As we were in a crucial stage of the workshop last Wednesday for the final lecture, I didn't post anything about WAI's talk. I'd like to resume to that evening and recall some of the works they presented and the discussion which followed. WAI is Cruz Garcia and Nathalie Frankowski, and they present themselves both as a small architectural practice and a think tank that is trying to push the current discourse on architecture (or lack thereof) from a superficial flow of images (mainly on the web through blogs) towards a critical discussion about the role of architecture and architects in today's globalized consumer society. The projects they presented range from fairly conventional architecture proposals (fotball school in Puerto Rico, Fashion Museum in Tokyo) to speculative projects on preservation in Beijing, fictional movie makeovers and analysis of "hard core" architectural forms.
The lecture was a compressed version of one they did recently at the University of Puerto Rico, and apart from a few projects that were presented more in-depth, it was mostly a rather forced stream of images, including renderings from well-known global practices and drawings from architectural history, cut and pasted into new or rediscovered contexts. Despite the obvious ambition of dragging such a vast range of architectural expression into the same room for discussion and comparison, the presentation came across as somewhat superficial, and this was also well put by one member of the audience, calling it a "glossy lecture". I am quite sure this was not the intention of Ms Frankowski and Mr Garcia, they obviously tried hard to get all their ideas across by compressing this rather extensive presentation into less than half of its normal length.
This might not have been a good choice, as there was an overwhelming sense of image-washing in this which ended in a cascade of spot-the-manifesto accompanied by a loony jazz tune. Ironically, they also mentioned the problem of architectural drawings and collages being presented in museums all over the world as pure images, without the idea-historical context in which they were made. Truthfully, any image can be manipulated and reread through the way they are presented, and this is exactly the point that was being made. Rather than questioning this fact, I understand their work as personal interpretations, quite speculative sometimes, but very conscious.
Although they do write regularly for a number of architecture magazines, WAI's work seems very focused on images. Without them, the writing comes across as rather superfluous, reducing historical events to one-liners and focusing on the iconization of architecture. A relevant topic all the same, I can't say I am a big fan of the idea of using more images to fight the overflow of images, but if you are good at something, keep doing it. Indeed the most interesting projects presented were the more personal ones like the Wall Stalker story and the Beijing preservation monument tower.
Now I am starting to think of WAI as architecture theory's Kanye West: Young, ambitious and confident enough to be sampling from some of history's real tours-de-force, creating a new, imaginative and pretty groovy universe. All we need now is that they attack the next Pritzker Prize winner during then ceremony and claim it themselves. Keep it up, Nathalie and Cruz.