In architecture, details are a dead give away to what’s vogue. Rococo details are lavish, no expense spared. Beaux Arts details are characterized by overstatement. Modern architectural details reveal the structure as something beautiful in its utilitarianism and efficiency because detailing was for the bourgeoisie. A moniker of architecture today that floats around is the absence of details. Leading architects seem to take great pains to hide away the details, making something appear effortless and give precedence to the volume of the space itself and what the space affords rather than what it commands with the details it contains.
One theory I prescribe to is simple to understand because it is simplicity at its core.
Life is a blur. With all the digital noise, all the devices we plug in and all the caffeine we consume, we are building a barrier to feeling and blocking our deepest senses, ignoring what makes us human. Shut down the neurosystem! We are draining ourselves of nuance, burying our subtleties and looking for sweeping, obnoxious claims without research to back them up. Tell us what to think, wise internet! Our urges are immediately satiated as we can investigate how things are with the push of a few buttons, anytime / anywhere! Be damned if we are actually diving in and contributing. Nobody wants that! The screen (as my screen is when I type this) is full of temptation to follow something, to spectate something and to definitely not contribute. Let me tell you, it’s the money makers that are contributing, don’t mistake. It doesn’t even need to be quality spewing, it just needs to be spewing and we will seek it all the same. Society is spectating like never before. Even China claims it wants to go from an industrial economy to a consumerist economy because that is en vogue, it’s what makes the world go round. Blindfold people and get their wallets loose. Let them bury their emotions, their will to contribute, so they become blobs glued to things and screens and hopefully give us some money along the way to be entertained.
Due to these obvious, but not stated enough facts, I believe architects and their architecture have recently taken the torch to de-clutter and actually re-sensitize us. Their architecture becomes channels through which we can awaken our buried away emotions. Like remembering to smell, remembering to breath deeply and remembering to look at others – in the eye and with intrigue. The truly great architect can make you put your phone away, can make you pay attention to how the light flows through the skylight and lets dust flutter reflections. Can you smell that? Can you hear that?
Architects themselves are immersed in the digital information sharing and are inundated with it. I know it can be difficult to design when your brain is in the digital realm and anxiety builds on keeping up with the information flow. It’s like drink water from a fire hose. Your brain doesn’t have the capacity for the rapid fire blogosphere and ads and apps on our phones. Really all the noise makes focusing an even bigger challenge. Architects who are able to provide an environment of focus with their architecture can slow down the anxiety, can calm the senses and return people to their pre-digital selves. De-cluttering our minds through spaces that organize, but do not dictate. They are free, but purposefully clutter-free. Take Snohetta’s new SFMOMA expansion that opened this spring and the review of it in AI:
The new SFMoMA contains a total of 170,000 square feet of gallery space distributed over seven floors. To combat art-related exhaustion, the museum offers what Snøhetta founder Craig Dykers describes as “palate-cleansers,” spaces “where you step aside and take a break.” These come in myriad forms, including the ample sills of the picture windows that frame views of the city, the broad maple steps that lead to the lower lobby, the benches on any one of its six outdoor terraces, and the sleek lounge in the third-floor cafe furnished with modular Viccarbe seats and tables.”
Repose is the new black?
En vogueing is reposing. What architecture today can be. We need more face-to-face communication. Your only sense of that should not be work. In past times, it was neighbors and community. Where do those things exist in a city? The bus has been a great connector of people. Think about it, you get on at your stop with people who live around you and slowly you move away from your house, but still are in the same neighborhood and a plethora of others get on to go to their jobs / school / or run errands. They are similar to you and the bus is the common denominator. Architecture today is like the bus, picking people up at their stop and giving them an opportunity to connect.
The Seattle Public Library allows repose with its dedicated nooks and crannies. The furniture at the corners of the trapezoidal space are places where you can sit alone or near others and read a book. One area is even labeled, “the mixing chamber”. Can we just slow down and look up? See into each others eyes for more than a passing glance? Maybe not give screens our undivided attention?