A recent history of design economics, written in the near future...
It is fashionable these days for economic historians to indentify the London riots of 2011 as the tipping point of late capitalism. Some have labelled the unrest “violent consumerism” and others “acquisitive rioting”, but the consensus is that it represented a temporary subprime economy in which Reebok trainers were as fungible as barrels of oil, except purchased not with electronic money wired from computer to computer but with bricks delivered from garden walls to plate-glass windows.
In Patagonia, the wind can tear your arms off. It makes everything lean – the trees, the houses, even the people. It strafes the landscape, using rain, snow or hail as ammunition. So you need to be equipped for it. And, boy, are the tourists here equipped.
In 1968 Guy Debord defined the "spectacle" – his term for a mediatised consumer society – as "the moment when the commodity has reached the total occupation of social life". And that's what happened during last week's riots. Shopping is no longer just the chief preoccupation of our leisure time – it is also how we go about our civil unrest.
Do ho suh had never heard of Rachel Whiteread when he planned to cast his studio in plaster. The Korean artist had never heard of Gordon Matta-Clark when he planned to start cutting holes through buildings. His student years, as a naive young immigrant to America, were a series of forehead slaps as friends pointed to his brilliant ideas already manifest in books and magazines.
Travelators are wonderful things. They turn the longest, dullest airport concourses into meditations on human potential. There you are, merely strolling, yet effortlessly gliding past all the losers who opted for the floor. If only life was like a travelator, with its rigged ratio of energy to speed.
Terunobu Fujimori doesn’t look like a maverick. The 60-year-old architect and professor at Tokyo University is sweetly avuncular and altogether unthreatening. And yet in Japanese architecture this self-styled “architectural detective” has assumed the mantle of the rebel, by turns respected as a thinker, feared as an iconoclast and derided as an eccentric.
There are two things you should know about Alejandro Aravena. First, he has built more than a thousand houses for Chile's poor, with several thousand more under way; second, the CEO of COPEC, the Chilean oil company, sits on the board of his architecture practice. In a strange way, neither of those facts is less impressive than the other.
In 1985, the architecture critic of the Village Voice, Michael Sorkin, wrote a column with the beautifully pugnacious title “Why Goldberger is so bad”. Sorkin was attacking his opposite number at the New York Times, Paul Goldberger, for being in bed with a clique of developers and postmodernists. Twenty-five years later, on the Design Observer website, one of Goldberger’s successors at the NYT is also under assault, under the weaker headline “Why Nicolai Ouroussoff is not good enough”.
“It is becoming apparent that ‘designers’ … have very little imagination, and only rarely go beyond the everyday – indeed, even then, they’re not able to acquit themselves honourably. The activity of the designer, as it is practised, taught and invoked, is not unlike that of the hairdresser.”
Villa Nurbs is a mythical beast. Drawings and models of it have been circulating for years, embedding it in the pantheon of possible futures. The house itself, however, has been developing in human time, almost imperceptibly slowly: a growth spurt here, a sprout of facade there. It has become a cult object, so that whenever an architect passes through Barcelona – Winy Maas, Kengo Kuma, Bjarke Ingels – they say, “Take me to Villa Nurbs”.