June 19, 2010

Party In The City Where The Heat Is On

Ignore your surroundings. Ignore the economy! With technology and LEED Points, we will prevail!!  It's time for a new decade!!! THE FUTURE IS HERE!!!!

Who thought getting 15,000 architects together in one of the country's hottest cities (during the summer) would be a good idea? The AIA, of course! Nevertheless, there we were sitting in a larger-than-usual air conditioned box listening to messages about the future broadcast to us via teleprompter-informed surrogates. "Design for the Next Decade," as it was called, came complete with branding images showing a serene view of Earth from outer space - creatively dodging the political/social/environmental turmoil of today.  The events were ironically held within a rather large flamboyantly pastel and neon decorated PoMo box. After spending four days there, I got the feeling no one else saw the humor in the situation.  Toss in the awarding of the AIA Gold Medal to Peter Bohlin - a life-long modernist (the humanist type, not the angry type) - and you have some theoretically confusing environments to take in. I predict this will all subconsciously rub off on the emerging architects who attended the conference which will end up designing in an awkward hybrid 1980's style well into the 21st century out of confusion. This is probably why I am not a trend forecaster.

The convention itself consisted of all the predictable themes: globalization, BIM, and of course the dreaded "s" word, sustainability.  Such jaded themes were nearly unbearable to take in, but the aggressive use of movie theater stylized carpeting throughout the convention center, paired with what could only be described as a spectacle of building products in the expo's main floor kept me on my toes. After all, this was the super bowl of the building trades industry! Partaking in "the scene," I felt what Wall Street traders must go through, being constantly bombarded by hungry salesmen showing off everything from virtual reality headsets, to oversized double hung windows, to fancy paver stones.  The experience was somehow both my worst nightmare and the most interesting architectural spectacle I have ever witnessed.

Biggest disappointment: the lack of discussion of the convention's dicey history in Miami vis-à-vis Morris Lapidus vs. the Modernists at the Americana in 1963. I did, however, stumble across Art Center on Lincoln Road which did a good job of showcasing both Lapidus' work and personality. Aside from drawings and photographs, a presentation of his bow ties were prominently displayed around a minimally black monolithic bow tie shaped table.  This managed to satisfy most of my MiMo cravings.  Additionally, I managed to drive by the Bacardi Building by Enrique Gutierrez, one of my absolute favorites. It's international corporate style overlaid with radical tropical-influenced aesthetics must have caused quite a commotion fifty years ago:

The Bacardi Building makes me want to use any Meis building I can get my hands on as a canvas for experimental decorative art.  I can't help but wonder if the convention center's aggressive use of movie theater carpeting was a symbolic nod to the Lapidus & co.'s cinematic take on Miami:

No overview of Miami would be complete without mentioning 1111 lincoln which was at the time still under construction. This parking garage/"mixed-use" space actually scares unsuspecting tourists. It looks as though the garage has swallowed a portion of the nearby 1960's era SunTrust Bank building. No mercy.

When seen in context with Lapidus' Lincoln Road the car park begins to make a bit more sense. From the Wall Street Journal: 
"'I envisioned a park-like mall with pools and fountains and exotic concrete shelters,' wrote Lapidus, whose plan included plantings and splashing waterworks interspersed with a series of architectural follies made from concrete white-painted stucco, each with its own flamboyant shape--flaring shells, fin-like canopies, undulating vaults, simple slab roofs hovering on narrow steel pylons--Lapidus's own vocabulary of forms, minimal but whimsical."

The most powerful moment of the entire convention occurred in Peter Bohlin's last comments which seemed to undermine the futurist theme of the convention. Upon being asked what advice he could give to young architects, Bohlin simply reached into his pocket, pulled out a pencil and held it up saying don't forget about this. The gesture generated a great deal of applause more so than at any other point during the convention, suggesting perhaps the popularity and value of low-tech in an increasingly high-tech era.

June 6, 2010

Society as Spectacle

American Highway Roadmaps from the 60s are perhaps the single greatest cultural artifact from the modernist era.  The purpose of these maps were to encourage multi-day auto trips to discover the vast corners of the country.  They embrace the spirit of modernism by celebrating the triumph of man over nature: the progress of a nation through innovative use of technology.  Seen from the perspective of the ongoing BP oil spill, a technological blooper in the grandest sense, these postcards and maps present an image of society as spectacle: a no longer accurate view of technology as savior. 
This playful 1962 South Dakota highway map packs a punch.  Imagine the shocking surprise I received after opening up the map to read this text on the inside cover:
"The Missouri is being gentled. A whole generation of human intelligence, muscle and desire, armies of brute machines, and billions of wealth are transmuting the wild proud river into a vast chain of blue water lakes that stretch across South Dakota. Four gigantic dams - dams so big they beggar the imagination and confound the camera's ability to capture their hugeness - are harnessing the Missouri ... there is a sense of involvement in America, in knowing and understanding a strong free nation whose direction is west and which creates its own future."
The "World's Largest Interchange" in Ohio gives South Dakota a run for it's money.  A family somewhere between these two places must have had a difficult time deciding whether to head east or west.  
Concurrently, in 1963, we see an aerial view of the Iowa landscape: a lone highway slices through the agricultural heartland of the country.    

Unfortunately, not all attractions seem worthy of visiting to me, but for some reason still warranted a postcard.  Take, for instance, the "Sweeden House Smorgasbord" pictured above...

...or the Anderson Clock Exhibit: "An entire room is devoted to this display owned by Mr. H. E. Anderson. We like to refer to it as horology's finest hour. Some are more than 250 years old. All are in excellent condition."

It seems fitting here to conclude a post about artifacts from the American Roadside with Guy Debord, and his 1967 Society of the Spectacle: "In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation."

*for more of this, see Postcards From the Future
**I've stolen the same link to Debord's text which was was included in a456's post just two days ago. I'm secretly proud of this, but somehow think that it is a new experimental contemporary/subversive form of plagiarism that should be brought to your attention.