1.29.2010

Beauty & the Concrete Mix

Jeanne Gang, an architect for the Plumbline School...

8 comments:

Conrad DiDiodato said...
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Conrad DiDiodato said...

As an interesting contrast to Gang's architectural style there is "The African Burial Ground National Historic Site"in Manhattan. Visual poet Geof Huth has posted today (http://dbqp.blogspot.com/2010/01/african-burial-ground-and-symbology.html) an excellent article on what he's called the "semiotic monumental art" motif of this memorial to the African diaspora. A very different architectural 'aesthetics' from Gang's predominantly (and typically) "skyscraper" design.

The religious and funerary symbols inscribed on the walls of this memorial, Huth says, serve as fitting markers of the sacredness of site: structure as memorial to African history and a forgotten people whose grievances have etched deep into the American conscience.

What a contrasting pair of architectural styles, one striking upwards, stolidly and glaringly self-referential, a glass and steel conglomeration of form and function; the other lying low, a site uninhabitable except by tourists and the cold solemnity of a near-forgotten African symbology.

Henry Gould said...

What caught my eye was the way Gang had turned something which is often ugly into something beautiful, by way of a care for her materials & an inventive & informed sense of place. The article itself expands on this. I don't really get your comparison; I wouldn't call the graveyard memorial "architecture".

Conrad DiDiodato said...

I guess I was struck by the way Huth had photographed the memorial from ground up, with the buildings surrounding it suggesting what might have otherwise been constructed over it if the remains had never been located there. I do see it as a 'place' every bit as much as Gang's imposing structures. Perhaps 'site' alone is a better term.

I would certainly regard the African Burial Ground an architecture (seen as a style and method of design) and even, say, the Vietnam Memorial in Washington: primarily in the way design is conjoined to solemnity/sacredness of place. I think using architecture to refer to only skyscrapers or tall buildings is too restrictive.

Henry Gould said...

Memorial sculpture; landscape design; landscape architercture, perhaps. I still think you're comparing apples & oranges. & why? To make some politically-correct, disdainful comment about skyscrapers? Skyscrapers have a special history in Chicago. In my view Gang has done a wonderful piece of work.

Conrad DiDiodato said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Conrad DiDiodato said...

Henry,

I'm not being disdainful so much as 'critical', looking at two types of architectural design as a way of describing two social 'ontologies' or even two opposing cultural expressions, one capitalist, always imposing & vertical and the other more autochthonous, more closely tied to a real history of oppression.

And perhaps seeing in their displacement, or representation, of space two entirely different types of place. The African Burial Ground and Vietnam Memorial memorials are groundlevel designs whose open, people-accessible facades and interiors render visible both a sacred site and a sense as well of the imperialist/capitalist forces that have undermined them:for example, the designer of the Vietnam Memorial consciously chose to keep the names closely aligned to terrain, literally designing the wall so that it seemed to sink into the earth at one end, and even angling it to capture sun's rising light. It's low humble appearance stands almost in stark contrast to the more imperialist background of the Capitol buildings and memorials.

Gang's skyscrapers, on the other hand, subserve the interests of institutional organizations (commercial, residential, financial) and as Foucault said in regard to hospitals, prisons and schools, the Chicago skyscrpaer is a type of "architecture that is no longer built simply to be seen...or to observe the external space...but to permit an internal, articulated and detailed control".

Gang's colourful wind-swept effects are markers of the control big business tries to exert over both people and landscape. Her building is to present day Chicago what traditional symbols of power and domination (like the obelisk, triumphal arch and statue) were to earlier societies

Henry Gould said...

More skyscraper stories :

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/skyline/2010/02/08/100208crsk_skyline_goldberger

"There is something appealing about a building that relies on the most advanced engineering but doesn't flaunt it."
- Paul Goldberger

- a Plumbline view, I think. Goes back to Horace : "Ars est celare artem" (Art is to disguise art)... a major Plumbline precept, in my book...