WHEN asked to read Anyhow and write a review of it for loud paper, I was excited, but reluctant. Excited because in the year since I finished thesis at SCI-Arc and left California, I have steered clear of architecture books. I felt overloaded after finishing up 6 1/2 years of architecture school and was in no mood for reading anything where I needed Deleuze/Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus as a companion guide. I was also reluctant because architectural texts have a reputation of being utterly unreadable. This is not a new observation, but architectural texts tend to be in a language that is at best exclusionary; a dialect that subverts any meaning that one might hope to take away. But lately, I’ve been craving a good discussion about architectural theory. My job, although providing good experience, wasn’t filling that need.
A little introduction to the Any series of books. Proceeding Anyhow, were Anyone, Anywhere, Anyway, Anyplace, Anywise, and Anybody. Yet to come are Anytime (1999), Anymore (2000), the conference for which will take place this summer in Paris; and Anything (2001). Each book represents the documentation of a conference, held by the Any Corporation, in a different city every year since 1990. There is also Any Magazine and an Any web site (www.anycorp.com). The Anyhow conference took place in Rotterdam in June 1997.
Anyhow is divided up into five sections: Tools, Organization, Process; Infrastructure, Distribution; Money, Market, Policy; Time, Information, Numbers; and Project, Program, Future. Each of the 24 essays by prominent architects and theorists, fit neatly into a particular section. At the end of each section, is a discussion where all of the Any conference participants (including an audience) react to the essays.
There are several essays that are readable, but require several reference books, a dictionary and a great deal of patience. I was surprised at how lacking the text was in innovation and imagination. The phrases "as we approach the end of the millennium" and "with all these new technologies" do not appear anywhere in Anyhow. The book appears tired with itself, and the participants seem to feel their efforts have become redundant.
However, there are some genuinely provocative essays in the book, but one of the book’s strongest features is also its weakest: the length of its essays. Running five to ten pages with illustrations, the pieces are non-intimidating. I read most of them on the commute to work or at lunch. The short length was also a bummer. Just when I got into an essay, it ended.
The discussion sections are where the book comes alive; where the participants drop their prepared statements and react to each other. Although certain participants get a bit defensive when they feel their excellence is questioned, the discussion sections are excellent reads. They help to tie together the essays in each section, but I would have thought that a book entitled Anyhow would have included descriptions of how architects work and how their design process is changing.
Although the book has its weak points, I sent in a check for a subscription to Any Magazine. In the end, an idea like the Any conferences is the direction that we, as architects, want to be moving in. Even if the conferences and books are becoming a bit redundant, it’s better than no discussion at all. But get a subscription to loud paper first.
Anyhow, a few excerpts from my favorite essays:
"In 1953 Louis Kahn proposed a strategy for the center of Philadelphia based on a representation of motion: the conventional plan was rendered completely dynamic by thousands of signs indicating the movement of flows. The city could not be understood as a system of spaces generated by the mass of the buildings or the gaps between them. Rather, buildings were merely the edges around which cars, public transportation, and pedestrian traffic. The structure of urban space was seen as the result of systems of frictions of varying degrees of viscosity, producing turbulence at the points of contact and different densities within the flows themselves. The possibility of representing these phenomena proved itself to be seriously limited. Kahn’s beautiful drawings are in effect a kind of palimpsest of a form that could only be measured and shaped from the inside. The metaphor of the liquid form may prove deceptive if we think about its representation, that is, about the classical form of aquatic architecture such as plays of water, the fountains, and cascades of the gardens at Tivoli or Versailles."
from: ignasi sola-morales, "liquid architecture"
"The journey was in a time linked to space, in a harmonious, coherent whole. This is what happens when the path is an integral part of the trip, when the process of getting there is virtually as important as the goal. But with the increasing importance of the desire to reach the goal, roads have been stretched tight, straightened and set apart from the land, remote from it. The outcome is a different view of the landscape, with the eye skimming over it in a more general, synthetic, and rapid way. Because nothing matters but reaching the goal quickly and travel time is seen as a negative factor of excessive duration, our relationship to the landscape has been destroyed. We need security barriers to protect us from our own speed, sound-reduction walls to shield us from the excessive noise, and bridges and tunnels to yield the straightest, quicker and straighter, the road requires our undivided attention. Ultimately, the epitome of the efficient road is a tunnel. We are all aware that space and time are linked- no need to call on Einstein to explain that. It’s an everyday experience. When one loses its value, so does the other. They only exist together. The greater our desire to be there already, the less our pleasure in being here and now."
"Is there any way for a building, public or private, large or modest, to be declared "historic" or a "landmark" without a reference to the past or to "style"? Is there any way for architecture to deal with "history" in its very process or activity, as well as in its appearance, in terms of structure or form? One of the most common criticisms of modernist architecture is that it had no concern for history. Indeed, the ideology of modernity implied a rupture with the past, under the labels of newness or rationality or both. As Walter Gropius once said, "Modern architecture is not a new branch added to an old tree, but a new growth, that sprouts directly from the roots." The new architecture of the "moderns" involved a projection into the future, the very notion of "project" being related to the forthcoming dimension of time, to the opening of things to come, things to conceive and construct, things to "plan" and to "project", eventually to the detriment of the remnants of the past. Project and utopia hand in hand, as Manfredo Tafuri recognized. For the Constructivists, history had to do with expectations rather than with memories; with looking forward rather than with looking back; with construction rather than with conservation."
"The Eames House was itself a rearrangement of an earlier version. After the steel had arrived at the site, Eames decided to redesign the house. He put the same set of steel parts together in a completely new way. Not just the frame got rearranged. Rather than produce a complete, fixed environment for the postwar consumer, the Eameses offered a variety of components which the individuals could construct themselves. Their own house was a paradigm: panels shift, furniture moves in and out. The house became a kind of testing ground for all their work. Everything moves in the end. Only the basic frame stays still, and this frame is meant to be almost invisible. A necessary prop, no more than that. As Esther McCoy wrote in a caption for an image of trees reflected on the glass walls of the Eames house: "After thirteen years of living in a house with exposed steel frame, Ray Eames said, ’The structure long ago ceased to exist. I am not aware of it.’ They lived in nature and its reflections- and reflections of reflections." The house dissolves in a play of reflections, restless images that immediately caught the eye of the world."