April 14, 2011

This Post Needs A Title

This is a piece I put together when asked to write a manifesto. It is a couple years old, but i serves as a departure point for the question "What is Mockitecture?" Been thinking about that alot, and hopefully we can get back to the roots of Mockitecture...comedy as architectural derivative.

Throughout the ages, an architectural “pendulum of meaning” has been swinging back and forth from meaning to non-meaning. The basis is this: classicism/neoclassicism (A – meaning) and its communicative properties, to modernism (B - non-meaning) and its high tech aesthetic. We went [Back] to PostModernism (A – meaning), then [back] to the blob/ NeoExpressionism/ NeoModernism (B – non-meaning) and its high-tech aesthetic. It is only a matter of time before we go [back] to our historicist roots. However, this time around meaning will manifest itself in a new, contemporary language. Both Robert Venturi and Rem Koolhaas speak of the contemporary condition of “meaninglessness.”

In 1972, Venturi stated, “The substitution of expression for representation through disdain for symbolism and ornament has resulted in an architecture where expression has become expressionism.” This condition exists today, as well. Koolhaas’ 2007 description of the contemporary landscape:

“…a desperate effort to differentiate one building from the next – has been characterized by a manic production of extravagant shapes. Paradoxically, the result is a surprisingly monotonous urban substance, where any attempt at ‘difference’ is instantly neutralized in a sea of meaningless architectural gestures.

Due to the recent global financial crash (and impending fallout), architecture will see the end of the high modernist paradigm of global genericization. This would result from a cultural shift to quality over quantity. Rather than aiming at creating an expressionist icon, a new Cultural and Political system will be realized in architecture, in order to differentiate with in cultural context. This has been the ideal for sometime, but very seldom is it realized.

A recent trend that has hurt our cities is the ignorance of the object. The object is inevitable. There will be a building there. That is what architecture is. So beyond the reorganization of space, architecture has an opportunity to be the signifier of culture. Think Chartres Cathedral or western fronts. When the object is ignored, our cities grow banal and inhumane. Charles Jencks would refer to the architects’ “responsibility for the public and esoteric meanings of a civic building.” Unfortunately, Jencks simultaneously advocates and writes off what he calls enigmatic signifiers as “an especially difficult task in a global culture without a shared value system” (a too often held nihilist perspective on the role of architecture.) The rethinking/reversion of this role is where the recent financial calamities will positively affect culture and architecture in the future. This can happen if we can break away from viewing architecture as resultant force, and make it proactive. Architecture can serve the client, and still hold great meaning. The public can enjoy architecture.

Alejandro Zaero-Polo addressed these issues in a recent article entitled “The Politics of the Envelope,” He states in the article that “the building envelope is now a technology at the vortex of the political storm.”

The envelope exceeds the surface by incorporating a much wider set of attachments. It includes the crust of space affected by the physical construction of the surface, by the scale and dimension of the space contained, by its permeability to daylight and ventilation and by its insulation values and solar-shading capacities. It also involves the space that surrounds the object, its orientation in respect to sun, wind, views, etc. The envelope has the capacity to re-present, not in the sense to which the architectural critique has accustomed us, but in the ancient political role that articulates the relationships between humans and non-humans in a common world. The envelope is the surface and its attachments.

This is where architecture happens. These technologies and constructions hold meaning, and the architect has the ability to make very widely accepted (or denied) statements with this amount of public visibility. This is where we can break away from the oft-accepted idea that architecture is the merely the representation of power, or manifestation of culture: a resultant phenomenon. Zaera-Polo would agree that we could

“…re-empower the discipline as a truly transformative force in the reorganisation of contemporary power ecologies. As an alternative to historical directionality, this experiment wants to propose an analysis of the political dimensionality of space.”

When discussing representation and communication in architecture, literature is a very strong analogy. Willem-Jan Neutelings states that, “There is no writer that would say, that because books are now typed on computers, he makes a different literature. But that is what architects say.” This is the criticism of the contemporary architectural condition. How do the principles of literature and semantics translate into architectural form? One such way, as described by Charles Holland, is the issue of “taste.” When reading a piece of literature, the words are carefully chosen to describe the characters. In this same way, Holland explains, “The signs and symbols of domestic architecture serve as a form of shorthand for the people who live in it.” Issues of class and social standing conveyed in a home are the same kinds of symbols and messages that on a larger scale, a civic building would address.

Alejandro Zaera-Polo’s work, represents one of the most important positions on the world and architecture. Zaera-Polo’s ideas about facades link the technological and representational, in a sort of ultimate architectural expression. I believe that this return to meaning and the repoliticization of the public sphere of architecture is called for if we are to reclaim our streets and cities.