SUPERMAN & THE DUVET: Record of the workshop

15.08.2013, 09:33
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Roger Connah aka Professor Vertigo – writer, architecture critic and an author of popular architecture books as- Pulp Architecture (2009), Architecture Degree Zero (2008), A House for De Kooning’s Friend (2006), How Architecture Got its Hump (2001); Welcome to the Hotel Architecture (1998); Writing Architecture (1989). At 1990 his book “Writing Architecture: An Architectural” book won the first prize of The CICA International Book Award. The workshop was assisted by a former student of Professor Vertigo, an architect and Strelka graduate Maria Slavnova. A three-day investigation took the method of Gonzo writing and applied it to architecture. This produced an experiment of ‘writing on the run’, discourse on immediacy and criticality and in the end, ‘punk pamthlets’ or printed books. Here is a record of a workshop by Maria Elkina, a participant and journalist from St. Petersburg.



I got up, got dressed and had breakfast; it was a usual day… In one of my English tests this phrase was suggested as the first sentence for an essay. Well, that’s a good start for a story.

I got up, got dressed and had a cup of coffee. I expected the day to become unusual. Actually, I don’t believe there is such thing as a usual day.

Our workshop starts 11:00 am Moscow time which means 11:40; according to Professor Vertigo in India that would be 12:30. There are six of us in the room: Professor Vertigo, Masha, Maria (or Masha I and Masha II), Anna, Girl in the Mondrian Dress and Julia. “Superman and the duvet”… what could that mean? Fortunately for us, that could mean anything: those who prefer not to leave their duvet are free to do so. Professor Vertigo explains that gonzo style is a lot about being subjective. Doesn’t say much to me as we are living in the world where we agreed that anything is subjective. Yet, some things are conventional.

The novel “My name is Red” by Orkhan Pamuk is a series of first-person narratives. You are to guess who the murderer is. Here I don’t mention my name for a different reason. Anonymity is not my goal, there’s simply no need to name myself. As well as there is no need to tell in all the details what was going on for the three days we spent with Professor Vertigo. Nowadays nobody expects from you the full report (at least you know I’m not Professor Vertigo).

On the second day of the workshop we took 15 minutes to discuss Bernard Tschumi’s essays. I finished reading his Architecture and Violence just a week before. I wonder if there can be (or is) architecture that leads you your way instead of being violent.

In the end we come up with four self-assembled and printed books. ‘Girl in the Mondrian Dress’ is easy to attribute. ‘Architecture and Discomfort’ is, no wonder, about the uncomfortable side of architecture. ‘Oh my God’ is a punk magazine and, at the same time, a ‘proposal for a Research on New Writing on Architecture’. ‘Sketch for New Architecture Writing’ is twice smaller than the rest of the books, but in terms of size only. The result is unexpected for anyone except, probably, Professor Vertigo. Maybe it was also a bit predictable for Masha as she knows him for quite a long time. In three days we did something we never thought we would ever do. Why?

Through the three days of our workshop Professor Vertigo didn’t manage to articulate precisely what gonzo style in architecture writing means. Nor did he ever give any definite idea of what we are to achieve in these three days. He was more asking than telling. He looked more like a researcher who is eager to find out the result of his experiment without knowing it in advance. Seemingly effortless, he made each one of us go our own way. Sounds banal, but doesn’t happen really often.

There are hundreds of people in one’s life who want to lead you their way. There are parents, professors, lovers, friends, politicians, art critics, iPhone sellers. And those very few who dare to lead you your way. It must not be an easy thing to do; I believe it takes gifts and experience like those of Sherlock Holmes. Above it, it should also take a lot of trust, not typical of Sherlock Holmes.