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?

August 12, 2009

¡Como tu lo quieres! The Geopolitics of Burger King's Globo-Regional Marketing

One of the most fascinating aspects of Burger King is their highly targeted global marketing campaign. Each country has an entirely different menu and branding strategy. Burger King has implemented cultural research which allows the products to appeal to each unique market. As trends and tastes change, so does Burger King. This approach requires people from all over the world to participate in the business philosophy of BK International.The best example of the Burger King's sublime multi-national scheme is the Chicken Sandwich. Or, in Britain, The Chicken Royale. Or in continental Europe, the Long Chicken. Or, in Spanish speaking countries, the King de Pollo. All the same delicious sandwich, but with different nomenclature. Historically, language has played a significant, almost dominant role in the regional boundaries of culture and politics; the Long Chicken is not immune. Here, the idea is flipped. The language did not form organically four separate words, but the sandwich was specifically named four different ways to adapt to each specific region. In the contemporary Global marketplace, language does not create difference, difference creates language.The same sandwich poses in 4 different ways. Each pose dependant on the targeted consumer. Notice that in the US, he brought a friend.

It is exactly the same sandwich in all the photos. While the lettuce looks equally fake, photo quality, graphics, and framing exemplify the King's Global Marketing adaptability.

The photo quality is different in each design as well. This is when Burger King becomes bizarre. Ordering a Chicken Royale for the first time is weird, but the products and their presentation in El Salvador is plain hilarious. The report between consumer and supplier trumps technical quality in this case. I have always wondered what would happen if Burger King was sold in convenience stores.

Slightly irritated that the Xtra Long Cheese has never made a US debut.Across the World, Burger King takes the familiar and makes it unfamiliar. The Whopper showcased on a soccer field, a burger made of steak, infinite creations, the fantastic flame-broiled hallucinations of a real life Wonka-esque dreamscape.

New Zealand...

August 10, 2009

Newly Discovered Buildings

The blog has been relatively quiet the past few week. My apologies for that. While we get our act together and piece together a few reputable posts, let me share a few pictures from a drive on U.S. Route 50 today, which was largely inspired by Tom Brokaw's continuing explorations of Highway 50 (for the USA TV Network). This is what they have to say about the highway, which is called "the backbone of America":
Highway 50, the central most transcontinental route in the United States, is one of the nation's most historic roads. It spans over 3,000 miles, traversing 12 states and Washington D.C., as it stretches from Ocean City, Maryland on the Atlantic coast to Sacramento, California in the west. Along the way it passes through farmland and suburbs and even the occasional city, past historic Civil War battlefields and iconic Wild West towns, across the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the Continental Divide, the Great Plains and the Great Basin, and across a stretch of Nevada where signs proclaim it "The Loneliest Road in America."
I caught a glimpse of a curious little building for sale (the new potential headquarters for Mockitecture operations!? seems fitting...

A curious DUCK building was spotted as well: a "feed & seed" store with a sign proclaiming, "IAMS on sale: a gift from the bakers to the barkers." What's particularly troubling is how that traditionalist looking row house found it's way on top of their roadhouse. Perhaps this is the "Memory Bank" we've been dreaming up?...a symbol of the prominent building typology of a previous era? I wish I had answers.

And one last impressive roadside sign for your enjoyment:

I'm wishing all new buildings delegated that amount of money to unnecessarily spectacular Las Vegas-esque signage. I bet Tom Browkaw is wishing he consulted with the Mockitecture WebLog before his pass through Cincinnati on Route 50. You win some you lose some, Tom.