Design Manifestos: François Roche of New-territories/ M4

François Roche (The last portrait of new-territories avatar before (s)he quit his position)

On becoming an architect
Wow. Honestly I fell into architecture by accident and coincidence. It happened perpetually. I didn’t want to find a profession through vocation or through somebody who saw the light, I just found my job by mistake…. I thought my job should’ve been something else- I was studying science and was supposed to be a physician, but I discovered I was not as much of a value of what I expected. Architecture is a perfect zone for dummies who are pretending they are not. In fact, it’s a refugee’s area for psychopath… moving in a crack of logic, which stutter simultaneously arrogance and weakness…in a schizophrenic ritual… Spreading perversity, obscenity as an aesthetic simulacrum…of values…in a Sacher Masoch contract and dependences. In fact discovering this field of forgery, where discourses and processes are scrounged to other fields, as professional chicken thieves… I started to be intrinsically interested by this ontological failure, as a protocol of discovering the rules and potentials behind what appears on the surface of appearances.

I now assume this uncomfortable position situation which came by knocking on the wrong door- a permanent and cyclic drifting ritual of enjoyment-dejoyment.

‘Beaustrosity’ (Photograph courtesy of New_territories with RMIT)

On discovering his voice as a designer
I was deeply influenced, as a DNA by Deleuze…still alive at this period. I went one time to this seminar, afraid and curious... I became a symptom or collateral effect of the French theory, post-structuralism in vivo, between semiology, digression, languages, libido and tragedy of knowledge as a strategy of power, in the sense of Spinoza not Donald Trump. In this voluntary ‘jeopardizing me’ I was pushed and pulled in the comet tails of Marxism-Workism… as a grid of analysis, dispute, dialectic, bad faith, rhetoric, and skepticism to any system of representation or propaganda… As a possible line of escape, we started to develop an Avatar, as a de-Identification of our own portrait, but more important as a character able to act and react independently…of us.

After 20 years of intensive works and attitude, he decided to quit his position as a suicide last year. We did an homage exhibition in Swiss, where he explained the reason why…

‘Concrete[I]Land’ (Photograph courtesy of New_territories with Ann-Arbor)

On starting his own firm
First of all, nowadays the place where you’re based hasn’t got much importance, either to validate or invalidate the work you produce. You can be anywhere, so long as you’ve got a good web link and the technologies that enable you to produce and access means of interacting. Living in a capital is not an obligation, nor is it the only way of staying in touch. Paris has become a sad museum — I couldn’t stay there any longer. As for Bangkok, in spite of the current political régime, which I’ve spoken out against to the point of compromising a project, it’s a city that stinks of life… and it smells good!

But at this origin… it was Paris in the nineties with my friend- it was before the French became perfect petit-bourgeois…but mainly before the Beaux Art system launched its enterprise of plagiarism and copism. Without sentimentalism, or nostalgia, it was a period of ‘’the Immateriaux’’ of Jean Francois Lyotard at Pompidou Center…so magically transcendent and naïve.

‘Ex-Timity’ (Photograph courtesy of New_territories)

On his research
Our office- meaning Camille Lacadée and myself as partners, with a fluctuating team of 4 to 7 collaborators- work at street-level in Bangkok. Our most recent project consisted of removing a slum built on poles the accumulated mud composed — among other things — of human shit that ran down the poles. There was no drainage system so we had to shift all this crap using robots, putting a small bookshop back in place of it. You can find the working script on the ‘net.

How can anyone talk decently about ecology without taking into account filth and trash? You know Plato in his fictive Dialogues between Socrates and Parmenides denies that things he says are dirty have an essence… things like menstrual blood, perspiration and even hair under armpits!

I’m interested in bringing things like that back into the contemporary world, whether they’re refined or not. You can learn more about people by looking into their garbage can than into their fridge. Technology isn’t all on the level of MIT — I know because I’ve often collaborated with them. It shouldn’t be shut up in a hygienist trip, a purified and positivist cognitive relationship that follows on from Auguste Comte. Technology is also about confronting what the world spews up, making it visible but also putting it back into the cycle as a raw material- even if it has a repulsive dimension. You know, ironically, when Fukushima blew up, there wasn’t a single Japanese robot capable of going inside the wrecked reactors. All the ones they had could only prance about in front of the public, they were useless in a critical zone.

‘The Offspring’ (Photograph courtesy of New_territories)

Bangkok is a getaway destination. It’s not forever but it carries over from the mid-90s when we worked in South Africa with the ANC. We were in Soweto in tandem with Mandela’s team, using our first computers equipped with topology transformation software. What does it mean to be assigned to a territory, dependent on it and held hostage by it? What does that kind of relationship to territory entail? It isn’t just the polis in the etymological sense — the city — it’s also the state where there are zones of apprehension, appropriation, of fear and hostility and sexuality too! The fold of Euclidian geometry worked as a support for activism, at the end of Apartheid… that’s what aesthetics are. A sophisticated play of synesthesia at the service of saying and feeling. Topology is about Bézier curves, differential equations, asymptotic systems. It folds in and out as Artaud said, before Deleuze. It isn’t just geometrical, it has to do with the folds of the soul too. Another one of our little projects under way is about testing platforms for crowdfunding. We’re launching the first architectural project via Kickstarter. By the time this interview goes to press we’ll know whether it was just a shot in the dark or a worthwhile means of bringing people together, for exchanges and productions.

On projects that represent his unique approach
Well, we all live with contradictions. I have a vague recollection of the bad blood that was said to exist between Victor Hugo and Baudelaire. To sum it up, Hugo was accused of using the hardships of the people as a stage for his own act, and that’s what’s happening right now! Prime-time TV news is a corral, full of snippets rounded up by cynical and clever little Hugo-ites! Baudelaire, on the other hand was a pre-Parnassian poet nursing his own downfall, the ultimate commitment, a pathological antidote to idiocy. There’s something obscene about it, obscenity as the anti-venom to idealism. Something interesting and pornographic too. Laura Kipnis has written some good things on the same subject. Contemporary pornography as the last-stand space for transgression and what is possible. Maybe obscenity is something we have to face again in order to transgress. Transgress what, you say? Transgress the sleeping sickness, the ‘dumb-ifying’ as Deleuze called it, the unspeakable stupidity of repeating things over and again. What we need is a catalyst that will enable us to get up like the Golem out of the mud of general merchandising, the cult of objects, fictions, managerial storytelling, the routine of Facebook and the selfie.

‘Robotic Processes’ (Photograph courtesy of New_territories)

We’re like kids swept up in the whirlwind of repetition and replication, postures we can’t stomach. But also — and this is how the world has really changed — we’re pushed into micro-niches where we remain conscious and capable of action, rare attitudes, hollowed out singularities made possible by the same technologies we spoke of earlier, like production units that no longer have to wait for a permit to do things. There are study groups in architecture that have moved into this workshop mode, they’re busy doing, making things and spreading the word. They compute and fabricate in small units, foxholes for experimenting with operative and discursive strategies. In my own case, we use a fiction/narration/scenario that enables us to extract the ‘mere doing’ and shift it somewhere else.

This is a great age we’re living in and in the end I like being voluntarily in this state — lucid as to the noxious shifts in arguments but also as to shifts in power zones. And most of all skeptical in the face of the international middle class that worships what is marketable…

We don’t trust their models, but we know that we have to work on the same territory as where they emerge; which is both mined and actionist, in fact operaist or established to quote Negri and Linhart. I brought out a book with Negri in New York in 2013, Reclaim resilience resistance — it sold out in three months…

‘Emet’ (Photograph courtesy of New_territories with RMIT)

On his aspirations for the future
You don’t have to dress up as William Tell and kill your wife like Burroughs did to create via an inter-zone, Tangiers for him — Bangkok for us. Here, you can do things in XXS mode, just negotiating ‘in the street’ with the neighborhood. I set up a robot in the street, plugged it into a public power source and built a small fabrication experimentation in exchange-mode with locals, with the micro-economies, the people concerned and without delegation from the territorial authorities.

We’ve put three years of work into Computation Crafting, a sort of robot-enabled pathology. And into mythomaniaS, the book for the Chicago Biennial, presenting about fifteen projects, none of them done with a building permit or calls for tender…. It’s a relief to work like this and it shifts the focus. There’s an immediate pay-off in doing, the promiscuity, the proximity with the sciences and word-play: pataphysics.

Getting down into the dirt of Ruskin and the aura of Walter Benjamin, using the same tools designed to eliminate their traces. Getting a rush, technological, computational spleen.

In BKK, the M4 Lab integrates 6 axes robots, kuka R10KR1100, and processes of fabrication including RSI (real sensor interface) program. The analogue inputs are collected through UPD signal and the chain of Processing, Firefly, Grasshopper, Rhinoceros.

We introduced sensors perturbation, in real time, where the trajectory of the nozzle is reacting to the robot’s very noises (machine clicks, Inverse kinematics movement, pneumatic piston…) or other agents as any analogue signal, even the pathologies and diseases able to be transcripted as input. The agents corrupt the programed predictable work and modify in real-time the path of the fabrication, as a stuttering feedback coming from the intrinsic protocol of doing, increasing the intricate meanders of the tool in an ever-permanent inaccuracy of positioning, introducing non-linear processes… as a way of territorializing technologies, but at the condition to be defined through in deterministic and loophole.

‘Sanatorium Last Call’ (Photograph courtesy of New_Territories)

On the future of architecture in the next 5–10 years
What else could we do than to oppose this system’s obscenity, the obscenity[1] of our pathologies … generated by this very system, affected by an impossibility to the world, facing these multiple disorders … to say, to make-say and make-know … that we as well are pathogen elements … of this very disorder, but in a critical mode, activist, solitary … to produce with this repulsion … this rejection … in a metabolized loop … constitutive of the obscene chain … of these little tales.

Yes, we are only left with obscenity in order to say, to make, to make-say and make-know.

This is what we offer here … our pathologies as paranoid-criticism the obscenity is not so much the subject than the voyeurism apparatus which forces us to look at it, frontally …

In front of the miserabilism of cretinous niches with their hypocritical formulas,[2] we have to re-evaluate what we used to call “Design”[3] as a process of synaesthesia, of knowledge… crossing the multiple conflicts and embarrassing waste of ideology, criminal positivism, voluntary ignorance, performative cynicism… To secrete from its ambiguity, ambivalence… even nonsense… absurdity…

Where some words are definitively “suspect” relative to daily routines: Expertise, Accuracy, Performance, Optimization, Communication, Futuristic, Future, Innovation, Speculation, Improvement, Absolute, Truth, Parametric, Post-Human, Positivism… as the Grail “onanism” and at the opposite, other words are vehicles for some kind of legitimacy… innocently injected into the daily routine: dirty, filthy, X-rated, explicit, lewd, rude, vulgar, coarse, crude, offensive, immoral, improper, impure, off-color, degenerate, depraved, debauched, lubricious, indecent, smutty, salacious, carnal, lascivious, licentious, bawdy, and Nostalgia, Melancholia, Metaphor, but also scatological, profane, porn, skin, vile, foul, atrocious, outrageous, heinous, odious, abhorrent, abominable, disgusting, hideous, offensive, objectionable, repulsive, revolting, repellent, loathsome, nauseating, sickening, awful, dreadful, terrible, frightful and repugnant…

On advice he would give to his younger self
…To be a girl.

[1] … Bataille in ambush, but also Baudelaire, as a proto-Parnassian, in his battle against Hugolian conventions (Victor Hugo and his compassions for the salon, the boudoir and power), Joyce and his sinthomes, his Guyotat and borborygmi, Artaud and his Catatonias… and Houellebecq … contemporary Pornographic Pictura Negras …

[2] … being not so digital-romantic, not so computation addicted, not so eco-masturbator, not socio-moralist… but just architects, snaking in the crack of abuse, idolatry, idiocracy, propaganda, self-complaisance, bio-hoax, social network lure, etc. Could we find a crack between the techno-fetishism (post-Palo Alto symptom in the main Anglo-Saxon schools — for neo-liberalism propaganda and tooling-idiocracy), and at the other end, the techno-regression (mainly in all European schools — Social Kreisel toy for noisy moralism, visible as a parade, a disgusting spectacle at the common ground Biennale)? It’s so comfortable and self-complaisant to choose one of these chapels… there are many benefices to be blind to or to falsify consciousness and knowledge. But both sides are just the two faces of the same coin… a Janus-like reciprocity of personal interest…! At the opposite, techno-sciences should no longer be an Object, but a Subject we have to re-appropriate and corrupt, in democratic anthropo-technic strategies (not in an Art-Deco bio-design show for dummies)…

[3] Design, at the opposite of its English definition, which lost its validity this last 20 years to be exclusively determined by performance and rules. “Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object or a system,” to quote US Wikipedia … In the French definition, it includes the notion of ‘’dessin/dessein,’’ meaning, meanings and means, Gestalt and Gestaltung… Le design est la création d’un projet en vue de la réalisation et de la production d’un objet (produit, espace, service) ou d’un système, qui se situe à la croisée de l’art, de la technique et de la société, in a maïeutique process and discovery, as an Ethico-Aesthetic, to quote Guattari.

Credits: Lab M4 / new-territories: Principal / Francois Roche, Camille Lacadee — — Partners on M4 scenario / Stephan Henrich, Ezio Blasetti, Gwyl Jahn, Danielle Willems, Devin Jernigan — — Colaborators / Vongsawat Wongkijjalerd, Daniela Mitterberger, Tiziano Derme, Myrtille Fakhreddine, Agatha Partyka, Katrin Hochschuh — — Institutions Partners / RMIT — UPENN — Michigan Ann Arbor — Innsbruck Hochbau — Columbia GSAPP — INDA Chulalongkorn — Donau Festival — Singapor Biennale — GRAHAM Foundation — CNC DICREAM Paris-…

This post was previously published on on 2/17/16.

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