Make an image of our aesthetics in their intoxication and want of intoxication. Now see architecture, and its mask of visual seduction, which creates a depthless world of appearances. Understand that we are always looking for the newest, the biggest, and the best of our time, constantly in pursuit of innovation. As a result, architecture has lost its deeper meaning. It is an over saturated society where the masses have developed a numbness that is the gaze at which they see and evaluate architecture.
Now consider the image through its process; showcasing its artist, its media, and its emotion. You will see the artist in their own world, pouring their heart and soul into their work, unaware of what is to become of it. Imagine architecture as their advertiser, advocating movement through a series of spaces as to experience an artistic process. Notice each new space as the topmost layer of individualistic expression; a layer that will eventually be forgotten as change is revealed through time. This is a reaction against the image; a re-introduction to architecture as something that is experienced, analyzed and understood. Its past and its process are understood. Its being and function are analyzed. And its moments of meaning and emotion are revealed as the current conditions of space are experienced.
Make an image of our aesthetics in their intoxication and want of intoxication. Now see human beings as though they are prisoners, confined to a cave, with a long entrance that reveals only a glimpse of light from outside. (193 Plato, G. 2000) imagine these people are exposed only to the saturated images of a contemporary city; a city that architect and theorist Neil Leach notes is masked by the depthless obsession of appearance. (71 leach, Neil 2000) this is an obsession where there is no feeling, no reveal, no experience; everything is reduced to the surface for the purpose of seduction. And if seduction is a purely visual enchantment that prevents any deeper level of inquiry, has architecture lost its sense of reality?
Neil Leach describes the lack of a “real” experience with the image as the new reality. He talks about Jean Baudrillard’s ideas of an imaginary world acting as a “prop” to the real; in example, Baudrillard specifically talks about Disneyland. For Disneyland is constructed to be make-believe, however it gives the allusion that what is going on outside is real. Leach is then led to believe the term “real” is now but a myth and is being used along side advertisements to claim authenticity.It then becomes true that the outside world is also part of Disney. Everything has become an “experience” as the Eiffel Tower is the “Eiffel Tower Experience” and Notre-Dame is now the “Notre-Dame Experience.” in cases such as these, one is forced to question the historical reality of such landmarks today. (5 Leach, Neil 2000)
In this “Information Age” filled with images, distinguished professor Michael Benedikt notes people’s difficulty in understanding “what something is, is distinct from what something communicates.” he speaks of the unfortunate suppression of the perception of reality and the growing trend of the perception of messages. This contemporary idea of instant persuasion has produced an architecture that has become a printed image, viewed by hurried eyes. Benedikt is confident that among times of a society filled with over saturated images, architecture will be the only place offering what he calls “a direct aesthetic experience to the real.” he argues that architecture should not be a medium of communication at all, but instead a “primary object.” he believes buildings should protect us, give us addresses and to be mostly void of emotion or feeling. Benedikt sees the post-modern ideas of allusion and symbolism that blur fact and fiction to be the origin of the self-conscious fabulation of society today. Summed up, Benedikt states in today’s world, what you see, is not at all what you get. (14 Benedikt, m. 1987)
Now consider, one of these human beings confined to the cave,is told of an architecture that relates us to our own being as it reveals feeling through layers of experiential moments of space, place, and meaning. He is told that architecture can become an experience beyond a visual gaze in which we experience both the spaces and ourselves as transcendent beings. It is no surprise, the prisoner will not believe something can evoke such emotion from within him. It is true to him, that architecture is but an image. And it is no surprise he does not see the spaces that fall behind the image, for the over saturation distorts his sense of depth, therefore he has forgotten it exists. What then if he were dragged up the long entrance of the cave and thrown out, into the light? (194 Plato, G. 2000) among a society of saturated images can an emotional architectural experience emerge within the individual?
Architect and academic Anna Klingmann believes architecture has lost its ability to provoke pleasure in anyone outside of the discipline of architecture. She knows of an architecture that once brought silence among chattering crowds as it revealed overwhelming experiences. Crowds would stream into the Hagia Sophia every day and fall silent in “jaw-dropping awe” after entering the building. Klingmann notes the experiences of the Pantheon in Rome and the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris that produce similar effects on visitors.And Klingmann believes somewhere in the modern pursuit of truth and sincerity, architects began ignoring the idea of the architectural experience in their work. And following the post-modern era, Klingmann notes today’s imagery overload leads to aesthetic decisions made for reasons like “i like that,” instead of “this is good design.” in order to create an architecture that will bond with people, Klingmann cites Bernard Schmitt’s stress on the “transformative dimension of space and the emotion created by its use.” with an acute awareness of the user’s sensations, spaces can begin to evoke emotion and inspire stimulating experiences. (55 Klingmann, Anna 1999)
Juhani Pallasmaa similarly imagines architecture as something that relates to your being and essentially is about meaning. He speaks of a meaning that is beyond architecture, a meaning that is projected back to experience ourselves as complete, spiritual beings. He believes architecture can be studied and understood through an analysis of the history of theory behind the senses, coupled with a detailed look at today’s focus on the sense of vision. “Instead of creating mere objects of visual seduction, architecture relates, mediates and projects meanings. The ultimate meaning of any building is beyond architecture; it directs our consciousness back to the world and towards our own sense of self and self being. Significant architecture makes us experience ourselves as complete embodied and spiritual beings. In fact, this is the great function of all meaningful art.” Pallasmaa assures us that the reintroduction of the architectural experience and the overdue re-integration of the neglected senses are making strong attempts to re-sensualise architecture. In this effort there is a strengthened sense of materiality, texture and density of space among new designs. (37 Pallasmaa, J. 2005)
Among this new architecture that looks to evoke emotion, the prisoner’s eyes would be unable to make out forms at first, but slowly as his eyes begin to adjust to the light he is confronted with an architecture in which he has never noticed. And as this man becomes accustomed to the light, he slowly moves through the spaces, each turn revealing a new architectural detail, each space evoking a new emotion, views are given, residual spaces offer interaction, materials create new textures and an architectural experience is created.
Suppose he then returns to the cave to share his knowledge with the rest of the prisoners. What will they say? This man can now see ten thousand times better than the people of the cave because of his new heightened awareness and among the abundance of peripheral information he has experienced architecture beyond its visual mask. Is that not finding truth? When we speak of truth in architecture, whatdoes that suggest?
In the eyes of philosophy educator and researcher Karsten Harries, to talk of truth in architectural theory would be just as useless to as to talk of truth in the theory of art. “Truth of representation has nothing to do with artistic success.” However, you may imagine a work of art or architecture to be true in the sense that it is true to itself, with strength in self-reference and coherence. Although he doubts that truth in aesthetic coherence is usually what is meant when a work of architecture is claimed to be “true.” Harries continues to question the understanding of truth in architecture and begins to associate this constant insistence of truth with the perversion of truth. Truth would mean obedience to a dominant style and one would imagine an insistence of truth would mean a lack of innovation and individuality. Truth in materials would assume that a brick façade was actually brick, or a stone wall to actually be a solid, load-bearing wall. We know today, however, and harries confirms, that in an economic society, there are cheaper, more easily worked, material substitutes. So it then becomes apparent, that architecture that claims truth can only do so because it appears to be so, not necessarily that it is. (47 Harries, Karsten) in a world where truth is but an illusion, architect and theorist Neil Leach agrees that “truth” is often distorted to give something validation. In the media society, images are consistently forced upon society, creating a surface of seduction. And in contrast to interpretation, seduction prevents deeper thought thus extracting meaning and detracting from its truth. Seduction has even lost its own meaning in its aesthetic pursuit of surface appearance. No longer does it have the charm or passion it once did, for seduction has been reduced to the “endless reproduction of a form without content.” this is what Leach recognizes in Las Vegas as “form for form’s sake,” which holds no truth nor meaning, but what is argued as “an architecture of persuasion.” (76 Leach, Neil 2000)
The prisoner now recognizes this persuasion as it is presented to him within his cave and its pursuit to appear as the best; a perversion of the truth that relies on the seduction of the image. And what now of every building that has compete to be the newest, the biggest, the most sustainable in the city? (39 Maas, W. 2009) in this aesthetic pursuit, architecture has turned its back on experience and instead is relying on the image to create the illusion of something that is “real,” has “meaning,” and presents “truth.” With such an aesthetic fetish, architecture becomes judged and analyzed by its surface appearance, with no attention paid to its deeper meaning. With no appreciation of depth, perspective, or relief, imagery instead promotes a gaze as an anti-analytical tool for viewing architecture. So now imagine this reaction against the image that begins to re-introduce architecture as something that is experienced, analyzed and understood.
Benedikt, M. For an Architecture of Reality. Lumen Books, 1987. Print.
Harries, Karsten. “On Truth and Lie in Architecture.” via 7: The Building Of. Print.
Leach, Neil. The Anaesthetics of Architecture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000. Print.
Maas, W., U. Hackauf, and The Why Factory. Visionary Cities. Nai Publishers, 2009. Print.
Pallasmaa, J., and S. Holl. The Eyes of The Skin: Architecture and the Senses. Wiley-
Academy, 2005. Print.
Plato, G., and C. Reeve. Plato: The Republic. Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.