Six Blocks of Social Housing (After Donald Judd)

2023

wood
198 x 88,5 x 42 cm
18 x 88,5 x 41,5 cm each block

STACK are wall installations by Donald Judd that vary according to the size of the walls to determine the number of elements. Try as much as possible to put an even number so that none of them attract more attention and the width of the solid parts must be equal to the width of the hollow parts. Thanks to these constructive principles, Donald Judd creates works that do not have a hierarchical organization: each element is identical and can be repeated as many times as desired.

The housing utopias derived from the Athens Charter (1942) raise the possibility of a universal model for workers’ housing. This housing prototype triumphed during the reconstruction of post-war Europe, but it became the seed that will soon spread the suburban dystopia on a planetary scale. The history of social housing from this moment on no longer has anything to do with communal experiments but, on the contrary, is progressively reoriented towards the policy of massive credit to fatten speculation and property value.

As if it were gigantic minimal art installations (avant la lettre), urban peripheries around the world are filled with identical blocks that can be repeated as many times as you like.

Walden 7 or Life In The Cities

2022

Video, 33’19”

Henry David Thoreau built a cabin on the shore of Walden Lake and lived there in a spartan and solitary way for two years, from 1845 to 1847. In this cabin he wrote his well-known book Walden, or Life in the Woods, a critique of industrial society and an argument in favor of “natural” non-productive and free life.

In 1948, B. F. Skinner wrote the science fiction novel Walden Two which takes its name from the book by Henry David Thoreau. Skinner imagines a utopian city; a collectivist utopia of a community of a thousand people where cooperativism is encouraged instead of competitiveness. The book was enormously popular mainly in the intellectual and alternative circles of the 1960s. In the novel, Skinner recounts the existence of other Walden communities that continue the Walden Two project, namely Walden 3, Walden 4 , Walden 5 and Walden 6.

Between 1970 and 1975, Taller de Arquitectura, the team of architects, sociologists, philosophers and poets who came together around Ricardo Bofill, built an emblematic project of radical architecture: the building of collective housing Walden 7 in Sant Just Desvern (Barcelona). And it is precisely because of this reference to the previous six Waldens, Thoreau’s Walden and the five Waldens imagined by Skinner, that they named the latter as such.

Walden 7, and its unbuilt precedent of the City in the Space, maintain a complex relationship with the housing project of modernity, and with the attempts, from the 60s, to overcome its contradictions, thus adding new layers of complexity to the central question of the modern project: how to live together.

The video project Walden 7 or Life in the Cities traces the journey between the initial project and the current building through interviews, archival and contemporary images. The video is structured around the core conversation with the architect’s sister and co-author of the project Anna Bofill, herself an architect, composer, as well as a feminist activist and former member of the Taller de Arquitectura (Architecture Workshop). She has been living in the building for the past 30 years, thus, identifying with the project through to the end.

A LOOP production. Co-finances with funds from the Creative Europe Program and the project A-PLACE. Linking places through networked artistic practices.

Thanks to: Anna Bofill, Taller de Arquitectura and the inhabitants of Walden 7

View video

Czech hedgehog (three blocks of social housing)

2022

wood
120 x 120 x 120 cm
Unique piece

The Czech hedgehog is an anti-tank defense obstacle consisting of angular metal bars joined together.

The hedgehog is very effective at preventing armored units, tanks, from crossing a defensive line. Originally, the hedgehogs were used by the Czechs on the border with Germany (hence their name) as part of a system of fortified defenses hastily built at the beginning of the Second World War. Czech hedgehogs were widely used during this conflict, they were made from any metal piece or even train rails. They also proved extremely effective in urban combat conditions, as a single piece could block an entire street.

*******

At the beginning of the 21st century, the housing utopias of the Athens Charter are completely wrecked in the impoverished peripheries of global megalopolises. The egalitarian and just city imagined by collectivist utopias or the pacified city dreamed of by reformists, the one that would allow a “harmonious” flow of capital, work and domestic life, has mutated into a suburban dystopia on a global scale. Having definitively broken the fragile contract between capital and the social body, full of ghettos and walls, borders, enclaves and fortified areas for the privileged, that dream city is today a battlefield.

In the essay “Slouching towards dystopia: the new military futurism”, published in Race & Class, Matt Carr discusses the fact that in recent years, US and UK military think tanks have produced a series of reports that they try to imagine the future threats to the security of the West. This new military futurism sees threats to the Western way of life emanating from conflicts over resource scarcity, mass migrations and the growth of failed megacities where social disorder is a daily occurrence. The dark predictions of military futurologists posit an eminently urban scenario of war, of neighborhood-by-neighborhood, street-by-street, house-by-house fighting, and provide a justification for endless war against the dispossessed. As Mike Davis states: “For the Pentagon, the ‘failed cities’ of the countries of the Global South have been identified as ‘the key battleground of the future'”.

Czech hedgehog (three blocks of social housing) is a prototype for urban self-defense.

* Czech hedgehog (three blocks of social housing) belongs to BPS22 Musée d’Art collection, Charleroi, Belgium

A century of European architecture: La Cité de la Muette

2022

Wooden shelves, prints on aluminium and bronze model.
162 x 65 x 58 cm
Edition of 3

Josep Lluís Sert in his well-known book Can our Cities Survive? An ABC of Urban Problems, their Analysis, their Solutions – which collects and theorises all the elements of the famous Athens Charter (1934) agreed at the IV CIAM (International Congress of Modern Architecture) led by Le Corbusier – presents the housing complex known as the Cité de la Muette as the desirable model for modern living, a “garden city” that combines affordable housing with communal living.

This complex of social housing for the working class, – designed by the architects Marcel Lods and Eugène Beaudouin, with the collaboration of Jean Prouvé and built between 1931 and 1934 in Drancy, in the northeast of Paris –, it is considered one of the first large housing projects designed according to CIAM principles.

In 1941 the Drancy concentration camp was created in a large U-shaped building that is part of the Cité de la Muette complex. From August 1941 to August 1944, the Drancy concentration camp was the lynchpin of the anti-Semitic expulsion policy in France. This camp was for three years the main internment center for Jews before they were deported to the Nazi extermination camps, most of them in Auschwitz.

Conversation Piece: Bublik

2021

Wood and Formica
84 x 172 x 120 cm
Inkjet printing on paper
75 x 130 cm

The Moscow Round House (or Bublik) was built in the context of a difficult real estate crisis in the USSR. The circular shape makes it an example of a completely different Khrushchyovka structure from the standardized, monotonous buildings of that time.

After World War II, the USSR suffered a major rural exodus as a result of new industrialization and collectivization policies, forcing the Soviet authorities to build massive buildings. This was the birth of a new model of collective housing, the Khrushchyovka (an unofficial name derived from Nikita Khrushchev). This typology succeeds Stalinist architecture, a set of expensive, high-quality buildings reserved for a minority. The Khrushchyovka were low-cost buildings, built of concrete panels, where simplicity was given priority over aesthetics and originality.

In response to the standardization of these architectures, Soviet architect Eugene Stamo partnered with engineer Alexandr Markelov to propose a new design for these buildings. In 1972, a cylindrical apartment building was built to break the monotony of the Ochakovo-Matveevskoe district: 155m of diameter, 8 levels with 26 entrances and 913 apartments. The first floor is dedicated to services (shops, hairdressers, pharmacies, bookstore / library, children’s club…) while the courtyard is designed as a common garden isolated from the city. Named “Bublik” (Russian bagel) for its particular form, the real estate proposition was a failure; due to its technical difference from standard buildings, it was much more expensive and its construction slower than neighbouring buildings.

However, the circular central space, which sought to recover the former Soviet communal courtyard and the collectivist spirit of the Dom-Kommuna from the beginning of the revolution, added great symbolic value to the project, and the possibility of accessing all services at a very short distance, initially seduced the authorities and they decided to built another building of the same characteristics.

But in the end, although the collective functional aspect was positively assessed, the apartments had a trapezoidal shape that accumulated limitations and made it difficult to repair these non-standardized units, within a not at all flexible and strongly centralized housing policy, and the program was closed.

It could be stated that the Bublik in taking this circular shape that generates a central communal space is inserted in the ancestral communal architectural tradition (peoples of the Amazon, traditional towns in China, settlements of the peoples of central Africa, etc.), in the tradition of utopian socialism (the Phalanstère and Familistère) and of course from the Soviet tradition itself (Dom-Kommuna) and which is also the last attempt to reactivate this same tradition.

Two Shelters and the Phantom Limb (Ted, Charles-Édouard and Henry David)

2020

Bonze, wood and iron

Unique piece

Bronze Hut 1: 12 x 15 x 13 cm
Bronze Hut 2: 16 x 15 x12.5 cm
Table (iron and wood): 75 x 80 x 40 cm

The piece consists in two bronze models of two huts: the first is the hut in the woods of Montana where Ted Kaczynski, known as Unabomber, was hiding, and the second is Le Cabanon, the 16m2 hut that Le Corbusier build in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The empty space between them is the space would be occupied by the hut that Henry David Thoreau built on the shores of Lake Walden.

Henry David Thoreau lived in a Spartan and solitary way for two years, from 1845 to 1847, in this hut and wrote there his well-known book “Walden or Life in the Woods”, a critique of industrial society, and a plea for it. of non-productive and free “natural” life.

Ted Kaczynski (Chicago, 1942) known as Unabomber, is an American mathematician who carried out a bombing campaign that killed three people to denounce modern capitalist society, the technology and industrialization. In 1971 he moved to a small cabin in the middle of the woods in the remote lands of Montana.
In 1995, Kaczynski sent a letter to The New York Times promising to “give up terrorism” if his manifesto was published, and the newspaper published it. In his manifesto, called the “Industrial Society and Its Future”, he argued that bombs were necessary to draw attention to the erosion of freedom in a high-tech society. He was eventually arrested by the FBI and sentenced to life in prison. He is currently serving a sentence in a Colorado prison.
Ted Kaczynski considers himself a follower of the philosophical doctrine proposed by Thoureau.

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, 1887 – Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, 1965), better known as Le Corbusier, was one of the most important and influential architects and urban planners of the twentieth century, the intellectual father of the housing utopias derived from the Athens Charter (1942), which sought to solve once and for all all the ills of the old cities, and which in the late 1970s were wrecked in the metropolitan suburbs of all the world.
In 1952, while building the Unité d’Habitation and planning the new Indian city of Chandigar, Le Corbusier designed and built a small wooden hut in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, a minimal dwelling, a small shelter near the sea.

Phantom limb syndrome is the perception that an amputated limb is still connected to the body and is functioning along with the rest of the body; the most plausible explanation is that the brain still has an area dedicated to the amputated limb, so the patient still feels the limb.

Welcome to Barcelona / Welcome to Madrid

2018

Two light box, 66 x 50 cm each.
Edition of 3

Image “Welcome to Barcelona”: Pavilion of the Compañía General de Tabacos de Filipinas installed in the Parc de la Ciutadella in Barcelona, 1888.

Image “Welcome to Madrid”: Filipino “village” built for the General Exhibition of the Philippine Islands in the Retiro Park in Madrid and populated by indigenous people of different ethnicities and different animal species from the archipelago, 1887.

Welcome to Barcelona (2018) and Welcome to Madrid (2018) is welcoming to two cities in Spain, after two major expositions on the Philippines presented at the end of the 19th century. In 1887 the General Exposition of the Philippine Islands, promoted by the Overseas Ministry, took place in the Retiro Park in Madrid. In the general catalog the project was introduced explaining “Spain did not yet know what in foreign lands was the subject of study and praise”, despite being the metropolis after more than three hundred years of colonial rule. And he continued “The productions of that fertile soil, the works that reveal the privileged aptitude of their children for the arts all, the results of the influence of the metropolis in a colony never selfishly exploited, were known to us by references or fragmentary way.” (*) Good wishes were accompanied by a desire to show the strength of the domination of the archipelago, in a voracious propaganda attempt, just a decade before finally losing the colony. A year later, at the Universal Exhibition of Barcelona in 1888, the Pavilion of the General Company of Tobacco from the Philippines was presented, a company that represented one of the largest commercial interests overseas, founded by Marquis of Comillas, slave trader, businessman and shipping magnate.

This project reflects on the structural violence implicit in the political and economic strategies around colonialism, and on the phenomenon of universal expositions as a kind of vain cartographies conceived from the metropolis to exhibit countries and dominated cultures, as cabinets of curiosities and catalog of exoticism that did nothing but increase geographical and cultural distance. Under the pretext of scientific and anthropological interest, the positivist and suprematist gaze articulated around moral, racist, and economic interests was imposed. National stereotypes, images of power, institutional criticism or the euphemisms of progress are raised here through the displacement of the subject of contemplation: they are not images of the two host cities that welcome us, but are images of the vision that those two cities offered from the Philippines in the context of two great celebratory events.

Teresa Grandas
(Fragment of the text of the catalog of the exhibition Domènec. Not Here, Not Anywhere. Ateneo Art Gallery, Manila, 2019)

(*) Catalog of the General Exhibition of the Philippine Islands, Madrid, 1887.

* The 1/3 edition belongs to the collection of the Ateneo Art Gallery, Manila.

And the Earth will be Paradise

2018

Wood, Photo series.

Y la tierra será el paraíso (And the earth will be paradise), the title of this piece, is a verse from the most popular version in Spanish of the L’Internationale, the anthem of the working class par excellence, adopted by most of the socialist parties , communists and anarchists of the world. This verse perfectly sums up the utopian character of modernity, a time in which the idea that everything good was about to arrive was spread.

The project I “And the earth will be paradise” (2018) consists of a photographic series and wooden models that, stacked on top of each other, form a sculptural tower. These models represent the gigantic blocks of Social Housing Estate in La Mina, a neighborhood located on the outskirts of Barcelona that was built in the early seventies to rehouse the population from different shantytowns, and where the worst vices of impunity and political incompetence. Two archival photographs are shown next to these models; one, from 1970, shows the dictator Franco and the mayor of Barcelona posing next to the model of the La Mina neighborhood project, the other shows a group of women, relocated to this same neighborhood, holding the model of the their hut in Camp de la Bota, built by themselves with cardboard.

Again we see the image of power presenting itself in an overbearing manner as the benefactors of the population through large building campaigns, in front of the image of the victims of this power, the lowest classes of society, who appropriate the urban space making use of the few resources at their disposal.

The project is completed with a photographic series showing estates of large social housing buildings. Domènec, who has taken these snapshots in cities as diverse as Barcelona, Warsaw, Bratislava, Marseille, Nantes or Mexico City, does not indicate these origins. In this way, evidence of how the presence and aesthetics of this type of large housing projects, present on the outskirts of all major cities in the world, are a global sign of imposition from political and economic power.

Photos: Roberto Ruiz, courtesy of ADN Gallery, Barcelona

BKF. Cynegetics and Modernity

2018

ADN Platform

For this exhibition in ADN Platform, Domènec presents another product of the so called Modern project. It is the iconic BKF chair, an aesthetic and functional proposal also known as “Butterfly chair” because of its morphological resemblance to the insect. The prototype consists of two symmetrical tubular pieces welded and covered by a piece of leather. A simple and soft design that also evokes the natural in its curved and sinuous forms. A morphological object that acquires an almost sculptural, even architectural, value while fulfilling its main function, that of the seat.

Created between 1938 and 1939, the BKF was designed by exiled Catalan architect Antoni Bonet Castellana and the Argentines Juan Kurchan and Jorge Ferrari-Hardoy. They met each other while working at Le Corbusier’s office in 1936. Two years later the three architects created the Austral group (1938 – 1941).

The BKF become one of the most famous designs in history. In 1944, Edgar kaufmann, MoMA’s director of Industrial Design collection at that time, acquired one BKF for the museum’s collections and two more for the iconic “Waterfall House” (Frank Lloyd Wright), example par excellence of this rationalist Modern architecture. Austral group’s proposal turned out to be another perfect example of avant-garde design and would soon become part of its history.

As usual in Domènec’s processes, with this installation the artist examines the iconic design from a new point of view. The two BKF chairs appear without their coating, the piece of leather that covers them and making us possible to sit on them. Its original function is thus nullified and now the structures are ready for being used in different ways. One of these alternatives of use could be the one we see in the dictator Francisco Franco that appears near the chairs. The dictator uses the naked frames of the chairs to proudly display his hunting trophies: two deer heads whose baroque antlers oppose the soft and synthetic lines of the BKFs’ skeletons. Ortega y Gasset said once that hunting, (also called “cynegetics”) consist of everything that is done before and after the dead of the animal, being the death a key part in the process. We can find here a certain resemblance with the evolution of modernity, an idealistic project that suffered from constantly harassment until its very crisis. The entire installation causes in its viewers a strange confusion resulting from the clash between and object based on a very specific social ideals (progress, improvement of quality life and the development of an equitable community) versus some conservative, even retrograde standars.

The Stadium, the Pavilion and the Palace

An intervention at the Mies van der Rhoe and Lilly Reich Pavilion, Barcelona 2018

An production of Mies van der Rohe Foundation and MACBA

Barcelona became Spain’s economic driver in the nineteenth century with the industrial revolution. In a perfect symbiosis of public and private interests, the authorities and the industrialists designed a series of events to internationally disseminate the image of Barcelona as a business city: the Universal Exhibition of 1888 and the 1929 International Exposition that was conceived as a great propaganda device of the Spanish monarchy and to project the image of Catalan industry abroad.

The 1929 Exposition venue, built according to Puig i Cadafalch’s project, was located in Montjuïc and represented a radical transformation of an important part of the mountain.

The industrial and commercial expansion, the transformation and growth of the city and the construction of the buildings of the Exposition needed enormous cheap labour, and the local proletariat was not sufficient to meet demand. This caused a great migration process. Due to the lack of public housing and to speculation policies, many of the families of immigrants who, fleeing misery, came from all over Spain to Barcelona from the mid-nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century, were forced to live in very precarious conditions. They lived in self-constructed shacks on the edges of the city forming real neighbourhoods such as the Somorrostro or the Camp de la Bota. In the late fifties, the shanty towns reached their peak with a population of between 70,000 and 100,000 people.

Shacks were built all over Montjuïc, from Poble Sec to the Ponent quarries, from the 1929 International Exposition venue to the castle.

After Spain’s Civil War, Franco’s dictatorship decided to use some of the 1929 International Exposition venues and facilities to place immigrants.  In the beginning of the fifties, The Palace of the Missions became a centre of “classification of indigents” used to arrest and classify immigrants from all over Spain to be returned to their place of origin. Without having committed any crime and after spending an indefinite period of imprisonment, about 15,000 people were deported in about 230 chartered trains. The City Council contributed to aggravating the situation when it decided to use the Olympic Stadium to “temporarily” house the neighbours from the Somorrostro. They remained there until 1968, abandoned by the administration, along with families from other facilities such as the Pavilion of Belgium.

Thanks to: Ivan Blasi, Delícia Burset, Xavi Camino, Helena Castellà, Anna Cerdà, Teresa Grandas, Jordi Mitjà, Dani Montlleó, Anna Ramos.

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