Andreas Rumpfhuber (Ed)

Into the Great Wide Open
ISBN: 978-84-947523-1-5

With contributions by: Andreas Rumpfhuber, Francesco Marullo, Maria Giudici, Jon Goodbun, Elke Krasny, Matthias Moroder, Dubravka Sekulic, Christian Teckert, __ [Blankspace]

Translations: Aileen Derieg
Copy-Editing: Daniel Lacasta Fitzsimmons
Graphic design: Astrid Seme Studio
Publisher: dpr-barcelona

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Into the Great Wide Open

Into the Great Wide Openis 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 Openrefers 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[1]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. 

 

 


[1]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.