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!?