Views from High Places and the “Proofs” of the Existence of God

View from skygarden of Utown Graduate Residence, National University of SingaporeThe view from the skygarden of Utown Graduate Residence was lovely, in the way that views from high places are always said to be.

View from 21st floor of Utown Graduate Residence, National University of SingaporeAnd from the end of the corridor on the 21st floor, we could see all the way to Jurong Island.

Why do we pay good money to go up to the top of the Empire State Building and its successor skyscrapers in different cities? Why can restaurants on top of Marina Bay Sands or Level 33 in Singapore charge extra for their “stunning views”. Do we pay for the feeling of power, looking down at the human ants on the ground? Or is it the celebration of Babel-like human prowess that wows us?

N, who had been kind enough to send me to the Philosiology blog (specifically, “Surviving a Philosopher Attack” as sufficient warning) before our meet-up, mentioned having to teach proofs for the existence of God, the golden C.O.T.arguments – cosmological, ontological, teleological, next semester.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I usually find arguments of this sort rather tiresome because of what to me are illegitimate presuppositions about, inter alia:

  • the definition/concept of God;
  • valid epistemological bases.

And obviously, these issues are irretrievably linked. Theories about how I can know things would include theories about how I can know God, and v.v. So most philosophers rely wholly on rationalistic epistemological assumptions to narrowly define God and so, to their own satisfaction, manage to come up with proofs for such a “God”.

Also, it’s all unbearably circular:

“Why do you presuppose reason as the ultimate epistemological authority?”

“Because I reason that it must be so.”

BBQ stingray dinner at West Coast Hawker CentreOf course, the same accusation may be levelled against the Christian view:

“How do you know that revelation from God is the ultimate authority about all reality?”

“Because God told me so in his word, the Bible.”

Because of the meta-ness of arguments about ultimate authority, circularity is unavoidable. However, what the Christian view has over the other “proofs for God” is that it is inherently consistent. It does not contradict itself by attempting to prove God by non-theistic means. Additionally, the Christian view sits happily with historical evidence.

This is not to say that Christians ignore reason or empirical evidence (as the use of historical veracity shows), but they do not trust reason as the final arbiter of truth. Why would human reasoning be flawed? Because it refuses to acknowledge God, from whom all wisdom comes, because he alone as Creator and, well, God, defines all things:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1)

18 No one has ever seen God; the only God [Jesus], who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1)

(On a only very slightly related note, it was interesting to note that tycoon Stephen Riady of the eponymous building-in-Utown fame is widely reported to be a devout evangelical Christian.)

Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Like many postmodernist buildings, the Learning Hub at the Nanyang Technological University has very quickly acquired a nickname – the “dim sum building”, because its facade resembles stacks of bamboo dim sum baskets.

Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) by Heatherwick Studios and CPG Architects Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) by Heatherwick Studios and CPG Architects Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) by Heatherwick Studios and CPG Architects Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) by Heatherwick Studios and CPG ArchitectsI was absolutely enthralled by how this building showcases the fluid use of concrete. The moulded horizontally-lined round facade panels, with their currently brown patina, had the appearance of wicker or bamboo (hence the popular moniker), and at the same time, of wet clay hand-sculpted on a pottery wheel. The tapering of each layer towards the base of the stack was of pleasant proportion, and to me, made the whole structure seem more organic, suggesting wasps’ nests, rather than dim sum baskets.

Well done, CPG Consultants (project lead: Vivien Leong) for doing the hard work of actually figuring out how to build the thing – finding the silicon moulds and the right contractors etc, to make Heatherwick Studio‘s design a reality.

Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) by Heatherwick Studios and CPG ArchitectsThe stairwells with protective bronze(?) rain-screen. We wondered how effective they would be in the driving rain, and how the maintenance people would keep rust at bay.

Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) by Heatherwick Studios and CPG Architects Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) by Heatherwick Studios and CPG Architects61 angled concrete columns had a delightful texture to them, again appearing natural and organic, like the trunks of birch trees with the bark whittled away. The illusion was quickly dispelled by the power sockets embedded at the foot of each column.

Still, the effect from afar was of a building balanced on these wooden stilts, allowing freedom of access from several angles both to stray breezes and students.

Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) by Heatherwick Studios and CPG Architects Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) by Heatherwick Studios and CPG Architects Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) by Heatherwick Studios and CPG Architects Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) by Heatherwick Studios and CPG ArchitectsAgain, I’ve not seen such wide use of embossed concrete before: the walls of the staircases and lift lobbies featured Sara Fanelli’s images of science, art, literature.

Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) by Heatherwick Studios and CPG Architects Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) by Heatherwick Studios and CPG Architects Learning Hub, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) by Heatherwick Studios and CPG ArchitectsLove how the circular, glass-walled class rooms front an airwell (or “internal, naturally-ventilated atrium”) that both maximises air-circulation within the building, but also, as a skylight, brings, erm, light into the classrooms.

Each room will apparently be cooled not with the usual air-conditioning but with “silent convection” (you mean, fans?). (“The Learning Hub building was awarded Green Mark Platinum status by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), Singapore, the highest possible environmental standard for a building of this type.”)

We all know the common dilemma faced when designing a building in Singapore: while a well-ventilated place is welcome when the sun is beating down in all its harsh glory, such buildings unfortunately tend to offer little protection during heavy thunderstorms when strong winds drive the rain in horizontally. I’m sure this has sorted this out already so it’ll also be interesting to know about the waterproofing used to prevent rainwater seepage, since there will be many opportunities for ingress especially via the central airwell, and in terms of user experience, how well students will be protected during heavy thunderstorms. Also, how have the issues of pooling, ponding on the ground floor been dealt with? Was so fascinated that wasn’t looking for drainage holes while on site.

The interior fitting-out was still ongoing when we visited but artists’ impressions show round cornerless classrooms, meant to reflect “a wish to break down the traditional square forward-facing classrooms with a clear front and hierarchy, and move to a corner-less space, where teachers and students mix on a more equal basis. In this model, students work together around shared tables, with teacher as facilitator and partner in the voyage of learning, rather than ‘master’ executing a top-down model of pedagogy.”

Ah, all the benefits and issues, and ontological and epistemological assumptions that attend attempts at constructivist and social learning approaches to education. Hope there will be more information about user experience, not only with regards to the physical classroom but also in the learning interactions that take place within those enclosed pods.

Joel Navarro conducting the Singapore Bible College Chorale at the Victoria Concert Hall (“Victoria Memorial Hall”)

It’s always tough to return to a place you grew up in, with the knowledge that it has been renovated, refurbished, and is in all likelihood a shell of its former self.

Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)

So it was with trepidation that we arrived at the neoclassical Victoria Concert Hall (“Victorial Memorial Hall”) on 23 March 2015 to watch the Singapore Bible College Chorale in concert.

plaque to the memory of those who were killed during the mutiny in Singapore in February 1915. Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
plaque. Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)Plaques to commemorate people who died during the 1915 mutiny and another for Queen Victoria (“Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India) just inside the entrance seemed a little brighter.

Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)That bit between the two staircases now led to the information counter, situated in one corner of a big empty the hall.

staircase. Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
staircase, Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)Up the mirrored staircases, the marbled flooring looked different (cleaner?) but was probably original. Think there used to be a red carpet running up the middle of the stairs.

Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
Half-way up the stairs, there was a way down to the left side of the VCH, which opened up into the glass-roofed central atrium between Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall:
Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
I will never forget the desperate walks to the lift that used to be at the end of the atrium. That old lift would take you to a music studio where your ABRSM examiner would be waiting. I never practiced and would have been attempting to memorise the score for the first time on the way to this part of the civic district.

Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
I liked Mok Wei Wei (W Architect)’s gentle irony of etching a reflection of the columns of VCH onto the new facade of VT.

Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
Returning to the staircase, there was this guy’s bust, which was always a good sign if you were slightly late for a concert and could hear them closing the doors above.

Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
We used to run in this set of doors (to sit on the left side of the hall, facing the stage). They were white and wooden and a little creaky, but these seemed taller, narrower (but perhaps a perception error), and heavier (probably not the exit you’d take in event of a fire).

Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)The space where autograph and CD selling sessions used to take place was now dominated by a circular staircase. Stark juxtaposition between white Victorian and burnished modern.

Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)’round the corner, another corridor of lights by .PSLAB, overlooking the central atrium. The clustered circles were another self-possessively modern touch, made more classy by a brushed metal exterior and anodised gold inner surface.

The interior of the concert hall was much fresher. The old VCH had a certain smell to it that I liked because of a long association with the place and its innards, but this just smelled neutral and new – which would generally be preferable!
Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)Not sure about the necessity for that shade of green. But taking advantage of Arup‘s theatre and acoustics consultancy paid dividends in a delightful clarity of sound. The stage seemed smaller (or I might have just grown bigger), but the seating had definitely changed for the better – the gallery was higher than it used to be, and with less seats. Hopefully, this meant the sound under the gallery (which used to bounce around rather oddly) would have improved.

After a good organ work by Sven-Ingvart Mikkelsen (pipe organ sounded very different), and good controlled choral work by the Singapore Bible College Chorale, a docent offered to take us on a 20 minute tour of the building.

Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
She was animated, informative, and in short, brilliant.

“Look outside. Can you see Singapore’s national bird outside? No? Look! Singapore’s national bird – the crane!”
Victoria Concert Hall (Victoria Memorial Hall)
A light-hearted moment, after a concert with pieces dedicated to the memory of Lee Kuan Yew who had passed away at 3.18 a.m. that morning.

R. LANGGAARD                       Prelude in E major for organ
H. MATTHISON-HANSEN    Fantasy on a Danish folk tune for organ
J.S. BACH                                  Fantasia in G major, BWV 572
J.S. BACH                                  Motet BWV 227, Jesu, meine Freude
P. MØLLER                              “Transfiguration” – 3 Meditations for Organ

Singapore Design Week 2015- Make a F-ake by Freitag, and the Design Trail

Singapore Design Week 2015 - Make a F-ake by Freitag, Kapok, National Design Centre
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Make a F-ake by Freitag, Kapok, National Design CentreA no-reservation, no-waiting list, walk-ins only, first-come-first-served bit of fun cutting off pre-stamped Freitag tarp at Kapok, National Design Centre. To ensure more people could enjoy the freebies, the woman-in-charge made a big deal of checking that each person only took away either a Merlion tag or a “F-aster Chope” tissue holder.

Singapore Design Week 2015 - Make a F-ake by Freitag, Kapok, National Design Centre
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Make a F-ake by Freitag, Kapok, National Design Centre
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Make a F-ake by Freitag, Kapok, National Design Centre
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Make a F-ake by Freitag, Kapok, National Design Centre
F-aster Chope! Tissue Holder, Make a F-ake by Freitag, Kapok, National Design Centre, Singapore Design WeekThen it was all-aboard the Design Trail 2015 shuttle bus that took us round to various open houses:
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail

First stop, Basheer Graphic Books (Blk 231 Bain Street, #04-19, facebook) at Bras Basah, where a talk was going on and the logistics uncle was making teh tarik:
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Next stop, Park + Associates Architects:
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design TrailSingapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design TrailI really liked the little plant-covered house-office in one corner of the open-plan work area:

Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design TrailChatted about one of their current projects: a new black-and-white bungalow(s) project for a man and his family. This brought us to the question: makes a colonial bungalow so easily recognisable as such? The colours of course, but also the shuttered windows, the pillars, and the verandas (but not those roof-top spaces seen in this model).
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design TrailAnd because it started to rain quite heavily, the final stop of the day was Matter HQ (145 Neil Road). The restored shophouse we heard so much about at the Appreciating Architecture talk at SingaPlural 2015.

The shade of blue on the front facade was positively delightful:

Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design TrailSingapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail

And it was great to actually experience the interior after seeing all those slides a week ago – current use is both commercial-retail and residential:
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail

Patterned dhotis, harem pants, cloth:

Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail

And Fictive Fingers (facebook) had laid out some eraser stamps for us to play with:

Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design Trail
Singapore Design Week 2015 - Design TrailAll-in-all, an enjoyable opportunity to experience the sort of “creative” work that is going on in Singapore.

Architecture Appreciation at SingaPlural 2015, 99 Beach Road

Popped into 99 Beach Road, where SingaPlural 2015 was being held, for a session on Architecture appreciation.

Architecture Appreciation Session, SingaPlural 2015, 99 Beach Road, SingaporeThe speaker gave the same pointers about appreciating buildings as this article:

  • understand the historical context – the history of the building, and the purpose for which it was built, its place in that time frame, the community or society into which it was introduced;
  • appreciate the innovators – understand how certain architects bucked the trend and set building design on a new course;
  • get a sense of scale – scale of a building influences human psychology; how we feel using the place;
  • get a sense of space – look at the void between the walls as well. Colours, materials, lighting/natural light, help to evoke certain emotions;
  • get into the details – the best architects pay attention to detail. “God is in the detail” said Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. It demonstrates that the building is a piece of art;
  • understand its meaning – the emotions that the building evokes, its relationship with society

Having just done a training session on Bible reading that morning, I was amused how most things in the world can only be appreciated when one understands the various contexts in which these things were placed (literature, art, science, music, philosophy, politics, Scripture, etc).

What made the presentation more useful than just reading the article off the screen were the visuals put up by the speaker as he talked through the relevant aesthetic features.

Sense of scale
Albert Speer’s Reich Chancellery that he knocked up for Hitler in just a year was designed to make people feel small, but somehow cause the short Adolf to loom larger than life. The not-for-human scale at St. Peter’s Basilica was to induce another kind of worship – that of God.

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican by P.Landy, Wikimedia

In contrast, the human-scale repetitive architecture in Haji Lane in Singapore, and Laneway in Melbourne, give a feeling of warmth and cosiness.

Sense of Space
Using colours, Luis Barragán’s buildings (Casa Gilardi, Casa estudio) give a sense of warmth and energy.

While Peter Zumthor’s Haldenstein, in concrete and neutral colours showcase the nature outside and exert a calming effect, which, the speaker said expressed itself in his work. (I suppose it is a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing since arguably, he could have designed his own house to suit his character, so it wouldn’t necessarily be the house itself influencing his work…)

The Details
The little details in Carlo Scarpa’s Fondazione Querini-Stampala – the shape of the doors, the flow of the water – were beautifully proportioned. Oh look at those “floating stairs” in the Olivetti headquarters:

via skibinskipedia

*photos that aren’t mine were used under a Creative Commons licence

Authenticity and Anti-authoritarianism, Hong Kong SAR, China

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] -> Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) -> [Trans-mongolian Express] -> Beijing (China) -> Hong Kong (SAR, China)

I loved how much Hong Kong was like the set of Blade Runner, with its plethora of neon signs filling the space above the streets. Hong Kong (Kowloon)

Hong Kong (Kowloon)

Residential flats in Kowloon too spoke of the economy of air space. Nothing was wasted for something as unprofitable as a balcony: Hong Kong (Kowloon) Hong Kong (Kowloon)

On the ground, shops were sub-sub-sub-divided so as to spawn tiny lots crammed with goods and tools of trade: Hong Kong (Kowloon) Hong Kong (Kowloon)

in markets, boxes and sacks of dried meat and vegetables and mushrooms and noodles, unable to be confined to the shop, spilled out onto the corridors: Hong Kong (Kowloon) Hong Kong (Kowloon) It was as if empty space abhored a vacuum and any unused surface, even a door, quickly attracted posters of every description and size and colour: Hong Kong (Kowloon)

On the streets, signs, not content to be in one language, were bilingual, making even empty streets look busy: Hong Kong (Kowloon) Hong Kong (Kowloon) Everywhere, the hustle and bustle and noise and mass of goods clamouring for attention: Hong Kong (Kowloon) Hong Kong (Kowloon) Hong Kong (Kowloon) in the flower market, Hong Kong (Kowloon) Hong Kong (Kowloon) Hong Kong (Kowloon) Hong Kong (Kowloon)in the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden, etc.

And Hong Kong seemed authentic, in the sense that none of these markets existed mainly for the benefit of tourists. In fact, one of the bird shop owners stood outside his shop defensively, stick in hand, once a tour-bus of French people descended, using it to tap away professed animal-lovers who were simultaneously commenting on the sad lives of caged feathered beings, and shocking the same poor birds with their camera flashes.

But perhaps there was a different sort of inauthenticity, said some commentators, with reference to the Occupy Hong Kong or Umbrella Revolution. This was the latest in one-upmanship, they said. Ever since the beginning of human society, everyone has desired to show how much better they are than everyone else. A few decades ago, you trumped others with branded clothes and expensive goods. But that has since become quite vulgar. Later, animal rights and human rights advocacy were how you demonstrated your (moral) superiority. Presently it seems, political martyrdom is the thing. If the good of society was the underlying reason, there might have been a better way of being heard and changes being made without a whole lot of inconvenience to everyone else (money lost, commuters who have to deal with congestion, police who have to work long hours), but where’s the self-glory in that? Better to get world recognition and the pats on the back, than to be an anonymous contributer to the improvement of the common good.

I met some Hong Kong students on my travels who were jealous that their friends had been able to rush home to be “part of history”. (Full details, photos, vidz, were on social media, with many “Like”s.) When asked what this “full democracy” was that they wanted, they admitted they didn’t know the details.

It was difficult for me to comprehend how one could agitate for something unknown. Lemmings come to mind. Thought these questions were worth asking:

  • What is “full” or “true” democracy?
  • If this can be defined, has any country anywhere ever practiced that?
  • If so, what were the advantages and disadvantages of that, and how specific were they to the particular situation of that country?
  • Was there ever “full democracy” under the British?
  • What were the terms of the handover?
  • What does “universal sufferage” mean?
  • How differently should it apply to Hong Kong, not an autonomous state, but part of the People’s Republic of China?

But the Hong Kong students grew defensive,”This is the only chance we’ve got! We need to show them!” But what exactly do you want to show them?
actors playing policemen, Hong Kong (Kowloon)not real policemen; actors taking a break from filming

I wondered if one’s position on the social ladder was now determined in terms of how much one could boast of one’s anti-authoritarianism. If the official position was capitalism, then socialism or communism would agitated for, and vice versa. Nothing at all praise-worthy about that.

And meanwhile, the camps themselves became quite the tourist attraction, many visitors taking selfies/wefies with empty tents. Protest Theme Park in the offing?:

Hong Kong (Kowloon) Hong Kong (Kowloon)
Past the protest camps, Tim Ho Wan in Mongkok was quiet when we arrived. We were ushered to a table immediately and made quick work of the concise menu:

Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong (Kowloon)

Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong (Kowloon) Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong (Kowloon) Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong (Kowloon) Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong (Kowloon)“Do you think some of the protestors might come to this one Michelin star restaurant for dim sum?”

Why not, I thought. It would only seem incongruous because modern society has somehow conflated authenticity with anti-authoritarianism, anti-capitalism and being on a lower tax-payer scale. So even if yum cha at Tim Ho Wan was affordable generally, patronising a place mentioned in the Michelin Guide would have smacked of selling out to an Institution. Uncomfortable with the lack of clarity of thought.

Surely there is no inherent virtue in either eating one’s dinner in one’s crowded workplace:

men eating in a Chinese medicinal shop. Hong Kong (Kowloon)
instead of on the balcony of an apartment on The Peak, with a clear view of the city:

view from an apartment in The Peak, Hong Kong (Kowloon)or spending money supporting emerging artists at PMQ Arts Hub

PMQ, Hong Kong (Kowloon)instead of, say, on a Geisha brew:

Hong Kong (Kowloon)
Hong Kong (Kowloon)No. And perhaps they are equally inauthentic, for

all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

PS: if anyone was looking for an English-speaking church in Hong Kong, I’d recommend Ambassador International Church Hong Kong – observed John Percival to be a faithful preacher.

Michael Sorkin’s “All Over The Map: writing on buildings and cities”

Photograph Michael Sorkin's "All Over the Map", sourdough baguette, le vache de chalais cheese by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Do we like certain books because they give us fresh ideas or because their ideas cohere with and confirm our existing ones?

  1. The Center Cannot Hold – “Here in Tribeca, we are at the end of a familiar cycle in which a neighbourhood moves from a mix of warehouses, manufacturing, offices, and housing, to an “artistic” neighbourhood, and now to the climax form of gentrification, an extreme high-end residential quartier. The corollary is that the jobs and people formerly employed here have either been eliminated or moved elsewhere…We have scrupulously preserved the architectural character of Tribeca, but at the expense of its human one.” (p23)
  2. Security – “…the culture is suffused with incitements to anxiety as the media fixates on the imminence of terror…We measure the environment against our perception of its perils…Our problem nowadays is that we are creating an urbanism predicated primarily on risk avoidance – one likely, in its more extreme versions, to have a terrible effect on fundamental ideas of a good city. To the degree that we acquiesce, we become complicit in a cycle of exacerbated paranoia, creating a bunker mentality…Given the genuine risks we do face…the question becomes whether there is any meeting ground between the need for precautions and the ongoing project of urban amelioration – the construction of cities that are humane, democratic, and sustainable.” (p42)
  3. The Avant-Garde in Time of War – “All architecture is political. By marshalling and distributing resources, organising social space, and orchestrating encounters, architecture is the medium through which human relations are given dimension. Since 9/11, images of assaults on buildings and cities have become ubiquitous symbols of political action, surrogates – in a war without corpses – for our own corporeality.”(p82)
  4. Caveat Competitor – “Why have architectural competitions? For practitioners, they offer the chance of a job without the grief of negotiation or self-promotion, and they can sometimes jump a small practice to the next level. For clients, competitions provide the opportunity to choose from many alternatives, show sympathy with architecture, and – in most cases – to do it on the cheap. For the public, competitions carry the seal of meritocracy, seemingly outside familiar cronyism. But the process is easily corrupted. For starters, there is something exploitative about the huge amounts of uncompensated work required to keep the system going. And there are plenty of opportunities for log-rolling, deal-making, back-scratching, insider-trading and the rest. Juries can be dramatically affected by plane schedules, blood-sugar fluctuations, personality conflicts and low-common-denominator compromises: differences in taste cannot be adjudicated except by someone giving in.” (p100)
  5. Entering the Building. [you’ve just got to read the entire piece in full glory] (p110)
  6. Urban Warfare: a Tour of the Battlefield – “It is possible that the only answer to persistent “terror” is a police state. The two form a perfect symbiosis, and it is easy to understand the utility of regular attacks to the authors of the US government’s “Patriot” Act, the breeders of sniffer dogs, and the private security firms that have become such a growth industry. To produce both legibility and intimidation, the whole panoptic repertoire of spatial and social control is deployed with little objection.” (p117)
  7. Crippled in the City – “We cripples see the city a little differently…I now find the city reorganised as an obstacle course…unevenness of surfaces is a major issue for urban mobility. This can be encountered riding in the street; walking down the sidewalk and negotiating curbs; or within buildings where loose stair treads, missing tiles, unsecured carpet, and a thousand other perils present themselves. The range of barriers is great. Heavy doors are tough. Revolving doors are too fast and too small. Narrow spaces are challenging.” (p135)
  8. Advice to Critics – “1. Always Visit the Building 2. Style is Seldom the Issue 3. Credit Effects, Not Intentions 4. Think Globally, Think Locally 5. Safety First 6. Who Profits? 7. Consult the User 8. History is Not Bunk 9. It’s the City, Stupid 10. Defend the Public Realm 11. Keep Your Teeth Sharpened 12. Play Your Favourites” (p147-150)
  9. Seven Chairs – “Modernism revolted against the sentimental distortions of representation. Every representation pares and distorts, proposing a way of seeing as well as a vision of its object. Modernism bridled against this, understanding representation as constraint, and produced the idea of abstraction, conscientiously diversifying this methodology by steady degrees…But even abstraction always represents something, if only the idea of representing nothing.” “Duschamp’s “discovery” of the ready-made insisted that the act of seeing differently was a sufficient definition of artistic practice, with the power to “turn” objections from one thing to another. Whether this meant a urinal brazenly hung on a gallery wall or a deft bike-part bull, this mode of art-making used the mass-produced consumer object as its medium. However, its critical relation to this means depended on devaluing its useful status to convert it to mere contemplation, bringing it in line with traditional styles of artistic valorisation. Art’s crisis was one of both meaning and use.” (p170)
  10. Sincerely, Jane Jacobs – “Although preservation has emerged as the planning equivalent of motherhood…, its spawn – gentrification – has become the soft form of urban renewal, still removing the poor but lovingly restoring their former homes.” (p231)
  11. How I Invented Asia – “While the memory of tradition may inhere in particular forms, its life does not necessarily. Tradition is a set of practices that are weighted…by constraint, and it is clear that traditional societies live in symbiosis with both the fact and idea of their boundaries. This is an extremely fluid concept. Following Edward Said, Janet Abu-Lughod has pointed to a kind of postcolonial diffusion effect in which the idea of tradition is re-circulated as an instrument of domination by the colonizer, setting the boundaries from without rather than within…These arguments are obviously crucial as a critique of the dumb bivalence of received wisdom: tradition is at once potentially the product of a kind of enduring empiricism – tested by time – and radically uncritical. As a signifier, though, tradition is particularly buoyant, especially now. The folding of tradition into the various insistent discourses of identity that characterise contemporary politics means that every “tradition” on earth, once marked, is inescapably contaminated by somebody’s gaze, if only by that of those operating “within” the tradition who consciously seek to protect it fro the baleful influence of those without. We live in a world in which everybody is constructed as somebody’s other, and the force of tradition, increasingly is taken up in an idea of the political, is more and more directed outwards. (p248-249)
  12. Go Down Moses – “At the level of planning, I am disquieted by the growth of so-called “public-private partnerships” which often represent not simply the abdication of the duty of the public sphere to assure that the common good will contain a full measure of equity in results, but also an end-run around democracy itself, bypassing the hard work of guaranteeing that the voices of all citizens will be heard and acted on with equal weight.” (p276)
  13. The Jungle Urban: Welcome to Petropolis – “In 1993 a modified plan was put into place in which the Huaorani were nominally incorporated into the administration of the combine entity. For them, this meant jobs as security guards (in their own formerly peaceable homeland), oil workers, and new – and desperately inappropriate – houses for some, generally clustered in what can only be described as concentration camps. This for a people that has, for millennia, lived nomadically. It also meant the ravages of imported diseases and a rapid education in modernity.” (p279)
  14. Asian Alterity: What’s the Difference? – “The spirited defense of difference that has formed so much of the core of our politics during the past quarter-century is the product of a mingling of liberation and anxiety. Perhaps the most nuanced propositions have flowed from feminism and its efforts to negotiate not simply the crucial idea of sexual difference but its historic and contemporary reduction to essentialist positions: singular and immutable readings that pinion the idea of woman, refusing both cultural and individual fluidities and the complex dialectics of relationship, as well as the liberties of choice that must underlie any democratic account of how we become who we are.In the cultural territory, similar essentialisms dominate both in the vulgar reaches of the left, with its too expansive, quasi-biologistic formulations, and on the right, with its fundamentalisms of civilizational clash and flat-earth maps of the distribution of virtue. Such distortions notwithstanding, difference is indispensable, both the animator of our subjectivity and a bulwark against the fascist honogeneity and tight control of the neoliberal corporatist politics that have succeeded modernist universalism, extracting useful sameness from any memory of the project of justice.

    But the celebration of “authentic” difference runs its own risks, and we are obliged to question the sources and meanings of the differences that confront us. We must fear not simply the tyranny of essentialism – unnuanced ideas of “woman” or “Asian” or “Western” – but also the false distinctions of a culture that thrives on the production of illusory segmentations based on the need to create a blizzard of meaningless choices that will dupe us into the hysteria of consumption that makes the system go: the Terriyaki Burger in Tokyo, the Kimchee Burger in Seoul, the Curry Burger (strictly veg) in Bangalore.

    Even more threatening than this is the risk that an under-examined insistence on the abstract value of difference will threaten the vital idea of equality. Ideas of alterity can be used as instruments for manipulating the kinds of inequalities on which political and economic power thrive. And they can be used to dilute notions of justice by exaggerating the claim that human values and rights simply and “naturally” differ from society to society in such fundamental ways that we can evade the real distinctions between democracy and authoritarianism, whether in the guise of cultural choice or some form of political inevitabilism. We stone you for disagreeing with us because that’s how we are: how dare you take our patronising orientalist attitude to this!” (p285-286)