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

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.

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