Thursday, May 28, 2009

I am packing every single thing in A165 Forbes. Although most of my life over the last year is already neatly packed into labelled boxes, its difficult to store the artwork. I can get rid of many things but it is difficult to throw away art - there is something sacred about it. On Tuesday I leave for Paris. I will leave this room exactly as I found it many months ago, with no trace of my existence here.

The transience of life is strikingly similar to that of my stay in this room. When I move to the next room, I want the artwork I leave behind to serve as a tangible proof that I once existed.
Starting June 4th 2009, I will be working as an intern architect at kilo architectures which is located on Rue Réaumur in Paris. I am looking forward to the opportunity of working for founding partner Linna Choi.

I am a little intimidated. The working hours are 9am-7pm with a one-hour break. The last time I "worked" outside Princeton was at the Actors Theater Workshop in New York City. That was an extraordinary experience and it's interesting that I'll see some of the friends I made there in Paris this summer. That thought and the end of what has been my best semester at Princeton gives me more confidence in all this.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

For my senior thesis at Princeton, I will study how the modern housing projects in the Paris suburbs are linked to the marginalization of the metropolitan area's immigrant population. This summer I will visit the suburbs of Paris to conduct preliminary research.

In September 2005, massive riots broke out all over France. Ten days of severe unrest were sparked by an incident in which two African Muslim teenagers, sons of working-class immigrants, were electrocuted to death at a power sub-station while attempting to evade the police. On some nights of the rioting, up to 1500 cars were set on fire (Cohen 98). Reports from The New York Times and The Washington Post noted the ominous presence of the massive social housing estates in the Paris suburbs (or banlieues) where the accident took place, as if the architecture itself had performed a role in the genesis of the horrific incident:
The Washington Post: With unrest expanding through the northern suburbs of high-rise apartments that house some of France’s poorest immigrant populations, senior government officials were debating how to curb the violence during Wednesday morning’s weekly cabinet meeting. (Moore A12, emphasis added)
The New York Times: In life, they were uncelebrated. In death, Zyed Benna, 17, and Bouna Traore, 15, have inspired more than 10 days of riots that have spread from housing projects in the suburbs of Paris to cities and towns across France. (Crampton 1, emphasis added)
The incident served as a spark that set off an explosion, the real cause of which was the deep social divide that the suburban space itself had come to symbolize and contribute to.
Indeed, commentators around the world pointed to the public housing projects in the Paris suburbs as sites of political contestation and social unrest. They especially noted the significance of the ominous Grands Ensembles, countless large housing estates constructed in the mid-twentieth century, each containing a minimum of 1000 repeated units. In the 2007 Architectural Record, Sam Lubell denounced the formal elements of these slab-like apartment buildings, calling them “tinderboxes for trouble” (14). He advocated for better design interventions to “stave off a sense of alienation and resentment” in the residents of these housing estates (Lubell 14). Steven Wassenaar, in his article for Volume in 1997, urges for “livable, spatial architecture (urban ‘healing’)” (7). Pieter Uittenhove, writing in 1997 for Archis, called the modernist architecture in the banlieues a “space of exclusion” (50). All three writers reject as a fallacy modernist idealism that “set itself up as a sort of Noah’s Ark to save civilization from ruin” (Uittenhove 51). In their rejection of Modernism, they focus primarily on formal architectural elements such as the use of industrial material, repetition of units, a lack of public spaces, and the abundance of “towering blank walls framing empty courtyards” (Lubell 14).

I posit that the architecture of the large housing projects, the Grand Ensembles, is indeed inextricably linked to the marginalization of France’s working class immigrant minorities; however, to fully understand the nature of this marginalization, we must go beyond just the aesthetic or functional form of public housing architecture and analyze the symbolic meaning it has acquired over the last half century. I will argue that despite the objective nature of spaces in public housing, individuals and groups living in them subjectively internalize the architecture that surrounds them. Conversely, over time, the very same residents project their identity onto the architecture: either mentally, when they associate it with specific stereotypes, or physically, by using graffiti and defacement as tangible marks of their frustration. In the case of the modernist housing projects, the tabula rasa architecture has performed over several decades as an instigator of social strife for the people in the suburbs, as well as a contested space loaded with meaning and symbolism. In other words, architectural space in the Paris banlieues is oppressive in two ways: it physically entraps its inhabitants and it serves, at the same time, as a symbolic record of that imprisonment.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The two-dimensional surface has always served as a testing ground for architectural concepts such as composition, volume, and the interplay of light and shadow. The same surface also serves a second important function: that of recording, interpreting and disseminating the object and spatial qualities of architecture.

While Le Corbusier’s work is the epitome of the role of sketch as creative experiment of ideas, Hugh Ferris’ charcoal renderings exemplify the latter role of subjective interpretation of space by artist.

Before he went on to become the most prominent protagonist of Modernist architecture – and one of the greatest architects of all time – Le Corbusier, or Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, traveled the world to visit architectural masterpieces and record them in his watercolor sketches. “Architecture,” he wrote, “is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light.”

That is exactly what I would like to do. I want to follow Le Corbusier’s path across Europe to experience first hand some of the classic architectural wonders that inspired him as a young architect. I want to encounter and interpret these great buildings in my own sketches in order to give them yet another subjective reading.

I intend to visit some of Le Corbusier’s most significant destinations: in Berlin, the AEG Turbine Factory (1910) which was designed by his employer, Peter Behrens; in Paris, the Bibliothèque Nationale (1860-7), designed by Henri Labrouste, where Le Corbusier spent long days studying the history and theory of architecture; in Florence, the Carthusian Monasteries at Val d’Ema (founded 1341), whose cellular interiors inspired his later work; in Rome, St. Peters Basilica (1506), designed by Michelangelo and others; in Tivoli, Hadrian’s Villa (approx. 200 AD); in Athens, the Parthenon on the Acropolis (447-432BC), built by Iktinos and Kallikrates; and in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia (532-7 AD), designed by Isidore of Miletus & Anthemius of Tralles.

I want to use charcoal as my primary medium of communication: “By using the one medium incapable of depicting the eclectic surface trivia that preoccupy Manhattan’s architects, Ferriss’ drawings strip as much as render. With each representation he liberates an honest building from under the surface excess” (Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York).

Charcoal has the spontaneous, soft quality of watercolor and the roughness of pastel edges. Its monochrome nature allows the artist to explore the subject in terms of tones – highlights and shadows sculpted by light to create psychologically inhabitable space on the 2D surface. I want to create the sort of “perspective poetry” in which Ferriss envisioned a great new metropolis.
The funding from the award will be used to pay for airline, railway and bus expenses; hostel lodging; food; art equipment; and emergency expenses.

My project will culminate in an online blog, a travel notebook with drawings and notes from various destinations, a sketchbook, and 3-5 panels of charcoal renderings, each larger than 4ft x 4ft.