In Suspicion of Evidence
Eliza Pertigkiozoglou, Emilie Banville, Shivani Shedde, Cigdem Talu
This is the first installments of “In Suspicion of…”, a series of skeptical readings on the elastic intersections between law and the built environment, authored by the participants of our 2021 Toolkit for Today and introduced by Shivani Shedde. In this article, Eliza Pertigkiozoglou addresses how software errors introduce possibilities for counter-archival practices, Emilie Banville questions how institutional standards of access limit the usability of collections, Shivani Shedde analyzes how tools for architectural education can become tools for activism, and Cigdem Talu examines how criminality and policing were woven into modern tourist experiences. Each author challenges how architectural evidence is ordered, presented, sourced, and made accessible (or withheld) to users.
In Suspicion of Software Errors
This file cannot be opened because it was created by a previous software version. An error message pops up as I attempt to open a 3D model, several hours into browsing born-digital architectural files in the CCA’s study room. The message disrupts the absorptive flow of archival research, bringing a jarring awareness that proprietary software has entered the scene as another participant in the stewardship of born-digital architecture archives. The viewing technology, rather than the archive’s administrators, restricted access to the archived architectural model—a control executed by the error message. As “a feature, not a bug,” the error indicates how the free-market regulation of intellectual property has permeated born-digital archives through software.1 Licensing agreements, encrypted protocols, protected file formats, and security updates secure the monopoly held by software vendors over the translation of the file’s encoded data into usable form. In so doing, software companies administer access to archived material and, therefore, to knowledge.
The interference of the error message prompts a suspicious reading of how software might reconfigure boundaries between users and knowledge in the context of the archive. Its disruption of archival order further presents a possibility for the creation of a counter-archive—for considering how data can serve as architectural evidence in ways beyond those governed by commercial software systems. As the error notification flashes, the translation of codes breaks, and the rendering of the architectural model on the screen fails, the encoded file data linger, inviting alternative interpretations. Metadata about the file author, contributors, its creation and modification dates, its location among other files in folders, and information describing geometric entities, display properties, and file structures, together can paint a much more textured picture of the production of an architectural project than the building’s rendered forms. Although contingent and incomplete, these data bear traces of how digital files, shared among project collaborators, are part of intricate work configurations and social and material practices. Meant to remain concealed by the software’s automatic translation of information, these informational entities carry enormous potential as a resource for counter-archival practices; they hold inscriptions of architecture’s otherwise invisible participants, silenced exchanges, and forgotten settings.
Activating those hidden traces is anything but a trivial task; it requires making data ready and available for consultation and analysis. Institutional initiatives of digital preservation present one such opportunity to use archival infrastructures to uncover data and their relations. Scope, CCA’s web-based software for accessing born-digital archives, is a remarkable resource taking up the challenge of “providing meaningful researcher access to the files and their descriptions.”2 Allowing a user to search through archival metadata of individual files, folders, and collections, the software situates each digital item within a larger archival ecosystem. These informational relations may help researchers map architectural projects as collective work, shared across multiple technologies, institutions, representations, and bodies. Together, archival and file data suggest that plural evidence underlies the uniform appearances of digital models, awaiting its translations.
The phrase in quotes is a catchphrase by early computer programmers to indicate intentional malfunctions. See: Eric S. Raymond and Guy L. Steele, The New Hacker’s Dictionary (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002), 184. ↩
Kelly Stewart and Stefana Breitwieser, “SCOPE: A Digital Archives Access Interface,” Code4Lib Journal 43 (2019). ↩
In Suspicion of Access
As part of his interpretive investigation into museum archives and conservation systems in museums, photographer Stefano Graziani captured the CCA’s fortified underground vaults, where records are safely stored and access to visitors is restricted, if not denied. What is the purpose of collecting and caring for artifacts of the past if not to release them to be questioned in the present? While preservation activities sustain archives, access remains their primary connection to the world. Whether physical or digital, access to institutional holdings enables their use. When granted to a wider range of users, access expands the possibilities for encountering, sharing, rearranging, and potentially repurposing archives in ways that transcend their fundamental duty to order documents and provide evidence.1 Use does not exhaust archives, but rather enhances their impact and relevance.
Access, however, is not enough. Ironically, a museum’s responsibilities to conserve are sometimes at odds with its mandates to inform.2 If records are to “be usable for as long as they are retained,” as the International Organization for Standardization advocates, museums should adopt a proactive approach to access that challenges cloistered rituals and disrupts institutional power dynamics.3 Archivist Rick Prelinger perceives proactive access as a formative and experimental practice, merging scholarship, historical awareness, cultural production, and public discourse; a practice articulating a set of social relations between holdings, custodians, and their users.4 Emerging trends in museums such as digital curation, open storage displays, and participatory workshops indicate a shifting paradigm in terms of collection access. Beyond granting entry and providing services, a proactive approach to access would counter archival exclusivity in favour of a meaningful encounter with archives.
As part of an ongoing self-reflection on its institutional positions and practices, the CCA acknowledges the significance of the archive as a dynamic site of critical knowledge production. For instance, with the exhibition and publication project Out of the Box, researchers, curators, scholars and architects are invited to navigate newly acquired archives “curatorially rather than systematically,” according to CCA Director Giovanna Borasi.5 Challenging the linearity of an approach to architectural scholarship in which archiving precedes curation, Out of the Box dwells not so much in the contents of archival boxes as in the “epistemic reshuffle” that ensues from new readings and interpretations.6 Prompting the cross-fertilization of archival and curatorial practices, such experiments offer valuable grounds to question rules, traditions, and hierarchies associated with siloed and hidden institutional practices. Emphasizing the epistemological and curatorial power of archives in this way sheds light on the many subjective and contingent choices that shape how historical evidence is preserved and ordered.
Yet initiatives such as Out of the Box remain bound by the protocols and priorities of the institution and continue to operate according to fragmented access. On the one hand, restricted but physical access is granted to the expert: trusted users who, owing to their professional or academic expertise, and trained in pursuing specific lines of inquiry and maneuvering through collections, already have a foot in the vaults. On the other hand, open but digital access is provided to the amateur: common users who form a broader museum public for whom the scope of collections—aside from a few contextualized glimpses—remains substantially invisible.
If archives do not produce meaning for themselves, their relationship with users does. Between the tensions of preservation and dissemination, in the “meanders of mediation and resignification,” questioning access to archives signals interest in and concern with their complex, unstable, and socially constructed nature.7 To be suspicious of access is to dispute the range of rules, structures, and motives that make collections available; to think of collections not in terms of fixed ownership but rather as a form of distributed stewardship; to posit archives not as finite products, but as a collective praxis foregrounding using as an act of caring.
Ariella Azoulay, “Archive,” Political Concepts: A Critical Lexicon, no. 1 (2017). ↩
Jane Taylor, “Holdings: Refiguring the Archive,” in Refiguring the Archive (Amsterdam: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002), 274. ↩
See 9.7 Use and reuse in “International Organization for Standardization, Information, and Documentation – Records management – Part 1: Concepts and principles,” ISO 15489-1:2016(E), Second edition 2016-04-15. Regarding dynamic perspectives on and proactive approach to access, see International Council on Archives, Committee on Best Practices and Standards, Working Group on Access, Principles of Access to Archives, adopted by the AGM on August 24, 2012. ↩
Rick Prelinger, “Points of Origin: Discovering Ourselves through Access,” The Moving Image: The Journal of the Association of Moving Image Archivists 9, no. 2 (2009): 164–175. ↩
Giovanna Borasi et al., The Museum Is Not Enough (Berlin; Montreal: Sternberg Press; Centre Canadien d’Architecture, 2019). ↩
Albena Yaneva, Crafting History: Archiving and the Quest for Architectural Legacy (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 2020). ↩
Francis X. Blouin & William G. Rosenberg cited in Elizabeth Anne Bruchet, “Curation and the Archive: Entanglements of Discourse and Practice” (PhD diss., University of Brighton, 2019). ↩
In Suspicion of the Architectural Manual
In 1970, the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa, and Latin America (OSPAAAL) released the fifty-sixth issue of its periodical, the Tricontinental Bulletin. Eye-catching in its use of colour and collaged imagery, the back cover featured an image of a Colt 45 superimposed on a cropped map of São Paulo. Calling on people to join the armed anti-colonial struggle, the cover functioned as a printed soliloquy spreading the message of a radical Third World alliance.1 Reprinting the Brazilian communist Carlos Marighella’s Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla to honour the first anniversary of his death, the issue spoke to participants of an internationalist solidarity movement that spanned US civil rights to Palestinian liberation.
One of the key figures of anti-authoritarianism in Brazil, Marighella—who purportedly trained as a civil engineer—offered the manual as a path to revolution based on rigorous “technical training” and understanding of urban terrains. Knowledge of spatial conditions formed a pre-requisite for revolutionary action; he believed that the “strategic principle regarding the urban mass movement is to take part in it with the aim of creating an infrastructure for the armed struggle among the workers, students and other forces in order to enter the phase of the urban guerrilla by carrying out guerrilla actions and tactics with armed groups from the mass.”2
While the manual offers relatively little information about building or drawing, it instead gives insight into its ideal user: someone already trained in the technical arts and willing to continue their self-education by doing and making. By following the instructions in the manual—learning to calculate distances, make maps and plans, draw to scale, or work with tools such as an angle protractor or compass—the keen user would become armed with topographical knowledge and the ability to locate their and others’ positions.3 In this way, Marighella inadvertently conjured an image of a radical architect and promoted the subversive potential of publicly circulated training. No longer tied to the landscape of the countryside, the bush, the marsh, or the mountain, Marighella’s guerilla was entangled with the prominence and expansion of the city and the urban.
What if we considered Issue 56 in relation to building manuals in the CCA Collection, such as those distributed by the Government of India in the wake of decolonization? While handbook training long held sway in architectural pedagogy, it rarely confronted the principles of Third World liberation. By the 1960s, manuals helped builders in the former colonies learn standards of architecture, in turn cementing modernizing discourses of and schemes for development, shelter, settlement, habitation, and domesticity. Unlike how the norms of “law” were contested and the city was rendered as a space for insurgency in the Minimanual, building manuals became a pragmatic solution to planning efforts in post colonies, disseminating the circulation of architectural designs, standards, and ideas to the masses.
One could argue that architecture also was incidental in these cases. Building manuals tended to focus on the reader, making the model citizen a useful participant in nation-building efforts through technical training. Bringing a Third World citizenry into “modernity,” architectural manuals emerged as a perfect vehicle for pacification rather than struggle. Manuals, then, are best parsed in the context of the tumultuous, dynamic and often irresolvable forces of decolonization, and as making evident several vectors of “worldmaking,” from idealized civic partnerships,to radical urban practices.4
Anne Garland Mahler, From the Tricontinental to the Global South: Race Radicalism, and Transnational Solidarity(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018). ↩
Carlos Marighella, “Minimanual of the Urban Gorilla,” Tricontinental Bulletin 56 (Cuba: OSPAAAL, November 1970), 41. ↩
Marighella, “Minimanual,” 9. ↩
Adom Getachew, Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019) ↩
In Suspicion of Guidebooks
The long nineteenth century witnessed the development and expansion of a genre closely tied to increasing urban tourism: the guidebook. The world’s most populated city by 1831, London figured as the chief subject of this genre. As the Great Exhibition and building of the Embankments and London Underground drastically changed the appearance, experience, and representations of the city, guidebooks offered a tool to trace urban redevelopment through selective landmarks and contexts. Addressing local residents and travellers alike, guidebooks promoted the city and affirmed their readers as “active participants” in its making.1 Architectural historian Paul Dobraszczyk considers these guides as “designed assemblages” that “shaped ways of conceiving the city” with their combination of texts, maps, illustrations, and descriptive information.2 They were called pictorial guides, surveys, handbooks, pocket companions, and more evocatively “glimpses or gatherings” or “curiosities of London.” Regardless of type or name, the genre evoked modern urban experiences through emotional descriptors tied to specific places, including—perhaps unexpectedly—the spatial typology of the prison.
What kind of architectural evidence do these urban guidebooks reveal when put under suspicion? Legalities of control and policing, especially carceral infrastructures, prescribe norms in the built environment. Over the course of the century, London guidebooks increasingly showed and described prisons as signposts to reflect on the morality of oneself and the general population. At the end of the eighteenth century, prisons were given their own chapters in guidebooks, as their key institutions, architectural typologies, and penitentiary role became a subject of touristic fascination. City prisons like Newgate, Clerkenwell, Millbank, and the Middlesex and Westminster Houses of Correction were frequently illustrated with architectural illustrations contextualized in urban settings, and were included as highlights of the touristic walks suggested in the guidebooks. When we track the narrative representation of prisons in London guidebooks over the long nineteenth century, an image of civil order and criminalization surfaces: the prison emerges as architectural evidence of urban law and order by reminding the user of lawful conduct and demarcating the moral and physical borders between criminals and the public. Emotive language and vocabulary heightened the descriptions of architectural features; in the guidebook The Picture of London in 1806, the narrator reluctantly begins a section on prisons by reflecting on their necessary inclusion for moral reasons rather than out of simple curiosity, noting that “no stranger who visits London should omit to view these mansions of misery.”3
For the outside observer and guidebook reader, the prison’s existence—in the city and the guidebook—became a ruminative exercise on authoritative nation building. Yet during the second half of the nineteenth century, prisons transitioned from public tourist spectacles to private and hidden urban institutions. In Newgate, public executions were moved inside in 1868, no longer taking place in the facing square. The prison closed in 1902 and was demolished the following year. Prisons also began to disappear from guidebooks; by the early twentieth century, they were rarely featured, if at all, in London guidebooks. By then, law and order in the London had a new, ubiquitous face: the policeman.4 In 1913, the cover of Cook’s Handbook to London features a police officer in the foreground, his open arm authoritatively directing traffic and enforcing the law. This figure stands at the same scale as St Paul’s Cathedral, as if he was a new civic landmark.
Paul Dobraszczyk, “City Reading: The Design and Use of Nineteenth-Century London Guidebooks,” Journal of Design History 25, no. 2 (2012): 123. ↩
Dobrasczyk, “City Reading,” 140–141. ↩
John Feltham, The Picture of London for 1806: Being a Correct Guide to All the Curiosities, Amusements, Exhibitions, Public Establishments, and Remarkable Objects, in and near London: With a Collection of Appropriate Tables, Two Large Maps, and Several Views (London: Printed by W. Lewis for Richard Phillips, 1806), 249. ↩
Law enforcement was first established and centralized through the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 in London. ↩