Friday, May 14, 2010

Literally literal

It had always been exciting to open a new issue of El Croquis. But this time my jaw dropped. In issue 149, the second installment of "collective experiments" of Spanish architects, the Business Center and Hotel in Yerevan, Armenia by S&Aa (Federico Soriano y Dolores Palacios) really got on my nerves. How can someone design a building like that?

I was being nice at the beginning: maybe they had a good reason to use the alphabet like that. As I read through the description, I got more and more agitated. It goes on and on about letters being "the most powerful signs" of humanity, how they "take in our most intimate aspirations and desires," how a "mythical aura" is built up around an undecipherable text, etc. etc. OK, this is really just literally about letters.

One of the problems with architecture right now is that so much has been done already and people are still trying to shock. In order to come up with something that you've never seen, architects start to search outside of architecture, hoping that by expanding the repertoire of architectural language they can sustain their image as the innovative few. All of a sudden, architecture becomes “omnipotent” to absorb anything even extrinsic to it. Everything can be "architecturalized" just as Archimedes was saying, “Name a shape, and I will turn it into architecture.”

I've blogged about this kind of problematic inspirations before. But at least in that case there were some sort of transformations going on and it was not that literal. You can borrow things, be inspired by them. But a stack of letters? How can you even draw a section and study the structure and think that makes sense? "Well... at least it's unique and special..." Oh sorry, you are actually not that original at all. It's been done before. Back in 2003 when BIG and JDS were still PLOT, they did a project in Vejle where they literally made the name of the city into five small towers. (Btw, that looks horrible too.)

PLOT: The Vejle Houses, 2003

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