In the early '50s Britain remained in a state of economic austerity that made the consumerist world appear exotic to British Pop artists. For the Americans, on the other hand, the commercial landscape was almost second nature, to be treated with a show of cool. Common to both groups, however, was the sense that consumerism had changed not only the look of things but the nature of appearance as such, and all Pop found its principal subject there: in the heightened visuality of semblance, in the charged iconicity of people and products (of people as products and vice versa) that a mass media of corporate images had produced. (1) The consumerist superficiality of signs and seriality of objects also had to affect architecture and urbanism as well as painting and sculpture. Accordingly, in Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960), Banham imagined a Pop architecture as a radical updating of modern design under the changed conditions of a "Second Machine Age" in which "imageability" became the primary criterion. (2) Twelve years later, in Learning from Las Vegas (1972), Venturi and Scott Brown advocated a Pop architecture that would return this imageability to the built environment from which it arose. However, for the Venturis this imageability was more commercial than technological, and it was advanced not to update modern design but to displace it; here, then, Pop began to be recouped in terms of the postmodern. (3) The classic age of Pop can thus be framed by these two moments: between the retooling of modern architecture urged by Banham on the one hand and the founding of postmodern architecture prepared by the Venturis on the other.
In November 1956, just a few months after the fabled "This Is Tomorrow" exhibition in London first brought Pop to public attention, the Smithsons published a short essay that included this little poem: "Gropius wrote a book on grain silos, / Le Corbusier one on aeroplanes, / And Charlotte Perriand brought a new object to the office every morning; / But today we collect ads." Of course, Gropius, Corb, and Perriand were hardly naive about mass media; the point is polemical, not historical: They, the old protagonists of modern design, were cued by functional things, while we, the new celebrants of Pop culture, look to "the throw-away object and the pop-package" for inspiration. This was done partly in delight and partly in desperation: "Today we are being edged out of our traditional role [as form givers] by the new phenomenon of the popular arts--advertising," the Smithsons continued. "We must somehow get the measure of this intervention if we are to match its powerful and exciting impulses with our own." (4) Again, this anxious thrill drove the entire IG, and architectural minds led the way.
"We have already entered the Second Machine Age," Banham wrote four years later in Theory and Design, "and can look back on the First ... as a period of the past." In this landmark study, conceived as a dissertation in the heyday of the IG, he also insisted on a historical distance from the modern masters (including architectural historians like Nikolaus Pevsner, his adviser at the Courtauld Institute, and Sigfried Giedion, author of the classic Space, Time, and Architecture ). Banham challenged the rationalist biases of these figures--that form must follow function and/or technique--and recovered other imperatives neglected by them. In particular he advanced the Futurist imaging of technology in Expressionist terms--often sculptural, sometimes gestural--as the prime motive for design not only in the First Machine Age but in the Second (or First Pop Age) as well. Far from academic, his revision of architectural priorities also reclaimed an "aesthetic of expendability," first proposed in Futurism, for this Pop Age, where "standards hitched to permanency" were no longer so relevant. (6) More than any other figure, then, Banham led design theory away from a modernist syntax of abstract forms to a Pop language of mediated images. (7) If architecture was to express this world--where the dreams of the austere '50s were about to become the products of the consumerist '60s--it had to "match the design of expendabilia in functional and aesthetic performance": It had to go Pop. (8)
But what did this mean in practice? Initially Banham supported the Brutalist architecture of the Smithsons and James Stirling, who pushed given materials and exposed structures to a "bloody-minded" extreme. "Brutalism tries to face up to a mass-production society," the Smithsons wrote in 1957, "and drag a rough poetry out of the confused and powerful forces which are at work." (9) The insistence on the "as found" was truly Pop, but the "poetry" of Brutalism was precisely too "rough" for it to serve for long as a model style for the Pop Age. Indeed, their most Pop project--the House of the Future (1955-56)--is also the most alien to their work. Commissioned by the Daily Mail to suggest the suburban habitat to come, the house was replete with gadgets pushed by sponsors (e.g., a shower-blow-dryer-sunlamp), but its curvy plasticity seemed inspired by the sci-fi movie imagery of the time more than by any imperative to translate new technologies into architectural form. (The sweater uniform designed by Teddy Tinling for the male inhabitant deserves a special place in any Museum of Misbegotten Futures.)
As the Swinging '60s unfolded in London, Banham turned to the young architects of Archigram--Warren Chalk, Peter Cook, Dennis Crompton, David Greene, Ron Herron, and Michael Webb--to carry forward the Pop project of imageability and expendability. Archigram (1961-76) took "the capsule, the rocket, the bathyscope, the Zidpark, [and] the handy-pak" (10) as their models and, according to Banham, celebrated technology as a "visually wild rich mess of piping and wiring and struts and catwalks." (11) Influenced by the visionary designer Buckminster Fuller, their projects might appear functionalist--the Plug-in City (1964) proposed an immense framework in which parts could be changed according to need--but, finally, with their "rounded corners, the hip, gay, synthetic colours, [and] pop-culture props," (12) Archigram were "in the image business," (13) and their schemes answered to fantasy above all. Like the Fun Palace (1961-72) conceived by Cedric Price for the Theatre Workshop of Joan Littlewood, Plug-in City offered "an image-starved world a new vision of the city of the future, a city of components ... plugged into networks and grids." (14)
The ultimate imperative of Pop design for Banham lies here: that it not only express contemporary technologies formally but also elaborate them deliriously toward a new way of life. And here too lies the great difference between Banham and the Venturis. (15) Again, Banham sought to update the Expressionist imperative of modern form making vis-a-vis a Futurist commitment to modern technology, while the Venturis shunned both expressive and technophilic tendencies; in fact, they opposed any "prolongation" of the modern movement. For Banham architecture was not modern enough, while for the Venturis it had become disconnected from society and history precisely through its commitment to a modernity that was abstract and amnesiac. According to the Venturis, modern design lacked "inclusion and allusion"--inclusion of popular taste and allusion to architectural tradition--a failure that stemmed above all from its rejection of ornamental "symbolism" in favor of formal "expressionism." To right this wrong, they argued, the modern paradigm of "the duck"--in which the form expresses the building almost sculpturally, sometimes with its space, structure, and program distorted in the interest of monumental effect--had to cede to the postmodern model of "the decorated shed," a building with "a rhetorical front and conventional behind," where "space and structure are directly at the service of program, and ornament is applied independently of them." "The duck is the special building that is a symbol," the Venturis wrote in a famous definition; "the decorated shed is the conventional shelter that applies symbols." (16)
Again, the Venturis also endorsed Pop imageability: "We come by the automobile-oriented commercial architecture of urban sprawl as our source for a civic and residential architecture of meaning, viable now, as the turn-of-the-century industrial vocabulary was viable for a Modern architecture of space and industrial technology 40 years ago." (17) But in so doing they accepted, not only as given, but as desired, the identification of "the civic" with "the commercial," and they also took the strip and the suburb, however "ugly and ordinary," as normative, even exemplary. "Architecture in this landscape becomes symbol in space rather than form in space," the Venturis declared. "The big sign and the little building is the rule of Route 66." (18) Given this rule, Learning from Las Vegas conflated corporate trademarks with public symbols: "The familiar Shell and Gulf signs stand out like friendly beacons in a foreign land." (19) It also concluded that only a scenographic architecture could "make connections among many elements, far apart and seen fast." (20) In this way the Venturis translated important insights into this "new spatial order" into bald affirmations of the brutal auto landscape of great distances and high speeds. (21) This not only naturalized a landscape that was anything but natural; it also instrumentalized a sensorium of distraction, as the Venturis urged architects to design for a "captive, somewhat fearful, but partially inattentive audience, whose vision is filtered and directed forward." (22) Here the Miesian motto of modernist clarity in architecture--"less is more"--became a mandate of postmodern overload in design--"less is a bore." (23) Today this mandate often seems the way of the world.
In the call for architecture to "enhance what is there," the Venturis cited Pop art as inspiration, in particular such photo books by Ed Ruscha as Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966). (24) Yet this is a partial understanding of Pop, cleansed of its dark side, such as the consumerist "death in America" exposed by Warhol in his 1963 silk screens of car wrecks and botulism victims. Even Ruscha hardly endorsed the autoscape: His photo books show its null aspect or document its space as so much gridded real estate, or both. A more telling guide to Learning from Las Vegas was the developer Morris Lapidus, whom the Venturis quoted: "People are looking for illusions.... Where do I find this world of illusion?... Do they study it in school? Do they go to museums? Do they travel in Europe? Only one place--the movies. They go to the movies. The hell with everything else." (25) Pop worked to explore--if not critically, at least ambivalently--this new regime of social inscription. The postmodernism prepared by the Venturis was placed largely in its service--in effect, to design its appropriate byways.
It is at this point, then, that the Pop critique of elitism became a postmodern manipulation of populism. Many Pop artists practiced an "ironism of affirmation"--an attitude, learned from Duchamp, that Hamilton once defined as a "peculiar mixture of reverence and cynicism." (26) Most postmodern architects, on the other hand, practiced an affirmation of irony: "Irony may be the tool with which to confront and combine divergent values in architecture for a pluralist society," as the Venturis put it. (27) In principle this sounds fair, yet in practice the "double-functioning" of postmodern design--"allusion" to architectural tradition for the educated, "inclusion" of commercial iconography for everyone else--was mostly a double-coding of cultural cues that reaffirmed more than crossed class lines. This deceptive populism only became dominant in political culture a decade later, under Ronald Reagan, as did the neoconservative equation of political freedom with free markets also espoused in Learning from Las Vegas. In this way the recouping of Pop as postmodern did constitute an avant-garde, but an avant-garde of most use to the Right. With commercial images thus cycled back to the built-environment, Pop became tautological in the postmodern and no longer challenged official culture. It was official culture.
Yet this conclusion might be too neat; certainly it is too final. There were alternative elaborations of Pop design, which the visionary proposals of the Florentine collective Superstudio (1966-78) and the antic happenings of the San Francisco-Houston band Ant Farm (1968-78) might represent here (there were related groups in France and elsewhere). Both were inspired by the technological dimension of Pop design, as manifest in the geodesic domes of Fuller and the inflatable forms of Archigram; but, transformed by the events associated with 1968, they also wanted to turn this aspect of Pop against its consumerist dimension. Here, then, the two sides of Pop were developed enough to be set in opposition.
In 1968 Fuller proposed a massive dome for midtown Manhattan, a utopian project that also suggested a dystopia of cataclysmic pollution, even nuclear holocaust, to come. (Such a dystopian shadow is often cast by utopian schemes: It is present, for instance, in the New Babylon project [1956-74] of the Situationist Constant Nieuwenhuys, a radically reimagined Europe where spaces designed for play can also be read as prisons, as well as in the robotic sci-fi imagery of Archigram, with their "Armageddon overtones of survival technology.") (28) Superstudio took this utopian-dystopian ambiguity to the limit: Its "Continuous Monument" project (1969), an example of visionary architecture as Conceptual art, imagined the capitalist city swept clean of commodities and reconciled with nature--but at the cost of a grid that, though beautiful in its purity, was monstrous in its totality. Also inspired by Fuller and Archigram, the Ant Farmers were Merry Pranksters by comparison, pledged to Bay Area counterculture rather than tabula-rasa transformation, with schemes that featured temporary structures for both guerrilla acts and nomadic lives. Yet their performances and videos, which were anticonsumerist and spectacular at the same time, also pushed Pop design back toward art, most famously in Cadillac Ranch, 1974, where Ant Farm partially buried ten old Cadillacs, nose down in a row, on a farm near Amarillo, Texas, and in Media Burn, 1975, where they drove a customized Cadillac convertible at full speed through a pyramid of televisions set ablaze at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.
Yet Pop design after Pop was not confined to visionary concepts and sensational happenings--to paper architecture and art events. Arguably, it found its masterpiece, at once technological and popular, in the familiar Centre Pompidou (1972-77), designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, both of whom remain active today--as do, for that matter, the Venturis and some Archigram members (Peter Cook has recently designed, with Colin Fournier, a Kunsthaus in Graz). The two main strands of Pop design, Banhamite and Venturian, persisted in other ways as well; in fact, they can be detected, transformed, in the two greatest stars in the architectural firmament today: Rem Koolhaas and Frank Gehry.
Koolhaas was likely influenced by Archigram in London in the late 1960s (he was trained at the Architectural Association where Chalk, Crompton, and Herron all taught). Certainly his first book, Delirious New York (1978), a "retroactive manifesto" for the urban density of Manhattan that was also a riposte to the celebration of suburban signage sprawl in Learning from Las Vegas, advanced such Archigram themes as the "Technology of the Fantastic." (29) Yet Koolhaas played down this connection and, in a strategic swerve around Archigram, cited modernist precedents instead, Le Corbusier and Salvador Dali above all. Critical of both figures, he nonetheless combined these opposites--Corb the form giver and manifesto maker, Dali the desire purveyor and media celebrity--in a lively compound that triggered his success, first as a critic and then as a designer. (30) But the Pop imaging of new technology a la Archigram, cut with a Brutalist attention to exposed material and structure, has also guided Koolhaas into the present.
Koolhaas borrowed from Dali his "paranoid-critical method," a proto-Pop strategy which "promises that, through conceptual recycling, the worn, consumed contents of the world can be recharged or enriched like uranium." (31) In a way that echoes both Banham and the Venturis, Koolhaas has turned this device of typological exacerbation, of a "systematic overestimation of what exists," into his own way of working: His office has often produced its designs through an excessive manipulation of one architectural element or type, and does so to this day. For example, in the public library just completed in Seattle and the CCTV (China Central Television) complex under construction in Beijing, Koolhaas has retooled the old skyscraper, the hero of Delirious New York. In Seattle the glass-and-steel grid of the Miesian tower is sliced into five large levels (four above grade), stepped into cantilevered overhangs, and faceted like a prism at its corners; as it follows these twists and turns, the light-blue metal grid is morphed into different diagonals and diamonds. The result is a very strong image--one that might compete with the Space Needle as the Pop emblem of the city--that is not a fixed image at all, for it changes at every angle and from every view. The image is also not arbitrary: The building uses its site, an uneven slope in downtown Seattle, to ground its forms, which renders them less sculptural, less subjective, than they might otherwise be. More important, the profile is also motivated by the program, especially in the penultimate level, which contains a great spiral of ramped bookshelves; indeed, the cubistic skin as a whole wraps the different functions of the building.
The idea of building as Pop sign is problematic as such; yet at least in Seattle the sign is civic, placed in the service of a public institution that might be revived by the attention. Whether this effect can be repeated with the CCTV headquarters in Beijing is not clear. It too transforms the Miesian tower into a "bent skyscraper," here a gigantic loop, and it too is motivated by the program, which combines "the entire process of TV-making"--administration and offices, news and broadcasting, program production and services--into one structure of "interconnected activities." But we cannot yet know, let alone evaluate, how this immense building-sign will sit in its site or in what senses either will be public at all. What can be ventured now is that, like the Seattle diamond, the CCTV loop is both a technological innovation and an "instant icon." (32) In this way the two buildings are neo-Pop, residually Banhamite and Venturian at once.
Like Koolhaas, Gehry has steered clear of architectural labels. Influenced by the Austrian emigre Richard Neutra long active in Los Angeles, Gehry first turned a modernist idiom into an LA vernacular; he did so, mostly in domestic architecture, through an innovative use of cheap materials associated with commercial building (e.g., exposed plywood, corrugated metal siding, chain-link fencing, and asphalt), as in his own celebrated home in Santa Monica (1977-78/91-92). However, this gritty style soon became more imagistic, as in his Chiat Day Building (1985-91) in Venice, where, in collaboration with Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Gehry designed giant binoculars for the entrance to this advertising agency. At stake here is the difference between an inventive use of common materials, as in his house, and a manipulative use of mass signs, as in his Chiat Day Building--or indeed his Aerospace Hall (1982-84), also in LA, where a fighter jet is attached to the facade. The first path can bring elite design in touch with everyday culture and renew architectural form with social expression; the second tends to ingratiate architecture to a public projected as mass consumer. For the most part Gehry followed the second path into stardom in the '90s; and the present status of the celebrity designer, the architect as Pop figure, is a by-product of his fame.
Along the way Gehry seemed to transcend the Venturian opposition of modern structure and postmodern ornament, formal duck and decorated shed, architecture as monument and architecture as sign; but in fact he collapsed the two categories. This occurred first, almost programmatically, in his huge Fish Sculpture at the Olympic Village in Barcelona in 1992, a trellis hung over arched ribs that is equal parts duck and shed, both all structure and all surface, with no functional interior. The Fish also marked his first use of a computer program called CATIA (computer-aided three-dimensional interactive application). Because CATIA permits the modeling of nonrepetitive surfaces and supports, of different exterior panels and interior armatures, it has allowed Gehry to privilege shape and skin, the overall configuration, above all else: Hence the non-Euclidean curves, swirls, and blobs that became his signature gestures in the '90s, most famously in the Guggenheim Bilbao (1991-97), which looks like a cross between an ocean liner run aground and a spaceship landed in the Basque Country, and most egregiously in the Experience Music Project (1995-2000) in Seattle, whose six exterior blobs clad in different-color metals have little apparent relation to the many interior display stations dedicated to popular music. In Bilbao Gehry moved to make the Guggenheim legible through an allusion to a splintered ship; in Seattle he compensated with an allusion to a smashed guitar (a broken fret lies over two of the blobs). But neither image works, even as a Pop version of site specificity, for one cannot read them at ground level; in fact one has to see them in media reproduction, which might be the primary site of neo-Pop architecture in the Internet age.
On the one hand, then, Gehry buildings have remained modern ducks inasmuch as they stress formal expression above all; on the other hand, they have also remained decorated sheds inasmuch as they often break down into fronts and backs, with interiors disconnected from exteriors in a way that sometimes results in dead spaces and culs-de-sac in between (this is especially true of the Walt Disney Concert Hall [1987-2003] in LA). But the chief effect of this combination of duck and shed is the promotion of the quasi-abstract building as Pop sign, as media logo. And on this score Gehry is hardly alone: There is now a whole flock of "decorated ducks" that combine the willful monumentality of modern architecture with the faux-populist iconicity of postmodern design. In some cases the duck has become the decoration: That is, the form of the building serves as the sign, and sometimes at a scale that dominates the landscape, as the Guggenheim does Bilbao and as CCTV might Beijing. (The Venturis were modest in comparison: They wanted only to reconcile architecture to context via signs, not to have architecture become a sign that overwhelms context.) (33) In other cases the decorated shed has become the duck: That is, the surface of the building is elaborated, with the aid of high-tech materials and electronic manipulations, beyond apparent support into excessive blobs and/or "mediated envelopes." (34) Decorated ducks come in a variety of plumage, yet even as the styles of appearance differ (a deconstructivist zigzag here, a techno-perfect lingam there), the logic of effect remains much the same. And it is a winning formula for museums, companies, cities, states, and other corporate entities that want to be perceived, through instant icons, as global players. For them--and perforce for us--it is still, it is ever more, a Pop world. (35)
1. I mean "corporate" in the sense both of source, corporations, and of aim, the incorporation of viewers as a mass subject--an old aim, it might be added in present circumstances, of fascism as well.
2. See Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (London: Architectural Press, 1960).
3. See Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, rev. ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977). The book began as a studio conducted in fall 1968 at the Yale School of Art and Architecture and on site in Las Vegas; its historical argument was prepared by Venturi in his Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1966). To this day the Venturis deny the association with postmodern architecture, but they remain its godparents.
4. Alison and Peter Smithson, "But Today We Collect Ads," Ark 18 (November 1956): 49.
5. Banham, Theory and Design, 10.
6. Banham, "Vehicles of Desire," Art 1 (September 1, 1955): 3. Banham was especially taken by the architecture of Antonio Sant'Elia, which combined both tendencies at issue here. Indeed, Banham effectively revived the memory of his work for an Anglophone audience.
7. As the Smithsons suggested, this move was in keeping with a shift in influence away from the architect as a consultant in industrial production to the adman as an instigator of consumerist desire. "The foundation stone of the previous intellectual structure of Design Theory has crumbled," Banham wrote in 1961; "there is no longer universal acceptance of Architecture as the universal analogy of design" ("Design by Choice," Architectural Review 130 [July 1961]: 43). On this point and others see Nigel Whiteley, Reyner Banham: Historian of the Immediate Future (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002).
8. Banham in 1960, quoted in Whiteley, Reyner Banham, 163.
9. Alison and Peter Smithson, "Thoughts in Progress," Architectural Design, April 1957, 113.
10. Peter Cook, "Zoom and 'Real' Architecture," Archigram 4 (1964), reprinted in Archigram, ed. Cook (London: Studio Vista, 1972), 27.
11. Reyner Banham, Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), 17. John McHale, a fellow IG member, was an important advocate of Archigram as well. The Swinging '60s were not a matter of the Beatles, Twiggy, and pot alone but were fueled by the technological investments of the Labour government under Harold Wilson.
12. Banham, quoted in Whiteley, Reyner Banham, 177.
13. Reyner Banham, "A Clip-On Architecture," Design Quarterly 63 (1963): 30. Like Tom Wolfe, his enemy twin in gonzo journalism, Banham developed a prose that is also a key Pop form, for it mimics linguistically the consumerist landscape of image overload and commodity glut.
14. Ibid. Unlike the Price project, very few Archigram schemes could be realized--luckily so, perhaps, for their megastructures are sometimes nightmarish.
15. This stems at least in part from different formations. Venturi was trained in the Beaux-Arts tradition at Princeton in the late 1940s and spent an influential year at the American Academy in Rome, while Scott Brown, though schooled at the Architectural Association in London in the early 1950s, departed early on for the States, where she eventually partnered with Venturi. Banham came to the States, too, in 1976, but his Pop concerns were always inflected in other ways, as a comparison of Learning from Las Vegas and his Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (New York: Harper & Row, 1971) reveals.
16. Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, 87.
17. Ibid., 87, 90.
18. Ibid., 13.
19. Ibid., 52. One might argue that this conflation of corporate trademark and public sign was another lesson of Pop art; yet it was rarely affirmed there. For example, the "Monuments" of Claes Oldenburg--his giant baseball bats, Mickey Mouses, hamburgers, and the like--can be taken not to champion this substitution so much as to underscore its inadequacy.
20. Ibid., 9.
21. Ibid., 75.
22. Donald Appleyard, Kevin Lynch, and John R. Myer, The View from the Road (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1964), 5, quoted in Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, 74.
23. Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, 139.
24. Their studio visited Ruscha at the time, but in the end the Venturis might share less with Ruscha on Los Angeles than with Tom Wolfe on Las Vegas, especially his version of Pop language (see note 13) as practiced, for example, in his "Las Vegas (What?) Las Vegas (Can't hear you! Too noisy) Las Vegas!!!" in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamlined Baby (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965). Previously, Venturi made the connection to Pop in "A Justification for a Pop Architecture" in Arts and Architecture 82 (April 1965), as did Scott Brown in "Learning from Pop" in Casabella 359-60 (December 1971).
25. Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, 80. The Venturi take is only slightly different: "Americans feel uncomfortable sitting in a square.... They should be working at the office or home with the family looking at television" (Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction, 131).
26. Richard Hamilton, Collected Words: 1953-1982 (London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 1983), 233, 78.
27. Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, 161.
28. Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture: A Critical History (London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 1980), 281.
29. Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 46 and passim. This phrase can also be spun around: Fantasy of the Technological.
30. Koolhaas has defined his Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in Daliesque terms as a "machine to fabricate fantasy," but some of the OMA "fantasies" have come true at a Corbusian scale (Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, S, M, L, XL [New York: Monacelli Press, 1995], 644). Koolhaas also has a Corbusian knack for catchy concepts (shared with Banham and the Venturis too), which, in good Pop fashion, he has sometimes copyrighted. In a certain sense the Corb-Dali combination is not as singular as it might seem: A Constructivist-Surrealist dialectic was at the heart of the historical avantgarde, and its (impossible) resolution was a partial project of several neo-avant-gardes--from the Imaginist Bauhaus and the Situationists, through Archigram and Price, to Koolhaas and OMA.
31. Koolhaas, Delirious New York, 203.
32. Rem Koolhaas and OMA, Content (Cologne: Taschen, 2003), 489.
33. This last might be the true Bilbao Effect, and Koolhaas speculated on it as early as his 1989 project for the Sea Terminal in Zeebrugge, Belgium: "How to inject a new 'sign' into the landscape that--through scale and atmosphere alone--renders any object both arbitrary and inevitable?" (Koolhaas and Mau, S, M, L, XL, 582). It might be called the Bilbo Effect instead: the architect as hobbit who grabs a ring of power that he can't really control.
34. K. Michael Hays writes of the latter phenomenon: "It is as if the surface of the modern envelope [his example is the Mies Seagram Building], which already traced the forces of reification and commodification in its very abstraction, has been further neutralized, reappropriated, and then attenuated and animated at a higher level.... The new surface [his example the Koolhaas Seattle library] is not made up of semiotic material appropriated form popular culture (as with Venturi and Scott Brown) but, nevertheless, is often modulated through procedures that trace certain external programmatic, sociological, or technological facts (what designers refer to as 'datascapes')." See Hays, "The Envelope as Mediator," in The State of Architecture at the Beginning of the 21st Century, ed. Bernard Tschumi and Irene Chang, 66-67 (New York: Monacelli Press, 2003).
35. A new twist on neo-Pop architecture is on the horizon. In the '60s some designers spoke of "meta-forms" and in the '70s of "mega-structures," but neither possessed the grand iconicity, not to mention the built actuality, of some "hyperbuildings" today. Ironically, such architecture has returned the engineer, that old hero of modernism, to the fore. One such figure is the Ceylonese engineer Cecil Balmond (who has collaborated with Koolhaas since 1985 and with other celebrated designers more recently), without whom some hyperbuildings could not have been conceived, let alone executed. Another is Santiago Calatrava, the Spanish artist-designer also in great demand for his emblematic structures. Such engineering-as-architecture might signal a return to tectonics, but, if so, tectonics are here also transformed into Pop expression. Consider the transit hub designed by Calatrava at the World Trade Center site: He intends its roof of ribbed arcs to evoke the wings of a released dove, no less. In this instance advanced engineering is placed in the service less of corporate imagemaking than of mass moral uplift--and it will likely serve in this guise wherever the next "Capital of Europe," Olympics, or other sentimental spectacle lands. If Daniel Libeskind proposed a design for Ground Zero that turned a site of enormous personal trauma into a field of effective national triumphalism, Calatrava proposes a new post-9/11 Prometheanism in which humanist spirit and imperial technology are difficult to distinguish--and this phenomenon is hardly confined to Manhattan, as evidenced by the recent "Tall Buildings" show at MOMA QNS, cocurated by Guy Nordenson, a significant figure in this new engineering in his own right. At the end of the latest OMA publication, Content, Koolhaas asks, in a note of great appreciation, a question of this vanguard of engineers that might be turned round on Koolhaas, Gehry, and other architects as well: "Why do they never say NO?"
Hal Foster, Townsend Martin Professor of Art & Archaeology at Princeton University, is the author of Design and Crime (and Other Diatribes) (Verso, 2002).
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||Pop architecture|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2004|
|Previous Article:||Tom Sachs.|
|Next Article:||Dara Birnbaum.|