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Xárene Eskandar
Los Angeles, US
Immortal since Apr 4, 2007
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    1. Architecture as a metaphor for the body

    As a life-long student of Bauhaus architecture and Swiss design, my travels have always fulfilled related aesthetic fascinations and curiosities. In June 2013, however, I did not take a trip to Switzerland to experience architectural monuments, but was on a quest for an experience to sort out my mind and soul in the bourgie tradition of recovering at a spa in the Swiss Alps.

    The work of Swiss architect Peter Zumthor invokes experiences with deep meaning, and so as it happens for my sake in a last-minute escape to a spa, that I find myself at Therme Vals where Zumthor's philosophy of space exceeded my mental and physical needs. Therefore, a long-weekend trip was ensued by three weeks on an unplanned road trip through Switzerland where I find myself closer to an answer concerning the problem of being: How does Los Angeles affect the human condition? How can architecture respond to this problem?

    Zumthor’s architecture is an envelope for experience and perception—every space, surface and procession designed for a ritual towards drawing the maximum from all senses. The body is also an envelope and an interface for experience and perception. How do architecture and the body converge in the perceptual and natural landscapes to heighten our experience of the self? Can the body dissipate into the landscape of the experience?

    Having seen Zumthor in conversation with Michael Govan at LACMA only a couple days prior to my trip, his words were still fresh as I drove through the Canton of Graubünden. "I love big horizons." he had said. Zumthor was specifically referring to Los Angeles, where he has been invited by Govan to design the new LACMA campus. On a road trip through Death Valley, a Swiss friend struck with the awe of the vast landscape commented on the distance of the valleys, that they looked familiar but the scale was different: a Swiss valley can be traversed in quarter of an hour on foot, while an American valley can take hours to drive across. Space in Switzerland is constricted. California is roughly 10 times bigger than Switzerland; Los Angeles County can hold a few cantons; you can drive from Basel to Zurich in less time than it takes to get from West LA to East LA. The massive geographic horizon of Los Angeles, and its expansive urban horizon have no counter point in Switzerland. This is where Zumthor's fascination is rooted.

    2. Landscape as a metaphor for perception

    In deeper thought during my drive through Graubünden, I focused on Zumthor's enthusiastic comment and wondered how the geography of Los Angeles affects me. Are we a perfect match where my restlessness is fed by keeping me going until I calm down, or are we a mismatch where my restlessness is fed and never stops until I break down? When feeling melancholic, I drive to the nearby deserts. I also take advantage of living near the Pacific Ocean and use the drive up the coast and the endless horizon of the Pacific as a time to meditate, think clearly, and solve problems. This time, I felt the grounding draw of these landscapes were exhausted.

    But why am I so reliant on landscape? How does landscape affect us? Does the big horizon of Los Angeles, and Southern California in general, subconsciously lead one to seek answers outside of oneself, in others or other places? Does it make it easy to look elsewhere and use the curiosity of the far beyond to draw one out in search of answers? In contrast, do the horizonless valleys of Switzerland force one to become introspective and find the answer here in space and time, and within? If the gaze is not escaping, are we forced to focus the mind on the moment?

    3. Contextualizing perception

    Zumthor's works is regionally contextualized. It draws from the cultural and geological historic past of the location of his buildings. They are situated in the spatial and temporal moment, but ever-moving forward with the moment while carrying memory for that very reason of localized, historical contextualization.

    Context, whether for words, objects or buildings, builds a significant part of the meaning. Zumthor's work as seen in isolation through images is no doubt beautiful and thoughtful. What the image leaves out is the experience of the context of where Zumthor comes from and where the buildings are sited. Zumthor lives and works in Haldenstein and has a number of modest projects in the canton of Graubünden, and it wasn't until the end of my trip that I decided to go in search of Zumthor's work in the region. Having spent a good week up until this point zig-zagging through the mountains and valleys of Graubünden, Uri, Jura, Lucerne, Bern and many more cantons, I became familiar enough with the materiality and craftsmanship of Swiss vernacular architecture so that when I came upon the Saint Benedict Chapel in Sumtvig, it all made sense; not just Zumthor as an architect, but how to tackle the problem of architecture in Los Angeles. Keeping in mind the social, psychological and perceptual layers of Los Angeles as building material as opposed to solely its geological characteristics, what is the Los Angeles vernacular if we were to work in the manner of Zumthor’s sensibilities in relation to his context? How do we become grounded within Los Angeles through its perceptual landscapes manifested in architecture?

    4. Contextualizing memory

    Context builds memory and vice-versa. Los Angeles is a city with questionable memory: short term memory for native Angelenos, and no memory for transplanted Angelenos. In a city famed for fictitious narratives and characters, a city out-famed by its metonym, a city where one comes to build a new decontextualized narrative, memories come and go as liberally as the latest blockbuster or waiter-actor combo. Again, the technical image that captures the fiction also happens to have captured what would have become real memories if given the chance. We romanticize these alternate histories of Los Angeles through images from USC's archives and in a strange way in movies, where Thom Anderson has a captivating breakdown in Los Angeles Plays Itself. In a city where everyone belongs to elsewhere, a city that everyone loves to hate, what happens to the individual seeking a context for belonging and memory-making? How does this sense of place materialize? Is it this lack of context and belonging that forces me out and into the natural landscapes and vast deserts around Los Angeles? Is it a displacement of context and belonging that fueled my breakdown?

    5. The condition of Los Angeles

    The Swiss have a word for the deep-rooted sense of origin and belonging: Heimat. Socially and experientially, a sense of belonging is attributed to a place—the natural landscape one enjoys, the home one grew up in, the family who still live down the street, and so forth. Its rootedness comes from being able to share memories and common experiences across generations, as well as assigning durational significance to places.

    In many parts of the world we see new building additions built on top of or immediately adjacent to an existing old structure, for example Zumthor's Gugalun House in Versam, or generations living in the same home, while in the United States we see entire landscapes transformed, for example, through mountain top mining where in a couple of decades a mountain disappears, or we demolish older homes in favor of new, homogenized condos. What happens then, when a landscape changes or architecture is razed multiple times before the span of a generation, thus not allowing the formation of shared experiences say between parent and child, let alone grandparent and grandchild, or disappearances of places where one would tell stories of memories within their space? What do the denizens of a city without 'heimat' do to develop in a socially and architecturally healthy way? Do we suffer from a lack of care for a place, or do we learn to become fluid in accepting the whole over the particulars, the inverse of heimat?

    6. Anxious Landscapes

    In Anxious Landscapes, Antoine Picon asks, “How is it that, turning our back on several centuries of tradition that generally associated the contemplation of landscape with the idea of a certain peace of mind, we are so often disconcerted, indeed even anxiety-ridden, by landscapes of this type [referring to Manhattan]?” In response, he positions the technological landscape against the traditional landscape. The technological landscape of not just factories and machinery but cables and digital infrastructure, roads and continuous rest-stops, attached suburbs and over-grown towns, absorb the countryside, blurring the boundaries of where the city stops and where the natural landscape begins. This absence of a delineation of the limit of a city, and our movement in this new landscape being relative to these unclear boundaries are two main characteristics of anxiousness induced by the city.

    The dichotomy of the anxiety is curiously bizarre: it can be positive, in terms of discovering the edge of the boundaries and then their beyond; or be negative which again is the restlessness of constantly moving in and out of, and pushing beyond the boundaries. The psychological term of dissociation further explains this anxiety, where to reduce it one seeks to physically and emotionally detach from the situation, perhaps driving out and away from it. However at some point, does this therapy and meditation of driving away (self-expansion) become a form of temporary escapism (self-suppression)?
    Thu, Feb 12, 2015  Permanent link
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    In-progress–feedback welcomed.

    The Fold
    By using three keywords that Marcos Novak's concept of Transvergence is situated upon—ontology, immanence and allo–I begIn questioning what is to find the response this is. What is being? What is becoming? What is other? I follow this with "What if?". "What if?" is the question of the speculative; it is what transforms the philosopher's "What is?" to the scientist's "This is." This work, therefore, should not be mistaken for a utopia only latent with "What ifs"; it is the process of 'tomorrow' becoming 'now'. In this quest I have honed in on the fold and its potential for developing new possibilities for modes of existence and occupation of space, in the form of architectural organs–origami-like extensions of our body; an actual organ of skin. Where are fold (n.) and folding (v.) positioned as responses to these questions and speculations of change? Why a fold? What is a fold anyway?

    To fold is to hide; to unfold is to reveal; a fold therefore, holds both opposite actions (hiding and revealing) within one dimension of the fold line. Spatially, the area where my interest lies in, the one dimensionality of the line reveals and hides the capability of two-dimensional planes becoming a three-dimensional form. A fold is a multiple of potentials waiting to be realized. Therefore, a fold, a Deleuzian being-as-becoming, the line-as-plane-as-form, exists on a plane of immanence, latent with possibilities. The key to existing on this plane is desire.

 Folding is the act of including and excluding, of containing both the inside and the outside, this and that. One desires to fold and unfold, or in other words, to pursue potentials. Italo Calvino’s city of Chloé best illustrates the desire of the potential, what Rosetta Di Pace-Jordan explains as the “dynamism latent in all matter”, and in Chloé, the dynamism latent in all relationships. Chloé both includes thousands of possible relationships between its inhabitants, as well as excluding them—the well being of the city based on the exclusion, or folding-in and leaving out, rather than un-folding and playing out. 

    A fold, or a ptychosis, as applied in medical English, is the behavior of becoming something other. A single becoming the double, becoming the multiple, exemplified in embryonic folding, where each fold yields another part to the single disk of the organism, multiplying its parts by continually folding over itself. This process is that of a machinic phylum, where folding of heterogeneous parts–ectoderm (outside) and endoderm (inside)–creates a new entity. In Origami, just as in embryonic folding, the combinations of transverse and longitudinal folds arrive at different forms. However, different from embryonic folding, origami has a homogenous base, which through a dynamic process ends in a static form. In Latin, fold (v.) and arrive (v.) are both plico, an active tense. Once a fold arrives at a point, that point should only become a departure point to another form.

    We are continuously experiencing series of arrivals and departures at and from points; our lives are broken into milestones and anniversaries. We are in a constant mode of unfolding and changing, our single body becoming multiples in the compounded unfolding of its future. Our body is therefore analogous to the fold. However, we go through this dynamic process with a static, homogenous base: our body. So the question now shifts from 'what is a fold?', to how can a folded form (our body departing and arriving at various points in space-time) continue embodying the dynamism that initially created it? How can our bodies become a machinic phylum for the realization of architectural organs? What are the heterogeneities that must be synthesized?

    “The machinic phylum is materiality, natural or artificial, and both simultaneously; it is matter in movement, in flux, in variation […]”
    –Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, "A Thousand Plateaus," p. 409.

    Here, the machinic will be the synthesis of the heterogeneities of the organic (human) and inorganic (literally, the machines of industrialization) into a new entity, a new human.

    Industrial Ecology to Social Ecology to Anarchic Ecology
    Through the emergence of machinic phyla, we are on-course for the realization of architectural organs. Over the last 150 years, our relationship with technology has shifted focus from production at any cost, to human-centered design, to environmentally conscious design. The final step is a shift to a fragmented and sustainable, autonomous design, a shift which has already begun.

    Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times is a seminal piece of the folding of the human into technology, the first machinic phylum of modern times. Filmed in 1936, it is the futuristic and extended vision of the events set off a century earlier with the second Industrial Revolution and the introduction of factory modernization to the domestic realm. This is a period when the technology takes precedence over the human, where production came at any cost to the environment; child labor was rampant, and worker rights were unheard of. The deep red sky and smoke stacks of Monet's paintings are not romantic reminiscing of the city, but factual impressions of the coal grime across the landscape and lives of citizens. Like Chaplin's film, Fritz Lange's Metropolis (1927) is created at the height of Scientific Management: The machinic efficiency of the human body, not for the benefit of the human, but for the production of profit–the "economic efficiency" of Taylorism, or better put, the efficient production of an economy of profit at the expense of the human worker. Christine Fredrick's Scientific Management of the Home (1919), by introducing the concept of efficiency for the female worker in her duties of housework, completes the cycle of profit production, with profit consumption.

    There is a contrarian shift within the same time-period, of efficiency becoming more human centered. Frank and Lilian Gilbreth, inspired by Taylor's work, focus on the production of efficiency towards the production of the welfare of the worker: a folding of the human onto technology. In their scenario, the human is still part of the machine, but the process of production is not at the cost of the human. This shift of focus hastens through the mid-century as more human elements are folded onto the technology, arriving at the second machinic phylum and Henry Dreyfus' Designing for Humans (1955) which sets the standards for the study of human factors: the sensibility and attention to the human element of technology, where humans are not the heterogeneous parts of a factory, but as in Marshall McLuhan's terms, the mechanical technology becomes an extension of the human body.

    This folding and re-folding of the human and technology has unfolded itself to a flat sheet of creases, ready to be re-folded with new terms: The environment. Once resolving the relationship of the mechanic modernization with the human, our focus shifted to the well-being of the human environment, Earth. We realize we have enveloped her in the same archaic ways as when we were enveloped by the machines of industrialization. In Ecology and Revolutionary Thought (1965), Murray Bookchin points out that the dysfunctional relationship between human and nature stems from the dysfunctional relationship between humans, “To state this thought more precisely: the imbalances man has produced in the natural world are caused by the imbalances he has produced in the social world."

    The point of view of this essay is completely Western. In China, unfortunately, factory citizens are the inhabitants of corporate cities, perhaps, one can say, true folding of human into machine. Therefore, it is naive to say that our shift in focus to the environment means we have resolved the social imbalances; it only acknowledges them. We exist on two parallel dimensions: one where we still exist within the first machinic phylum, the other where with much struggle we pretend to have moved out of it but in reality we have not, because we consume it.

    As we continue to fold in and out of the creases of the past to find new folds for our future, we have come upon the third machinic phylum, the folding of technology onto the human. Here we are tearing into two separate, yet related paths: the use of mobile technologies as prosthesis, and the expansion of embedded networks, a tethered prosthesis of the human to nature, and a reversal of our embedding into the factory. Whereas a century ago Scientific Management made the human–to its detriment–more efficient for the production of profit, embedded networks, through activating nature, make it more efficient in the production of knowledge for its own sake. Embedded systems also activate architecture by folding in multiple layers of interaction between systems–the systems of the different operators of the space and the bodies occupying it.

    "With every tool man is perfecting his own organs, whether motor or sensory, or is removing the limits to their functioning. Motor power places gigantic forces at his disposal, which, like his muscles, he can employ in any direction… and the dwelling-house was a substitute for the mother's womb, the first lodging, for which in all likelihood man still longs, and in which he was safe and felt at ease. […] Man has, as it were, become a prosthetic god. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown onto him and they still give him much trouble at times."
    –Sigmund Frued Civilization and its Discontents, 1930, pp 42-43.

    For sixteen years Freud suffered from the pain of a prosthetic jaw and palate, put in place as a result of cancer. His prosthesis was placed onto him, rather than, as he writes in this self-reflective piece, "grown onto him." At some point, the heterogeneities of human and technology, having switched forces repeatedly over time, eventually find equilibrium. This will be the fourth machinic phylum: the folding of technology and human into each other. This is the point where technology is no longer a prosthetic, where metaphors of architecture as prosthesis for nature or body no longer hold true. This is when, as Arakawa and Gins arrive at, that we become Architectural Bodies, a reconfiguration of the organism-person-surround––an open-ended entity of potentialities of human and technology (or for Arakawa and Gins, human and architecture) possible through full responsibility of one’s being, revision and reinvention.

    We are, however, debilitated through our own hylomorphic history where responsibility of self is systematically stripped. If we are to follow through with Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the machinic phylum, its potentialities are possible not by outside forces, but by the nature of the heterogeneities of the phylum. To drive this non-holymorphic concept, they devise the artisan theory of metallurgical production, where the blacksmith ‘teases out’ form rather than imposing form on the metal. Similarly blocking us are archaic notions of beauty, narrow views on gender, misconceptions of race, and misunderstandings of philosophies of existence, which are all external forces, usually divine and transcendental, that are forced upon our bodies. These ideas must be re-evaluated through a process of unfolding, meaning that every scenario of the body should be allowed to play out in order to evaluate its effects on our progress: every idea of beauty, every variation on gender; every identification and valuation of self and not others, with reference to an empirical religion.

    Assuming the obstacles have been overcome, that we are in a world where the political body is obsolete, what will become of government, society, urbanism, the body? How do we come to define the concepts of generalities, organizations, striations, and control in order to move towards the obsolete? In an irrational world, should the making and envisioning of a new world be a rational process? Will a purely aesthetic philosophy provide the answer towards a vision?

    The organ is a metaphor. (On how many of our organs do we have control, and how much on those we believe we are in control of?) The Architectural Organ is therefore a thought experiment with intent: What do we keep and what do we relinquish if we wanted to take such evolutionary route?

    [1] Whitelaw, M., Guglielmetti, M., and Innocent, T. 2009. Strange ontologies in digital culture. Comput. Entertain. 7, 1 (Feb. 2009), 1-13. DOI=
    [2] Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Chloé. [1st ed.] ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974. pp.51-52.
    [3] Pace-Jordan, Rosetta Di. “Italo Calvino's Legacy: The Constant and Consistent Vision.” World Literature Today 66, no. 3 (1992): 468-71.
    [4] Folding of the germinal disk and the generation of the abdominal wall. Retrieved 14/07/2009.
    [5] The Folding of the Embryo. Retrieved 14/07/2009  and
    [6] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, "A Thousand Plateaus," p. 409.
    [7] Sigmund Frued Civilization and its Discontents, 1930, pp 42-43.
    [8] Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins, Architectural Body, 2002.
    [9] Tentative Architectures are clothing that tentatively behave as architecture only when the need arises.
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    Tentative Architecture of Other Earth from Xárene on Vimeo.

    The wearers of Tentative Architecture are nomads. The primary determination of a nomad is to occupy and hold smooth space. Smooth space is free action in a collection of spaces that are juxtaposed but not attached, i.e. the space between points of interest (water points), or a technical example of felt versus the grided woven. A point system, or a grid, is an emblem of striated space: it belongs here, not there. War is a clash of striated space and smooth space; when the City takes over the Countryside.

    Felt is a supple solid product that proceeds altogether differently, as an anti-fabric... It implies no separation of threads, no intertwining, only an entanglement of fibers... it is nevertheless smooth, and contrasts point by point with the space of fabric (it is in principle infinite, open and unlimited inevery direction; it has neither top nor bottom nor center; it does not assign fixed and mobile elements but rather distributes a continuous variatio)... Among sedentaries, clothes-fabric and tapestry-fabric tend to annex the body and exterior space, respectively, to the immobile house: fabric integrates the body and the outside into closed space. On the other hands, the weaving of the nomad indexes clothing and the house itself to the space of the outside, to the open smooth space in which the body moves. Deleuze+Guattari

    Above is documentation of Tentative Architecture worn by coastline inhabitants of Other Earth. This architecture allows for ventilation by mimicking the breathing of its wearer. In one version (the version for desert inhabitants) it is powered by a bio-kinetic hand-fan; a second version uses shape memory alloys which respond to ambient temperature changes.

    In collaboration with Joshua Hernandez, PhD student, Math, UCLA

    Materials: Hand knitted and felted wool, shape memory alloy (Dynalloy Muscle Wire)
    Mon, Jun 9, 2008  Permanent link
    Categories: architecture
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    Ubiquitous Habitats hold a minimum of two criteria:

    1. Every point in space, through kinesthetic instigation, is a possibility for becoming a 'site.'
    2. Every site or 'tentative holding space' (Gins and Arakawa) provides limitless potential for the organism on/within that site.

    Applying this concept to architecture creates shapeless architecture which defines our world and which itself is defined by our bodies. The initial stage of this architecture is introduced in the form of a garment—an easily attainable representation of a larger scale of architecture.

    The process is a study of the relationship between an organism and an occupiable body—be it the I and the physical body, the body and architecture, or architecture and nature. Space is defined through tension and relaxation of an organism's movements. The movements and their resultant forms create new shifting organisms.

    The concept is in support of emergent architectures where form arises from natural pattern; and nomadic systems where organism and form are all encompassing, becoming one, and adapting to multiple states.

    Sun, Jun 24, 2007  Permanent link
    Categories: architecture, documentation
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    Sun, Jun 24, 2007  Permanent link
    Categories: architecture, documentation
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    Thu, May 24, 2007  Permanent link
    Categories: architecture, stitch
    Sent to project: Design Media Arts at UCLA
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    Paolo Soleri
    Sun, Apr 8, 2007  Permanent link
    Categories: architecture, utopian
    Sent to project: Design Media Arts at UCLA
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