Ultimate Mixtape #3: 20 Songs from 2011

Like I’ve done the last two years, here are some under-informed ramblings about my favorite tracks from the past calendar year. Feel free to ignore them.

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“The Wilhelm Scream” // James Blake

Blake started the year off right with his self-titled debut full length. And by right I mean correct for the winter months in the northern climate where I reside. Blake’s fusion of lounge singer vocals and dubstep low end felt transcendent during a gray February, but once summer rolled around it quickly left my rotation.

“Lotus Flower” // Radiohead

Most of The King of Limbs is a major downer, but “Lotus Flower” is almost danceable. See Thom Yorke in the video, for example.

“New Beat” // Toro y Moi

First of all, let’s get something out of the way: I hate Ariel Pink. I therefore wasn’t predisposed to loving Toro y Moi’s abrupt turn from atmospheric, Dilla-esque beatmaking to sun-drenched beach pop. But what has always differentiated Toro’s tracks from his peers is their messy humanity, and that characteristic is retained here despite the spit-shined sparkle.

“Rano Pano” // Mogwai

Mogwai released their strongest album in years, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, and they also assaulted my eardrums at Mr. Small’s Theatre outside Pittsburgh. It was a revelatory concert, and one that cemented this song in particular on my best-of list. The video sucks, but I’ll forgive it.

“Wicked Games” // The Weeknd

Two well-publicized mixtapes and a few Drake collaborations later, The Weeknd’s work feels more contrived than when I first heard it, but no less cathartic.

“Lofticries” // Purity Ring

Purity Ring seem to have emerged fully formed from the internet ether. Sure, they’re aping The Knife a little, but given that the siblings Dreijer aren’t making any music of late this will have to do. For me, it’s more than satisfying.

“Ice Cream (feat. Matias Aguayo)” & “My Machines (feat. Gary Numan)” // Battles

Battles are at their most madcap and wonderful on Gloss Drop, and these two singles typify their post-Tyondai Braxton approach: hired vocal guns. I saw two excellent Battles sets this year, one at a festival and one in a small Cleveland venue, both of which augmented their live instrumental assault with large, expensive-looking video screens featuring the aforementioned guns, to dramatic effect.

“Putting The Dog To Sleep” // The Antlers

The Antlers provided the soundtrack for my sad bastard moments this year, and this track is the saddest of all. I’m not that into Hospice, their more critically lauded 2010 album, mostly because its themes of cancer and death and hospitals aren’t as universal as those explored on Burst Apart. The album strikes a deft balance between electronic and analog, along with specific and universal, and the results are profoundly affecting. “Put your trust in me / I’m not gonna die alone… I don’t think so…”

“Jaguar” // The Dirtbombs

A garage rock band covering Detroit techno? I’m in. Unfortunately, the rest of Party Store doesn’t hit quite as hard as this track for me. Great concept, above average execution.

“The Vision (feat. Jessie Ware)” // Joker

If he can make pop songs as convincing as this one, who cares if Joker has (arguably) turned his back on his dubstep roots? I predict he’ll be producing Beyonce and Rihanna before we know it.

Are You Can You Were You? (Felt)” // Shabazz Palaces 

Shabazz Palaces make what once upon a time would have been referred to as “abstract” hip hop, but these days are put in the “blunted” category along with Dilla and Madlib. On one level, the comparison is flattering, but the Stones Throw sample crowd has never produced anything this organic. The balance of electronic and analog is what makes this music sound so fresh and so clean.

“Banana Ripple” // Junior Boys

This is an excellent dance track from one of my favorite artists. It unexpectedly turns into something transcendent and trance-inducing after the 6:45 mark. Bit heavy on the treble though, boys. It’s tough to really crank it up.

“Please Turn” // Little Dragon

A number of Scandinavian bands ruled my airwaves this year. Particularly The Radio Dept. – who would have shown up on this list if their album hadn’t come out during 2010 – but also I Break Horses, Iceage, and Little Dragon. LD’s best track combines a great vocal performance from Yumiki Nagano, their signature electronic melodies, and an incessant foot-tapping beat.

Otis (feat. Otis Redding)” // Jay-Z & Kanye West

A lot of critics wrote off Watch the Throne because it flouted the Roc brothers’ celebrity and conspicuous consumption. I say, there’s nothing we need more after three years of recession than a little fun. If Hova and Yeezy spend a little money bringing it to us, I say it’s a wash.

“We Bros” // Wu Lyf

I’ll admit it. I have no idea what this guy is sing-saying. He might as well be speaking Danish (this band isn’t Danish by the way), but I love this unintelligible but sunny reflection on brotherhood and solidarity nonetheless. The atmosphere of their album Go Tell Fire On The Mountain is what gets me, I can always feel the space its songs were recorded in, which is refreshing. And that organ!

“Ohio” // Justice

I really want to love Audio, Video, Disco, but I don’t. Most of its tracks are short on melody and just too short. There are blissful moments on the album, particularly the 1:00 mark of “On & On,” but Justice never lets them breathe. The burping synth breakdown here is utilized effectively, unlike similar cues on this new album. Also… this song is not about Ohio.

“All The Same” // Real Estate

Lackadaisical. Irreverent. Profound? [Note: This live version feels a bit rushed compared to what they put on record, but it highlights the chemistry these guys have on stage]

“Surgeon”  & “Year of the Tiger” // St. Vincent

I could have chosen nearly any two tracks from St. Vincent’s excellent new album Strange Mercy. It’s easily my album of the year, and contains no less than six that I think warrant inclusion on a list such as this. Boiling her band down to drums, bass, keys and the occasional embellishment, Annie Clark has put her vocals and guitar front and center. This approach better approximates the effect of her live act. The stories on Strange Mercy are also Clark’s best so far. “Surgeon” is probably the best song I’ve ever heard about a fit of depression and features a completely unexpected, honest-to-God funk solo near its end. “Year of the Tiger” is the most apropos selection on this list given that its narrative is about an wealthy executive on the run a la Bernie Madoff or Raj Rajaratnam. Sketched through micro-scale details (an ever-growing stack of mail, a suitcase of cash in the back of a stick shift) these stories are affecting in ways I typically associate with literature and film.

 

Appendix // Here are a few 2011 tracks I hadn’t yet heard when I initially made my list. They deserve recognition:

“Wildfire (feat. Little Dragon) // SBTRKT

“Generation” // Liturgy

“Thinking About You” // Frank Ocean

“Marvin’s Room” // Drake

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Brutalism: The Word Itself and What We Mean When We Say It

Record of a Pecha Kucha-style presentation at Architecture + (Kent State), Friday November 18th, 2011

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The word “Brutalism” has lost its meaning. At present, it equates to: large buildings, sometimes of concrete, constructed sometime between World War II and the end of the 1970s. The sheer number of projects this describes is staggering, and many of the architects responsible for them in fact despised the term. We need to relearn the story of this pervasive locution.

Once upon a time, Brutalism referred only to “The New Brutalism,” a snide phrase coined by Alison and Peter Smithson to describe their unbuilt project for a townhouse in the SoHo neighborhood of London. For the Smithsons, “New Brutalism” was initially interchangeable with what they called “the warehouse aesthetic,” which sought to capture the raw quality of materials. As Peter Smithson pointed out in a late interview:

“Brutalism is not concerned with the material as such but rather the quality of the material, that is with the question: what can it do? And by analogy: there is a way of handling gold in Brutalist manner and it does not mean rough and cheap, it means: what is its raw quality?” [Peter Smithson: Conversations with Students, Princeton Architectural Press, 2004]

This raw quality, the treatment of materials “as found,” came to define the aesthetic proclivities of the group seen here, composed of the Smithsons, photographer Nigel Henderson, and the sculptor Edouardo Paolozzi. Eventually this group formed a part of The Independent Group, which is credited with launching Pop Art. For them, Brutalism was not a style but something else, hence:

“Brutalism tries to face up to a mass-production society, and drag a rough poetry out of the confused and powerful forces which are at work. Up to now Brutalism has been discussed stylistically, whereas its essence is ethical.” [Alison & Peter Smithson, “The New Brutalism,” Architectural Design (April 1957)]

Immediately recognized as radical and transformative, “The New Brutalism,” was the subject of much debate. In fact, a series of think pieces had appeared in journals before the Smithsons managed to complete their first building, the Hunstanton Secondary School seen here.

One of brutalism’s strongest early supporters was historian and critic Reyner Banham. In 1955 he published an essay summarizing the defining characteristics of this new style as follows:

“1, Formal legibility of plan; 2, clear exhibition of structure, and 3, valuation of materials for their inherent qualities ‘as found.’”

Banham found this simple list inadequate, so he added:

“In the last resort what characterizes the New Brutalism in architecture […] is precisely its brutality, its je-m’en-foutisme, its bloody-mindedness.” [Banham, “The New Brutalism,” Architectural Review (December 1955)]

Banham later published what he purported to be the definitive statement on The New Brutalism, comprising an international selection of buildings. His contention was that the interplay of ethics and aesthetics defined production and reception of brutalism.

The trouble is, Banham excluded most of the buildings we now regard as brutalist. No Paul Rudolph, no Marcel Breuer, no Boston City Hall, and only one early project by Louis Kahn. And for the record, the Smithsons shunned Banham’s book, accusing him of co-opting their ideas to serve his own agenda.

 Surely, the binary put forward by Banham is much too blunt and exclusionary. In order to rethink the word brutalism itself, it may be useful to return to the dictionary. Let’s look at the definitions of the parts in question. I’ve made a few redactions for the sake of brevity:

“brutal”

  1. savagely violent: a brutal murder
  2. punishingly hard or uncomfortable: the brutal winter wind
  3. without any attempt to disguise unpleasantness: the brutal honesty of his observations

“-ism”

  1. denoting an action or its result: baptism
  2. denoting a state or quality: barbarism
  3. denoting a system, principle or ideological movement: feminism
  4. denoting a basis for prejudice or discrimination: racism
  5. denoting a peculiarity in language: colloquialism
  6. denoting a pathological condition: alcoholism

[Oxford American Dictionary, 2007 Edition]

If we cut and paste a bit we might come up with something satisfactory:

“brutalism”: A state or quality of principled but pathological hardness or discomfort, without any attempt to disguise its unpleasantness.

A bit convoluted, but you get the point. Using this makeshift definition, the word itself might be reframed to describe a particular attitude about building, best described by Banham’s “bloody-mindedness.” Unlike the historically loaded word style, the idea of an attitude might effective at drawing together the diverse group of architectures to which we affix the word in question.

Universally recognizable by its severe, abstract geometries and the monolithic use of concrete, block and brick – this attitude called brutalism became a consensus approach to monumentalizing modern architecture.

If this story of Brutalism is indeed about consensus, our primary question should be: what made this uncompromising, imposing, and frankly quite impractical attitude so seductive?

The story of Paul Rudolph’s Art & Architecture building at Yale University might be instructive. Commissioned when Rudolph was appointed dean at the Yale School of Architecture, the completed building is overflowing with quotations and citations of the history of architecture.

Like Wright’s Larkin Administration Building, Rudolph wanted his work at Yale to have a sense of permanence, a built-in history, monumental enough to rival Roman ruins. In spite of his erudition, Rudolph’s building is most often remembered as the site of a mysterious arson.

The oft-cited myth is that a disgruntled architecture student, fed up with the building’s presence in his life, set fire to his desk in protest. True or not, this myth makes discussion of the building’s architectural merit or lack of merit extremely difficult. When we talk about Rudolph, we have to talk about the fire.

I’m tempted to cite Bernard Tschumi’s “Advertisements for Architecture,” in particular two sentiments expressed here, below the photographs:

On the left, “Architecture is defined by the actions it witnesses as much as by the enclosure of its walls.” And on the right, “Architecture only survives where it negates the form that society expects of it.” Through his actions, the arsonist responsible for Yale’s fire altered the narrative of Rudolph’s building and of brutalism in general, but might the story someday change?

While no mysterious event clouds our view of the Hunstanton School, the overwhelming personal narrative constructed by Alison + Peter Smithson certainly does. Known for talking big and building little, the Smithsons were never as successful as their books would have you believe.

Their largest project, Robin Hood Gardens council housing in London, is one of the worst failures of urban renewal during the brutalist moment. Its foundering hurt their reputations, and larger commissions never came their way. Unlike Rudolph, however, the Smithsons regained their stature by changing their attitude. Their work in the 1970s traced a shift away from the unhomely airs of brutalism toward a sophisticated engagement with Postmodernism, and a more open embrace of history.

The story of brutalism reminds us that once upon a time, there was disciplinary consensus. In retrospect, this consensus appears a peculiar convergence between ethics and aesthetics, during which truth in materials and the question of monumentality dominated the discipline no matter one’s ideological bent, a time when do-gooders and designers held certain goals in common. Successful or not, the results of this peculiar convergence are all around us, reminders that we could all use an attitude adjustment.


Publication Notes

A few quick announcements regarding publication through other outlets:

I have a short piece concerning Farshid Moussavi’s design for the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) Cleveland in the Ohio State student architecture journal One:Twelve. Using MoCA as a starting point, I scrutinize architecture’s still naive engagement with film through “virtual tours.” Edited, designed and partly written by graduate and undergraduate students at the Knowlton School of Architecture, One:Twelve publishes once a quarter, and they have just completed their first academic year. You can read my contribution here, or view a PDF of the issue in which it appears here.

Another (very short) piece of mine on the work of Bjarke Ingels Group will be published in the inaugural CLOG pamphlet, organized and edited by a group of young New York architects. From the CLOG call for submissions:

Forums such as social media, online press, blogs and tweets have drastically increased the rate at which architectural imagery is distributed and consumed today. While an unprecedented range of work is now accessible to the public, the constantly updating avalanche of architectural imagery has reduced any single project’s lifespan with Architecture’s collective consciousness to a week, an afternoon, a single post… an endless churning architecture du jour. CLOG deliberately slows down this flow of information, providing a place to reflect, discuss, and take aim. 

The first pamphlet will focus on BIG, and will have contributions from a motley crew of young critics and academics. An outgrowth from a previous blog post on the Mountain Dwellings, my piece focuses on the use of narrative diagrams in BIG’s work. I will post a link here when one becomes available.

(UPDATE: CLOG now has a web presence at www.clog-online.com and the Storefront for Art & Architecture will be hosting a launch party for their first issue on October 7th. If you are in New York be sure to check it out.)

Also, I have had a tumblr.com account for some time now, focusing on the loose aggregation of international building styles collectively referred to as Brutalism. I have pored over the collections of my local libraries, seeking out and scanning compelling images and drawings from such architects as Marcel Breuer, Paul Rudolph, Kevin Roche, and Kenzo Tange, among many others. This “blog junior” can be found at (pardon my Tumblr patois): fuckyeahbrutalism.tumblr.com


Book Review: The Possibility of An Absolute Architecture

Yet another home run from the Writing Architecture series. With few exceptions, their second string of publications – restarting in 2007 after a six-year hiatus – have been outstanding, including such paradigmatic volumes as Anthony Vidler’s Histories of the Immediate Present, K. Michael Hays’ Architecture’s Desire, and Michael Cadwell’s Strange Details. The editors seem to have taken it upon themselves to assault the disciplinary borders between history, theory and criticism. All of their recent titles navigate between these established genres, simultaneously reflecting on the past and projecting to the future.

Written by a pair of Italian theorists – Mario Carpo and Pier Vittorio Aureli – this year’s models are no exception. Carpo’s The Alphabet and the Algorithm (reviewed here previously) tells the story of architecture’s engagement with the digital, and projects a potential future for said engagement. The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, Aureli’s contribution, recapitulates a political project not just for architecture, but for architectural form. He plots an alternative course through history, drawing together an unruly band of players, through whom a consistent project is articulated.

It may seem paradoxical, but Aureli argues that a strong attention to architectural form – rather than an attention to urban space – is precondition for architecture to act politically. Architecture, Aureli believes, must take a position within itself in order to define the infra-space of the city, the space between buildings. This bring us to the question of absoluteness. Aureli uses the word to mean “distinct from its other,” in this case the city. An absolute architecture, therefore, is independent of its other, yet still constructive of (and constructed by) said other. Their relationship is dialectical. Architecture must be absolute in order to be politically productive, and must be resolutely other in order to be absolute.

The process of such “positioning” is what, for Aureli, draws together the work of Palladio, Piranesi, Boullee and O.M. Ungers. These architects have a commitment in common: their work is ideological, but none ever explicitly stated a theory of urbanism nor designed an ideal city. Their visions of the urban environment were composed of “city parts,” providing concrete and conflicting alternatives to contemporary civic building. For these designers, and by extension Aureli, the city is a collection of contrasting and even contradictory pieces. Projects of the city need to project alternate models of living in common, and these must go beyond cohabitation.

Ultimately, Aureli’s argument has to do with the function of blockages within urban flows. Through an attunement to its formal possibilities, architecture can produce resistance to the seemingly unstoppable march of mundane urbanization. To consider the systems of the city (infrastructure) is not to act politically. Architects should instead refocus on the making of buildings that take a position.

Spurred by landscape urbanism, many competitions, books and design studios have recently applied architectural thinking to regional systems and infrastructure. Aureli thoroughly questions the sensibility of such thinking, and contends that acting dialectically within and against urbanization is the way for architecture to create political effects. This paradox is at the heart of Possibility, and I for one think a retreat from urban design to the safer disciplinary ground of the type of urbanism Aureli describes is well overdue. His is a rather damning indictment of the current preoccupation with infrastructure.

If there is a complaint to level against Aureli’s book, it might be that its chapters contain precious little relief. No matter how thrilling the content, a nonfiction book becomes difficult to follow when chapters stretch to forty or fifty pages without so much as a subtitle. A few breaks would be appreciated. In terms of content, however, Aureli has added a compelling new chapter to the ongoing and neverending debate over architectural autonomy. Rather than retreating into form to sidestep politics, Aureli here outlines a powerful model for doing both. A sharpened focus on form, he argues, can produce sharpened political effects. We would do well to heed his advice.

The MIT Press (Writing Architecture Series), 2011


Book Review: Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo

In a brilliant contrivance, Nicolas de Monchaux adopts the structure of the Apollo spacesuit A7L for his first book, resulting in 21 overlapping – and at times redundant – chapters. Each deals with a different aspect of the A7L story, from its competition with harder alternatives to its production by foundation garment manufacturer Playtex. Among the outliers of these 21 “layers” are a section on the fragile image consciousness of JFK and an extensive history of upper atmosphere exploration from the Montgolfier ascensions to the U2 spy plane.

In the end, the positivism of systems thinking is at stake here. Central to this history for de Monchaux is The New Look epitomized by the post-war collections of Christian Dior. The powerful concept of “new looks” led to the adoption of systems thinking in numerous disciplines in post-war America, all hoping for a return to first principles. As a whole, this book records the victory by redundancy and adaptation over systems engineering in the Apollo spacesuit. For de Monchaux, the A7L epitomizes an alternative to “hard” design engineering: instead of reinventing the wheel, it layered and adapted preexisting materials and techniques to the requirements of an inhospitable place, literally fashioning an environment for extreme living.

Comprehensively researched, Spacesuit remixes traditional visual culture (photographs, paintings, drawings) and the kind of primary documents that architecture historians rarely have the prerogative to access (memoranda, technical manuals, interviews). de Monchaux’s background in architecture provides him with an intriguing lens, yielding cognitive leaps an engineer might be less likely to undertake.

In addition, the A7L provides a productive analogy for the making of buildings. It places the astronaut in an intimate architectural embrace, enabling them to explore an inhospitable environment. Like architecture – and unlike the systems thinking of the military-industrial complex so central to the history of Apollo – the A7L adapts existing materials and techniques to new contexts, meeting systems thinking at a fruitful middle ground. The book itself is one such adapted solution and a compelling object, clad in a black latex dust jacket that provides a tactile reference to one or more layers of the A7L. The future of architecture will be full of such compromise as a discipline based on obsolete production techniques adapts to changing expectations. But all-encompassing systems thinking, de Monchaux argues, fails to account for or enable the robustness of natural eco- and biological systems. It is to such robust systems that future buildings will need to adapt.

de Monchaux has made an ambitious attempt at rethinking the way we write histories of technology, raising a number of intriguing questions about the future of both design and applied science. I wholeheartedly recommend this book for designers, engineers and history buffs alike.

The MIT Press, 2011


Handicapping the Pritzker Prize, 2011 Edition

 

The Pritzker Prize Laureate for 2011 will be announced in April, and here is my list of favorites. I missed my chance to do this last year, but given that the last two laureates were on my 2009 shortlist (Peter Zumthor [12:1] and Kazuyo Sejima [10:1]) I decided it would be fun to try again this year. I think it will be among these ten architects, unless the jury goes weird, like they did in 2006 with Paolo Mendes da Rocha. You just never know.

 

5:1 – Liz Diller (American, b. Poland, 1954) and Ricardo Scofidio (American, b. 1935) of Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Like 2010 laureates Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, DS+R are nearly ubiquitous at the moment. They have recently been awarded several major commissions, including the Broad Art Museum in Los Angeles, a temporary events bubble for the Hirschhorn Museum (designed by Pritzker Laureate Gordon Bunshaft) on the National Mall in Washington, and a two-building campus for the Business School of Columbia University. Their work on New York’s High Line, in collaboration with Field Operations, is rapidly becoming a landmark, and their surgical reconfigurations of Lincoln Center have been extremely successful and critically acclaimed. I think this might be their year.

 

7:1 – Steven Holl (American, b. 1947)

Just give it to him already… He’s finished several enormous projects in China in the past two years, and they’ve all been well received. Plus, he finally built the Knut Hamsum Center in Norway after fifteen years on the drawing board. No one is more deserving in my book, but maybe there’s something I just don’t know.

 

10:1 – David Chipperfield (British, b. 1953)

Chipperfield has recently completed two major European projects: the Barcelona City of Justice, and several renovations and additions to Museum Island in Berlin (which seems neverending). Every time I turn around he’s building another museum, and in the next couple years he’ll finish one each in Saint Louis, in Norway, and in Zurich to name a few. The jury might swing his way this year.

 

 

15:1 – Toyo Ito (Japanese, b. 1941)

Ito’s work has remained consistently elegant through many decades of change. While recent projects have become less and less conventional both structurally and organizationally, there has been little change in quality; see in particular his Tama Art University Library and the “White O” House in Chile. If his project for UC Berkeley would have gone through as planned (a revised commission was given to DS+R last summer), he’d be a shoo in.

 

15:1 — Wolf Prix (Austrian, b. 1946) of Coop Himmelb(l)au

Coop have a few major projects under construction across Asia and Europe. Look for Wolf’s chances to significantly increase in the years to come.

 

20:1 – Ben Van Berkel (Dutch, b. 1957) of UN Studio

UN Studio seems to have lost a little steam lately. It may be the economy, or that they have a lot on the way. I’m skeptical Van Berkel will be the choice this year, but given the overwhelming success of the Mercedes Benz Museum a couple years back, don’t count him out entirely.

 

20:1Kengo Kuma (Japanese, b. 1954)

He might have a stronger chance if he stopped going around saying he wants to “erase architecture,” but Kuma’s international profile has increased after winning the commission for the Victoria & Albert branch in Dundee, Scotland. His inventive use of materials and adaptability to local contexts are a welcome alternative to most of the globetrotting practices with whom he competes.

 

30:1 – Daniel Libeskind (Polish/American, b. 1946)

Libeskind seems to have become the go-to architect for luxury shopping malls in recent years, and his two most recent institutional commissions (the Denver Art Museum and Royal Ontario Museum addition) were both cooly received by press and public alike. I highly doubt the likelihood of his selection.

 

30:1 – Peter Eisenman (American, b. 1932)

I doubt they’re going to give the award to a 79 year old American iconoclast that hasn’t completed any projects lately. Not many people are enthusiastic about his City of Culture in Spain, and there doesn’t seem to be much else on the drawing board. The jury leans toward architects on the rise, and Peter is on the wane.


Book Review: The Alphabet and the Algorithm

The author is dead. Long live the algorithm.

So says The Alphabet and the Algorithm, Mario Carpo’s addition to the “Writing Architecture” series (edited by Cynthia Davidson of Anyone), recently published by The MIT Press. Carpo is known for crosswise cuts to the history of architecture, and here he aims to reframe our still-nascent transition toward a digital architecture. The new frame is based on what he terms the paradigm of identicality. Carpo posits that the transition to digital production media is one from production of identical copies to mass customization and participation. Digital technology, Carpo argues, can and must change both the subject and object of architectural design; no longer will the designer have total authorial control, and no longer must the object be singular and specific. For Carpo, the choice for architects and designers is between powerlessness and control. They must choose between the production of what he calls “objectiles” (a term he lifts from Gilles Deleuze via Bernard Cache) and objects themselves. Objectiles – algorithmic constructs from which infinite variations originate – are the only future for authorial control.

Early chapters deal with Leon Battista Alberti – inaugurator of the paradigm of identicality – and his many representational innovations. Alberti, Carpo argues, was constantly struggling for control of his products, something nearly impossible in an age of artisanal production. He gradually evolved a system of orthogonal projection – plan, section, elevation – to enable a one-to-one relationship between design and product: identicality. We still operate under this set of assumptions today, but their days are numbered.

After Alberti, Carpo rapidly shifts toward the present, lingering in particular on that transformative digital decade, the Nineties. Carpo effectively synthesizes an unruly net of conceptual threads (Deleuze and the fold, Calculus, the Baroque, the Blob) into an engaging but misleadingly linear narrative of the recent past. His analysis raises many questions (not the least of which are the veracity of his prognostications) but provides a beginners guide to the onset of digital representation and production. As an attempt at writing history in progress, this book succeeds because of its clarity.

Students should be aware of the changes afoot in the field they are entering, and therefore this book would make appropriate reading material for BIM and information technology courses. It is vitally important that those learning current platforms understand where they have come from and where they are going.

Carpo argues convincingly that designers need to engage in the production of tools. The alternative, says Carpo, is confinement to a prison house of software, forever limited by the capacities of our mechanisms. Perhaps that’s not so different from the past …

The MIT Press (Writing Architecture Series), 2011