Tag Archives: architecture

From the Archives #1: The Practice of Walking (March 2004)

In the spirit of reflection that often accompanies the turn to the new year, I’ve decided to cannibalize my blog and repost several writings — one from each year beginning in 2004. I created my first website with a blog just as I was finishing my graduate thesis in the fall of 2002. The first writing I’ve selected, titled “The Practice of Walking”, was posted on March 9, 2004, and was written while I was living in Champaign-Urbana, IL. At the time, my partner was a graduate student in the MFA program at UIUC, and I was absorbing a lot of conversation there regarding critical spatial practice while also still processing the consequences of my graduate school experience.

First, from “Reimagining Walking: Four Practices” by Ben Jacks (in February’s Journal of Architectural Education):

In the face of modern alienation and postmodern absence, walking is a subversive act that enables us to contemplate bodily connections within the built environment. Walking restores a sense of connection; the act of walking penetrates the supremacy of abstraction and theory…

I was thinking vaguely about this notion of walking and connection today as I walked through town, especially when my feet landed on earth, rather than concrete or asphalt. The give of the moist turf accepted my step, acknowledged my body ever so subtly. My weight impressed the earth and then maybe the earth pushed back just a bit, springing my stride forward. Forward towards an old hospital that is just beginning to be demolished; the building is encircled by a makeshift chain-link fence. I walked around the edge in order to get a closer look at the preliminary demo work: underground utility lines marked with tiny color-coded flags and spray paint dashes, a smashed-in brick portico, felled trees, muddy tire-track scars in the surrounding yards. I walk around the building looking for signs of its impending demise, anxious. As I walk, my steps navigated the indeterminate space between the gutter and the curb and fence, but my eyes are drawn away and up, sharply scanning the hospital.

A few blocks away, I’m walking past an empty lot. A house was recently demolished here, leaving a gently convexed plot of deep umber earth. At each end of the lot is a “no trespassing” sign posted by the city. The tire tracks of some great bulldozer regulate the bare earth in the lot, a familiar pattern maybe, but remarkable here in its pervasiveness and severity. Actually, I came to this lot before walking towards the hospital. I had stopped to investigate the vacant lot and then caught sight of the hospital in the distance, remembering that it was soon to be destroyed. One void leads to another.

Some other factors, too, in the practice of walking: duration, slowness, perspective, horizon, itinerary, rhythm, start/stop, path, invention/submission, story. Others. In the aforementioned essay, Jacks explicitly discusses “sighting, measuring, reading, merging.”

Why the practice of walking? (Why the practice of everyday life, for that matter?) To deem some action(s) a practice is to draw a frame around it, to call attention to it as a deliberate subset of being/experiencing, to begin an inquiry into the thing and its history, to consider it as a tactic rather than mere happenstance.

Also rereading Hillary’s thesis. “Participatory consciousness” is on my mind and it relates to the practice of walking, that special connection to the world which it occasions. Participatory consciousness is the pre-Scientific Revolution worldview; it is being-in-the-world; it is the lack of distinction between subject and object, between fact and value. Modern scientific thought, then, finds us humans separate from the world so that we may quantify it—how as opposed to why. It seems to me that we’ve passed into a heightened or superior stage of this kind of disenchanted consciousness (dis-consciousness), but I can’t quite name it yet. Maybe it has something to do with material consumption and ubiquitous technology and mediated experience. Distance squared. Disconnection from disconnection. This is just a sense I have. So I go out and I practice walking.

Chapel of Industry

Chapel of Industry, photographed at the Max Levy Autograph building in Germantown. This now vacant building is one of the sites being addressed in the Gray Area project, which will use three Philadelphia “buildings as laboratories to push the boundaries of preservation, examining their history and roles in the neighborhoods that surround them.”

In praise of the tall office building

So, this is actually the Stephen Girard Building, located on 21 South 12th Street, and it, of course, carries the namesake of one of the most prominent and wealthiest Philadelphians — or Americans, really — of the past few hundred years. Strange, but I swear I never noticed this building until the day I snapped this photo, and I’ve walking this block thousands of times in the last twenty years. Look up once in a while and see the city! Clearly an impressive structure, it does however live in the shadows of the International Style behemoth across the street, the PSFS Building.

Learn more about the building and be very entertained by this bit of Philly architecture bloggin’ at Philaphillia:

It all begins with Stephen Girard. He was the great-grandpappy of super rich motherfuckers in the early 19th Century. He was literally the Bill Gates of his time, the richest man in America. Luckily for us, Girard was also a huge Philaphile. He loved the city and ended up giving over almost his entire fortune when he died to a trust dedicated to the betterment of Philadelphia and its citizens.

Philly love.

From the Archives: The Auto-Extraction Project

“Remember that project you did in grad school about the super slow mobile architecture that traveled around the earth?” Meredith asked me recently.

After some digging, I found the very much out-dated web documentation in my archives and thought it was interesting enough (for me, anyway) to put back online. In 2001 I was a graduate student at University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture. One of the many courses I took outside the architecture school was a studio taught by Samantha Krukowski in the now defunct Convergent Media program. I ended up spending quite a bit of time in Convergent Media because 1) they were doing really interesting and cutting edge projects with digital tools, 2) the tools weren’t an end in themselves but a link in a creative process chain that stressed media translation between the analog and digital, and 3) the students and faculty there were in many ways much more sympathetic to my own artistic sensibility than the architects.

The Auto-Extraction Project gave me an opportunity to go deeper with some of the theoretical architecture research I was discovering through a speculative investigation of a hypothetical mobile architecture. As the explanatory text explains:

The Auto-Extraction Project is conceived of as a mobile architecture of restriction whereby the individual participant physically removes his/herself from mainstream culture/society by embarking on a hyper-slow journey around the earth. The structure of this mobile architecture consists of a compact, individual habitational cell equipped with austere sleeping, bathing, and cooking accommodations. Suspended from a high mono-rail-like track, the cell hovers above the ground a mere 9 – 12 inches (variably) and travels at a constant rate of approximately 10 feet per hour in perpetuity; the route which the track follows is remote and rugged, rarely passing through regions of significant human inhabitation.

There’s a good deal more documentation of the project here.