Another Architecture

by Mitch McEwen

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    Her analogous city

    Mitch McEwen
    Mar 10, '14 7:51 PM EST

    In honor of Her winning best original screenplay in the Oscars last weekend, I am going to finally post this.

    Spike Jonze's Her is a masterpiece of a movie that lends itself to comparison to Brazil.  At least, architecturally and urbanistically, it does. One could also develop a comparison in terms of the role of commerce (Her) versus the state (Brazil) in these two narratives of a technologically-driven future, but here I am more interested in the film's ability to produce an analogous city.

    The phrase 'analogous city' is one I am borrowing from Aldo Rossi's The Architecture of the City.  Rossi famously cites the Canaletto painting above as evidence of the autonomy of architecture.  Canaletto deploys the architecture of un-built projects and projects sited elsewhere to produce a recognizable image of another Venice - an analogous Venice. Michael Hays replaces Rossi's notion of the analogous city with the phrase virtual city, which he links to the capacity of architecture to produce or engage with a model of ontology.  (See Hays' stellar October 2012 lecture on that here.)  

    The world of Her presents a city that is more virtual Los Angeles (Hays) than analogous Los Angeles (Rossi), since the architectural forms avoid specific reference. 

    Her takes place in a hyper-dense Los Angeles that looks like a contemporary East Asian city - endless towers, massively efficient infrastructure. Amazingly, Her shows its characters moving through Los Angeles without a single car.  Still, Los Angeles is recognizable as itself. (Though, one of the many towers visible from Theodore's apartment may look a lot like the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco.)  

    As much as the cityscape panoramas of Her present the virtual Los Angeles, the interiors show us something that might be closer to the Rossi idea of the analogous.  In these corporate interiors the color palettes and affinity for acrylic point toward a dot-com aesthetic that looks already passe.  The interiors are similar to the costumes in this sense.  This passe-ness is part of the speculative dimension of the film that makes its architecture so empathetic to the narrative.  

    Her is a science fiction that dares to acknowledge nostalgia.


    • awaiting_deletion

      Is this analogous

      Mar 10, 14 10:06 pm  · 

      OBO - thanks for the link, that's perfect.

      Mar 10, 14 10:16 pm  · 
      drums please, Fab?

      i like her

      Mar 11, 14 12:34 am  · 

      Will have to see the movie now Dot com as passe makes me feel old Great post

      Mar 11, 14 7:41 am  · 

      Can sci-fi not be nostalgic? I presume you suggest this by noting the movie Her dares to acknowledge nostalgia. Is the time gap being narrowed with the speed of social media? Again I presume you suggest this with dot com passe. What then is architectural nostalgia? The analogous city as is suggested here. The only design item mentioned not nostalgic is your note about LA without cars. As could be suggested between your post and the link - good design might be borrowing good nostalgia and rewriting that which appears unsuccessful? As a side note Ridley Scott for Blade Runner used NYC and Hong Kong of the movies era to make an apocalyptic sci-fi future.

      Mar 11, 14 8:07 am  · 

      Nice post, Mitch. Do you think that the alienation and loneliness evident in the main character's existence is necessarily related to your virtual reading? Does the loneliness that the main character experiences have to do with our projections of the virtual future? 

      Mar 11, 14 9:17 am  · 

      "What then is architectural nostalgia?"

      I always thought nostalgia was the domain of people rather than objects.  I guess it's like  projecting any number of feelings on to buildings like totalitarian or depressing or vital.

      Mar 11, 14 9:18 am  · 

      Thanks so much for these thoughtful questions.  They feel like one shared conversation, so I hope it's OK that I respond to them all together.

      I think it's actually telling here that the architects that had the most influence on Jonze's architectural vision of this future were DS+R.  There was a post about that back in January.  As architects that evolved in NYC, DS+R have mastered the pressure of a city that is more in love with itself than with anyone else's idea of a new form.  There is a built-in nostalgia to New York, which somehow wants to be ahead of everyone else's nostalgia (bespoke suits on marketing executives, Etsy's headquarters in Brooklyn, farm-to-table restaurants delivering to your door on, etc).  

      As far as the main character and the relationship of the narrative to the film's architecture - I found the film to be such a potent meditation on the future of emotion.  The objects may look similar, but there are fewer of them.  One of the most amazingly subtle scenes, which i didn't include here because it was so quick I didn't search through for a screengrab - shows the main character whizzing past an industrial looking area.  He's in a train, of course.  And out the window we see shipping containers.  But instead of the sort of ceiling-height containers that we are used to, the containers in the background were only 3 feet high or so.  As if 1) everything worth shipping had been flat packed and 2) there just wasn't so much stuff worth shipping anymore.  

      Basically, as far as object relations, I understand the film to be asking, what if technology, instead of producing cooler objects or closing distance, produced an emotional and spatial reality that displaced objects (the limit of which would include the human body).  

      Mar 12, 14 12:07 am  · 

      Wow.  Can't wait to see this movie.  

      Mar 12, 14 4:54 am  · 

      "what if technology, instead of producing cooler objects or closing distance, produced an emotional and spatial reality that displaced objects"

      It seems that we've become so enamored with our technological wizardry that we think there must be a way to have our technology love us back.  Eitherway, I can't wait to see the movie.

      Mar 12, 14 9:24 am  · 

      Thayer-d that may be the ultimate purpose of technology. We are half way there aren't we? Your Facebook status may say - feeling loved...after a bot 'likes' every comment and post you made. You presume people made those votes of likeness, the only illusion you need is that humans are on the other side....I imagine the need for that illusion will fade eventually as it's an obstruction to feeling loved unconditionally.

      Mar 12, 14 8:43 pm  · 

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Posts are sporadic. Topics span architecture, urban design, planning, and tangents from these. I sometimes include excerpts of academic articles.

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