Failed Architecture is a podcast on architecture and the real world. By opening up new perspectives on the built environment, we seek to explore the meaning of architecture in contemporary society. FA challenges dominant spatial fashions and explores alternative realities, reaching far beyond the architectural community. We combine personal stories with research and reflection, always remaining committed to the idea that architecture is about social justice and climate justice, pop culture and subculture, representation and imagination, and everything that happens after the building’s been built.
Mecca is the holiest city in the Islamic religion and the birthplace of the prophet Mohamed. Located just off Saudi Arabia’s western coast, all Muslims are required to visit at least once in their life if they are physically able to. With air travel becoming easier, the number of pilgrims has been rising rapidly over the last few decades, with a record number of 3 million people visiting Mecca simultaneously during the 2012 Hajj. More recently, visa regulations have been made more strict to keep the situation under control.
In this episode, we discuss with various experts how this rising number of pilgrims is fueling a radical makeover of the city. While Mecca has always been changing and under construction, the current developments are of an unprecedented scale. What does Mecca’s radical makeover look like? Who is profiting from these developments and what does it mean for the city’s spiritual character? What does the current building craze mean for older buildings, and what will happen to the hundreds of thousands of people who live in the city’s informal settlements?
Amna Solati is an architect and urban researcher based in London, until recently working with Rotterdam’s Het Nieuwe Instituut
Hussam Dakkak is an architectural designer and one of the founders of the Architectural Association’s Visiting School to Mecca
This episode was directed by René Boer/The Failed Architecture Team
Contemporary urban discourse relies overwhelmingly on visual representation. While it may be more effective both in conveying the actual appearance of a particular urban space and in communicating the intentions of the architect and the planner, this kind of representation leaves little room for individual interpretation and cannot possibly capture the full range of feelings and emotions that people attach to particular places. For this, we must also turn to the more immediate sensations of touch, smell, taste and sound. This episode explores the last of these sensations, considering what it means to represent cities and architecture through sound.
Unlike the visual, sound cannot be so easily contained, it flows freely, stimulating memories, helping to create a collective urban experience and bridging gaps across space and time. As such, recording and discussing the built environment through the medium of sound offers a vital means through which to challenge the dominant ways in which architecture and cities are represented.
The main part of this episode comprises a conversation between hosts Mark, Rene and Charlie, unpacking the work involved in producing a podcast about architecture and discussing what it means to represent architecture through sound and how music, in particular, can convey certain urban moods. But in the breaks, we will also introduce a series of other sounds found on Aporee, an online map tool on which people can post geo-located sounds.
Track listing (in order of appearance):
Streets of Rage 2 Soundtrack, Go Straight
Burial, Night Bus
Melania de Biasio, Blackened Cities
mahrajan hutat miniy, halbasat haysat alsuwisi, 100 nuskhatan
(مهرجان حتة مني – حلبسة هيصة السويسي – ١٠٠ نسخة)
Transcript of Tsan-Cheng Wu explaining the Taiwan Sound Map project:
You can call me Tsan-Cheng. In Taiwan maybe some people would call me a sound artist, in visual art. I have been producing this Taiwan Sound Map project for seven years. I will do this project for ten years, so it will end in 2021.
The choice of my recording is very random. I record as many ambient sounds as possible. I just see the map and say ok today it’s here, I do not have any goals, any view, just walking in this place, and then maybe I want to turn right or turn left, just recording.
If I’m in a park, I can hear the birds, bird song, most of the recorders, they just want the bird song, but I will record the birds and where, in this park, they have a big wall and they have noise, like the traffic noise, I record at the same time and I will keep the traffic sound because the noise is very important for this bird song. When I record many many parks in the city, I think we can find why the people like this park or why people do not like that park. So with this field recording, I think the data is a different kind of way to think about the city.
In Taiwan we have many traditional markets. Most of the markets will be outdoors, and the vendors will be chatting and it’s very noisy, but in this space in Taiwan it’s very, very exciting, you can go around, you can choose, you can chat, it’s very very interesting, but the new markets in the city maybe it’s just a big building, the market will be boring, yeah so, when I record the market, the new market or the old market, I want people to think about which market you want to go to.
This episode was directed by Charlie Clemoes / the Failed Architecture team.
Albert Speer is one of the most infamous architects in history. During his time working for the Nazi Party he was responsible for designing the Reich Chancellery and the Zeppelinfeld Stadium in which the Nuremberg rallies took place, as well as being in charge of Germany’s war production during the Second World War and having responsibility for the plan to reconstruct Berlin as Germania. Yet by emphasising his detachment from the general conditions in which he was working, he was able to avoid the death sentence after the war.
While his is an extreme example, it offers a compelling jumping off point to explore the wider issue of an architect’s responsibility for the wider system that they work in. Moving from mid-20th Century Germany to the present day, this episode explores the specific role certain architects have played in developing the stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Here, gross violations of human rights and international labour law throw up serious questions about the moral ramifications of designing projects in such a country. How can architects balance the benefit of bringing a smooth, shiny new project against the human cost required to produce it?
— Thomas Rogers works as a freelance journalist, editor and translator in Berlin, often for SPIEGEL International.
— Nicholas McGeehan is a Gulf researcher who has worked at Human Rights Watch as the Bahrain, Qatar, and United Arab Emirates researcher and at Mafiwasta, an organisation for workers’ rights in the United Arab Emirates, where he was also director.
This episode was directed by Charlie Clemoes / the Failed Architecture team
Italy’s landscape is dotted with unfinished structures. For a myriad of reasons, the construction of these buildings and pieces of infrastructure stopped half-way, leaving the often concrete and often striking remains of hitherto incomplete plans. The ‘Incompiuto Siciliano’ (Unfinished Sicilian) project has been mapping and researching these many structures, on Sicily as well as in the rest of the country. And, to draw attention to the phenomenon, started to refer to them as “Italy’s Most Prominent Architectural Style”.
In this episode, we join Incompiuto on a trip to one of the largest unfinished objects, ‘La Diga di Blufi’, 130km south of Palermo. Construction of this impressive water engineering project, which was supposed to supply southern Sicily with drinking water, was abruptly halted in the 1990s and has since become a 260-hectare contemporary ruin.
Together with architects and artists involved in the project, we discuss the many implications of the ‘Incompiuti’, from their poetic qualities to the planning failures, from ruin porn to the need for spiritual structures, all the while contemplating architecture’s illusion of completion.
Veronica Caprino is an architect based in Milan and part of Fosbury Architecture
Andrea Masu is an artist, currently based in Palermo. He is part of the Alterazioni Video collective and one of the founders of Incompiuto Siciliano
References (in order of appearance):
5:59 The Cretto di Burri is a land art project in the middle of Sicily, where artist Alberto Burri has covered the remnants of Gibellina, destroyed in an earthquake in the 1960s, with concrete.
7:32 The Circo Massimo, known as the Circus Maximus in Latin and English, is an ancient chariot-racing stadium in Rome, of which the outlines can still be seen today.
9:45 Marc Augé is a French anthropologist, who also contributed to the Incompiuto book
15:34 The Incompiuto book can be ordered online from Humboldt Publishers.
This episode was directed by Mark Minkjan en René Boer / the Failed Architecture team.
The area around Calais, a town in northern France, has for many years been a major transit point for refugees on their way to the United Kingdom. During the recent peak in the number of refugees, the French and British authorities increasingly fortified this border landscape, forcing those on the move to build increasingly permanent shelters for themselves. As this self-built city, also sometimes referred to as ‘the jungle’, continued to grow the response of the authorities became increasingly violent. Now, the self-built city has been demolished and its inhabitants displaced.
The media hype following these events prompted a large number of aid workers, activists, volunteers, but also architects to make their way to Calais. For this episode, we talk to a few of them to find out what in particular triggered them to go, what they encountered and what they did. How should architects relate to these large, self-built areas? Is it possible to make a positive contribution in such a complex environment? Should ‘architecture’ be the focus of these violent border systems? And is there a need to document or archive such self-built cities?
– Grainne Hassett is a Dublin-based architect, who initiated various construction projects in Calais as well as worked on an extensive documentation project.
– Léopold Lambert is based in Paris, where he is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Funambulist, a magazine that continues to critically reflect on complex spatial-political situations such as Calais.
– Merve Bedir is an architect, now based in Hong Kong, and has over the last few years been involved in different locations on the ‘migrant trail’ between Syria and Calais.
References (in order of appearance):
40:15 IKEA refugee tent
48:18 Sam Jacob’s replica refugee shelter, exhibited at the V&A and Venice Architecture Biennale
52:30 Gran Horizonte, Urban Think Tank’s prize-winning exhibition on Torre David at the Venice Architecture Biennale
This episode was directed by René Boer / the Failed Architecture team
In this episode, we use the work of London-based rapper Gaika to explore the subject of London, talking to both Gaika and Ash Sarkar, a senior editor at Novara Media who has previously collaborated with Gaika, about the city’s near future and its recent past.
Gaika’s work covers a lot of themes, but his “Security” and “Spectacular Empire” projects are among the most incisive articulations of the mood that has pervaded London in the past decade. Produced in 2016 and 2017 respectively, these two projects cover a diverse array of themes: ranging from race, the built environment and the housing market, to technology, space, and security… all the while employing the time-honoured medium of speculative fiction to diagnose the present historical moment.
Casting a long shadow over this subject, as well as Gaika’s own work, the 2011 London Riots occupy a significant part of the initial discussion. Both Ash and Gaika speculate on the conditions which caused the riots and consider their implications for the future of the city, as well as society more generally.
From there, we move on to discuss London’s relative stability and the value of insurrectionary moments to a progressive urban politics, along the way making references to, among other things, defensible space, One Hyde Park, gnostic fantasies, that Redrow advert, and the ironic lightness of a possible communism that is not definable in any way.
References (in order of appearance):
GAIKA – PMVD (feat. Mista Silva)
GAIKA – SECURITY (A short film)
Ash Sarkar meets Adam Elliott-Cooper | The Police and State Power
GOD COLONY X GAIKA – “LOOT” (RIHANNA NIGHTRIDE EDIT)
“The Spectacular Empire – a future imagined by GAIKA,” Dazed Digital, 28 September 2017
The “Bifo” Ash is referring to is Franco “Bifo” Berardi, an Italian Marxist theorist who was heavily involved in the student uprisings of the 1970s, especially in Bologna, where he edited the magazine A/traverso and established Radio Alice, the first free pirate radio station in Italy.
I couldn’t find the quote about “the ironic lightness of actually existing communism” but his book Precarious Rhapsody has him reflecting on his experience in Bologna in the late 1970s (cf. p.26).
The David Graeber essay referred to is “Despair Fatigue”
One Hyde Park — One Exceptional Investment
Newman’s defensible space theory
The Tom Gann essay referred to is “A Path Through the Embers: A Militant Caring Infrastructure in South London”.
The section of Marx’s Grundrisse which Ash is referring to is Notebook VII – The Chapter on Capital.
GAIKA – Crown & Key
Alexandra Lange has been writing about architecture and design for over two decades. Her articles span a wide range of subjects, from building reviews and calls for preservation to furniture, fashion, and women in architecture. After writing for such media outlets as Metropolis, Dezeen, The New York Times, Places Journal, Architect Magazine and The New Yorker, she published the book Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities in 2012. Currently working as the architecture critic at Curbed, her latest book The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids comes out this month.
In this episode, Alexandra Lange talks to Mark Minkjan about architecture criticism and The Design of Childhood. In the first half of the conversation, they discuss her work as a critic, the problem with architect profiles, writing for the New Yorker and feminist criticism. After that, the second half is about how to design the objects, spaces and cities that help children become independent, sociable and creative.
Links to books, articles and topics addressed in the conversation:
Alexandra Lange’s articles at The New Yorker
Alexandra Lange’s articles at Curbed
Alexandra Lange on Twitter
1:08 Alexandra Lange – Writing About Architecture
1:24 Alexandra Lange – The Design of Childhood
14:50 The Woman Who Gave the Macintosh a Smile (The New Yorker)
15:45 Support Failed Architecture
16:50 Play Ground: How a Dutch landscape architect is reinventing the park (The New Yorker)
18:25 Daniel Zalewski – Intelligent Design: Can Rem Koolhaas kill the skyscraper? (The New Yorker)
22:00 West 8’s Madrid Rio
Stereotypes regarding Modernist architecture, and in particular the negative discourse on Amsterdam’s Bijlmer estate, have been quite crucial in shaping Failed Architecture’s way of thinking in its early years. Can we really blame the architecture for what went wrong? How can an entire neighbourhood, where thousands of people continue to live their lives on a daily basis, be simply dismissed as a grand failure? In recent years, however, there has been a slow but steady reappreciation of Modernist architecture taking place, but rather for its aesthetics than its social ideals.
While architecture from that era is still being demolished at a large scale, this renewed interest is Modernist architecture has also allowed investors to renovate entire blocks of it, and sell the individual apartments for lucrative prices. One of the last remaining Bijlmer flats, Kleiburg, went through a similar process, which was later even given the Mies van der Rohe Award and other major architecture prizes. For this episode, we revisit Kleiburg with Fenna Haakma Wagenaar, an architect who grew up in the flat, and discuss the simultaneous disregard and reappreciation of Modernist housing estates with critical expert Owen Hatherley.
– Fenna Haakma Wagenaar is an architect and currently design lead at the Municipality of Amsterdam. She grew up in Kleiburg.
– Owen Hatherley is an architectural historian and author of such books as Militant Modernism, A New Kind of Bleak and The Ministry of Nostalgia.
– SBMG (Sawtu Boys Money Gang) consists of rappers Chivv and Henkie T; their music video Oeh Na Na features in the episode and was largely shot in and around Kleiburg (full video below).
This episode is directed by René Boer / the Failed Architecture team..
Video games have changed the way we interact with space. From their very inception, these increasingly complex virtual worlds have been forcing new perspectives and new ways of interacting with the world beyond. Once they were able to represent cities, their role in shaping our everyday urban experience became even more acute, thrusting players into environments that they would otherwise have never come close to and exposing them to representations of urban life which will have had countless effects on the way players experienced cities in real life.
But while it’s long been accepted that film, music and other established forms of culture have been instrumental in crafting people’s perception of city life, the role of video games has hitherto been rather neglected. This, despite the fact that the industry is in many countries bigger than film and music combined. If we do not accept the wide-ranging and increasingly significant role that video games have in shaping the way people interact with city space, then we leave it open to conservative or reactionary portrayals of city life and space more generally.
The initial inspiration for this episode came from one such reactionary portrayal: the crime-ridden inner city of Streets of Rage. Considering the way this game helped shape a specific neoliberal policy narrative emerging in the late 1980s, the episode questions how and in what ways games can do the opposite: expanding, rather than narrowing our perceptions of city life.
– Oli Mould is Lecturer in Human Geography at Royal Holloway, he blogs at Tacity
– Rosa Carbo-Mascarell is a game designer and co-founder of Games for the Many
– Darran Anderson is a writer and author of Imaginary Cities and the forthcoming Tidewrack
– Hannah Nicklin is a writer, narrative designer and game designer with a PhD in games influenced theatre and theatre influenced games
This episode is directed by Charlie Clemoes / The Failed Architecture Team
In this podcast episode, we go inside Amsterdam’s designer data tower and talk to several people about the architecture, environmental impact and cultural significance of data centres.
Instagram photos, public transport information, streamed music and Netflix movies seem to appear out of thin air on your phone, don’t they? Well, getting them onto that screen isn’t as light and easy as it feels. There is, in fact, an immense and decidedly heavy infrastructure powering the cloud. More and more architecture is being designed and built to house server space and internet connection hubs. Since these buildings typically use as much energy as a medium-sized city, our digital lives have a direct environmental toll. Minimising this footprint is one of the data centre industry’s main issues.
This episode was triggered by our encounter with the first data centre to be fully embraced as Architecture. Designed by Benthem Crouwel Architects, the AM4 data tower in Amsterdam only recently appeared on the city’s skyline. Being taller than most buildings in the city, and cutting an impressively slick, windowless appearance, the data skyscraper is hard to miss. Does this design treatment for data architecture signal a tipping point of data centres becoming more visible and acceptable elements of cities? For the podcast, we got inside the heavily secured AM4 data tower to see, hear and feel the internet, and talked to several people about data space.
– Michiel Eielts is managing director at Equinix, the data centre company that commissioned the building.
– Joost Vos is architect and partner at Benthem Crouwel Architects, who designed the AM4 data tower.
– Ingrid Burrington is an artist and a journalist for a.o. The Atlantic. Her work deals with invisible infrastructures such as the internet.
– Alexander Taylor is a social anthropologist at the University of Cambridge who looks at the social, political and infrastructural dimensions of data security. For Failed Architecture, Alexander has also written the article “Failover Architectures: the Infrastructural Excess of the Data Centre Industry“.
This episode is directed by Mark Minkjan / the Failed Architecture team.