Turbo Architecture


This garish example of blobitecture is being proposed for Vancouver. It is apparently to be squeezed between two historic buildings on the waterfront in the historic neighbourhood of Gastown. There was no public hearing regarding the building, so the public took to social media to express what seems to be a lot more displeasure than pleasure. Celebrated former city director of Planning Ray Spaxman spoke out against it, as did a surprising number of major civic figures including landscape architecture prof Patrick Condon. The building’s architect Adrian Smith fired back to Condon’s critique here, and was murdered in the comments.

Is this building and its placement an act of trolling? The tiny base of this gauche folly—is it the 1% bragging that their money can defy the Cascadia Subduction Zone? Or does it accidentally reference the precarity of the 1% in the face of the public’s growing intolerance? Was it designed by the bank that plans to finance it, or perhaps by money itself? The one thing we do know is that it was designed by the architect who recently built the tallest highrise in Dubai.

Dubai or no, this is the sort of hubristic architecture that increasingly seems to fly in the new retrogressive Vancouver. This building’s placement; I wish I could say it’s inept, but I think it’s more likely a provocation, a defiance of context and history.

If it’s meant to be futuristic, it’s significantly less interesting than the sets whipped up by the local film industry for cut-rate low budget sci-fi movies. We don’t need future dystopia; it’s right here.

If City Council, the Director of Development (used to be Dir of Planning) Brian Jackson, and all the Development Board think this is a good solution for that location—or for any building site anywhere—they should all be dismissed. Who is running this town?

An architect friend took a look at the architect’s rendering, sighed and said “oh look, another building where they’ve just placed a cube on an angle, lopped its edges off and reapplied them elsewhere; I’m so tired of this cliché.” Another architect distinguished it from modernism, remarking “it’s definitely not modern… it’s an alter-modern monstrosity… as in we’re living in an alternate universe of the worst possible modern trajectory possible… we’ll just look like a bunch of global losers if this thing goes up.” Another said “that’s just structural engineering in drag,” while writer Michael Stewart wrote an enjoyable rant on the topic titled “Vancouver manifests crapulous real estate hubris in grotesque paean to post-apocalyptic capitalism.”

Because of the AIBC’s archaic gentleman’s agreement that all architects in the AIBC (Architectural Institute of British Columbia) have to sign, agreeing they won’t publicly criticize another architect’s work, not one local architect has been able to speak out about this. But several told me directly that it is—and this is verbatim—”a piece of shit.” To make matters worse, we have no significant architectural criticism in the papers here because due to layoffs there are no full time paid critics, and when we do see freelance criticism it is muted. That’s what happens when the real estate industry is the main media advertiser in our local papers. In short, the whole town sits silent while crass, cheap paeans to money—money that mainly sits offshore and certainly isn’t poured into good architecture—hem us in.

I posted the remarks above on Facebook, and in response my curator friend Jesse sent me the text below. He’s in Romania at the moment but has seen the Serbian architecture—not far off what’s being proposed in Vancouver—that is described in the text. Click the link for the full text. Emphases are mine.

Turbo Architecture
by Srdjan Jovanović Weiss

The culture of annulment resulting from the wars and the crisis in Serbia during the 1990s was the culture of “turbo folk” or more simply “turbo.” An identical trend which has been going on globally, manifesting itself through a mixing of global and local musical elements (Nor-Tec in Tijuana in Mexico, Mangue-Boys from North-Eastern Brazil, and the New Age softening of Middle Eastern sources), has caused Serbian Neo-Folk to erode and accelerate by bringing techno Goa trance into the mix. The first such conscious attempt can be heard in the single “200 per hour (around a curve)” by Ivan Gavrilović (1994), which begins with the words “techno, techno, techno-folk.” With half a million copies sold, the term exploded—but did not catch on. It was Rambo Amadeus, a self-made rockmusician from Belgrade, who finally branded the movement “turbo folk.” Turbo immediately became recognized as a local mix of electronic dance beats and neo-traditional melodies, something that provided an additional impulse for neo-folk to abandon the village scene and attempt to conquer city life. Turbo is often understood, in a banal way but also intellectually, as resistance to the new world order. Thanks to its isolation from the West, turbo had time to develop from a clumsy hybrid of pirated Western inspirations and turn toward Arab and Turkish pop-folk, which in a mix like this was presented as the root of Serbian melodies. In the mid-1990s turbo folk was presented on MTV with a healthy dose of mockery. DJs smashed turbo folk LPs and singles on camera after playing them on global air. The fake Madonna videos played by Serbian turbo stars gradually disappeared, and turbo gained its first and strongest producer, RTV Pink television network. The network’s existence was built upon piracy, porn, and turbo folk production, which at times were nearly indistinguishable. We already know that the prefix “turbo” was neither negative nor positive in its meaning; neither value judgment nor volition is ascribed to it. In the world of technology, economics, the car industry, and even the global market, the word “turbo” generally has a positive connotation….Turbo depends on the context; it draws upon existing circumstances and tries to exceed its limitations. During the oil embargo, when Serbia was subject to sanctions and its economy declined, “turbo” meant the acceleration of the decline—the inverted acceleration toward a crash. But today, in the wake of slow but immanent democracy, turbo capitalizes on its accumulated powers faster than any other cultural niche. The question is not how much turbo can gain from democratic progress toward the mainstream. The question is, how much can democracy gain from turbo? The heart of turbo culture is victory, not a single art form. Turbo must win. Not merely succeed, but humiliate others at the same time. Serbian turbo culture is identifiable by this effect of humiliation; it is delinquent and perhaps even criminal toward professionals and civilians in its most durable form of expression: architecture. Simply by having been dominantly constructed from concrete and brick, it will stay visible much longer than the passing trends of fashion and music. This is by far the most cunning method of turbo culture…. turbo acquires its global nature by consciously incorporating whatever appears as global at a given moment. In fact, this is where turbo manages to “self-normalize,” and possibly self-terminate, by spinning its local component to clash with the global, following its Oriental source. The local is freed from its locality and sets out to seek new sources, while always bringing back something new, surprising new amalgams, until it tires and decides to look for “its own roots,” which naturally do not exist and need to be either invented or borrowed. Turbo architecture arose from dirt, or more precisely, the desire to be accepted in grand style. Turbo architecture is global, because it rejects modernism by reasserting both the forms and shapes that preceded it and the ones that follow it….  Turbo architecture is against orthogonal form, but is based on technology that supports this form. Thus it tries to bend it, twist it, decorate it, cover it, disarm its interiors with a secondary layer of materials; it unites the expressive formal possibilities of modernist technology and traditional form until its primary sources are indistinguishable. Turbo architecture is frustrated because it is ignored by intellectuals. Turbo architecture is full of good intentions. Turbo architecture is romantic, but loves technology and bright colors. Turbo architecture has been co-opted by criminals. Turbo architecture dislikes dirt though it is as real as dirt. Turbo architecture wants to win. Turbo architecture has elitist aspirations. Turbo architecture does not blindly accept the past; it gradually negates it through mimicry. Turbo architecture wants to be accepted by the world as an integral part of the world itself. Turbo architecture has to be radical and highly inventive in order to survive. Turbo architecture will exist only if it is on the edge of survival. Turbo architecture survives by inflating every aspect of a real possibility. Turbo architecture wants be permanent. Turbo architecture may remain for good. Turbo architecture cannot be concealed, and is the unruly effect of the black market. Turbo architecture is the proof that architectural production depends neither on a stable market, nor on a stable political system. Turbo architecture is not about size; it is about scale. Turbo architecture is a mix of romantic and technological desires; it is roman-tech. Turbo architecture has a global character. Turbo architecture is not alone. Turbo architecture is internally divided: one side pushing to the exterior, an extrovert exhibitionist, the other pushing to the private inside, both exacerbating the divide. Turbo architecture, like many things before, is built out of greed. Turbo architecture is compared to, and often literally is, a bunker. Turbo architecture is trying to become harder than bulldozers can break. Turbo architecture has spread. Turbo architecture prefers no rules, but in the long run needs them, because it loves to break them openly. We deny that forces of instability present an opportunity for ferocious culture generation. Wars and regimes have dropped from our field of vision with respect to positive creative opportunities. Crises have erased the perspective of change for something better, bigger, or newer being possible, and pushed out of sight the dark stage of collateral damage, full of the debris of conflict. But when that debris outgrows its confines, the “culture” becomes the new means of escape, a buffer for venting accumulated power. Depending on our level of understanding of transforming cultures, we will either accept it as grotesque or glorify it as genuine. What is turbo architecture? Nothing in-between.

For full text go to: Atlas of Transformation

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