Sunday, May 31, 2009

The New New Postmodern: green buildings & indentured labor

Guest author Christopher Sell writes on Lebbeus Woods' blog Darkening Dubai: Architects named in human rights row

Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel are among architects singled out by US-based organisation Human Rights Watch for the ‘abuse and severe exploitation’ of construction labourers occurring on their projects at Abu Dhabi’s luxury Saadiyat Island development.

In an 80-page report published last week, entitled The Island of Happiness: Exploitation of Migrant Workers on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, Human Rights Watch found that, despite slow improvements in timely payment of wages and labour conditions, abuses such as passport withholding and fines are still occurring.

Under government developer the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), Saadiyat Island (‘Happiness Island’ in Arabic) is being developed into a £17 billion tourism and cultural centre, comprising a Nouvel-designed Louvre, a Guggenheim by Gehry, Foster + Partners’ Sheikh Zayed National Museum and Hadid’s Performing Arts Centre, all yet to be completed.

Human Rights Watch called on the architects, and institutions such as the Guggenheim and the Louvre, to obtain enforceable contractual guarantees that construction companies will protect workers’ fundamental human rights.

‘These international institutions need to show that they will not tolerate or benefit from the gross exploitation of these migrant workers,’ said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch...

In all fairness to the designers, architects often have little to no say about contractor labor practices. This defense grows thin however, as inhumane labor practices in [until recently] booming regions such as the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia are well documented - if under-reported. It's postmodern to the point of nausea to think that some of the most innovative architecture in the world [many groundbreakingly "green"] is being built by people living in near medieval conditions.

I can't help but to think about last spring's controversy regarding Daniel Lebiskind's proclamation to never work in China, and Architecture For Humanity founder Cameron Sinclair's passionate and eloquent response cum mini-manifesto for responsible design: "What is your ethical footprint?"

That's a question I pose quite often to young designers who are interested in socially responsible and humanitarian design. While 'being green' and sustainability are hot topics right now many in our industry seem to forget the ethical impact our structures have. It's a question designers at Architecture for Humanity struggle with all the time. Is my work creating balanced financial stability in the community? Are the materials I am using sourced in an ethical manner? Are we including the local skills and talent in the design and construction process?

I happened to stumble upon a debate on whether architects should work in China. It was sparked by Daniel Libeskind in Ireland last week and is now being called a "stunt". I am amazed that the leading voices of the profession are eager to pass judgment on the ethics of working in an entire country. What if you are building a health center or rural school in a country with questionable leadership? Is Libeskind therefore suggesting all Chinese architects are unethical? Where is the dividing line here and what right do we have to make one?

Everyone involved in this squabble are completely missing the boat. The real ethical dilemma our profession faces is closer to home – the way in which we build our buildings. It is not our just our environmental footprint but our entire ethical footprint that truly matters.

In Dubai and Doha, where many high profile designers are taking huge commissions, many developments are supporting and encouraging unfair and unsafe construction labor practices that are about as close to indentured servitude as you can get. Last year I visited the labor camps and was stunned to find 8-10 to a room and no access to clean drinking water. Many of the men I met had come from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and China – most had been away from there families for years and knew the dangers of working on site. In the UAE alone there are 2.7 Million migrant workers, making up 95% of the country’s workforce. Even a recent report by Human Rights Watch released in 2006 barely caused a response from the industry.

Why is this a big deal? A few years ago I attended a talk on violence in the Middle East. One of the speakers, Queen Noor, spoke about the fact that the insurgency and hatred toward the west was being compounded by the 70 million+ disenfranchised youth that are either unemployed or working in low paying jobs, such as the construction industry. It made me think about those sky-piercing structures under construction and whether the poor labor conditions that we are a profession are willing to overlook may come back to haunt us.

However I am still hear the current design leaders take a stand for those workers who are building these grand structures. Are those commissions are too seductive for any of them to take a stand?

Next time they take one of these gigs perhaps they can require ethical labor practices to be included in the contract.

I wonder - as the cash dries up in Dubai's sewage infested, cartoon-like celebration of the worst aspects of perverse Western decadence - will things get better or worse for the Sri Lankan migrant worker unable to go home and risking his life to build a skyscraper nobody will ever inhabit? If we want to think about architecture fiction, picture the Sheikhs cutting their losses, leaving the tallest buildings in the world empty and unfinished, taken over by a stranded population with nothing to lose and rightfully consumed with anger.

This affects everyone, and karma can be a bitch.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Diller Scofidio + Renfro + Charlie Rose

Just another reason to love Charlie Rose. There’s a lot of talk about NYC's High Line, plus discussion of Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s other work: The Blur Building, the ICA in Boston, and of course the new Alice Tully Hall.

Watch it here (53:37)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cyberoptix Tie Lab in the New York Times Magazine

Bethany's Terminal Illness design subverts both fear of the unknown and the status quo in one whimsical and stylish swoop, and is the focus of Rob Walker's latest column for the NY Times:

Consumed: Viral Infection

At one time or another, most American males must reckon with the necktie. Some embrace it, some grudgingly acquiesce to it and plenty reject it. That the necktie seems to have no practical purpose is of course the very source of its potency. Over the past decade or two, a rising wave of tech billionaires have made even its absence a powerful signal. This is why a tie pattern that incorporates an image of the swine-flu virus is such a snug fit: while the necktie sounds like an unlikely canvas for dark humor or subversive sentiment, it is actually an ideal one.

“Terminal Illness” is the name of one of the most recent designs from Bethany Shorb, a Detroit artist, and the fact that it has a title is a good indicator that it is not a traditional tie. What at first glance resembles an abstract pattern well within the vernacular of the necktie aesthetic is, rather, a repeated image of the swine-flu virus connected by shapes based on international-airport-terminal diagrams. A tie called “Snoutbreak!” features a simpler graphic that clearly suggests a pig’s nose; if you order this tie, you get a matching surgical mask free. These offerings from Shorb’s Cyberoptix Tie Lab were made available in early May, when the swine-flu freakout was at its height and the director general of the World Health Organization had recently warned that a pandemic had the potential to threaten “all of humanity.”

An appropriate topic for a design riff? “I think paranoia is really­ fascinating,” Shorb says, noting that she was struck by the intense disease-related warning graphics while going through customs on a trip home from Italy. She had already been thinking about making a design involving airport-terminal diagrams — “They’re really beautiful” — before the swine-flu scare gave her an epiphany: “What if I put a disease in there!” Soon she had uploaded the design to her Flickr account, where, she says, it was almost immediately linked in a Twitter comment (“O.K., now that’s a contemporary tie”), by Bruce Sterling, the science-fiction novelist, leading to a first wave of orders...

... According to Anne Hollander’s insightful book “Sex and Suits,” ties were firmly established as an element of the “modern masculine image” we know today by the early 19th century: along with coats and trousers, “the brilliantly colored necktie asserted itself, to add a needed phallic note to the basic ensemble.” Shorb is of course catering to forms of tie resentment — boredom with traditional patterns, the appeal of disturbing imagery disguised in a workplace-ready design, distaste for sartorial uniformity. But, as Hollander pointed out, subverting fashion often requires deeper participation than merely conforming would. Shorb’s customers tend to be artists, designers, creative professionals and others who are tuned in to the expressive possibilities of even the most conformist of garments. A design inspired by pandemic paranoia is one way for style rebels to reject the traditional necktie, with panache.

related: Bruce Sterling on "Twitter’s Killer App"

also related: Cyberoptix featured in Modish's Handmade Spaces

Friday, May 22, 2009

Movement festival & after-party highlights

Clips from a few of the acts we're really excited to see - to get in the mood:

Telefon Tel Aviv - Immolate Yourself [2009, fan video]

Little Computer People a.k.a. Anthony Rother - Little Computer People [2001]

Ellen Allien - Trash Scapes [2003]

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Movement festival after hours

Movement a.k.a. DEMF has landed. There are tons of exciting first-time artists on the bill [Anthony Rother, Ellen Allien, Afrika Bambaataa, etc.] and many familiar faces, but as always, the one-off events that spread throughout the city into the wee hours make DEMF weekend such a diverse feast of sounds and scenes.

Filter D's picks for the weekend here
Metro Times picks for the weekend here
D-Tales mega-list here

Below are just a few special highlights from Burnlab contributors & conspirators:

FRIDAY, MAY 22 [tonight!]

Official Movement Opening Party
The Prodigy
Chuck Flask & Evan Evolution [in the State Bar]

Fillmore Theater Detroit
2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit
7PM | all ages | $20
*EARLY SHOW - Dethlab plays shortly after 7pm to shortly after 9pm
More info here and here

Bunker Detroit Edition
Jan Krueger
Derek Plaslaiko

1456 Woodward Ave., Detroit
9PM | 18+ | $15
More info here


Ghostly International 10 Year Anniversary
Michna With Raw Paw
Telefon Tel Aviv
+DJ sets by Mike Servito and Tour Detroit

The Magic Stick
4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit
9PM | 18+ | $15 advance / $20 door
More info here

The Blank Artists Afterglow
Tim Sweeney
Todd Osborn
Trent Abbe
Drew Pompa + Josh Dahlberg

Bohemian National Home
3009 Tillman St., Detroit
11PM | $10 all night
More info here

Even more Saturday:
Click Point at McCarthy's
Detroit Techno Militia at 5 Element Gallery
Clink at River's Edge


No Way Back Extended Remix
Derek Plaslaiko
BMG of Ectomorph
IBM [live]
Mike Servito
Chuck Hampton
Patrick Russell
Carlos Souffront

Bohemian National Home
3009 Tillman St., Detroit
11PM | $10 all night
More info here

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

Live in Time

Virgil Moorefield, Merge and nospectacle in Live in Time, May 21, Detroit Film Theatre, @ DIA, 5200 Woodward Avenue. Doors 7 p.m. $10.

The Torment of Saint Anthony

Michelangelo, The Torment of Saint Anthony

From The Guardian:

A work of art believed to be Michelangelo's first painting, completed when he was just 12 or 13 years old, has been acquired by a museum in Texas in deal that leaves other major galleries taking notice.

The Kimbell Art Museum, based in Fort Worth, paid an undisclosed figure for The Torment of St Anthony. Though the provenance of the painting has long been disputed, expert opinion has shifted in recent months to the view that it is indeed the earliest known painting of the master...

+ image gallery, including x-rays revealing the adolescent Michelangelo's painting techniques.

The painting is dated 1487 or 88, a few years prior to Bosch's masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights - another favorite for, among other things, its rather wonderfully surreal depictions of demons.

Alt Weddings part 2: 100 Layer Cake

Good non-traditional wedding resources are few & far between, but when they're good they're really good. A few months back we posted about the excellent site Offbeat Bride, discovered via Coilhouse. Graphic design tastemaker extraordinaire Fabien Barral of Graphic-ExchanGE recently turned us on to 100 Layer Cake.


100 Layer Cake won't necessarily give examples of how to pull off a Steampunk or Stanley Kubrick themed wedding, but it is filled with gorgeous design ideas & top notch photography, & their style/color boards are real standouts. Even if you're not planning a wedding, if you fetishize details like letterpress, old keys and mysterious ephemera - or just appreciate quality DIY design - spend some time browsing their site.



+ For more wonderful ephemera & design, see Secret Leaves Paperworks.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Random Doyle sighting over at

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Deastro live in London

Synthy hotness.

Deastro @ Be - Proud Gallery 09.05.09 from Be Events on Vimeo.

Lebbeus Woods on Architecture and Resistance

When it comes to food for thought, the words of the original "anarchitect" Lebbeus Woods are like fine Futurist cuisine.


Apropos of nothing in particular—unless it is the general spirit of acquiescence pervading the field of architecture today—I have been thinking about the idea of architecture and resistance. Although many people might judge that my work in architecture has been nothing if not a form of resistance, I have never considered it as such. To say that you are resisting something means that you have to spend a lot of time and energy saying what that something is, in order for your resistance to make sense. Too much energy flows in the wrong direction, and you usually end up strengthening the thing you want to resist.

It seems to me that if architects really want to resist, then neither the idea nor the rhetoric of resistance has a place in it. These architects must take the initiative, beginning from a point of origin that precedes anything to be resisted, one deep within an idea of architecture itself. They can never think of themselves as resisters, or join resistance movements, or preach resistance. Rather (and this is the hard part of resistance) they must create an independent idea of both architecture and the world. It is not something that can be improvised at the barricades. It takes time and a lot of trial and error. This is only just, because the things to be resisted have not come from nowhere. They have a history built over periods of time, a kind of seriousness and weight that makes them a threat to begin with. They can only be resisted by ideas and actions of equivalent substance and momentum.

The word resist is interestingly equivocal. It is not synonymous with words of ultimate negation like ‘dismiss’ or ‘ reject.’ Instead, it implies a measured struggle that is more tactical than strategic. Living changes us, in ways we cannot predict, for the better and the worse. One looks for principles, but we are better off if we control them, not the other way around. Principles can become tyrants, foreclosing on our ability to learn. When they do, they, too, must be resisted...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life & Work with Commonwealth


New York Magazine visits the home and studio of husband-and-wife design team Commonwealth.

Cork, bamboo, and Corian are put to plenty of commonplace uses in today’s homes, but in the hands of—or rather, run through the CNC machine of—furniture designers Zoë Coombes and David Boira of Commonwealth, they become the stuff of far stranger household objects. At the back of an industrial building in Williamsburg, the couple has made anemone-like porcelain-vase models, translucent webbed Corian desktops, cork-and-plaster lamp prototypes, and a furniture series constructed of Richlite, a sustainably harvested paper countertop material. CNC machines allow for blobby, biomorphic digital designs to be translated directly into three dimensions. Coombes and Boira insert a block of material into the mill and send it a digital file detailing a form. The solid passes through the mill and is carved away; what remains is the object designed on the computer, to be refined by hand. The result: furniture like Commonwealth’s Lard series, a table, bureau, and stool that are minimalist in color and shape but that break out in cellulite-like blips and blurps. The black stools are made of Richlite, “which has this eco-angle but we made something from it that has this Star Wars look,” says Coombes. “It’s an eco-product without trying to look like patchouli,” adds Boira...


Quimby The Mouse animated

From the twisted, genius mind of Chris Ware:

Quimby The Mouse from This American Life on Vimeo.

Friday, May 08, 2009

The space program has given us so much.

I used the term "screw the pooch" today and realized that I had no idea what it meant or where it cam from.
Wiktionary says:

screw the pooch

The term was first documented in the early "Mercury" days of the US space program. It came there from a Yale graduate named John Rawlings who helped design the astronauts' space suits. The phrase is actually a bastardization of an earlier, more vulgar and direct term which was slang for doing something very much the wrong way, as in "you are fucking the dog!" At Yale a friend of Rawlings', the radio DJ Jack May (a.k.a. "Candied Yam Jackson") amended this term to "screwing the pooch" which was simultaneously less vulgar and more pleasing to the ear.

The term, however, did not enter the popular lexicon until Tom Wolfe used it in his book about the space program, The Right Stuff, where it was used to describe a supposed mistake by astronaut Gus Grissom.

Thanks, internet.

A girl, a boy, a drum machine... and an orgy involving a Nam June Paik piece? Hot.

The Kills - The Good Ones [2005]

Tonight in Detroit

The Horrors - Who Can Say from IM // UR on Vimeo.

The Horrors & The Kills live tonight at the Magic Stick


Sorted! w/ DJs extraordinaire Richard Panic & Mike Trombley at Northern Lights Lounge [and it's free!]


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Recent conversation with my maker

"I've done... questionable things."
"Also extraordinary things. Revel in it!"
"Nothing the god of biomechancis wouldn't let you into heaven for?"
*crunch cruccchhhh*
"Aghhhhhhh! Aghhhhhhhh!"
"Agggghhhhhhhhh! Aggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

[Sorry - Blade Runner quotes just never ever get less awesome.]

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Modpunk 1960s Hover Bike

Now this is traveling in style:

[via WIRED Gadget Lab]

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Vector Portraits - Random pictures of people driving:

Found this story on NPR. Thought it was interesting enough to post here.

From NPR Story:

Vector Portraits

If you've ever taken a road trip -- or if you've ever been in a car, for that matter -- you've probably found yourself glancing curiously at passersby. Sometimes there's the awkward, accidental eye contact. Sometimes there's the unexpected: a woman curling her eyelashes, a man eating a bowl of cereal, or someone changing outfits behind the wheel. It's interesting that, only when alone in a car, do people sing really loud, as if completely alone and unseen.

Here is a link to Andrew Bush's site:

Friday, May 01, 2009