Sarcastic Architecture


I feel like their architecture is more humorous or playful than sarcastic, but that could just be me. I am inclined not to think that VSB and I were sarcastic because they really did want to "learn from las vegas". And they did want to go for the "ugly and ordinary" over the heroic and original. Perhaps just to ruffle some feathers, perhaps to try to break new ground, perhaps because of an admiration for the Smithson's similar efforts and I think that SB did hope that the decorated shed would be a more cost effective way to bring meaning to architecture for the masses. They're just so not a part of the masses, that it comes off as elitist quite often. But I think, in their minds, they were straight-faced not ironic or sarcastic, I think they do mean what they say. It's more of a "take back the word" kind of thing, trying to show the Modernists that ornament, etc, is really not all that bad.

"Ugly and Ordinary" opens with: "To make the case for a new but old direction in architecture, we shall make some comparisons to show what we are for and what we are against..." It's rather straightforward. They also write: "We maintain that both kinds of architecture are valid... but we think the duck is seldom relevant today, although it pervades Modern architecture."

I would expect a sarcastic text to begin by extolling the heroic and original, yet mean to say the opposite. Don't you think? Like Exodus, look at all the happy prisoners of architecture, they are happy and safe under its control, yea! That sounds like sarcasm, no? Ha, I don't meant that last comment sarcastically, this is a great conversation and I'd love to hear how I am wrong. Really. :-)

Jul 12, 07 2:18 pm
Jul 12, 07 2:23 pm
Jul 12, 07 3:49 pm

Pig City
In 2000, pork was the most consumed form of meat at 80 billion kg per year. Recent animal diseases such as Swine Fever and Foot and Mouth disease are raising serious questions about pork production and consumption.
Two opposing reactions can be imagined. Either we change our consumption pattern and become instant vegetarians or we change the production methods and demand biological farming.
Let us assume that we remain pork-eaters. Do we then have enough space for biological pig farming?
With a production of 16,5 million tons of pork, The Netherlands is the chief exporter of pork within the European Union. In the case of organic farming, pigs would be fed with 100% grain, leading to a required 130% more field surface due to the reduced grain production. This would mean that 75 % of the Netherlands would be dedicated to pigs.
Pig City studies the combination of organic farming with a further concentration of the meat production area, avoiding unnecessary transportation and distribution, and thereby reducing the spread of diseases.
--MVRDV website

So the (sarcastic?) conclusion is that organic pig farming is not a real option?


MVRDV have an interesting way of taking things/concepts to an extreme. Have they maybe learned from "Exodux, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture"? I like their imagination nonetheless. A breed of Dutch sarcasm utilized when most useful?

"Holy Stations of the Cross, Batman!"

Mid 21st Century Archinect/Forum Reunion, Kool Jets, Uranus
"Hey, anybody here read a novel lately?"

Jul 12, 07 10:33 pm

that stations of the cross in rio is brilliant! i could actually believe that it's an as-yet-unpublished oma proposal given their recent stuff.

Jul 13, 07 7:44 am

MVRDV, Costa Iberica: Upbeat to the Leisure City (Actar, 2000.10.01), p. 188. (The city is Benidorm, "the most effective mass-tourism machine in Spain.")

MVRDV, Costa Iberica: Upbeat to the Leisure City (Actar, 2000.10.01), p. 211. ("The Elderly Rock").


Found what may be the most sarcastic (but also the most critical) passage within the "ugly and ordinary" texts of Learning from Las Vegas:

"The Boston City Hall and its urban complex are the archetype of enlightened urban renewal. The profusion of symbolic forms, which recall the extravagances of the General Grant period, and the revival of the medieval piazza and its palazzo pubblico are in the end a bore. It is too architectural. A conventional loft would accomodate a bureaucracy better, perhaps with a blinking sign on top saying I AM A MONUMENT."

Jul 13, 07 8:40 am
o d b

I feel like sarcasm does not accurately describe the work of both VSB&I and Koolhaas/OMA, and would like to add some new words to the discussion that I think more correctly conveys the attitude in their works:

wit (this is what i see in both C&C and LFLV)
1. the keen perception and cleverly apt expression of those connections between ideas that awaken amusement and pleasure.

1. the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning

cynical (more koolhaas than venturi)
2. showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one's actions, esp. by actions that exploit the scruples of others.

Jul 13, 07 11:46 am



1. A certain attitude often accompanied by a squinty look and a superior smile that makes you instantly hate a person. Similar to snobby.

2. Cheesy, pretentious, not as attractive as one thinks one is and/or greasy and slimy.


1. A witty mannerism, personality, or behavior that is a combination of sarcasm and cynicism. Usually accepted as a complimentary term. Snark is sometimes mistaken for a snotty or arrogant attitude.

2. Any language that contains quips or comments containing sarcastic or satirical witticisms intended as blunt irony. Usually delivered in a manner that is somewhat abrupt and out of context and intended to stun and amuse.

Jul 13, 07 12:29 pm

o d b, I agree that 'sarcasm' does not fitly describe the work of VSB&I and Koolhaas/OMA. What I've found within the "ugly and ordinary" texts thus far are instances of the literary use of slight sarcasm usually at the end of a paragraph that culminates the point of a particular argument--like adding a bit of 'zing' at the end, a little akin to a punchline. Like I already said, the overall tone of the "ugly and ordinary" texts is not sarcastic.

As to the negativity of the text, yes it is there, but that is only to be expected in a polemic aimed at an orthodoxy.

Tagging Koolhaas/OMA as sarcastic is also hyperbolic, yet done with the intention to provoke further investigation, like Quilian's example of exaggerated program combinations above. While reading "ugly and ordinary" last night I too thought of 'cynicism'. I also thought I should next re-read Koolhaas's Junkspace.

One of things I'm getting out of all this is that solid criticism does (have to?) employ literary elements like cynicism, wit, satire and even some sarcasm. Sure, it comes off as negative, but it's really more metabolic, destructive and creative at the same time.

Jul 13, 07 12:29 pm

765, looks like it's inevitable that I will from now on connect you with the words smarmy and snarky.

Jul 13, 07 12:36 pm


Jul 13, 07 12:40 pm

I agree that VSB is genuine rather than sarcastic, which makes the work all the more creepy in my book.

I think there are definite traces of sarcasm in Rem's work, especially when you compare Kunsthal to Mies' National Gallery...

Jul 13, 07 1:23 pm

By the way, I think this is a great thread. Sarcasm is an oft overlooked attribute of architecture...

Jul 13, 07 1:24 pm

I think we havn't seen the relive still , no sarcasm shuld be without a reson and there are plenty plenty good resons, these architectural attributes are way underestimated , Sarcastic architeure I have no trouble imagine that , it strong, cheap and digital , so are happy architecture, but not yet not even near yet.

Jul 13, 07 1:35 pm

Steven Izenour was born yesterday 67 years ago.

Jul 17, 07 10:38 am

Okay, I said I'd bring it up on another VSBI thread but I don't really feel like looking for a good one right now so I'll put it here:

Still can't find my copy of Learning, but I was just at the AIA Bookstore here in Baltimore and I spent some time flipping through it. I almost bought it again, just for the hell of it, it's a good read.

But again, and not to get snarky about it, the tone of the essay 'Theory of Ugly and Ordinary' is totally sarcastic.

And the second paragraph talks about the origins of the phrase, both Philip Johnson and Gordon Bunschaft called VSB's work 'Ugly and Ordinary'. The whole rest of the essay is an attempt to sarcastically, ironically, recuperate this remark from its deprecating and pejorative implications. That's where I was picking up the sense of bitterness and exclusion.

Jul 18, 07 4:49 pm

I can't wait for Sustainability to become Retro, dude.

Jul 18, 07 5:02 pm

Sustainability will have to happen first, dude.

Jul 18, 07 5:24 pm

Dang, dang, I so want to be an LEED cop, dang!

Jul 18, 07 5:27 pm


Jul 18, 07 5:33 pm

[If Robert Venturi and Christopher Alexander each wrote a version of the imaginary text "Running From Modernism," Alexander wrote his earlier -- and ran much further !]

Great thread. Thanks. . .

Apr 2, 08 12:45 pm

WonderK's post reminded me of this... i know ive posted it already

Apr 2, 08 5:17 pm

The posts here started from sarcastic to ridiculous.

I would have to say the most 'sarcastic' would be Eisenman's house.

Apr 3, 08 9:41 am

Shouldn't this stuff be called sarcastitecture?

BTW: the etymology of the word sarcasm is from a greek phrase meaning literally "to tear flesh like dogs". I love that.

Apr 3, 08 1:14 pm

I always thought that Alvaro Siza's building in Berlin (called "Bonjour Tristesse") was very sarcastic. However, I might also judge the building by its name. The deterioration of the building is terrible, by the way.

Other than that, I think that virtually every building by dutch architect Carel Weeber is very very sarcastic. But you might have to understand the dutch building context in the seventies and eighties a bit better to see the (almost aggressive) sarcasm in his work.

Apr 3, 08 6:21 pm

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