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Old Posted Mar 1, 2009, 2:27 AM
amor de cosmos amor de cosmos is offline
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For an Architecture of Reality by Michael Benedikt

I got this book a while ago & read through it pretty quickly (but not very thoroughly) because it's so short. It's sort of a manifesto against "fakeness" in architecture/design, like fake columns, plaster made to look like concrete, etc. I wouldn't say I'm a real connoisseur (yet ) but after looking through it again I think it's probably worth memorizing every page. It might be too philosophical for some but I thought it was great. It does a good job of articulating what I've come to think. Here's a blurb from the back cover:
Quote:
"Every literate architect should take an afternoon off to read and ponder this brief and thoughtful and thoroughly engaging book. . . . Benedikt says more about some central aesthetic and philosophical issues confronting contemporary architecture than many celebrated pundits manage to squeeze into a shelfful of books. . . . He offers a straightforward account of his own struggle to understand the pleasures and responsibilities of architecture in an age when aesthetic pleasure is all but indiscernible from entertainment, and responsibility is often a cover for thoughtless conformity." - Roger Kimball, Architectural Record
He writes that
Quote:
REALNESS, I THINK, CAN BE divided into four components, the last of which has two aspects:
prescence,

significance,

materiality, and

emptiness (emptiness[1] & emptiness[2])
Each contributes to realness more or less independently: a lack of one (say, materiality) does not imply a lack of another (say, significance). Rather, weakness or absence of one component leads to diminution of the summative aspect that is realness. By the same token, the powerful presence of one might compensate - if you will - for the weakness of another.
& he then describes what he means by each of the four things:
Quote:
Presence may be understood in the trivial sense. After all, if you can see it and touch it, it has presence in as much as it exists to the senses. But here presence means something more than merely being perceptible; something, rather, analagous to the "prescence" attributed to certain people...

A building with presence, for example, is not apologetic, but asserts itself as architecture, having a right to be here, to bump off a few trees (and defer to others), take up its position as a new entity in the physical world. A building with presence is not one that would wish to disappear (as do underground, camouflage/contextual, and some mirror glass buildings); nor is it coy, silly, garbled, embarrassed, referential, nervous, joking, or illusory - all attempts at getting away from being here now.
& the futility of trying to design something "iconic" as architects, developers and condo buyers seem to want to do:
Quote:
If presence is largely a perceptual matter, significance is a cognitive one.... Significance is not achieved by the display of icons, signs and symbols - no matter how "appropriate" - but by how buildings come to be and how they continue to be a part pf the lives of the people who dream them, draw them, build them, own them, and use them.

Buildings with significance are significant to someone, rather than, or in addition to, being symbolic of something. Symbols and icons function in the context of ritual; significant objects and places need not be so framed.... Symbols can be non-significant, things can be significant and not be symbolic; between symbolism and significance, significance has the existential import and is the larger category.

For example, while no one would contest that a medieval bell tower was a fine and meaningful architectural element, "putting one in," say, a shopping centre inevitably subverts its symbolic power. If the bell tower arrived by flatbed and crane, then, for all the useful things that it does (bong on the hour, orient shoppers) its significance will always include the lack of correspondence between its true history and its "historicity," a lack that nags at and hollows the swell of nostalgia it begins. Iconic scenography as a mode of architectural design rests on cynicism about the very possibility of authenticity...

No, a new building is given historical significance over and above its formal timeliness only if it brings to light the geniune history - human or natural - of its site and the circumstances of its construction. Significant buildings, real buildings, are achieved, rather than provided. They are built over time by someone rather than arriving all but ready-made by strangers. Thus we should not be surprised at how often anonymous buildings, provided by government or "housing authority," or provided by corporations, are neglected, vandalised, or just suffered and ignored....

... One can see how buildings constructed by indifferent men with indifferent plans, using remotely made and general parts, are bound to create indifference - at best - in the population at large, yet alone in those actually involved. These buildings lack significance to anyone, and are less real for it.
& probably the most common criterion for judging whether or not a building is "real." It had been my only criterion for a while:
Quote:
Materiality is probably the least problematic of the four components. It reflects our intuition that for something to be real it must be (made of) "stuff," material having a palpability, a temperature, a weight and inertia, an inherent strength... The appeal for materiality, however, is not an appeal for heaviness of materials. The dark and corded tents of the Bedouin are no less material than the stone vaults of a 14th-century French monastery.

...New and very synthetic materials are confusing in this way: neither their origins nor their forming is readily perceivable. This makes materiality the component of realness that is most often implicated when something is judged to be "fake," though the term applies also, in more difficult-to-discuss ways, to the other components. Veneers are fake if and when they suggest solidity and consistency of material throughout the piece. (When they do not, they may function, and may be seen to function, as casings, crusts or skins.)...

Technically speaking, a material is fake when it displays some, but not all of the qualities of the material we take it to be. And it is the selecting of the qualities that "will do" from the complex of qualities properly belonging to the real stuff that, together with the dissemblance indicates what Sartre would have called "bad faith" on the part of the designer/provider to the user/appreciator... unless, that is, the deception is framed as such. For example, almost all the architecture of fantasy depends on a deceptive materiality. This can only be made acceptable and enjoyable, though only to the extent that the suspension of disbelief is willing. Disneyland has gates, movie palaces have doors, and if, within, they are not entirely believable, they are at least leave-able....

Clarity in what a building is made of, how it is made on that account, and how the way it looks reflects both, are all essential, then, to a building whose realness is to derive from materiality. The case of ruins and very old buildings is illustrative. Here, wear and signs of maintenance, cracks and collapses, reveal all; and when this clarity of materiality is joined by prescence and significance, the realness of these structures becomes indelible.
emptiness definitely seems to be the hardest to describe. I think he writes more about this than the other 3 things. contrast this with a lot of what is produced today. it seems very "Jedi" :
Quote:
For architecture, emptiness[1] implies that a building should not be a slave to its program, twisting and turning to accomodate our every movement and wish - squirming to please, as it were - but rather should be formed according to innate principles of order, structure, shelter, the evolution of architecture itself - and accident. It should be found useful and beautiful, like a tree. The dumb and inexplicable features of old and/or vernacular buildings, otherwise so straightforwardly organised are often precisely those that attract us to inhabit them. Offering opportunity rather than giving us direction, they are indifferent to our designs on them. They were here before us, they are "wrong" in a way that challenges us to possess them creatively: they seem realer if not "better" than anything we could design from scratch, and that is why, increasingly, we like them.

How hard it is to design egolessly; form without rhetoric, without artifice, pretension, or dragging surplus. Few architects have succeeded, and then only in maturity. Louis Kahn was one who strove publicly to do so and succeeded at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth and the Salk Institute in La Jolla. Kahn's word for emptiness was "Silence," and to experience the open, cycloid vaults that enfront the Kimbell is to hear Silence. ("You know what is so wonderful about those porches?" he said of them, "They're so unnecessary.") Mies van der Rohe's search for anonymity and stylelessness was prompted by the same insight but crippled by adherence to the ideal of rationality and a certain megalomania, while Adolf Loos had arrived at "silence" long before: the meaning and "language" of architecture, he asserted, was to be nothing but the building itself - the materials and construction, sensuousness and unadorned, brought to limpid perfection....

Emptiness[2] is more akin to the idea of space, or interval. The Japanese have the word ma which comes close to the meaning of emptiness intended here. Ma! Ma is the gaps between the stepping stones, in the silence between the notes in music, in what is made when a door slides open. When a child's swing reaches the point of neither rising nor falling and is momentarily weightless... there is ma. Yet emptiness[2] is ma and something else. When we speak of the "draw" of a good fireplace, when we feel the pull of an empty room for us to enter and dwell there, when we see in something incomplete the chance for continuation or find in things closed a gate... there is emptiness[2]....

Not unlike the malls, much contemporary high-style architecture lacks emptiness[2] by being quite literally full. Full, if not of people and goods and pushy displays, then of Design. Ramps and catwalks, columns and rails, steps and grids and stepped grids, skylit crevasses, small things too big, big things too small, nineteen colours, composed furniture, art and more art, rotunda, little pyramids, pediment pieces, Arcadian tableaux, spaces within spaces within spaces overlaid and layered four deep with thin walls and theories, architectural origami... no room is left for us to enter. Here, in fact, emptiness[1] and emptiness[2] come together in their lack. For these buildings are not only full of things coming and going, they are full of themselves and their cleverness.

Last edited by amor de cosmos; Mar 1, 2009 at 4:27 AM. Reason: fixed typo
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Old Posted Mar 1, 2009, 3:15 AM
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natelox natelox is offline
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Originally Posted by amor de cosmos View Post
The dumb and inexplicable features of old and/or vernacular buildings, otherwise so straightforwardly organised are often precisely those that attract us to inhabit them. Offering opportunity rather than giving us direction, they are indifferent to our designs on them. They were here before us, they are "wrong" in a way that challenges us to possess them creatively.
Brilliant! Thank you for sharing. I think I'll buy this one.

To reciprocate, I would recommend both "The Eyes of Skin" and "Thermal Delight in Architecture," both of which are short essays/manifestos on architecture which have beautiful ideas about human experience and human interaction with architecture.
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Old Posted Jun 27, 2009, 6:44 PM
amor de cosmos amor de cosmos is offline
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I've been reading some stuff by frank lloyd wright & it didn't take long to notice that what benedikt writes in for an architecture of reality is virtually the same as what wright wrote 100yrs earlier. the only real difference is that postmodernism has taken the place of beaux-arts, which wright wanted architecture to move on from.
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