Disposophobia | A claim for a “Perec-esque” inventory of urban stuff

Objects III & IX. Stasus [2011]

We have been always delighted by the breathtaking descriptions left from the mind of Georges Perec. In his book Thoughts of Sorts it can be found the piece “Notes from the Objects to Be Found on My Desk” an amazing travel through a one square meter surface in between stylographic pens, dictionaries and ashtrays. Perec also describes the way he arranges the stuff on his desk when cleaning and ordering and how everything around there has a conscious or unconscious reason to be, resulting in clear descriptions of real planning of territory.

The same perception occurs when going through the work of Stasus formed by by James A. Craig and Matt Ozga-Lawn. They are behind the Issue 32 of Pamphlet Architecture by Princeton Architectural Press [1]. This issue features the project “animate landscapes” exploring the resilience of entities understood into the frame of a design process, from the physical space of the studio environment itself, to the embodied potentialities inherent to any objet trouvé. According to their authors they tried to discuss:

…the resiliencies found in the material context of design work, including the studio space and objects that are manipulated within and interacting with it. We’ll be looking at how these objects may be tested in ways which challenge their inherent meanings and modes of identification, and how such testing may inform a coherent and rigorous design process. We’ll be analysing the resilience of a site, whether a complex urban site such as the one found in Warsaw, or the ‘site’ of a studio.

In their blog we could find that this project – an experimental film institute – mediates between its postindustrial site in Warsaw and the Edinburgh studio in which it was developed. By identifying, interrogating, and ultimately reinforcing the physical and immaterial conditions of both landscape and studio, Stasus creates a new space that draws on the resilience of its constituent elements. Instigated by this approach, and waiting for the moment to review the pamphlet, we started exploring their site. It can be found there a series of projects dealing with the traces we leave as humans in domestic and urban spaces. The patient collection, description and arrangement tasks give as result an approach to architecture in the way a forensic dissects a body: considering that everything counts and the complete perception of space goes beyond the focused vision and that a crack in the floor is as important as a chapiter; thus blurring the assumed hierarchies of architectural composition.

Reliquary. Stasus [2009]

In projects like Reliquary and Objects III & IX Stasus resemble a sort of Perec; a writer collecting fragmentary domestic and urban pieces to arrange narratives resembling nests or sections of piano showing its cords and hammers. This careful compilation and later composition deal us to think on what is going to happen with all the stuff we have been incessantly generating and collecting in our homes and cities. What about all the things we will be unable to fit into our Domesticated Mountains? Our mental fixation to grow indefinitely has spatial urban effects materialized in over measured infrastructures and vacant housing buildings while the capitalist logic keep on generate evictions when seeing humans like “slow payers” instead of “persons”.

And we keep accumulating. If every age has its favourite neurosis, just like Sylvia Lavin states in Architecture in Extremis, we are still installed in the age of hoarding. And maybe the proposals like those of Stasus are here to respond to the lack of union between architecture and hoarding that Lavin describes surprised. Maybe the time has come to start arranging all our domestic and urban debris in a sort of cabinets of curiosites with its own suggestive and disturbing aesthetics.

Animated Landscapes I. Stasus [2007-2009]

Contrary to the cannons of order and efficiency promulgated by human productivist mind frame, our compulsory accumulation activity could be a fertile ground to explore and enhance the rise of new architectural narratives. Again following Lavin:

Disposophopbia produces architecture that does not consider function to be a generative principle, nor does it find pleasure in playing with program and meaning… Hoarding focuses attention away from both use and representation and toward the materiality of the things instead, subjecting them to a form of design that has its own techniques and logics.

Animated Landscapes I. Stasus [2007-2009]

Incorporating or modifying pre existing elements to architecture practice, instead of a tabula rasa approach, is something that appear to us more logic (in the sense of evolution of constructed environment). It has been done in this way from centuries, until industrialisation and urban explosion imposed accumulation of later disposable or underutilized spaces.

And just like happens in our desk where we forget the stuff around us until some collapse occurs as a cup of coffe spilled on our keyboard. The same happens with the physical layer at urban scale when geological or economical collapse rage our cities: that is when we are forced to make inventories.

Objects III & IX. Stasus [2011]

Objects III & IX. Stasus [2011]

But we don’t need to wait that the next disaster occur. Instead of acting in post-traumatic situations, we can start to describe, know and take care of spaces… just like writers do. With patience, reading every corner, every cornice and every crack. Looking for what happens in the shadows, under the bridges and skyscrapers we have been building all around. Finding pieces and situations to arrange new social and urban compositions with new potentialities just like the resilient spaces proposed by Craig and Ozga-Lawn.

Under this point of view, we can follow Robert Smithson’s idea of scale [2], when he pointed “A crack in the wall, if viewed in terms of scale, not size, could be called the Grand Canyon. Size determines an object, but scale determines art. A room could be made to take on the immensity of the solar system.” With this understanding we can realize that our intervention in every single space, even the smallest ones, becomes important.

So quit from standards and conventions, reach the periphery of order in your city where dynamic forces are beating. Rearrange the spaces to interpret that music. Maybe we will find the beauty in nooks and chaos, crossing them with the kind of fascination that John Deakin surely felt when submerging in Bacon’s studio.

George Dyer photographed by John Deakin at Bacon’s Studio

Maybe a good way to understand the importance of chaos and periphery and give a sense to our compulsive hoarding [if any] is to read again Sylvia Lavin’s words [3]:

And while we may not live or die under the weight of architectural ideas that, like a hoarder’s pile of stuff, might be better placed in the trash, we do need to rearrange the inmediate past and curn it into an active and [different] productive archive. Imagining new definitions for architecture that include a bigger category of objects, a broader understanding of work… that engage systems of instability in the processes of design no longer need to weaken architecure’s cultural project but rather could make it more extreme.

[1] James A. Craig, Matt Ozga-Lawn. Resilience. Pamphlet Architecture 32, September 2012.
[2] Robert Smithson, the Collected Writings. University of California Press, April 1996.
[3] Sylvia Lavin. Architecture In Extremis. LOG 22, June 2011.

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