December 29, 2009

Hacked Advertisement

This brochure was found along a roadside stop in the middle of Ohio.  Aside from being a ridiculous advertisement, it raises some interesting thoughts regarding appropriation in design and architecture: the "borrowing" of aesthetic ideas, the exploitation of someone else's work for the advancement of an alternative agenda, an "additive" architecture generating unintended meaning through radicalist ad hoc design practices.  Anyway, here is an otherwise anonymous historic brick building monumentally converted to an iconic midwestern memorial.

December 15, 2009

Extra-Ordinary Buildings

Extra-Ordinary architecture is the opposite of Extraordinary architecture. It is terrible and naughty. In adopting Venturi's definition, Extraordinary (EO) architecture is heroic & original, while Extra-Ordinary (E-O) architecture is ugly & ordinary.

EO vs. E-O:
Homecoming Queen vs.Ugly Duckling
Iconic Buildings vs. Ordinary Buildings (subverting Iconic Buildings)
"Duck" vs. "Decorated Shed"
$$$$ vs. $
"I fit in with the crowd" vs. "I am (flamboyantly) restrained"
minimalism vs. M A X I M A L I S M
high art vs. pop art
"idiot avante garde" vs. "everyday populism"
"good" aesthetics vs. "bad" aesthetics
critically acclaimed vs. offensive and embarassing to the profession

Figure 1: "Look at me."

A simple wood-clad gable shed outshines it's historic brick-clad neighbors by presenting an attention-grabbing false front facade to the street.

Figure 2: "Monumentally tiny."

A curiously small, unassuming concrete building stands along side typical residential buildings. Perhaps a long lost twin brother of an obscure conceptual Corbusian house?

Figure 3: "Historical Marker."

One of my personal favorites: an economical concrete block office wearing a rather spectacular historic cupola top hat. This perhaps is the defining image of an extra-ordinary architecture.

Figure 4: "Elevated to new heights."

A shotgun-style house monumentally elevated on a CMU block pedestal. I am giddy with anticipation awaiting the installation of an equally monumental staircase for the front door (which seems quite lonely right now).

Figure 5: "Suburban Irony."

Oops! An asymmetrical entrance on an otherwise perfectly symmetrical building. Those witty developers! How dare them!

Figure 6: "Tectonic Follies, or, Built Jokes."

Ahhh suburbia: A large surface parking lot is presented with a monumental entrance to a retail building...just kidding. That's a brick wall. Ha. You stupid shoppers. This building mocks its want-to-be shoppers, luring them into parking near what they think is the entrance, only to force them to walk all the way around to the entrance on the opposite side.

December 11, 2009

Fashion vs. Architecture: a battle for popularity and attention

Previously on the Mockitecture WebLog, we have compared fashion and architecture. We have considered people dressed in building costumes, and also unfashionable buildings dressed in trendy fabric patterns. Which profession enjoys better publicity among the media and mainstream public?

Fashion design's spectacular runway events are by far the most popular, glamorous, and publicized out of any high profile design event. What would the architectural equivalent to this be? Perhaps all that comes close is the ritual "ribbon cutting" events - or better yet, the "breaking ground" events. These media-crazed, highly politicized events are exceedingly ridiculous as they typically involved oversized scissors and older wealthy men pretending to dig a shovel into the ground which, at times, is far from the actual construction site. While fashion design beats architecture popularity and pure glamour, architecture wins when it comes to goofy spectacles and (accidentally humorous) publicity stunts! Hoo-ray for fake, oversized scissors!!

December 10, 2009

Neo-Venturian Activism, Anyone?

"Suburban sprawl eludes our concepts of urban form.  It isn't enclosed or directed like the space of traditional cities -- it is open and indeterminate. [...] Traditional urban architecture is praised for its "unity" and suburbia is denigrated for its "conformity." [...] In the undefined space of the commercial strip, we find our way through signs and symbols, and in the vast space of suburbia there is a similar need for explicit symbolism." - Robert Venturi

Venturi Scott Brown and Associates’ Signs of Life exhibition – a by-product of their 1970 Yale studio, Learning From Levitown – explored the chaotic topic of American suburban aesthetics.  The messiness of a landscape otherwise unacknowledged by academia and the profession demanded new methods of documentation and analysis.  It just so happens that one of the most exciting aspects of VSBA’s work during this time was the manner in which they adapted their urban analysis techniques to a non-place (suburbia).  I'm referring specifically to the hierarchical maps of signs on the commercialized "Strip" of Las Vegas, their overwhelmingly informative image-boards, and yes, even those infamous scenes of banal suburban spaces speaking (via glorified cartoon bubbles) about the multitude of – often ironic – juxtapositions of architectural styles found embedded within the fabric of our everyday lives.  

Experimentation with documentation and analysis emphasizes the value VSBA places in understanding context – that immediate and no-so immediate surroundings can inform and interact with a specific building and visa versa.  And nowhere is this lesson more critical than in the suburbs where "messiness" and "chaos" are the only adjectives to describe the product of sprawling, vehicular-scaled spaces with a developer-led haphazard eclecticism of nostalgic architectural styles and time periods. There is something to be said for the blatant, matter-of-fact manner in which VSBA communicates how the built environment communicates to us.  It's almost as if you don't know whether you are expected to laugh or take notes.  This type of "serious-but-funny" inquiry strikes me as both dynamic and richly layered, and a characteristic theme of VSBA's work as a whole.  Such qualities are evident in the 1975 City Edges Planning Study (Philadelphia).

It was as if VSBA’s playful cartoon bubble descriptions, originally a fantastical thought contained within the walls of the art museum, were all of a sudden released into the wild.  Now the billboards surrounding prominent roadways could be exploited for the dissemination of information to passersby about their environment. 

VSBA’s seminal work in articulating the relationship between constructs and context is neither wholly unique to VSBA nor at the leading edge of contemporary theory.  On the contrary, their work builds upon a line of thought that was shared by - among others - Renaissance-era Mannerists who dealt with themes of dialogue, play, and communication centuries ago.  Today, nearly forty years after VSBA's work with signs and symbols in the American city, street artists are subversively working with the same ideas.

Alas, the economy we are in has afforded us the blessing of vacant advertisement space: and no media is left out (television, print, and billboard space is all up for grabs!)  This provides an extraordinary opportunity to revisit VSBA’s extra-ordinary work concerning signs and symbols contained within the American landscape.  No longer will billboards along thorofares and highways needlessly promote messages of local and national corporations; of private interests and narrowly held points of view. Rather, the space can be used to promote a more civic and nationalist agenda at a time when the entire country is recovering from the worst of the economic downturn.  At the very least, Venturi-inspired environmental graphics can contribute to and expand upon the American landscape, rather than adding a particularly inauthentic quality to our beloved towns and cities. 

I'll leave you with these rather simple proposals for unassuming billboards I pass every day on my commute to work.  Rather than spending the time to photograph each case study, I've found Google Street View to be a much quicker and perhaps easier-to-digest method of representation.  These were influenced both by VSBA's passion for discovering the signs and symbols of American life, and street artists attempts to reconfigure advertisment space in the public sphere.  A sort-of Neo-Venturian Activism, I guess?!

Figure 1.

The first example occurs at a prominent intersection just before the entrance to a highway.  The billboard attempts to point out a historic hilltop neighborhood, which happens to be ironically partially blocked by its own form.

Figure 2.

Next, we see a spectacular downhill approach to the city, framed by painted ladies staring longingly at the city below.  This image is wholly a representation of "San Francisco" - both in spirit and content.

Figure 3.

With the silhouette of the city skyline beyond, this billboard references the vacant lot immediately in front of it.  It favors the extra-ordinary over the extraordinary, and for that I believe VSBA would be proud.

Figure 4.

Finally, a billboard that challenges its immediate surroundings - those which have become quite uninteresting and dull over the years.

December 6, 2009

Dueling Doors

dontknockitecture and myself have decorated the front door to my apartment to look like a door. Bet you can't guess which door is mine...

December 4, 2009

Decorated Sheds and Other Things

In the spirit of the upcoming holidays, the Mockitecture WebLog has designed a series of Christmas cards!  A collection of beautifully photographed modernist buildings have been unnecessarily decorated with festive holiday ornaments.  Mies' Seagram Building is topped with a monumental santa hat - and a minimal "clip art" santa hat, at that!  You're welcome, Mies.

Below, Mies' Farnsworth House is cluttered with - among other things - an extra-large inflatable Santa Claus.  It's quite surprising how unrecognizable the building looks under all of that applied ornament.  While designing this image, I came to the realization that high modernist buildings make fantastic decorated sheds.  Their simply pure forms  are essentially blank canvasses for the artist to attack.  Perhaps in the near future we will all be adaptively reusing minimalist glass and steel frame Miesian buildings into neon-clad hot dog stands?  I can only hope so...

I digress.  Next, a view of the Western Approach Car Park in Plymouth (Devon County, UK).  In this surreal scene, massive candy cane columns emerge out of the top deck of the brutalist parking structure.  Meanwhile, Santa is desperately clinging to a rope (detail photo at bottom) presumably because parking garages are lacking chimneys - which happen to be Mr. Claus' most comfortable form of egress.

Upon further research, I have discovered this is the lowest priced car park in Plymouth and is located adjacent to a Toys R Us!  Perhaps Santa was stealing borrowing toys?  As for the candy cane columns, I think they should be added to all brutalist buildings during the holidays.  How could you disagree!?

November 27, 2009

Victorian Nonsense

Figure 1, circa 1920.

This spectacular photograph shows what looks to be a rural farm home quietly roaming across the prairie. The scene is incredibly tense as a single, lonely tree stands in the background on the left, flanked by two additional (mobile?) homes on the right. A smoky fog adds to the mystique of the photo. In another lifetime, historians may come across this image and proclaim suburban sprawl occurred in this manner: entire homes drifting quietly and blindly through a dusty, undeveloped, (perhaps even war torn) landscape...

For more historic photos and the image featured above, visit: Square America Snapshot Archive Blog

November 25, 2009

Spa For Deviants

In the search for more systemic, less iconic mockitecture, I bring you the Spa for Deviants. Its Programming and Space Planning are tailored for Deviants.

November 6, 2009

What a Jerk!

This was the incredible scene from last Sunday's New York City marathon: Michel Bach, of France (did I really need to say where he was from?), runs a marathon with a 10-foot tall plastic replica of the Eiffel Tower. He actually had to duck under balloons along the race course! This all is strangely similar to an old post we published here at the Mockitecture WebLog about a topic we identified as "Personitecture" (a.k.a. people dressed as buildings, or, building mascots). Bach joins the ranks of people like the architects responsible for some of New York City's greatest buildings, Philip Johnson, and Conan O'Brien. Anyway, I'm waiting for that inevitable retaliatory Statue of Liberty costume to appear on an American cyclist during the Tour de France. Take THAT, France!

I'll leave you with a special image from the infamous 1931 Beaux Arts Ball. Below is architect William Van Allen, in a legendary costume, pictured with his wife (via

November 4, 2009

A Mobile Wedding Machine

Last night, Charles Gibson - sporting a wonderfully pink tie - introduced Americans to the idea of Mockitecture. The news segment featured Reverend Darrell Best's mobile wedding chapel, a fascinating vehicle part historic fire engine, part church. Lovingly named the Best Man, this "wedding machine" features stained glass windows and miniature pipe organs. The fire engine - with its functionally rough and rugged personality - has collided with the church, which in it's own right is rather good natured and mild mannered. The Best Man is satisfyingly eclectic and undoubtedly complex and contradictory. Such a provocative pairing of religion and emergency response does in fact elicit a few questions. The most pressing would be why a mobile church is not an imitation of Reverend Best's permanent church in Shelbyville, Illinois? After seeing images of the Best Wedding Chapel (shown below), I must admit I was quite disappointed by the fire truck version of the church. On the other hand, I was thrilled to discover the opportunities a sturdy truck frame can provide: the possibilities are endless! Ironically, since Rev. Best is the driver of the truck, he must outsource his own job to another ordained minister willing to engage in rather unconventional practice: marrying a couple at breakneck speed. As a result, the truck-church now curiously remains parked for weddings which takes most, if not all, of the excitement out of getting married in a vehicle. Happy couples are left to get married in parking lots rather than on the open road. Despite these (and I'm sure other) setbacks, I appreciate Reverend Best's radical ideas. Be sure to catch the 2 minute news segment on YouTube.

Snapshots from Beyond: Part 2

These gems from a recent road trip to the South (USA) begged me to visit Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Their marketing campaign featured wildly colorful birds, exotic animals, and adventure games all with subtle religious overtones. Perhaps the phenomenon of highway cities - or those which have originated and been sustained by the highway - is a topic that deserves greater attention? For their Main Streets are a bizarre mash up of utopian desire and tourist industries. By the way, did you know the tomb of Jesus is actually in Pigeon Forge, TN!?!

October 26, 2009

Snapshots From Beyond: Part I

These artifacts from a 2008 trip to Western Europe are a convincingly successful Dutch marketing ploy. At the very least, I have been inspired to return to Amsterdam. After all, who wouldn't want to see an entire city at 1:25 scale for a 1,50 Euro discount!? They remind me of curious advertisements collected along American Interstate Rest Areas - shouting and screaming at tired travellers to drive hours out of their way to view spectacles that would otherwise be unknown. Snapshots From Beyond: Part II coming soon...

October 19, 2009

The World's Best Buildings

Earlier this month, Travel + Leisure (T+L) released what they consider to be the 15 "Ugliest Buildings in the World." Today, we would like to release a list of our choices for "Most Beautiful Buildings in the World." The two lists are included below:

Travel + Leisure's Ugliest Buildings in the World:
1. The Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea
2. Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) Building, London
3. Harold Washington Library, Chicago, Illinois, USA
4. The Obelisk, Puerto Maldonado, Peru
5. Longaberger Home Office, Newark, Ohio, USA
6. Portland Building, Portland, Oregon, USA
7. The Fang Yuan Building, Shenyang, China
8. Bolwoningen Houses, Hertogenbosch, Netherlands
9. National Library, Minsk, Belarus
10. The UFO House, Sanjhih, Taiwan
11. The Ideal Palace, Hauterives, France
12. Metropolitan Cathedral, Liverpool, England
13. The Experience Music Project, Seattle

Mockitecture's Most Beautiful Buildings in the World:
1. The Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea
2. Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) Building, London
3. Harold Washington Library, Chicago, Illinois, USA
4. The Obelisk, Puerto Maldonado, Peru
5. Longaberger Home Office, Newark, Ohio, USA
6. Portland Building, Portland, Oregon, USA
7. The Fang Yuan Building, Shenyang, China
8. Bolwoningen Houses, Hertogenbosch, Netherlands
9. National Library, Minsk, Belarus
10. The UFO House, Sanjhih, Taiwan
11. The Ideal Palace, Hauterives, France
12. Metropolitan Cathedral, Liverpool, England
13. The Experience Music Project, Seattle

Upon further consideration, you will notice that T+L's list tends to be an assault on (overly-hated) postmodernism. What good does it do to reinforce a grudge that has lasted nearly twenty years!? Nothing like kicking someone when they're down.

T+L's "Worst" list has treaded into the dangerous category of architectural taste and may not come out alive! Comments left by angry readers of the article include titles such as "Author needs to travel more," "Is this a joke?" and "World's Dumbest Author." Contradictorily, the Mockitecture WebLog team fully pardons the author because of his/her name, which happens to be Bunny Wong!

Why are so many people offended with Wong's accusation that these PM buildings are ugly? Perhaps pop architecture - which became too popular to be cool in the 1980's-1990's - has become cool again? ...Or at least enough time has passed for everyone to realize that a select number of buildings on T+L's list are actually stunning examples of innovation, creativity, and ambition.

Take the Longaberger Home Office Building in midwestern America. This classic example of a duck building puts the Longaberger basket company on the map with an iconic headquarters that defines & advertises the company while attracting costumers and providing a memorable sense of place (not to mention an award-winning construction method). If it were not for this building, none of us would know about the Longaberger basket.

Also featured is the Fang Yuan Building in China which successfully merges the eastern and western world with a capitalist/corporate office tower in the distinctive shape of an ancient Chinese coin (another Duck building, for those of you keeping count).

All in all, it turns out the World's Ugliest Buildings are actually rare examples of iconic architecture that dares onlookers to see beyond a hard-to-digest facade of gaudy blue glazing and stylized classical elements. If you indeed succeed at that, you will discover architecture at it's most authentic and aspirational state. I, for one, am looking forward to discovering more "bad" architecture in the near future. By the way, who wants to design a 10-story sofa for Crate & Barrel's headquarters? (Thanks for the tip, Wong).


October 15, 2009

Power Rankings

The Mockitecture WebLog team loves partaking in trendy things, and since the trend among our fellow colleague-bloggers seems to be linking to articles worth reading, here's our contribution. This is the first of what I hope to be a weekly installment of commentry that catches our eye here at the Mockitecture WebLog.
10.) The Sesquipedalist is desperately contemplating the act of tweeting. Why do we do it? Highlights from the Sesquipedalist's rant (I'm using "rant" in an approving manner):

  • “Perhaps it's the interminable loneliness of the long-distance PhD-er who cries out into the wilderness ‘is anybody out there?’ only to receive the reply of ‘Eating a battenburg slice, listening to Fat Freddie's Drop’.”
  • “Twitter has attracted an architectural contingent of which, I think, I am on the margins. I tend to follow this architectural Twitterati (neither of my real friends who I really meet have a Twitter account) as it weaves its eclectic narrative, casting judgment and consensualising taste. The people I follow are mainly linked to this group, forming a new high-tech version of a closed circle.”
  • “The amazing thing is how often people update. Don't they have real things to do? Don't I? Yes. But I don't smoke, so can consider this my fag break without having to go outside. Maybe every loo will soon be fitted with a Twitter interface to guarantee being regular.”
  • “This twitter character I've constructed is stranger than the blog one and not very like the real me. If people met me in vivo, I'm sure they'd wonder where the in silico version went because in reality I'm quite a shy, quiet person lacking in confidence, whereas in twitter format, it's only possible for me to be a man of words whose 140 characters are the same height as everyone else's.”
9.) The Canadian Centre for Architecture’s new website taught us you can enjoy motion sickness from the comfort of your own home. Here's how: go to their website, maximize your internet browser window, sit really close to your monitor.
8.) Clayton Miller shows us the future (in 8.5 minutes).
7.) Life Without Buildings would like you to rage against the machine with this rousing discussion about the Situationists & Guy Debord. Venturi would be proud of Lw/oB for this rather innovative method for documenting architecture in the modern age.
6.) Fantastic Journal promises to tell us in the eWorld why suburbia isn’t funny anymore – a topic that the Mockitecture WebLog team is already enthusiastically denying. Sir Charles also includes some kind words for this WebLog in his “last post for awhile” post.
5.) VisuaLignual shows what happens when artists and architects collaborate together: "...illustrations that situated Ford cars against fantastic backdrops, combining gorgeous natural scenery with outlandish architecture."
4.) Eikonographia has a rather enjoyable musing on the implications of designing a W-shaped building, as BIG has done in Prague: “The case of the ‘W’ building designed by BIG is however more complicated. We might not know the word the ‘W’ refers to, but we do know it’s a ‘W’. That is something. This building is a ‘W’. There are few letters in the alphabet as cool as a ‘W’. It is not at all like soft ‘J’ or a hard ‘K’. A ‘W’ is far more relaxed. Double-U. Its symmetrical figure is thorough and strong. It is nothing, but something.”
3.) Pruned speculates over the possibility of an Urban Winter Olympics for all of those Chicagoans still depressed about their recent losing bid on the summer games. Man-made mountains and the conversion of Soldier Field for ski jumping? What more could you ask for!?
2.) The Infrastructurist shares thoughts on some of the "world's ugliest buildings" as determined by Travel + Leisure. Upon closer inspection, the list appears to be nothing more than another jab at overly hated post modern architecture. Not to worry, as Mockitecture is planning a reactionary post to this topic as well.
1.) Strange Harvest discovers London's "Best New Building": “An assemblage of totally ordinary elements (billboard, hoarding, fencing) and totally ordinary programmes (newsagent, advertising site, mini cab office). But the relationship between these elements makes it something amazing. [...] One part becomes the structural support for another, something else becomes a revenue stream generated from a perimeter enclosure. Together, they develop highly pragmatic response to a left over piece of urbanism, maximising the potentials of use.”

October 10, 2009

YouTube As Cultural Vault

It is not often that the Mockitecture Weblog gets to debut a project or artist. Or at least one that anyone else would like to debut.

As the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close (yikes), YouTube has established a prominent role in pop culture. Started as a hosting site, it has quickly become much more. The role of the site has changed dramatically, including a transformation of its use, battles over its use, and the emergence of its meta-use. Within YouTube exists a survey of the current human condition. Reality TV, DIY movies, post-MTV music videos, etc. mesh with rapidly expanding social media. YouTube is not just a media, its is a medium. Many videos on youtube are in response to other videos, and a whole culture has developed within and around it.
YTDJ420_69 has encapsulated the idea of an international cultural vault in his live performances. From the artist's website...
"Part performance piece, part improv DJ set, and part video art, YTDJ420_69 creates a meta-use collage of youtube videos, incorporating youtube's infinite pool of video, music and historical footage. Uniquely tailored to each circumstance, the live YJing events can be anything from poorly executed DJ set to moving cinematographic masterpiece."

Within the format, many issues arise. The idea of chance, not knowing the next video's exact contents is exciting. When mixing, the overlap is the key relational element. A YJ cannot match beats, nor achieve production slickness, so the relationships of individual pieces are much more arbitrary. Further, the amount of information is doubled in YJing. The addition of visual material makes a fourfold matrix of overlay. Because YJing is performed on the fly, there is no way to know exactly what will happen. Chance takes over.

Also, DJ culture is critiqued. Anyone can be a DJ now. Forget turntables, if you have a computer, you're a DJ. Phil Oakey said about early Human League, "We thought we were the punkiest thing going at the time. We didn't even bother to learn to play guitar. We were using one finger." YJing is a part of the disintegration of internet culture. Uh Oh.

Also, the global experience economy is explicitly expressed by and finessed out of the defining internet application of our time. The limits of YouTube are, well, there are no limits. (In George W Bush voice) It is the virtual vault for all cultural artifacts, as well as a working storehouse of ideas. There are very few things as global as YouTube.

The beauty of the meta-use of YouTube and this technique is that when performed live and projected on a wall or screen, the audience can see everything that the YJ is doing on the screen.

October 1, 2009

The Ugly Duckling

Figure 1 Charmingly historic victorian architecture encounters a wildly inappropriate variation on brutalism.
In this scene, we see the latter attempting to blend in with the former: a "painted lady" and a want-to-be painted lady. This sets up what I would consider to be a sort of "transvestite" architecture. This simple sketch arises out of a curiosity for historic districts and their overarching control over architectural style and image. These two Painted Ladies raise some interesting questions. For instance, eclecticism (as exhibited on the right) can be a rather complex and witty endeavor. A purely minimal and honest building decorated with vivid layers of paint would make both modernists AND preservationists sick to their stomach. The result of such a pairing of historicism and modernism is something both curious and radical. I wonder what would happen if this situation were reversed: a victorian home force-fed a steady diet of concrete and modernism? Ultimately, the case of the Ugly Duckling is about buildings attempting to be something they are not. Is honesty and authenticity required in architecture today?

My answer to my question is NO - buildings have been lying to us for quite some time now...and we like it! They falsely tell us we have beautiful wood floors when in fact we have cheap, mass produced laminate laid over God knows what. They scream, "I am a brick building," when in fact they are a wood frame box with brick paneling. If such buildings resembled the children's tale, Pinocchio, the awnings over their entryway would project 50 feet outward...a growing nose for every lie they tell us. Perhaps false front buildings are just that: an exaggerated extrusion of the facade.

We live in uncertain and inauthentic times. Consider botox, viagra, and prescription drugs. Miraculous weight loss pills. A food industry with questionable food production, safety, and cleanliness issues. Also consider our suburban homes - especially McMansions - and their simulation of inflated wealth and success. Now everyone can own a mansion! (...or manor, or estate). Perhaps the ultimate image of inauthenticity in contemporary society is last years housing crash and the bursted bubble of wealth so many Americans were led to believe they had.

The Ugly Duckling - in this case a brutalist building forced to become a historic Victorian home - will undoubtedly be the loner of the neighborhood street. It may be laughed at and bullied by other homes in the neighborhood. It will be considered a poser and perhaps even a "Transvestite" Painted Lady. But ultimately it's eclectic image was simply generated by the context of the site: the desired uniformity of historic districts where Painted Ladies reside. For lack of better terms, the Ugly Duckling is successful because it is complex and contradictory. It's presence among Painted Ladies should be celebrated, not shunned! In the end, maybe historic districts are not so bad after all...

[images courtesy of N_O_R_T_O_N, EW and Laser Kit]

August 26, 2009

People + Buildings = Personitecture: An Attempt to Love our Hated Buildings

We all have a favorite mascot – whether it’s that crazy Philly Phanatic, the creepy guy dressed in a chicken suit on Main Street, or the Sears Tower Dressed in Sears Clothing. Wait...what!?

Today I want to talk about a new term I’m calling “Personitecture,” or rather, people dressed as buildings a.k.a. building mascots a.k.a. the personification of our most identifiable buildings. Architecture has a rich and intricately woven history with fashion design that seems to be ignored in academia and practice today - or at least not as celebrated as it should be. Specifically, I'm talking about the traditional "costume ball" which is popularly coined the Beaux Arts Ball after the annual celebrations held at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts.

The traditional Beaux Arts Ball is a fashion show that has been abused and contorted - a bit of American Idol mixed with America's Next Top Model mixed with America’s Got Talent: absurdity, elaborately contrived imagery, and a judges panel!

Wikipedia tells us: "'It is a riot, a revival of paganism, known elsewhere only in Italy. It is also, in its way, a hymn to beauty, a living explosion of the senses and the emotions,' wrote E. Berry Wall in Neither Pest Nor Puritan. Its reputation for fabulously designed nudity, louche antics, cross-dressing and high style encouraged imitators in American cities. In 1931, in New York, famous architects dressed up as their buildings and today, many American architecture schools hold similar costume balls."

Those 1931 NYC architects, in dressing up as the buildings they had designed, embraces the
spirit and personality of their buildings. Where one ornate tower was matched with precisely trimmed facial hair and added “flair,” another building lacking upper floor observation decks was matched with a costume lacking eyeholes. People and buildings became one that night. To this day the tradition of the Beaux Arts Ball and costume wearing lives on, but rarely has it ever again reached the brilliantly humorous quality of the 1931 playful parody.

Most notable recent attempts were Phillip Johnson’s 1984 Vogue Magazine cover shot wearing a hat of his own building (in tribute to NYC’s 1931 architects). Also the 2000’s Conan O’Brien mascot characters fit this category of people-buildings. Memorable appearances include a mud-wrestling match between the Seattle Space Needle and the Toronto CN Tower, and the Sears (now Willis) Tower dressed in Sears Clothing (pictured above).

We also (rarely) see people-telephone booths, people-monuments, and building-people. To this date, it seems logical to say all of personitecture has been purely focused on structures that are widely loved - exhibiting nostalgic and/or place-defining characteristics - and continue to define our society today. Well, at
Mockitecture, we question all of the rest of the world’s buildings. The iconographic buildings that are HATED by the people forced to pass by them daily. The anti-buildings, or non-uments of our day could be typified by the hastily made suburban McMansion home, or the billboard looming over the sidewalk on your walk to work. Add to this category brutalist concrete behemoths (my apologies, Owen), underwhelming mobile homes, and vacant/blighted factories and you’ve got a wonderful opportunity to rebrand the city – to make popular the very objects which are so hated by the public. These underwhelming buildings can be celebrated as personable follies of our time, encouraging the public to change their hatred into envy.

The other month, I constructed a replica of
Cincinnati’s infamous Crosley Tower. This is a massive brutalist tower/skyscraper – the first of its kind that I know of - is a monument to the brutalism movement of modern architecture. My building-mascot personifies the giant concrete building as a droopy-eyed, clumsy character unable to fit through most regular-sized walkways.

My very own building-mascot ran in a famed “Mascot Race” (borrowed from Milwaukee’s famous Sausage-themed Mascot Race) during an annual architecture event at the University of Cincinnati. The performance was an attempt to regain the spirit of the 1931 Beaux Arts Ball, and to engage the public in a dialogue regarding their (unexceptional) built environment.

Hopefully we’ll see more people dressed as buildings to come. After all, who can’t love a cheerful detached car garage shed, or a nuclear power plant man sporting sunglasses and bushy hair made of a cloud of pollution? The opportunities to celebrate and ritualize our ridiculously unexceptional buildings are endless. I'm sure Bad British Architecture would agree with me.

Provocative Architectural Renderings

Thanks to Visualingual for posting a link to the portfolio of Luke Painter. Be sure to check out his link below where you can find architectural Flash animations featuring a polluting tree factory which could cause quite a predicament if actually built. Another favorite of mine is his "city in a building" animation, where the evolution and devolution of an entire city occurs playfully before your own eyes in a matter of seconds. I've (illegally and without permission) stolen a screenshot of Painter's work to get you excited enough to further enjoy his portfolio.
By the way, Painter's imagery looks suspiciously like FAT's renderings of Hoogvliet (Rotterdam's eclectic cultural park), bicycle surveillance hut, et. al!? What gives??? (images via: FAT's portfolio site)

Perhaps the combination of simple vector line work and a limited color palette is the beginning of a new trend in architectural visualization? At the very least, it provides a refreshing departure from the technologically dominated field of realistic night time renderings that have us all wondering if buildings are simply being designed for that "one view" or for specific night time lighting conditions.

Isozaki's wonderfully simple screen print images also come to mind. These minimalist visualizations - aside from being incredibly cool, have the integrity of being made by hand...carrying with them a bit of nostalgia for today's practicing architect. Months ago, awestruck by Isozaki's work, the Mockitecture WebLob team produced a speculative project rendered in a style inspired by reductive rendering techniques. We even nodded to the style by placing Isozaki's rendering in the background of ours (a bit too presumptuous, perhaps).
This backward trend in rendering style reminds me of the implications of camera technology in the fine arts - namely portrait painting. A simple portrait photograph - among other things - freed the painter from painting in realism toward more expressive styles, encouraging both experimentation and abstraction. Perhaps we are seeing the same reaction in the architectural profession: a shift towards the visually playful and abstract. This comes at a time when modeling software is becoming more and more affordable and popular - threatening wildly popular curvy-and-zig-zag iconographic architecture to be killed by it's own success (*cough* postmodernism *cough*). Ironically, architectural innovation - in rendering/visualization technique at the very least - can be achieved by simply taking a step backwards. After all, who can really afford to outsource their renderings to India and beyond in this economy?