Roger Connah
Roger Connah

I ♥ Finland: Roger Connah

The finnisharchitecture.fi web journal opens with a column by Roger Connah (b. Chester, England, 1950), a writer, independent scholar and researcher based in Ruthin, North Wales. Connah lived in Finland for almost 2 decades after which he has travelled, worked and taught in Sweden, India, Pakistan, USA and is now currently associate professor at Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism, Carleton University, Ottawa (after being graduate director from 2009–2012). He also operates an alternate architecture practice with John Maruszczak (www.heron-mazy.net) and is currently working on a film of the murder in 1986 of the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme.

The Prejudice Project

I can use emoticons and I short-cut Finnish Architecture.

I <3 Finnish Architecture because it still wears the fedora, 
                                                                                         often out of place. 

I <3 Finnish Architecture because it still takes out the corduroy jacket, 
                          the Mao-Mao flak jacket of once Marxist-Architects 
                                                                                        (not always Marxists)

I <3 Finnish Architecture because it still hangs off balconies by the fingers 
                         testing the braggadocio of artists, actors, filmmakers and architects

I <3 Finnish Architecture because the Marimekko shirts are still suitably lined
                                             and graphically-fashioned though the metal buttons 
                                             have lost their acceptable solidity 
                        (and flimsiness is not something one should really accept)

I <3 Finnish Architecture because it still smokes the wrong and right cigars 
                              and offers lectures on them, 
                              it still secretly puts comrades under house arrest 
                              for exposing the shadow lines; 
                      it still makes new rules that disguise the old, 
               and uses the old rules to get into the Club 
          everyone else has just about left
where the membership has renamed itself  ‘The Remainder’. 






‘The Remainder’ is a novel written by Tom McCarthy. After apparently suffering from an accident (“something falling from the sky”), the protagonist is awarded £8.5 m. in damages. He then spends his time with obsessive detail and planning, reconstructing and re-enacting the senses, scenes, situations and scenarios from his pre-accident memory-loss present past.  Memory, identity and history all return to a point that can never return, like those restore points on computers before the upgrade checks and removes previous versions. This is not a re-enactment of the past, or a rehearsal, this is a re-enactment of the abandoned past, retrieved by compulsive detail. Eventually the re-enactment of home, buildings, roads, traffic, houses, life events and smells (cooking onions wafting up through the building) and innumerable other events, a bank heist is planned. This is the reconstruction of just about everything re-imagined in life which then becomes another reality. The guns become real without being real and then become ‘really’ real. The hired re-enactors of the bank heist are not told that it is real and is about to happen ‘for real’. The escape then planned on board a private plane also becomes real, or ‘real enough’. 

“Reconstructions everywhere, I looked down at the interlocking, hemmed-in fields, and had a version of the whole world’s surface cordoned off, demarcated, broken into grids in which self-duplication patterns endlessly repeated.” The Remainder (2005).

We have more or less 7000 characters (without spaces) to <3 Finnish Architecture all over again and remind ourselves why it so so often rushes to reconstruct the remainder from its past by by-passing that past. A recent clue to this obsession will be the brief attention given the death of Timo Penttilä, the Last Modernist. Exiled in Vienna, Tuscany and Supru, Lapland, did he not suggest as long ago as 1985, the impending prejudice project for Finnish Architecture? Simplified and concise, somewhere hanging between the right and the wrong architect, he struggled to remain direct, uncomplicated and relevant. And though he faced the Mao-Mao Gang in their flak jackets, the challenges pretty much remain the same, even now in digital webland; only the jackets and colouring books have changed! 

I can join the dots, change the names, 
                   complete the cross-word puzzle
                                 and I still <3 Finnish Architecture.

The Last Modernist would not be surprised to see Finnish Architecture is now a novel, a fiction that can be reconstructed over and over again. It is promoted and run from a cockpit where a man is holding a gun to the pilot’s head, telling the pilot to keep turning back to the airport and then keep turning round. The pilot is confused. He should return to the airport, fuel is running short. The situation becomes even more real after the air traffic control insists this is no longer a re-enactment, this event cannot be reconstructed, reversed or reinvented however much money is made available.  This is the end that will never arrive.

 We will give this destination the following name: the Prejudice Project.

To introduce the Prejudice Project I use a line from the Trappist monk from Gethsemani Abbey (Louisville, Kentucky) Thomas Merton, who was contemplating the idea of becoming a hermit whilst he was intensely involved in voicing his opposition to the bomb, the Vietnam War and racism in the early to mid 1960s – “I have no program for seeing”. We all wish this at times; to be free of the coded and defaulted systems, reversals, reclamations and structures that guide our inventions, whether in architectural production, architectural teaching or design scholarship. Yet we all usually drag this or that program or agenda into our seeing architecture, into our writing architecture, into our histories and our pedagogical engagements. Passion and commitment fight for self-honesty whilst we struggle against chosen and narrowed policies and inherent strategies, which require space and time-beyond- guile to survive. 

We can find, however we angle our passion or engagement, through whatever lens we us, that we are forced to produce more and more cultural meanings, stories, delusions and mysteries until we either confirm what we set out to find, or confirm what we have already learnt. Or, in the case of practicing architects, what may have already been achieved. And we would be foolish to deny how we often use these programs and agendas to invent endlessly those interpretive and operative acts that defy both literary and architectural sense, until they can constitute soliloquies about what we think we should know or feel. 

We talk of intersecting and using codes from one discipline to the other. We speak of inflecting them, transposing them, learning how memory is inscribed. We think our architectural productions (in whatever form) need the criticality of such brilliant but narrowing minds. However, by taking on, collaborating and participating in The Prejudice Project we might understand the thrilling imprecision between architecture and the distortions that are invading and insinuating themselves into this so-often alienated intellectual and academic production. 

I    :-[   Finnish Architecture. 

Because it still brokers its constructed world and its reconstructions
        Because the doors of the cathedral of critical misery 
                         are constantly being re-designed with new hinges
                                 Because the new locks, new materials and details 
                                                are bullied into submission. 

Because the cathedral is boarded up for the tourist season 
                    in order to prevent vandalism. 
                              Because the latest attempt to build an extension 
                                         to the New Chapel for the Last Modernist 
                 will struggle against the Chapel of the Quintessential Modernist. 

Because the hand drawings are ready 
                        after an invited competition 
                                  and the selected jurors 
just have to decide on the right or wrong architect. 

Meanwhile a forklift truck rams into the specially strengthened doors. 






I can use emoticons and I<3 Finnish Architecture.

We have lost to some extent the project of criticality in the practice of architecture. The more market conditions drag practices to produce faster and leaner projects, the more it seems we can embed our academy, accreditation strategies and design scholarship in wondrous literary games, new strategies and policies and any amount of architectural nostalgia and tropes. 

I have no program for The Prejudice Project, but let’s give it a try. 

Why are you/we using the ideas you/we use? How do you/we speak about them? How do you/we design with them? And how do we turn these into built form, architectural production or thesis, essay, text, poetry and/or novel? In amongst the brilliance of the Mao-Mao flak-jacket wearers and the dreams of the Last Modernist, let us float one more idea that can ride all the internal, potentially brilliant fluff written, presented, delivered and thought about Finnish architecture and its intersections. 

To put this all another way, to use a recent book I have just finished called “I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic”, it might be fare to make the following statement: the goals scored are better than the book. But then literature has nothing to say when faced with such magic, trickery and control. 

Finnish Architecture is much better than any of the books written about it
                                                                                                                         (including mine). 

I   8-)  Finnish Architecture!

About Roger Connah

Roger Connah AKA Dr Vertigo

connahroger@gmail.com

Founder of the Dysinternet, lives (when possible and in whichever room is dry and habitable) in The Hotel Architecture, Ruthin, North Wales, a Retreat & Resistance centre currently undergoing its second severe disturbance in ten years, due apparently to climate change; lath and plaster down, water cascading through the (now re-dated) 600 year old oak beams, and Health & Safety now determining whether there are ugly traces of asbestos in the artex-pizzeria finish in the upper rooms. Though there were no traces of asbestos in this devilishly attractive 1970s finish, the recent reincarnation, helped on by a group of brilliantly flexible and creative builders from Wigan called Direct Building Solutions, headed by Danny R. has been made possible by the discovery of an immense oak beam framed interior which apparently dates the Hotel Architecture back to the late 14th early/15th Century and one of the finest examples of wattle and daub in the old town of Ruthin.

It is quite possible, with the dressed plinth outside, that the Hotel Architecture, once imagined as a trivially butchered series of individual cottages, was in fact what was known as a Hall Building, with three large oak frames, a high pitch and a cavernous interior. Remnants of tar, sulfur and burnt residue in the roof space suggest fires would have been laid in the base of this void. With walls removed, the Hotel Architecture now moves into its next life as a loft dwelling and applications have been made to Unesco to make it a World Heritage Site. Step inside the triple paned, wide oak door and one enters the tardus of Dr Vertigo.

For ten years Dr Vertigo worked as the honorary male and text invader of the radical all-women Relational Rrt group from Sweden called The Rocket Girls and prepared various texts, installations and exhibitions with them, brought together in the volume called Frank Heron & the Rocket Girls (N.Alice Challinor, Raketa, Stockholm 2009). Herein we experience the projects: Utopia, whatever! There is a Visitor; Another Dada Suicide; The Rocket Science Laboratory, and Beach, Frank Heron’s Final Artscript prepared for the Rocket Girls before his disappearance.

Currently picking up on his time in Peshawar and the North West Frontier Province and Lahore, Dr Vertigo is now working on a new volume called House of Fiction. This kicked off when, in Peshawar at the wedding of the daughter of NWFP Minister of Education, a Khan amongst Khans, in the segregated dancing, he found himself boogieing with Muhammad Ibn Iftikhar Al-Niffari, the Head of Police, who had come down from Kabul, through the Khyber Pass, for the three day event and lamb-tail tasting.

This retreat comes after the frighteningly pioneering and ignored volume on the murdered Pakistani artist Zahoor ul Akhlaq called The Rest is Silence (OUP 2011). Little did anyone know the title would be so prescient and as he was becoming a ‘persona non grata’ once more in his life, attention would now be paid to the particularly intriguing subtext in the book about exiles & danced furies.

The next volume out of Vertigo Press could very well hijack this anti-library and cover a short period of filming with the Tunisian Couturier Azzedine Alaia in his Marais atelier, the filmscript that was abandoned producing the resulting text called The Solitude of Fashion.

Still waving not drowning, in another life, Dr Vertigo is Associate Professor and was Associate Director of Graduate Studies (2009-2012) Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. Having just translated the first volume of lost poetry by Sisyphus Montale (Project for a Hermitage, Trieste 2010) the biography of Montale is due in the next year or two. And as everyone should at least attempt to write one ‘brautigan’ in their lives, this too will vie with The Solitude of Fashion for the next Vertigo volume.

Works

Exhibitions include: ‘KHAM’ (Delhi, 1986),  SHELTER (Dehi 1987), NEXUS (Ahmedabad 1987), Seven Famous Raincoats and a Moygashel (Helsinki, Jyvaskylä, Paris: Les Fous de L’ile 1985)  Don’t Go So Fast You’ll Crash into Martin Wagstaff (Taidehalli, Helsinki 1985). Waving Not Drowning: Chess and Zen with Alvar Aalto (1995-7) Zen and the Art of the Fluorescent Tube (Medici 2000).

Architectural publications include: Writing Architecture (MIT Press, 1989; winner of the International CICA Prize 1990); Tango Mantyniemi (Edita, 1993); K/K: A Couple of Finns and Some Donald Ducks (Cinema in Society; Vapk, Helsinki 1992; Design Award; Finnish Graphic Association 1992); The End of Finnish Architecture (Helsinki, 1994; Centro Dipoli (Testo & Imagine, Torino, 1998); Welcome to the Hotel Architecture (MIT Press, Writing Architecture series, 1998); Centro Dipoli, Reima Pietila (Torino: Testo & Imagine 42, 1998); Grace and Architecture (Rakennustieto, Helsinki, 1999); Sa(l)vaged Modernism (Helsinki, 1999); Armo ja Arkkitehtuuri (Helsinki, 1999, Trans. Grace & Architecture); Aaltomania: Readings against Aalto? (Rakennustieto, Helsinki, 2000); Volker Giencke Projects (Introductory essay; New York, Vienna: Prestel 2000); Anders Wilhelsom ( Introductory essay; Electa, Milano. Italy; Zahoor ul Akhlaq, Laal, Toronto 2000); How Architecture got its Hump (MIT Press, Writing Architecture series, 2001); 40/40 Young Architects from Finland (Helsinki, 2001); Vesa Honkanen Architect (introductory essay, Beijing. 2003); Finland: Modern Architecture in History (Reaktion Press, London, 2005); The Piglet Years (Datutop, Tampere, 2006); I am Architecture (ed) (Texas, 2006); Jyrki Tasa, Architect (introductory essay, Beijing. 2007); The Rest is Silence, Zahoor ul Akhlaq (Art and Society in Pakistan; Oxford University Press, 2011); Being: an Architect, Ian Ritchie (with Roger Connah) (Royal Academy, London, 2014); A Carefully Folded Ham Sandwich (Towards a Critical Phenomenology) ed. FAD (Montreal 2014); Towards a Resistant Practice (An Evening with Mister F) Kenneth Frampton ed. FAD (Montreal 2014); The Cathedral of Critical Misery (Datutop, Tampere, 2014); We Let the Goldfish Go (forthcoming 2015).

The Anti-Library (Vertigo Architectural Press/FAD Montreal (2014): Architecture Degree Zero (2008); Pulp Architecture (2009); A House for de Kooning’s Friend (2009); Aalto-Ego (2011); The Irresponsible Self (2011); The Brautigan (2011); Life After Architecture (2012); Deschooling Architecture (2013); Headless (2013); iDeath (2013).

Films: Take Five (1992) YLE Finland; 27 Minute Lies (1993), YLE Finland; Drive (1994), YLE Finland; Aaltomania (1995) Iittala, Finland.
Heron-Mazy: Films as frank Heron with Jan Mazy: Involuntary Architecture (2005); The Bystander in Calgary (2008); Existentialists can’t be Architects (2009); Sunbathing with Witold Gombrowicz in Manitoba (2010); The Black Walrus (2011); The Bystander in Calgary (Lisbon 2013); Underground (2014).

Heron- Mazy Studio: www.heron-mazy.net (architecture, altered media and pedagogies with J.Mazy):
Chromotopia (Unbuilt Architecture Design Award, Boston Society of Architects, 2003); Interface, Animall and Brautigan (Finalist, Dead Malls International Competition, L.A. Forum for Architecture/Urban Design, 2003); Revenge of the Lawn (First Prize: White House Redux, Storefront, New York 2008); Rapid Theory for Walls 1-3 (2008); Take off – kite-running architecture (Bangalore 2009).

Other publications (poetry, essays and contributions): The Ecstasy of No Further Communication (Vertigo Poetry, Ottawa, forthcoming 2015); Calling All Angels (Vertigo Poetry, Ottawa, 2013); Poems to the Second Breast (Vertigo Poetry, 2013); A Project for a Hermitage Sisyphus Montale (Transl.) (Vertigo Poetry, Ottawa, 2011); Frank Heron & TheRocket Girls (Raketa, Stockholm, 2009); The Book of Questions, Everything Matters (Raketa, Stockholm, 2006); Steel Visions, (introductory essay) (Avain, Helsinki, 2005); Steel Images, (Critical Steel) (introductory essay) (Helsinki, 2006); Helsinki Light & Shade, (Foreword) (Otava, Helsinki, 1994; Slogan(Aphorisms) (Painatuskeskus, Helsinki, 1994); Paraphernalia from Chance Eras (Cricket Press, Helsinki, 1983); Juvenilia (Cricket Press, Helsinki, 1980); Apologies from Birth to the Era (Cricket Press, Helsinki, 1979).