Sunday, February 22, 2009
Simple vs. pure, optimism, and others
Went to Rem's lecture at Columbia last night. It was packed. My first impression - such a star!! Ironically, he showed an image of himself talking to a huge crowd in the Neue Nationalgallerie in Berlin during the Content show, and went on attacking the notion of "starchitects." With an image of Guggenheim Bilbao, he said, "Gehry has become the emblem of Architecture Now." Indeed, if you ask Joe Sixpack which architect he knows, the answer would probably be Frank (either FLW or FOG).
I don't know when it started, but at least Rem was already attacking "starchitects" back in the days of Junkspace. "Laughable emptiness infuses the respectful distance or tentative embrace that starchitects maintain in the presence of the past, authentic or not." There are identifiable examples mentioned in the text: "...quarries reopened to excavate the 'same' stone, indiscreet donor names chiseled prominently in the meekest of typefaces; the courtyard covered by a masterful, structural 'filigree' - emphatically uncompetitive - so that continuity may be established with the 'rest' of Junkspace (abandoned galleries, display slums, Jurassic concepts…)." This is explicit: "Railway stations unfold like iron butterflies, airports glisten like cyclopic dewdrops, bridges span often negligible banks like grotesquely enlarged versions of the harp. To each rivulet its own Calatrava."
I think it's not necessarily the concept of stars that's bad, but it's what they do, or how they can catch our eyes. We don't need more Britney or Paris, but Angelina is not too bad...
Is there a way out? Rem offered two lines of thoughts. One is to be not simple but pure. "It's time to reconsider purity," Rem said. To illustrate what he meant, he showed the Dubai Renaissance project. I found it interesting to think about the difference between being simple and pure. Simple is direct and straightforward. But it implies being not sophisticated or complicated - there are no intellectual challenges. Pure indicates soleness, but this singularity can be organized by extremely complex internal relations. Purity knows exactly what it's doing, although it may be complicated. Purity excludes any interruptions from foreign elements.
The second way - we knew it already - is the extreme engagement in program and urban conditions. He presented Taipei as an example (see my blog entry). I so wished he had more, but that was it. I hope he will think more on this and we'll see some sort of "guide to starchitects behavior"... Did Rem write anything important after Junkspace?
Maybe it's time. He said, when everything goes down in this crisis, the chances for more planning, more thinking, and more feeling go up. It is actually a positive moment for architecture. This surprised me quite a bit given the fact that he claimed multiple times to be a pessimist, especially during his AA years. He was troubled by the dominant optimism of Archigram. When everybody was playing with fancy collages, he went to study the Berlin Wall... But now he seems to think positively. When asked about his "minimal" architectural intervention in the Hermitage project, He said, "Why can't we enjoy things just for their own sake? Architects tend to opt for radical changes..." Does he really become more optimistic and want to re-evaluate the legacy of Archigram?
Finally, one little quote on China: "If you don't understand the ideological ambition of that nation, you are not worth operating in China."