Chasing the American Dream
"They sold us the American dream...and it turned out to be shit."
We grew up in Flint, down on Fourth Street. Across the alley from Hoffman's Deli, on the corner next to the Lancaster's with their nine kids and that old hound dog who howled most nights at the moon. On warm summer nights, the AM radio played the soulful melodies from Detroit — they rang through our minds all night long. It was the late sixties – long before the city went broke and almost burnt to the ground. I was eleven. We lived in a diminutive brick house, father, mother, Truman and me. Truman turned sixteen the year I turned twelve. Father was convinced that this year was going to be the one. My father was the most optimistic man I knew. Optimists are a rare breed.
As individual societies form within cities, they are pressed to either evolve or be left behind. In the twenty-first century, a positive vision has emerged to recruit future citizens for an enticing community. The ideal utopian community consists of every need being within the reach off all citizens of the community. There are no hardships or key elements of society left unnoticed for the utopian vision. Everything is perfect and will continue to stay this way. However, for things to remain the same, everything must change. The utopian vision reaches deep within human desires to create a sense, a need, for positivity within ourselves in order to dream of a better tomorrow. This reverie of utopian success is dangled like a carrot in front of a horse, tantalizing all individuals, who in their desire for a better life, are willing to gamble their current situation for the chance of obtaining something more lucrative. For the individual this commitment can range from a deeply personal goal to provide a comforting future for themselves and their families or the promise of something better, a way of leaving the worst behind.
This is Zero
As I lie on the couch staring deep into a taupe paisley print of the chesterfield, the tapping sound of a small hammer radiates through the floorboards. My eyelids become heavy from the rhythmic tapping sound of a small hammer radiating from the basement. As I drift deeper I can see in my mind's eye the eye glasses of my father. The thin wire frames perfectly wrapping thick lenses are low on his long narrow nose, far from his furrowing brow. He meticulously places finishing nails snug into the side of a mahogany desk. Three short blows and a final tap for good measure. I imagine the desk my father has been building every summer evening, resting heavily inside the foyer of our new home that awaits us.
The evolution of a contemporary city is constantly mapped under the swath of microscopic scrutiny. Before a city goes under the knife, there is a laborious and logistical process of establishing a starting point for this dissection. This is zero. The effect of zero in a city is not a symptom, it is a quality. The zero effect is a quality that exists in a phenomena that are both good and bad, providing professional detachment where it is most needed. This zero starting point, is a starting point for us to measure the growth of a city, but it also marks the point at which a city has become nothing. The incubator of growth begins with a center that is a known quantity, the city, with an inherent ability to survive in an incubator on a lifeline, begins with zero. Scientifically and mathematically the idea of zero is extremely complicated and filled with an infinite amount of unknowns. However, when it comes to evaluating cities, defining a starting point of zero is an opportunity to begin an urban transformation.
My family is of Polish decent. My grandfather came to this country, alone. He was eleven years old. His grandmother put him on a ship to America, desperately wanting to free him from the war. This shimmer of hope, along with many other immigrants, took my grandfather to Ellis Island. My parents were born and raised in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. There are times when my mother is in the kitchen, surround by rising steam. All the pots are a gentle boil as she continues to carefully slice and drop ingredients to the rolling liquid. Sausage, dumplings, potatoes, sauerkraut. There are times when my mother quietly hums to herself while she is cooking. The steam arising from the pots and her gentle hands going through the same repetitive motions preparing the food are therapeutic to her. I can see this in the methodical way she approaches the preparation. The rest of my family stirs up a rumpus in the living room. My mother is in the kitchen, alone.
A growing city is not a healthy city. A shrinking city is not a dying city. In large cities, the melting pot of cultures produces a remarkable overlap that exposes people of all backgrounds to one another. This overlapping awareness of previously unfamiliar cultural ideologies is a byproduct of large cities. However, in Middle America, mid-size cities often produce a homogenous cityscape filled with a cultural blandness that spreads deep into the suburbs. The large, contemporary city, where the culture is constantly shifting and variable, embraces this constant shifting and produces a system that can respond accordingly. To address these shifts, mid-size cities often respond with 'downsizing strategies' or 'creative shrinkage,' responses that advocate progressive planning strategies like a 'return to nature.' Whatever the proposed tactics may be, many city leaders are advocates for a repositioning of infrastructure or services. The growth of suburbs, as a resultant to the shrinking of city centers, has long been thought of as a major factor in the degradation of the urban city center. The most reviled aspects of suburbia -- the sameness, the repetitive installation of the same chain-retail clutter -- stand in direct contrast to what has traditionally defined a city -- density, variety and uniqueness. Is it possible that a city in decline is a healthy suburb in the making?
Follow the Leader
I was not old enough to remember when we moved into this house. One of my first memories is the thick, deep blue shag carpet and the feeling of it slipping between my fingers every time someone would pick me up and redirect me towards an area less fascinating. It's funny how this concept of constantly redirecting me towards something less appealing would continue through most of my adolescence. Everywhere Truman went I was ten steps behind, regardless if he knew I was there or not. This time I was following him down the railroad tracks, mimicking his steps along the rails, falling off when he did, even if I didn't lose my balance. As we would enter the base buildings surrounding the abandon grain silos Truman would make sure I was closer behind, but never too close. The slivers of light passing through decaying roof would highlight his dark black jean jacket in a white golden glow that drew me in closer. So close I can almost touch it. The heavy air filled with moldy moisture subdued the echoes of our feet upon the concrete floor slightly covered in remnants of petrified grain. As we continue thru the building and head up the spiral stair to the silos Truman gains more ground on me. I start to become slightly scared that the rusty metal staircase will come loose from the supports embedded in the concrete. As we go higher and higher every now and then my hand slips from the rail as I try and make sure Truman isn't too far above me. As we get ascend higher an uneasiness comes upon me. Then suddenly a bright golden light breaks through the darkness falling infinitely down the interior of the silo beside me. Truman has reached the top of the silos. I wish I was closer to him as my hand continues to follow the railing to the top. Sometimes it feels as if my ability to control life is just beyond the reach of my fingertips.
The contemporary American landscape is exhausted. With an exhausted infrastructure system that was once ahead of its time, thoughts about creating and infinitely renewable society, have long expired. With the exploitation of social, and economic resources the physical environment is digested and discarded in perpetual search for the next American frontier. The utopian visions that often guide our impulses as we plan the future for our societies should be enhanced. Perhaps it is these utopian impulses that should be profoundly stated the normative condition for our personal and political thinking? If, however, we choose to evaluate our current situation based simply on political thinking, then we are stuck with the way things are. Things could even get, worse. To abandon the utopian impulse in our thinking is to imprison ourselves with in the world as it is and give up the possibility of a perfect vision of our future, regardless of how small, fleeting and compromised that future utopia might be
Bigger and Bigger
Truman comes flying through the back screen door screaming at the top of his lungs. I can hardly make out the words. His breathing is so rapid and heavy he is practically choking trying to get the words through his throat and off his tongue. As Truman begins to overcome gargles of saliva and transition into words, the noise has garnered reaction from my father in the basement. The sound of racing footsteps up the hollow staircase from the basement grows louder as he reaches the top step and slams the basement door open against the wall. In my mind, time has slowed to a crawl. The startling sound of the basement door against the drywall, instantly took my memory to the numerous times our mother has reprimanded us for the same carelessness. As kids we would constantly chase each other through the small one story house smacking against everything in our path. Completely lackadaisical that everything our parents had provided for us came from their daily hard work. As my mind comes back to consciousness, and I translate the slurring words from Truman that he has accidently started a fire in the garage. Apparently he thought it would be a good idea to keep smoking while he put gas in the lawnmower. As my father races through the back door and grabs the hose off the side of the house running across the yard towards the billows of black smoke coming from the side garage door. After the small garage fire has been extinguished and the fire trucks are departing away from the curb, my mom enters the driveway. She is already screaming, before she even exits the car.
Demand has surpassed supply. The current ideological process of human consumption and discard is ultimately neglected, due to the human mentality that occurs by enabling a complete disregard for the realization of where, and how, the supply is originated. The notion of straining natural resources as human desire increases far past their demand supersede their environmental quality. The vast, sprawling landscape of the American frontier gives in to the human ability in which communities consistently abuse areas of land in order to create the next area for use. Constant consumption is due to the fact that this is a vast country with still more area for development and consumption. The bigness of this problem is also related as bigness that is embedded in the mid-sized American city. If we are to define the medium as 'big' or 'bigness' there is a general perception of American life and culture that is consumed with bigness. It comes as a definite reality that supports grows around one 'big' plan to use culture as a reason to overcome the numerous problems that confront the mid-size American city. These cities are currently lodged in the effect of post industrialization, urban migration and ecological instability.
Bits and Pieces
As we coast down the interstate highway through large rolling hills of endless cornfields my forehead rests hard against the window in frustration. As I breathe the window fogs up slightly near my nose, and is quickly evaporated from the cold air churning from the vents. My mother is having a visit from the devil, as she likes to refer to it. My father always takes the blunt end of these menopausal scenarios. This time Truman and I simply put our arms inside our tee shirt and hands in our armpits to keep warm in the back seat. Several hundred miles down the road the sun begins its retreat behind the mountains in the far distance. This is a sign that the driving for my father is coming to a close for the day. Soon we will find a motel just on the other side of Denver at the base of the foothills. Definitely not far off the highway, this is not a vacation. We are moving to our new home in San Bernardino. As the sun has set and I know the next exit or two will be today's destination a comforting calm has come upon me. I slouch further in the back seat, the safety belt that was over my shoulder now is a head rest to one side. The thoughts of my new life don't seem to frighten me now. I feel calm and confident about my new friends, new school, new neighborhood. Everyone back in Flint was extremely excited for us. What I didn't know at the time is that there were a lot of families that were extremely resentful. They would talk behind my mother's back after she passed them in the isle of the grocery store. I am awoken abruptly by the jolting slam of the car door.
In mid-size American cities, migrating populations are the result of shifting communal demographics. Upon further investigation within these mid-size cities, we find that the citizens are the ultimate consumers of the landscapes they occupy. These citizens are constantly searching for adaptable solutions to contemporary dilemmas of how to occupy and use their cities. Individual communities, and citizens, now have a greater role determining how their cities will function. A community can no longer be controlled by larger government operations that enforce and determine where and how the city around it evolves. The physical city is only as strong as its population. Civic engagement, combined with ancillary effect should be the catalyst to reposition culture's role in the contemporary American city.
"CATCH YA LATER MODERNISM..."
The approach of modern architecture when introduced to society was conceived to be no more than a rational and unprejudiced response to twentieth century enlightenment. Colin Rowe is interested an approach towards modernism that subjects the theoretical approach in order to distinguish what is still prevalent. Through this critical approach, modern architecture is a reflection of the period, and the period is establishing a style that is not a style because it is the accumulation of objective reactions to external actions. Rowe lists characteristics for the style of modern architecture to be authentic, valid, pure and clean, self-renewing and self-perpetuating. The fact that Rowe places known physical characteristics to create a style with self-reflecting qualities contradicts the theory of modern architecture as defined by Peter Eisenman in his dissertation written in 1963.
Eisenman states that form, in modern architecture, can be differentiated and subdivided in to two types: generic and specific. Generic forms are platonic solids in three dimensions, specific form is an actual physical configuration that is related to a response to a particular intent and function. This differentiation between Rowe who is establishing a rhetoric for a style and Eisenman who is establishing a rhetoric on how to 'read' style. This inherent 'lateness' within modern architecture has progress through the theories of Wittkower, Rowe and Esienman. Specifically noted, the formal basis of modern architecture as proclaimed by Eisemnam is the primacy of form. Within form, the idea of architectural volume is seen as three dimensional object developing in time and space. Even through the 1960's when architectural theory tended to place an emphasis on history and iconography, but then to allow the limitations set for technique and technology to enhance this emphasis. Technique and technology are then inherently 'late' to the discourse and used as a post rationalization to clarify progressive thought. This post rational though and discussion of modernism laid the foundation for the architectural issues of the 1970's which involved linguistics and semiotics to rationalize form.
The issues laid forth by Eisenman, with his established theory of the 'generic' and the 'specific', can be related to the issues of 'science' and 'history' brought forth by Rowe. The varying issues of disguise to represent form presents history and science as a way to post rationalize modernism. This concept of representational form, that is then recognized by the architect as 'facts' and thus endorses form through 'science' becomes the instrument of 'history' through post rationalization, which is always late, allows all issues and problems with the architects ability to describe the work and for the origin of form to disappear. Thus relieving the architects ability to be responsible and ultimately liable for the work.
The lateness of modernism through the writings of Rowe and Eisenman confront the issues of creating a situation for society to transcend into greater existence thought architecture. They discuss different ways that architecture has morally be acceptable through the process of pseudo-sciences and history to protect their claim. But if theory is to establish a system of priorities based on a logistical consistency, then the discourse and critique should be open-ended to allow the readability of volume and form.
PARTS AND WHOLES...WHOLES SACRIFICING PARTS... WHO IS PRODUCING THIS DIFFICULT WHOLE?
The 'part' to 'whole' relationship in the architecture of Alison and Peter Smithson establishes an image for the New Brutalist movement to hang it's hat on with their project for the School at Hunstanton. This project was designed in the spring of 1950 and is identified as the patriarchal image for New Brutalism. However, it was the Smithson's project for a house in Soho that was the Smithson's first categorized 'image' as New Brutalism.
Banham insists on the word 'image' with its ability to bridge the gap for New Brutalism so it will not be exposed as a cover up for projects that may hang in the balance between modernism and brutalism. The use of the word 'image' constitutes that the 'whole' has not been sacrificed to the 'parts' due an image as being understood that the individual parts make up the whole as a framed composition. However, the image of the disassembled typewriter intentionally composed by the Smithson's can be a point of contention. An image is based on the composition from a specific point of view, where a piece of architecture can be composed of specific elements to create a composition with their relationship to one another. This composition of architectural elements in their relationship to one another and the honesty for which they are used creates a strong foundation for the New Brutalist movement.
The School at Hunstanton exhibits an emphasis on materials and structure but also highlights the formal composition of New Brutalism. Alison Smithson states that the Soho house was intended "to have the structure exposed entirely, without interior finishes wherever practicable." If the Hunstanton project and the Soho house are the point of architectural reference for New Brutalism, then there needs to be characteristics that define this type of architecture. The individual characteristics that support New Brutalism have been established by Reyner Banham by clarifying three qualities of the formal object in question of its New Brutalist status. Banham lists that the formal legibility of plan, a clear exhibition of structure, and an evaluation of materials for their inherent qualities as found place a work of architecture in consideration to be included in the New Brutalist movement.
With this assessment of three characteristics by Banham to determine how the architecture qualifies its relationship to New Brutalism can create a difficult duality, which is expressed in the complexity and contradiction, but also the medium degrees of multiplicity. These complex conditions, which allow the 'parts' to become the 'whole', can be seen as the fragmentary parts interpreted as inflection. Venturi states "inflection in architecture is the way in which the whole is implied by exploiting the nature of the individual parts." The inflection of projection to the exterior establishes a connection that the inflected 'parts' are fundamental to the 'whole.' This inflection is a methodology of characterizing diverse 'parts' all while being able to imply continuity in viewing the 'whole.' This duality of inflection is the simple resolution of identifying the 'parts' of New Brutalism within the complex difficult whole.
REYNER VS. HANS - RUMBLE IN THE CONCRETE JUNGLE
The idea of environment by both Reyner Banham and Hans Hollein is approached by a hands on intervention where we humans intervene with a new way to interact with our current environment and the uncontrollable elements that are a part of it. Hollein places claim that architects need to stop thinking in terms of only buildings and consider the meaning and effect of the environments we inhabit. The idea of environment to be interpreted by media simulation is a rather naive proposal. However, Hollein does consider this type of media architecture extension in terms of its communication value and how that can be incorporated in to the human experience of our society.
Hollein's reference to the telephone booth as a medium of 'media communication' is a type of architecture that is of necessary physical size yet expands into global dimensions. Banham also references this type of communication as the supersession of the telegraph and telephone, which allowed for nationwide communication. This kind of environment is more directly related to the human body and has the ability to expand the human senses and bring vast areas in to direct relationship with themselves. This direct communication is one example of how we can use existing infrastructure to expand our experiences. Although the logistical ability for this is already in place, the more interesting thought by Hollein is the idea for the psychic possibilities and determinations of our environments.
This psychic possibility to determine the mental state of how an environment is interpreted by humans has its origins stated with Banham. The two basic ways of controlling, the environment was either avoiding the issue, which led to where architecture is today, or actually interfering with the meteorological conditions, which leads to Banham's proposal for the 'standard of living package.' This proposal for the standard living package would free man and his environment from the hard physical connection of mechanical interventions through architectural buildings and allow them nomadic freedom. The 'plastic bubble package' by Banham would allow humans to impose their will on any environmental situation for where the package could be delivered to enjoy the spatial freedom of this nomadic lifestyle without the limitations of camping and the luxury of home appliances without the responsibility of a static environment.
Both Banham and Hollein approach the idea of environment through the typology of the dwelling. Although they differ on the physical implementation to control the conditions of the environment, both conclude that the human environment can be altered through a psychological state. Is environment simply an interpretation of the human condition? Nevertheless, the interpretation needs to consider the idea of environment in order to be flexible and expansive for the variety of needs for the human condition. If society is to be open to accepting the social and personal mobility with the interaction of components, both physically and psychologically, then the architecture must support the evidence for an adaptability of such demands.
MODERNISM AND ITS TEMPORARY VISA
With the arrival of modernism in the America, there was optimistic view that architecture, specifically modernism, would be the transcendence of society onto a higher plane. This view was prolifically adopted by modernist architects of the time, most notably Peter Eisenman. However, the envisioned condition did not occur, modern architecture became inexpensive and widely available. This was as the architects always wanted their proposals to be; cheap, fast and clean, but this in reality because the devaluation of its content. There was no social vision, no political agenda for society in general to carry the immense acceptance of modernism.
The social agenda of modern architecture in Europe was conceived as an adjunct to the socialist regime and held its foundation in Marxism. In America, the modernist agenda of architecture was drastically ill equipped to establish a critical response to any historical social programs or politically critical lineage. The realized result of modern architecture in America was overtly devoid of any collective social concern and its associations were obsessively optimistic that a vision of utopian future world was highly inaccurate. According to Rowe, European modern architecture existed within an ultimate socialist ambiance, where American modern architecture did not.
It was in the 1930's that European modern architecture infiltrated the United States and that it was simply introduced as a new approach to construction with no other intentions. Therefore, it was introduced with no ideological foundations or societal morphological content, but conveyed as the meaning for living with a suitable facade for the corporate 'enlightenment' of capitalism. By this message, modern architecture in America was transformed. Modernism was now accepted by society as a safe claim for a gain towards investment capitalism and due to its distribution among specific classes of society assisted the positive development for the affluent portion of society.
Due to the strong establishment of modernism and its institutional acceptance the actual design and layout of the modern building was criticized for fundamental realities of inhabiting such spaces. The main criticism during this time was of programmatic relevance in how the building's design should coincide with its programmatic function. There was a direct correlation between architectural practice and architectural theory when a modernist building, although programmatically configured differently, could not be recognized as a factory or an art museum. This association led modernism into being misunderstood as a sophisticated and naive rearrangement of surfaces. With this discrepancy for the true intentions of modernism, Peter Eisenman took it upon himself to establish diplomacy to bring forward a strong foundation for modernism to be held.
Eisenman created his formal theory on architecture during his dissertation which is based on the primacy of form. The critical text by Eisenman establishes an origin for his work that is based on the logical and objective considerations that can provide a conceptual and formal basis for any form of architecture. The interest by Eisenman is in a language of order which he uses geometrical solids as absolute points of reference for any form of architecture, therefore he is not interested in the isolation of modern forms of architecture. Eisenman is strictly looking for an inherent order derived from a geometric reference to drive his work. The degree of modernist architecture through the workings of Eisenman in his true essence is the joining of form to intent, function, and structure, all while deploying techniques in the sense of primacy through the hierarchy of elements.
WALTER'S AURA AND HIS DISTRACTED ATTENTION
In establishing a concept of aura one must consider the eliminated element in the term ‘aura’ and understand that in the age of mechanical reproduction ‘aura’ is what is wasted. The technique of mechanical reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition for which is it was attached. Aura also implies an authenticity; however the authenticity can not be realized without its destruction through mechanical reproduction. The idea of authenticity is only called into question when it is threatened through reproduction. Benjamin further explains how the destruction of aura in the reproduction indicates the passage from the ‘artwork as icon’ to ‘artwork as exhibit’, which starts in the museum and translates to film.
Ben van Berkel also questions how one can replace the manipulative, one-dimensional image with something far more advanced and elusive. Ben van Berkel refers to this as ‘after image’, an image you take with you in your mind, and ever-renewing presence of thoughts and memories. UN Studio with United Architects proposal for New York City’s Ground Zero was a spatialized version of Russian Orthodox churches with a strong iconography to create a strong upward gaze. This is a way of using past iconography through a new lens to create an immense aura for the project.
Benjamin further discusses distraction through the platform of film and states that film was meant to be received in the state of distraction. The polar opposites of concentration and distraction are used to state that a person who concentrated before a work of oar is absorbed by it. Reception today is increasing noticeable in all fields of art and especially in film. Ben van Berkel also states that distraction needs a balance with long term vision to close the collusion between structural, conceptual and visual thought systems that persist in architecture and art. In contrast of distraction, the mass absorbs the work of art and it is impossible for concentration to exist. Benjamin states that architecture is a prototype for reception that is consummated by the collective in a heightened state of distraction.
BANHAM'S PRODUCT FETISH
In establishing a circumstance for architecture in its relationship to industrial design the concept has shifted from total design on the part of the architect, towards an arrangement that the architect no longer holds a position on the universal analogy of design.
In the beginning of the modern movement, architects were trained with the technical rigor providing them valid reasoning to relate their designs to the general human environment. This viewpoint can be called in to critical discourse when architects are presented with the design of items that commonly inhabit the same view and same space as the function of the buildings they design. This discussion will allow the architect to be heard, but his claim to the universal analogy of the designer must be questioned. Especially when their technical inadequacies are unmistakable, and all that is left is to design the exterior of an object for what has been technically resolved on the interior.
Even if architecture is incorrectly thought of to be an isolated or autonomous medium, it is actively engaged by the social, intellectual, and visual culture which is outside the discipline and which encompasses it. This theme of interdisciplinary design between architecture and industrial design is what drives the consumer culture to peruse their products and services.
The method of allowing the architect to establish the conceptual design and then find other trades to physically create their ideology is a direct methodology of how the architect is working today. However, it is this methodology where the architect has the most power as a consumer of culture. According to Banham, through contract furnishing, architects are among the most articulate and most powerful sections of consumers, and in some fields the most powerful absolutely.
Robin Evans describes the plan of a household space in Europe before the seventeenth century as a matrix of connected room that are appropriate to a type of society that feed on carnality, which recognized the body as a person and which sociability is customary. This was left unchallenged until the corridor plan was established in the nineteenth century. The ideology at this time saw the body as a vessel of mind and spirit for which privacy is customary.
However, the discourse on architecture at this time was comparative to art and literature for a resurrection from the methodology for which is highly associative. Similar to novels and portraiture, architecture is a vehicle for observation and reflection, architecture is overloaded with symbolism and its association to the ergonomics of the human body becomes a question of practicality. These questions of practicality by Evans challenges the position by Bernard Tschumi in that architecture by it social relevance and formal invention cannot be disassociated from the events that happen in it.
In the functional house for frictionless living by Alexander Klein the plan was a revised of a typical nineteenth century layout. The flow line diagrams reveal that the association of necessary movement from bed to bath is never interrupted by any social functions of the home. This eliminates all incidental encounters between public and private zones. In Tschumi’s case the exploration of the disjunction between expected form and expected use as a study on space versus program. Tschumi raised questions on conventional organizations of space that could be matched to the most surrealistically absurd set of activities. Establishing that the most intricate and perverse organization of spaces could accommodate the everyday life of an average suburban family.
In the work of Herzog de Meuron, Jeffery Kipnis refers to their built architecture as an urbane, cunning intelligence that provides an intoxicating erotic allure. In reference to HdM’s Signal Box, Kipnis begins to admire this project in its ability to effortlessly infiltrate architectural predispositions by dismantling them and creating a new temperament. This innovative personification of HdM’s work slightly enables their projects to sneak into our subconscious and purvey the ideology of high design regardless of architectural program and site realities.
In the discussion of the undeniable beauty of HdM’s facades Rem Koolhaas questions if architecture is reinforcement therapy? Or does architecture play a role in redefining and undermining the preconceived notions that architects should be aware of site surroundings and let their social obligation (or conscience) make the decision for them during the design process?
If there is a correct architecture for each situation the Signal Box is of architectural importance by its relation to the transformative power of the cosmetic. The cosmetic in architectural discourse is often thought of as a decorative application for excessive ornament. However, ornament is discreet to the form which reinforces the integrity of a formal taxonomy. The cosmetic has a unique relationship with form and its failures are in the realization to present a formal expression that is not convoluted in the process of aesthetic interpretation.
The aesthetic experience is a personal interpretation that combines affect with sentiment according to Greenberg. Lavin describes that when affect is understood as the internalization of perception, and other cultural predeterminations are detached, we can return to the experience without being confused by the cunning cosmetics that are so powerfully presented.
IMAGE IS EVERYTHING...ARE YOU SURE?
The theory of an image from the perspective of Fredric Jameson is based on the differences in culture between the modern and postmodern. In this difference, the cultural aesthetics as an expression of image is based on the differentiated systems of production. Jameson does not regard postmodernism production as a type of stylistic imagery, but as a cultural form analytical of a late capitalist ideology. Jameson refers to this as a conception which allows for the presence and coexistence of a range of very different yet subordinate features.
Cultural formalism as imagery is differentiated by postmodernism and places the emphasis on fragmentation of the image. Jameson explains this through a comparison of postmodernism and modernism which was differentiated by the fragmentation and alienation of modernism on society. There is an inherent lack of substance within postmodernism and is largely concerned with surface. Most postmodern works are characterized with a lack of depth and they portray a flatness of surface, such as the Bonaventura Hotel by John Portman. This ideology of surface Jameson also conveys toward cultural products and images that now communicate a lack of meaning and are impersonal. Jameson compares the work of Van Gogh’s peasant shoes and Warhol’s diamond dust shoes. This is most evident in the diamond dust shoes image in comparison to the peasant shoes painting. Acording to Jameson, the Warhol diamond dust piece has as a flatness and depthlessness, a new kind of superficiality which is the supreme formal feature of all the postmodernisms.
In the case of Alejandro Zaera-Polo his concern with the building envelope as surface is a method of political agent through communication. According to Zaera-Polo the classical approach to the envelope as a vehicle of expression and identity was to inscribe a conventional architectural language on the surface. The façade represented the building allegorically, as a signifier that located the building within a hierarchy of sociopolitical meaning.
The building envelope operates as a representational device. This envelope is the border, the edge, the enclosure and is extremely loaded with political content. Historically the plan or the section has been the dominant political forces; the plan organized the power structure and protocol while the section organized the vertical strata and relationship to the ground. The plan and section have always been the dominant features of a building, socially, while the envelope has portrayed a symbolic representational role in the buildings sociology. Perhaps it is the understanding of the envelope as surface, rather than a complex assemblage of materiality and geometrical determinations. However, the envelope and surface are heretically different, with a different set of ramifications projected to society. The envelope has the capacity to represent a political role that establishes a relationship between ‘humans’ and ‘nonhumans’ in a common world. This is most profoundly stated by Zaera-Polo as there is no such thing as a unitary theory of the building envelope in the history of architecture.
This unitary idea of the building envelope as the notion of ‘image as experience’ by Ben van Berkel attempts to establish the problems surrounding the visual manifestations in architecture. How a building is experienced visually will always remain central to architecture, but the image will always contain specific predilections. The question of image has largely been ignored and is rarely critically confronted today, this ideology of imagery carries the most weight in the land of the arts and is consequently avoided. This avoidance has abused of the image in architecture has been exacerbated beyond predilection.
Discourse on the image within architecture is a difficult experience to fixate upon. When talking about an image the immediacy becomes all about architectural styles and how they can be exaggerated or defined. This then leads to a discussion about style and how many styles can be incorporate to create a ‘new’ style. If the image is all about style, what about the architecture? The image of architecture is a style, if this style is unattractive, then the image has not been properly received. The ability to prevent ones work from becoming entrapped in a specific style will avoid the sense of alienation that reverberates in all architectural discourse, written or spoken.