|Above center: Case Western Reserve University Weatherhead School of
Management, Frank Gehry, architect (1997). Pristine condition prior to possible future damage by war, sabotage or act of God,
deterioration consequent to abandonment, etc. (Read more about this building,
A statement from 1972,
by the Director, Department of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
By many accountings, it seems that
postmodernism either began or at least first achieved widespread attention in the
field of architecture. I here quote from the preface of an early and influential book
which celebrated this development, perhaps even before the word was available:
An alternative to political romance is to be an architect.... The
young men represented [in this book] have the talent...
and their work makes a modest claim: it is only architecture,
not the salvation of man and the redemption of the earth. For those
who like architecture that is no mean thing. (Arthur Drexler, Five
Architects (Preface), 1972, Oxford, p. 1)
A quote from Nietzsche (1883)
Almost a century earlier,
Friedrich Nietzsche foresaw this retrograde "development", in which individuals
abandon the aspiration to improve the world, in favor of
superficial aesthetic manipulation of the status quo, and even take pride in this abdication:
Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a
star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming,
he who is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the
last man. [/] "What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?"
thus asks the last man, and he blinks. [/] The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man
who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea-beetle;
the last man lives longest. [/] No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same,
everybody is the same.... [/] One is clever and knows everything that has ever
happened: so there is no end of derision.... [/] "We have invented happiness,"
say the last men, and they blink.
("Zarathustra's Prologue", in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1883)
It seems that postmodernism is not
content with straightforward mediocrity, which makes sense, since, in general,
postmodernists are intelligent, creative, educated,
prosperous beneficiaries of modern civilization.... They use mediocrity as raw material for
producing esoteric things that can be appreciated only by those who know the
"codes", e.g.: the windows in Robert Venturi's Guild House (1960-63), which
prima facie look like ordinary windows but are changed in scale to be bigger
than their archetypes:
The change in scale of these almost banal elements
contributes an expression of tension and a quality to these facades, which
now read both as conventional and unconventional forms at the
same time. (Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction
in Architecture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1966, p. 116)
windows are not just "almost banal", but truly banal: metal casement windows
of a form often seen in what in America was called at the time: "public housing".
The residents of this Quaker home
for the aged, place plastic flowers in these windows, and Venturi asserts that the
plastic flowers seem right at home there, thus comforting the residents in
their conventionality. We can easily imagine Venturi and his colleagues, at
a reception in an elegant hotel, talking about the change of scale and how it is
not noticable by the residents, thus cynically distancing themselves from
a world they have, as architects, created for people not in their social circle. One of
the terms Venturi himself uses for this kind of architecture is telling: "decorated
shed" (See example, right: tract house with Greek temple facade added to make a bank Branch Office). This kind of architecture puts glitzy facades on places where persons go to
use up their life time in banal activities pursued in uninspiring space.
As the phrase proclaims: This architecture only makes things look better,
not be better.
Once postmodernism got
beyond architecture, which, if it to be actually built, must make some
accommodation to reality, things got worse, and its theorists started
saying things which amount to claiming that communication is impossible, etc.
For these persons, I would ask: If communication is impossible, then
would you have any problem with finding out that your paycheck and other assets did not
communicate any value to a person from whom you wished to
purchase something? If a social position of "full professor" is merely "different"
from that of "janitor", in a floating field of
signifiers, then let's swap the postmodernist professor's
position for the other and see if it matters to him or her. Etc.
It seems to me that postmodernism is
a game indulged in by persons who can well afford to fool themselves (or
at least to pretend to do so), in a social environment which, for whatever
reason, rewards such [disingenuous] behavior well in
terms of [real!] fame, money, etc. The emperor's new
clothes (decorated shed... Trojan horse?[fn.94a])....
Team Disneyland Administration Building (1997).
Anaheim, CA, "north end of Disneyland's back-of-house and parallel to the Santa Ana
Freeway." Note how building appears to be just a facade with nothing behind it,
like an old Hollywood "western" stage set frontier town, or a Potemkin Village.|
|Herbert Muschamp (18May01 NYT, p.E25,27)
titles a favorable essay: "Gehry's vision of renovating democracy". Then he writes: "Mr. Gehry's
buildings can be hierarchically organized; the master suite
in his own house occupies a more ample and elevated situation than the children's rooms."
|"Michael Jackson and Bubbles" (1988,
from the artist's Banality series), an über-kitsch life-size sculpture of the King of
Pop and his pet chimpanzee by Jeff Koons, which sold [at Sotheby's] on Tuesday (15May01) for $5.6 million,
a record for a work by Mr. Koons. (NYT, 20May01)|
09 Feb 2002 © Brad McCormick, Ed.D.
We are not yet really modern
I propose that our polluted earth needs to be
redeemed and our alienated humanity saved. I propose that architecture can play
a key role in this. An example is Louis Kahn, who tried to design buildings to
be places which would nurture the creative community of the persons
who used them. Consider:
The city is the place of availabilities. It is the place where a small
boy, as he walks through it, may see something that will tell him what he wants to do his whole life.
...The city, from a simple settlement, became the place of
assembled institutions. The measure of its greatness as a place to
live must come from the character of its institutions, sanctioned by
their sensitivity to desire for new agreement, not by need, because
need comes from what already is. Desire is the thing not made, the
roots of the will to live. (Louis Kahn, in Lobell,
Between Silence and Light, 1979, pp. 44-5)
This endeavor to make differences which
make a difference can be pursued in all areas of life, not just architecture.
In place of postmodernism's "play of signifiers", we can cultivate
significant play: activity in which persons find pleasure, fellowship, satisfaction, etc.,
in creative work directed to solving real problems in ways that
straightforwardly enrich both their (our) own and others' lives.... Instead of
decorating sheds into which persons must [under]go
to spend their life time doing things that are not intrinsically
nourishing or beautiful, we can work to liberate persons (including ourselves) from ever again
having to subject themselves to such life circumstances. Etc....
Venturi polemically asserts that
while it is OK to decorate construction, it is not OK to "construct decoration",
which is how he describes modernist buildings that attempted by their
visual form to be unique and thus to stand out from their surroundings. One
specific example he cites is another housing project for
the aged, by Paul Rudolph: a high-rise tower with windows in which the
elderly's plastic flowers definitely look out of place (Learning from Las Vegas,
ref. lost). (One precursor of postmodern architecture's ideal of the
"decorated shed" is: automobile hubcaps.)
Insofar as the modernist
building does no more to improve persons'
quality of life than the postmodernist building, both fall short of the
criteria Louis Kahn proposes: to construct spaces which better address human
need, and, beyond that, foster persons' opportunities to
create and to come to new social agreements for the universally satisfying
arrangement of their lives -- places which nurture: "desire... the roots of the
will to live". One may wish to call this a further elaboration of the
idea of modernity, which, as the project of unending disciplined examination and
critical reconstruction of our form of life in all its aspects,
has obviously only been fragmentarily realized in our contemporary world (where,
to pick one rather inconsequential example almost at random: persons still frequently
ritually "dress up" for work and other social activities, only substituting
(e.g.) Armani suits for birds' feathers...). If, alternatively,
one wishes to limit "modernism" to its factual
achievements -- emphasizing its failures and existing limitations over its more
constructive accomplishments and its as yet unrealized potential --, then one might justly characterize the
orientation I am here urging, with its renewed -- redoubled -- ethical and humanistic commitment,
as being: "beyond postmodernism".
Evidence for hope (Germany, 2003)
A New York Times article (04Dec03):
"In Eastern Germany, the Auto Plant as Showplace", describes new automobile factories being built in
the former Soviet "satellite" area. Volkswagen is building a facility they call the:
"Transparent Factory". Not only does the new building have glass walls
so that it is physically transparent, but VW's objective is to make the entire production process cognitively and
affectively "transparent". The section of their website "This is how we build cars" states:
CONCENTRATION ON THE ESSENTIAL
The Transparent Factory puts clear principles into practice.
Everything is simple, open, clean and visible.
Even man-machine co-operation reaches new perfection.
Technological intelligence meets human craftsmanship.
(At another place on the website, the last
point is repeated: "Robots are only used when they can
sensibly assist the craftsman.") The next item: "Perfection in detail" continues:
EVERYTHING COMES TO LIGHT
Quality control is an essential component of production. Every vehicle must pass through a light tunnel over
80 feet long where the body is subjected to the glare of neon lights to check for the smallest
irregulatity and blemish in the paintwork.
The New York Times article goes on to describe BMW's
new "central office building, which will house the white-collar staff.... BMW's goal is to blur the line between the factory's
managers and workers by placing the building in the midst of the complex, rather than in front of it."
These endeavors do not sound like decoration covering over
a shed. Is it possible that, here, we are seeing experimental steps toward
reorganizing the daily life of Everyman (e.g., automobile factory workers) to be more transparent,
more meaningful? I hope so. And I hope that "we" in the United States are
insipired by such examples to try to make our form of life more transparent and more
meaningful, instead of, on the one hand, decorating sheds, and, on the other hand, trying to
win a cost-cutting [what some have called:] race to the bottom.
TRUE FASCINATION IS MORE THAN SKIN DEEP;
IT LIES IN THE SUM TOTAL OF ALL THE FASCINATING DETAILS.
Creating the kind of fascination that outlasts time -- this is the challenge
that we at Volkswagen tackle anew each day....
MAN AT THE CENTRE
Enhancing the quality of life is our guiding principle in the development of
new ideas.... (--"The Transparent Factory")
Learn why a city can deserve to exist (Louis Kahn).
|| Edmund Husserl's lecture: Philosophy and the crisis of European humanity.
Revisit The Tower of Babel (a model of the good life).
|| about The Decline of The West: Is the adventure over?|
|| my page on Freud's Civilization and its Discontents.|
Return/Go to my Post-Postmodernism theory page.
|Read about: Hubcap mentalité.
|| more late 20th - early 21st century middle-class American folk customs.|| |
See "modern" house with chandelier (Miami, Florida USA. 2004).
|| how postmodern architecture is just 19th century Beaux Arts neo-classical orthodoxy
in new clothes and/or with a face-lift.|
|| famous postmodern house whose famous postmodern architects
were "heartbroken" when the client cancelled construction.
more scintillating aluminum (But it's not a Frank Gehry art museum for Lhasa Tibet).
See my Post modern artwork....
|| my Post-Postmodern artwork page (it's
not Disneyland, but there are things to see and things to do there...).|
|| to architecture designs I did in 1981 Harvard Career Discovery Program (HCDP).
|| garden I designed for front yard of my home,
inspired by Ise "Wedded rocks" (1996?).|
|| to my doctoral dissertation: Communication: the social matrix
of supervision of psychotherapy.||
Go to website Table of Contents.
Return to Brad McCormick's home page.
Return to site map.
Copyright © 1998-2002 Brad McCormick, Ed.D.
26 March 2008CE (2008-03-26 ISO 8601)
| The Cabinet of Dr. CaliGehry|
|"CLEVELAND, May 10  -- The police said today that a gunman who killed one
person and wounded two in a seven-hour attack here on Friday led SWAT
teams on a maddening "cat-and-mouse" chase through one of the
nation's most idiosyncratic architectural complexes,
the building that houses Case Western Reserve University's...
Weatherhead School of Management...
a brick complex topped with towering bursts of undulating
stainless steel... designed by Frank Gehry (left).
Its avant-garde design led to a prolonged hide-and-seek
between SWAT team members and the gunman in a building that
defies conventional shape. Officers chased the man... over several floors.
'There are no right angles in the building,' said Chief Edward Lohn of the Cleveland police.
'There's a trail of blood throughout,' he added. 'The cat-and-mouse
game moved room to room, floor to floor in that building.'"
(Danny Hakim, "Ex-Employee Held in Campus Attack", NYT, 11May03, p.A19)
"Talk about hot! The glare off the shimmering stainless steel curves
at the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall [Los Angeles] is so bad,
it's heating up nearby condos at least 15 degrees and forcing owners to crank up their air conditioners."
(USA Today online, AP, "New L.A. concert hall raises temperatures of neighbors", Posted 2/24/2004 11:22 AM, Updated 2/24/2004 11:24 AM)
~ "[C]omplaints about the... concert hall... have been flowing into the local politicians since it was officially opened in October 2003....
Throughout the summer, passing motorists reported being distracted by the reflected rays,
while pedestrians described having to cross the street to avoid the intense heat....
The owner of a nearby video store said the reflected rays during this summer made her work feel 'like sitting in a sauna.'...
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is considering a report that recommends sandblasting portions
of the building to create a duller, less-reflective surface." (Archiseek,
Gehry's Disney Hall Too Shiney for LA,
"Complaints take shine off Gehry's L.A. concert hall; Last Updated Tue, 30 Nov 2004 16:36:04 EST")
Lower left: Gehry's MIT Ray and Maria Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences,
which is more directly reminiscent of the urban architecture in the German Expressionist film:
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.