INTO THE GREAT WIDE OPEN
DPR Barcelona: 2017
with contributions by: Jon Goodbun, Francesco Marullo, Dubravka Sekulič, Maria S. Giudici, Christian Teckert, Elke Krasny, Matthias Moroder, Andreas Rumpfhuber
Graphic Design: Astrid Seme
 Cf. Mulvey, L. (1996). Cinematic space: desiring and deciphering. In McCorquodale, D., Rüedi, K. & Wigglesworth, S. (Eds.). Desiring Practices: Architecture, gender and the interdisciplinary. London: Black Dog. pp. 206-215.
Into the Great Wide Open is a book about a (very personal) search for a form of architectural practice. Practice is here understood both as a critical reflection of a status quo and its history, as well as forms of (active) intervention through design and planning. The book is a fragmentary snapshot of an ongoing, constantly developing and altering process to find a place in the production of and reflection on our built environment, and implicitly debates the question: “What is to be done?”
Into the Great Wide Open refers directly to a promise. A promise that hovers above us, and a promise that traverses all of us. A narrative that is intrinsic of our contemporary liberal society: “There is a world full of chances and one simply needs to conquer this world. It is just up to each one of us.” The book’s title was inspired by the 1991 song and video by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, which I often watched and heard during my very first term studying architecture, embarking into my own great wide open. The video starred amongst others Johnny Depp as Eddie, Gabrielle Anwar as his girlfriend, Faye Dunnaway as landlord, mentor, and agent. The video is narrated like a storybook: The young Eddie leaves his rural childhood home in the American Midwest to hitchhike into the great wide open, to Los Angeles. Obviously driven by the dream of a career, he gets a tattoo, falls in love, moves together with his new girl, learns to play the guitar, becomes successful, but not able to handle his success. Becoming big-headed, he breaks up with his girlfriend as well as with his mentor, becoming more and more aggressive and self-destructive. Ultimately his career declines, and in the final scene he returns to the tattoo parlour just to see an aged version of himself tattooing another young man the same tattoo design.
The video is like a contemporary short-video variation of those epic cinematic stories and their spaces, told, for example, by John Ford, about the heroic times of North-America, that Laura Mulvey has so eloquently analysed. It is a circular male story of the big wide open that awaits us in the West. Yet there is a significant shift in the narration of the same mythical figure as the hero in the video. There is no longer a troubled female homestead with its settlers vs. the lonesome hero cowboy in the landscape. The world, it seems, has become interior landscape without homesteads, with all its protagonists somehow acting out lonesome roles. The world has indeed become a great wide open, with figures and roles that have become blurred: there is still a mother figure played by Dunnaway, but she no longer represents the homestead, but is an entrepreneur herself. Renting out the place where Eddie and his girlfriend stay, managing his career, and casting a spell on the hero in an almost witch-like fashion the moment he aims to emancipate himself from her. The hero himself is also naïve and tragic, ending up neither going home nor into a new adventure, but as a tattoo artist.
Referring to the song and its video, the book’s title refers to the (changing) narrative of the literary figure of the hero, the rebel, and of late, the (self) entrepreneur: the Cowboy, the Punk (singer), the outcast, and the silicon-valley software producer. The idea is to reflect architecture in this changing context, and implicitly explicate how the practice of architecture might change. In that sense the contributions looks into the many promises of the great wide open. The book is a revolution around subjects of contemporary architecture, its problems, and its symptoms. Yet it offers no immediate answers or simple solutions that are so often demanded by the industry, and contemporary politics, but tries to stay curious by asking questions, aiming to open up a discourse of architecture, existing both in academic institutions and in society, ultimately trying to alter our understanding of the built environment and of the practice of architecture at large. This is why I truly believe that the contributions in the book present and depict the world of architecture and its problems and limitations in order to analyse and intervene in our world simultaneously. It tries not to bring together ‘theory’ and ‘practice’, which, after all, both depend on different economies and problems, but rather, it attempts to associatively imagine these two perspectives together: Not by reducing them to simple binaries, but to establish a multitude of different approaches and associations — all relevant for reflection and intervention in our contemporary world with the means of architecture.
The book is divided into three sections. In the first chapter you will find four texts (three of them first published in English) that represent my own concerns over the last years, aiming to read architectural projects as representations of broader societal and economic shifts and alterations, especially in relation to the changing labour paradigm in post-war Europe. In the first text, Cedric Price’s Fun Palace is read as explication of the contemporary concept of life-long learning. The second contribution discusses Hans Hollein’s TV performance Mobile Office as the emergence of the figure of the architect as self-entrepreneur. In Working Glamour, I read John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In Performance as (an alternative) spatial practice in which the bed as a new workspace becomes clearly discernible for the first time. The last contribution in the first chapter discusses the late 1960s precursors of what today is being called the ‘edu-factory’.
The second chapter assembles seven contributions from dear colleagues whose work and research I admire. Their respective positions I consider to be close to mine, yet naturally emphasise a different perspective. Jon Goodbun’s contribution links compellingly the two seemingly dissociated fields of ecology and cybernetics through a common denominator: spatial thinking. By doing this, he is able to rethink three architectural types: the cell, the field, and the tower. Francesco Marullo discusses today’s inflationary concept of precarity by framing it as a constituent part of human dwelling. Dubravka Sekulic argues to take up the cudgels for a critique of the built environment that goes beyond the visible by discussing amongst others the ‘iceberg houses’ in London’s boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea. Maria Giudici looks in detail at the shifting concept of the park as a civic space over time by opposing significant historical projects to contemporary ones. Christian Teckert addresses what he calls the totalising logic of urbanisation as an integral part of capitalist development. Elke Krasny’s text returns to the issue of (public) greenery, specifically through a feminist reading of the trend of urban gardening. Her point of departure are the kitchen gardens of her childhood memories, and that of modernist housing. Finally, Matthias Moroder speculates around a similarity between the Architectural Association’s introduction of the unit system in London in 1973, and the reading of David Harvey’s assertion of a change in urban governance.
The last chapter is consists of a conversation with the imaginary architect collective __ [Blankspace]. The conversation is about the role of the architect, about possible and impossible strategies of intervention, bringing together some of the contributions in this book.
The project for this book has a long history. The book consciously took shape in its first draft in 2011. The idea was to document an initiative I had started in Vienna right after I defended my PhD in Copenhagen. The Theoriesalon was a public, non-institutional series of lectures and seminars in Vienna, hosting scholars, theoreticians, and architects such as Felicity Scott, Sam Jacob, Akos Moravansky, Kim Förster, Kenny Cupers, and many more. The intent of the loose series was to get away from the institutions of the city and to open up the theoretical discourse to the community of practising architects. Personal reasons made me postpone the book project again and again. With time passing the book project, but also my life and my practice changed: The sudden death of my wife in 2012 made me a single-dad of a then one-year-old baby girl. I felt that the flexibility and precarity demanded from the academic world no longer matched the responsibility of caring for a child on my own, and so I decided to become a registered architect and opened up an office. This certainly did not stabilise my income or my work, but it also reflects my immanent desire, which I always had while researching and writing, to actually build. However, it enabled me to be present in Vienna, and to spend as much time as possible with my daughter Ida. As time passed, it also felt ridiculous to try to document an initially ephemeral initiative. It is then, that I invited colleagues to contribute to the book. Some I knew already from the Theoriesalon series, some I came across only afterwards. But I also felt the urge to present some of my writing to a wider, English speaking audience. That is how pragmatic the book project became at the end.
This book would not have been possible without the support and the help of many.
I want to sincerely thank Dr. Bernd Hartmann and the architects’ advisory board of the Federal Chancellery of Austria who made the project of Theoriesalon possible in the first place. Gerhard Jagersberger was patient and supportive of me over the years.
I want to thank all the Theoriesalon contributors (in order of appearance): Matthias Heyden, Jon Palmesino & Ann-Sofi Rönnskog (Territorial Agency), Elina Sousa Santos, Dean Simpson, Mathieu Wellner, Céline Condorelli, Ákos Moravánsky, Aristide Antonas, Johan Frederik Hartle, Susan Schuppli, Christian Teckert, Felicity Scott, Kenny Cupers, Maria Giudici, Francesco Marullo, Jon Goodbun, Sam Jacob, Ethel Baraona Pohl, Kim Förster and Dubravka Sekulic.
I am honoured that Aileen Derieg, whose work I adore, translated my texts into English, and I am grateful to Daniel Lacasta Fitzsimmons who did a marvellous job in copy-editing the texts for the book. Ethel Baraona Pohl and César Reyes gave me a new home in their fantastic publishing house and willingly agreed to publish the book. My dear graphic designer Astrid Seme did once again a wonderful job, supporting and mirroring my ambition for the book.
I also want to thank numerous friends who support me in my daily life: Karin Krischanitz and Stefan Nöbauer for their enduring support; from dear neighbours who turned not only into good friends and consultants, but also became Ida’s canny Ersatz-grandparents. Jelena Dannecker, whom I was lucky to have as Ida’s first babysitter is now Ida’s godmother. From her I learned so much about serious laid-back childcare. Luciano Parodi, Benni Eder, Theresa Krenn, Christina Nägle, Christian Teckert, and Lina Streeruwitz, as well as their kids Emilia, Philis, Luis, Ema and Rosa give me the feeling of being part of a great patchwork family.
The book is dedicated to my daughter Ida.