Beauty Walks a Razor’s Edge

30 March 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — evansaskin @ 9:56 pm

It’s very easy to ignore this blog for a while. There have been a continuous stream of unreported developments of late which I’ll start digging into now.


My thesis is focusing in on three related streams of water – domesticity,cleanliness, and urbanization. I’ve been looking at two significantly divergent scales – the individual/home and the infrastructural. Or as another taxonomy to try out, I’ve been looking at issues of cleansing on the one hand and issues of thirst on the other.

For another class (on material culture) I’ve been digging into bathroom fixtures and doing a lot of thinking on the toilet, the construction of cleanliness in Modernism and the commodification of cleanliness. Adolf Loos’ essay “On Plumbing”, Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, fetishization of bathroom fixtures. This opens up the door to a world of art projects (starting with Duchamp’s Fountain), to a world of industrial design (this waterless washing machine capitalizes on negative ionization to eliminate the need for detergents or water  It’s a vast ocean.

Duchamp’s Fountain

Kohler Hatbox Toilet with model

To return to architecture – Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye has a very prominent sink in the foyer.  It acts as a threshold, a signifier of cleanliness that you must pass in order to enter/exit the villa.  This is a move with broad religious precedents – Jewish, Muslim and Catholic ceremonies for ablution and ritual cleansing abound – but as a domestic fixture the sink has never figured so prominently.  It belongs in the back of house and is tied to ritual and to labour – to cooking and cleaning.  (see Gidieon’s MECHANIZATION TAKES COMMAND and its last chapter on “the mechanization of the bath”)

Colin Rowe points out that this particular sink never holds soap or towels however.  It is not used for the physical act of cleansing and thus he suggests (and I quote loosely) that in this house which is in fact a temple, this sink is a font of holy water.  A powerful notion to be sure.  Heroic modern architecture inspired heroic modern criticism which typically fails to account for individuation and idiosyncracy (bless the broad sweeping unsubstantiations which blogging permits).  This house was inhabited for a time (see Tschumi for details on the degeneration and defacement of the villa through the 60’s and 70’s – shit smeared on the walls, piss on the floors, broken windows).  An alternative reading of the sink is offered by Nadir Lahiji & DS Friedman (in”At The Sink” in PLUMBING, available in it’s entirety here  Rather than being a place to wash your hands, they suggest, the sink is an evocation of cleanliness at the threshold.  It is there to clean your eyes and confront you with the progressive image of architecture and cleanliness – the modernity of indoor plumbing.

Villa Savoye Approach to Entrance Sink

26 January 2007

Don’t Search for a Site

Filed under: Uncategorized — evansaskin @ 5:55 am

This morning was the first weekly meeting with my thesis advisor – Mason White. (I’ve not yet settled on whether I’m writing to myself yet or to some reader).

My thesis is on water.

I’m not entirely certain how the idea sprouted – todd’s mention that architects should design more water fountains, a soft spot for the Noah’s Ark story (which I need to revisit),  a resonance with the vivekacudamani tale (from the upanishads) of each ego being a raindrop absorbed into the ocean…These are all way more touchy-feely than what I can comfortably call my architectural sensibilities.  The first truly impressive piece of architecture I saw may well have been the New England Aquarium.  I’m drowning in an ocean of literary allusions, cinematic devices, architectural precedents and hydrological phenomena.

So from today’s meeting then: The insight that it would be foolish to get commited to the first exciting programme I brainstorm (how cool would a water filtration plant/aquarium be? What fantastic drawings I could produce for a distributed field of drinking fountains around the city which comment on homelessness and norms of cleanliness) .  This term can instead be a survey which will gain focus as it progresses.  What are all the kinds of architectural theses which would engage water? describe them, organize them, draw them, appraise them critically.  It will be fun.
What aquatic phenomena are there and at what scales?

Globally – there are oceans and icebergs.  Rivers: the amazon, the nile, the ganges, the pearl, the indus….the st lawrence seaway.

Regionally – there are a slew of manufactured environments in addition to the natural//geographical ones.  Canals and lochs, hot springs and drainage basins.

Urbanistically – there are filtration plants and sewage treatment, pipes and aqueducts.

Domestically – there are taps and showers – places to clean and cook are half of a home.

Then there are the myriad of water-based programmes – bathhouses, swimming pools, saunas, aquariums, spas, seaside resorts, boats, ice hotels, fisheries, desalination plants, wells, car washes, drinking fountains, splash pads, pier-side carnivals, gardens, theme parks with water slides…

Mostly relevant to either cleanliness or entertainment, from my early brainstorms

So how to organize these all?   Research and brainstorm and repeat.  Draw lots of maps and annotate them.  I want this to end in an atlas.   Mason is pulling for a large vellum map with essays on the back.  I’m excited by the prospect of working consistently on something for a few months, a regular piece on the back burner.   At the same time a little intimidated – I’m generally a ‘seat-of-the-pants’ kind of worker. I can’t even fathom what a drawing would be like that took 40 days.  I have an inkling that it would be worth finding out before going into thesis production.

I’m now reading Dominique LaPorte’s History of Shit trans. Nadia Benabid and Rodolphe El-Khour.  Written in 1978, my more recent edition from the MIT press is beautiful with a very soft velvety cover, mrs. eaves styled fonts, notes in the margins and a commendation from zizek. Next entry: a response to the content.

(now playing: vladislav delay – entain.  it’s a pretty subtle lp of ambient washes building into dubby echoes.  vlad builds intensity by layering and by the ten minute mark dissonances and stacattos emerge and recede back into the pulsing washes.  It’s got some edgy attitude for ambient music, but I could still take a nap to it in a sunny windowsill)

24 January 2007

First Post

Filed under: Uncategorized — evansaskin @ 4:01 am


_So this is how it begins.

I’m committing to keeping a blog for the next twelve months.

In twelve months I will (if all goes to plan) complete my thesis and graduate with a master’s degree in Architecture from the University of Toronto.

As a prelude to thesis, the entire class takes a course in preparation for thesis.  I’m not one for wanton cynicism and unrestrained bitterness so I hesitate to begin on such a note, but it bears mentioning that thesis-prep is beyond a shadow of doubt the most useless course in my degree.  It panders to the most clueless and inarticulate of students by spoonfeeding them methodologies for self-directed research.  The whole question of whether or not self-directed research (id est THE THESIS) even ought to be a part of an architectural education is called into question.  Why should these people (and I reserve the right to count myself amongst them at some later date) be subjected to a year long fiction of running their own project.  The argument goes that many would learn more from taking another professor-directed studio rather than directing their own.  At the end of the day though, this strikes me as fundamentally misguided.  If the overwhelming majority of thesis projects are normative, uninspired and underdeveloped then this is an indictment of the faculty and pedagogy more than the student body.  There’s something much more necessary – intuitively – about taking on a thesis though and (worryingly) I can’t articulate that just yet.  Suffice to say, I’ll need to dig into this topic again in the coming weeks.

(and lest I paint too bleak a picture, there are a few transcendant, inspirational and simply impressive projects every year)

(and lest I seem overly harsh, there were a number of abysmally thoughtless, ugly, ill-conceived and simply embarassing projects presented this year as is the case every year)
Part and parcel with this pre-thesis pap is the requirement to present a project of mine to the class.  I’m off to settle out a few images to represent my love for data curation, modular assemblies, things that move and fit together, and the relentless questioning of domesticity.  Where’s home in the post-hearth era? Is there architecture without diagrams anymore?

[listening to the looping acoustic guitars and baritone humming of David Thomas Broughton on the ever-reliable dublab podcast.  I curse the ‘x meets y’ school of music journalism for it’s facile oversimplifications, but this does sound something like Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks filtered through Robert Fripp’s collaborations with Brian Eno.]

Create a free website or blog at