Thesis Dump :: Pastiche Techniques

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsnavely on June 11, 2007

Part III: Programmatic Pastiche and Tectonic Pastiche


Using pastiche as a generative method, this proposal attempts to tackle programmatic and aesthetic obsolescence in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Postmodern architects, like Robert Venturi, Charles Jencks, or Ricardo Bofill, were, by and large, concerned with pastiche primarily in the façade. Even there, their building materials, methods, and tectonic systems were exactly the same as their modernist predecessors. In Learning from Las Vegas, Venturi, Brown, and Izenour claimed “Learning from the existing landscape is a way of being revolutionary for an architect” (Venturi, 3).  Likewise, in the early 1980’s, Charles Jencks proclaimed “…today all styles are equally open to adaptation and transformation, and it depends on the local context, the client, the function and several other concerns, including the architect’s desire, which style or styles are used.” Both Venturi and Jencks neglected to outline a process for the curation—a system for collecting, organizing, and evaluating— of these “styles” mined from the existing landscape. Moreover, the methods they demonstrated in their particular type of “radical eclecticism” offered little to the architectural discipline outside of the façade. The result of this neglect Bernard Tschumi describes in his book Manhattan Transcripts as “the pleasurable element of subjective arbitrariness enters into the selection of endless images…” (Tschumi, 15). While “subjective arbitrariness” of selection might be pleasurable, it is the arbitrariness of application that this thesis will attempt to avoid.


This thesis tries to accommodate these shortcomings of Postmodernism by developing a pastiche based methodology. That is, the project performs the transitive verb “to pastiche” rather the stable noun resultant from this activity, “pastiche.” This methodology will be applied, not just on the façade, but the program and the logic of its construction. First, although existing site conditions of programmatic mash-ups will be examined, pastiched-program will be tackled as a designed scenario, rather than a solely urban or entrepreneurial result. Secondly, in order to pastiche interior spaces, walls, and ornaments (in addition to the “flat” elements of facades), this thesis details a tectonic strategy that allows for inexpensive copying, recombining, and recycling of architectural pieces.



Part IV: The Process of Programmatic Pastiche


During periods of transition, programmatic elements are often combined in unusual ways. For example a Laundromat/billiards club, a shuffleboard courts/bar, or a videogame rental/late-night cafe can all be found in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The resulting combinations are unusual, but financially successful and frequented by inhabitants in the area. In “Delirious New York”, Rem Koolhaas noted similar programmatic trends in his study of the Downtown Athletic Club, an unusual building which contained on the 9th floor, a boxing ring, oyster bar, and men’s locker room. Most compelling were Koolhaas’ drawings of


the imagined scene. “Eating oysters with boxing gloves naked,” he writes, explaining the images, “such is the ‘plot’ of the ninth story, or, the 20th century in action.” Pastiched program and the “Culture of Congestion” (Koolhaas’ term) presents an opportunity to design for people who crossover from one social group to another.

Madelon Vreisendorp, Machine for Metropolitan Bachelors, in Delirious New York


Such personal crossover is already organically happening in the area of the site. For example, Matisyahu, a Hasidic Jew and reggae musician whose musical career jump-started in Williamsburg, is an amalgam of Hasid and hipster—two groups which frequently clash in the area. Cross-pollinations between seemingly incompatible social groups allow pastiched program to be critical of concepts of “multi-use”, “New Urbanism”, and “preservation”.


In order to deliberately fashion pastiched program, this thesis will catalog various typologies found in Williamsburg area, examine existing cases of programmatic mash-ups, then propose combinations which serve multiple usage groups and can adapt to changes by quickly swapping their constituent parts. Program is not examined for meaning in its use, but exploited for its relationship to certain economic and cultural factors. Unlike naturally occurring programmatic combinations, planned programmatic pastiche has the advantage of being able to combine buildings that usually do not synthesize with other buildings, such as churches, day-care centers, or certain office buildings. Secondly, planned pastiche also has the capability to adapt over time. That is, a failing portion of the building is exchanged for a different piece of program.  Finally, as in the shuffleboard example mentioned earlier, programmatic pastiche may have the ability to retain certain activities which have become “obsolete” by pairing them with other programs, thus adapting the activity to different groups or opening it to new meanings and interpretations. Interestingly, these retained programs “resist” obsolescence by incorporating it into a paired element.



Part V: Tectonics of Aesthetic Pastiche


Driven by the pressure to continually produce “new” styles, Aesthetic Pastiche seeks to revitalize out-dated images through recombination/recycling or simply by re-creating an existing historical style out of context. Due to the timely nature of pastiched styles, the result is often short-lived, but nonetheless effective. On


An Interior Photograph from the Venetian Casino and Hotel, Las Vegas


the architectural scale pastiche as homage has been successfully deployed in casinos like the Treasure Island or Venetian in Las Vegas and themed restaurants like the ubiquitous Hard Rock Cafe. However, while graphic techniques of painting, projection, and wall-paper have been used to aid such imitations, three dimensional production of pastiched architectural ornament has been executed mostly in plaster and concrete, materials whose permanence and expense is incongruous with the impending expiration date of their form. In short, “themed” architecture must adapt to the laws that govern the themes themselves, not the other way around.


There are two requirements for a strategy which uses pastiche. First, it must include a method for copying. The copy is not exact: resemblance is valued over replication; it is enough for the copy to “look like” the original, aspects like performance and (to some degree) context are ignored. This copying can be literal, that is, taken directly from a physical object or it can be a method of borrowing from other forms of architectural representation. Existing and historical drawings of the building on the site will be used to compose a final product. Secondly, the approach must involve a process which allows for inexpensive recycling or reorganizing of its pieces, forms, or materials. Although some pieces of the renovation will be assumed to be “permanent” (lasting longer than five years) most interior and decorative construction will be assumed to last only a few months. By organizing the design with shortened timelines in mind, formal allowances for similarly short lived aesthetic interventions can be made. For example, “Grand Opening” a retail experiment that opened in Manhattan as this thesis was being written is 400 sq ft space that is redesigned by a different set of designers every three months. The redesigns are, admittedly, mostly graphic in nature, but a greater level of formal experimentation is permitted than in other constructions. Another example is Islington Square in Manchester, England, a low income housing complex currently being designed F.A.T. Architects in London, which pastiches Victorian gables with working class brick homes into oversized facades. (see picture) Winning the competition through a panel of judges that included future residents shows that this type of aesthetic experimentation could be valuable not only to architects but also something that clients might actually desire. Humor and wit (not so much the overused irony) that derive from cultural and historical references can enter back into the architectural language. 


Islington Square Housing by FAT Architects


Applying the logic of aesthetic pastiche to architecture requires material techniques which assist mimicry, yet acknowledge their inherent transience.  The aim of this tectonic scheme is to separate content from construction. For example, one should be able to copy “the look” of a gothic church without having to hire stone masons. Further, once copying and mimicry are “easy” to accomplish tectonically, architectural compositions can be generated formally by layering aesthetic references. The role of the architect is to determine which types of architectural ornament should be copied, making design a matter of selection. 



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