Weddings and Rhetorical Structure

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsnavely on June 24, 2007

Yesterday I went to Ryan and Carla’s Wedding. It was pretty awesome. I’ve been a few small, on a budget weddings and it always surprises me how cool they are. Simplicity and inventiveness really make the event special and frankly, since the summer wedding season is upon us, distinguishes the event from all the other weddings.

On Ryan’s recommendation, I also spoke with his and Carla’s friend Ritchie Yao, a GSD student who just finished his thesis at Harvard. His thesis, called “Transformer,” is a kinetically adaptable building set in Berlin in two parallel universes: one in Speer’s Berlin (as if Hitler had won WWII) and the other in the Berlin of today. Here’s a video that Ritchie sent me of his project.

This was such an odd coincidence after I had just read “Fatherland”. Ritchie and I talked about that book and another, Philip Roth’s Plot Against America both of which deal with a history in which the outcome of WWII (Japan wins in Roth’s book) is altered. I can’t help but get excited thinking about these imaginary futures and subsequent imaginary architectures. This appropriation of history gives the architecture a “multiplicity of readings” (Ritchie’s words) as opposed to the diagrammatic approach to design which (again, Ritchie’s words) “only allow for singular readings” and representations. In my project, I would like the transposition, which at first appears literal, to suddenly allow for secondary (and tertiary etc) readings. Right now, I think I’ve only talked about juxtaposition in very simple terms, but I think I need to be much more specific about which arhcitectural elements I’m “pastiching” and how they can have multiple functions or readings.

We talked briefly about authenticity, as well. If a column is made of plaster and not of stone, you could knock on it and realize that it was fake; it’s made to look like marble but the column is actually hollow. But it’s very useful to make plaster pass as other materials. In fact, where ever mimicry is needed plaster is often the material most suited for the job. Are we denying the “essence” of plaster by not allowing it to look like other materials? I think the idea of the “purity” of raw material is connected to the idea of architecture as timeless; an idea which I wholeheartedly reject. If the “look” of the column is transient wouldn’t it be more authentic to create the column in such a way that it could be altered, to acknowledge that it is authentically fake? And if the column itself posits this question (rather than an answer) perhaps it might be predisposed to multiple readings.

The idea of rhetorical structure, a phrase which I just pulled out of my ass, is one which Mies, and not Venturi and the other po mo architects, got right. Two specific examples come immediately to mind: chromed columns found in the Barcelona pavilion and Tugendhat house.

Tugendhat House

And the false I beams in the facade of the Seagram building.

Seagram Building

Mies’ playful attitude towards structure and ornamentation has been noted by many others. It still has a lot to offer though. Mies’ open plan exists in an alternate universe where slabs can just float and walls disintegrate into columns which themselves “melt away” into puddles of mirror. But really, the mirrored columns could also be read as fetishized structure rather than its elimination. The same could be said of the I beams in the facade of the Seagram building. Mies wasn’t really concerned about the historical or cultural implications of his columns, but instead was alternating between concepts of structure and form. Going back to an earlier example, a similar Miesian game could be played with a conrinthian column made from plaster that mimics stone.


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