Shane Reiner-Roth

Archive for the ‘Social Agents/Social Agenda’ Category

The Domus and Illusion

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“The current domus is but a myth, a product of the megalopolis, the nostalgic yearning for what can now only be a mirage. With the advent of the megalopolis, the traditional values of the domus have been transformed, and the hegemony of the natural order has been supplanted by the artificial.”

-Neil Leach

The desire to disband from the megalopolis, even if only for a moment, produces a strange negation of everything that is found within the big city, including everything that is considered contemporary and therefore ‘virtual.’ In other words, the retreat is considered real while where one truly lives is considered fake (essentially the counter-argument to  Baudrillard’s assertion that Disneyland is designed to be convince Angelenos that their city is real and Disneyland is fake).  But whether in the form of a cottage, hut, or even just a camping trip, the retreat cannot be experienced without the language of the contemporary. Even Heidegger couldn’t help but talk about then-current technology, knowing full well that treating the Black Forest like a Renaissance Fair would be inappropriate.

“If the countryside,” Leach writes, ” – the realm of the domus – is seen increasingly in terms of tourism and vacation, then ‘place’ as difference could be understood in equally cynical, ironic terms, as the site of the exotic.” But rather than call the domus a totally mythical site, I will call it an exotic and illusory reality. Fortunately for this state, virtually every facet (the myth exempt) is successful in its desire for autonomy (though, again, this autonomy is clearly in opposition to the megalopolis). Because of its physical distance from the megalopolis, the vacationing urbanites cannot directly experience anything happening within their native city, nor can they indirectly experience them, because of their temporary sacrifice of technology. The only illusion therefore is that one can really in the countryside without any remorse and ‘revert.’

 The type of living I find to be more illusory is that of the domus within the megalopolis; either as a house with land or as a house with a view. Though all three are similar in their aesthetics of leisure and their status of wealth, the two types of domuses within the megalopolis are unique in their respective negations of their immediate environment.

The house with land always opens towards it on the site, and the microcosm utopia opens towards the house in a remarkably unnatural yet ultimately convenient way. The way this landscape is demarcated by shrubs and the walls behind them is much like the comically fake backdrops of 1950’s westerns. This house in its manufacured and private landscape is a more appropriate site of the mythic, for it gives the illusion that it is a domus in the countryside, while it sweeps the megalopolis under the rug and over the property walls. But even more illusory still is the land itself; it is designed to be perfectly manicured in its opposition to nature (with pools, cabanas, etc.). It is fantastical, and in its strict representation of nature it is unnatural selection.

The house with a view, then, appears to be the least illusory, yet it is in its presentation of its environs that makes it so mythical. The view is a very large image with little interface, for one can hardly be engaged with the sights or sounds of the city while within the very distanced and exclusive house with a view. In reference to the view, one either enjoys them or ignores as if the city was a television and the curtains an on/off switch. It does not have a landscape, but it does have seclusion.

In other words, these three building types illustrate the wealthy class’ desire to ignore reality – the reality of the contemporary and all of its affects – by either escaping to, creating, or highlighting the exotic, the beautiful, the perfect, or, to be clear, the spectacle. Wealth, in this sense, is synonymous with homogeneity, myth, and fantasy, while the middle and lower classes are synonymous with heterogeneity, inversion, and ‘reality.’ It is clear that the communitive nature of the latter state is established largely out of necessity, and anyone who climbs up the social ladder will want to escape the community of this state to one of more mythic proportions. But why is it so critically the case that wealth and the housing commune of the megalopolis hardly ever cross paths? Is wealth defined an an intentional indifference of the lower tropes?


Written by differance

August 2, 2011 at 7:26 AM

The Inside-Out City and the Question of Nature

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In class, as well as the rest of academia, there had been a discussion of the notable obscurity in the question, “What is Nature?”. We agreed that the answer most people give to this question is as confident as it is ignorant, and that the question is not nearly as open or as clear as it seems. For many, the distinction between human – man, woman, child, athlete – and non-human is a simple substitute for the distinction between non-nature and nature, but when one recognizes that humans invented the cantaloupe, the Boston terrier, and the very idea of nature –all things we believe are nature/non-human, it is equally as clear to see that this argument is fraught with inconsistencies.


As of 2010, this conversation would, on a large scale, seem to be a purely trivial pursuit, unrelated to the man in the street; but forty years from now, a global challenge will be set: In April of last year, a G8 policy document warned that global food production must double by 2050 to ward off international chaos. As it stands now, the world has collectively designated a rural farming area “essentially the size of South America,” says Dr. Dickson Despommier. “That feeds seven billion people. If you include the three billion who’ll be here in 40 years, there isn’t enough land given the current way of farming to feed those people.”[1] In order to combat famine, urban farming – that is, farming within the urban city – will have to take precedence within the communal mind and at the voting booth. As a choice between Heideggerian-environmentalism and techno-environmentalism, virtually every urban farming projectionist embraces the latter methodology.


But while urban farming would alleviate the land issue that Despommier addressed, this radically new agricultural tactic would also gravely obscure the question, “What is Nature?” for the masses living in the city, creating a whole new conscious class.


Beyond introducing “nature” to the “non-natural” city, there are several worldwide stands to preserve “nature” in its “natural” state through “non-natural” means. As Geoff Manaugh writes:


“Delicate Arch, a fifty-two-foot-tall sandstone arch and one of Arches National Park’s most famous natural wonders, faces eventual collapse, as it is regularly threatened by rain, ice, and seismic activity. The solution was clear: the arch should be stabilized. This “minor stabilization could be done in such an unobtrusive manner as to be hardly distinguishable and would not in any manner detract from the natural appearance of the Arch.” It would not be structural, in other words, using cross-braces or encaging the arch in Gothic cathedral-like buttresses. Instead, the geological formation would be sprayed with a transparent aerosol adhesive. This fine mist of glue would then seep down in the rock’s porous sandstone surface and harden there, locking the arch in place. The arch would be preserved – geologically shellacked, if you will.”[2]

This injection of the preservational “non-natural” into the “natural” landscape, coupled with the “natural” crops we eat injected into the common man’s assuredly “non-natural” city, each event carried to their respective extremes, would mark a radically new event in philosophical history. Surrounded by these figures as an environmental reality, the common man would have to seriously question their interpretation of the term “natural,” and maybe even the term “reality.” While the answer to the question “What is Nature?” has proven obscurity prior to the concepts of urban farming and technological landscape renovation, the introduction of these concepts demands an attempt to answer this question.


It seems as though the only correct answers are the positive absolute and its reciprocal negative: in the extreme of these two events, both the city and its environs can be considered purely natural (given that humans are a natural species, thereby making natural things), and they can simultaneously be considered purely non-natural (given that both the city and its environs have both been altered are were not left to do what they would done “naturally”). There are theorists that project this agricultural injection into the city would have sociological advantages. As Dr. Dickson Despommier again writes, “it would then become possible for a city to behave like an ecosystem; producing its own food, driven and designed by sunlight.” Despommier imagines a more communal city in light of urban farming, where other pragmatists believe that there are ways to make a smaller sociological impact. As William Wiles writes,

“James Wood’s solution is to put farms on rooftops. Work AC’s Public Farm 1 pavilion last year demonstrated how to elevate productive space, creating a usable social area underneath it. Public Farm 1 also trialled a high-tech soil made out of compost and recycled Styrofoam that is only one-quarter the weight of normal dirt, which circumvents the usual structural problem with rooftop farming. And there are already rooftop farming systems on the market.”[3]

Whether the impact is obtrusive and socially impactful, as in Despommier’s model, or concealed and above the carpet, as in that of Wood’s, the impact on the collective urban conscious would become philosophically altered. There may never be an answer to the question “What is Nature?,” but these two projects, put into extreme effect, would stir up some answers.


[1] ICON no. 73, The Edible City. William Wiles, Pg. 83

[2] The Bldgblog Book. Geoff Manaugh, Pg. 167

[3] Ibid


Written by differance

December 24, 2010 at 10:27 AM

Selections from a critique of 2001: A Space Odyssey

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“18 months ago, the first evidence of intelligent life off the Earth was discovered. It was buried beneath the lunar surface near the crater, Taiko. Except for a single, very powerful, radio emission aimed at Jupiter, the four million year old black monolith was completely inert. It’s orgin and purpose, still a total mystery.”

– Haywood Floyd

Throughout the movie, the monolith, in the presence of conscious creatures, is always treated with care and concern. In the first scene (The Dawn of Man), the apes observe it with astonishingly little procedure. It is clear to see why it would be the subject and concern for these primates; never in their environment or history has there been a straight line, let alone a right angle or a rectangular prism.

Critics call the apes’ response ‘innovation’ much too quickly: what the audience then witnesses is the discovery of a comparably more effective means of destruction. In this instance, we equate innovation and destruction without hesitating. For the purposes of this critique, I will consider their following response ‘destructive.’

It’s funny that the rest of the movie does not take place on Earth, potentially a suggestion that we have evolved too far in our means of destruction, and must now rely on our advancements in innovation.

The next time the monolith is discovered, this time on the Moon (in the scene TMA-1), it is the surprising subject of a modernized,  archaeological excavation. Where, in The Dawn of Man it is resting perfectly still in an unscathed desert, in TMA-1 it is surrounded by destruction, its own prophecy.


Written by differance

December 24, 2010 at 10:23 AM

The Architecture of Alternatives

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“A choice! Do you, my listener, know how to express in a single word anything more magnificent?…This is the pearl of great price, yet it is not intended to be buried and hidden away. A choice that is not used is worse than nothing; it is a snare in which a person has trapped himself as a slave who did not become free – by choosing.”

-Søren Kierkegaard

We have seen in enough interior design magazines that rooms are introverted in their malleability: in a room, one can put any type of furniture (or no furniture at all), create any flow of circulation, and partake of any sort of function. While the plurality of options possible for one room is nothing to shake a stick at, the transition between is certainly singular. Circulation is established in a building as though it is the ultimate and most logical solution. While they generally do often construct an elegant or efficient circulation strategy, there are, of course, potential alternatives.

A solution to this problem has already been published by Cedric Price with his proposal, the Fun Palace. In his proposal, the participant is given the abilioty and indeed the authority to alter the transitional spaces any way he pleases. While I intend a construct in the same spirit as that of Price’s, my proposal is in formal opposition to his, in part because dynamism is rarely an efficient of buildable solution, but more importantly because people really do look for authoritative guidance, and they naturally get frustrated with a forest without a path. Therefore, my proposal can generally be described as the static alternative aside.

Since individual spaces are self-structural, their consideration can generally be acknowledged. But transitions can be awkward, and their singular physicalities can alone be burdensome (if not the scene of social anxiety). Alternative spaces purely dedicated to the absolution of this fixedness would illustrate Kierkegaard’s admiration for choice.  I believe that choice can only be perceived if the options can be put alongside one another (static), as opposed to something presents each option within the same space sequentially (dynamic). It is for this reason that I would present each choice unobstructed and unchanging. While the main, most visually present option might still be most frequently chosen, the recognition of one’s alternative is, at the very least, a veneration of Kierkegaard’s reflection on choice, as well as a long-forgotten human necessity.


Written by differance

October 2, 2010 at 5:24 AM

Compulsions: Philosophical Inclusion versus Architectural Autonomy in the Aspiration of Utopia

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While the true definition of a Utopia is much stricter than the way I have personally identified it for the purposes of this essay, I view that this misnomer is necessary to discern a fundamental difference between the discourse of philosophy and that of a closely trailing architecture. For while it appears as though both philosophical and architectural discourses are similar in their most radical states as idealistic, they contrast greatly in their treatment towards their respective “readers” or followers. The discernment lies primarily in their contrasting faiths in their readers’ ability to discover their environments ‘anew,’ either after reading the philosopher’s text, or after experiencing the architect’s building or urban plan. The former has a faith in the citizen as a social agent, while the latter only has a faith in their building as the construct of a social agenda. Guy Debord’s most architectural statement, Naked City, will be discussed in contrast to Constant Nieuwenhuys’ New Babylon and Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin.

Guy Debord created a map for Parisians to carry with them, called ‘The Naked City.’ To describe its intent, Alison Sant writes:

“In reaction to the rational city models embraced by Parisian postwar planners in the 1950s, he [Debord] and his colleagues co-opted the map of Paris, reconfiguring the experience of the city through its authority. [25] By manipulating the map itself, they intervened in the logic of the city, constructing an alternative geography that favored the marginalized, and often threatened, spaces of the urban grid. Torn from their geographical context, these areas were woven together by arrows inspired by the itineraries of the drift or “dérive.” These “psychogeographic” maps proposed a fragmented, subjective, and temporal experience of the city as opposed to the seemingly omnipotent perspective of the planimetric map. As mapping is used as a tactic to bring together personal narratives about urban space, the Situationist maps provide a useful example of visualizing a subjective view of the city.”[i]

It is important to note that the directions given on the map, described as dérives (derivatives), were abstracted to the point at which they could not be accurately or objectively followed. General maps, even those without directional arrows, illustrate the single most efficient route between any two locations through unbiased cartography, and in so doing represent authority, clarity, and singularity of method. Debord’s map, on the other hand, is authoritative only to the point of proposing the plurality of perception. The big red arrows suggest bold movements within the city, but it is clear that the specific dérives one might take should be purely intuitive and not informed by Debord. Essentially, Debord believed that Utopia could exist within the formerly existing city, while the perception of that city must change.

Le Corbusier, thirty years prior, proposed to bulldoze most of central Paris north of the Seine, and replace it with sixty-story cruciform towers, placed in an orthogonal street grid and park-like green space. The ability to perform dérives within the Plan Voisin would be impossible. And while this ability was viewed as needless for Corbusier, his contemporaries scorned the prospect of a proposal with so much architectural authority. So while Debord proposed to keep the city intact but not its general perception, Corbusier proposed to construct a new city entirely, and once built and inhabited, its general perception would go unchanged.

Constant Nieuwenhuys’ New Babylon is the synthesis of Debord’s Situationist philosophy and Le Corbusier’s architectural tendency to build anew. In reviewing the contemporary state of Metropolitan cities, Constant believed that

“The layout of neighborhoods, old and new, conflicts with established patterns of behavior and even more with the new ways of life that we are seeking. The result is a dismal and sterile ambience in our surroundings.”[ii]

In response to his understanding of the contemporary city, Constant envisioned a new city on land never before built upon: New Babylon. As Mark Wigley writes,

“New Babylon envisages a society of total automation in which the need to work is replaced with a nomadic life of creative play, in which traditional architecture has disintegrated along with the social institutions that it propped up. A vast network of enormous multilevel interior spaces propagates to eventually cover the planet. These interconnected “sectors” float above the ground on tall columns. While vehicular traffic rushes underneath and air traffic lands on the roof, the inhabitants drift by foot through the huge labyrinthine interiors, endlessly reconstructing the atmospheres of the spaces.”[iii]

The inhabitants of New Babylon would be the transplanted youth of Paris, willing to endure the shock of a radical new urban layout.

But while the appearance of New Babylon is not one of architectural authority, its physical presence, if it were built, would be treated, with time, with the same level of oppression that any intent-driven design would. No matter how many alternative routes the design of New Babylon would have offered its citizens, the number of these routes would be operationally and programmatically finite. In other words, New Babylon maps out the advisable dérives for the citizen, rather than letting him decide it for himself. New Babylon is different than the Plan Voisin in its intent of construction in opposition of reconstruction, yet it is unfortunately also different than the Naked City in its objectivity; an admittedly inevitable product of an architectural proposal, rather than an ideological one.

Though these radical proposals are only three examples of many, they exemplify the grave difference between the inclusive proposals of the philosopher and the autonomous projects of the architect.

Most visions of Utopia have at their heart intent to leave the city and start a new one in formally uninhabited terrain, most commonly a desert. This indicates a loss of faith in popular society, so that while the new autonomous Utopia can have its own unique history, the rest of general society will grow and advance without it. But while most philosophers believe that their writing can make a change in general society if read widely enough, architects tend to side with the Utopians formally mentioned, and therefore favor autonomy; or, in other words, their buildings against the world.

It seems impossible to find the solution to this problem, yet it is most logically in recognition of context and the attitude of inclusion. For while most conceptually built architecture appears hermetically sealed, where the inside is presented as perfectly executed while the outside is viewed as bleak and ignorant, this philosophical faith in the citizen as a social agent, rather than the customer (or victim) of a social agenda, in the guise of an architect might be the way to include the participant in the discussion of a perfect metropolitan society.


[i] Intelligent agent vol. 6 no. 2 interactive city. Redefining the Basemap.

[ii] Internationale Situationniste #3. Another City for Another Life.

[iii] Wigley, Mark. 1998. New Babylon. The Hyper-architecture of Desire. 010 Uitgeverij.

Written by differance

July 18, 2010 at 4:37 AM