The Architecteur Weblog

Put museums in a museum

Posted in architectural theory by Possum of Possum's blogg on October 9, 2008

Just read this interesting piece of blogging about the new art museum maxxxi in rome.

It connects nicely with my continuous fascination for the conflict between populism and modernism. Zaha Hadid, like Frank gehry whom i have previously discussed, is frequently accused of populism in the most negative sense, or perhaps rather of sensationalism.

The very word sensationalism is telling in the cases of the maxxi museum in rome and most of Gehrys buildings since they are all cultural institutions. The word sensationalism is obviously derived fron the verb sense, a sensation is something you feel strongly and the architecture has in theese cases been accused of just that, beeing felt to strongly so that the cultural events and artefacts housed in it will by comparison be felt less. Of course, you might add that the sensation the architecture provides comes at a certain cost financially speaking, that could of corse in theory have been directed at the art it self. When the financial argument is taken in to account together with another argument i will soon mention, one of particular interest to me, the case actually becomes interesting. Sadly, the case often made against this kind of cultural buildings is not very compelling but rather extremly superficial not to say plain unintelligent. A lot of the time, what you hear from certain artists, critics and museum directors is basically “art museums are for art not for museums” case closed, strangely superficial and orthodox. The word art museums, of course, is not really interesting, what is however interesting is the role theese institutions are meant to play and actually play in society.

I would say that their primary function is delivering sensations (or concepts) to an audience, this of course could be done by an architect as well as an artist, and in that light artists and curators worries about theese buildings seem merely rationalizations of jeaously guarding their territory in the matket and spotlight. Yet i do believe there is something to be said for their case.

The factors i believe are most interesting in this case are plurality and time, the plurality part is quite obvious, in the case of both Hadid and Gehry it’s quite obvious that the buildings come to represent one person above all others and a few singled out ideas and in to these ideas and repsesentations financial recourses are poured that could easily have funded hundreds of artists for a long long time. And when that factor is added, the time factor, another dimension is added to the equation, no matter what the construction costs, the costs of removing the building are allso quite substantial so the “Artworks” purchased are going to be around for a while. One of the essential qualities of contemporary art is often said to be it’s sensitivity to society and ability to change and comment on different things, the architecture of Hadig and Gehry does not posses that wuality. It is how ever eternal in a sense that most contemporary art is not, and i allso believe the sensation per monetary unit is higher…i mean i think you get out more commersial and sensory value per dollar when you make an investment like that, just like i believe you get out more per dollar if you buy a house you’re going to live in for a very long time than if you buy a painting you’re allso going to keep for a long time. If however the current banking and credit crises force you to move when you vaven’t lived in your house for too long and sell at a very low price, you would probabely have been bettwer of buying the paintings you could partially sell and partially take with you.

The essential question when investing in a museum and deciding weather it’s going to be a Gehry or a white box is weather you’re interested in quantity and quality or flexibility, a not all too easy choice really, the rest is just skill and opportunity and in thoose cases architects and artists are allike in that they differ – individually.

A related story

My bacheloor project, in fact every ones bacheloor project the year i took my degree concerned exhibition spaces. Meetings with the to-be-boss really clarified the problem in choosing between the alternatives above. At are first meeting the very driven lady in question explained how she didn’t want us to just design white boxes, she wanted us to put our marks on the architecture, to make it personal. At the second meeting the same driven lady explained why she didn’t like Gehry’s Bilbao museum, and guess why…? It was to marked by his personality.

I took the libertyu of asking if th elady in question wanted us to design a collection of grey boxes.


happy history de la distribution

Posted in architectural theory by Possum of Possum's blogg on October 7, 2008

De la distribution de maisons de plaisance et de la decoration des edifices en general?

They liked descriptive titles on their books in eighteenth century france, this one by Jacques Francois Blondel translates: About the ditribution of country houses and the decoration of buildings in general. I’ve sort of been looking for it since i was about twelve years old, i had a sexi feelin for french architecture then, and i must admit i still do, and this was so to speak the book of books. The title today would probabely have been something like; Rococo luxuary decoration for dummies.

Now at last i have found it in full on da web as a downloadable pdf or to browse

Thank you, University of Heidelberg!

About the book:

Iz laik thiz; in historic times, that is before the world wide web made us all media junkies, architects and their filthy rich patrons still wanted to be hip and cool. It has always been common knowledge that an essential part of hipness and coolness is serious study of architectural theory. This is obviously paradoxical since serious study in itself is tyhe antithesis of cool. So, some sexi leid backdudes, like dear ol’ Jacques Francois came up with something like the style guides you could find in a modern edition of elle, except they recomended shapes for staircases not volours for lipstick.

Any way De la distribution’ was one of the most influential of these architectural treatises written in the eighteenth century and one of the most comprehensive, it featured, or features i should say, everything from huge garden plans to details for the proper decoration of doorknobs. The images are extremly decorative so it’s worth looking in to even if you’re not an accomplished reader of french in fancy handwriting.

I’ll try to upload a few pictures when i’m done reading (in a year or so)

In memoriam Stalin Baroque /Prosopagnosia in architecture

Posted in architectural theory by Possum of Possum's blogg on October 2, 2008

Populism versus modernity is the theme again.

In a couple of documentary films i just finished watching the old familiar problem, or just plain reality, of humanity’s love affair with everything it despises was once again actualized. The documentarys, featuring British architecture and food connoisseur Jonathan Meades ,describes the architectural practices of the two best known European looser ideologies of the last century with a certain degree of sarcastic wit (Jonathan Meades is worth checking out in general). Both movies are highly recommended, the one about Natzi Germany, not only for it’s wit and interesting storytelling methods but also for it’s gay porn value. The first part (in youtube terms) contains a perfectly lovely scene of fit, sweaty sauna Germans spanking each other with twigs about 2m30sec in.

Not surprisingly the topic of populism is in focus, at least in “Joe architecture”, the soviet-movie.

Soviet architecture transformed from it’s constructivist beginnings to what is nowadays often referred to as Stalin-Baroque just as the communist party turned from ideological fervour to a more pragmatic power hunger, in other words – when Josef Stalin caught the ball. As Stalin passed the torch to Nikita Khrushchev and the party at least partially returned to a more sound ideological base and improving the living standards of Soviet citizens the catholic kitsch of Stalin-Baroque was abolished and its ornaments were again, in true Loosian maner, regarded as immoral (Yes the Russians were generally orthodox not catholic, but the educated petite bourgeois i wish would read this should know the origins of Baroque are closely related to the catholic counter reformation).

The Russian version of modernism – constructivism, just like the international and notably German pre-natzi variation, was closely linked to socialism. It was a part of reformulating the world, taking away that witch was unnecessary and bourgeois in Historical stylism. One could argue that as the communist revolution disbanded the objective of reformulating the social system and in stead inserted new institutions in place of the old (Stalin as the red czar and so on) it also banned the idea of formulating new architectural aesthetics, in that case doing almost the opposite. Stalinist buildings were necessarily reformed in spatial an constructional terms, but were never the less adorned with traditional, old world symbolism. In that sense Stalinist buildings were new systems in the guise of old institutions.

The constantly provocative mr Meades at one point refers to Stalin as the first Postmodernist (something i’ve actually done in a social context before and thus found rather amusing). I myself have gone through a small post modernist revolution, provoking my modernist teachers at the Chalmers education in self satisfied petite bourgeois modernism, as i was myself provoked by their, as i thought of it, quasi elitism (i don’t know if i’d mind “true” elitism so much). Thus, i have spent much time brooding over the conflict between postmodernisms popularity amongst the general populus and the popularity of modernism amongst architects. It would all have beens o easy had only modernism really been more functional in the most obvious sense, but since it is not…well

It seems to me this conflict in the end can only be studied in the terms of aesthetical function. The bottom line question seems to be:

What functions in human evolution can be ascribed to aesthetics? We obviously use our esthetical sense both to determine the nature of our surroundings and objects in them, and allso to determine characteristics and identity of fellow humans.

Classical greek/roman architecture and it’s descendant classicisms often refer to proportions of architecture as relating to human proportions and thus being beautiful because god created man in his image and..blabla. In a modern biologistical context this would imply that we interpret the patterns and proportions of architecture using the same analytical functions as we use to for example recognize faces.

sketch by caesario

sketch by cesariano

This is interesting, as there is a disorder – prosopagnosia that basically impedes your ability to recognize faces. From what i’ve read it’s hard to figure out how this disorder, it seems to come in many different versions, affects your ability to recognize and analyze other visual information. As i have understood it, there are several theories about the origins of the state, some seem to believe it is a general defiecency in a persons ability to process visual patterns while others believe it relates specifically to faces.

The question posed by me would be as follows;

Are humane proportions, the proportions of an individual, processed i specific place or way in our brains?

could those specific processes or patterns of analyzes be triggered by the repetition of humane proportions in an inanimate object so that we humans perceive it as endowed with certain personal attributes?

Would the fact that people often refer to classical architecture as “having personality” in any way at least partially mirror such a triggering of patterns? Or is it simply an expression of the understanding that personalitys have through time formed the artifice in question?

I have sometimes considered the interpretation of architecture as simply man made nature, as it encompasses more and more of our surroundings it seems to me this interpretation of the term is more and more adequate. Architecture, or i should say exterior architecture, for it has always been the case when it comes to interior design, is less and less the design of singular objects and more and more the desig of our entire surroundings, of the landscape.

It seems to me that this observation in conjunction with the theories about cognitive personalization mentioned above would explain the drastic break with thousand year old traditions as simply the shift from designing personalities to designing landscapes. I don’t believe this to be the final explanation, maybe not even a major theory but at least an alternative look on the matter, not related to ideology or as directly to new techniques of construction as the usually predominant exp+lanations offered today. Even though it is certainly related to them and has probabely been offered many times before by people other than my self.

To finish of this rather disparate and notelike text i offer you a set of just as disparate questions;

will scientific research in the functions of our brains lead anywhere that impacts the discussion about populism and it’s relation to oppression or “evil” or is it simply so – that the defining principle of populism is in fact easily accessible symbolism, is populism only the ability to communicate and that leads us to always react against it, as anything made clear enough contains a portion of oppression or “evil”.

Is the current western love affair with “democratic” systems only a stage in a cyclic evolution of systematic improvement, a short lived revolution bound to lead to something else more in the style of fascism, or is it indeed a long term change in the organization of humane society due to increase in population and improved communications the final darwinian success of group selection?

kizzes and hugz

Frankly Gehry (i’d like to be you)

Posted in architectural theory by Possum of Possum's blogg on September 25, 2008

Yesterday i was briefly raised from the torpor of intellectual over-ambition that is my everyday life.

Watching the documentary “sketches of Frank gehry” i was taken back to my own, it seems now, naive ideas about what an education in architecture would be.

Architecture parlant versus social realism
I thought an education in architecture would basically be an education in spatial aesthetics plus a few classes about practical requirements and construction. It turned out this wasn’t what the teachers had in mind. The architectural education in Sweden, if described by one concept, would best be characterized as social realism. While architecture to me was to great extent “spatial art”, a variation of sculpture concerned with room or space rather than objects i soon found out my head teacher in the first year considered architecture and art totally separated disciplines, it seemed even opposed. Swedish architecture, for the most part, concerns itself with the organization of peoples lifes, the practical and social implications of different organizational techniques and secondarily with aesthetics in the form of how people feel comfortable. “Architecture parlant”, architecture that conveys a message other than general comfyness just isn’t very popular…with the older generation.

Gehry the elitist or Gehry thepopulist?

Frank Gehrys architecture, a form of modern roccoco doesn’t for the most part receive overwhelming applauds in Swedish architectural circles. It’s seen as superficial, capitalist or at least commercialist and…basically – vulgar. Frank Gehry, alltough i for a long time considered him vulgar ( i never bothered much with the political correctness that prevents others from saying so) does exactly what i wanted to do, and secretly still want to do, and even more secretly – what i have mostly done. He sits for hours looking at the relationship of two windows, he discusses the tangency of curves. He conveys his personality aesthetically with his architecture. What is so fascinating is the popular approval amongst the architectural know nothing masses Gehrys’ architecture receives, sure it’s complemented by a popular revulsion against the very same, but never the less his buildings have received much more attention amongst the populus than any neomodernist piece of architecture i know of (well, perhaps not Pei’s Louvre pyramid, but that’s mostly because it occupies such a culturally significant location). The parallels to my other great interest at the moment, american political culture, are obvious. The modernists like the democratic party are constantly described as “elitist” by popular media, and frankly often are in certain aspects, where as Frank Gehry, like the republicans squanders enormous amounts of money and labor on things that mainly seem to benefit the already well of, concert halls and museums – tax cuts and CEO bail outs, and yet remains the more popular amongst the less wealthy (who are of course mostly the same as the less educated). Architecture is, like most anything else, political and this conflict in democracy as well as architecture, no matter what side one is on, must from my view be  considered one of the most important problems of our communicative species.

Gehry subjectively

Today i don’t find Gehry vulgar, as amatter of fact the very term vulgar is what i find vulgar. I can only recognize that i envy him, and that i would very much like to see one of his buildings in real life, sadly i have only seen the cinamateque in Paris that he describes as a failure in the film and it was indeed horrible. Still, i don’t consider him the greatest architect in the world or anything like that (another concept i still find vulgar and stupifying) and i’m still annoyed by his seeming lack of concrete theory (i think that’s where i envy him the most).

Contemporary swedish vulgarity

What kind of buildings do i find “vulgar” today?

Well, take a look at this critically acclaimed non-entity artistically speaking that was nominated for the highest price of the swedish association of architects in 2007. It’s very popular with swedish architects who find it brave and interesting to design something so inexplicably boring in a prominent location in my dear hometown of Gothenburg. What really gets them off is the fact that the office of city planing actually wanted a more exciting building (they are otherwise not known to be overly excitable) and the modernist hero stood up to them and said the building had to be boring to fit in to the boring context (a surprisingly post-modern argument). I think actually to that point i’m with them, it’s interestingly ironic that the thoughts of postmodernism otherwise known for their colourfullness would in sweden be turned in to the reference of boredoom. What disturbs me is that the architect then redesigned the bottom floor to comply with the request for novelty, and did this in the most blasée manor possible, not adding anything to the building in terms of expressiveness or indeed novelty, just making it more boring in a less ironic and less iconoclastic way.