Nakatomi Space
January 12, 2010 3:37 PM   Subscribe

Nakatomi Space: On Die Hard, walking through walls, and the Israeli Army.
posted by vronsky (31 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Ooooh. Die Hard and BLDGBLOG: two great tastes that taste great together. I like the alternate take on the sequels.
posted by brundlefly at 3:46 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is terrific. But I disagree with...

... where the various Die Hard sequels went wrong was in abandoning this spatial investigation...

I don't remember a single thing about #4 - so I won't address that. But even the dreadful #3 had the clever elevator shootout and McClane dropping onto a moving subway train after removing a street grate. And #2 - which I seem to like more than most people - had interesting business like the gun on the moving walkway.

So I think the sequels very much "investigated their spaces". Their problems were found elsewhere.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:47 PM on January 12, 2010

Joe Beese: "But even the dreadful #3 had the clever elevator shootout and McClane dropping onto a moving subway train after removing a street grate."

Maybe also McClane's shortcut through Central Park?
posted by brundlefly at 3:53 PM on January 12, 2010

It's totally like, parkour awesome!

Unless, it's your home.
posted by clarknova at 3:57 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

And the thieves boring into the vault from the subway tunnel...

Jeremy Irons' ludicrous accent aside, I found #3 to be unironically enjoyable as well
posted by 7segment at 3:58 PM on January 12, 2010

As someone who also unironically enjoys Die Hard, and enjoys thinking about ways to move through urban spaces, this was a fun read. The snippet that sticks with me the most is tagging the military's tunneling as "militarized parkour" - before this article I would have imagined some flashy video game jumping and running with guns (Mirror's Edge with a bulkier backpack?) but now of course it is clear that the military wouldn't concern themselves with gymnastics, and would just draw lines through 3D space unconstrained by ladders, walls, and ledges.

(Of course the promise of drawing lines through 3D in a city is the perfect superpower a contractor could use to dazzle the brass and land a contract - I can see the action-movie field test scene in my head)

(and I think bldgblog is consistently one of the best things in my RSS reader)
posted by thedaniel at 3:58 PM on January 12, 2010

7segment: "Jeremy Irons' ludicrous accent aside, I found #3 to be unironically enjoyable as well"

Same here, actually. It's no #1 of course, but I prefer it to the other two sequels, and have watched it tons of times.
posted by brundlefly at 4:00 PM on January 12, 2010

So I think the sequels very much "investigated their spaces".

I read that as, "the spaces should be locked rooms, instead of massive airports and cities." McClane "investigated" Dulles airport and NYC, but these are open areas, where you can wander in and out of, and so big that one man won't make a dent in them. A car chase is not terribly unique.

You recall the other Die Hard clones played up the notion of being stuck in a single rules-bound environment. Under Siege -- on a battleship. Speed -- on a bus that can't stop.

It's kind of like what I say in some game design topics -- rules will set you free. Meaning, once you establish the boundaries, you are free to fully explore within them. McClane's in a skyscraper and can't get out. We define that from the outset. OK, now what are all the things you'd expect to find inside a skyscraper?

Shoot. The. Glass.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:01 PM on January 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


To quote from a commenter on the linked post:
I would also say that this piece does not "celebrate" the Israeli invasion of Nablus; it says quite clearly, in fact, that the invasion was "legally dubious" even as it urges everyone to read Eyal Weizman's paper—and it's difficult to interpret "Lethal Theory" as an endorsement of Israeli invasions.
I think pretending to be outraged when architectural space has been violated—broken windows, burst doors, collapsed walls—is only relevant if you are out to score quick political points by laying down the card of moral outrage.
I agree with the poster. I may be taking your comment too seriously - maybe it's throwaway snark that you're not really invested in, but if that is the case, I would hope you wouldn't have posted it in the first place, after all this is MetaFilter after all, and we don't do that, do we?
posted by thedaniel at 4:03 PM on January 12, 2010

So I think the sequels very much "investigated their spaces".

I like the way this bit was flipped in Aliens, where it was the bugs doing the McClane thing. game over man!
posted by vronsky at 4:08 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Like parkour with heavy weaponry to create new terrain. Cribbed from the blog:

Here, a Palestinian woman, whose home was raided, recounts her witnessing of this technique:
Imagine it—you’re sitting in your living room, which you know so well; this is the room where the family watches television together after the evening meal. . . . And, suddenly, that wall disappears with a deafening roar, the room fills with dust and debris, and through the wall pours one soldier after the other, screaming orders. You have no idea if they’re after you, if they’ve come to take over your home, or if your house just lies on their route to somewhere else.

In any case, post-battle surveys later revealed that "more than half of the buildings in the old city center of Nablus had routes forced through them, resulting in anywhere from one to eight openings in their walls, floors, or ceilings, which created several haphazard crossroutes"

I enjoyed the theoretical talk of using buildings in ways not expected, but blasting holes in more than half of the buildings in a city is not the same thing. I've seen parts of various Die Hard movies in the last few days (they've been on TV a lot, it seems), I realized John McClane kills a LOT of people, and without much care from anyone. It's OK to kill the villains and destroy a building in the movies, but that's just the movies. They aren't real people.

What I'm saying is that theoretical architecture and actual tactics used in peoples homes are vastly different. On the theoretical level, they're "adjusting the relevant space to [their] needs," but on the real, living human level, they're blasting through your fucking living room.

I'm not claiming sides in Israel vs Palestine, I'm just saying that this blog post was removed from reality in ways that made everything seem like a movie, and that made me feel between awkward and disgusted. His reply in the comments further sets himself into architectural theoretical whitespace, void of human implications (Alex Fleck, your notion that McClane is "freeing himself even from the necessity for passageways" by leaping off the roof toward the end of the film is amazing.)

Yes, the fact and way that the Israeli forces made their own paths is interesting in a scholarly look at how humans interact with space, but then you're disconnected with the fact that there are people who are using those spaces as they were, and that's now ruined (along with personal belongings, and maybe some physical injuries or death).
posted by filthy light thief at 4:20 PM on January 12, 2010 [7 favorites]

This was some cool reading.
posted by fuq at 4:21 PM on January 12, 2010

The common thread through the Nablus invasion, the Die Hard movies and the Bourne movies in the blog post is the function of violence as a way of re-imagining architectural space. In every case, the reasons characters were "adjusting the relevent space to their needs" was in order to achieve one or some combination of the following: pursuit, capture, kill or escape.

While the whole concept of Nakatomi Space is interesting as an abtract idea, is there a practical non-military application for this stuff? Is it even possible to "move" through Nakatomi Space without violence? Is there any reason to move through it except FOR violence? Nakatomi Space strikes me as one of the most horrifying things ever. We are inverting and repurposing architecture, which is ostensibly designed for living and work, for death and destruction. You might as well call it the Architecture of Hell.

The fact that we have already made it a reality in Nablus worries me no end. The fact that we can discuss its use in Nablus AS A WAY OF LOOKING AT MOVIES FOR THEIR ARCHITECTURAL ELEMENTS leaves me terrified. In eight years, we have gone from Lovecraftian nightmare mathmatics taking place in meatspace to internet navel-gazing. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate discussing "Nakatomi Space" as an interesting phenomena within cinema, but once you invoke its real usage in Nablus, you add a moral dimension to the exercise that the blogpost seemed to dismiss.

And, on preview, everything Filthy Light Thief said.
posted by KingEdRa at 5:36 PM on January 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


I refer you to the Palestinians whose homes are being violated. You may ask them what cheap political points points they are trying to score when they complain. Perhaps that will mollify them when they consider our collective complicity.

I'm sorry, but garnishing an intro with "legally dubious" before going on to write a four-page paean doesn't make a piece any less of unabashed glorification. If anything it's a disclaimer that disclaims itself. As one philosopher has said in reproach, 'the lack of ideology is the ideology'.

Abstract admiration of some systemic brutality is only appropriate when all concerned are about three generations dead. Not when the admirers are embedded the civilization actively engaged in it.
posted by clarknova at 6:25 PM on January 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure about glorification, but it's taking the actions of the Israeli military and their actions in regards to architecture in the abstract out of the context of actions against people's homes. Like that, John McClane doesn't get accolades for blowing up Germans, but moving through spaces: it's an architecture blog.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:19 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

While reading the list of movies Geoff Manaugh connects with this theme I was reminded of Brazil.
posted by hattifattener at 9:49 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Having a fist-fight on a hovering jet fighter wing as it floats around has got to count, right?
posted by stinkycheese at 11:05 PM on January 12, 2010

Actually it would make a pretty cool video game.
posted by delmoi at 11:49 PM on January 12, 2010

This was a good read. I liked his discrimination of Bond/Bourne - public transportation versus private.

As for the discussion of the army moving through the city by basting holes in the houses, instead of going around them, well, whatever nationalities the two sides might be, it was best expressed by the woman to whom it had happened, "Is it possible to even begin to imagine the horror ... as four, six, eight, twelve soldiers, their faces painted black, submachine guns pointed everywhere, antennas protruding from their backpacks, making them look like giant alien bugs, blast their way through that wall?"
posted by From Bklyn at 12:21 AM on January 13, 2010

I read the Weizman article a few years ago, here are links to two copies.

"The attack conducted by units of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on the city of Nablus in April 2002 was described by its commander, Brigadier-General Aviv Kokhavi, as ‘inverse geometry’, which he explained as ‘the reorganization of the urban syntax by means of a series of micro-tactical actions."

"...he explained to me the principle that guided the battle in Nablus, what was interesting for me was not so much the description of the action itself as the way he conceived its articulation. He said: ‘this space that you look at, this room that you look at, is nothing but your interpretation of it. […] The question is how do you interpret the alley? […] We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through and the door as a place forbidden to pass through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his traps. […] I want to surprise him! This is the essence of war. I need to win […] This is why that we opted for the methodology of moving through walls. . . . Like a worm that eats its way forward, emerging at points and then disappearing. […] I said to my troops, “Friends! […] If until now you were used to move along roads and sidewalks, forget it! From now on we all walk through walls!”’

And I think an expanded version here...
posted by artaxerxes at 3:15 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

So what I'm getting here is that one can't talk about isreal or Palestine without taking an explicit political stance on one side or the other?
posted by afu at 7:38 AM on January 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

From an architectural point of view, two points about the post and this thread jump out at me.

While the whole concept of Nakatomi Space is interesting as an abtract idea, is there a practical non-military application for this stuff? Is it even possible to "move" through Nakatomi Space without violence? Is there any reason to move through it except FOR violence?

I think that's the common theme in the BLDGBLOG post, which sort of goes unstated, although it's hard to miss. Bruce Willis and the IDF both create "Nakatomi Space" through violence, and for the purpose of violence. If I can be forgiven a sort of hyperbolic metaphor, both examples demonstrate the rape of built spaces for violent ends.

But the concept of Nakatomi Space, delivered from its violent birth, doesn't require that. Turn it around: why not design built spaces that encourage, or even require this sort of "infestation" in their ordinary use? That can tolerate it without violence? I realize this is sort of airy theortical nonsense, but it's a hugely appealing concept to me. I'd love to see what architects do with it. And it also brings together under one useful label some of the things that most appeal to me in experimental architecture -- arbitrarily reconfigurable spaces, secret passageways, multifunction openings that are not strictly window, door, or skylight, but any or all three. That sort of thing.

So yes, I think there is a practical application for this stuff, very much so.
posted by rusty at 8:49 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, combining the Die Hard stuff with the real life accounts by the Israeli army really takes this from "What a cool idea for a movie / video game" to "What a horrific, inhuman approach to urban warfare." My reaction went from "I guess no one was clever enough to think of this before" to "I guess no one was evil enough to consider doing this before."

Sure, it's better than just carpet bombing an entire urban area, but I'd prefer a world in which both options are off the table.

As for Die Hard, it's a little weird seeing an architectural blog praising that movie's "exploration of a physical space" because I'm pretty sure it uses the silly movie trope of a character crawling around in ventilation spaces that in real life would be much too small for a person to get into.

(Wasn't on my radar for Half Life 1, but playing Half Life 2 I kept cracking up at how fast Gordon Freeman can wriggle through "tiny" (that is to say gigantic compared with the real thing) ventilation ducts. Not to mention being able to easily switch between the 13 bulky weapons he's hauling around.)
posted by straight at 8:52 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

So what I'm getting here is that one can't talk about isreal or Palestine without taking an explicit political stance on one side or the other?

That wasn't my point. It would be the same for American forces using nuclear bombs to "drastically redesign Japan," or the Germans in World War II as cited in the article. If the houses were vacated before the soldier "[used] his bazooka as a blunt instrument of architectural reorganization," then it's a bit of interesting chin-stroking with no worry for the loss of human life. "Look how the soldier defies the will of the architect, using tools of military destruction as a tool of creation!" But if this is a place where people are still living, it's more than soldiers being redesigners of space for me.

The pain of loss from those who were actively living in the now-devastated homes was brushed over, because that had not bearing on the architecture lecture at hand. Like I said before, I'm not claiming sides in Israel vs Palestine. I'm saying that I don't feel comfortable with removing the human implications of redesigning living spaces with people inside them. Maybe I'm just not the ideal architectural theorist.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:01 AM on January 13, 2010

afu: So what I'm getting here is that one can't talk about isreal or Palestine without taking an explicit political stance on one side or the other?

No, I think it's that you can't refer to war, violence, or destruction for any purpose other than simply to condemn them. War is bad, mmmmkay?
posted by rusty at 9:37 AM on January 13, 2010

Sorry to leap into the conversation here, as the author of the piece linked above, but seeing my post accused of "admiration of... systemic brutality" (with a link that openly implies I am racist), as well as reading that I've produced a "glorification" of the invasion of Nablus, I think it's important to reiterate a few things that have come up in the comments thread over at BLDGBLOG.

First of all, I do agree that I should have made it much more clear in my post that I am not advocating military intervention into—and through—foreign homes. My point was to say that I find it architecturally and spatially fascinating that these techniques are now being used by military planners, not to argue that they should be used more often. To me there is no contradiction here; after all, if agents from the Department of Homeland Security suddenly burst through my ceiling and arrested me, pulling me away through a newly-blasted hole in the wall, I would be absolutely terrified—but I would also be amazed, frankly, and I would want to know, spatially, how they had done this: How in the world did that just happen? In no way does this mean that I want it to happen to me, and it certainly doesn't mean that I want to see it happen to others. To be honest, though, I thought my post made it quite clear through its citation of Eyal Weizman—a writer who is well known in architectural circles as a critic of Israeli military policy—as well as by quoting the Palestinian woman whose home had thus been destroyed, that this was not something I was hoping to promote. After all, at least from my perspective, citing the work of Eyal Weizman as part of an argument for Israeli military operations is not unlike citing Noam Chomsky in defense of U.S. black ops in Nicaragua—it might be a virtuoso demonstration of your rhetorical powers, but it would also be absurd.

But I need to add here that it is the spatial techniques of "walking through walls" that I am talking about in the post, not any one specific—and highly politicized—military action by a particular government. After all, if these exact same spatial techniques—cutting through walls, bursting up through floors, tunneling diagonally through ceilings, etc.—had been used to free political prisoners in Iran, China, the U.S.—even from Guantanamo Bay—I doubt there would be such a moral reaction to the idea of tearing down walls. If these exact same spatial techniques had been used to rob a gold repository in Lower Manhattan, I honestly don't think there would be the moral outrage (and accusation of racism) that appears here.

Unfortunately, I made an editorial mistake in only using the invasion of Nablus as my leading example; I could, for instance, just as easily have cited the Battle of Ortona (as a commenter points out to me on BLDGBLOG), in which Canadian forces used identical techniques in WWII—blasting downward through buildings, ceiling by ceiling—in spatially amazing raids against the Nazis.

In any of these cases, though, architecture would be damaged—of course—and people would justifiably be terrified; but I think it's worth emphasizing that these techniques are not universally appropriate only for imperial invasion. Getting excited about "walking through walls" simply does not equate to getting excited about military adventurism in foreign cities (although I inadvertently made them sound like the same thing).

Along these lines, finally, and perhaps in reference to filthy light thief's displeasure, I do want to emphasize that this was written in the context of an architecture blog. What I mean by saying that is that what might appear to be a near-sociopathic lack of concern for the emotional impact that these tunneling operations have on homeowners was actually a deliberate editorial decision on my part to focus specifically on the architectural effects. It makes sense, in hindsight, that someone might read this and think: who the hell is this guy, just talking about buildings while the people inside them have their lives destroyed? In fact, my approach would thus seem quite horrific in that light; I should have anticipated that, and I didn't.

In any case, none of this takes away my architectural fascination with the idea of cutting new routes through existing buildings—the artwork of Gordon Matta-Clark comes to mind—or with the idea of navigating through cities using only subsidiary spaces and unexpected, often forced, connections. That genuinely and truly fascinates me.
posted by BLDGBLOG at 1:00 PM on January 13, 2010 [8 favorites]

BLDGBLOG: There is no way to anticipate what bizarre angle Metafilter will seize on and criticize you for. It was a terrific essay. Thanks for writing it.
posted by rusty at 2:09 PM on January 13, 2010

Rusty it's not a bizarre angle. I think it's a very interesting article but also understand how people can be upset by the juxtaposition of a fun and fictional film with a horrible act of real-life brutality and violence. Some people find it harder to use real-life events for theoretical discussions of interior space. Personally it doesn't bother me because I understood the author's intent, but I disagree that it is a "bizarre angle".
posted by cell divide at 2:18 PM on January 13, 2010

BLDBLOG: Thanks for dropping in and clearing things up for me (and hopefully some others). In the future, I'll try to remember the contexts from which posts are made. Following up on Rusty's reponse to my questions about non-violent examples, any chance we'll be seeing a post on more stuff like Matta-Clark and for lack of a better term, positive examples of Nakotomi Space on BLDBLOG soon? Cause, while I got all preachy (Sorry, everyone!), I'm still nonetheless fascinated by the concept of Nakatomi Space (which, BTW, is the awesomest sounding thing ever and the whole reason I clicked on the link in the first place).
posted by KingEdRa at 11:09 PM on January 13, 2010

fun and fictional film

Look, here's the thing from where I stand. Though I think BLDBLOG has made it as clear as possible, it's this last little nubbin that keeps cropping up that I would like to try and smooth down.
"Die Hard" is a film where a lot of things get destroyed, people get terrorized, and a good number of people are killed. Despite his apparent pleasure in the actions he is engaging in, the Bruce Willis character is in a position of desperation if he does not (among other things violate the way the architects wanted occupants to use the building) his wife and a lot of other people die.

Perhaps the article in question would have been better served to cite other instances (as he's mentioned, the battle of Ortona) - but at the end he's comparing an instance of actual murder, destruction and mayhem with a fun and fictional film about murder, destruction and mayhem.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:32 PM on January 13, 2010

KingEdRa, I don't want to self-link, but if you Google "Museum of Assassination" you'll find a link to an older piece on the blog about Gordon Matta-Clark; it's not about Nakatomi space, I'm afraid, but it is about taking apart pieces of existing buildings and reconfiguring them elsewhere (and, of course, it's also about assassination... sorry, my brain just works toward the dark side!). But a new post about Matta-Clark's work might soon be in the works...

Anyway, thanks, everybody, for the link and the feedback! It's been very helpful, I think.
posted by BLDGBLOG at 4:01 AM on January 14, 2010

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