UG Four continues its explorations into architectures of public delight, antipathy or bemusement by examining the role of clarity, resolution and imagery in communicating and propagating spaces and events.
Working with an architectural typology that keeps the symbolic at its heart, this year we will be focussing on the concept of Monument.
Monuments have typically been thought of as static forms – a remembrance or commemoration of a moment frozen in an architectural form. The great cities of the world define themselves and their achievements through their monuments – an architectural form used as a unit of ‘measure’. But monuments have always sat at the junction between symbolism, power, technology and memory. What they mean and what they stand for can change in an instant; they are judged within the context of time (historic) or place (geographic).
Increasingly we see buildings formed by certain technologies becoming monuments at a certain point in time. Rem Koolhaas used the term automonument to describe the skyscrapers of New York. These totemic structures became a testament to technology and the city is a symbol of power and progression. So a building does not have to be designed as a monument to become monumental.
Technology and context can make something monumental. Venturi and Scott Brown showed us how the typical American landscape could be elevated into monumental architecture in Learning from Las Vegas. Their ugly and ordinary 1970’s landscapes of signs, cars and gas stations showed how POP objects could count as monuments.
The signs and data of the Sat Nav, or of Google Maps now cover the landscape of America or any other country. That landscape may have been meticulously recorded using a LIDAR scanner, or it may have been virtually caricatured in a videogame. All of these technologies place their own rules upon the world. Venturi and Scott Brown worked through scale shifts, acts of reframing and analytical drawings to develop their new monumental strategies. How might you apply similar tactics to interrogate the technologies of our modern landscape and their symbolic role in architecture?
POP suggests you can create monumentality from the everyday – it is how you frame it that matters.
Scale and the context (or lack of) can make something monumental. James Wines coined the term PLOP to describe the way modern art pieces were slapped outside banks and shopping malls as a cultural afterthought. PLOP clearly perseveres in the world of international starchitects – with oversized 3D models splattered across the world this way and that.
Many architectures today appear less as buildings and more as interlopers from a science fiction film, glossy and sinuous alien forms sitting like a giant 3D print plopped into a historical context. But if the technologies of science fiction continue to be turned into fact – will such architectural scale shifts become ordinary? In what ways could your tools of representation, and the scale at which you work, fundamentally affect the way in which your architecture is applied into its site?
PLOP suggests monumentality can emerge in the rupture between a building and its context.
It is also possible to conceive of a monument without an icon or sign. Louis Kahn spoke of monumentality as a way of memorialising living values. Through architectural materiality and construction methods a building can become a monument of its time. Certain buildings become the exemplars of historical techniques and ways of thinking about architecture. They become reflections of the process that created them.
How do new technologies change our ability to shape and form materials – and alter the ways in which we construct architecture? If new digital manufacturing technologies allow mass customisation of architectural forms, might the new monuments of today become augmentations of the existing city?
PROCESS suggests that the ingenuity of today will become the monuments of tomorrow.
For the first two weeks we will examine the feverish outputs of your imagination through a MONUMENT MASHUP workshop.
A session with our RANDOM MONUMENT GENERATOR (RAM) will generate the name of a project for each student and you will produce conceptual propositions in response.
Will you receive the Tower of Telescribing or accept the Plaza of Prism?
We are looking for inventive interpretations and speculative explorations that will begin to build your agenda for the rest of the term. We will encourage you to question why and how you construct drawings, and how they support the impression of your architecture – or whether they even need be on paper. We ask you to challenge what types of software you might use to develop a strategy – perhaps by rejecting typical CAD programmes to design through digital sculpting or by translating spaces back and forth through the physical and the digital. We expect you to look closely at the world around you to develop your own unique strategy for developing an architecture that straddles the material and immaterial.
Having used the MONUMENT MASHUP as a catalyst to develop an agenda for your work, you will then develop a project for a monument devised through the remote study of either New York, Washington DC or Philadelphia.
The outcome of this proposal will be communicated through a final piece of work that stands for your proposed monument. We are keen for this piece of work to explore the result of the project not only through the architecture that you propose, but through the methods by which you represent it. We continue to encourage a playful interplay between the hand-made and computer created, the static, the dynamic and the interactive.
By developing design strategies we will create new forms of Monument that reflect on the contradictions present in our lives as a result of technology, and how architecture can take a position in relation to this. We are offered unparalleled amounts of information, but at the price of ourselves becoming that information.
For every possibility celebrated in our contemporary society, there is usually a limitation. Rather than submit to this we propose to take hold of the absurd, contradictory or unreal potential of new technologies to create architectures that exemplify the modern landscape (actual and virtual) that they inhabit.
Project Two+Field Trip
This year we will be embarking on a road trip around the symbolic and industrial heartlands of the United States. Beginning on the fringes of New York we will travel south past Three Mile Island – scene of America’s own nuclear meltdown, to visit Levittown, the prototype for mass produced suburbia, continuing down to Philadelphia to see Venturi and Scott Brown’s monument to Benjamin Franklin and the works of Louis Kahn.
Carrying on to Washington DC we will see the White House and the Washington Monument, walk the Mall and visit the sprawling Smithsonian Museum. We will see the brutalist home of the FBI and the archipelago of embassies, consulates and memorials that make up the District of Columbia.
From there we will travel up to Pennsylvania, where we will visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, a product of his ‘monumental’ personality. Traversing that state eastwards we will see the relics of Pennsylvania’s industrial heritage, including the Lackawanna Coal Mine and Centralia – a ghost town where a subterranean mine fire has been continuously burning since 1962 and will continue for another 250 years.
We will then head back to New York to see the oversized inflatable monuments of the Thanksgiving Day Parade and explore the architecture of a city that has become emblematic of money, power, scale and technology. And of course, the Statue of Liberty, a monument that symbolises an entire nation.
Following our expedition, we will focus on the main building project of the year by channelling the approaches and agendas adopted in the first project. Having explored the landscapes where architecture asserts power, technology, politics and money, you will propose a final project for a building that asserts its monumentality in the face of all these intersecting considerations that questions how architecture speaks to us in our world of the (im)material.
In the face of all we see, we will ask you to explore strategies that take these potential absurdities and use them to develop new architectural approaches towards the monument that recognise history but point firmly towards the future.
Image Credit: Washington Monument seen in Fallout 3 by Bethesda Softworks (screenshot from fallout.wikia.com)