Blow the Doors Off
Los Angeles, California
BREACH | Material Rituals of the Securocratic State
An exhibition that draws attention to the sublime architectural results of the destructive power and methods behind military “breaching” techniques, revealing a disturbing delight in how a rational mind might seek to understand a building if given the chance to forget how a door works and who might have lived inside.
The front door of the WUHO (Woodbury University Hollywood) Gallery neatly bisects the interior space. As the narrow room beyond stretches back from busy Hollywood Boulevard, it’s possible to understand the curatorial premise of this exhibition, and why it’s a good match for the gallery. On the one side, doors are leaning against the wall, ripped, torn, disfigured by intense physical force; on the other side, photographs show tables still laid for dinner in rooms blown open, sunlight streaming in, and impeccably stuccoed walls punctured not only by windows, but also by precisely located and roughly cut holes of near-human size. In between, the visitor looks back and forth, grappling with the juxtaposition of the intense violence that must have taken place, with the peaceful, even sublime, objects left in its wake.
AGENCY Architecture — the practice of Texas Tech College of Architecture professors Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller — has put together an exhibition of photographs, artifacts, and drawings that dwell on the role of the military on our own shores, and how buildings are somehow both complicit conspirators in, and innocent victims of, a type of warfare that relies on novel ways to understand space, quickly and with extreme prejudice. “Seeking productive anomalies in the overlooked, the under-represented, and the everyday” — as they describe their methods — has resulted in a blunt and genuinely fascinating view into the rigorous world of military training, but also into our own ethics and imaginations as we try to work out just what the role might have been for certain holes in a wall (To climb through? To poke a gun through?). What could possibly be the significance of this color of tablecloth employed in this one room, and what were its inhabitants thinking? (That the hasty 2 X 4 door bar would stop the might of the United States military?)
These questions simmer while we consider the violated doors opposite. Detached from buildings, they are just evidence, with some expert testimonial available in the accompanying texts — the technocratic nature of which is all the more distancing from the readily apparent energy discharged. AGENCY has indeed forced us to consider the ethics behind, and in front of, this door.
At the back of the room, the speculation and nascent design work begins. Maps depict all known sites of this type in the U.S., with figure-ground drawings that call attention to the urbanity, but also to the collective “scalelessness,” of these buildings. We come to understand that here is where future work might be focused, but
it also provides the main public-facing component of the exercise, which is AGENCY’s own technocratic and rationalized online database of these places, serving both to connect us all to their presence and to render them as banal as other government buildings.
Kripa and Mueller have assembled astonishing firsthand research, and it is a testament to the power of their work that it leaves the visitor gripped by intrigue and not a small amount of anguish. Leaving the way we came in, we walk back past the photographs and crumpled doors and re-emerge onto Hollywood Boulevard somewhat traumatized but energized by an unanticipated empathy.
Man-Yan Lam is an architectural designer at Rachel Allen Architecture. Alastair Stokes is an architectural designer at Gensler.