Architecturalism

Styles change, style doesn’t… | old saying


I was always skeptical about the abstract generic definitions. In politics such definitions are called political systems or movements. In art it’s called “style”. But linguistically it’s the “SSDD”. As a rule, those sophisticated definitions are ending on suffix “-ism”. English “-ism” derives from Latin –“-ismus” which comes from Greek words ending in -ισμός (-ismos).

Feudalism, fascism, capitalism, socialism, communism, impressionism, modernism, cubism, suprematism, surrealism, minimalism… We all know the schpeel. As time goes by we run out of cool Latin/Greek terms and we start to use fancy prefixes. That’s how we get neo-conservatism, post-modernism, de-constructivism… We don’t stop here though. Once the antique grammar reserves are emptied we invent “movements”, “schools” and “styles” by gluing “ism” to any word. As a result we get such weird “animals” as machismo, ableism (the synonym in Google is word “able-bodyism”, no kidding!), brutalism, libertarianism (try to pronounce it… or to spell it correctly without computerized spell-check)… As you can see there’s no limit to our idiotism.

Architecture is an art (is it?) completely based on those pseudo-intellectual “-isms”. The entire history of architecture is chronologically divided and precisely categorized by those “styles”.

The other question is who’s organized things in such order? Who has attached ridiculous labels to the billions of the unique projects? Who are those Gods branding the Universe of the architecture from antique Greece (classicism) till modern Japan (minimalism)? “The Gods” are usually all-knowing critics, people who write about architecture, people who for some reason believe that they present public opinion. Such belief is based on the critics’ supposedly deep historical knowledge… Typically the knowledge means they are able to attribute those artificial “-ism” definitions to any original structure. Funny isn’t it? Yet that’s how it works these days.

So I have decided to help you, architects. Stick to the “–ism” before you design the project. Use Latin words, rather than intellect. Make sure you have trendy name first. There’s no need to worry about the clever design and the devil which is stuck in the details. Just mix few universal ingredients and you will be proclaimed the great cook… oops… sorry architect of neo-modernism in the era of post-capitalism. Here are some recipes .

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Constructivism

Create some twisted skeleton for a weird tower structure with a spiral element a-la Escher. Make sure it’s not falling apart immediately. The rest is irrelevant: envelope doesn’t exist; function is not important. Replace all specifics with a lot of abstract enthusiasm and expressive graphics. Red color? Yes, a lot. Cyrillic letters? Absolutely. Borrow it from some old communist posters. Mention Bauhaus & Russian revolution. You are all set. Don’t overdo it, constructivism is pretty close to communism…

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De-constructivism

First of all do not dare to build. Your project must remain on paper. There’s no need in design development, not to mention the working drawings. See? Easy. You have to create few pictures with the millions of chaotic lines, abstract shapes and weird marks. Preferably the lines to be painted diagonally. So you can feel the “dynamics”, the “movement”, the “energy of destruction”. Good idea would be to scan your masterpiece and to use all possible effects and filters from Photoshop or any other software. It will make your statement more radical. After that write an essay illustrated with your images. Provide a mysterious title for each of the drawings. Something like: “Composition 5” or “Psychedelic impression”. Mention in your piece Jacques Derrida; emphasize personal sentiment for socialism, pacifism & social activism. Don’t worry about too many –isms. It works.

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Minimalism

Don’t bother about the architectonics, massing studies or finishes selection. The simplest concrete box is the only thing you want. The simplest! No finishes whatsoever. An exposed concrete is more than enough. The same goes for the interiors. If they (those stupid habitants) don’t like it – spray white color everywhere. Remember – white only! Add few narrow accidental openings in the envelope. Frameless. (Yes it’s expensive, but don’t worry about the budget.) And that’s basically it. When the photographs are taken place a single white (white!) chair in the middle of the depressing concrete space as a final touch. If your company’s name sounds like Japanese (it’s very-very important) you are the real master of minimalism. If you are too far from Japanese spirit pretend being Scandinavian. It helps.

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Brutalism


Actually it’s almost the same as minimalism. Minimalism becomes brutalism when your concrete box has a huge size. Otherwise it’s even easier. Don’t worry about the white. (Exposed concrete everywhere – fuck it!). Don’t worry about the tricky location of the openings (Do monotonous rows along the front façade and no openings at the back – that’s it). Don’t worry about that lonely chair during the photo-session. And don’t worry about the Japanese name. English, Russian, Spanish, German – practically anything will do (not so sure about  the Italian though)

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Modernism

The easiest one. Do nothing creative. Nothing. Literally. Keep saying: less is more. Use black and white palette. Tell that rationalism guides the concept, thus you don’t have to worry about the coordination between the architectural design and the shop drawings from the manufacturers. Actually let the manufacturers to do the architectural design. Don’t waste your time. The client will be happy. But make sure that you drive the process in terms of the PR. Otherwise  the client might realize that all he needs is a structural engineer, a builder and the windows manufacturer. In order to avoid this situation open some aluminum windows plant and hire yourself as a subcontractor. Money and fame at the same time. Not bad.

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Post-modernism

That’s the tricky one. You have to convince everyone that your lack of talent and taste is actually a conscious intellectual parody that creatively reworks the irrelevant conceptualism of the obsolete classic canons. Holy smoke! Let me re-read what I ‘ve written here… Let’s put it simple. Pick some ugly ceramic finishes for the building with the fake Disneyland look. Don’t worry about the proportions, scale or visual adequacy. The uglier – the better. Use fake colorful materials, make giant entrance element and erect disproportional statues of some animals on top of the building. Write a book. Be sarcastic. Remember your total lack of artistic talent is a huge advantage. Use it.

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Classicism

This one is a different game. You have to be solid, conservative, boring. You have to wear a tie & a top-hat. No jeans. No iPad or Sony laptop either. Dark leather folders only. You have to produce a bunch of extraneous details and to explain to your client that in accordance with the classical orders the use of Corinthian colonnade wrapping around the entire building is a minimum requirement. That client must accept that the crepidoma without the stilobate is worthless, not to mention the utter importance of the diaxial symmetry between the opisthodomos & the pronaos. As an opposite of brutalism Italian name comes handy here… British accent helps enormously. But the best thing would be to hang out with Prince Charles. On the other hand… if you hang out with Prince Charles why on Earth you need to waste your time on Architecture?

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Professionalism

Oh, common this is so obsolete. A totally worthless element nowadays. If you follow my tips you don’t need it. You can lose 20 pounds in 3 days; you can make a million dollars within a week , you can become a famous artist with no effort.  Yes, you can. Everything is possible in our world full of cynicism

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Comments
21 Responses to “Architecturalism”
  1. bernard says:

    Great… enjoyed this …

  2. Aidar says:

    Hilarious! As my professor once said: architecture can either be good or bad one, let’s leave all these “ism”s for critics. And I am not agree about Michael Graves definition. He is great.

  3. Clueless says:

    Don’t know much about architecture, but I thoroughly enjoyed this post. And I will definitely take your advice to use my total lack of talent to my advantage. I guess this makes me a post-modernist :)

  4. Katy says:

    Would you write a book? Your blog posts just aren’t long enough. Also, I wish you would do a reality show about architecture. It would be the most entertaining thing on tv.

  5. Dmitry says:

    Great analysis. Love the ‘classic’ angle, but the conclusion was a little too dark, no?

  6. Stef says:

    The article is great, congratulation =))

  7. aar kay says:

    hahaha…….image is everything ask andre agassi and the folks at nike …. a good period to follow would be when agassi began and wore on;y neon and won nothing…lol…. the only time he did anything worthwhile was when he scored steffi… ;-)

  8. dram says:

    I can say that I laughed but this would all be nice if it had any relations with reality. Every architect that has any self respect knows everything you mentioned here. So I really can not call this an analysis (like some people do), this is a joke that I have heard plenty of times but the end of this text made me think that this should have some deep point. It shouldnt and nobody should write a book about it. i think you also took every architectural idea lightly and I hope that your intent was to speak about shallowness of todays thought. But that is also a bad idea because this text is very shallow too…..

  9. Hilarious but truthful definitions of the various architecturalisms.

  10. Ruban says:

    I am not an architect, but a designer, and I can relate to all the ‘ism’s too.

  11. Will Gerstmyer says:

    Funny – yes; fun – no. Architectural historians shed so little light, and help not at all to someone who has to draw something meaningful to a whole world of people. History is important, but not architectural historian’s history which seems to have been borne of a time when men of leisure tried to do for architecture what Darwin did for species. But to categorize an Object by its shape clues is like categorizing a woman by her hair color – the soul is missing, hence all but the least important aspects of its possible meaning.
    So yes, there is now a great raft of verbiage about “what style is it?” There is a positivist framework around it – “progress” is better by definition, declares its mantra, though we all know that newer is not necessarily better. Styles as a shorthand for a set of physical features devalues architecture (please stop doing this This Old House and Extreme Makeover House Edition!!) and besides screwing viewers up, it all completely misses the point. Architecture can aim to achieve no less than any other artform, ie, it should have potential for life-change in people, it should call out what we are forgetting, make wisdom out of nonsense, shed light on the difficult questions, point out what is meaningful in the human condition, etc. etc. We happen to be lucky that our artform directly engages us with each other and the environment as opposed to being purely an exercise of thinking that must occur only in our minds – but that also means that our responsibility to use that strength wisely is great because 1) our work is more public (and less of a choice by the population as to whether or not they want to see our artform), and 2) our work communicates very insidiously and subtly.
    When one disregards “style”, it is clear there are hundreds of “old” projects that still speak to us today because their form (what communicates) and their relationships (how things point out and connect things together so that we can see and experience connections between things) portray messages that are practically independent of the means that just happened to be available at the time of construction. Good architects know this, and how to transcend such limitations so that the means won’t get in the way as times change.
    For more fun, re-read a great little tale and go out and look at the work of the current crop of Starchitects: The Emperor’s New Clothes. Cheers, Will

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