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Monday, September 27, 2010

Book Review: Requiem

Requiem: For the City at the End of the Millennium by Sanford Kwinter
Actar, 2010
Paperback, 122 pages

Reviewing Sanford Kwinter's collection of essays Far From Equilibrium a couple years ago, at least twice I pointed out the difficulty and density of his theorizations on architecture, technology, and the city. This follow up of sorts could also be considered dense, but in a different way: Kwinter packs a plethora of ideas and perspectives in a small package, yet the result is much more readable than its predecessor. As Thomas Daniell points out in his introduction, Kwinter's reticence about his background gave way here to some surprising autobiographical moments, and this fact may lend the book an increased readability. The book is billed as covering the new world that came into being at the end of the millennium, a world "that design thinking has yet to fully take into account." Across nine essays, these transformations include shopping (in stores and online), the city's electronic infrastructures, the role of architecture theory, and a myriad of others, both concrete (9/11) and abstract (knowledge "clouds"). 
Returning to Kwinter's inclusion of his own history in the writing, those essays stand out and are also the longest ones in the book. First is a discussion of the Pompidou in Paris (one of only two specific buildings discussed in the whole book), under construction while the author was a student; his take on the building is quite interesting, as is his inclusion of Gordon Matta-Clark's Conical Intersect from a neighboring building before demolition. Second is Kwinter's role -- still somewhat guarded and vague -- in the transformation of retail spaces from fairly inert entities into broader "experiences." Third and last is his discussion of the ANY conferences and publications, many of which Kwinter participated in; he wonders if anything fruitful came out of the proceedings, besides the articulation of his own ideas. The book offers a somewhat narrow snapshot of things at the beginning of this century (is 2010 still considered the beginning?), but Kwinter's ideas and prose anchor them in the unique and varied interpretations of the events -- big and small, important and apparently inconsequential -- that have the potential to steer our course of action in one way or another.

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