Tuesday, December 30, 2008

radio, music, media

Results for Ghana's run-off election are due today. And while the gh-elections.com vote tracker has been frozen on last night's results (before NPP numbers surged overnight against the opposition) almost all radio stations in Greater Accra today have played non-stop music. The exception is Radio Gold, which has featured a continuous line-up of commentary on electoral conjecture and conspiracy, including rumors that the station was being forcibly pushed off-the-air.

Having just come back from Tema, the effects of this wall of music are palpable. With pro-sanity ("We love peace!") and nationalistic vibes ("Ghana belongs to you and me, Ghana belongs to all of us!") blasting on speakers everywhere, everyone awaits the electoral commission's verdict. Its interesting to see the effects of music so clearly. If all the stations were broadcasting talk radio's rumors and hearsay all day, the effect would be to amplify animosity between supporters of both parties. But with music dominating today, positivity pulsates despite the tension.

It sounds like the opposition NDC will win after all, and peaceful transition of power for the second time in this round of Ghana's democracy could be good merely if it reinforces the idea of democracy over communalism.

Seeing (hearing!) the electronic speakers population during Christmas reminds me that architecture in Tema is already integrated with existing electronic infrastructure...in Tema information infrastructure shouldn't be reduced to cell phone tech alone--the parallel network of radios, radio stations and gigantic speakers is also super-legit. I'm still trying to understand the speaker situation (is it cultural or environment-determined?)--people love "big, big" speakers here... even India is not this intense sonically.

Monday, December 22, 2008


There is an "informal" drinking spot next to my house: it's a little disconcerting to see local taxi drivers having shots for breakfast.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Public Wi-Fi

[Note: I started this blog post at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport while waiting for my flight to Accra--I'm working on thesis in Tema through January--but lost battery power before I could post it. How appropriate.]

Having finally connected to free wi-fi at Schiphol airport I remembered what someone (Aron Chang?) said recently (during thesis workshop--a group of us doing theses at Harvard GSD, who meet to present our research-in-progress and to discuss ideas): "digital is physical too!" in reference to the physical infrastructure required to support digital environments (routers, servers, etc.) Saskia Sassen and Robert Latham wrote a related introduction to their edited volume Digital Formations in which they highlight that digitally networked technologies create new social formations. Reading texts like this I have wondered throughout the semester: what are the implications for architects? Since space is both physical and digital, how do we design for interrelating both forms of space?

Seeing in-transit travelers appropriating all kinds of Schiphol's nooks and crannies to work and play and communicate on laptops made me think first of a blogger in New Zealand who posted a really interesting piece on Wi-fi structures and people shapes...noting that
urban industry - in the widest sense of the word - in the knowledge economy is often invisible, at least immediately and in situ. Whereas urban industry would once have produced thick plumes of smoke or deafening sheets of sound, today's information-rich environments - like the State Library of Queensland, or a contemporary office - are places of still, quiet production, with few sensory side-effects. We see people everywhere, faces lit by their open laptops, yet no evidence of their production. They could be using Facebook, Photoshop, Excel or Processing.

(S/he also has another cool post on The street as platform.)

Its true that the information industry is AT TIMES invisible. However, all this obsession with mobility--"you can work ANYWHERE!"--is not true. Physical constraints determine the boundaries of anywhere...like my own search for a US-to-European adapter, a working outlet at Schiphol that was not already powering someone's electronic device, and which also was within range of a free wireless hub...

Now, today in Tema... after several days of attempting to call the internet company Zipnet's landline (dead), cell phone bank (no answer), they responded to email within hours...drove to my house and installed radio-based (? that's what they said) internet. RE: Thesis...Given that Tema was created as an industrial city, the new realities of the information industry (my obsession with information distribution and knowledge production) may involve architecture (i.e. "design") especially strongly at the level of infrastructure...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

android networks

i am writing right now about android networks: how technology networks by building machines support human drift toward being cyborg.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Thesis statement ver.1

This thesis considers architecture as nothing different—part of the charged field of design that includes not only form-making, but also its relationships to technology, materials research, socio-cultural dynamics, geopolitical forces and economic drivers. My approach to the “discipline's” discourse will be to ignore it as much as possible.

1. Rem Koolhaas—Lagos
After “solving” the intellectual problem of architecture under the postmodern conditions of capitalism, Rem turns to the Pearl River Delta and Lagos in order to discover what comes next:
...the notion of the city has mutated into something that is no longer Western.
This work [Harvard Project on the City] is not inspired by the need to discover ever more exotic, violent, extreme urban thrills, but by the realization that the engrained vocabulary and values of architectural discourse are painfully inadequate to describe the current production of urban substance. They perpetuate an image of the city which is essentially Western, and subconsciously insist that all cities, wherever they are, be interpreted in that image; they systematically find wanting any urban form that does not conform...
...Some of the places that, at first sight, seemed to be tragic manifestations of degraded urban life were actually intensely emancipatory zones, where the recent arrivals from outside were “processed” as citizens of Lagos. {Koolhaas, “Fragments of a Lecture on Lagos” in Documenta 11 Platform 4, pp. 175-177.}

2. James Holston—Insurgent citizenship
A professor of “social cultural anthropology” at Berkeley, James Holston, argues that “insurgent citizenship” is the emergent space of re-imagining the modernist city and its organizational processes, and that this form of opposition implicates both architecture and planning together:
...this estrangement [“of the social in modern architecture and its related modes of planning generally”] is a consequence of a number of theoretical conditions that structure the current production of concepts in these fields about the urban landscape: (1) the rejection of the redemptive power of modernism deriving not only from the perceived failures of its utopian mode but also from the more general dissolution of the idea of the social itself in planning, architecture, government, and social science; (2) the inability of the professions of planning and architecture to move beyond that rejection to develop a new activist social
imagination; and (3) the preoccupation in postmodern theory with aesthetic formalism, technologies of communication, and concepts of virtual reality which tends to disembody the social and rematerialize it as commodity images. {Holston, “Spaces of Insurgent Citizenship” in Planning Theory 13, pp. 38}

3. David Grewal— Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization
Grewal, a Harvard PhD candidate in government, proposes the new logic for globalization: networks are the structures of possibility-expansion, whose production of diversity disturbs the nation-state and appears as economics; networks determine standards and—through the control of technology—all global information.

My immediate concern is how to conceive and deploy city in the case of Tema, Ghana—a planned modernist experiment in industrialization—in ways that challenge economic neocolonialism and the contemporary conditions of globalization, international aid and development policy.

At this stage, I think the hip lingo to use is the language of citizenship and network power. The historical context of Tema as a built instance of modernism sets the stage for the coupled postmodern/postcolonial conflict of the in/formal city: between formal (legal) planning and informal (illegal) strategies for occupation. This thesis seeks reconfiguration of the typical structure of architecture—i.e., an energy-intensive product rendered exclusive by high cost—with low-cost, low-energy green systems. However, the critical and defining agenda is to leverage through architecture tools for Tema's multiple citizenries to take advantage of the rest of the world...this is Tema 2.0: Information Factory.


There is a "thesis prep" course required for all MArch I candidates at GSD, taught by Timothy Hyde. This is a separate course from "thesis prep" for MUP & MAUD students, taught by Marco Cenzatti. I am taking both.

Already this is interesting. For architecture prep, we have 60 students in a room with one professor, and our first assignment is to locate our project within the discourse of architecture. My first reaction is to roll my eyes; i don't buy this idea of the "the discipline" at all...for me, architecture is not like engineering, medicine or law; everything is architecture. Most of my brain is telling me to NOT look to architectural discourse, but rather to look for inspiration to technology and political economy...

For urban planning/design prep--a class with six students to one professor--our first assignment is to find a previous thesis and critically discuss it. While this is essentially the same task as for MArch prep (develop an understanding of the current discourse) it makes more sense to me. The reason? In my opinion student theses present the most relevant discourse, the interface that is already re-thinking design. If i have to locate my thesis in the discipline's "discourse," this is where.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

4.b. Hustle

Yes, cities are full of the material. There is the materiality of fetching water, riding on overcrowded taxis, negotiating hard for a good price for tomatoes, avoiding the downpour seeping through a weathered tin roof, fighting off malarial fever, ignoring the stench of overflowing sewage drains, or taking apart an engine block in the hot sun. But across these activities, there is a large swatch of the ephemeral attempting to enroll the sweat and passion of hardworking urban bodies into networks of concrete becoming that go beyond the artifice of citizenship. (Simone, in Enwezor, 24)

Given that the legal structure of colonialism circumscribes a particularized field array of citizenship, the post-colony expands possibility automatically. Returning to Koolhaas' Lagos, he writes, “Some of the places that, at first sight, seemed to be tragic manifestations of degraded urban life were actually intensely emancipatory zones, where the recent arrivals from outside were 'processed' as citizens of Lagos.”1 Tema too is an industrial alternator, a machine for job-production that outputs “processed” citizens and new potentials. Here location matters: whereas the majority of New York's citizenry will remain unaware of the existence of Tema until or unless something happens to locate it, all citizens of Tema are always already aware of New York. Citizens of the postcolony understand without illusions that the world is a set of destinations, and that nation-states make some sources of opportunity more difficult to reach.

Focused absolutely on maximizing possibility, there are some who float either above or below the “artifice of citizenship.” Like Lagos' “area boys” and “419 boys,” Tema boy is in this class that does not give a damn and will do whatever it takes. For the Tema boy a factory job or a carpentry apprenticeship is barely a beginning and in no way an end—everything is a means and the sky is the limit. If he once was, Tema boy is no longer a worker; his genius is transformation from small boy to (adolescent) Big Man through sheer willpower and street smarts, although violence and deception hide in his shadow... The danger of living in the city according to his rules is what makes him larger than life but still anonymous. His goal is always to make a buck. Tema boy is aware of but not limited by geography, less concerned about the matrix of forces that oppose him than how to beat the game. What matters most is what opportunities are possible and which has the biggest payoff. Choosing not to be worried by the metaphysics of postmodern postcolony, Tema boy—capitalizing on the hustle as tactic for (outsmarting and) escaping the system—hustles not in Tema but in Empire.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

§1 TEmaBoY

Nana B. writes to rapper Disastrous on ghanamusic.com:

ooh for real you is a tema boy, ooo then i got madder love for you.

My question is what exactly is a Tema Boy and is Tema Little London?

Globalization discourse is the impossibility of bounding postmodernism within North/Western geographies. If the world today is an ever-contracting system of exchange, this phenomenon is new only in scale. The alchemical wealth-creation that financed the construction of modernity emerged through mercantilist and colonialist global networks of trade and resource-extraction.

Whereas postmodernism is reaction to modernism itself, postcolonialism, while enmeshed in myriad histories refracted post-colony, exists foremost as action against neo-colonialism. This coupled “post-” connects the Senegalese hawker selling fake Rolexes on Canal Street in New York City and the Ewe marketwoman selling Chinese-made Dutch wax prints in Makola Market in Accra.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

RE: Doxiadis

So... I'm doing my GSD MArch thesis on Tema, Ghana: I will consider urban redevelopment strategies for the city of Tema, Ghana--under the contemporary conditions of globalization, international aid and development policy, and the continued relevance of neocolonialism and Pan-Africanism. Tema is a planned city that was built as Ghana achieved independence in 1957 (the first in Sub-Saharan Africa), and was an icon for modernization on the continent: Construction of Tema was linked to construction of an artificial harbor at Tema, and the Akosombo Dam, which created the largest man-made lake prior to China's Three Gorges project. Tema is an industrial city which supports the 18 km-distant capital, Accra.

Doxiadis Associates
designed the master plan of Tema for an eventual population of 250,000, and Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew designed the master plan for Tema Newtown, the relocated fishing village that originally occupied the site of today's Tema port. Today Tema is fully built-out with a population of over 250,000; it has effectively jumpstarted all industry in the country and is now a major industrial and transportation hub in West Africa. Simultaneously, Tema Newtown has become one of the largest slums in Ghana, with a population of perhaps 100,000. The Fry-Drew plan was never fully realized, and the formal Doxiadis prescription for the formal city dissolves at the edges. The symbiotic relationship between the formal modernist planned city (Tema) and the self-build construction and irregular zoning (Tema Newtown) that emerges within a single city--Tema is now a suburb of pre/colonial-era Accra--is the point of departure for my thesis work.

Reading Michelle Provoost's text, New towns on the Cold War frontier, made me think deeply...why is that we (i.e. students/schools of architecture, planning and urban design in the U.S.) never mention Doxiadis, when he built dozens of new cities--more than anyone in the history of the world--but instead talk non-stop about Le Corbusier, Sert, etc. Why this warped history? It is totally not helpful for those of us who are enduring design education in the West for the express purpose of returning to re-think urban design in the global South.

I know about Doxiadis mainly because my Bucky Fuller-era undergrad advisor Arthur Loeb introduced me...but why the total absence from design history in the U.S. when Doxiadis overwhelmingly defined the global standard for urban development in the Third World, in large part due to his strategic relationships with the UN, USAID, Ford Foundation, CIA, etc!?!?

Doxiadis--again referencing Provoost--built modern cities in "Ghana, Zambia, Sudan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Iraq, and the US"...how much more could this piece of architectural and planning history overlap with contemporary global politics!?

Reading this take on history, I also realize the inherent difficulty in my approach to (conceptualizing) redevelopment in Tema. On one hand, I hope to contribute to the critique of the neo-colonialist imposition of the Fordist city via the nexus of Western "international aid"; on the other, given my education in the U.S., I generally agree with contemporary trends in international development policy, such as the focus on clustered micro-enterprise, performance-based evaluation metrics and macroeconomic stabilization. Perhaps the glimmer of hope is my total allegiance to the idea that until the total (economic) liberation of Africa the entire 20th century is for naught.

Since *no one* teaches/talks about this history, how do we generate truly informed critique of the full picture of Western imperialism in the Third World over the past 60 years...how do we move forward most strategically?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Shigeru Ban

is widely hailed as materially progressive for pushing the legitimacy of (or lack of bias to automatically dismiss) paper, cardboard, bamboo (like Velez ). However, these materials are still not taught as if they are viable alternatives to steel, concrete and wood. That is clearly not in line with sustainability in the tropics.

1. If the cost of building approaches zero--economically and environmentally--this one condition completely re-defines architecture otherwise associated with exclusive expense and ecological tax.

2. Map of goods and postcolonial economic ties. Total quantities of money produced (in mass of paper and metal).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

this is a crazy election

btw first ladies. hilary clinton was already a first lady. cindy mccain is a wealthy american dream. michelle obama is powerful.

and john edwards endorsement was powerful, but fucked up at the same time to see america in such bold contrasts: man, woman, white, black.

what will the americas look like in 2030?
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