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Architecture and Reproduction

Aug 15 '11 17 Last Comment
Ryan002
Aug 15, 11 12:03 am

I was reading Benjamin (Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction) and a thought occurred to me. In an age where everything can be easily reproduced, how has architecture been affected, particularly in terms of aesthetics?

We no longer need to wait months for a stained glass window. We can duplicate any design we need, in quantities that exceed thousands, and it can be done within days. Same goes for most of the materials or decorative details we want. If we really decided to, there's no existing building (the Pyramids, the Hagia Sofia, etc.) that we couldn't recreate. With greater speed, and few of the difficulties faced by the original. In fact, does the value of the physical structure still mean as much when we can just build another?

Okay, maybe historical value protects certain monuments. But what about regular, everyday buildings? Office blocks or houses? Has the fact that we can easily duplicate them reduced their real worth?

It strikes me as ironic that, just when it's become easy to mass produce certain features (murals, windows, archways, etc.), they seem to have fallen out of favour. Now that "ornate" has become easier, the taste turns toward the simple and austere. For centuries we asked for complex, elaborate features; now that we can have as many of them as we want, we don't seem to want them anymore. 

 

Rusty!
Aug 15, 11 1:13 am

Sorry Ryan, but your manifesto is not exactly rooted in real world. A real life project (not a hypothetical one) faces numerous conditions that require custom solutions. Variations on standard manufactured offerings are too great to anticipate market demands accurately. In fact (in response to the recession) a lot of the manufactures have stopped producing products before an actual order is placed. Which leads to construction delays (if you don't anticipate this).

Before a project is realized, one of the early coordination issues is figuring out the so called 'long lead items'. Things that need 6 month (more or less) heads up in order to be manufactured. Don't underestimate the complexity of engineering involved in architectural projects.

On the other hand, if you want to see the power of easily mass-produced, off-the-shelf architecture, take a trip to your nearest suburb. Complete with plastic murals and rubber archways.

Rest of your post is iffy at best, but if you want an example of architecture you romantically yearn for, also check out highway motel chains. Some of the fancier ones do everything you are wondering about. 

Ryan002
Aug 15, 11 5:27 am

Rusty,

What manifesto? I advocate nothing. I only inquire as to effect. It's all question and no assertion.

"On the other hand, if you want to see the power of easily mass-produced, off-the-shelf architecture, take a trip to your nearest suburb. Complete with plastic murals and rubber archways."

Just what I was asking. Has the introduction of mechanical reproduction (prefabricated everything) resulted in these suburbs? Do our regular homes now have less personality than, say, the sort of vernacular architecture you see in a tribal village somewhere, or has this always been the case?

With regard to buildings that have long lead times and require customized elements: Is this a sign that architecture has, in this area at least, remained untouched by mechanical reproduction? 

 

trace™
Aug 15, 11 8:58 am

Homes and buildings are still assembled by hand, more or less, so until that changes (or they figure out a way to ship things larger than a flat bed) "mechanical reproduction" will be limited to small items and details.

So "no", it has not done anything for architecture.

toasteroven
Aug 15, 11 10:28 am

Just what I was asking. Has the introduction of mechanical reproduction (prefabricated everything) resulted in these suburbs? Do our regular homes now have less personality than, say, the sort of vernacular architecture you see in a tribal village somewhere, or has this always been the case?

 

I don't think it's individual architectural elements that lead to less character/personality of individual houses - it's the partly site planning and really odd scale and spacing between houses of these neighborhoods - and how long people live in these houses.  I used to live in a neighborhood that was built around the turn of the 20th century - all pretty much the same unremarkable house with slightly different things going on.  What gave this particular place character was the houses were really close together - all tucked in on short narrow streets with variations in grade (since it was on a hill) - but mostly because people, over time, personalized their houses because they wanted to make their own stamp on the neighborhood - especially because people were living in the same place almost their entire lives - even multiple generations owning the same house (you can usually see the same thing if you head out into small towns and the country).

 

these days people view their houses as commodities - things you hold onto for 5-10 years in order to sell in order to get something bigger.  neighborhood/place doesn't mean quite as much anymore because it's mostly just a way-station on your way to something else - so people treat their houses as something temporary - bland boxes without any sense of uniqueness because people want to maintain as blank a slate as possible for some future buyer.

toasteroven
Aug 15, 11 11:31 am

that was perhaps one of the most poorly written posts I've ever posted on archinect.

Miles JaffeMiles Jaffe
Aug 15, 11 12:07 pm

Seems to me there are a couple of salinet points here. First is the idea of "because we can". Just because something is possible does not mean that it is good or that it should be done (think Gehry). 

 

metal
Aug 15, 11 1:39 pm

i thought this post was going to be about architecture and sex.

which seems more interesting than the mass customization vs mass production debate.

toasteroven
Aug 15, 11 4:16 pm

agreed - I was hoping this was going to be about human reproduction and architecture.  I don't think I've ever heard anyone talk about pregnancy and architecture ... 

shuellmi
Aug 15, 11 9:11 pm

Hypothesis:

architecture + career = delayed reproduction

metal
Aug 15, 11 10:30 pm

Thats a stellar hypothesis, maybe even a life lesson

Recently I was teaching at and attending a final review at a great ivy league school.
I saw many professors in their  30's - 40's trying to make their mark. They have no kids, no marriage, maybe a divorce. They get a boyfriend or girlfriend whenever one comes around.  They travel all over the place for work.

toasteroven
Aug 16, 11 9:07 am

I was thinking more along the lines of architectural design for pregnancy and childbirth...  but good points...

Quondam
Aug 16, 11 10:59 am
Miles JaffeMiles Jaffe
Aug 16, 11 2:10 pm
TaliesinAGG
Aug 16, 11 4:12 pm

I've had an Architectural vasectomy.

TED
Aug 16, 11 4:58 pm

I think you all are taking Benjamin too literal and thinking flat pack and all - which is not at all what he was talking about [where's Javier when you need a good Marxist interpretation!]

Benjamin, writing in 1936 was writing about the impact of capitalism on culture and society.  While this can mean production in the literal sense, mass housing in the US falls very much within the loss of Aura - and much more to the point we become machines.  Disenchantment, ambivalence etc. we no longer see the origin but something else.  

Kracauer's Mass Ornament is also a good read.

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