07 April 2009

"More talks about buildings"

Triple Canopy put on an interesting and eclectic program tonight at The Kitchen on West 19th Street. Before the program, I went upstairs to the gallery. The Jamal Cyrus show was OK but the Elodie Pong videos were really splendid. One was called "After the Empire" which starred actors playing Batman and Robin, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Karl Marx, an older woman who waits for her supposed father who is already dead, sometimes alone and sometimes interacting. The Marilyn and Marx interaction is especially poignant. The other large-screen video "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day" shows birds with captions about globalization and consumerism. Pretty simple but powerful.

On to the Triple Canopy show which started with a film of the Houston Petrochemical Corridor, seen from the air. Not a pretty landscape. As it was winding past in visual space, one of the members of Triple Canopy read a prose-poem-joke about urbanism. Next up was Emily Richardson's "Cobra Mist" which surveys Orford Ness, a nature reserve and defunct nuclear testing site on the Suffolk coast in England. Pretty but a tad vacuous. Then Lucy Raven presented her video-in-progress on Daybreak, a development being built by the Kennecott mining folks in the Utah Valley and built on waste. Raven did a fine job of mixing her commentary and the voice of the PR person from Daybreak. The economic downturn is affecting the development and Kennecott is actually now expanding their mining activities rather than moving forward so quickly with their new traditionalist development with the sweet business sections and every need taken care of. Raven ended her presentation with a reading of the monthly slogans on the 2009 Daybreak calendar. For example, your life will be marvelous in this lovely colonial house.

Back to film: Melanie Smith's black-and-white aerial investigation of Mexico City entitled "Spiral city." After it had run once and a bit, a trio of musicians -- Zs -- set up and started playing their "composed and improvised music" which turned out to be pretty stupid and very loud and way too long.

The next presentation by architects Thomas Moran and Rustam Mehta about their plans for a high-speed rail transportation hub in the Mojave Desert was very heartening. The hub is being planned by the VPL Authority (that's for Vegas-Phoenix-Los Angeles) which also did the water corridor that allows the sprawl of Phoenix and Las Vegas. The rail line however would ease air traffic. They said that fully 7% of LAX's traffic is short flights. Their graphs showed the environmental and economic costs of various modes of transportation with rail travel being considerably better than other modes, in amounts of government subsidy, air pollution, even time since the trains would go city center to city center.

Next up was architectural critic Joseph Clarke (no relation, as far as I know) who discussed megachurch architecture in comparison to that of corporations and other organizations. This was pretty much a "straight" architectural history paper and full of interesting comparisons. Though big Christian churches have been around for most of the last two millenia, Clarke credited Charles Spurgeon who led a prayer service at the Crystal Palace in 1851 with the start of the big evangelical service. He made comparisons between the postwar developments of Charles Schuller's drive-in church and SOM corporate complexes with suburban development. The postwar megachurch has evolved through cell groups which started with the Yoide Full Gospel Church in Korea which now has 800 thousand members. The folks at Yoide divided Seoul up into cells which met in people's homes and as the groups grew beyond the domestic capacity, cells divided. Clarke compared this to the corporate office landscaping which is more open and collaborative. He ended with comparing Saddleback Church's complex with The Googleplex. Since I'd visited the Crystal Cathedral last summer in conjunction with ALA in Anaheim, I was especially interested in his example of that complex with its early Neutra church with the mix of drive-in and church and later Crystal Cathedral by Philip Johnson.

The evening ended with some rap by Nine 11 Thesaurus, a Brownsville-based group which is working with other community groups.

While the title of the program "More talks about buildings" drew me to the announcement of the program, the use of "authority" and "thesaurus" in segment titles was amusing. It was more about urbanism than buildings but left me with some hope and lots to think about.

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