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Marki Becker

Farsighted caught up with Marki at her apartment in Brooklyn after she spent a morning of surfing in the Rockaways to chat about inaccessible architecture books (and the accessible ones.)

Farsighted: If you could write a book about your life up until now, what would you call it?

Marki: “Slow burn.” Because I think that generally my outlook on doing things is not to go too hard too quickly. But, just to kind of feel it out as it goes. I think that I’m always coming into things when the time is right, that is what I've been trying to do in general and not force things.

Do you have any books that helped you figure out your style and aesthetic in terms of where you are now?

M: Yes, I'd say there are a couple. I'd say that for me coming into Architecture was more about denying that I wanted to do it because my dad is an architect and then happening upon a school. When I first started school everyone told me I should read the Fountainhead. I started reading it and I really didn't get it at all so I stopped reading. I went through one year of architecture school and then read it again and could understand that it was a bit related to the god-like architect you’re taught about in school. Super individualized and a bit of a dick. It was really important to me after that point because I had a taste of what that world was and what architects are thought to be and kind of what I didn’t want to become.

Another book that was really important was Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places because it introduced a pillar of playfulness and not so serious things at a time where I felt like everyone else was being so serious. Architecture school has a tendency to be kind of high level, with a lot of philosophy and theory about space which to me seems rather distant from how people are daily, so I like to read books that are a balance of picture books and theory books.

Architecture can be a really intimidating subject if you don’t know much about it. If you could recommend a digestible architecture book, what would you recommend?

M: It’s so strange that people are intimidated by it, because we live in architecture every day. I think Architects want it to seem like it's a lot more complicated than it actually is in order for them to feel important. I have a lot of friends who are in grad school right now, and they'll always be like “What documentary have you seen lately?” or “What theory books have you been reading?” And I'll be like, "Want to talk about Kim Kardashian? She's great” I have a pin of her. I have her book, I love her book.

I think a lot of Architecture books are written in a way where they're really hard to digest. Even one of my favorite books is Learning from Las Vegas, which is a great post modern book that was written as a study and like a regurgitation of things that the authors learned by looking at the Las Vegas strip, is fun and playful but it’s written in the language of architecture academia. It can be a bit dense.

What do you think is an ideal blend?

M: I think it really has to do with educating and talking about what things are and how it relates to people's lives. Architecture is about the way people work and the psychology of people, but the rhetoric can be so overly complicated, that it can be made out to be super hard to comprehend. There is this book called The Practice of Everyday Life By Michel de Certeau which is a great theory book where he's talking about how cities are designed for you to do very specific things, so it's very prescriptive. Sidewalks are where you walk, a street is where you park your car, a park is where you play, and there is no blending of any of those things because people are so ingrained into that system.

But if you were able to introduce an idea of how to re-appropriate physical space in a way that's good for you at that moment, it could blow open what it’s like to be in a physical space and how you interact with the world around you in public as opposed to just doing you in private. Architects love skateboarders because they have a tendency to not follow this prescribed system. In their medium everything is a playground, a handrail isn't a handrail anymore, a stair isn't a stair anymore and a ledge isn't a ledge anymore.

These things that were created for very specific reasons now have more meaning because the way this person is looking at it and they have a vocabulary that they've been taught or that they've learned that allows them to see the possibility in space. I think if people could learn how to think about physical space and public space in a way where they desire something and they make it possible using the pieces that are there it could be really powerful.

Do you have an example of something like that? Like, what would something like that be?

M: I made something a while ago, it's a series of lamps. They don't really look like lamps, they're these weird objects that are kind of white and shiny that have all these holes in it and look like you want to touch them but they do have a light and they are small lamps that can be carried with you wherever you go, kind of like a camp light. They have human characteristics to them because they have eyes and faces, so it's just objects that have a little bit more play to them. Things that have blurred characteristics that people can associate with could be a tool for encouraging open ended relationships.

So, earlier you mentioned certain architectural philosophies. Do you think that there are certain ones that people are studying and reading about that have become so prevalent, appearing in modernizing cities outside of the US and Western Europe. Are you noticing that the newer buildings in these cities are sharing a lot of traits that might not seem like they match the cultures that they're from?

M: Yeah. It's actually the idea of Formalism. One of the architects that does it the best is Bjarke Ingels from BIG. He actually wrote a really important architecture school book when I was in school titled Yes is More. It’s an architecture comic book that I actually totally despise now because it has dumbed down architecture almost too much. Formalism is a multi-faceted concept, but mainly it's buildings that look so obviously like what they are. So Zaha Hadid is kind of a formalist in that she creates a shape and then shoves all the program in it instead of it being something that is informed by how you walk into the space and how you live in it. So, it’s top down instead of bottom up. I’m more of a bottom up person I think.

And there are amazing things that have happened with that because that style of explaining things has totally infiltrated our architecture schools and so when you go to any sort of presentation, like, every kid's diagrams look like a BIG diagram. Or at least they did when I was in school! Now buildings are starting to come up that are very like much like this is a circle, this is a square, this is a pyramid. Very basic top down concepts, and I think that's great because it's kind of opened up the conversation of architecture a little bit more. Bjarke Ingels gets so many projects because of his ability to talk to people who don't understand architecture in a non intimidating way. And in such a basic manner, but I think that there's a middle ground that's starting to come up in a lot in schools where you're like, okay, we can take this base thing but also integrate some sort of intellect into that and some substance so that we aren't totally just like making buildings that are just kind of ridiculous.

Would you recommend to read that comic book, Yes is More: An Archicomic on the architectural evolution?

M: That’s a difficult question. I think it's better to read it when you do have a little bit more knowledge as to what it's talking about. But any architecture book that acts as a catalyst for someone wanting to know more is important, and so I would say everyone should read it if it's going to make them excited about architecture. There was a story I was reading the other day by the curator at the Serpentine pavilion, Hans Urlich Obrist. He was writing about the Serpentine pavilion and how there was a girl who was there who's dad was a taxi driver. On their one day that they go out every week they go to this pavilion that is designed by a famous architect every year and after she saw it, she immediately started studying to go to architecture school. So it was just like something that sat with her really well. And so anything like that inspires you is important. Books do that all the time for me. Wabi Sabi for Artists was that for me. I would never have picked up and read the Serpentine Pavillion if I hadn’t read about it in Apartamento Magazine, I actually read a lot of magazine and consume publications more than I read books.