Chomping on Appropriation and Credit

This is in response to the Kooks Burritos fiasco / debate in Portland.

In this globalised world, when is it really cultural appropriation? I think a lot of the commentary misses the point. Personally, I believe the root of this discontent is really about credit.

The stories of borrowing and apprenticeship from each other's cultures happen all the time. It's inevitable as cultures meet and interact. I mean, tempura is really Portugal's gift to Japan. However, if the dominant culture of the time adopts and adapts from other (non-majority) cultures and receives pats on backs for their ingenuity, questions of appropriation and erasure will eventually arise. The lack of acknowledgement and sometimes, careless neglect of the source is the problem. Dominant, often Caucasian American, discourse often praises the innovative white chef but chefs of colour are merely presenting what they are supposed to know. These food writers, critics and connoisseurs will fetishsize the “other,” wide-eyed and extolling exotic (often ethnic) cuisines whilst in the same breath, laud white chefs for innovating. To be sure, the focus of a non-white, non-majority cook is his/her ethnicity/heritage/culture/authenticity (delete accordingly) but the white cook is described as radical, innovative and enterprising. 

So yes, be angry if you want. But let's be pissed for the right reasons.

Preservation and Architecture do not mix

Rem Koolhaas postulates that the march of preservation necessitates the development of a theory of its opposite: not what to keep, but what to give up, what to erase and abandon. A system of phased demolition, for instance, would drop the unconvincing pretence of permanence for contemporary architecture, built under different economic and material assumptions. It would reveal tabula rasa beneath the thinning crust of our civilisation – ready for liberation just as we (in the West) had given up on the idea.

A constant tabula rasa is factitious as it is to the advantage of the architect. This notion of a throwaway architecture would allow a flourish in architecture as architecture’s raison d'être is to build. Preservation is not specific to beams and columns, that is, the hardware but preservation of structures must work hand in hand with preservation of the context (mostly social and cultural) of said structure. In short, preservation cannot merely exist in the domain of architecture but in the use of the structure as well; that is, the heartware — the domains of culture and society. We cannot accord architecture a contrived yet elevated status by preserving shells but abandon the reason for the existence of the shells. A library that looks like a library is NOT a library if it functions as anything but. On that note, it would then be almost impossible to reveal tabula rasas if preservation is now interested in the imbued meaning of places and structures. Let us focus not on the permanence of the buildings per se but the permanence of everyday contact with stories that are derived from the activities within these structures.

It is hubris of architecture’s nature if it is to think that preservation will be prospective. It is dependent on the reaction of society and its respective stakeholders to decide if a space has transformed to a place. The architect’s role is to ensure a structure has the foundations to withstand the test of time, that is, to be sustainable. It is NOT the architect’s role to play a time travelling futurist. Society decides what structures are worth preservation via social and cultural context and because that milieu is in a constant state of flux, preservation should be too.