Author Archives: Molly

MA Thesis Final 2013 – Molly McCormick

“The moment a name is written on a form, administrative space has been entered. Within this paper space, a person is only what they have self-identified, common symbols arranged in such a manner to indicate existence. The form is a dividing line between the personal and the individual within a strict machine: the individual being the physical embodiment of statistical data, the personal serving as something more mystical, more human. Though being human seems to be the lesser concern, as forms, and indeed the spaces which hold and process them, have a different understanding of the living and the dead. By simply mis-writing information, one could technically live forever, or never exist, or be in two places at once, which results in a strange kind of immortality, particularly when it has to come to a lawsuit.”

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End of Year Exibition

 

 

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Initial Thesis Abstract: Please Complete the Form…

The administration of life is an ignorable, yet undeniably present factor in the contemporary narrative. The methods and environments of this necessity are so banal and so innocuous that they do not merit any sincere interest, that is, beyond general frustration and often mutual distrust. However, how and where we administer and are administered to says much more about our place in society than any social media or self-promotion ever can.  Against a trend of slack self-association, administrative architecture is the embodiment of the situational definition: beyond possession, it is a determined position. It is an architecture that lies at the crossroads of statistical analysis and narrative chaos. Usually uncelebrated, frequently un-symbolic, and continually unsympathetic: these are not the spaces of simplistic power, but the architecture of that power’s affect, its policy.

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La Tourette Visit

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A Perfectly Imagined Ruin

 

 

“I knew that good like bad, becomes a routine, that the temporary tends to endure, that what is external permeates to the inside, and that the mask, given time, comes to be the face itself.” [1]

When Marguerite Yourcenar wrote the above in 1951 she was referencing the personal struggle of a man who eventually becomes the tyrant he was only pretending to be. Though specific in its imagining, this quote recalls another from Fredrich Nietzsche “Talking much about oneself can also be a means to conceal oneself.”[2] Between these two reflections we can begin to identify a theme: the modern dilemma of labeling. As technology becomes faster, better, more malleable, as influence becomes vast, exotic, tenuous, it seems that to make a mark, to be remembered, requires a fantastic amount of self-assurance. Doubt is for dreams, regret is for memoirs and in the introduction at least, there can be no room for confusion: this is me. That self-assertion is as much about defining what you are as much as what you are not, often resulting in a simplistic Ego that may not fit the intent. To become an icon, the modern author must assume whatever they pretend to be and Architects, as part of the authorial community, are not excused. Within the twentieth century in particular, the labeling of architects became the most vastly altered element of the field. In 1900 Architects could be seen as a more aristocratic version of a builder/mason, yet by 2000 the profession had morphed into something more like a director/maestro with construction acting as performance, personality as paramount. It might be argued that this change was merely a reaction to an evolving society, but client need is a variation on a theme and rarely alters the internal politics. How Architecture views itself is an in-house choice and while the labels architects of the twentieth century choose rarely derived from purely architectural concepts (instead fusing from sociological or philosophical works), the affect is the same. The two most prominent examples of these self-applied labels within the past century are the Modernist “Architect/Engineer” and the Post-Modern “Bricoleur”. The Architect/Engineers present themselves as the social savior, selling a clear, focused and hygienic utopia. Meanwhile the Bricoleurs market a more complicated world, something slightly darker. Whether the self-assessment and therefore the label, is an accurate understanding of their objectives can be tested via a simple case study: how each group views the pre-existing. One ancient site in particular seems to be as philosophically challenging to labels as its designer (the subject of Yourcenar’s novel) was: The Villa Adriana.

The Villa Adriana is an outlier of architectural history, not only as a collection of structures in a site but also for the vastly different ways it can be interpreted. Depending on the author, the Villa could be cast as the experimental workshop of a genius or the grotesque fantasy of a despot, an idyllic center for learning, or a junk pile of hedonism. UNESCO World Heritage describes the site as: “Many structures… arranged without any overall plan”.[3] It appears in The Classical Tradition as “a paradigm in what might be considered the landscape of allusion”[4] while Baedeker’s Guide to Italy takes a much more neutral assessment, describing it simply as an “Imperial summer residence[5]”. Yet it is the Villa’s ability to inspire ambivalence which makes it exceptional, a quality not lost on the architects who reference it. If we use the Villa Adriana as a case study example of the changing role of the architect (especially the labels of Architect/Engineer and Bricoleur) then two prominent figures are self-evident, Le Corbusier and Colin Rowe. Both writers use the Villa Adriana as a paradigm of excellence in architecture and planning (via Vers Une Architecture and Collision City and the Politics of Bricolage respectively). However, that is where the similarities stop. Le Corbusier, looking for a traceable lineage to justify his work, alluded to the Villa as a prime example of moral, geometric and rational planning. While Rowe, aiming to contradict and reinterpret the former’s manifesto, saw it as the fusion of fragmented objects with competing agendas. By looking at how these two authors use the Villa Adriana to construct their arguments, it becomes easier to understand the change in self identification; the context that produced the labels and media representation that they chose to depict their findings.

For full essay, see PDF link below


[1] Yourcenar, Margurite Memoirs of Hadrian trans. Grace Frick (New York NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, original printing 1951, current 2005), page 13

[2] Neitzche, Frederich  Beyond Good and Evil trans. Helen Zimmern (Madison WI: Cricket Books, original printing 1886, current 2012) page 169

[3] UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Website “Hadrian’s Villa” http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/907  (accessed December 1, 2012)

[4] Grafton, Anthony et al., The Classical Tradition (Boston MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 418

[5] Dumont Mair et al. Baedeker’s Guide to Italy, (New York NY: Mairs Geographischer Verlag,Kurt Mair; 1 Pap/Map edition, 2008), 744

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Diamond Rockstars and the People Who Watch Them

The Shard as we know it now, indivisible from the Southwark skyline, is a both a sign of the times and very much not. The most telling aspect of the building may not be the construction or layout, but in how it simultaneously orients and divides the profession of architecture. From conception to critique, it is both a fore- runner of possible trends and the beginning of the end for a particular kind of architectural persona. The building makes a defining statement about what it means to be ‘corporate’ in a media-savvy and somewhat tech-oppressive environment. Indeed more than any other of Renzo Piano’s work or even Irvine Sellar’s (the man behind Sellar Property Group) investments, the Shard requires something more to be successful: the Shard needs both love and envy. This neediness is due mostly to the structure’s [frankly] enormous scale and its subsequent pretentions to become a London icon. Yet to achieve these twin goals, the building has to mean something beyond its gargantuan size. In its raw ambition, the Shard wants to be as photo-friendly as any other tourist spot in London, however there are elements that are preventing the architecture achieving this, elements that boil down to how the Shard is viewed from within, from without and by comparison.

For full essay, see PDF link below

Diamond Rock Stars and the People Who Watch Them – Final

 

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The Accidental Iconoclasts

Paper Ruins and Plastic Salvation

“Art cannot be criticized because every mistake is a new creation”: this is the poster-dogma of self named street artist “Mr. Brainwash” for his first UK show, a reinvention of his premier show in L.A., Life is Beautiful (Old Sorting Office, New Oxford Street, Bloomsbury, London). Initially the spray painted image invokes an avant garde battle cry, however this call to arms may actually be an act self-defence, given the artist’s backstory. Mr. Brainwash came into the public eye via the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) . Mixing the mythologies of Emperor Claudius and Darth Vader, an odd but otherwise harmless shop-owner becomes seduced by hype, media, and the benefits of being a dangerous Street Artist via his cousin, the artist Space Invader. To mark the metamorphosis, Thierry Guetta changes his name to “Mr. Brainwash” and via a large public show, betrays the Street Art community by stealing their ideas to gain notoriety. At the end of the film the viewer, like the other artists, is meant to mix revulsion and indignation at the commercial success of Mr. Brainwash. He is portrayed as someone who never truly suffered for his art or developed a style, a fraud. We’re meant to be mad not because he made money, but because he cheated.
 
In another warehouse across town from Life is Beautiful is its counterpoint: Urban Masters (Factory 7, 13 Hearn Street, Shoreditch, London). While Life takes place in a massive space nominally dedicated to the work of one person, Urban Masters is in a much leaner area that seems to have gathered an entire community of international Street Artists in alliance against Mr. Brainwash. The major figures of the fight being Shepard Fairey, Blek Le Rat, Sweet Toof and, of course, Banksy. Hidden down an alleyway, behind a car park, in a nondescript urban setting signified only by a small cardboard sign, Urban Masters wants you to know this is where the wild things are. One can’t help but identify this as a slap to Life, which stands beneath a 35’ high billboard depicting a punk version of a young Queen Elizabeth II, begging for the viewer’s attention. This juxtaposition is a visual conversation about what the two opposing forces think the movement should be about. For Mr. Brainwash, it’s a sly, if tired, series of pop culture references and in-jokes. For Urban Masters it’s a wry and satirical commentary on aesthetics and art itself. Mr. Brainwash may have a Gainsborough reference featuring Posh and Becks but Joe Black has a Chairman Mao portrait made of Seurat-style plastic army men. Despite Masters having the clout, and quite frankly the brains, to pull off what could potentially be an unfocused mess of a show, if you are new to the conversation both galleries may come off less as a war of rhetoric and more as a battle of the one-liners. The most important part of these shows is what neither gallery seems to address, the glaring change from what initially made the Street Art movement so fascinating and so famous: both shows are inside.
 
Full work in link below.

FINALTheJudgementofIslington

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The Rough and Tumble Adventures of the Kodachrome Kid

Scenes in America Deserta (1982) is not quite a novel, not quite a drama, definitely not a travel guide, really not quite an anything. The only close comparison might be the origin of the title, Charles Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta (1888). However, where Doughty’s prose is insistently archaic, even by Victorian standards, Reyner Banham’s is accessible and elegant. Beyond the typical manifesto or critique, Banham studies the American Southwest with educated, purposeful enthusiasm, remarkable in its charm and cheeky humor. Solely on the strength of this writing, he takes what are essentially the ramblings of a wannabe cowboy and creates an outlier of architectural rhetoric. If absolutely forced to categorize Scenes, it would be best labeled as episodic narrative, the main characters being the author and the environmental qualities he studies (specifically the light, roads and colors of the Mojave Desert). By accepting this kind of narrative, the qualities start to become individuals, each with evolving wants, needs and personalities which allows for a deeper relationship with the writer and subsequently, the reader.

For Banham, the character of light is unignorable; it is aggressive and hauntingly beautiful, a vengeful antagonist that stalks him obsessively. The “hard grey light” we expect is a fiction. Instead the Mojave light is the embodiment of two opposing figures concentrated into one element all at once frighteningly powerful and delicately macabre. Here daylight does not represent the clarity of signified truth (as it might in the style of Turner or Rembrandt), but the “spectral and hurtful colourless light” of an all-seeing eye. It is a god who is in the judging-business, not the helping-business. When the sun goes down, the light transforms into the stuff of drugged supernatural visions. Reflections of a sunset off the salt plain are described as “Cherenkov”, glowing as if from a freshly-cooled atomic reactor. This unsettling aspect is addressed again in the description of Las Vegas. Through a boundless night, the mega-watt attractions make overly-cheerful promises of intelligent life, yet come morning, the sun shows the gaudy desert oasis will only make for ugly ruins. The duality created within this element encourages the reader’s ambivalence: Light is the announcer of unwanted reality and the creator of disembodied, loathing fear.

Unlike the shallow promises of neon signs and flashing bulbs, the open road guarantees real and pragmatic freedom, or at least, escape. So like many beat poets before him, Banham follows it out into the void, hoping to learn by experience. It’s no surprise then when the self-identified greenhorn becomes fascinated with the legendary Route 66. This road in particular is presented as the last relic of a golden age, broken and fragmented but still possessing “that magic which can stir the shallow places in one’s soul” an allure contrasted against the Interstate system, which is condemned as being the “mindless vandalism of MIT engineers”. The road is played like a character from a 1950’s Western, a fading has-been, long obsolete and looking for one last score. It is both human in scale and epic in purpose, meandering almost absent-mindedly around mountains and rivers, providing a place between banal safety and the certain death which graces the book’s cover. Route 66 lets the driver discover themselves under a protective gaze, like an old rodeo star of asphalt and paint, slowly fading into the sand.

Yet despite the influence of the light and road to Banham’s narrative, the most consistently discussed characteristic of the desert is the color. Initially unimpressive, it is portrayed in the first chapter as being somewhere between “iron grey”, “tan” and “dirty white”. Though as we dive deeper, the color begins to change into something more compelling. Suddenly there are “five different words for ‘red’”; the landscape is peppered with creatures “dark and golden-eyed” and horsemen “in splendid black”. Their relationship reaches maturity in Banham’s description of San Xavier Del Bac, “the most beautiful man-made thing in the desert”. As he describes it: “The whiteness strikes, hurts – but holds – the eyes. The two belfries above…blaze against the blue almost as if they fluorescenced…it is marvelous, never to be forgotten.” This burning white is a far cry from the novice, brackish neutrals and speaks as if from a Georgia O’Keefe painting. Sadly all these marvellous descriptions do not match with the book’s grayscale images. While most likely an unfortunate financial necessity, this may actually be a saving grace. It protects the reader from seeing the mean truth: that all the “Indian Reds” which were so overwhelming, in retrospect, still are those dull tones. We were the ones that changed, not the landscape. If the pictures had been in full color, the descriptions wouldn’t have matched either Banham’s words or our imaginations. It’s much harder to sell the wonder of a place when there is continual apology for perceived inaccuracy.

The landscape in Scenes in America Deserta is almost unrecognizable from beginning to end. Our esteem for the desert has grown and we feel as if we were there, trekking through the wilderness like one of the gang. Due to this sense of admittance, the conclusions reached regarding the desert and its architecture come off as the natural by-product of a group experience. It’s a wonderful, beautiful and deceitful trick. His narrative is so well rounded, so full, that our conclusions aren’t even ours, they’re Banham’s. The twist ending is that the author had a particular agenda the whole time; we were just too busy enjoying the ride to notice. Unlike the architectural writing of his contemporaries, Banham does not offer up his beliefs as dogma, apologia, or even in a direct manner. Instead, he chooses something akin to Saturday-morning cartoon heros, making it all at once personal, persuasive and strangely sentimental. We’ve been conned, and the best part is we don’t even care. Indeed we only realize it as the author starts driving off; abandoning us in the place we’ve somehow grown to love, while the sun begins to set. Gotcha.

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Molly McCormick

Molly McCormick is a native of the United States and received her Bachelors of Architecture from Philadelphia University in 2009. Prior to attending the Architectural Association, she worked for the US General Services Administration in the Public Buildings Service. Her other work includes construction at the Habitat for Humanity Global Village site in Kaoma, Zambia as well as various projects in private sector design firms. Molly has exhibited paintings and photography in Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC.

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