wealth – we, the workers, run the machines in the factories, we extract coal and minerals from the mines, we built the cities… Why shouldn’t we rebuild them – new and better – to replace that which is destroyed?

Ruins do not scare us. We know that we will inherit nothing more than ruins, because the bourgeoisie will try to destroy the world in the last phase of their history. But, I repeat, we are not frightened by ruins, because we carry a new world in our hearts, murmuring forcefully – a world which is growing this very instant.

 

 


brief note of some influences / further reading ::

  • Martin Buber: Paths in Utopia
  • Stewart Brand: How Buildings Learn
  • New Urban Arts‘ philosophy, practice, and existence
  • Nabeel Hamdi: Housing Without Houses
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman: The Yellow Wallpaper
  • John McPhee: The Control of Nature
  • Ursula K. LeGuin: The Dispossessed
  • CrimethInc Collective: the Harbinger newsletter, and other writings
  • Christopher Alexander and others: A Pattern Language
  • plus lots of ongoing conversations with awesome folks…

desk finished and in use.

January 27, 2009 at 4:01 am

This all got finished before last Friday, but I just got my act together to take pictures of it now.

new desk (center), and left of it, stair/ladder up to the loft:

overview

continued below are detail pictures of the sweet computer shelves, which was pretty much the whole point of the project > > > > check it out: (more…)

putting materials together, to make useful things: part 1.

November 1, 2008 at 9:42 pm

This past week saw a great burst of work on the kitchen up in Worcester!

Here, Anna and Andrew are dismantling what’s left of the old counter on last Friday morning. The old sink used to be to the left of where Anna is standing…

anna and andrew taking apart the old counter

When the old sink’s plumbing and faucet totally broke down a couple of months ago (after a year+ of malfunction) Andrew and others went ahead and set up the new sink (scavenged from the Cohasset town dump by Nick’s mom) where you can see it in this photo under the window. He had tiled the counter, but because the backsplash tiling didn’t get completed, and the sink didn’t get caulked down, water splashed out over time, and had dislodged the tiles and also wetted the lath and insulation behind the sink… no good. Because of this, and for a couple other reasons (the old counter was 3-4 inches too low, the old plywood was not re-usable because of broken mortar and grout, it protruded awkwardly to the right of the sink, the space underneath it was dingy and gross, the plaster wall behind it was crumbling… etc) we decided to take the whole thing out and build it anew.

Thus the main focus of our work this past week was the sink area, getting it as far as possible along towards having a well-installed, fully-functional, completely-waterproofed sink and counter!

This is where we were at, early Sunday evening:

andrew working on the new counter

In the photo we are gluing and clamping a small piece of plywood onto the edge of the newly installed counter to form the understructure for an overhang and ‘drip edge’. (The crumbling plaster has been replaced with plywood.) Later in the evening (and way into the morning!) we mortared and tiled the plywood surface, using re-purposed tiles in two colors that were, by necessity and choice, cut and arranged into awesome patterns. No pictures of the final stages yet, that’s gonna be part 2!

I came back to Providence Monday evening. Then Thursday morning back to Worcester to do 2 more days of work. Now I’m back to Providence for a while, to work on prints for Craftland. Though I may go back to Worcester for a day or two, to keep the momentum going!

The intensity of the kitchen work kept me from finishing my ‘bread baking’ poster in time for the ‘sustainability art show’. It was actually a good thing I think: I would have been glad to be part of the show, but working on the kitchen, which will actually affect people’s daily lives! is more important to me. Getting to build things: to start with ideas, drawings, and discussion, then to put them into action and construct useful objects, was a crucial reminder of what my purpose in the world is. As far as I can tell!


More photos of last weekend’s work in progress follow: (more…)

sucked in

July 17, 2008 at 6:28 am

…These past weeks have seen lots of work on the ‘privacy’ print.

Looking back over my notes on Edward Tufte, thinking more about the organization of the whole print, I figured out how I am going to lay it out. There will be an axonometric drawing of a living space on the bottom half of the print (this one will be kind of like a ‘dollhouse view’, we will be looking in from above & be able to see all the rooms and how they are connected). From every place (‘moment’?) where an interesting dynamic between personal and shared space is created, there will be a line leading up or down to a smaller diagram or perspective drawing, plus some text describing how each spatial connection does what it does. This is exciting, since it lets the different doorways and connections exist in a context, related to each other, rather than floating in space — it gives them an added layer of meaning.

[early stage]

This also implies that I need to actually draw a building. This is: “Scary!! (fun?)” as I wrote on my large brainstorming sheet of paper a week ago… The building I’ve been working on is kind of theoretical, since it is only one story, even though any living space of this size (5 bedrooms) in a city (small lot sizes) in New England (cold climate) would almost definitely be a 2-or-more-story building. However, when you have more than one story, it’s relatively straightforward to define private spaces, since the stairs can be used to create the separations between private and public, and even make subtle refinements within those categories… Last week, one of the subscribers told me about figuring out how to use the space in her house: she put her bedroom and office on the second floor, and then created a “guest zone” on the third floor, so that her guests can feel like they have their own special place, and not feel like they are getting in her way or invading her personal space when they visit Providence and stay with her.

So both for graphic purposes, and to deal with the more difficult problem of creating privacy when the whole living space is on the same floor, I’m going with a slightly unrealistic 1-story building.

[later stage — “I broke the drawing”]

… to make it more realistic, though, I am working on making a believable structure and roof plan…

*

… and because I couldn’t figure out the roof issues to my satisfaction by drawing it on paper, I let myself be persuaded by Andrew to make a model on the computer.

[early in the process…]

This involved me cursing at the screen for a couple of hours while conquering the learning curve on Sketchup, then getting pretty psyched about it (though still frustrated occasionally…)

It’s been an interesting drawing experience, since I haven’t used a computer drafting program since a long time ago in school. Skp doesn’t have a very intuitive interface for moving your point of view around, or moving the model around — I’m using key shortcuts and a mouse, very awkward, so it feels like inventing a new way of moving in space, like learning to walk from scratch. However (or maybe because of this?) I find myself almost physically connected to the building I’m drawing: I’ve found myself craning my neck to look around a corner… it’s very strange.** Sketchup is probably most satisfying when you accidentally jump into the wall of the building itself and things get glitchy… suddenly you are making nice Thom Mayne or Zaha Hadid drawings, congratulations! I’ve been taking lots of screen captures. It’s three days later, now, though, and I still haven’t finished the roof plans. A fruitful distraction.

… in other news, I am moving my sleep schedule back four hours, so that instead of going to sleep at 10 am and waking up at 6 pm, I can go to bed at 6 am and wake up at 1 pm. Tonight I’m a little late… but working towards it. !


* the green cardstock = cutoffs from those wedding invitations I printed a while ago!

** I’ve never experienced Second Life, but I find myself wonder what Sketchup would be like if the interface, for navigating in space at least, was something like the one shown in this slightly weird but fascinating video from the makers of SL…

“pretty happy with”

July 6, 2008 at 2:34 am

This past month I’ve finally been working again on the second print in the print series. At the end of June, I had a tentative layout that I was pretty happy with, incorporating some larger perspective views of different kinds of connections between shared and personal spaces, and also a bunch of little axonometric drawings of more different kinds of passageways and doorways. It seemed like a good solution to displaying lots of options for offering different degrees of privacy within a living space…

However, the use of the words “pretty happy with” is always kind of a bad sign, stuff tends to ring hollow after a little bit if it can be described that way…


[perspectives!]


[another, earlier, version. note: AGP with sprained wrist/robot arm. ]

The original phrasing of the second pattern, from my print series proposal (December 2006), is this:

Private spaces should be delineated by subtle yet effective boundaries, so that individuals can be alone without closing themselves off entirely.

This is still what the poster is about, but I’ve realized that it has to not only deal with the boundaries, but has to involve their context, to also show the organization of the space in which the boundaries exist.

(more…)

intermediate kitchen…

April 12, 2008 at 1:07 am

The Forbes St. kitchen is not finished, but of course it is constantly in use, every day. For example: Nick and Max working together on house dinner.

The food was as good as it looks. (note the spice rack in the background — more or less finished!)

Max talks about plans for a folding desk in his room. (Laptop = recipe source)

secret door projects does NOT recommend: hanging cliplights from the kitchen ceiling, plugged in to extension cords (which are precariously stretched out along the ceiling, above the ceiling fan), that are plugged in turn into a surge protector that is loosely attached to the wall, by the switch of which you can turn the hanging lights on and off. Such a solution must only be implemented on a temporary or “mock-up” basis, and as we know, building codes disallow the use of extension cords in any situation.

HOWEVER such cliplights do give really nice direct illumination to work by, and make said kitchen really warm and cozy, as seen in these somewhat fuzzy pictures — and when we will get around to actually re-doing the lighting in here is anybody’s guess.

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