Category Archives: CITIES

spatial poetics: Colour (Oliver Schwarzwald)

The rest of Oliver Schwarzwald’s photography is both technically more accomplished and artistically more interesting (Schwarzwald works for a number of German weeklies, producing the excellent photography that makes German people buy print media with a persistence that flies in the face of the entire third industrial revolution); but this series is a little bit special because it feels bizarrely raw. It has the same atmosphere of resolute melancholy decadence like the works of Tim Walker, but without any figuration whatsoever. Just pure set; or, rather, the props. Like an image á clef; a secret coded thing for those who already share the associations, who do not need much more than an allusion to know what’s being mentioned here.

The first image, in particular, sang to me. I could explain, about the mist, about the ping-pong table in the park, about the muted colours of the early morning and the rainbow colours of the flimsy paper decoration; and even the feeling of sleepy, relaxed exuberance that I associate with such images. But that would be breaking the code, giving words to a silence that is precious, like something rare. There are these colours, that one sees in Germany, pale and gentle even in mid-summer, and there is no stillness like the early-morning stillness of a large German city.

The entire series (and the rest of his amazing work) can be viewed chez Oliver Schwarzwald.

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Why we’re not done talking about diversity.

We’re not a multicultural society. We’re a mono-cultured multi-racial society. There’s a big difference.

Ming-Zhu Hii, in Why we’re not done talking about diversity..

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Krleža

To je ta Evropa, o kojoj piše malograđanski štampa da je velegradska i zapadnjačka, zagrebačka Evropa. Međutim, sve to samo je esplanadska kulisa. Dođite, molim vas, sa mnom prijeko na drugu stranu kolodvora, iza Podvožnjaka, ni dvjesto metara od gradskog centra, slika je zakulisno kobna, kao što je sve fatalno što je zakulisno: trnjanske petrolejke, blato do gležnja, prizemnice s trulim tarabama, seoske bašte (krastavci, tikve, ribiz i grah), kudravi psi bez marke, krave na melankoličnom povratku iz Vrbika, u predvečerje, selendra bez građevinskog reda, bez plana, sve gnjile kolibe s vlažnom horizontalom vodene razine od posljednje katastrofalne poplave koja se tu javlja s matematskom neizbježnošću: sezonski pravilno dvaput, svakog proljeća i svake jeseni, već kako padaju kiše oko Rjavine i Mezaklje na Feldesu. Patke po barama, otvorene toalete, malarija, tifus i sedam hiljada drugih bolesti, kao sudbina felaha u nilskoj Delti, sve sivo, sve bolesno, sve beznadno, sve antipatično, sve balkanska tužna provincija, gdje ljudi stanuju na smeću, gdje ljudi krepavaju kao pacovi, gdje slabokrvna djeca crkavaju od gladi i gdje se uopće krevapa više nego živi u ljudskom smislu […]

Skretati pozornost na prosjačku, zakulisnu bijedu nekih dekorativnih laži nije nikakvo naročito otkriće, ali kad se te dekorativne laži uzdižu na žrtvenik jednog samozaljubljenog idolopoklonstva, koje iz dana u dan sve više gubi najminimalniji smisao za procjenu istinitih vrijednosti, onda nam upravo ljubav za bijedu i neimaštinu naše stvarnosti nalaže da istini pogledamo u oči smionim i otvorenim pogledom.

Stefan Treskanica, Ukrudbene povjesnice, Zarez, XIV/346, p.25

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spatial poetics: Graffiti Featurism

The extent to which graffiti is not an aesthetic, but a mode of cultural production (with its own materiality, process, social embeddedness, but also ethos, and an ethics), a whole and living thing, is exactly the extent to which this building is pathetic and vulgar kitsch.

Robin Boyd defined featurism as the subordination of the essential whole and the accentuation of selected separate features, so that something always looks like a bouquet of lots of somethings. Boyd considered it the most representative characteristic of the national aesthetic of Australia, particularly of its ugliness, and I wholeheartedly agree. Once you have trained your eye, you can see featurism leave its mark on everything: from our plays (a little bit of comedy, a little bit of drama), to our policies (always treading the middle ground between USA and Denmark, as one of my students once remarked, approvingly). For Boyd, featurism is a symptom of Australia’s “unwillingness to be committed on the level of ideas. In all the arts of living, in the shaping of all her artefacts, as in politics, Australia shuffles about vigorously in the middle – as she estimates the middle – of the road, picking up disconnected ideas wherever she finds them.

More clarifications on the building below (please note that the ‘walls of the apartments are inscribed with these letters and other hip hop iconography’):

The Hive Apartment was designed by architect Zvi Belling of ITN Architects.This site was specifically selected for a graffiti/architecture project. The ideas in the building have been refined over time by the designer in prior competitions, publications and collaborations with street artists. The architect developed the project with his neighbour (aka Prowla), a respected old school Melbourne graffiti ‘writer’ who contributed the design of the graffiti letters. The external precast concrete walls of the apartments are inscribed with these letters and other hip hop iconography.

The graffiti relief panel spells HIVE written in ‘wild style’ with some initiation into the cultural codification of letters being required to decipher the words. These external geometries directly determine the interiors and have been extruded into living spaces in bulkheads and wall shapes. There are inherent tensions in the building where graffiti complete with spray drip effect has been created without any paint and an anti-establishment art form has been situated in an exclusive inner city residential suburb. These tensions are resolving over time as respect for the building spreads within the graffiti community and the local residents begin to claim ownership of their new street art. The outward presentation of robust public art fortifies the internal spaces into a calm refuge that is adorned with street art frames and canvasses. The notion of hive as home has been extracted from the facade and reappears through the fitout in various guises.

The concrete relief façade containing shapes such as letters, arrows, swooshes and drips has been slotted into the exposed brickwork shell of an old Carlton tailor shop. It was important for the street art, graffiti in this case, to be essential to the experience of the building inside and out. The 4m high concrete letters are load bearing with the weight of all four stories transferring to the footing through the oversized letter ‘E’ and simultaneously creating a dramatic visual entry to the apartment. Similarly the punctuations in the facades allow interesting views and natural light opportunities within the habitable spaces.

via The Hive Apartment | competitionline – Wettbewerbe und Architektur.

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spatial poetics: Stalin’s Atlantis

‘Oil Rocks City’ near the Caspian Sea. June 22, 1992 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Liaison)

NEFT DASHLARI, AZERBAIJAN – JUNE 1997: Aerial view of the 48-mile giant floating town Neft Dashlari (“Oil Rocks”) on June, 1997 in the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan. Built on stone piles and landfill, the chain of artificial islands was started in the late 1940s and presently has 200 km of streets and up to 5000 industry workers maintaining over 2000 oil wells. Today the workforce amounts to 2,500, half its size in Soviet times. The water is slowly reclaiming the vast island, and only 45 kilometers of roads remain usable. Many of the buildings are flooded. (Photo by Reza/Getty Images)

NEFT DASHLARI, AZERBAIJAN – Large parts of the island resemble the set of an action movie. But oil is still produced here. Experts say the reserves will dry up in 20 years. (Photo by Reza/Getty Images)

NEFT DASHLARI, AZERBAIJAN – JUNE 1997: Soviet-era statues still stand on the 48-mile giant floating town Neft Dashlari (“Oil Rocks”) on June, 1997 in the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan. Statues like this testify to Neft Dashlari’s former status as a model industrial project. (Photo by Reza/Getty Images)

Hotels in Oil Rocks. March 2012. (Photo uncredited.)

Stalin’s Atlantis was a proud secret of the Soviet Union. The foundation of the main settlement consists of seven sunken ships including “Zoroaster,” the world’s first oil tanker, built in Sweden. Eight-story apartment blocks were built for the 5,000 workers who sometimes spent weeks on Neft Dashlari. The island had its own beverage factory, soccer pitch, library, bakery, laundry, 300-seat cinema, bathhouse, vegetable garden and even a tree-lined park for which the soil was brought from the mainland.
(Photo by Reza/Getty Images)

In the 1950s, Soviet engineers built a massive city in the Caspian Sea off the coast of Azerbaijan. It was a network of oil platforms linked by hundreds of kilometers of roads and housing 5,000 workers, with a cinema, a park and apartment blocks. Gradually disintegrating but still closely guarded, this astonishing place inspired a fiery scene in a James Bond movie. The backdrop of the floating city Bond battled his way out of in the 1999 movie “The World Is Not Enough” was built in Britain’s Pinewood Studios — but it was inspired by a very real location that counts as one the world’s most astonishing cities: Neft Dashlari, far out in the Caspian Sea.

This area of Azerbaijan has been famed for its rich oil resources since ancient times. The “liquid fire” with which Constantinople drove the Arab besiegers from its walls in the seventh century consisted largely of oil that bubbled to the surface unaided along the coasts of the Black Sea and the Caspian. The Persians called the area the “Land of Fire,” where priests lit their temples with oil from these natural sources.

The petrochemical industry didn’t take off here until 1870 after Russia conquered the territory. In the years that followed, industrialists like Ludvig Nobel and the Rothschild brothers transformed the capital Baku into an oriental version of the French Mediterranean jewel of Nice. In 1941, Azerbaijan, then part of the Soviet Union, was already supplying 175 million barrels of crude oil a year — 75 percent of the country’s entire oil production. That’s why German forces fought so hard to try to seize the city and the surrounding Absheron Peninsula. (They failed.)

After the war, Soviet engineers took a closer look at a reef that mariners called the “Black Rock.” They built a shed on the tiny island and conducted test drilling. During the night of Nov. 7, 1949, they struck top-quality oil at a depth of 1,100 meters below the seabed and shortly thereafter, the world’s first offshore oil platform was built at the spot, now renamed Neft Dashlari, or “oily rock.” “Platform” is a hopelessly inadequate word for the many-armed monster of steel and timber that gradually spread across the waves of the sea, which is only 20 meters deep on average, over the following years.

The foundation of the main settlement consists of seven sunken ships including “Zoroaster,” the world’s first oil tanker, built in Sweden. In Neft Dashlari’s heyday, some 2,000 drilling platforms were spread in a 30-kilometer circle, joined by a network of bridge viaducts spanning 300 kilometers. Trucks thundered across the bridges and eight-story apartment blocks were built for the 5,000 workers who sometimes spent weeks on Neft Dashlari. The voyage back to the mainland could take anything between six and twelve hours, depending on the type of ship. The island had its own beverage factory, soccer pitch, library, bakery, laundry, 300-seat cinema, bathhouse, vegetable garden and even a tree-lined park for which the soil was brought from the mainland.

Hokhsbat Yusifzadeh, vice president of Socar, the state-owned Azerbaijan oil company, worked on Neft Dashlari in the early days. “We were pioneers in those days, and the oil flowed in huge quantities, he says. He has fond memories of the time. “Don’t forget there were many women on Neft Dashlari, and the evenings were long at sea.”

It was a Stalinist utopia for the working class. A Soviet stamp from 1971 summed up the gigantic hopes it embodied in a tiny image: against the black outline of a drilling rig, a road made of bridges snaked its way across the deep blue sea towards further rigs and a red sun on the horizon.

But there are few things as precarious as a world built on water and oil. The collapse of the Soviet Union ushered in the decline of this floating city as new oilfields were discovered elsewhere and the price of oil began to fluctuate. The workforce has halved to 2,500, and most of the rigs are now out of use or can’t be reached because the bridges leading to them have collapsed. Of the 300 kilometers of roads, only 45 kilometers remain usable, and even they have fallen into disrepair. During a flood a few years ago, many apartments were submerged up to the second story.

A worker on Neft Dashlari still earns some $130 a month, twice as much as someone employed in the same job on the mainland. But the plant hasn’t been operating efficiently for years. Submerged steel constructions pose a threat to shipping, oil leaks abound and equipment is falling apart.

Dismantling Neft Dashlari properly would probably be more expensive than simply keeping it going with a scaled-down oil production. To the government, the place is still the proud, closely-guarded secret it was in Soviet times. It is still very hard for foreigners to gain access to the city, which isn’t even shown on Google Maps.

There were plans to refurbish Neft Dashlari and even to transform it into a tropical luxury holiday resort, but nothing has come of them. Today, it accounts for only a fraction of Azerbaijan’s oil production. Experts estimate that the oil deposits underneath the city will only last for another 20 years. In a few decades, rusting steel jutting out of the waves and old seacharts will be all that remain of this gigantic labyrinth in the sea.

via Exploring the Crumbling Soviet Oil Platform City of Neft Dashlari – SPIEGEL ONLINE.

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‘We Are the State’: fighting Putin with urbanism

After dropping out of three different academic programs, [Maxim] Kaz became the Russian poker champion. He is considered a rising star of the non-parliamentary opposition.

His poker career has made him independent. Kaz’s company seeks out talented players, lends them the fees for major tournaments and, in return, collects a share of the prize money. Kaz earns about €250,000 ($320,000) a year, enough to keep his head clear for future political plans.

Kaz gave a much-noticed speech at a major anti-Putin rally, and on March 4, when Putin was elected president for the third time, he captured a seat on the district council of Shchukino, a bastion of Putin’s United Russia Party. The district is home to the Kurchatov Institute, the cradle of the Soviet atom bomb, and the streets still bear the names of Soviet-era generals.

He is currently spending a lot of time attending meetings on kindergarten budgets and building renovations. He is also scrutinizing the activities of administration chief Yeremeyev. Is it corruption when he only obtains the approval of the district council for construction projects after the work has already begun?

Kaz has learned to write petitions and read laws. "We have to understand the system so we can change it," he says. In Shchukino, he pushed for the purchase of park benches so that retirees could sit down and rest. He has the district council meetings videotaped and posts the videos on the Internet.

But Kaz achieved his greatest success last year, when city officials turned sidewalks along Tverskaya Street into parking spaces. He found 50 volunteers who spent a day keeping track of how many drivers benefited from the parking spaces and, conversely, how many pedestrians had to squeeze past the parked cars. The results were so clear that the city quickly imposed a stopping restriction along the street.

It is small victories like these that he talks about in the McDonald’s restaurant on Pushkin Square as he picks French fries from a tray. It’s a new and different way to make life difficult for the Kremlin. In the long run, it could be more of a threat to Putin than any Coordinating Council.

via 'We Are the State': Small Victories – SPIEGEL ONLINE.

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Das Weiße Band

Either I am choosing my friends more and more wisely, or men are just getting better in general, but each year more and more of my male friends are making explicit statements against violence against women.

Thank you so much for that. It is some kind of manifest sign that the ratio of violent men in my life is decreasing. It may seem like an abstract thing to some of you, but, when you’re a woman, it’s often very real.

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But how can you write?

My week in Chefchaouen is full of these snapshots, vivid in colour and deeply etched in my mind. But none is as close to the surface as that moment when I opened my eyes to a group of children, staring at me with total discombobulation. I smiled slowly and the eldest came forward.

“What are you doing?” He asked in French

“I’m writing.”

“Why?”

“Because I want to remember.”

“Why?”

“Because I think your town is beautiful, and I want to capture that beauty so I don’t lose any of it later.”

“But how are you writing?” he asked, more forcefully this time.

“Pardon me?”

“How…” he said gesturing to my notebook impatiently, “HOW?”

Impasse. I wasn’t sure what he was asking me. Was it a permission problem or a question about what I planned to do with those words? I closed the notebook carefully, not wanting to lose the memories I had already jotted down. The children all stared at me, foreheads knotted, until a smaller girl came to the front and plopped down in front of me on the stoop, staring up at my face with wide eyes. She took my pen and mimicked what I was doing, then stopped and stared up at me for approval. I gave her a hug, still concerned that I had somehow offended my impromptu hosts.

“How?” He asked again, more softly.

A man walked by, slowing down when he saw the kids surrounding me and pausing entirely when he caught a glimpse of my baffled state. He spoke with the eldest in Arabic, and then he said what stuck with me ever since:

“Often, the women here cannot write. They think you are in your teens, and they want to know why you, as a woman, can write but many of the women here cannot.”

from Vivid Memories in Chefchaouen, Morocco, by Jodi of Legal Nomads.

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With all the money we need to buy guns…

This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it – that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car selesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.

– Hunter S. Thompson

I was cleaning up my Google Docs, when I found this quote, sitting solitary on an empty page. I no longer know why it was so important to preserve it, however many years ago, and whether it related to some specific US event, or some relationship I felt it had to the aggressive entitlement of Australians to keep comfortable, no matter what harm it did to others. The younger self is another person. Still, it is like getting a message from someone who used to be important to us, even if they no longer are.

kid’s wear magazine, or why Europe is beautiful.

Kid’s Wear magazine.

I was leafing through the magazines and my hairdresser’s, waiting to be called for hair-washing, my first pile of European fashion magazines in six years, when I found this treat. Kid’s wear magazine is one of those things made out of advertising; a good 95% of the magazine was fashion editorial. But between the images of children’s clothes, hidden in the middle, was a spread of perhaps 10 pages about the childhoods of a number of people, a few paragraphs for each person. Elfriede Jelinek, forced into music lessons from a young age, starting at the Conservatory as a very small child, the beginnings of her mental illnesses starting show by puberty. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s father who supported the arts, but not his children. Pina Bausch who, as a child of a bar owner, learned early how to play alone and amuse herself, and who was taken to dance classes by family friends, her own parents being too busy with the bar. Andy Warhol; Thomas Benrhard; Ian Curtis. Margot Tenenbaum.

I used to love magazines, when I was a European teenager, but then all but stop reading them as an adult in Australia, for the relentless shallowness, cruelty, tedious lack of substance.

What makes Europe beautiful is these small surprises, these moments of care, these stabs of realisation that people here think seriously, almost all the time.

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