February 7, 2008

To celebrate the uselessness and power of architecture. Florence Yall

If a building must convey more than a mannerist meaning of its own function, then that meaning has to be democratic. If it does not serve a broad audience, and ideally the general public, then there is no reason for architecture to have meaning. This is the problem with postmodernism. It is not funny because no one gets it. It is rendered useless because ninety nine percent of the people who engage the building have no understanding of what these historical references mean. Further, ninety percent of those people merely drive by it. Why would we we critique classicism? That is what modernism did. The response to classicism as if to say classicism is dead. Postmodernism is beating a dead horse.

I'm afraid we as architects are speaking a language that no one can understand. Buildings as they are built today do not carry the significance and power that we think they do. This is not to say that there aren't considerable nuances and implications attached to design, however, architecture is neither politics nor painting. It cannot change the world (actually the world dictates architecture in every way), nor does it have the communicative power of painting to arouse in us what painting and graphic arts only can. Building contains this power, but not on the same level as these other fine arts.

So the only solution can be an abandonment of elitist meaning in architecture. The building should either have a democratic message, which is possible, or no meaning at all. The non-meaning does not render a building useless, however. If it functions and looks beautiful, it is successful. To be tectonically didactic as a generator of form is one thing, say to show the mark of the maker, or to expose the building process to anyone who wants to see it. But there are more important aspects of a building than these "architecture for architectsy" details. There is nothing worse than designing for critics. If a building is truly great, it is embraced by the people who see it from the highway, the people who walk by it, and most importantly, the people who walk through it everyday.

Quasi-mockitect Renzo Piano states that "Buildings in some ways have a duty to suggest behavior." There is no question that a hot dog shaped hot dog stand does this. The building becomes synergistic with its function. Slap a super graphic that says "pinks" on the top bun, and there is your signage. (insert learning from las vegas quote here) Neo-California Crazy is a perversion and glorification of the building suggesting behavior. The other benefit to this over-expressing and literalization of pure form is the creation of a landmark. Along with this landmark comes identity and place. Piano goes on to state that, "Places are the portraits of communities. and if the place is impossible, then the community becomes impossible."

Take for example, this water tower out side Florence, KY. The anchor of the town, it incorporates from the community what the highest profile building cannot. Florence Y'all. Taking from local vernacular and creating a landmark to call their own. Many many people see this from the I-75 each day. No single piece of architecture carries more significance in this way in Cincinnati than this watertower. Across America, people identify with their unique buildings, and this is a concept that contemporary architecture has missed out on. A white box is a white box in Japan or Batesville, Indiana.

The consumer culture of America supports this notion. Consumerism ironically excels at stepping out of line architecturally. This is why so many of our landmarks are stores and restaurants. People are attracted to them because they can identify with them. It does not take 4+ years of school to figure out that a hot dog shaped hot dog stand is awesome.

1 comment:

DB said...

florence yall was changed from florence mall. the city florence owns the water tower, so they changed it from florence mall to florence yall, to avoid the city of florence directly advertising the mall itself