Vito Acconci

Vito Acconci

A weeklong electronic journal.
Sept. 21 1999 9:00 PM

Vito Acconci

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I have to admit at the beginning: I can't be true to my diary today, let alone to whomever you are who happens to be reading this. Because it's already Tuesday, and I didn't write it Monday night, and I woke up late today, and I have no time now.

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But of course I remember yesterday. I remember, I remember ...

The Akron project. We've gone back to a spiral; but now it's not a spiral that starts at the edge of the traffic circle and is extruded up--now it's a spiral that starts at the middle.

Let's assume there isn't a traffic circle yet. Let's get that grass circle out of our minds (it's a perfunctory traffic circle anyway). Let's assume that all there is is asphalt--a road, a line, that widens at the end. So there needs to be a circle, so that cars can turn around. So we have to make the traffic circle; that's our start. So we start on the asphalt, we start at a point. We start a spiral in the middle of the asphalt: We spiral around, starting from the center--we lift strips of asphalt, horizontal plane, spiraling outward as we go. So, starting from a point, we make a traffic circle by making a spiral of the asphalt street. Once we've got to the edge of the space we need as a traffic circle, the spiral is off the ground: The asphalt strips spiral above the street, above cars--the spiral doesn't stop, it keeps getting higher, it's spiraling now over the sidewalk. So: The top of the strips are asphalt, it's the street itself--the bottom is mirrored (from below you look up, whatever is down is pulled up, reflected up, under this rising street)--the edges of the strip are mirrored. In other words, we make a tower by extruding the street itself; we make light for the street by extruding the street, by squeezing light out of the space between the rising street and the street itself.

We have a little reprieve: We don't have to present the project until next Wednesday, Sept. 29. (Unfortunately, they've scheduled me to give a lecture to students on the day I was supposed to be presenting, Sept. 22; so now I have to go to Akron twice--once this Wednesday, to give a talk, and then again next Wednesday, to present the project.)

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While Sara and Azaraksh worked on the design for Akron, and while Sergio and Pedro worked on the site model, Bevin worked on drawing sections for the Newtown Creek project. (I'll tell you later, I promise.)

All the while, in and out of other projects, I worked on notes and sketches for the Chicago project.

I need to go back now in time. University of Illinois at Chicago: We began working on this at the end of 1997. A campus built by Walter Netsch, of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, in the beginning of the '60s. Throughout the campus, there was a system of elevated walkways, connecting buildings from the air. I loved the idea of this campus; it looked like it was modeled after the Chicago train system--trains in the air, squeezing between buildings. It announced itself as an urban campus, a school in the middle of a city. But the walkways leaked, and people there supposedly hated them--they were afraid of them--who knows what can occur up there, off the ground, who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? So, a few years ago, they took the elevated walkways down. Suddenly, what was a city became a suburb.

We were asked to deal with part of this suburb. University Hall, the administration building; whereas all the other buildings are three or four stories high, this building is 30 stories high. There's a plaza in front of it: Now that the elevated walkways are gone, the plaza appeared a vast empty plain of pavement.

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In the beginning of '98, we proposed a kind of "Walter Netsch's revenge": At the foot of the building are columns--we proposed a kind of melt of those columns, on the ground--we proposed curving the columns, at the bottom, and extending the columns out, over the ground of the pavement--it's as if the columns take root in the ground, and now the roots, the horizontal columns, spread over the ground--each root, coming from a different column, makes turns over the ground, the horizontal columns spread over the plaza and cover the floor of the plaza--the horizontal columns taper as they traverse the ground--they start like the original columns, 6 feet square, and then they gradually taper down to a foot and a half, a foot--the columns, lying on the ground now, are places to sit--the horizontal columns travel through whatever happens to be there (the architect, for example, designed a pathway between grass and trees, so our columns cut through the grass and squeeze between trees); when a column reaches a pathway, it rises up and arches over the pathway, leaving a strip of light on the ground where the column used to be.

The project was approved. But then the board of trustees squelched it: After all, they said, they had just spent millions of dollars removing all the concrete that had been on the campus--why should they spend more money now to bring concrete back?

So we were asked to revise; time passed; the project was on hold. We thought the project had died. A few months ago, we were asked to begin again; the project was serious again; the situation had changed. (When Renee got off the phone with them, a few weeks ago, she said to me: "They have a new architect, and we're working with them"--I asked who the new architect was--she said, "Harry Weese"--I said, "But Harry Weese died last year.")

But the firm lives on, and we're working with them. So that brings us back to Monday, Sept. 20: I had to send them some preliminary notions.

1. Now that the situation has changed, we don't have to think of only the plaza on one side of the building; we can think of both sides now, front and back. So: Think of the building as something to pass through, on ground level. Imagine a tube running through the building, at the bottom: You walk through the tube, through the building--the tube spins off into subsidiary tubes--inside the building, they take you to lobbies and elevators--outside, they take you to different parts of the plazas.

2. There's a new program: They want the building to announce itself to the rest of the city (it's tall, of course, but nothing on top announces it). So let's take this tube idea again: On top of the building is another tube, opposite to the direction of the tube below--the tube above is a producer, a carrier, of light.

3. The new program says: Bring in water--water, for example, as a buffer against the noise of the neighboring street. At the same time, the new architects think differently than the former architect: They want to stress green, not pavement. When we met them last week, in Chicago, they talked about a rolling landscape, and berms. So: Maybe the berms are an occasion for water: A channel is cut into a berm, and water flows down the berm, like a rivulet over a mountain--water cuts through a berm, so you can walk through the berm, you can walk with the water, you can walk on water.

I want to tell you why I was so angry at the end of the night; and I want to tell you why I was so relieved, to the point of tears, in the afternoon; and I want to tell you what makes me happy, now, being in the studio. But I don't have time to tell you. And some things I should never dare to tell you.