An excellent lecture by Eduardo Cadava, regarding photographer Nadar. Of particular interest is the (mis)conception presented by Balzac, that a picture was actually lifting a layer of essence from a person, and that perhaps one’s essence could be exhausted through the continual photographing of it. This is of course untrue in a scientific sense, but brilliantly predicts the effect of overexposure on a person, or place. Some views on earth have become so polluted with over photography that the importance of going there has been lost entirely. Perhaps this fact alone can allow for the rebirth of such a place; as the spectacular element, ever present and dominant, gives way to the mundane and overtly banal. This is perhaps related to Roland Barthe’s famous retelling of Maupussant, who despite his despise of the Eiffel tower often had lunch there. The reason being, that it was the one place in Paris that you didn’t have to see the tower.
In our late-capitalist, “post-“everything world, the only infrastructural constant is the the means of exchange in which you are currently participating. However, this modality, unlike the interstate highway system, the framework which preceded it, is not bound to a linear growth pattern. It is enabled by its virtual character to spread in any direction at once, to grow spontaneously, and without bound. Given the boundless enthusiasm that such a mechanism no doubt engenders, it is not without a sense of irony that we consider the volatile nature of this network. The nature of the network, and perhaps this argument, is quite cerebral in the disconnected sense of the word. It is entirely electrically dependent, theoretically able to be turned off, unlike the tactility of the every day. This physicality begs the question: Are the devices we design for interaction with the network the last remnants of the physical world?
I have seen the future of architecture, and it does not involve building, at least not in the conventional sense. Imagery dominates our lives on a daily basis, we are confronted with it constantly. It becomes our means of expression, a necessary reference for any discussion (even this blog). We are nearing the time when the visual will displace the physical. A time when the fashion of the facade will take its ultimate manifestation, amending itself, or perhaps more fittingly our perception of itself, to suit the moment. Simply stated architecture, even moving architecture, is too slow to address the shifting multitudes of the digital age. Sur les pavés la image!
Where do we get our sense of security? Is it from the fences that we construct around us, or the doors that obscure the thieves from view? How can we best protect our objects of value? Perhaps the solution lies not in having objects of value, but rather to make the door the object of value. But, at what scale does this value become explicit? Is a door large enough to not be stolen? I suppose it depends on the door. Another ingredient is needed. Exposure is the other key to security. As much as it pains us to give up a little of our precious privacy, it is important to note that no object of significant size in a public place is ever in danger of being stolen. One need not look any further than Rockefeller Center in New York City. Featured prominently is the statue of Prometheus, a work of immense value, not only for its materials, but for what it has come to represent. It’s scale, and constant public surveillance make it impossible to steal. As Utopian as this concept might seem, it is important to remember that the importance of privacy exists in this country as a result of the fears of our “forefathers,” men who in reaction to the crown sought to create a nation free of the constraints of an oppressive government. In doing so, they have created a nation fearful of its own government, and willing to arm itself with a neolithic sense of entitlement in the age of information. In this modern age, let us reconsider the Gothic church, built not to house God, but rather to be God for the illiterate, and so imbued with value as an object of scale that it denies an atomistic approach. In its abundance is undeniably public and secure. Might we extend this courtesy to the ourselves as well?
Real change occurs over time; periods of time that are so long that they are imperceptible to the individuals in their midst. It is only when one is afforded the opportunity to reflect on events that one was not a part of , that change becomes perceptible. This creates a paradox though, as change is noticeable, but only relative to a projected image of the past, a past that is outside of our perceptive reach, so what change do we ever experience?
Allow me to speak rhetorically for a moment. At what point is it decided that a society has amassed enough knowledge, or artifacts, that it requires a building to house these goods? At the point of transferal, how is perception of the object changed? Lastly, if there is a critical point after which knowledge, specifically the physical manifestation of that knowledge needs to be maintained, is the opposite also true: is there a point that the overwhelming amount of important objects renders the museum as trivial?
The first and last questions are open ended. The second, though, is related to the everyday value that we attribute to objects, specifically the idea of hype in popular culture. Excuse me for my cynicism, but what is good art, or architecture, but the result of good marketing? Perhaps it is not related to good in the present sense of the word, but rather as a proper means of expressing the culture of a time. Time it seems though is speeding up, as culture becomes increasingly continuous. One need only look to the relatively indistinguishable nature of 90’s music. I leave you then with another open ended question: how will the museum of the future, if there is such a thing, manifest itself as it tackles the issue of partitioning space to show a period of continuum.
True architecture lacks program, it is merely a well conceived container, which people will put to work in the fashions of the day. Today’s economic woes have created the opportunity add to the rich history of spectacle that great works of architecture provide. Construction is the great generator in times of economic woe. Many of the world’s post card images are the result of structures which have no inherent use, yet they create a destination, and in doing so activate space. Tall structures like the Eiffel Tower, the Seatle Space Needle, and the Berlin Fernsehturm are all examples of lean structures initially used as broadcast towers, and perhaps still, yet much more popular as tourist destinations, to the point that they could be created for this alone. In doing so we are building for the spectacle of sight, not the comforts of living, or working; allowing these structures to reach for the skies without fear of economic consequences. This condition exists now, and perhaps only now, as the economy has been weakened to point of opportunity.