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    Advertisement and/in Architecture: Two Polarities

    David de Céspedes
    Apr 5, '12 3:44 PM EST

    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?


    • I wonder if since Sao Paolo banned billboards if more architects have been asked/tasked/looked into making the building more a billboard. It seems (taking a queue from Logorama, that one could take the idea of building as icon/brand to it's logical conclusion and make every building a post-modern billboard. Relying on the power of formal design to articulate brand advertisements..

      Although I suppose it would depend on how strictly the law was written?

      Apr 8, 12 11:22 pm  · 

      I worked on a building in a southern american city whose zoning code was written in a way that restricted large signs, but allowed you to turn a portion of the building into a "sign."  What this leads to is a lot of cheap stage-set EIFS forms tacked onto buildings instead of the entire building turning into a duck (commercial property changes hands pretty often - you don't want something that's hard to change and too reminiscent of the previous brand b/c you wouldn't be able to unload it).  I'd also be curious how the Sao Paolo laws are written.

      Apr 9, 12 4:34 pm  · 

      @toasteroven that is exactly the kind of anecdote i was hoping my comment would generate...

      Apr 9, 12 9:04 pm  · 

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Now that I'm post-graduate-school, and [for the time being] post-architectural-practice, I'm using this blog as an outlet to generate meaningful conversation on the limitations as well as latent opportunities in architectural practice. Co-Founder @anewyorkagency

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