It is now the beginning of September; the most important week of a designer's life has arrived. Of course, I'm talking about Fashion Week.
This is a designer's Holy Week - a week to "celebrate" their contributions to society and to "high art". A time to display the fruits of their labor in their never-ending chase for the new, modern, and hip. Last season is over they tell us, get with the program or die tryin' (by which I mean get out of the business).
It should be no surprise as to why this week is so important. But it's not just important for fashion designers, it's also important for architects.
The historical and cultural intersection of fashion and architecture is undeniable and I will not attempt to revisit this in detail. What I would like to show is how the image of the runway models above serves as a visual metaphor for the current state of contemporary architecture: Tall, thin, fair-skinned women walking in a straight line into a dead end ( since they have to turn back once they get there) wearing very similar clothing without much differentiation. All of them expressionless, stoic, trying to ignore the piercing light and each one serving their purpose like tools in a garage. They are moving forward with no real place to go. Time is moving against them. Money, power, and fame are all on the line.
Consider this situation: Below is the image of the new addition to the Glasgow School of Art by Steven Holl. They are going to force the public to build it no matter what.
As a piece of clothing, there is no question that this rendering of the proposed new building is totally "in season". It embodies all the things those young women embody in the runway picture - youth, hipness, boldness, and perhaps a hint of narcissism.
But as a building, as something which is lived in - daily - and cannot be as easily disposed of, it is dreadfully conformist. Notwithstanding the broader issue of wholeness with the Earth, this new building is actually, somehow, making the Glasgow School (a favorite modern building of mine) uglier. It is doing this in the same way a pair of new shoes make your pair of old shoes seem ugly and worn out. Simply putting a new building next to an old building is not good enough. Fashion may get away with this old-new switcheroo every fall, but architecture cannot.
In keeping with the runway image, take a look at another pair of "models" (i.e. buildings).
These models are part of the same collection. The designers: Herzog & De Meuron. They've each had their moment in the runway spotlight. They've each strutted their stuff. But without knowing the names of the architects or the buildings, there is no way to distinguish them from each other. They look the same despite very different formal qualities. They have the same kind of face. How is this possible in the age of such advanced rendering and parametric programs? It just seems like more, more, and more of the same kind of building, rendered a million different ways, contributing nothing truly new to society or "high art". How is it that these buildings stand out while, at the same time, conforming to a particular aesthetic?
Undifferentiated, new, hip, clean, sleek, trying to stand out - these are the revered qualities of the present architecture. It has become so woven into our culture that one cannot tell where architecture ends and fashion begins. Their respective products, buildings and clothes, are both equally forgettable once they are made and equally disposable once they have been worn into. Clearly, this is an unsustainable perspective. It indirectly encourages waste because so long as the next new thing is just around the corner, there is no point in getting too attached to what you have now. Hence the denial of history, culture, and identity. Hence the branding of human feelings as "nostalgic" and wholeness as "nonsense". When we make buildings like this, we become tools. Tools making tools.
I, and a majority of students, architects, and academics, reject this revolving-door architecture.
To end, I will show a modern building that can be a guiding vision for buildings in our time. An architecture of wholeness.
Surprise! Mackintosh was on to something here. There are big windows, a similar materiel palette and color, a playful, yet differentiated facade. There is a humanity about this building that the Holl design simply does not convey. Its not trying to state, in some grand techno-savvy fashion, an esoteric metaphor or intellectual construct. It is simply trying to be a good place. Its just about making good architecture and making it well. That may seem childish to some, but it's really the most common sense thing a person could do. This is what wholeness is all about.
( I chose this building because I sometimes wonder what Mr. Holl and company think about when they look across the street and see this building. Clearly, they wanted to do something new and bold. But for that, they should have hit the runway and not the drafting board.)
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