Saturday, April 29, 2017

A New Architectural Language?

One of the reasons I like older buildings so much is their ornamentation.  Prior to the twentieth century, and even well into it, buildings were constructed with the naive but sincere intention that they would last for decades, perhaps even centuries.  In part because of this view, this led artists and architects to design and construct buildings that were intended to be works of art, as well as functional places for human activity.  This of course meant that their interior and exterior surfaces were covered with all sorts of features that served absolutely no function at all, except to give pleasure to those who saw them and, perhaps, to make the building stand out in the crowd--or, to put it another way, to turn it into a "landmark," something that could be used as a reference point for guiding oneself or someone else around a city or town.

By the middle of the twentieth century, however, technology had begun to crowd out decoration as an important consideration for architects and their clients.  Buildings needed to be designed in such a way that their technical systems could easily be repaired or replaced.  And, if that meant completely tearing down a building that had been put up only a decade or two before, then the building in question got torn down.  This need for technical innovation, combined with the depletion of many traditional resources for building construction, led to the destruction of many beautifully designed buildings and their replacement with glass-and-steel boxes that could easily be adapted and even repurposed for changing technology and tastes.  In this context, "landmark" became something of a dirty word to many real estate developers.  It meant that a particular building they wanted to level could not be taken down, or even substantially modified, because that building had acquired a constituency beyond its ownership and/or occupiers--a constituency that could bend the political will to save a popular older building that might otherwise disappear.

I cheerfully admit to being part of that constituency.  And I cheerfully admit that I enjoy ornamentation in construction, and lament the fact that so much of modern construction is so bland in an uninspiring and almost fascist kind of way.  I've often wondered whether it would be possible for modern artists and architects to develop a kind of ornamental language that would, in its basic concepts, be more suitable for today's tastes than (to use one example) the gargoyles of Gothic cathedrals.  I had just begun, in fact, to despair over whether such a development could occur.

And then, I saw this.

Okay, maybe Emojis aren't your thing.  But maybe this is, instead.  One way or another, maybe there's a place for ornamentation in the modern world after all.  I hope so!

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