Söder Pops Island: My Own Personal Gentri-Fiction
In late 2011 I arrived in Stockholm, Sweden, and before long I discovered myself mired in a milieu of realty, by which I mean the near ubiquitous transformation of homes into real-estate commodities. Every Saturday morning my observation of this inexorable process was further confirmed as the lifestyle and real-estate pages arrived at my front door. This also has an impact on architectural modes of production, which cannot avoid being somehow complicit. Today a relationship of near indiscernibility can be posited between images composed to portray the privileged point of view (‘money-shot’) of an architectural project, and images dedicated to the commodification of architecture as real estate. No doubt an acute consciousness of real estate and the sometimes crippling debt with which it is associated has become further exacerbated after the American sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2007 / 2008, but here amidst the cafés and boutiques of the gentrified inner city island of Söder Pops (aka Södermalm) it is all too easy to reassure oneself that we have found a safe haven from such global economic storms. This ficto-critical essay will tell the story of the ambivalent role of gentri-fiction. This is a concept I have invented to help me understand some of the ways in which we fortify a dominant image of thought concerning our local urban environment-worlds.
In a time where architects are offering the appearance of a naturalized built environment, Melbourne, Australia is faced with an uncontrollable organism that reorganizes and re-appropriates the concrete matter of the city. The organism, nicknamed Muronoma by locals, slowly eats its way through living rooms and cubicles, leaving webbed, coral-like tunnels in its wake—spaces which provide habitat for a new wilderness in the heart of the city. American journalist Gabriella Canui travels to Melbourne to write a feature article on the organism and its consequences on the daily lives of Melbournites, but goes missing and never delivers her piece. After her disappearance, the CIA and their local ally the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) suspects Gabriella of joining the Architecture and Urbanism Bio-Terrorist Underground Syndicate, a.k.a. AUBTUS. As UNESCO is conducting a larger investigation on the Muronoma phenomenon, they request the CIA dossier on Gabriella Canui, including printouts of her notes and a series of transcribed interviews. The origin of Chemotaxopolis is told through these documents.
Stage Set from Hell
When the large-scale housing estate Grigny la Grande Borne was built between 1967 and 1971 in the southern banlieue of Paris, many experts considered it to be a successful alternative to the majority of France’s grands ensembles, in part due to the gently curved geometry of its plan. According to the rhetoric of the responsible architect Émile Aillaud, La Grande Borne was regarded as a “ville,” a multi-faceted “town,” contrasting with the large scale and monotony of French postwar housing. In 1973, against the background of a reorientation of the country’s spatial planning and housing policy, the journalist Jacques Frémontier and the filmmaker Bernard Gesbert challenged Aillaud’s discourse on the urban character of his “town.” In their television documentary Grigny la Grande Borne ou L’enfer du décor they revealed his lack of understanding and disregard for the living conditions of its residents. Hélène Jannière examines this turning point in the media debate over Grigny. The film is emblematic of the changes in architectural criticism in the 1970s and reflects the larger trend from an aesthetic criticism of architectural and urban planning concepts toward a social criticism of the modes of living and internalized power relations.
“Avoiding Images” is a fictional dialogue between the architects, urbanists, landscape architects, and residents that have participated or been implicated in the successive construction and demolition of La Courneuve, a public housing development outside Paris. This exploration seeks to make concrete the contrasted experiences of this place through the narratives of its different characters. A new landscape then appears between these voices.
Five Short Stories.
Oliveira: A White Fold — For many years two men met to secretly design the plans of a perfect city.
Allin: Crux – The story of two competing architects and the way their ambition and inspiration cross over in their work and beyond.
Romba: A House – For any given architectural structure we are capable of a range of different, even conflicting, experiences.
Smith: A Fable of Form and Function — Long ago, all the earth’s creatures were free to change form whenever they liked.
Gadanho: Fables of the Reconstruction – Four micro-narratives revisit the genre of the fable as a tool for architectural critique.
Almost unscathed the artist Reinhard Doubrawa and the writer Joachim Geil experience the urban hand-to-hand fighting on the spot. In a series of photographs, Doubrawa depicts these moments on the edge of the conflict. Geil writes accompanying texts, inspired by Italo Calvino among others, and then waits once more for pictures from Doubrawa. The result is the sad old story of a famous architect who tries to recognize who and what, in the midst of the hell, are not hell, making them endure, giving them space.
At Home in the City.
In general, ideas about architecture are conveyed through the popular visual media. Since the mid-nineteenth century, German-speaking schoolchildren have been strongly conditioned by the depictions of architecture and cities contained in their grade school primers. Virtually without exception, these illustrate fictive, stereotyped situations. Ulrich Pantle’s historical survey examines the sustained shaping of our collective awareness of architectural and urban planning principles by one type of mass medium. The primers’ fictions, nurturing the ideal of a free-standing suburban house to this day, can be interpreted in terms of their urban impossibility, but also in terms of their utopian potential.
On Types of Seductive Robustness.
This is a twelve-page storyline about unreasonable actions in the Context of Knowledge. Two detectives interrogate a man for making love to an unfamiliar and grotesque figure. The man is accused of having violated the Parameter of Conduct, which is punishable by law. The charge against the man is: conspiracy to commit cynicism against the Context of Knowledge. He attributes his mistake to a type of seduction that overpowered his objective reasoning, and is eventually pardoned. The act between man and figure is overlooked, while the seductive qualities of the grotesque figure are chronicled in the Archive of Intuition. What was once anomalous is now welcomed as part of ethos, syntax, and zeitgeist.
Joanna Zawieja’s work looks into the politics of architectural representation, exploring in particular how image-driven narratives influence the built environment. In the text Houses, she juxtaposes the history of an empty house in East London, a former Victorian institution where “fallen women” were trained in the art of homemaking, with the story of a meeting between an architect and her client set in the present to ask: where are our architectural needs and desires formulated?