WE WRITE [f-architecture]
PUBLICATIONS Harvard Design Magazine ED REAL Review Room One Thousand DUE SUBTEXXT GIRLS LIKE US

"Young Girls" and Their Real Worlds in Harvard Design Magazine no. 44, Fall 2017.

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AN EXCERPT ON YOUNG UNREALITY

The position of the young girl is particularly limited, even in the optimistic staging of liberal democracy. [6] The character of the teenage girl, seen texting from the backseat of an SUV in a car-insurance commercial, is a thing to be entertained until she can prove herself useful. So what does it mean for her, the girl who is not this girl, to grow up here, in reality's elsewhere? To be young and full of possibility in an unreal terrain?

Well, who is better, who is more adaptable, than the young girl to attend to political and existential fantasy? Teenagers, especially girls, are masterful technicians of invention because they must constantly assert themselves against an identity defined on their behalf, one figured as a lack (of experience, resources, or productivity). [7] Spatial and social forms of self-invention have long been deployed by the teen girl because and in spite of her disempowerment. Fashion blogs, [8] Lolita tea parties, [9] and Harry Potter fan fiction message boards10 list among teen girls' efforts to inhabit universes that exist for and by them. But productive fantasies--alternate mappings of self and space that become operative in the world of objects or that work to free subjects from fixed social conditions--have been constructed by young women (and trans and genderqueer youth) to adapt not just themselves but their environments (social, physical, intellectual) to their own alterity. These operations of identity don't play out in some impossible space but are enmeshed in the spatial and social contexts from which they emerge.

Alternative, fantastic, and mystical realities provide experiential and not just rhetorical bases for survival, self-care, and radical re-presentation against a denial of humanity. Here, we examine the unreal not as a condition of improper evidence or veracity, but as a refusal of the circumstances--built and otherwise--that determine one's position in the world. In this sense, we can regard constructions of realities by and for teen girls on their terms and in the same frame as figments of national security ("a nation without borders is not a nation," Trump asserted at John Kelly's Department of Homeland Security nomination [11]). In this moment of reality's heightened plasticity, whose radical new truths and self-authorizing reconstructions of the world can take effect?

As a young (not teenage) feminist practice, we find it important to admit into the world of architecture the forms and necessities of fantasy, dreaming, and escape, and all of the makings and un-makings of self and space that might disrupt staid operations of the real. In fantasizing outwardly, in service to a public who is more often disempowered than liberated by built reality, we might generate more nuanced spatio-political operations with or on behalf of young women, queer women, and women of color. Gestures away from walls and toward more performative actions might unmoor spatial practice from its dangerous position as a value-added service that qualifies, enforces, or dresses the ordering of political reality. Rather, projects guided by teen dreaming can come to bear on the design of a more equitable "real world," one we all live in. Young girls, they are the patrons of this earth.

WE ARE PRINCESS NOKIA STANS

In the 2016 banger "Tomboy," Princess Nokia voices and answers the question of the viewer, a surrogate for the male gaze: "Who that is, hoe? That girl is a tomboy." Positioning her body--"My little titties and my phat belly"--as concertedly visible in an urban domain that is hers by proclamation, she renders an assemblage of Manhattan where her body is her own. These public becomings proceed in contrast to designs on the typical spatial proxy for the teenage girl: the plush and postered interior of her childhood bedroom. This trope-space delimits teenage expression and influence to a narrowly defined and privileged domestic space. In "Tomboy," the city is appropriated as newly personal space, marked not just by Princess Nokia's visible occupation but, in its reframing, as constituent of her identity and community.

Heroes, Rumors, Cults: Designs on Architectural Celebrity in ED no. 1, November 2017.

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AN INTRO AFTER SOME ZAHA RUMORS

The cult-image of the architect exceeds any one building, but it too is designed. Architecture's heroes--especially those that cross over from the insular genre of design discourse and into the mainstream glow of popular consciousness--are not disengaged from the project of their own image-making. Even as mainstream recognition is held up as further evidence of their credibility as architects, the double-effort of branding architecture and self is a project less often open to critique, despite how often it drives commissions or appearances behind lecterns.

The apparatus of fame is designed in a series of self-securing gestures. Linking the architect inextricably to their work, this operational image permits--or denies--them the celebrity credentials to circulate both in the world of luxury commodities and on the trying academic circuit. Despite the idiosyncrasies that distinguish architecture's most famous, the figuring of architectural renown still depends on an outdated notion of creative heroism, one that less readily acknowledges collaboration, parallel architectural histories, or methodologies outside of the conventional disciplinary lineage. In the interest of centering practices outside the typical purview of conventional (white, male, moneyed) acclaim, it's worth examining the techniques by which architects reinforce the trope of the auteur in the design of their own celebrity. What are the techniques by which celebrity can be re-designed?

SOME BJARKE SHADE

Take the example of Bjarke Ingels, who recently endeared himself to millions (of my non-architect/male-attracted friends) when he appeared on the Netflix series Abstract: The Art of Design, and who is set to star in a full length feature documentary this month. Before he enjoyed popular fame, Bjarke's anti-monograph Yes is More: An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution was a tool that framed both him and his architecture as the "most evolved" manifestations within the history of architecture. The success of Yes is More can in part be attributed to its mass-market format, but is also owed to positioning (his) architecture as a necessary transformation of design for broader appeal. [23]

In Yes is More, he is figured as the protagonist in the struggle between "traditionalism" and a new kind of architecture. This drama is rendered in high contrast graphics and in the frantic italics of hand-lettered captions that describe their projects in moralizing terms. "It was part junior sailing club, part social project, meant to teach the local kids to rig sails and knots rather than steal cars or paint graffiti" says one set of frames about the Maritime Youth House. [X] no to brown graffiti artists, [✔] yes to white sailors the graphics, the image reads. [24]

As the comic book's author and superhero, he draws himself and his architecture into a modernist heroics adapted for both the current moment in architecture and for a nostalgia that exceeds the discipline (a boy and his comic book). An eschewal of the conventional monograph, which submits a body of work to the object form of the book, Bjarke constructs a narrative in which he himself appears as part of that stylized body. He is the BIG.dk thrusting toward an "evolved" architecture, what he calls the "fertile overlap" between the pragmatic and the utopian. [25] I can think of a no more "pragmatic utopia" from his point of view than an office that engineers his fame and doesn't pay its interns a living wage [26] -- presumably, the privilege of working at BIG is compensation enough. [27]

His office is predicated on his name and his potent image: something that can be traded without the design, without the interference of his partners, and without ever acknowledging his junior associates and interns, in other words, the whole ecology of labor that supports BIG. As Bjarke himself states in Yes is More, "Telling your clients that they can get anything they want turned out to be a successful strategy and we won the competition without an actual design." Yes is actually nothing. Bjarke escalates Miesian immateriality to the obscene extent that only the Netflix generation can appreciate: he has transformed himself into capital, a value-added entity that doesn't just support the design, but is wholly interchangeable with a project in its abstract form. This transformation engenders a form of appeal that has neither the sincerity of utopia nor the expedience of the pragmatic, only the recursive self-indulgence of late capitalist consumption. If anything, Yes is More is the popcorn blockbuster that promises the possibility of return to the culture of old man architecture: an individualized practice rapidly eroded by a distribution of labor that promises cheaper and faster construction and a more diverse set of interlocutors and interests expanding the field in unknown directions.

Waxing Hymenoplastic in Real Review no. 6 - "Just in Time," March 2018.

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INTRO TO THE SCENE OF SIMULATED VIRGINITY*

"Make sure you tip the housekeeping staff well, they will have to deal with the mess you make."

My aunt whispered the words to me, giggling and blushing. She asked my mother if she explained to me what to expect on the night of my wedding, how to please my man and how I shouldn't act shy. My mother was silent, only giving me side glances. She knew I did not need any help. She knew she didn't have to explain to her 27-year-old daughter what sex is, or how to please the man she's been dating for seven years. But that did not stop my aunt, who went on about her first night and all the blood that decorated her marital bed sheets, and how, in two days, this will be me.

An initial expulsion of blood (a sexual rite, a trauma, a first period) organizes the lives of female-bodied subjects around the world into girls and women. The many participants in the cultural production of the virgin continue to narrow the space of that determination to the object-form of the hymen (intact until the ceremonious performance of its loss). The concept of virginity far exceeds the discrete event of the wedding night in stories told by aunts. The semiotic creep from the body to blood on a sheet to the architectures that stage the marital destruction of the hymen (or its verification), has taken up market-driven trajectories. It is an object of advertisement, and not just personal history. As a commodity, the hymen and its simulations take on renewed consequence to the agency and self-possession of women throughout the world, and especially those in the MENA region, where virginity is a status enforced through longstanding and evolving forms of scrutiny over the female body. Prosthetic artifacts--manufactured in China and distributed through sites like Alibaba to women in the Middle East--alter the tactics of gendered oppression to admit desire, where urgency and aspiration meet as good or service. Unlike the spectacle of the bride tipping the maid, the procured hymen promises discretion.

"Do you want to marry in confidence? Let your partner think you are a virgin? Would you like to surprise your partner or to spice up your sex life?"

No longer a biological "fact," the hymen as an object of sale expands the possible scenes for its destruction and verification to sites of production and adoption. These products are inserted, implanted, and made in labs, clinics, and private homes distributed around the world. Commonly available as a suppository or dissolvable film, the insertable hymen retails at $30-$400 depending on the manufacturer, and activates new performances of virginity from the point of sale to its expulsion from the body. From the shelves of obscure local distributors to the carts of virginity-focused online retailers, the performative quality of this commodity unveils a broad set of commercial territories.

These include architectures at varying scales and programs. In the space of the formal clinic--where elective improvements co-mingle with need-based procedures--the aesthetics of bodily reinvention are reinforced in finishes and furnishings that aid in sustaining the desire for the virginal body. The waiting room of Dr. Nassar Hospital in Sin el Fil, Lebanon is bedecked in leggy furniture and stylized representations of the bodies that women of means can acquire. Other, informal sites of production include the space of the bedroom (or hotel room) on the wedding night, the rural clinic often situated at liminal spaces of legality, or the holding prison cell as site of verification. Egypt in particular has long been a place where cultural, religious, and political pressures amass to further complicate the landscape of commodified virginity. Waves of protests in recent years have been met with gendered forms of oppression, intensified under the implicit military dictatorship that followed with the election of el-Sisi. In parliamentary efforts to ban the artificial hymen, virginity tests of women arrested in Tahrir Square during the revolution, or laws passed by MPs that force women to undergo these exams before being admitted to university, the objects and measures that construct virginity remain powerful political tools of heteropatriarchy.

How? Fielding Feminist Practice in Room One Thousand no. 6 - "Work or Sim," April 2018.

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This labor of asking is a practice that requires continuous energy and resources, but also a methodology grounded in the modulated appearance of bodies (on the site, as investigator, laborer, beautiful idiot). The fielded dynamics of these exchanges play out in particularly gendered ways. Girlish obsequiousness, feigned ignorance, and other ways of performing the very subjection we seek to upend list among the guises and affectations we assume to operate in the field. This is a territory that has been figured by its outlying position from architecture practice, where gendered values are diffuse in the structure of the office or institution. Against circumscribing formal spaces of knowledge production against "other," ancillary sites, we recognize that both the field and the office are organized in ways that demand a number of performances to acquire access, to participate, and to stage new relationships to power. Where this happens is as a much a concern as how research proceeds, if it can occur at all.

The Birth of the Clinic in SUBTEXXT, contributed as part of our yearlong editorship.

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Architecture is a bodily concern. As researchers, we aim to see the particular contours and positions that gender environments, experiences, and the physical sites of the body-object and bodied subject. These designed operations find expression across scales: We've traced the construction of virginity from the global operation of the international hymen market to the artifact of the prosthetic hymen device and all the social-sexual-evidentiary performances the artificial membrane is meant to enact. At an overtly architectural scale, the contemporary clinic constitutes a space that collapses bodily desire and power over biology, where we can redesign ourselves as a matter of aspiration or prescription. Our project aims at the former, desiring mode, uniting the practices for re-making body with its discrete spaces of production. But the clinic has historically served as a site of control and invention for the body's proper condition, where women have been observed and treated as unruly or unfit subjects and where their ailing conditions are named, if not corrected. Clinical forms of control have since mutated into a much more complex coordination of influences and fantasies for bodily futures; we must examine more closely the space which mediates between power and desire.

OUR LINGERING Qs on CLINIC

As the medical clinic merges with the spa in the frame of the plastic surgeon's office, we wonder how interior architecture unifies aesthetics of care with the aspirational aesthetics of luxury regimens. What is the sociality of spaces that do not distinguish between these elective procedures? Would you do a mud bath with friends? Botox too? What about gynecological "improvements"? How do properly outfitted environments set up exchanges of capital for body in its ideal forms? How do these spaces, embellished as they are, condition the experience of bodily transformation?

As medical tourism supports new models for the hospital room-cum-hotel room, how do economies of travel join the procedural durations spent under medical supervision or in recovery? Long and leisurely stays in the clinic suite are recognized against home visits, in-and-out procedures, and the more diffuse instances of routinized inspection and intervention that happen in public and private, on your own time or at someone else's behest.

How do these environments for body modification reflect the value of self-care: care that is framed against capitalism and that bolsters capitalist individualism (treat yourself...) by placing the responsibility of self-care on the overworked individual with little time for rest (...not to excess)? What other productive capacities are demanded in the space of maintenance? For women who might sacrifice the gym for sleep, sex for security, how does work for/on/by one's self figure as another valued or uncompensated labor? And how do those efforts qualify her for entry into various social domains? What forms of sacrifice are made to properly maintain her body, what exchanges enable her further production under new and persistent forms of control (the gig economy, the aspiration toward Instagram level fitness, or the cultural demand for virginal wholeness)?

How does the informal gynecological clinic--a less visible architecture that houses procedures of verification rather than repair--renew concerns about gendered sites of biopolitical control?

Meeting Minutes in DUE no. 56, February 2018.

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LIKE, HALF OF IT

We left the incubator in August. We cleared out our furniture and books and empty advil bottles and countless gold shits from the white-walled, chrome-columned NEW INC--specifically the stable where ex-GSAPP folks came to create ~content~ and other stuff for $$$/desk/month. There, we felt compelled to monetize critical work, and schemed various combinations of 501(c)(3) and LLCs (limited liability cunts) to 'do' or at least fake for-profit architectural enterprise while also seeking its undoing.

Undercompensated and undervalued in the architecture practice at large, we imagined our tenure there in excess, somehow free from the reigns of capital (we were inventing something new! within the private university's territory within the arts-tech incubator, an initiative of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, Manhattan, the American capital of art and finance). We never made an elevator pitch, but we attended every VC presentation, looking for [37] angels [dot com forward slash female]. We billed hours to no one in spreadsheets embedded with Rihanna gifs; we knew how much our time cost. With Post-Fordist Hymen Factory, we dreamed about the manufacture of new bodies in this pseudo-institutional space, but we mostly wrote grant applications while that fake fashion pizza shop occupied the street level storefront below us. Our 2+ desks embodied some new space of production, out of the studio, out of the office, out of the museum. They were everything, but not enough, and in the end, another form of debt, a small amount of interest earned on the cultural capital made to proliferate on New Mu' property.

GP: Still, though, I miss seeing my face warped next to yours in those shiny fucking columns.

VB: This is not a critique of NEW INC.

It's really not. In other fleeting considerations of hot desks under monsteras, we negotiated the scenery for work in its most aspirational forms. A place where ideas happen in range of a cortado, a place to impress your interns, should they be charmed into gigging for your economy. On a tour of the converted Brooklyn Navy Yards, we thought of better applications of/to these spaces:

GP: The Incubator Incubator? Bodies making bodies. Not performance art, but high-concept $urrogacy.

VB: That was honestly my plan until I realized how much my womb was worth. I thought I could pay off my student loans if I just busted up my vagina enough. But only half, or really a quarter.

GP: Or not at all on those migraine meds.

RE: What did Kim and Kanye pay?

GOOGLE: $45K.

We'll gestate some other child from our own professionalized bodies in the office made for our particular leisure. Sure, we want to lay down while we write essays and design hip hop spas under pink-hued lights. Desires for comfort toward productivity in all its forms. Where's my phone? It's charging under that cushion. Did someone blow out the bathroom candle?

Field Review: Amman Design Week in Asia Contemporary Art Week: Field Review, September 2017.

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Not immune to the effects of regional conflict nor its own internal unrest, Jordan has been struggling with attempts to use neoliberal development as a method to salvage the country's economy, amid a growing desire by local communities to vitalize the economy from within. Rather than look past the conditions directly contributing to the shifts in the country's political, economic and social terrains, Amman Design Week becomes a platform where these issues can only be addressed through a benevolent lens. Here we understand the generic impetus of movement--as opposed to more pointed political connotations of "a movement"--to reveal the relatively apolitical course this iteration of ADW has taken, in which material and technical progress is favoured over less obsequious problem-solving. The technological is always imbricated with the political and is constantly in need of modifying and redefining existing politics in order to move forward.

feminist architecture collaborative interviewed by Sarah Rafson in Girls Like Us, no. 10 - "Future," November 2017.

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