Archive for May, 2011
This is part 1 of 2; the presentation boards. The idea was for the four sheets to create a sort of “shutter” layout, since each artist captures and critically examines some aspect of existence. Turell’s board has a hole in it and is mounted on a window to frame the sky beyond. The Ant Farm board is fitted with a mirror, to represent the culturally introspective nature of their projects.
This is part 2 of 2; the powerpoint presentation. The best part can’t be shown online, it involves a pitch-black room and a projector showing stars moving slowly across a small window into the dark night sky (either just imagine it when you see slide #9 or DOWNLOAD the powerpoint).
This past week (Spring Break), I visited New Orleans and did community service with a big group of my friends. The trip was great, and provided a lot of food for thought regarding Architecture/ design/ urbanism.
Our hotel was in the French Quarter, which is essentially the Cajun version of New York’s Times Square. The French Quarter is a manufactured sort of drunken reality-haze crafted for tourists, to give them “The New Orleans Experience.” They take tourism very seriously in the Quarter; the chief exports being $5 cocktails and $20 souvenir shirts. I would define my friends as intellectuals (of the non-Architecture sort), and needless to say, they weren’t crazy about exploring the French Quarter, and balked when they saw the endlessly sprawling suburbs. They didn’t enjoy the idea that they were being served a populist caricature of New Orleans. This Rem Koolhas quote comes flying to mind:
“Their sensibilities offended by the ‘peeling white paint,’ pitying the manipulated masses, disparaging the events in the middle zone [Coney Island theme parks] as compared to their own unreal well-preserved Arcadia, they look behind Coney Island’s facade and see nothing.”
And thus, my first distilled observation: the massive disconnect between self-defined intellectuals lusting after “substance”, and the “masses” lusting after enjoyment. The intellectuals want ‘culture’, they want ‘art’, they want ‘literature’. The masses are satisfied by a facade [cardboard + lights], they want action movies, they want Twilight. Its important, because Architecturally, the “masses” are satisfied by monotonous post-war construction, interspersed with Neo-Classical government buildings. In short, there are two standards of beauty.
During my time in New Orleans, I visited the Piazza d’Italia designed by Charles Moore. Its worth mentioning that during my introductory Architecture History survey course, the professor described the The Piazza d’Italia as “a weird bit of post-modern art cum plaza.” Studying it, a year and a half ago, I laughed at it, it seemed detestable and intellectually cheap; my Architecture education was promising to organize the world in neat terms, to redesign it with straight modernist lines.
So I visited the Piazza, intending to get a good chuckle out of the Post-modern design.
I was blown away.
The plaza is actually a really wonderful and playful riff on classicism in a modern age. Ionic columns are topped with chrome capitals, water is flowing and pooling and moving through the entire plaza, neon lighting fancifully encircles the tops of columns, buttresses extend out, holding up nothing. The whole composition is lively and fun, a mash-up between all sort of symbols that lost most of their meaning long ago. And it was perfectly suited to the city of New Orleans. The way that Jazz re-purposed old instruments and breathed new life into them, the Piazza re-purposes old forms, enlivening them. It is “adult playground” architecture, a physical manifestation of the idea of Bourbon Street. It is deviant, yet intellectually so, and context sensitive, functioning at an incredibly human scale. I highly recommend visiting it.
I get the impression that most Architects see the plaza as a joke, perhaps ironically, since it was a joke written for them. Sadly, I got the impression that the Hotel that owns the Plaza is ashamed of it. My friend and I were kicked out for playing in the water, and the security guard locked the gate behind us. Haven’t they seen “The Social Life of Small Urban Places”? Thats no way to increase public usage, they’re hiding a really wonderful piece of [cardboard + lights].
So….. why? If the space were managed properly, it could be much more successful. Why close off such a potentially wonderful public space? Why hide it?