The ninth edition of inter·mission, in which we climb over critical divisions in our contemporary society seeking an understanding of unity in the 21st century. Download PDF.
Note from the Editors
We get it, it’s not fun to talk about politics. We are all tired of it. Why can’t we just get on with it, have a good time, and pretend everything is fine?
Now more than ever we need to be active citizens by critically discussing our views while intently listening to others to understand their perspective. We as a nation are divided, we are divided because we don’t listen, and when we do we somehow have selective hearing.
We (young kids) get our news through social media, flipping through snapchat stories and sponsored posts to get opinions from others as the basis for our political understanding. The devastation, crisis, and catastrophe flickers between the things we find more important like what did Kim Kardashian do this time?
It is time to explore past our bubble. Likes and reposts can only take a society so far. Start writing your own stories of the past you have lived and the future you want to live in.
We read the news on our phone (if we read it at all), draw on our tablets, and write love letters on our computers. What happened to paper? Surely, we can’t all care about trees that much. This isn’t about the quantity of content; it’s a question of the streamlining of information into 140 characters that illuminate our faces, the information stuck somewhere in our optical nerves.
We provide you with a new format: a piece of paper, tabloid, duplex printed. Each issue explores a new topic, through words and images. In a sense, we hope this new format will help you turn on, tune in, and drop out. Today, it is more important than ever to slow down, pause, process, and think. And what better way to do this than receiving more content? Take a break, and sit down with us.
This is inter·mission.
Image of Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella Protest
People love to hate rats, but rats are very human. Like humans, they are sneakily intelligent and have found many ways to survive in an urban landscape. The social, cultural, and political history of humanity’s relationship with rats runs deep through the veins of history. They are known as the bottom feeders, the ultimate pest… and they are mankind’s closest compatriot. Historically, they have devastated Europe with plagues and cultural motifs used by the Nazis. Yet, they have seemed to have found a paradise in New York City. The rats that originally found their way to New York around the 1800s have grown colonies that have cultivated into subsurface urban civilizations. No new rats from other places have been able to intermix into these groups, meaning that they have become more homogenous and ‘local’ than any human group in New York.
If religion, gods, and artificial intelligence are our overlords, then rats are our underlords. Rats thrive in the dark and permeate through the porous fabric of our cities. They are the only urban pest that has no need or connection to urban green spaces. They survive from the wastefulness of the human species, we resent them because they symbolize all of our anti-ideals and failures as a supposed anthropocenic race. We use them for lab tests and see them as disposable, insignificant, and inconsequential. Yet they sacrifice themselves to pharmaceutical tests and animal experiments to help better our understanding of not only their species, but also ourselves. They, in some ways, have been our saviors in an era driven by scientific thought.
Compliments to the Wall
“This is the one that was hardest to climb,”
“this wall can’t be climbed.”
“You can fry an egg on that wall,”
“Someday, when I’m no longer around, they will call it the Trump wall. It’s got to be the greatest wall”
“We need to build a wall...I don’t mind having a big beautiful door in that wall.”
“When you hit a wall find ways to go under and over, but never give up.”
A hero of mine, Nate DiMeo, begins a powerful episode of a project called The Memory Palace with the words: “Maybe you remember, I don't.'' (1) I want to repeat those lines here, reflecting on a time that my father and many people I deeply respect will recall with great clarity. Those on the receiving end might have called it a global epidemic of mass hysteria - I, and I think most of you - would sooner imagine it as a rare moment of clarity and unity which blew past national and cultural boundaries. The year 1968 saw a worldwide escalation of social conflicts. Name a movement, and it likely started there. The civil rights movement, the new left, the Prague spring, the anti-nuclear movement, the environmental movement, the women’s liberation movement, black power, red power, chicano power - I’m sure you get the idea. Major unrest throughout fifteen or more major powers could have had Marx dancing in his grave. What was it about this moment that converted the potential energy of the masses into a kinetic force of justice and turmoil?
I might not remember, but my father does. At 17, just finished with his apprenticeship in Germany he had gone back to school in Mannheim before starting university a few years later in Frankfurt - arguably one of the centers of this entire movement. He remembers the formation of the Außerparlamentarische Opposition, the Socialist German Student Union, and the eventual development of the Baader–Meinhof Group. The genesis of which was all the visit of the Iranian Shah in ‘67 and the tragic death of Benno Ohnesorg which lead to an instantaneous radicalization of the previously peaceful student unrest. It laid clear the fronts between state violence and the ideologies they were protesting. Perhaps most vivid for him was the sense that over all of this strife lay a serious understanding and critique of western society. The Frankfurt School had gained widespread popularity, and the theorists behind it were seen as the veritable heads of the entire movement. Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, and Habermass gave the students a theoretical toolbox for dismantling the existing order. (2)
Underneath the cultural fabric of the 60’s there seemed to be a low, simmering flame of political and social resentments. Maybe it was the coming of age of a generation born when the whole world was at war, and the future of the planet uncertain.
We are currently witnessing a series of protests and demonstrations at an unprecedented scale, at least for my generation. The protests in Hong Kong over the past few months have been a source of great sorrow as well as inspiration. Perhaps removed from some of the more overt political drivers of revolutions in the 20th century, the ideals of liberalism and deep desires for freedom and equality transcend scales of time.
There’s another peculiar similarity I’d like to use to link these two discrete periods in time. The first airport designed by Foster+Partners (a firm founded in 1967 mind you) was London Stansted. The most recently completed was Hong Kong International - a primary and crucial location for the recent protests. (3) The Foster designed airport’s terminals and hallways were seemingly designed for use by protestors. Airports are a clear target if a movement wants widespread recognition - crucial for a country's economic and political function they are a bottleneck easily sealed. Rarely however do they lend themselves to this as well as HKI has. Comprehensive public transport connections allowed protestors in and out quickly, narrow walkways over deep atriums could be easily blocked and controlled, and crucially the expansive glass facades meant that the media coverage was encouraged and the police were mediated. Foster has had several other buildings utilized for sit-ins and protests, most notably perhaps Cambridge University’s Faculty of Law. Coincidence? Or perhaps a subtle and subversive way someone who vividly remembers a prior time and the power of people has worked in his own check and balance system into the urban fabric of major cities…
What cannot be relegated to coincidence are the ways in which urban fabric and mass occupation influence each other in novel ways. Density works in favor of demonstration, narrow streets lead to impenetrable protests. The expectation of occupying sites close to the centers of government - likely designed to mitigate this exact scenario - was thrashed in Hong Kong as organizers chose highways and thoroughfares as their targets. The political occupation of the traditionally unoccupied street has seen the emergence of new forms of graphic, social, and environmental urbanism. Message walls, projections screens, or information scrawled on to concrete barriers has proliferated throughout the city. Storefronts, parking lots, and choice street corners have become sites for informal classrooms, open air movie theaters, and market stalls. The reduction of traffic has caused inconvenience, but also over the course of three+ weeks has lifted the smog and revealed residents enjoying walks along empty highways and typically congested neighborhoods. (4)
Displaying an objectively healthier attitude than the 1968 movements in, oh let’s say Paris, the protests in Hong Kong have not descended into chaos and rather have been an exemplary showcase of young people taking responsibility for their health, safety, public space, and political freedom. I think what set me out on writing this was a genuine curiosity at why this hasn’t acted as a catalyst for the rest of the world. Hong Kong has showed us what a 21st century revolution looks like, and don’t we have enough to be fed up with to just copy their model? Perhaps we’re exposed to too much to take note, their message is diluted by a deluge of memes, streams, and clickbait. The low burning fire that was there in 1968 hasn’t gone away, but is sitting there under layers of insulation and we just can’t feel the heat.
It’s curious in this age of instant communication and information exchange that this precedent doesn’t catch. There were efforts towards censorship - I’m looking at you, Reddit - but we should all know by now that even the Great Firewall can’t contain anything for long.
- (Brief) Oral History
"If you open the window, both fresh air and flies will be blown in."
The Great Wall
The great wall of China isn’t as effective as it once was, yet it represents the remnants of an era of vicious raids and territorial dynasties. It stands as a monument to the division between nations; the great resistance against the wild Mongols. Such monuments become national symbols of pride and power. We expect the same thing to not occur today and yet it is happening, but not as obvious as before.
The Great Firewall
The Great Firewall of China is invisible yet its effects are as deeply separating as any physical wall. The Great Firewall is China’s strict regulation upon internet use. The government has access to all internet activity, including personal texts. This cloud of censorship permeates all devices and people’s lives. It is well known that youtube, facebook, and twitter and hundreds of other platforms are banned from China. In this case the wall doesn’t block peoples movement, it blocks ideas from spreading. The firewall learns and adapts quickly to catch protestors of the establishment. Once a simple filter that blocked out lewd content, it has become intelligent to the point of understanding the word “disagree” in context, then quickly snuffing it out. Therefore, the people find ways to outsmart this entity. Those daring to speak up against it have found ways to cheat it’s detection using everything from VPNs to turning photos of text sideways to trick its . This ‘game’ of David and Goliath constantly creates new ways of communication which only makes internet culture stronger, and further alienates the government from their citizens.
If you ask a chinese person for an opinion, they will give you a fact.
If you ask an american person for a fact, they will give you an opinion.
The Border Wall
The border wall the Trump and so many Americans have fought for may be ineffective in its physical manifestation, but the barrier it creates is a social and political divide. The repercussions of this wall have been more conducive to human trafficking than to actual resolve through legal means. The legal immigration system is broken and doesn’t allow those who need US residency to have the means to do so. It is backwards to the original philosophy of the American dream. The current presidential administration is lowering the refugee cap as much as possible, an arbitrary number decided by individuals with a definitive immoral agenda. Yet people reaffirm Trump’s agenda, which creates not only division between countries, but a split within.
The One Way Wall
You are being watched. Not by the government (maybe), but by an algorithm. It knows all your wants and needs. It knows you need a new jacket for this winter. It knows you forgot to buy more cat food. It knows what friends you’ll make next before you meet them. It knows you, but you don’t know it. This wall isn’t there if you don’t think about it. Behind this ephemeral one way mirror are the corporations that can mine your actions for patterns. It is like the firewall, but instead it invites you to share your opinion so it can sell it back to you. This division is elusive, the wall is cloaked but it creates mass confusion on a societal scale, which in turn creates distrust between you and everything non-you.
Walls divide space. They create an interior and exterior: an us and them.
An Architecture of Democracy
‘Democratic architectural design’ seems to be paradoxical. Democracy itself is not monolithic. There are qualities in democracy that are usually lumped together, but are in fact, independent conditions(1):
Democracy: The decisions made by a group must be appropriately responsive to the expressed wishes of the members of that group.
Political Equality: Each group member must have an equal (chance of) influence over the group’s decisions.
Majority Rule: The option that gets the most votes should be the group decisions.
Political equality is not an intrinsic condition of democracy. If a society of individuals with equal voice were to vote on three options and only one option can be pursued, then it stands that the majority will win. In cases where the majority may only make up 40% of the group, the democratic process has a low success rate and thus is undemocratic since it isn’t responsive to the wishes of the group on the whole. “We reproduce and manifest the practices and spatial requirements of the dominant culture”(2). A democratic process does not necessarily lead to democratic outcomes. In alternative processes, such as lottery voting, the chance that a choice will become an outcome is equivalent to the size of the groups supporting each option. In terms of results, the overall spread across multiple outcomes may have qualities of political equality, but the resolution that exists seems incompatible with architectural design. At the scale of an individual architectural project, designing for only one outcome seems unsustainable in protean environments.
A possible solution may be the condition for a democratic process that Dahl argues is ‘enlightened understanding’(3). In other words, each political member must have the opportunity to learn about policies and their likely consequences. A similar condition is presented by Tatjana Schneider, Jeremy Till, and Nishat Awan: Spatial Agency(4). Thomas Dutton similarly argues that we need to “create spaces of cultural transformation”(2). These writings consider a transformative condition of a process or environment in order to empower individuals, so that the individuals become (spatial) agents, actively participating in social processes. This model of production seems the most democratic when considering the divergent interests of a political community, that instead of providing an ‘outcome’, the architect provides an ‘intervention’ that promotes agency-by-self. Assuming that each individual exercises that agency, this promotes bottom-up political equality without threat of a top-down majority rule.
Saunders, Ben “Democracy, Political Equality, and Majority Rule”, Ethics, Vol. 121, No. 1 (October 2010): 149.
Dutton, Thomas A. "Cities, Cultures, and Resistance: Beyond Leon Krier and the Postmodern Condition." Journal of Architectural Education (1984-) 42, no. 2 (1989): 3-9.
Dahl, Robert A. "Robert A. Dahl – on Democracy." Government and Opposition 1, no. 4 (1966): 560-62.
Awan, Nishat; Scheinder, Tatjana; Till, Jeremy “Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture”, (2011): 26-83.