4/25/2013

Event | Apply: Conflict of Interests

The place of research in architecture is back as recent publications have demonstrated. In the following post on Alejandro Zaera-Polo's book The Sniper's Log, we have seen the importance of research in the discipline that, for those who encourage research, will have a strong impact on architect's practice and — for those who write, — writing.
I encourage those, who have not read it yet, to read this free publication AArchitecture edited by AA School. It is a pdf format. Thus, I suggest the AArchitecture 18 entitled Architecture as Research for a global vision on this question.

This being said, tomorrow, there will be a conversation-based symposium titled Apply: Conflict of Interests whose purpose is to address the place of
applied research in architecture. Nestled in an intersection between practice and theory, applied architectural research can potentially work as a space for overlap and negotiation.
This event will formally make explicit the opportunities for architectural research to bridge the gap between the archive and the laboratory.
Participants will be David Gissen, Thomas Keenan, Janette Kim, Mpho Matsipa, Sarah Whiting, Mabel Wilson, Kazys Varnelis, and Mark Wasiuta. In addition to the preceding list of names, this includes Ernesto Silva, Reinhold Martin, Janette Kim, Emanuel Admassu, Mark Wigley, Carolina Ihle, Lluis Alexandre Casanovas.

This conversation-based symposium will consist of five panels articulated by five questions: What is applied research in architectural pedagogy?; What is applied research in the context of a changing city?; What is applied research in reconstructing the past?; finally Can applied research account for what is outside of systems?

I am personally concerned in this question of research, its place in the discipline, how research is shaping architecture, etc. Research in architecture raises lots of questions… But unfortunately I won't — not to say 'I can't' — attend this symposium. If you are near New York, and tomorrow Friday 26 April at 2:00pm you are free, add this date in your calendar.
The address: 200, Fayerweather 1172 Amsterdam Ave, New York, New York 10027.

Those who, like me, can't attend this symposium but are interested in this question of research, read this issue of AArchitecture #18, as a first step and I will warmly and naturally recommend to read these little publications as instruments for research, from Bracket to San Rocco, to Pidgin, to Thresholds, to New Geographies, to Organs Everywhere (webmagazine with pdf of each issue), to Architectural Design, and you know the list is far from reaching a closure…

Source: suckerPunch and GSAPP

4/22/2013

Book Review | The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation-X, Alejandro Zaera-Polo

First of all this message is addressed to all these 200 readers who love my facebook page as I just reached 200 'likes'. I am very grateful for your support. I will continue to do my best to satisfy you and all those who don't like my page yet as I consider all of you very important for this blog to improve its quality. I confess to write recently less as I do loads of research. Moreover I'm working on related projects that I hope to be online this year or next year.
An important reminder: Be free to take part to my first call for submissions (essays and project) — one of my related projects mentioned above, I am looking forward to reading you. I am sure I have more things to say but here comes the blank again. So once again thank you all, all my readers, for your very kind support.
By the way, I am working on two interviews and I'm considering of including transcriptions of these interviews. I need a better organization for more flexibility.

This being said,

Today's book review is The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation-X, a collection of essays written by architect/theoretician/Professor Alejandro Zaera-Polo, founder of Alejandro Zaera-Polo Architecture, and former director of FOA. This so long expected book is highly recommended from the architect to the historian of architecture (architecture theory included). I enjoyed reading (re-reading as the review below will demonstrate) even though many of these essays were already known as been initially published in magazines. The book is well shaped which makes these essays new again. The Sniper's Log should be inscribed into the long and increasingly rich tradition of architecture theory. A tradition that includes Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas, Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Keller Easterling, Jeremy Till, Stan Allen, Robert E. SomolColin Rowe, Sanford Kwinter… let's the list open.
The Sniper's Log is subsequently a highly-recommended document if you are interested in issues from computation to digital fabrication to globalization. Each reader will get his/her satisfaction with this book.
Now my review, very long as usual. I apologize for its length but I truly and highly enjoyed reading it. The Sniper's Log, as you will see, raises many topics that cannot be summarized in a review. As the book has many points of entry, I decided to focus on topics relative to my current research.

Next will be followed by Bracket, volume 2 [Goes Soft].


Book information
Alejandro Zaera-Polo | The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation-X || Actar Editorial, Barcelona, 2013 (592 pages, $39,95, 34€)

A very long and expected book, theoretical, critical, projective and political in many ways, The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation X, written by Alejandro Zaera-Polo.
Born in Madrid in 1963, co-founder and director of Foreign Office Architects (FOA) with Farshid Moussavi from 1993 to 2011, then founder and director of Alejandro Zaera-Polo Architecture (AZPA), internationally renowned Alejandro Zaera-Polo started as a critic of architecture in the 1980s for "writing has been a parallel activity present throughout my professional life." This information is very helpful to examine his trajectory including his practice, his writing and his academic activities from FOA to his new agency AZPA. He published his first article in 1985 when he "started to indulge in occasional writing engagements for various publications." At this time, he was a student at Harvard Graduate School of Design. He regularly writes for El Croquis, Harvard Design Magazine, Volume, ANY, Quaderns, Log, El Pais, Hunch, A+U, Architectural Design, Verb, 2G, Arch+, AA Files. He also contributes to many books among others Phylogenesis: foa's ark, Foreign Office Architects (Actar Editorial, 2003), The Endless City: The Urban Age Project (Phaidon, 2010), Living in the Endless City: The Urban Age Project (Phaidon, 2011).
The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation-X | Alejandro Zaera-Polo || Actar Editorial, 2013. Front cover


The Sniper's Log assumes some general background knowledge of the intellectual and political history of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, mostly from philosophy, social geography, biology, and politics. As we will see, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari prevail in his intellectual background. This is not surprising as both thinkers' influence prevails in the architectural discourse, at least with this generation born between 1961 and early 1980s, and the following generation — the Millennials. But the intellectual background is not limited to these two names: Manuel DeLanda, Peter Sloterdijk, David Harvey, Henri Lefebvre, Paul Virilio, Sanford Kwinter, R.E. Somol, Greg Lynn, Manuel Castells and Stan Allen. This intellectual indication will guide this review as it plays an important role not only in his work but also in his writing and academic activities as The Sniper's Log shows.
The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation-X | Alejandro Zaera-Polo || Actar Editorial, 2013. Page detail
> Each section is designed with a different color ink from black to violet, a different page layout.

Before, I propose to stop for a short moment to present the architecture of the book, its design. The assemblage of these collected essays is central to the book: "[d]uring the collection and editing of these materials I became aware of the link between various documents and the situations for which they had been constructed." The aim of this agencement (to take a concept, voluntarily in French, from Deleuze and Guattari) is to "perform in specific occasions and under certain circumstances, adressed to multiple and contingent targets." Zaera-Polo opts for a particular methodology that he calls sniper's log (I suggest to watch the conference Towards a Theory of Misbehavior at Storefront for Art and Architecture on April 27, 2012). To understand what is behind the sniper's log, this collection of essays "became a register of actions and their attachments to the world outside a register of events for tactical analysis rather than the construction of a consistent worldview."
The Sniper's Log is organized according to four sections: Global Positioning Systems, Breeding Sciences, Nomad Practices and Material Politics. Most of these texts have been published in numerous publications; these include El Croquis, ANY, Hunch, Log, Volume, Quaderns, Arch+, 2G, or A+U. The first section, Global Positioning Systems (or G.P.S.) discusses the question of location — geographical, temporal, technical, and cultural. It gathers early texts published in El Croquis and AD Monographs to texts written in 2004. Beyond these writings on established architects (let's say starchitects), these essays address various but important topics: emergence of computation and new design protocols, growing number of high-rise buildings, new techniques of manufacturing, globalization, market-driven economy, and so on.
The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation X | Alejandro Zaera-Polo || Actar Editorial, 2013. Page detail
>Texts are set in a background of images in duotone.

I was particularly interested in the three other sections Breeding Sciences, Nomad Practices, and Material Politics since they collect essays that deal with topics corresponding to my current research. A second section explores Alejandro Zaera-Polo's interest in breeding knowledge, practice, and education. A third, then, goes on with the shifting status of the practice of architecture. The reader interested in Zaera-Polo's research on the façade, material organization, patterns, but also high-rise buildings and their impact on the built environment, and representation will appreciate these essays. A four section poses the question of the power/potentials of architecture, its representation within the question of material agency.
The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation-X | Alejandro Zaera-Polo || Actar Editorial, 2013. Page detail

Three topics relative to my own research on the future of the discipline will prevail in this review. One will examine Alejandro Zaera-Polo's relation to theory. A Second will focus on his method or regime of methods he has co-elaborated with his former partner Farshid Moussavi within Foreign Office Architects over two decades before the agency split up, a regime of methods that over years has involved with the interrelationship of practice, theory and education. A third will discuss, briefly, the current status of the discipline with an emphasis on these three axes: theory, education and practice. Three intertwined axes that I think prevail in The Sniper's Log, three axes that confirm the importance of Zaera-Polo as a theoretician, practitioner and educator.
The Sniper's Log is a collected writings that ponders, investigates, surveys the evolution of the architect, his practice and thought over three decades and so. It is a thick and dense book of over 592 pages made of essays, papers for conferences, interviews and conversations that shape an insightful, and magnificent document of a member of the generation-X, a witness of changes, advances and doubt — of the society, the discipline… — at multiple scales.

The Gen-X
Alejandro Zaera-Polo belongs to the Generation-X (Gen-X), a generation between that of the baby-boomers and this generation named Millennials, precisely a generation born between 1961 and early 1980s. A pragmatic generation as we will see further. What differs the Gen-X from the preceding generation is that: 1) while being formalist, the Gen-X's approach to formalism contrasts with that of the preceding generation; 2) the Gen-X, then, "grew up with the idea of being mediated, surging and using forces that are coming from outside." In other words, Zaera-Polo is more interested in "inventing, growing and breeding something new by manipulating with certain parameters that are already known and without necessarily having to produce and entirely new paradigm and new world which would be a more utopian idea." He is a pragmatic and pragmatics supposes productive strategies.
Over three decades, this Gen-X has witnessed a set of complex and interlinked issues — globalization, urban growth, population growth, market-driven economy, awareness of environmental issues (let's say climate change), information-based society, Internet (digital era), technology-driven changes, namely emergence of computation, new design protocols and digital fabrication. In other words, new expertises and toolsets. While being trained in non-computational architecture by professors who were very building-oriented, the first part of this generation — those born between 1961 and 1966 — shares a strong interest in emergent technologies and computation: IwamotoScott, R&Sie(n), Farshid Moussavi, Greg Lynn and naturally Alejandro Zaera-Polo.
The same generation, that, now, is to add new challenges: economic, social, cultural, political shifts, energetic, climatic, and ecological crises, water and natural resource shortage, obsolete infrastructure as well as social networks, fast-emerging technologies, advances in biology and computation. How to visualize, to diagrammatize, to operate these changing contexts? How have these changes affected the discipline, practice, toolsets, and thinking?
First, one will understand at the outset that The Sniper's Log discusses, problematizes critically, often polemically a range of questions that animate the architect's daily practice as well as writing attempting to redefine architectural dicourse, practice and education, architectural contours, representation, to reveal new engagement, and shift of the status of the discipline. A huge and daunting task that the author has been engaging to achieve for now two decades.
The book is published in a very specific period: 1) his first office Foreign Office Architects (FOA) he co-founded in 1993 with Farshid Moussavi split up in 2011; 2) due to a depressed economy, the market collapsed. Personal first, he opened his new agency Alejandro Zaera-Polo Architecture the same year FOA split up. General, then, behind practice, education and writing, one will notice a political, architectural and theoretical charge. In this context, The Sniper's Log has various possible points of entry. As has said above, my entry is focused, on the one hand, on his regime of methods, his theoretical work, his practice, and role in the architectural education, on the other hand on the status of the discipline, the shifting role of the architect.
In what Alejandro Zaera-Polo's architectural practice and discourse lie? What does he appropriate from philosophical corpus and how does he integrate, translate it to form his thought and practice? What is his place in the history of the architecture theory?
The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation-X | Alejandro Zaera-Polo || Actar Editorial, 2013. Page detail

Hermeneutic practice: The architect as theoretician
Perhaps his practice lies precisely in his ability to mediate the tension between the theoretical and the practice. His writing activities have strengthened his creative positions. Still today, Alejandro Zaera-Polo writes. He has been writing for three decades and so. This interest in theory finds its starting point while being student at GSD Harvard, for El Croquis in the 1980s. The theoretical work progressively embeds in his practice. And, FOA is an example of how deep is the linkage of theory and design work developed by both Zaera-Polo and at that time partner Farshid Moussavi.
And there is this debate on the particular, some will say troublesome, relationship between practice and theory. As Stan Allen, who, like Zaera-Polo, has developed an embedded relationship of writing, practice, and education, writes in his book Practice: Architecture, Techniques and Representation (2000): "[t]heory tends to envelope and protect practice, while practice excuses theory from the obligation to engage reality. Design is reduced to the implementation of rules from the obligation to engage reality. Design is reduced to the implementation of rules set down elsewhere. (…) Theory imposes regulated ideological criteria over the undisciplined heterogeneity of the real, while the unstated assumptions of conventional practice enforce known solutions and safe repetitions. In both cases, small differences accumulate, but never add up to make a difference." Allen's opinion on the relationship between theory and practice is similar to that of Zaera-Polo for whom theory is linked with practice:
I have never viewed writing as an instrument for producing a comprehensive doctrine or a definitive truth; rather, I see it as a model for engaging with subjects that have attracted my attention in the course of other practices. I believe we theorize because we need to bring order to the realms we operate within, to hypothesize how reality works, and to create a re-interpretation of facts that may alter reality. Rather than in an internal truth or virtue, theory is ultimately grounded in the contingencies of a certain situation, which often lie outside the practice in question. It may optimize operative protocols, or establish a polemic; what is important is that it does something to the world out there.
In other words, theory occupies a similar role to practice and education for Zaera-Polo. The Sniper's Log states the position of Zaera-Polo towards theory and ponders how the shift from Zaera-Polo as a writer into Zaera-Polo as a practitioner and educator has been operated alongside his projects and writings. I take the risk of positioning Zaera-Polo in regard to practice, theory, and education, as after Stan Allen's "material practice" and "hermeneutic practice":"[o]ne primarily textual, bound up with representation and interpretation: a hermeneutic, or discursive practice; and the other concerned with matter, forces, and material: material practice." If adding education, three practices being embedded within consistency. It seems to me, examining Zaera-Polo's practice calls for the consideration of a threefold but nested angle: theory, education and practice.
This relationship of theory, education and practice has been possible within an active engagement in contributing to independent publications. These independent publications from Quaderns, ANY, Log, Volume, Pamphlet Architecture, but also Pidgin, San Rocco, Praxis gave continued the task, started in the 1960s, to open architecture theory to other disciplines. The relationship between independent publications and architecture should be analyzed with an emphasis on how the one has nurtured the second and vice versa. At least The Sniper's Log provides a clue.
Zaera-Polo belongs to an intellectual lineage that includes Peter Eisenman, Manfredo Tafuri, Denise Scott Brown, Colin Rowe, Robert Venturi, Bernard Tschumi, Anthony Vidler, Rem Koolhaas, Sanford Kwinter, Stan Allen, Felicity D. Scott, Keller Easterling, Jeremy Till, and so on. The list is long. Some are architects and writers; other are only critics.

As has been seen earlier, Zaera-Polo has been influenced by other disciplines, from politics, to semiotics, to philosophy, to biology, to computation. In contrast with the preceding generation —Peter Eisenman, for instance, reads Jacques Derrida, Clement Greenberg, Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Michael Fried, Colin Rowe, Michael K. Hays, Robert Venturi, Manfredo Tafuri, Fredric Jameson, Theodor Ardono —, Zaera-Polo's generation(-X) is a reader of Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Paul Virilio, Michel de Certeau, Gilbert Simondon, Jurgen Habermas, Bruno Latour, Manuel Castells, Toni Negri, Saskia Sassen, Peter Sloterdijk, and so on.
From philosophy, mostly from Deleuze and Guattari, Zaera-Polo has "transcoded" concepts ranging from machinic process, diagrammatic practice, phylum, phylogenetic, surface, system, organization, power, consistency, pragmatic. From computation, he has developed a computation-aided practice started in the 1990s with FOA. He has explored technological and material possibilities, manufacturing culture and techniques, and more recently digital fabrication. FOA, we will see, has been established like a phylogenetic tree. The question to pose is whether or not AZPA will follow the same path. 
Biology associated with computation is a good instrument to examine bleeding edge material technologies, material organizations. From mathematics, he has examined topology and advanced geometries. Associated with biology, he is interested in genetic algorithms. Geometry, we will see, is crucial in his practice, for "geometricizing programs is providing them with particular material performances, without defining a priori the envelope in which they have to perform." Like the preceding generation, semiotics helps Zaera-Polo to connect architecture with the built environment: the way the urban has been shaped, transformed by layers of products — for example, high-rise building (See for this matter the excellent text High-Rise Phylum).
Now let's see how the theoretical has affect his practice.
The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation-X | Alejandro Zaera-Polo || Actar Editorial, 2013. Front Cover

Phylogenetic architecture as paradigm
I was particularly interested in an articulated set of concepts he has used within his projects, the strategic choice that has allowed him to "transcode" these concepts in the discipline. The first concept I would like to present here is Phylum. The first essay that analyzes Phylum is an essay written in 1994 The Material Organization of Advanced Capitalism, published in AD Monographs, in which he borrows a set of concepts from philosophy, mostly from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari to explore the impact of technology-driven changes on the discipline among other topics discussed in this essay. Phylum, a concept that, in biology, is, it is known, one of the seven categories to classify living organism. It describes a set of unformed matters, as posited by Deleuze and Guattari. In a note inside this essay, Zaera-Polo writes that the concept denotes:
the evolution of a material culture, the series of singularities and traces of expression and the processes of transformation associated to a given state of evolution of nonorganic matter. The term inaugurates a purely materialist, nonhumanistic history of technology.
Phylum is an important concept in Zaera-Polo's research. From Deleuze and Guatarri, he interprets the urban space as, I borrow this citation from Manuel Delanda, a machinic phylum "divided into many phyla", that is "the different 'phylogenetic linkages' corresponding to different technologies" (De Landa, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines). Some examples appearing in the book: urban phylum: "[t]o initiate a redescription of the processes of urban production and to propose models of distribution, capturing the orders of the emerging urban phylum, identifying organization and geometries that rule contemporary urbanity in the search for material and formal determinations suitable for the transformation of the urban"; "Each state of the material culture — or phylum — implies specific traits of expression, spatiality, and temporality"; "The unexpressive could well become an appropriate description of the technological and sensorial phylum that nurtures [Jean] Nouvel's work: the assemblage of enunciation for the disorganized spatial and temporal sequences characteristic of the network paradigm." Or, again: The High-Rise Phylum, published in Harvard Design Magazine (Spring/Summer 2007) and in The Endless City (2010), a text that identifies, investigates new technological and innovative tendencies and opportunities in design and construction, the ecology of high-rise profiles and advocates the paradox posed by the relation between the 'semi-automatic' mode of planning of high-rise buildings and the slowing economies of the 21st century. Phylum as well as the related concept of phylogenetic are employed to generate a research that examines the behavioral organization and the interconnection of each component that constitutes a building, its components, the building and its site, the building and the build environment.
Phylogenesis, as convincingly described by Sandra Knapp (See Phylogenesis and the Tree of Life, in Phylogenesis: foa's ark) puts forward hypotheses about the relationships of living things in the form of a diagram — the phylogenetic tree. Used by FOA, it has allowed the agency to formulate hypotheses that, then, as we know it, led to numerous projects. But not only. As has been said, it has permitted the agency to examine the interrelationships between building components, buildings and their surrounding, human and buildings, and so on. In this respect, the concept of phylogenetic has served FOA in various projects and research over a decade (1993-2003). In Phylogenesis: foa's ark, Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Farshid Moussavi write: "[o]ur objective (…) has been the development of generic strategies that will activate the relationship between the local topography and infrastructure, with the requirements of this kind of infrastructure as a generator of the project." And: "[t]hese links are of topographical nature, but they also relate to rainwater management, continuity of ecosystems, underground water levels, and other existing systems that are usually interrupted by the introduction of heavy infrastructural elements." Such as a rhizome. The function of the phylogenetic tree allows identification, analysis, and developments of traits, features or species — components, geometry, envelope, — in each projects. In this context, these concepts of phylum and phylogenetic have functioned as instruments of representation and operation within FOA's works. They have diagrammatized FOA's approach to building. As both architects advocated: "[p]rojects are not something designed, but a breed of particular species." (see Phylogenesis: foa's ark). The Sniper's Log contains one of texts published in Phylogenesis: foa's ark, precisely that of written by Zaera-Polo entitled Phylogenesis: FOA's Species, in which he establishes the structure, context and function of FOA as a laboratory, and the importance of the concept of phylogenetic in constituting a research over a long period. In short, as Sandra Knapp argued, phylogenesis is "only a hypothesis, it is not static or fixed, nor it is linear".
But this can be possible with consistency, another but important concept frequently used in The Sniper's Log either to discuss his practice or on a broader level the discipline of architecture. Again, this concept is taken from Deleuze and Guattari. Consistency or consistence (in French), as both thinkers have written, defines a characteristic of intensive territorial assemblages, or a grid that describes the ability to protect the heterogeneity of components of these assemblages, then, generate new assemblages, and finally expand their affect. Zaera-Polo understands the concept in "its most general sense" as he said to Peter Macapia in the The Material Grain of Geometry: A Conversation with Alejandro Zaera-Polo:
I believe that to devise arguments of consistency has become critical contemporary question, on a political, social, and cultural level. This is a paradigmatic problem of our time, between cultures, geographies, populations… A similar problem appears in space between a whole and a singularity, not only in terms of performance but also in terms of physical organization. And geometry plays a primary role in establishing consistency across spatial domains at every scale. I would claim that geometry is related to the specific and to the solution of specific questions, but always as an argument of consistency with larger domains.
Another meaning of consistency articulated by Deleuze and Guattari concerns not only complex forms — hence the important role of geometric form (advanced geometry, genetic algorithms, topology) — but also the most elementary cell or particle. See the unpublished but surprisingly text Abstract Matters on contemporary music, Zaera-Polo wrote in 1999, a text that examines the concepts of consistency, indetermination and diagrammatism taking from the musical work of John Cage and Pierre Boulez as example. He concludes with: 
Composition is for [Pierre] Boulez fundamentally a process of construction and internal consistency, and despite his-multi-disciplinary texts, his work is always concerned with problems of strictly disciplinary nature.
The purpose is to "identify the consistency of the practice, to construct a kind of fingerprint, or DNA, of FOA's practice." And more broadly, of architecture. A seek for consistency that also be applied to architectural education:
The difference between this model and a master class is that the consistency that establishes the framework is based on an area of research and an objective, not on the reproduction of a master's style or procedure.
Geometry, now. For a project titled The Crib Sheets Publication,  Sylvia Lavin has chosen a selection of terms: diagram, geometry, practice, and process. Geometry, for Zaera-Polo, in a Deleuzian way, is "the most promising contemporary domain of architectural theory and the most operative region of contemporary architectural practice." More precisely, geometry (see The Material grain of geometry),
is a device that enables us to construct the project, construct the form, to generate the form. And I think this is in some ways similar between the two phases, and the idea, for example, of using a single geometry to generate consistency across the project also continues between the competition stage and the construction stage.
Geometry versus composition:
for me the idea of geometry has always been the same, the vigorous constraints that geometry gives you: I like the feeling that you cannot move a lot. Composition, for example, doesn't allow for similar forms of research.
Here comes topology. In contrast with geometric space, topological space, he wrote on Jean Nouvel in an essay titled Jean Nouvel: Intensifying the Real: "has the advantage of being able to solve one of the fundamental problems of contemporary experience: incommensurability." Topology is "geometry without scale or measure and, therefore, it is a useful tool for designing structures requiring a high degree of flexibility."
Thus, his interest in material system leads him to investigate the question of patterns. As he states: "our work is very much based on patterns." As it is argued, patterns have been the core element to FOA as it is to AZPA. The Sniper's Log contains a certain number of texts that deal directly and/or indirectly with material organization and patterns such as Patterns, Fabrics, Prototypes, Tessellations, Generative Processes and New Material Agencies and Processes, Materials, Prototypes. In Processes, Material, Prototypes, he writes: "[i]t is therefore a more interesting aim within this practice to produce consistency in the process of construction and material organization rather than in the plastic effects." Once again, he has transposed the Deleuzian theory, in particular Differentiation and Repetition into his research on patterns: "[o]ne of the qualities of material is repetition; every material has a certain structure that repeats in space. And also differentiates. It's kind of a play between that repetitive and the way it differentiates through space and maybe through time." As he has translated Henri Lefebvre's Rhythmanalysis to investigate relations and rhythms of patterns within a consistently computational language. Thus, this interest in patterns, Zaera-Polo states:
is likely to be an effect of the cultural necessity to embody complexity through consistency rather than through contradiction (Venturi's legacy), this tendency has been reinforced by the availability of new technologies that enable architectural practices — for example, Foreign Office Architects (FOA), Greg Lynn Form, Reiser + Umemoto, OMA, Herzog & de Meuron, and UNStudio — to develop increasingly sophisticated patterns on different scales of operation.
What I find interesting in this text — and in most of the texts of The Sniper's Log — is his approach to the question of patterns, but also of materials, as intertwined with the political: 
Linking directly quantitative analysis with a graphic output, and the consistency and exactness that calculating engines introduce in this process, has enabled new practices to address some of the crucial problems posed by globalization: namely, the dichotomy between tabula rasa and contextualism, and the articulation between local and global.
Or:
Beyond the solution to environmental concerns, there are questions of representation that the patterns of the envelope need to address now. One such challenge is the production of identities for an increasingly inconsistent and mobile community, while insulating and immunizing its population against the abrasive global atmosphere. Another is the representation of the emerging heterarchical orders that increasingly construct their power by both producing and using diversity, while simultaneously trying to produce consistency.
Moments like these quoted above are many that reflect a political charge of The Sniper's Log. Then the impact of the technological changes: "These new technologies have expanded the limits of urban context to include other dimensions of space and time." Or:
Having virtually disappeared from the technical arsenal of truly interesting architecture for two decades, the geometrical structure of the project — tracé regulateur — has regained relevance and become a commonplace of architectural experimentation. If the presence of a regulating mesh in the structuralist approach seemed to throw into question the system's capacity for integration and flexibility, the new possibilities of operating directly in a vectorial space enable us to retain internal and external consistencies without resorting to a rigid grid or reference system.
As important as consistency is diagram. Diagrammatic practice is a key methodology and theoretical concept to Zaera-Polo. You cannot understand his research on patterns, material systems without coming back over the diagram. The essay Mediating Between Ideas and Matters: Icons, Indexes, Diagrams, Drawings, and Graphs is inscribed into a theoretical tradition, which addresses this concept of diagram, from Peter Eisenman to Sanford Kwinter. This essay, such as all the essays that deal directly or indirectly with diagram, has very much to share with Sanford Kwinter, Manuel DeLanda, and Stan Allen. Influenced by Deleuze and Guattari, pragmatic Zaera-Polo envisions diagram not as a "representational system," but as a "logic of sensation," or as "a field of intensities." Or again:
One of the great potentials of diagrams, statistics, notations, and all the tools of abstraction that come together with informational technology is that they allow us to produce alienation within reality, without having to resort to a discourse external to the discipline. 
There is no question here of entering deeply into the analysis of FOA's, then AZPA's approach to diagrams. Rather, what is interesting is the theoretical use of diagrams, the way, as Kwinter, DeLanda and Allen did before him or at the same moment, he discusses diagram as an operative device to "synthesize new materials and develop the project as a process of material transformation." A definition similar to that of Deleuze and Guattari: "The diagrammatic or abstract machine does not function to represent, even something real, but rather constructs a real that is yet to come, a new type of reality. Thus when it constitutes points of creation or potentiality it does not stand outside history but is instead always 'prior to' history.To the text I cited above, Mediating Between Ideas and Material Agency, I will add Processes, Materials, Prototypes…, in fact a paper presented at The Good, Bad, and the Beautiful in the framework of the Symposium at UCLA, Los Angeles, in 2002, in which he defines diagrams as "the instrument that permits us to construct new, composite material agencies." I deeply recommend to read — or re-read — Eisenman, Kwinter, Allen, DeLanda, and Somol's texts on diagram to situate Zaera-Polo's thought.
The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation X | Alejandro Zaera-Polo || Actar Editorial, 2013. Page detail

Material practice: Architect as pragmatic
As has been repeated, Alejandro Zaera-Polo is a pragmatic who envisions practice and theory as productive and consistent, and who conceives architectural education as research-based. In addition, he is part  of the Gen-X who, at least for many, is "more interested in pragmatics". A pragmatic whose interest is in
making of a building, running a project, running an office. (…) [W]e are generally much more realistic and mediatory generation. We are deliberate and more aware of the real possibilities and open to explore more potential in technology.
he says to Vladimir Belogolovski.
This brings us back again to the concept of consistency. Consistency is one of the core elements of his practice and thinking. For him: "[t]he most interesting debate on architectural theory today is (…), about how a new pragmatic approach may become the most productive in generating alternative forms of practice." (See Methodological Proposal) and: "[i]n our practice, our main concern is to produce consistency in the process of construction and material organization rather than in its plastic effects." In this context, based on this notion of consistency, with the aim of a regime of methods implemented as a phylogenetic tree, he defines practice as productive, operative and pragmatic, as a processus (in French): "[w]e have tried to put the emphasis of our practice on the architectural construct, on the materiality of the project, and on its organizational qualities." Thus: "[g]eometry, construction, organization, materiality, technique, and pragmatics have become an alternative to a temporary suspension of the exclusivity of cultural analysis." Let's move back to Sylvia Lavins AZP Crib Sheets Glossary. Architecture for Zaera-Polo is no more than the engineering of material life. Practice as autonomy: "[a]utonomy implies the capacity of a practice to develop such a level of consistency on an abstract level as to extend its potential effects beyond its mere efficiencies and into a regime of excess." Process as paradigm:
Processes are far more interesting than ideas, which are linked to existing codes, operating critically or in alignment with other, preexisting systems of ideas. Rather than turning a project into the implementation of an idea or the scaffolding for an image, I am interested in construction differing engineering-based processes.
More precisely: "[w]e can synthesize the historical processes in a kind of accelerated motion, integrally adding information to the assemblage." 

I will conclude with three important points: the research-based agency, a methodology illustrated with the concept of phylogenetic tree; the architect as educator. These two points highlight the shifting role of the architect as it has been stated in increasingly essays and books like Rory Hyde's Future Practice.
The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation-X | Alejandro Zaera-Polo || Actar Editorial, 2013. Back cover

The Agency as a laboratory
Let's reconsider the concept of phylogenetic. The phylogenetic research has put the function of architecture firm, and more broadly the role of the architect and the practice of architecture in a position similar to the laboratory:
As an organization grown out of the speculative and academic milieu, FOA spent its first ten years in the development of a technical arsenal for the implementation of a certain approach to the practice of architecture. This approach, and its instruments, has been explored through a series competitions, speculative commissions, and, as of 2002, some very real projects, some of them completed, as of the time of this revisitation, while others are still under construction.
He envisions practice as a "consistent reservoir of architectural species to be proliferated, mutated, and evolved in the years to come: a genetic pool." 
Issues of globalization, market-driven economy, urbanization, sprawl, or growing awareness of global change and its consequences are treated with an architectural scope in The Sniper's Log. These new challenges require a more flexible approach that only a research-based practice can address:
[a] laboratory is not constituted by a closed series of techniques or an infinitely open series of possible individual positions, but by an infinitely open field of technical and theoretical positions with a specific purpose.
Further:
The objective of a laboratory is to produce a solution for a problem; any technique or position is legitimate as long as it serves to achieve the purpose that is targeted.
It seems to me that the nested condition of theory, education and practice, or hermeneutic practice and material practice, as it is forthrightly established in The Sniper's Log, is the result of a research-oriented practice that has long attempted to gather all the instruments available to architecture to problem-solve internal and external issues from the building, to the societal, or from the discipline of architecture to the political. See for instance the Politics of the Envelope or Localizing Networks: Physical Terminal for Web 2.0 Engines as example.
The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation-X | Alejandro Zaera-Polo || Actar Editorial, 2013. Back cover

The Architect as Educator
In an interview for The Architect's Newspaper, Alejandro Zaera-Polo states that his "career has been linked to education or academic practice." Since two decades and so, he has been teaching in prestigious schools of architecture from Berlage Institute to Princeton School of Architecture. This academic experience has led him to interrogate in depth architectural education. Thus, providing new toolsets to the next generation of practitioners requires a new form of school, a new approach to teaching, new design protocols, and better understanding of new challenges. Two interesting texts and a conversation (with Roemer van Toorn) put a light on his position towards architectural education. One example is Methodological Proposition for the Staedelschule, an unpublished paper written in 2001. In this paper, he defines his vision of the 21st century architectural school which requires adapted design tools and new teaching methods for the future practitioners:
The approach to architectural education that I will try to implement for Steadelschule Frankfurt, is an intermediate to the polytechnic model that predominates in Continental Europe and Asia and the liberal-arts model that characterizes the Anglo-American schools. This new model would attempt to articulate the relationships between education and research and theory and practice into a more operative assemblage.
In addition to the necessity for new toolsets and consequently a new methodology, architectural education also faces a crisis of methodology. For him, a research-based model capable of "rendering the disciplinary techniques truly productive" is needed to cope with new problematics. An architectural school as a laboratory:
The focus on the development and problematization of architectural operativity will not be sufficient without the constitution of a true laboratory, where every member will have to develop independent research within a common framework.
This idea then reformulated for the Berlage Institute:
I am interested in reality as a field of research that is able to offer a certain level of friction to the research and that can provide certain accountability to the work in the institute.
More recently he pointed to that:
architectural education now more than ever has to be linked to research. I think that the most important thing you can teach an architectural student is to investigate, to be inquisitive, to research.
But in his view, "[a]rchitectural research has to deal specifically with the tools and matters of architecture, and has to be fundamentally aimed at architecture as a product." Put it simply: identification of a concrete architectural problem; and establishment of consistent multidisciplnary techniques, inclusion of specialists — anthropologists, economists, filmmakers, musicians, or sociologists — to enlarge potentials of architecture. His vision of a school as laboratory has been nurtured by his phylogenetic tree-based practice established for FOA, as has been seen earlier.
The integration of computer-aided design tools has occupied the 1990s even though their implication was very slow, if not put in jeopardy. Schools of architecture were engaged in retooling technological infrastructure and teach methods (Stan Allen). The 2000s was the decade of cross-disciplinary research, architecture borrowing from aviation, robotic, genetics, biology and film offering even more opportunities. According to Zaera-Polo,
Rather than focusing the postgraduate studies on theorizing other disciplines and trying to make a translation into architecture, a research program primarily applied to the production of architecture and the problematization of its techniques will offer an alternative to the current proliferation of fuzzy, multidisciplinary approaches. Rather than looking for architecture in other disciplines, a retreat into architectural materials and techniques would explore how to look at everything from an architectural perspective and how to search for architectural instruments in other disciplines.
What he attempts to say is that it is counterproductive for architecture to borrow from other disciplines without a critical survey on the discipline itself, its content, its techniques. In short, a redefinition of its content, its boundaries, its skillset to generate new teaching methods:
Today it seems perhaps more adequate to find consistency in the production of architectural effects and the instruments used in their production, or to research the instrumental; that is, to make the discipline grow toward integration with emergent economic, cultural, and social structures versus retreat to the suspect ground of autonomous production.
A remark that clearly summarizes his position towards architectural education. Be this consistent or not, today's architectural schools are integrating coding, robotics and parametric design, as Stan Allen stated: "[W]hereas the first generation of digital designers repurposed available software to generate novel formal effects, contemporary designers are going beyond the interface. Writing code is now mandatory for advanced academic work. While this appears to counter the trend to democratization and naturalization described above, it is, in fact, a complementary phenomenon. The thrust of this research is practical and result-oriented, and much of it is widely available, distributed on the internet as open-source material. Intimately engaged with construction logistics and material performance, it draws as much from engineering culture as from architecture."
What these texts underline is the shifting role of the architect towards new territories, new engagements. The role of the architect-teacher, as Liam Young said to Rory Hyde (See Future Practice: Conversations from the Edge of Architecture), is "to equip the students with the skills to be able to" practice in a time of mutation. In this respect, this is what Alejandro Zaera-Polo, their elder, proposes, but with a different approach.

The shifting role of the architect
The last point to briefly discuss concerns the status of the discipline. In my view, The Sniper's Log reveals a new engagement of the discipline in a range of layers from internal questions (fast-emerging technologies, new design protocols, new representation, and the like) to external questions (changing contexts, advances in biology and other disciplines with which architecture has developed dialogues over decades). In this context, it is very important to read Alejandro Zaera-Polo's The Sniper's Log and to situate it as a insightful, relevant collection of essays in the history of theory, between the baby-boomers' legacy — I will merely cite only two names I mentioned above: Michael K. Hays, Manfredo Tafuri — and the Millennials Jeremy Till (See Architecture Depends), Rory Hyde (Future Practice). Rory Hyde, for instance, belongs to the Millennials, a large generation still to be identified, as Zaera-Polo writes. Why did I compare The Sniper's Log with Hyde's Future Practice? We have seen how these issues of globalization, market-driven economies, information age, urban age, sprawl, technology-driven changes, Internet, slowing economies, awareness of the environmental have deeply transformed architecture's thinking, practice and education. As The Sniper's Log attempts to demonstrate, architecture has managed to incorporate, translate, articulate and problem-solve a set of internal and external issues. However new issues are rising with new demands, new expertises, new protocols — post-conflict issues, social and economic mutation, obsolete infrastructure, fast-emerging technologies, water and natural resource shortage, advances in biology and sciences, climatic, energetic and ecological crises. Likewise, some of these issues are particularly complex to be addressed with the existing methodology and design tools. In this period of doubt, the complex nested question of the local — the Arctic's shifting condition, sea-level rising, housing shortage, for instance — and the global requires new approach to building, to city-making, new materials, new design tools, new techniques of construction, as well as new educational methodology. And a new engagement. The fast-emerging technologies — (synthetic/developmental) biology, genetics, digital tools, 3D-printing —, then, contribute to a deeply transformation of the discipline.

What The Sniper's Log has showed is a desire for re-empowering architecture. Practice, theory, and education, three cross-categories central to Zaera-Polo whose purpose is to re-empowering the discipline. These essays, for instance: Hokusai Wave, Rethinking Representation, Disciplines, The Politics of Envelope and Architecture and Power. The common denominator to these texts is that not only they raise the question of representation but also they go further by questioning the status of the discipline. In Rethinking Representation, Zaera-Polo writes:

For nearly two decades, the architectural debate had been moving away from the subject of representation (for example: politics, meaning, identity and language) toward those of organization, production, and technique as primary means for the production of architectural form.
But the 2000s have their new problematics that have put once again the question representation on the table: 
In this new phase of global capitalism, as we inevitably reengage with the critique of power and new-found, potential forms of transformation, representation becomes a crucial subject to address, however difficult it is to find worthwhile content — or means — for leveraging its ahistorical agency.
Early in The Sniper's Log, precisely in the essay Hokusai Wave, still about representation he states,
Representation has been a contested subject for a whole generation of architects (my generation); that is, those of us who have focused on experimenting with material organizations and factual data as an escape from the discursive predominance of representation, meaning, identity, and language that characterized earlier generations.
This text Hokusai Wave has been appreciated as an important essay that summarizes FOA's practice. What interests me in this text is the distance between the practitioner and the audience — the user — and, how, here with a diagram, architecture is engaged in a new relationship with the audience.
The tale of the Hokusai Wave is the history of how the engagement with clients and public media — in the other words, the very sources of power at play in all commissions — substantially altered FOA's projectual methodology, moving us toward an incorporation of iconography and meaning. Having come to our own fairly precarious professional niche out of a more or less speculative and academic practice, we spent a long time in advance of building theorizing about building technologies and crafts, a most pressing endeavor for a young practice. As our work evolved toward a more professional output, my role has become less involved with crafting and more engaged in acquiring and explaining projects, theorizing and communicating the practice to a variety of agents, in order to make the practice economically sustainable. As the most interesting speculation generally happens out of necessity, my subject of research has moved consistently with the new requirements of my role.
Put it the simplest way, the architect as facilitator, who with the techniques of architecture, its potential, enables a new relationship, or engagement, between the discipline and the audience:
Faced with a full press conference in Yokohama City Hall, circa February 1995, we had to explain what it was we were trying to do in our newly awarded Yokohama Ferry Terminal Competition project. Faithful to our doctrine, fine-tuned through years of academic practice, I proceeded to explain the circulation diagram, the geometric transformations, and the construction technologies that were involved in the project, hoping that the audience would have enough patience to wait for the emergence of the project. Halfway through the presentation, I started to notice the blank expression on the faces of those assembled in the room — that is, a clear indicator that the message was not getting across (this was to become a very common experience during this evolution toward a marketing performance). After a few minutes of cold sweat, an image that was carefully edited from the project' discourse — but still floating somewhere in the back of our minds — suddenly came to my rescue. It was the Hokusai Wave, a drawing from a local painter [Katshushika Hokusai*] that we had been toying with while we indulged in geometric manipulation and construction hypotheses during the design phase of the competition entry. In a sudden (and risky) burst of inspiration, I terminated the factual, process-driven narrative to conclude that what really inspired us was the image of Hokusai's Wave. The room exploded in an exclamation of sincere relief — a collective "Aaaaaahhh…!" — and we left the room, still sweating and grateful for that moment of lucidity, with the clear realization that something wasn't quite working in our carefully crafted discourse.
This is certainly what Zaera-Polo calls consistency and coherence. Beyond this pleasant situation, the text underlines Zaera-Polo's call for re-empowering architecture. Power should be understood, as Deleuze and Guattari put it, as potential. Power, as Brian Massumi wrote in the foreword of A Thousand Plateaus, means puissance and pouvoir. It also has to do with potential as puissance "refers to a range of potentials", Massumi rightly goes on. Thus, architecture, Zaera-Polo writes: "has always had a peculiar relationship with power." Here, Zaera-Polo is not too far from what the Millennials claim ( see for instance Rory Hyde's Future Practice, or Jeremy Till's Scarcity contra Austerity). This raises a set of questions that re-engage architecture with the society on multiple scales — infrastructure, economy, energy, ecology and buildings. For him, this is possible by re-interrogating the discipline, in other words, to start with architecture itself, its contours, its contents, its boundaries. In the Politics of the Envelope, he claims:
Within this context it is vital to produce an updated politics of architecture in which the discipline is not merely reduced to a representation of ideal political concepts, but conceived as an effective tool to produce change.
As Zaera-Polo opened a new agency AZPA in 2011, I am curious of reading him again on new challenging issues. For instance, as he sees opportunities in new instruments such as digital fabrication, I am particularly looking forward to hearing him on these advances 3D-manufacturing, smart materials —hybrid materials, or material ecology —… among many other topics…
The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation-X | Alejandro Zaera-Polo || Actar Editorial, 2013. Back cover



* Note of the editor


Bibliography


Alejandro Zaera-Polo, The Sniper's Log. Architectural Chronicles of Generation-X, Actar Editorial, 2013
Foreign Office Architects, Phylogenesis: foa's ark, Actar Editorial, 2003.
Manuel DeLanda, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, Zone, 1991. (Sold out)
Stan Allen, The Future that is now, Design Observer, 2012
Stan Allen, Practice: Architecture, Techniques and Representation, Routledge, 2009
Rory Hyde, Future Practice: Conversations from the Edge of Architecture, Routledge, 2012
Jeremy Till, Architecture Depends, The MIT Press, 2009
Jeremy Till, Scarcity contra Austerity, Design Observer, 2012
Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaux, trans. Brian Massumi, University of Minnesota Press, 1987
Sanford Kwinter, Far-From-Equilibrium: Essays on Technology and Design Culture, Actar Editorial, 2007
Detlef Mertins, Modernity Unbound: Other Histories of Architectural Modernity, AA Publications, 2011 (* see AA Bookshop, if you're interested. It's sold out on Amazon… Or your local bookshop, if any chance)
Peter Eisenman, Written into the Void: Selected Writing, 1990-2004, Yale University Press, 2007

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