In a class entitled "Urbanism After Mass Media" at Taubman College, a conversation arose about the overlap between architecture, advertisement, icon, logo, and capitalism [in a nutshell]. Primarily, the discourse was based on several readings; using texts from Bob Somol, Sylvia Lavin, Peter Eisenman, and our professor McLain Clutter, set up a pretty productive argument on whether the "Blue Whale" is completely valid or a prime example of architects "selling out" so to speak [the Blue Whale refers to Cesar Pelli's Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, for the record]. For a seminar of twelve or so, there was quite the spectrum of positions on the topic, so it got me thinking a bit further.
If we were to look at the academicians as characters, Eisenman can be abstracted to the stern, hardline intellectual that demands a level of purity in architecture, untainted by the various cultural conditions that shift the public's actions, perceptions, and desires. Somol on the other hand, positions himself [as well as UIC School of Architecture as an institution] as the proponent[s] of an architecture that resembles, questions, and engages the contemporary social condition, antithetical to Eisenman's view. There is surely no shortage of criticism targeting Eisenman, especially with the early House projects, though the argument that the human element is devoid in the architecture indicates conflicting agendas for architecture. Somol as the proponent for living out the fancies, desires, and experiments freed from criticality poses a different set of questions altogether, primarily the question of when we know when we've gone too far, ie, the Blue Whale.
The short animated movie "Logorama" takes place in a [not-entirely]fictional Los Angeles that is composed entirely of brands, logos, signage, and mascots. On the surface, the movie takes a critical stance on the ubiquity of advertisement, but in a room full of architecture students, one can't help but debate the spatial and experiential repercussions of living in a world of advertisement. One by one, the advertisement objects would dash across the screen, and we caught every one of them. If the city of the future consisted solely of objects, blue whales, spatialized logos, and so on, would they maintain the same effect? Or would the immense quantity of this typology dilute the wow-factor of the object-building?
Conversely, it is almost six years ago that Sao Paolo - the most heavily populated city in the Western Hemisphere - banned advertisements altogether. As part of the "Clean City Law," mayor said, "the law came from a necessity to combat pollution, which means combatting pollution of the air, water, sound, and visual." The debate of advertisement in public space is largely foreign to the discipline of architecture, but we may make a parallel between advertisement as 'visual pollution' and the signifying object building. Somol's position that an architecture after criticality frees the discipline from the over-bearing laws of-the diagram, rationality, order, proportion, geometry, allow us to physically manifest a new physical environment in which architectural discourse comes to involve wider spectrum of realized experiments.
The debate ended with no clear consensus. Do we as architects uphold a certain ethos, denying the fancies of post-modernism, or do we subvert the commodification of culture in a way that both satisfies the desires of the public while maintaining a rich discourse within the discipline?
This blog likely arises from an over-abundance of architectural theory courses this semester. There are far too many thoughts ruminating in the atmosphere at Taubman College to not transcribe somewhere. Update: I live in Brooklyn and work in the city!