Tag Archives: architecture

Materiality in Japan: Making, Breaking and Conserving Works of Art and Architecture

April 11, 2014

Institute of Fine Arts, New York University

Organized by Anton Schweizer, 2012-2014 IFA/Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow
RSVP is required. Please find instructions below.

Japan is widely regarded as an exemplar in terms of the preservation of material integrity, the perpetuation of historical production techniques and the responsible preservation of works of architecture and artifacts in museum contexts. The Japanese certification system for Cultural Property – which also includes the category of Living National Treasures for specialist craftsmen who embody manufacturing techniques as Intangible Cultural Property – has earned far-reaching acclaim. It is frequently overlooked, however, that there is actually a wide range of divergent approaches towards originality and authenticity even in contemporary Japan. While some of these inconsistencies find their counterparts in the West, others are related to pre-modern cultural practices, e.g. concurrent concepts of artifacts in divergent contexts of reception and evaluation.

This conference attempts to shed light on this issue with a series of case studies as a means to deconstruct overly simplistic explanatory models.

The conference schedule will follow three thematic sections:

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Shiny, happy households: Formica turns 100

Laminate fever ... an advertisement for Formica from the 1950s. Photograph: Picture Post/Getty.

Laminate fever … an advertisement for Formica from the 1950s. Photograph: Picture Post/Getty.

By  (forwarded by Fiona McDonald)

The Guardian

It has lined the interiors of everything from greasy spoon cafes to luxury cruise liners, from hospital wards to train cabins – bringing a fusion of wipe-clean practicality and sleek modern style. And now Formica is celebrating its 100th birthday. The brave new seamless surface of the future is officially an antique.

While it may now be synonymous with the retro glamour of 1950s compact kitchens and roadside diners, the origins of the miracle material are much more mundane. Invented in Cincinnati in 1913 by engineers Daniel O’Conor and Herbert Faber, Formica laminate was designed to be an electrical insulator, to serve as a replacement for the silicate mineral mica – hence “for mica”. (The fact that formica was a pre-existing Latin word for a type of ant seems to have hampered the brand little.)

Formica originally consisted of layers of fabric bound together with resin; later, it was made with thick pieces of paper laminated with melamine. This tougher substance could resist heat and abrasion, while the paper opened up a wealth of possibilities for printing colours and patterns, which proved key to its success.

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CFP: Immaterial Materialities

Interstices 14

“Immaterial materialities”


Please send your submission to Sandra Karina Löschke (sandra.loschke@uts.edu.au) by 3 March 2013.

Materiality has recently claimed centre stage in architectural discourse and practice, yet its critical meaning is ever receding. Tropes like material honesty, digital materiality, material responsiveness and dematerialisation mark out an interdisciplinary field where scientific fact and artistic experimentation interact, and where what in fact constitutes materiality and immateriality is constantly re-imagined.

Interstices14 invites contributions that address the thematic strands: Immateriality; Atmosphere+Experience; Interactivity; Material Politics; Material Technology+Aesthetics; Material Referents.

Immateriality: As a reaction to developments in science, materiality came under scrutiny with the emergence of nineteenth century German aesthetics (Vischer, Schmarsow) and the early avant-garde projects (Lissitzky, van Doesburg). Initiating an epistemic shift in art and architecture, these works pointed point to the connection between the concrete material properties of objects and their interaction with the inhabitant through psycho-physiological effects. From one of these early projects, this publication borrows its title – Immaterial Materialities – a term invented by El Lissitzky to describe the dynamics of our spatial conception, which could be explored through the design of imaginary spaces – possibilities pioneered by film and modern mass media. The inclusion of ephemeral elements such as light, line, colour, and media, reconceptualised materiality as an entirely dynamic category, a kind of ‘materialised energy’ (Vesnin). These ideas re-emerged transformed  in the work of the Neo-avant-garde of the 1960s and 70s, and surfaced again in contemporary architectural debates.

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The Jane Fonda-Kit House: arquitectural prototypes and the promised bodies of sustainability

Fernando Dominguez Rubio, Open University and NYU

Today’s post is the result of a collaboration between a brilliant group of Spanish architects, Elii, and myself. The text that follows accompanied the Jane-Fonda Kit House that Elii designed for an exhibition that took place at CIVA‘s room in Brussels.


              The Jane Fonda-kit House at Night

And 1…and 2….warming up!: Stretching & flexing sustainable futures

Conceived as an experimental “house of the future”, the Jane Fonda Kit House departs from those grand architectural visions that have attempted to offer normative or desirable models, to offer instead a rhetorical artefact that seeks to interrogate hegemonic and taken for granted models of sustainability and green architecture.

The JF-Kit house renders the image of a possible future where citizens produce part of their domestic energy requirements with their own physical activities. By bringing this model to the extreme, the house aims to explore some of the grotesque and perverse effects of this model, as well as some of its unexpected potentialities.

This exploration takes place through four different, although tightly interconnected, scales of sustainability. First, the JF-Kit house explores the urban scale by offering an infinitely replicable model for a self-sufficient and off-the-grid ‘parasitic’ structure that can be added onto existing rooftops and walls (such as CIVA’s rooftop). The JF-Kit House thus renders the image of a future in which it will be possible to augment urban density while maximizing energy consumption through the invasion of these parasites. Second, the prototype explores the architectural scale of sustainability by investigating how energy efficiency criteria can be incorporated into architectural practice itself—for example, through the design of the house as an active energy production unit. Third, the JF-Kit House investigates the economic scale of sustainability by offering a model to ‘unblackbox’ domestic energy consumption patterns through the use of different display devices and monitoring tools—like smart energy meters or saving energy devices—, community energy networks, and through the implementation of ‘energy mortgages’ that will use energy savings to pay off house mortgages. And fourth, the houses addresses the oft-neglected socio-cultural scale of sustainability by revealing how the three previous scales of sustainability will remain ineffective unless they are followed by the inscription of a new set of habits and practices into the body politik. The house brings the metaphor of the body politik to its literal extreme by showing how the achievement of sustainable futures will require the production of new bodies: bodies that can be productively mobilized within the domestic space as active agents in the process of energy production.

              The Jane Fonda-kit House, from outside

…and 3…and 4: domestic workout routines for a new bodypolitk

The JF-Kit house reveals the body as a critical passage point and a central battlefield in the articulation of sustainable futures. Bringing the centrality of the body to an extreme, the houses offers an ironical model of citizenship for future sustainable societies: the “Jane Fonda model of citizenship”, which defines the ideal citizen as an individual who can satisfy all her domestic energy needs through her own bodily exercise. Through the radicalization of this model, the JFK house aims to open a debate about the kind of bodies that are required for political participation and for the proper functioning of sustainable economic systems. Specifically, the JFK house asks: What kinds of bodies are imagined to fulfil the promises of these sustainable futures? What kind of domestic infrastructures are required to produce those bodies? What are the new domestic rituals, practices and habits that will have to be inscribed and enacted by those bodies? And more importantly: Which bodies are excluded from participating in those sustainable futures and their promises?

By revealing the home as one of the key spaces where the body politik is being continually made and remade, the JFK house invites us to go beyond those modern distinctions that have separated the public from the private, or political actions from everyday practices. The JFK house envisages a future in which the private space of the home will be transformed into a sui generis political space, that is, into a place in which it will be possible to engage with larger political projects, like sustainable societies or low-carbon economy, through seemingly mundane choices and practices. It does so by showing, for example, how ordinary domestic devices—like ‘domestic fitness furnitures’ —can be productively employed to raise awareness of the energetic and economic costs involved in mundane activities—like cooking, or watching TV, watering the plants, swaying in a rocking chair, or working at home—, and to induce, in so doing, other forms of consumption and political behaviours.

As an experimental exercise in the underexplored field of architectural teratology, the JFK house does not aim to offer the solace of utopian promises or the assured comfort of normative models. It simply aims to create a plausible monstrosity that offers a polemical prototype to extend the sphere of the body politik beyond its traditional formats and sites. The unsolved, and perhaps unsolvable, nature of the questions the house poses is the productive polemical space in which democratic politics take place, and in which a critical architectural practice can be deployed to generate—and, crucially, imagine—, habitable fictions and practical ways of being and dwelling together.

In the video below you can see the JFK-House in action!


CFP: Remarkable buildings and common spaces in XXth and XXIth century: Dialog between architecture and anthropology

Special issue coordinated by Catherine Deschamps and Bruno Proth

In 1969, architect Amos Rapoport published his book House, Form and Culture. He was inspired in his work by his own observations as well as his meetings with anthropologists. The book focused more on vernacular architecture than on the modern or contemporary one. Since then, the anthropology of architecture, and the most recent forms of architecture in particular, remained in a foetal state. In France, the recurrent appear of Marion Ségaud’s name cannot but testify that she is lonely. Sociology has been a bit more eloquent, sometimes having the perverse effect of heaping opprobrium on an entire profession and its productions: the criticism of “grands ensembles”, where architects have often taken the role of scapegoats, almost disqualified the modern movement. The malevolent reader could still see the architect as a demiurge in the fact that the sociology of professions, rather than any another field, also takes over the subject. Meanwhile, famous architects set up so called “remarkable buildings”, thus crushing the majority of small architectural gestures – such as attempts to build more spacious buildings – under their media coverage.

In order to understand its social impact and/or what makes it social, we are here interested in the materiality of architectural production. This does not involve reducing architecture to mere buildings isolated from one another nor does it forget how, in reverse, the absence of buildings create public spaces: different levels of understanding
are possible. But it does involve an attention to concrete walls seen from the inside, from the outside, ex nihilo or in extenso. Therefore, space notion gains depth, and the reasons for the production of these contemporary spaces as well as its relation with anthropology both need to be investigated.

In seeking to take anthropology out of its silence on the architecture of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, this issue has three objectives: 1) promoting a dispassionate anthropological reading of norms and representations that are influencing contemporary architectural designs, 2) understanding relations or distances between designed and lived spaces, 3) understanding how architects use anthropological data. These three objectives determine three possible themes for articles, which can be summarized as follows:

1) Norms and representations: questioning patrimonial conversions; notion of sustainability; growing awareness of “landscape”; influence of arts and techniques on productions; craze for so-called “architecture of emergency”; precepts and concepts that govern the making of new public spaces; relationship between spectacular architecture and ordinary architecture; etc.

2) Designed and lived spaces: questioning the way spaces are being thought by different professionals and social actors of the building area such as contracting authorities and project managers; differences between the initial project’s challenges and realities after the delivery; reasons for individual or collective appropriation; tensions between scholarly and experienced space perceptions; differences between books architecture, dreamed architecture, built architecture, sold and experienced architecture; etc.

3) Anthropology in the architecture: Questioning types of levels where anthropological thought is taken into account in the architectural design; opportunities, difficulties or rejection of dialogue between anthropology and architecture; invention of forms and transformation of practices; open kitchens or open spaces effects; etc.

We request French or English articles from architects, anthropologists or sociologists. They may contain theoretical developments, can be based on fieldwork, specific buildings or public spaces, or even take the form of an interview. Summaries (5000 characters) should be sent by email before September the 1st 2012 to Catherine Deschamps (cathdes@club-internet.fr) and Bruno Proth (bprothiste@free.fr) both with a copy to the editor of Journal des anthropologues (jda@revues.org).