While driving up and down the Pacific Highway between the Gold Coast and Brisbane on the M1, at trip of about 90 kilometres, one has plenty of time to ponder the passing procession of vehicles as they speed along in their never-ending attempts to simulate the experience of driving in a Formula 1 event. Winning, getting in front of anyone, everyone, with the appropriate grunt of aggression, is the apparent intent. Some drivers are far more ambitious than others. A few seek to display their dexterity, weaving in and out of lanes and around and between other vehicles impulsively while texting or chatting. Keeping out of their way becomes the core aim of every trip.
In spite of the mayhem of the hustle and bustle of this strange warped world of speedy sound, colour and movement, one still has time to consider the design detailing of the sea of vehicles as it cruises along in front, travels in parallel, and follows mirrored behind, or just crawls along in the traffic jam caused by the crashes of the failed Formula 1 re-enactments. Those cars, trucks and utes that flash by cause such alarm that they almost go unnoticed, perceived anxiously as a blurr, unseen apart from their looming size and disappearing colour. The overall variety in the remaining array of passing form, hue and detail in those cars that can be perused is seemingly unending, astonishing, unlimited; the more so the more one sees it and considers it. The exercise needs specific intent, as we have become so used to vehicles that they have become visual clichés. It is often said that they all look the same, but this is more a statement about a broad recognition of their pieces and parts rather than detail. Consider just one item, the wheel. All cars have wheels, but, surprisingly, nearly all car wheels are different. Why? Have a look. The situation here is that all wheels look much the same when in motion. The precise difference in detailing can only be observed when the vehicles are stationary or moving slowly. Car parks and crashes facilitate the study of wheels, but both situations make review and reverie awkwardly uneasy.
The thought occurred: has architecture become the equivalent of car design, perhaps most clearly seen in the work of Zaha Hadid? The forms whizzing by or moving in sync are indeed similar to those in Hadid's work. The streamlined distortions, the ooze of the masses, the fluid interrelationships, and the self-conscious drama in the design and detail of the vehicles are like the shapes and characteristics seen in Hadid's buildings. Has Hadid been inspired by this slick free-form steel and plastic, black glass and chrome styling that starts as freehand scribbles to be then further developed in a mass of free-form clay? Does Hadid use clay? Is this similarity a self-conscious attitude, or has it developed otherwise? Has a confidence with functions allowed our attentions to wander off into matters more ephemeral and less necessary, less essential, more decoratively stylish?
Karl Popper has described how scientific theories develop and change by testing, being challenged by new conjectures, sometimes to be refuted, a process that incorporates other theories or negates them. Has, for example, functionalism and post-modernism been incorporated, or perhaps negated, in today's architectural efforts? Has this growing confidence with facts and our ability to mange them meant that attention can now be given to a more frivolous playing with forms? Can one liken this to the developing skills of a piano player who, after initially struggling with simple notes and then mastering complex techniques, is finally able to give full attention to the subtle nuances of a symphony? Is this the outcome of our digital world that has assimilated so much of what was once drudgery? This observation, that architecture has similar formal qualities and characteristics to car design, well, visually at least, might seem to be a strange parallel to draw, just an odd observation; but it does have an importance for us: it can help us understand more about the architecture of today, just where we are and what we are doing. It is clear that the form/function paradigm has gone. Now the driving theory, (forgive the pun), seems to be that 'Form Follows Flair,' that style is all-important: one assumes that the approach is that the rest, the facts and functions, will look after themselves as a matter of course, somehow; that style reigns supreme.
Car design is pure style, an ethereal morphing of matter, any matter, just for the sake of appearance, the whim of the creator. Appearance is the core ambition; anything can and will be done to achieve the preferred visual outcome. It is just like fashion design in clothing that is changed and modified as whimsy and caprice drive the mood, providing outcomes that will challenge and surprise with an 'outrageous' idea, the 'stroke of genius' creating something unusually different that will stun and sell. Philosophically, theoretically, in car design as in fashion design, there is very little relationship between material, structure and form other than what is essential; what has to be. The idea that a form might follow a function, or a function a form, is an irrelevance. Here style stands as the prime, singular ambition. Style, that amorphous sense of immediate, present grandeur with a matching gesture made for display that attracts the eye now for the immediate WOW!, is the core of this vehicular design/fashion design strategy. It is of the present, accommodating little of the past that is mocked until copied, while considering nothing of the future but itself. It is the future. It is 'ME! WOW! NOW! NEXT!' One Australian emporium once advertised with the slogan that sums the idea up: 'Next is Now!' One is able to have the future before everyone else.
In vehicles, one sees the theatrical fudge, the cheating, the making of an illusion as the frequent solution to creating the preferred outcome that is the achievement of a special shape or a particular detail; the unique idea, e.g., that the whole entity is all free-floating glass or one fluid mass when it is not. One sees black glass, applied paint and other paraphernalia shrouding awkwardly aligned sturdy steel panels with matching plastic pieces just to create the desired image as sketched on the screen and modelled in the clay. The only ambition is to achieve the imagined form, nothing else. Integrity and idealism have no role here. Invention becomes the deconstruction of a form to achieve the concept: like reverse engineering. It is almost irrelevant that a material or a technique might have any integral demands for function. Construction detailing is invented only in order to achieve the final form. The initial concept controls the detail, establishes the demands, the brief. The envisaged, predetermined form is never negotiable. It is always the singular aim in spite of everything.
In this same sense of searching for a particular form, our architecture today has become pure style, a fashioning of preferred images irrespective of economies, materials and functions. It is interesting that Hadid offered to redesign her Tokyo Olympic stadium to make a saving of over one billion dollars when her first grand vision was priced at the astonishing amount of about three billion dollars.* It has since been decided not to go ahead with any Hadid concept, be this a cyclist's helmet form, vagina shape or otherwise: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/vagina-architecture-its-only-matter-of.html - see also: http://entablatures.blogspot.com.au/ RUSKIN'S FINAL WORDS ON ARCHITECTURE. This is architecture where the form is beyond function; the function is made to exist, to squeeze in, irrespective of form; almost in spite of it. It just has to. Style stands for its own unique expression, the singular creation of the 'genius' architect or car visionary: (see the DVD series Architecture by Encore that points out that the top one third of Gehry's Guggenheim can be removed and there would be no impact on any of the functions the building accommodates).
The car-making industry has a history of making concept cars, cars of the future that ironically is now, as if the future was here, predicted and produced before our very eyes as 'astonishing ideas,' WOW! Why wait? Details in buildings become much the same as those in vehicles, all seeking some futuristic place now. Likewise, structures are made to work in order to achieve the shapes and relationships needed; everything is fudged to suit the concept. Consider the weight of steel in Hadid's supposedly 'green' aquatic building for the London Olympics – see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/pairs-5-1956-2012-olympic-pools.html Of course the detailing has to 'work' in the sense that it needs to hold together, to keep the water out, and to use materials that can do the job asked of them, but these matters seem secondary to the final intent: achieving the vision, its pure style, its form. The challenges lie in the background, behind the styling: how to support it, how to achieve it, never in the careful resolution of the functional brief, in resolving or even asking “what a building wants to be,” as Louis Kahn put it. Consider the Gehry brown and crumpled paper bag concept ideas and the techniques needed to recreate these architectural aesthetic visions. Does a building want to be a brown crumpled bag? Does a bag want to be a building?
This flighty, fugacious world of fashion and style has become the core concern in architecture today. Buildings perform as models on the walkway, standing and striding boldly, self-confidently, in dramatic, unusual poses meant for the immediate appreciation of the hagiographical display. Buildings become like cars, announced in this same dramatic manner, presented on sleek, sheik, perfectly glossy podiums for all to gawk at and admire, to drool over, as Apple gadgets are. Behind this fashioning is the urge to stimulate desire: the desire to have the object; and the desire to be recognised by the world. One 'needs' it, must have it. There is a sense of prestige here, of self-importance; of needing this in order to establish one's place and importance in society: ME! I am and have NEXT! It is the world of the selfie, and strangely promotes this vision both as an ambition and a reality: the hope to have the thing that is the gadget that can produce and reproduce the egocentric outcome. It is interesting to see how modern architecture is used in advertising, as a suggestive context: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/room-11-architecture-of-simplistic.html This is architecture for the camera; it is the photographic image that promotes this architecture worldwide. We know all about the image before we know the building as a body experience; and this can be enlightening: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/pedestrian-approach.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/bell-and-fish-two-glasgow-museums-part_04.html
We have an architecture that incorporates this selfie sense, this self-interested shaping of matter to immediately engage eyes and cameras. Just how the body and its feelings and senses are engaged is irrelevant other than in stimulating its outreach of surprise and admiration. One might see this critique as harsh. Why not place the new in the context of the old in the sense of some progression, as seen in science: that having mastered the functions of forms, we now have time to give attention to and to put effort into other more ephemeral decorative things? Is this a possibility? Possibly, but if one looks to nature where life processes result in sensational, surprising, and sometimes outrageous outcomes through evolution, natural selection, there still stands some rigour behind the shaping and making, the growth and form: some sense of necessity. It is the lack of any necessity in the car design ethic that becomes a concern. There is this same void in architecture as that which exists in this gleaming, new world of automobiles, and in the glimmering world of fashion, where things are there just to be different, new – 'stunning' is a common description in the declaration of wonder at the appearance of the latest flighty illusion on display in the glaze of the bright lights, as if it was real and potentially transformative.
It is this sense of things being what they are not that highlights the concerns with today's architecture that seems to work on the theory of pretense – I am the great pretender: I am style, I am fashion, not I am what I am; no, I am steel made to look like glass; I am plastic made to look like steel; I am light, but I am heavy; I am the great illusion – the maker of ME and MY own importance. Modesty has little to do here, let alone humility. Yet traditionally the artist played no role in the assessment of any work. Names, personalities were irrelevant. The work was structured with its own references and rigour; it held its own presence, of which it has been said: “One cannot marvel enough,” (Martin Lings), such was its power and authority. Today, all appears to be floss, fluid style, referencing, indeed, competing with, challenging, only the hype of other style. The aim seems to be to startle the most, to scream out for attention.
Zaha Hadid car designs
There is an odd twist to this thought, the idea that Hadid's work is like current car design. It proved to be accurate. She has designed a car - two: and they look like the others too! The sentiment was that Zaha Hadid's architecture was similar to today's car design. Maybe this can now be turned around. The proposition was that one had inspired the other, perhaps. The similarities in the 'futuristic' forms are indeed startling: but is it merely a matter of there being something in the air,' or is it something else? Have both worlds arisen from some other source? What? Why? Might it be aircraft design?
Hadid car being photographed - surely not an ice cream scoop on wheels?
The Gropius-designed Alder
Here one is reminded of the car Walter Gropius designed. After all of his amazing early work that culminated in the Bauhaus buildings, his car was a sophisticated box form, a vehicle based on the horse and cart, but with a classic elegance. What happened to his approach to architectural design that developed forms to suit materials, processes and functions? In stark contrast to his approach to vehicle design that seemed to be rooted in the past, was the aerodynamic form of a racing car designed at the same time; and Buckminster Fuller's dymaxion vehicle. These other cars had shapes streamlined to respond to the flows of air over the forms, providing new responses and references to new functions, materials and techniques. One realised that something had happened. The Gropius approach had been superseded. Gropius was out of touch with the times. So is Hadid in touch with the times, or is she catching up with vehicle design that outstripped Gropius and his surprisingly conservative classicism? - see: http://www.triumph-adler.com/C125713A00471CCE/vwWebPagesByID/A8FA348B215BDA7EC12575130042F74D and http://architecture.org.nz/2009/03/12/the-architecture-of-the-automobile/
Fuller's dymaxion car
The point is that, either way, car design has become pure theatre, fashioned for appearance shaped around the necessary wheels with seats, pedals and a steering wheel. The rest seems to be a set of random choices based on the designer's preference that might even include committee decisions, and research on what people might like. Is this our architecture today? It is interesting to note that as part of making decisions on its new Cultural Centre designed by ARM, the Gold Coast City Council used focus groups to choose the form of the proposed outdoor auditorium. The group rejected the 'Splash' idea and opted for a more 'green,' less controversial solution. Is this architecture by the masses for the masses? What will now happen to ideas and ideals? Is this what happens when the outcome is only a matter of a preferred appearance, style? - see: http://www.goldcoastbulletin.com.au/new-performance-space-set-for-evandale-cultural-precinct-as-design-given-tick-of-approval/story-fnj94hf2-1227517941025 and http://www.goldcoastbulletin.com.au/news/gold-coast/new-performance-space-to-be-created-at-evandale-for-cultural-precinct-to-include-pink-poodle/story-fnj94idh-1227519001945
The car design reference allows us to see more into the Hadid approach, such are the parallels in form. It truly is just style, made for the prettiness of its surprising, attractive appearance, shaped, it seems, only for self-expression, to declare ME! Narratives might be developed to explain outcomes, but these seem to be postscripts to any shaping and making. Hadid spoke of 'champagne glasses' in her Brisbane project: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/ha-ha-ha-hadid-designs-for-world-class.html What have champagne glasses got to do with anything but champagne? Why live in champagne glasses? Do champagne glasses want to be buildings?
Hadid's car design
The gushing forms used by Hadid et.al. are not only shapes, but random shapes that use theatrical tricks, illusions to inform form in order to overcome the demands of function, as in automobile design. In car design, the awkward structural need for a rear strut, for example, is overcome by the use of black glass and silicone, as is the need for, say, a door frame that is similarly disguised by stick-on claddings to give the preferred 'edge-to-edge, look-no-hands' glass/steel sleek, speedy look. In the same ad hoc manner: lines are pressed into panels; plastic is moulded and painted to match steel; grilles are added over solid panels; and stripes, bars, curves, and different distortions all have a role in the preferred expression, because the whole strategy has only to do with how it looks. It is like putting make up on. Indeed, it is all made up!
And so too with architecture. The 'Hadid' style is much the same; but we expect this game with cars. Why not buildings? It is a surprise, but we are now getting 'car' buildings, and 'cycle helmet' stadiums too. Team 10 once discussed the idea of a car becoming a living space. We seem to have reached this possibility, indeed, embraced it, but in a different, more stylish manner.
No doubt the last question will be: who/what is Team 10? One wonders: if there was a Team 10 today, what might its Primer look like? - see: http://www.amazon.com/Team-10-Primer-Alison-Smithson/dp/0262690470 What are the core ideas in architecture today other than 'car design' style? We need to consider these matters because style and fashion are too flippantly random and ephemeral to hold meaning and sense for us, as environments should. Life is more than the WOW! of the perpetual, distracting display of special, sparkling entertainment with its unique, whiz-bang excitement.
from Google search 'Futuristic Cars' - images: 'Oh! So Zaha!'
Fuller's dymaxion vehicle comes to mind
THE ZAHA HADID BUILDINGS
from Google search 'Zaha Hadid Buildings' - images:
NO, THIS IS A CAR!
While having a coffee and thinking about this piece after the futuristic car image search, I nonchalantly notice the tablecloth, how beautiful it is. Then I see a few more tablecloths hanging nearby. They too are astonishingly magnificent, wonderful, uplifting without any noise or demand. I remember that they are sarongs, traditional Malaysian prints for wrapping around the body. This is traditional fashion; traditional art. No one knows who designed the wrap or these patterns, but they amaze. Indeed, one struggles to 'marvel enough,' such is their quiet beauty. One realizes how inspiring these simple, everyday fabrics are, how they support life, enrich it without domination. They boast not, neither do they declare.# In one way, the Zaha art is demeaning. It seems false in its intent, hollow; it appears to shape a hoax, a lie, the promotion of itself. It seems too clever; too tricky - too smart. Art needs integrity, substance to ameliorate. We need to realize this both as a concept and an outcome. What must one do?
Detailed Ordinance Survey map of the Shetland Mainland reproduced on a table mat.
The organic patterns of the map intrigue too.
In a similar way, traditional carpet patterns amaze with their beautiful rigour.
Bat flower plant
Louis Sullivan noted how the function of the leaf was the form of the leaf;
how the form of the leaf was the function of the leaf.
Consider the lilies how they grow; they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Frank Lloyd Wright quoted this text is his early writings, explaining it as: 'the words of an architect of ancient times, called carpenter, who gave up architecture to work upon its source.'