The idea of progress has been intertwined, since the 19th century, to the quest of the american colonizers towards the west. The coincidence of that movement, with an astounding economical growth and technological development, has made possible the perception of progress as a linear, one-way path.

In the field of architecture, progress has been made visible through the replacement of ancient building techniques by others that make use of industrially transformed materials, such as reinforced concrete, plastics or steel, and which have made possible the high-rise sprawl.

The U turn, so to speak, and the resulting impact against the WTC on September 11, of two airplanes on their way to the west, symbolically attacked the linear narrative behind the idea of progress. The present demonstration of the fragilities of the capitalist model, as well as the expectation brought about by the change in the US presidency, makes it interesting to engage in a critical westward trip.

The voyage that we propose is related to an existing commitment that the office Plano B has in May, to coordinate a rammed earth workshop in El Rito, New Mexico. To that workshop we propose to add another 5 along a defined (but not definitive) route: NY, Chicago, Washington, Auburn, El Rito, and San Francisco.

At each workshop words from a secret sentence will be constructed taken from the book "Pessimism: Philosophy, Ethic, Spirit" by Joshua Foa Dienstag. The sentence we have chosen to build, proposes an alternative perception of the idea of progress. Without denying that the concept of progress is intrinsic to a technology driven civilization, the sentence appeals nevertheless for a reduction in the expectation that progress might provide hope for an imperfect, biological and finite species.

The words will be constructed with the materials, the techniques and the volunteers available at each time. The words will be recorded in some medium, posted on an internet blog in their correct relative position in the sentence, but in the random sequence in which they are produced.

This is the blog where the disclosure of the sentence will take place.


In New Orleans, we made an effort to "make sense" out of the construction of the word we. We knew about the reconstruction effort being made at the Lower 9th Ward (see post reconstruction-songline diary) so we went there to build the word from the Songline.

After a brief survey of the place we found a sewer access saying water, which sounded appropriate for our purpose. We then collected garbage and things that were left abandoned after the hurricane: bottles, rubber, wire, one ring... The wreckage of previous occupancy. After the recollection we organized the pieces into the word we. Trying to make sense out of devastation.


After 5 days of hard work we finally managed to finish the word Must. On Saturday rained a bit in El Rito but the walls were protected on time.
The walls aren't protected against the rain so ultimately they will dissolve (or be demolished).

Thanks to all the participants in the workshop for dispensing so much effort into the construction of the walls.

MUST . 4 .................................................................................

These are some images of the construction of the final wall/letter.

MUST . 3 .................................................................................

At the rammed earth workshop we finished another wall/letter. The original idea was to take the bricks out of the wall and get a void in the shape of a letter, but we will probably let them inside the wall given that the different colors that the bricks have are pretty cool!

MUST . 2 ................................................................................

On the rammed earth front we moved to the second letter/wall trying a different mixture of earth. Part of the corner collapsed as we removed the form, so we'll try changing the mixture again for the next wall:

MUST . 1 .................................................................................

After New Orleans our schedule determined that we would go to New Mexico through Marfa and El Paso and from there up to Albuquerque, Santa Fe and El Rito. Given that we were supposed to be in El Rito in time to start the workshops for the Adobe USA 2009 conference we had to decide to shorten the route. After Dallas and Fort Worth we went north towards Santa Fe.

So, we are now in El Rito and have already started the two workshops that we are suppose to instruct. One of the workshops will be directly related to the Songline: it will be the construction of the word must. The second workshop is a colaborative work with Alexis Elton and is also related to the Songline (but without the use of words): it will consist in building a 5 feet (or 1.5 m) tall sphere out of straw, jute and earth that will have embedded grass seeds near the surface.

In the next few days we'll be be posting images of the development of both workshops. So here are some images of the rammed earth workshop:


After our previous failure at writing LEARN we tried again. This time was in Abiquiu Lake, close to El Rito. The idea was to get the word sank into the lake, suspended in the water, while maintaining its shape. The cardboard with which we cut the letters didn't hold that well the contact with water and was totally destroyed after just some second in the lake.
Here are some images of the "technical" procedures and the failed attempt to transport the word into the lake:

So, after our two previous failures at writing LEARN ... we tried again - that's what learning is all about, right? This time was in one of the islands in Abiquiu Lake, using stones. Ok, it wasn't that creative but we wanted to get the thing done! And a lot of effort (and even pain) was put into the word as the sand in the island was terribly hot from the sun.

So if there's a lesson to be learn from the construction of the word it may well be: why take so much time and effort learning something, when ignorance is immediate? (this is a lesson and a quote by memory from Calvin & Hobbes).


In the previous post we were already out of our programmed route. After leaving New Mexico the Songline should have headed southwest towards Arizona. Instead, a shorter travel distance to San Francisco was taken, going through Colorado, Utah and Nevada. This was mainly for time sake given that we stayed longer than expected in New Mexico.

In El Rito we had already tested the construction of the word TO. The ambitious idea was to make a citation of David Hockney's Pearblossom Hwy, 11-18th April 1986. One road made of superimposed images, with funny details throughout the entire collage. The purpose was to make visible the deceptive goal of reaching a destination. Roads are traveled to go somewhere and to come from somewhere. They get us there and back. To and from can refer to the same place, every destination is a departure place as well. That is disturbing, even though is obvious, because it means that we are always missing the goal. Going to somewhere is always and at the same time getting from somewhere. The word to establishes motion in speech but not a destination. So the word to only makes sense as a process of dislocation, always undetermined, never really focused but diverging indefinitely.

After the word was done we waited for the wind coming in the opposite direction to blow the newspapers off the road to where we were coming from in the first place.

Apart from all this, the photo composition really needs to be worked...


Is there a possibility for hope with reason, when there's no reason to hope? There seems to be a slight and subtle difference between faith and hope, even though they may appear as synonyms in the dictionary. In christian philosophy both are part of the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity (or love). The first being a resolute ability to believe; hope being the capability of not giving up; and charity or love an unconditional compassion for life.

But can the capability of not giving up be reasonable? Or should it be tied up with faith, the resolute ability to believe. In the scientific mind frame we were taught believing seems awkward: we don't believe, we disbelieve until proof is made. To doubt, rather than to believe, is what we are expected to do. To hope, rather than having faith. To resist even though we don't believe.
The idea to build the word, was to bring a watering can to a beach and use water to darken the sand in the shape of the letters of the word hope. But the unsuspected plays part in our endeavors. The thing was that the Wallmart store we went to, on our way to Stinson Beach, didn't sell watering cans. And we didn't have that much time to get the word done. But they sell chinese umbrellas. You know, the ones in cocktails?

For sure there's no relation between a watering can and a chinese umbrella for cocktails. But in new Mexico we were given the idea of writing the word with ice cream cones. That was when we planned on traveling with an iranian architect to San Francisco. We thought that it would be nice to have the word written in Farsi and then Alexis found out that the Persians were the inventors of ice cream. So we would do the word in Farsi using ice cream cones. Ok, that's was a twisted thought and a political innuendo.
But we were traveling alone and the idea of having chinese umbrellas for cocktails also seemed related to a certain idea of Californian lifestyle.

So we took three bags of umbrellas and went to the beach.

We laid a grid, the Grid, as referred to by Rem Koolhaas in Delirious New York, and populated it with umbrellas. They resembled little sundials or some sort of a parade. Each member of the parade becoming a sundial.

Then we opened the umbrellas in order to get the letters done. We could have tried to write hope in Farsi using the Grid. The Grid would allow for all languages to be written. Hope resides in Babel? Is architecture entitled to lay a claim on hope? How?

We are in an architectural journey and the Grid came in our rescue. Hoping with reason, when there's nothing reasonable to hope for.


Occasionally we stop to take some pictures, relax or eat. This time we stopped to make one of the words of the Songline. We were looking for a road with a view and this one, somewhere on HWY 50 - The loneliest road in America, seemed perfect.
The word was TO and the plan was to place newspapers in one lane of the road making the letters. It was windy and the newspapers were flying away as soon as we placed them on the pavement. After a couple of trials we were ready to give up. In fact we did give up and moved towards the car.

That's when we realized this dog, looking at us:

The dog was lying, didn't seem to be hurt, there was food around and an empty bowl. It seemed that she (we found out latter that it was a she) had been abandoned, with some food and water.
At the time we didn't notice some marks from tires on the asphalt.
Once we took the water from the car the dog stood up and started drinking as we poured it into the bowl. The entire gallon disappeared in no time!

As we were getting the car ready to take her with us, another car pulled over. The driver asked us if that was our dog - we said no. So, she said, let us take the dog, Mattie is her name, I have the contacts of the owner, there was an accident on the 15th and the dog has been lost ever since.
It seemed weird that two people suddenly appearing from nowhere would have that much information about a lost dog ... anyway, this seemed the best chance of getting the dog out of that place. So we gave our emails and asked them to send us some images of the dog with the owner.
We decided to make one word in this place. We still had some words to do. The word TO didn't seem appropriate, so we chose IN THE. There was some dog food in small squared shapes around that we used to make the word, as if it was a roman mosaic.

And off we went on our way across Nevada.
After some miles there was this small city called Austin. We decided to stop for a meal at a curious looking bar called International. As we were going in we noticed a sign in the old western way saying reward.
The description corresponded exactly to the dog we had just left. In the sign was also the name of the dog and the contact of the owners.

So that was how the ladies knew all that information! And the $1000 the likely reason for not having mentioned us the entire story ...

In any case, we called the owners informing them of what had happened and asking to please send us some images of Mattie.
We just got them. There's one image of Mattie recovering and another from the truck where she was going.
This was the time in our journey that made us most happy for just being here: in the right place at the right time.


This was the result of our efforts in NY to build the word absence. It reflects the fact that we couldn't find local support to help us out. So the thing turned out to be pretty simple and individualistic.

We've first cut the letters from paper, then spread them in different locations in NY. There's really no logic in the places we've chosen, some are well know landmarks such as Seagram building or the New Museum, some are just anonymous streets or generic places such as the subway.