Sunday, 31 May 2015

Living in an idea

While the internet has its problems (it is slowly drowning the intellectual capacity of the human race in a deluge of cat videos for instance), it can occasionally present you with a moment of epiphany. Perhaps you can find it in a music streaming service, in the feeling you get when you hear that perfect song for the first time and it slots into your brain like you've always known it. Sometimes you can come across the visual equivalent of this sensation, as I did with the artwork of Geebird and Bamby.

Their prints create a dream-like, idealised mid century architectural space, uncluttered by anything as messy as humans. This gives you time to fully appreciate the purity of the designs, architecture that is not afraid to stand on its own and to mean something.

For the purposes of this analysis, I'm pursuing my conviction that mid century architecture is all about living IN an idea, whereas the architecture of today, postmodernism, is about the idea living on top of you, the space forcing you to conform to its version of reality. Perhaps the best example of this is the shopping mall. I'm sure many people have written much more articulate studies than I could of how the shopping mall represents capitalism's attempt to completely dehumanise and homogenise every town in the western world, so I'll try and avoid generalisations and offer an example from personal experience, the mall in my local town of Watford.

This is a fantastic illustration of postmodern architecture planting itself on top of the "real world". It was literally built over the town centre, whole streets being demolished to make way for 727,000 square feet of retail space. Its antiseptic white floors and acres of glass roofs attempt to create an entirely neutral space, not threatening or stimulating in any way, the international semiotic vocabulary that says "this is a shopping mall".

By way of contrast, it's undeniable that the buildings in Geebird and Bamby's prints are functional, but they also engender aesthetic pleasure while employing the absolute minimum of meaningful elements. For instance, in the airport terminal above, the textured brick frontispiece sits as a piece of pure decoration, dynamically extending out from the main building in two dimensions, having the courage to bear no direct relevance to the environment or to semiotically "advertise" it. Can you imagine something like this at a modern airport, which so often conspire to disguise themselves as warehouses? On a side note, the tail fin of a plane protruding over the top of the building is a nice touch - it doesn't give away the identity of the airline or the destination of the flight, echoing the mystery and glamour of travel in the jet age.

I suppose what it really boils down to for me is that, while these are structures that all serve a purpose, they have a bit of fun with it. For instance, while it's a very simple feature, the slanted roof of the diner below makes it stand out against the flat desert background. You're not just eating eggs and bacon here - you're eating eggs and bacon inside an embodiment of the dynamism of an era that was literally and metaphorically reaching for the stars. This was a time when it was perfectly reasonable for a roadside diner to imply "you're going to be the spacemen of tomorrow, and your architecture must reflect that!"

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