‘It is a likeness more true than mere imitation could be.
And caricature, showing more of the essential, is truerthan reality itself.’ E.H. Gombrich
‘Less is more.’ Mies Van Der Rohe
‘Less is a bore.’ Robert Venturi.
UG FOUR explores architectures that embody a character, challenge a stereotype and engage with the public through all the varying media that the contemporary designer has available to them. Our unit is intrigued by contemporary pop culture mediated by new technologies, and how this may be introduced into architectural design methods. How do we find our way as architects in a supersaturated world?
The ability to tell stories and create experiences through the combination of craft and new technologies might fundamentally change what it is to be an architect and push the boundaries of our experience of place and space. Now more than ever architecture should be seen as having a communicative function as well as being a form of spatial art. We have new worlds open to us through augmented and virtual reality, videogames, mapping software and social media. And yet it is our physical world that is the canvas for all this. Videogames often recreate real places, ‘Google’ maps cities for its self-driving cars and even virtual reality is an extension of the historical relationship between architecture and image seen in the elaborate frescoes of Italian churches.
We can see the effects on everyday architecture. An American man recently started legal proceedings against the developer of Pokémon Go due to the large number of people appearing in his front garden, phones held aloft. Because of a fictional augmented reality game, his house had become a public destination in physical space. The owners of the ‘Breaking Bad’ house in New Mexico have double the problems – their nondescript suburban home is both a significant building for fans of the show and a Pokéstop. Here are physical places becoming destinations by means of a smartphone monster hunting game and TV show about crystal meth. Desire, attraction and the importance places have to us is now affected so much and so quickly by the symbols, characters and messages we receive via ‘non-architectural’ means.
But what if they can become architectural: can an architect now think to design events, attractors or virtual spaces as a counterpart to physical structures? Can we fold new technologies into the way we make drawings, produce models or construct stories around the buildings we design?
‘SIN CITY’ OR SIMCITY?
To test your role as architects in our digitally mediated world of events and attractors, we will travel to the city that provided a template for similar studies 40 years ago – LAS VEGAS. Las Vegas is the archetypal city of desire, a caricature, a mythical destination summoned from the desert by the money of gambling institutions. It is a city borne out of the technology of the event, a synonym for packaged pleasure and excess.
In 1972, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown produced their seminal and controversial book Learning from Las Vegas, which studied the ways in which Las Vegas communicated with its visitors. Although the book has been blamed for the worst excesses of postmodern architecture, they foresaw architecture as a multimedia discipline way before most. The book developed many new methods of drawing and analysing space we take for granted in architecture school today. They saw Las Vegas as a landscape of symbols and signs, much like we see today every time we check our phones, boot up our computers or paste a CAD block into a drawing. Like technologies of today, their pop architecture worked through shifts and reframing: shifts in scale, shifts in context, shifts in material and medium.
Ultimately, the book used the study of symbolism in Las Vegas to call on architects to appreciate pop-culture rather than only designing ‘heroic’ monuments to themselves. But Las Vegas now seems weirdly ‘heroic’ – a city of extravagance and escapism sitting alone in the desert, continuing to deal in fantasy and escapism as tensions grow in the America surrounding it.
So what is Las Vegas nowadays? Do we still need to make destinations out of nothing, or can we simply reframe the existing? Can what happens in Vegas stay in Vegas in our hyper-connected world?
We will ask you to revisit Las Vegas by judging it against some of the observations Learning from Las Vegas made 44 years ago:
The book argued Las Vegas had ‘the need for high-speed communication with maximum meaning.’ It achieved this through the light shows and neon signs. Past studies defined the message systems as ‘heraldic’, ‘physiognomic’ or ‘locational’.
Communication has expanded and become faster than they ever could have imagined at the time. Instagram or Snapchat communicate floods of imagery to millions of people. Could we utilise these platforms as design tools, or might we design a counterpoint to this, architectures that are deliberately slow to become apparent?
Might we design buildings that sit halfway into a virtual realm, that melt into their own drawings or exist for a fleeting moment? Or might we reject the symbolic overload of our contemporary society and reduce the complexity of what we propose back into the core architectural principles?
The book suggests modern architecture had lost a long historical relationship between buildings and iconography. Las Vegas returned to a time where architecture would include the work of painters, sculptors and other artisans – where every surface carried information and messages for inhabitants of the building. Can we use digital tools to return to such approaches – to combine architecture and art together using new technologies? Could we extend our architectures through augmented or virtual reality just like Las Vegas did through its signs and caricatures of other architectural eras?
The Las Vegas Strip was designed to be seen from a vehicle. ‘A single shot of the Strip is less spectacular; its enormous spaces must be seen as moving sequences.’ . The car defined a new style of architecture in the expressive ‘Googie’ style of the 50’s, and whilst the car is still king in the USA but there are now new eyes for seeing cities. Satellites and drones with their aerial viewpoint challenge the earthbound perspectival eye of the car and camera. Might a building reject the view from the ground and instead lay something bare from another angle? Could an architecture of attraction need a code to decipher its true message?
1.SUPERSATURATOR (2+7 weeks)
In the last 50 years, Vegas has become a parade of ‘architectural caricatures’ of other cities. Now Las Vegas is changing; the historical preservation of its architectural roots consisting of dismantling and re-housing parts to form a ‘stock cube’ of the original Sin-City. Anything that doesn’t make the cut is spectacularly demolished in a send-off expected of a the world capital of entertainment.
This term we will study Vegas from afar using all possible technologies available. The output of this term will be in two parts:
‘Hyper Heraldry’ – 2 weeks: To kick start the year we will run a two week project in which you will develop your own caricature of Vegas. We see this as an free spirited exercise to analyse, condense and communicate the essence of a space/place/event. In groups of 2 you will develop an ‘architectural heraldry’ from a selection of parts randomly allocated to each team. Learning from Las Vegas identified 3 types of message systems – heraldic, physiognomic and locational. Will you conform to these or develop your own ‘allusion’ to the casino.
From this, you will start to explore the architectural and cultural landscape of Las Vegas through your own unique methods, culminating in the design of a SUPERSATURATOR. This is an architectural inferface using architecture and technology together condensed into a proposal to attract, repulse or divert people. Term one is about developing experimental approaches that develop multimedia architectures through combinations of technology, craft and culture.
2.DESATURATED STRIP (Dec-June)
Having investigated architectures of attraction and the supersaturation of information in your first project, you will design a public building located in Ascaya – an unbuilt suburban landscape on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Your unique project informed by your first term will investigate hybridised ways of designing and representing your architecture, that reflects not only Ascaya as a desolate site just over the hill from all the flashing lights, but also plays with the interplay between cutting-edge technology, history and context.
In Ascaya we will propose a new strip as a counterpoint to the heart of Las Vegas, using empty plots as the basis for new sites. Although each of your buildings will be designed individually, our new strip will involve your projects communicating between one another, like in the reality of architectural design.