The Image of Architecture

Banham’s New Brutalism and Baudrillard’s Simulacra

 “Mark’s House by Two Islands: Rendering vs. Reality” (2013 project in Flint, Michigan)

“Mark’s House by Two Islands: Rendering vs. Reality” (2013 project in Flint, Michigan)

Introduction

The rate at which we consume information is exponentially increasing. The internet has created a global community, allowing for the sharing of architectural projects around the world, but at the same time, the massive flux of information means that we process and interpret information in a completely different way. The internet has caused an increase in available information but a decrease in attention.[1] It is changing the way we design, represent and consume architecture.  

In the age of the internet, everything is consumed instantaneously as small, bite-sized pieces of data. Everything is a piece of data and is treated equally – instantly consumed and just as instantly discarded and forgotten. Blogs and websites share as many projects as possible, as the rate of posting is linked to user activity and readership.[2] With this system, the internet has created a gamification of success, in the form of shares, likes, comments, and other social media tactics; it has created a system of evaluation that dispels expertise and gives agency to the everyman. On the side of the architect, the internet has created an infrastructure that provides every project the opportunity to be seen and shared.

The result of the internet as the primary (and for some, only) system of distributing and consuming architecture, the architectural project has become an image rather than a built entity. The placelessness of the digital has created an architecture that, too, is without place. Online, the number of projects available to consume is infinite, and time is short. The internet has created a culture of fast-consumption, where a reader can scroll through a large number of projects in seconds, stopping only at what they see to be exciting or interesting or unique. In the world of the internet, there is no deep-reading. We are in a world of immediate consumption followed by, if you don’t appeal to the reader, immediate dismissal.[3]

With this system in place, we see the rise of a certain type of architecture, a new typology of architectural project. One that is not created for deep reading, but an architecture for fast-consumption. The new unit of architecture is design as a sound-bite. It is a project distilled down to, or worse, designed as a one-liner. Anthony Vidler, in discussing the proposals for the architectural redevelopment of Ground Zero, highlights this growing issue, stating that “the public role of architecture has been gradually reduced to the symbolic and the emblematic.”[4] This is architecture as symbol. This is architecture as a distilled, abstracted and hollow version of itself.

Of this new image-unit of architecture, two types of representation emerge - the rendering and the diagram. Both serve the internet-age as digestible, easy one-liners describing an architectural project. However, they are very different. The diagram is, ultimately, a representation or an attempt to represent some sort of truth.[5] It may be an abstracted truth, or a reduced one, but it is still an attempt to describe a truth. On the other end of the spectrum, the rendering is devoid of truth - it is a manufactured fiction used to create a false hyper-reality.[6]

Regardless, today’s representation of architecture – the image of architecture, or the image of architecture as image, as diagram, as rendering – becomes the architecture itself. It is divorcing itself from the important, less-visible qualities of architecture, all in favor of the image. In the world of immediate consumption, architecture has turned from designing buildings to designing images.

 

Full paper available upon request.

Advisor: Marta Caldeira.

(Research paper: 15 pages. Yale School of Architecture, M.Arch. 2014)

 

[1] Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (New York: W.W. Norton, 2010), p. 131.

[2]  “The Multiplier Effect: How Design (and the Internet) Connects Us,” ArchDaily, Mar. 30, 2012 (www.archdaily.com/220449/design-connects).

[3] Carr, The Shallows.

[4] Anthony Vidler, "Toward a Theory of Architectural Program," October 106 (Fall 2003), p. 59-74

[5] Stan Allen, “Diagrams Matter” Any 23 (1998), 16-19. 

[6] Benjamin Halpern & Joel Wenzel, “Hyper-Rendering: The Illusion of Architecture,” Kyle May, ed., Clog: Rendering (August 2012), p. 72-73.