We’re at a time where so many of the foundations that form us as people and our identity have long been figured out and automated, not in the way of computers and such, but such a formula. If you look at architecture, the built form, it has become a game of façadism. And necessarily so. The processes and materials we build with have become very standard. The labor knows only so much as the industry standard. The materials are mass produced to fit certain ceiling heights. The inspiration for the materials lies in a vague waspy version of a retro current traditionalism that only has to answer to the mass produced nature of the underlying structure. I think it’s safe to say that the regular architect is painting boxes. Now that is not to take anything away from the job of the licensed architect. Someone has to build these buildings. Handle zoning, experiment with new aesthetics and materials. But overall the foundations, the literal foundations, the engineering, is solid. Why reinvent the wheel?
My point is that the licensed is not the tip of the culture spear anymore. For some reason we aren’t inspired and in awe of the engineering feats of the materials were able to work with in this day and age.
I often wonder why precast concrete beams aren’t more utilized in things like single family homes. One of the triumphs of the current built landscape is the freeing of the facade from columns every 5 or so feet. The most beautiful views often come from parking garages. The super expansive 40’ windows out to the landscape are spectacular. One of my favorite things to do in my later days in Blacksburg was going to the parking garage by Hardee’s and roller skating. During my rest, usually around sunset, the surrounding Blacksburg landscape would enter through the levels of the garage and i would be both protected overhead but free to scan horizontally. And if you think about how the human vision is set up, we are programmed for the horizontal. We can’t really appreciate things vertically, have to move our heads too much, can’t feel safe because our frame of reference is often hidden scanning vertically.
Anyway, for one reason or another, this horizontal frontier was tried in modernism but hasn’t really stayed appreciated in the current. Now we hide our truths/potentials behind brick, spandrel glass, precast panels made to look like stone. Whyyyyyyy. The built form has become art. Licensed are sculptors. And there is nothing wrong with it. Frank Gehry, Bjarke Ingels, Zahra Hadid, stand as a testament to this. To be a starchitect, you may as well go to sculpting school. I recently made a trip to New York and viewed a Calatrava, and an Ingels project. It’s almost as if a city now collects buildings like an art gallery collects paintings. Have you seen our Libiskind? It doesn’t matter the program, the special requirements, it’s more important for the skin to symbolize global presence, as sense of ‘me too’ for the skyline.
I don’t mind. We live in a global world. It’s scary. That’s why nationalism sounds so comfy. Things work much easier when you work together. But the forever pressing question is where the soul goes. Like Hadid getting the bid for Tokyos Olympics, what does a British firm know about making a defining Stadium for a country that has its own bevy of modern and past culture to draw from? I’m sure they can google it tho.
My overall, probably lifelong, ponderance is where does culture go in the modern world. What are our signifiers? What does the individual feel part of? Is belonging to a group, physically or mental, an inextricable part the human experience? As the illusions of place and religion continually fade, what replaces it? I wondered in school why we only talked about churches when studying the Middle Ages architecture movements. It makes sense now. People felt those buildings. They were a source of pride for the towns that spent time (centuries sometimes!) building them. They showed the awe of engineering with the cultural nods and forms of the place. But now, ‘ery new church looks like a warehouse.
We are in the era of the body temple. It used to be the spiritual center was the cultural center (Pyramids, Greek Temples, St. Peter’s Catherdral), then in the 20th century I’d argue it became the home (Falling Water, Villa Savoye), now I believe it’s migrated inward once again to the actual body/mind (Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Tinker Hatfield).
The benefit is, we’ve gone from exterior validation to being able to mentally exist in space. You can live your whole social life in a cloud of thought. No one has to know your race, your career, your height, your Benji Franklin situation. It is all about your thoughts. Your virtues. That’s why it matters so much who is a racist, hotep, coon, sjw, feminist, trumptard, redditor. These are our new denominations of the religion of thought.
So, in conclusion, I just wonder where the spear of culture is, what is the pinnacle? Is Virgil Abloh the most famous architect in the world?
Find out next time on Life.