Everything Must Move

“Confronted by the sprawl of a postwar city, we have come to see architecture through the lens of the suburban metropolis.  Because of its typical characteristics, Houston has remained our primary laboratory: multi-centered, dispersed, and amorphous.  The city as we have known it is passe, but the alternatives – somatic clusters in protected enclaves  – do not meet our hopes for the emerging metropolis: site that is no longer fixed but always becoming, always in the making and there to be made” -Lars Lerup (from the essay “Now”).
“Houston is no utopia, nor maybe even a “nice place” for that matter, but in its rowdy, soggy, excess it presents a sublime environment for testing ideas about operating in seemingly impossible situations.” —Luke Bulman and Jessica Young

To try to describe the breadth of material in this book is a challenge.  Everything Must Move is a 488 page dense co-mingling of studio briefs, samples of student work (a lot of samples), well-considered essays (great writing), informal interviews, RICE memorabilia, years-after-the-fact musings on studio explorations, derive-like photo essays, and clever graphic design that attempt to document 15 years at the RICE School of Architecture under the leadership of Lars Larup.

Forensics of RICE: memorabilia worth keeping

The design of the book (by Thumb) is approached as a microcosm or extended metaphor of the loose urban organization of Houston itself: a sprawling pro-corporate ecological dystopia completely devoid of zoning (a conceptually productive counterpoint to the planned urbanism of Portland).  Thus the book’s chapters are untitled and their conceptual edges are ambiguous and overlapping.  Per Thumb’s description:

Nine notable qualities which were mobilized in Everything Must Move’s design:
1. Anything can be next to anything
2. Should be attenuated, vaguely amorphous
3. Should have punctuation, as in a
stim; then, will necessarily have dross
4. Should be real, warts and all
5. Should be poly-vocal, a product of many collaborations
6. Should not have zoning
7. Will be incomplete
8. Form will be driven by the project’s economics
9.
It is what it is

Rather than providing titled chapters, the book is organized into unnamed “clusters” that are “roughly analogous to the typological geography of the contemporary city, in general, and Houston, in particular.” I’m still working on what those typologies are (for those who have read it I would love to hear some interpretations). Everything Must Move is not a book you read from front to back, rather one tends to skip around, finding disparate interesting things wherever you land (drive to) within the condensed forensic sprawl.  The seeming lack of hierarchy, or democratic inclusion of  so much design research is largely an asset of the work, creating the possibility for open editing by the reader.  Although, after sifting through all of it one might wonder what lessons were learned at RICE over those fifteen years based on all these successive stabs at the city.  Overall, what general approaches/methodologies were more successful, particularly for a metropolis like Houston?  Lars Larup answers some of this question in a very general way in his essay “Now”, which includes seven educational innovations RICE lays claim to via their time spent on the Metropolitan Project.

The book includes some classic influential essays, such as Larup’s Stim and Dross (as well as a newer one called Toxic Ecology, focused on a critique of infrastructure) and excerpts from Albert Pope’s Ladders, both of which have become integral stepping stones in contemporary landscape urbanism theory, such as Berger’s DrossScape (discussed previously here).  I found the informal interviews that reflect back on the past years interesting to read (see in particular the A-to-Z interview with Larup–the man is full of bon mos quips).

As you make your way through the material it becomes apparent just how many ways RICE has boldly explored the urban vagaries of extensive horizontal expansion (i.e. sprawl) from the bloody, sublime front lines; debunking conventional notions of city, and creating new definitions of the contemporary metropolis through their research.  The work doesn’t feel entrenched in a single ideology or design method (cluster 7 seems very influenced by the London AA style of landscape urbanism, cluster 4 influenced by the problem of bigness, cluster 5 by process and digital prototyping a la Columbia University).  The faculty seem to have taken iterative opportunistic approaches, trying out all kinds of design processes and fashions to see what works and what is bunk.  In reading the book I was amazed at just how many people have passed through RICE as well as the program’s interdisciplinary leanings (i.e. they get an A+ from me).  The back cover extensively lists all the contributors, including  Bruce Mau, Sanford Kwinter, and Charles Waldheim.

Excerpts from Larup’s apocryphal Toxic Ecology: The Struggle between Nature and Culture in the Suburban Mega-City,a meditation on infrastructure gone wrong.

Everything Must Move concludes with Lars Larup’s Seven Aphorisms: Aphorisms for a desgn method which are worth retelling (in abbreviated form) here:

#1 The contemporary metropolis, or rather that which has replaced the contemporary metropolis surrounds us  but is invisible, escaping the gaze of the architect whose knowledge of the metropolis was calibrated for another time and place.  We are committed to retooling our profession to engage the vast field of urban flows in which we wade.

#2 Thirty years ago architects were told they had lost the ability to affect the development of the metropolis.  And we believed it, rushing headlong into oblivious irrelevance…we seek to reinvest architecture into the pragmatics of space by radically innovating the conditions and objects of the architects practice.

#3 Form has become the refuge of the architectural scoundrel, who seeks to hide in it from the forces which are rapidly hunting his discipline down.

#4  Space, rather than form, is the subject-matter through which architecture (landscape?) can begin to track the multiplicitous forces which configure the contemporary environment.  This space is neither uniform, empty or static.  It is a flux-space through which all the heterogeneous dynamics of the metropolitan field and the suburban ecology manifest.  The forms of the city are the momentary calcifications of these spatial dynamics.

#5  The alphabetization of the architect’s knowledge and practice in modernity, its segmentation into discrete objects and competencies, must be reversed by investment in the connectivity of these elements.  Ecological ethics are not just about environmentalism but about understanding  the complex topography of effects, agents and  phenomena that traverse all boundaries and borders of the built environment.  gradients rather than walls, fields rather than plots, links rather than nodes, hybrids rather than essences, slurries rather than names.

#6  The impending environmental calamity, for which the city will be a primary site, is at once the architect’s last hope and greatest challenge.

#7  We hope to engender a performative understanding of the built environment as a dance of matters, forces, ideas, things, economies, subjects.

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Rather than providing titled chapters, the book is organized into unnamed “clusters” that are “roughly analogous to the typological geography of the contemporary city, in general, and Houston, in particular.” I’m still working on what those typologies are (for those who have read it I would love to hear some interpretations). Everything Must Move is not a book you read from front to back, rather one tends to skip around, finding disparate interesting things wherever you land (drive to) within the condensed forensic sprawl.  The seeming lack of hierarchy, or democratic inclusion of  so much design research is both an asset (creating the possibility for open editing by the reader) and a possible source of critique…what was learned at RICE over those fifteen years based on all these successive stabs at the city?  Overall, what approaches/methodologies were more successful, particularly for a metropolis like Houston?
The book contains some classic influential essays, such as Larup’s Stim and Dross (as well as a newer one called Toxic Ecology, focused on infrastructure) and excerpts from Albert Pope’s Ladders, both of which have become integral stepping stones in contemporary landscape urbanism theory, such as Berger’s DrossScape (discussed previously here).  The informal interviews reflecting back on the past years are interesting to read (see in particular the A-to-Z interview with Larup–the man is full of bon mos quips).

2 comments

  1. how utterly deleuze-ian… thanks for the review. have you read much of the book yet? does using a metaphorical houston as an organizing system for the book really make sense? it’s daring, which i dig, but ridiculous also (maybe in a good way), so i wonder if it works.

    i want to get my hands on it now, and the flower image at the beginning is wonderful- fun and apocalyptic.

  2. I’ve paged through the whole book with varying levels of scrutiny depending upon how much the design work grabbed my attention (as I mentioned there is a lot in there). I generally enjoyed the loose structure as its the only book I’ve ever read where the authors asked me to participate in typing the loose content of their chapters/clusters. I can’t say I’ve tried to hard to figure it out and “roughly analogous” might be the key clue (i.e. choose your own adventure), and I should mention my efforts are a bit hindered by the fact that I have not physically been to Houston. The casual, non-destination drive through sprawly terrain is fitting. I kept tending towards typing design methodologies more than physical typologies.

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