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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Book Review: Pamphlet Architecture 29

Pamphlet Architecture 29: Ambiguous Spaces (2008) by Nannette Jackowski and Ricardo de Ostos
Princeton Architectural Press
Paperback, 80 pages

The 29th installment of the Pamphlet Architecture series includes two projects by Naja & deOstos of "experimental architecture using narratives. " Readers may have become familiar with the duo of Nannette Jackowski and Ricardo de Ostos last year with the publication of their Hanging Cemetery of Baghad, an impressive project that is best described as architectural even though it didn't strive for the goals of most architecture, namely being built. The projects Nuclear Breeding and The Pregnant Island presented here fall into the same category, though they don't pack the punch of the cemetery project.

As the Hanging Cemetery is designed for a specific locale -- even though the authors only experienced the place via TV and other media (a fact that influenced their design) -- these two designs also address particular places with unique histories and, therefore, stories to tell. Nuclear Breeding is sited at Orford Ness, a former nuclear test facility located in southeast England. Not surprisingly, NaJa & deOstos stray from the practical treatment of the site as a nature reserve -- a cover-up of the past, if you will -- in favor of an exploration of the place's nuclear history. The authors use narrative to develop four groups of characters that inhabit different areas of Orford Ness, and the mechanism of the nuclear bomb itself becomes a design tool for shaping the land, most notably into craters in some areas. Their more experimental side shines in the Master-Slave irrigation device, a spider-like creature that mechanically farms and then becomes an armature for habitation.

The Pregnant Island is located in the TucuruĂ­ Reservoir in the Brazilian Amazon. Where the first project looks at the changes wrought by the testing of nuclear weapons, this one takes the dam as the modern tool for investigation. While not responsible for deaths like a nuclear bomb, dams are here seen for the destruction and displacement they cause, not for the energy creation or other supposedly good aspects of their massive infrastructure. Nature transformed by the completion of the dam in 1984 is the palette for the authors. They balance Western and indigenous Amazonian views of nature to envision the creation of an island, seen in the various stages of birth and used as a site for a building (a Malaca) both traditional and fantastical.

Compared to the Hanging Cemetery, the relationship between concept and construct in these two projects is not as strong. The Master-Slave and Malaca do not seem integral to the narratives set up by the architects; the links are tenuous, with these visually impressive designs stronger as singular objects than as pieces of larger studies of places transformed by the dark sides of Modernity.

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