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just another brick in the wall?

depersonalized architecture of the new millenium dissertation luka kreze 07058830

A dissertation presented to the Department of Architecture, Oxford Brookes Univesity in part fulfilment of the regulations for BA (Hons) in Architecture.

Statement of Originality This dissertation is an original piece of work which is made available for copying with permission of the Head of the Department of Architecture Signed


00 introduction: welcome to the jungle

01 what’s the story morning glory?

02 one

03 seven nation army
vernacular identity

04 take a look around

05 conclusion: house of the rising sun?

a great epoch has begun there exists a new spirit
le corbusier, 1927

00 welcome to the jungle

“Yet architecture, although built of matter, need not be dead: it can be life-filled. It’s constituent elements and relationships can sing – and the human heart can resonate with them”
Christopher Day, Places of the Soul

Soul is a spiritual or immaterial part of human being. Architecture with soul is according to Zumthor the only acceptable kind. Soul gives architecture ability to communicate with people. Soulful architecture is unique and meaningful and interacts with people on emotional level. It makes us feel alive. Juhani Pallasmaa in The Eyes of The Skin sees successful architecture as the one that “incorporates

Architecture is a man-made extension of the nature. Most of us spend more time in this artificial world of buildings than in nature itself. Nature communicates with a person on a spiritual level, addresses his emotions and makes him feel alive. It has sheltered people for thousands of years. Times have changed now. Instead of living in forests, we live in concrete jungles now. Our world has changed so rapidly in last decades that some things have escaped out of control. Architect is an employee of the society, of the individuals and their needs, including emotional ones. However, very often this is not the case. A person cannot communicate spiritually with anything that is dead. There are many architects and theorists that in the same way as Christopher Day above believe that architecture does not need to be dead and soulless, just because it is created out of dead and soulless materials. Peter Zumthor, Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate for 2009 is one of the strongest advocates of this notion, and his seminal work Thinking Architecture was an important starting point for this dissertation.

and integrates physical and mental structures, giving our existential experience a strengthened coherence and significance.” (Pallasmaa, 2005, 12) Architecture that knows how to play those cards right, intensifies the spiritual experience in people.

However, in several cases the exact opposite has happened. It seems, that architecture has in many ways forgotten that the person is the most important part of the building and that without a person taken into account, architecture is dead. In many examples of recent architecture, human characteristics such as individuality and meaningfulness that are constituent parts of soul have been forgotten, intentionally or unintentionally. This resulted in depersonalization. A phenomenon that was caused and fuelled by several factors, such as social, economical, technological, and has taken a toll not only in architecture but also in art, music and other disciplines.

“Architecture has a strong bond to life and hence should have a soul.”
(Zumthor, 2006, 12)

01 what’s the story morning glory
a chapter about message

The aim of this dissertation is to identify what is soulful architecture, what is depersonalized architecture and find reason and motives for both. Story is split in four chapters and each of those chapters examines architecture from a different point of view, by taking a look at characteristics of soulful architecture. First chapter about message in architecture takes a look at communication between a building and its dweller and tries to find a reason for emotional connection between them. Second chapter deals with issue of uniqueness in architecture, since individuality is one of the most important characteristics of soul, and loss of uniqueness one of the most common reasons for depersonalization. Third chapter is a continuation of the chapter about uniqueness, but takes a look at local consequences of global way of thinking. It focuses on importance of vernacular identity and its disappearance. Last chapter is about reason in architecture and reasons for architecture. It discusses the ifluence of social, economical and technological factors on message, uniqueness and vernacular architecture, since it seems that those factors are becoming true reasons for architecture instead of people.

This is a dissertation on architecture, however in several places, where needed, we will borrow knowledge from music, not only to explain principles of beauty, but also to show that architecture is not the only discipline of art that suffers depersonalization.

“I lend my emotions and associations to the space and the space lends me its aura, which entices and emancipates my perceptions and thoughts.”
(Pallasmaa, 2005, 12)

A dweller becomes an observer. The visual component of architecture does not convey a message that would trigger and emotional response. Pallasmaa also identifies this problem. In his view the “architectural and urban setting of our time tend to make us feel like outsiders” (Pallasmaa, 2005, 13), which would suggest that the message might either intentionally or unintentionally be lost in translation.

Message is a noble and rare ability of a space to connect with its dweller and communicate its qualities on an emotional level. Architecture, as an incredibly powerful tool of communication, has the ability to be inspiring and most importantly life enhancing. Juhani Pallasmaa in his seminal work Eyes of the Skin claims that: “Significant architecture makes us experience ourselves as complete embodied spiritual beings. In fact this is the great function of all meaningful art.” (Pallasma 2005, 11) Architecture speaks different languages when trying to address the viewer/dweller. Materiality, shapes, colours, mass, delicacy are only few of the languages architecture is fluent in. But do architects use their knowledge of these languages in all cases, and indeed is it necessary to do so? Architecture is not solely concerned with the aesthetic, but the emotional response may be in some way linked to the aesthetic of a building. Even though visual delight might be the key to the emotional response in the dweller, it can sometimes be triggered by other factors, which make the response in a way fake, dishonest or at least biased. In this chapter we will discuss the issue of memory and nostalgia in architecture and in the next chapters we will take a look at of social phenomena such as mass culture and globalization. Let us first take a look at aesthetic aspect. Many architectural writers today consider that the spiritual link between the observer and building has been lost. Architecture uses only half of its powers; it addresses people visually without engaging them spiritually.

To explain what might have gone wrong in the translation of the visual message, and to see whether the message is gone completely or partially, we are bound to look at laws of aesthetics and look at underlying causes for emotional response to it. Nature seems the most obvious choice when trying to find beauty. Many theorists describe beauty as a balanced relationship in a system of signs; as a balance between novelty and familiarity. The Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins identified immense similarities between beauty and a rhyme:

“What is rhyme? Is it not an agreement of sound – with a slight disagreement? In fact it seems to me that rhyme is the epitome of our principle. All beauty may by a metaphor be called a rhyme, May it not?”
(Hopkins, 1865)

It is no coincidence that Peter Smith, a renowned architectural psychologist and former vice president of RIBA, in his writings finds a key to understanding beauty in understanding of the concept of harmony (a concept which originates in music). Smith sees a solution for architecture in knowledge of music and harmony. In a similar way as Hopkins sees it in nature, Smith sees beauty of music in

imperfect balance of complexity and order, where order slightly outweighs the complexity. The human brain will misread a message too complex, but a message too uniform will be perceived as boring. In both cases no emotional response will be triggered by the message. Smith explains that:

ture and all focus is devoted to the randomness of the shape? Ellen Dunham-Jones, head of architecture at Georgia Tech identified this particular problem in the case of Guggenheim Museum in Graham Owen’s Architecture, Ethics and Globalization: “When it focuses only on the form it is not looking at the full power of that building, the power that building has to inspire faith…” (Dunham-Jones in Owen, 2009, 79). And so it might be that it is a

“If they had realised (modern architects) what harmony means in musical terms, things might have been much better. For example, in the tonic chord of G-major, there is a significant level of clash between the wave profiles of the notes, but the rate of overlap or synchronisation exceeds the rate of clash, so order succeeds in outweighing complexity.”
(Smith, 2003, 21)

moral obligation of the architect to comply with the rules of harmony in order for its message to elicit a positive emotional response from the people. On the other hand could it be argued that complying with musical scales and rules of music is just another road to labelling and uniformity? In fact, just another way of diminishing freedom in art and consequently refusing progress? Another extreme can be well presented with either Steven Holl’s MIT Building in Cambridge, MA or

A few examples will help to illustrate the ideas about complexity and order. Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim museum is a building that has, whether we like it or not, challenged perspectives on architecture and aesthetics in the same way as perhaps Villa Savoy in the 1920’s or Pompidou Centre did in 1970’s. In terms of aesthetical delight Smith seems confused whether Gehry takes randomness in his buildings “beyond boundary in which there could be said to be any underlying lawfulness…”(Smith, 2003, 115) In musical terms this building is a case where no laws of tonality are respected: “we have randomness and therefore no chance of perceiving a pattern or order”. And so: “when a work of art defies all efforts to uncover any underlying orderliness, the result for most people is ugliness and rejection.” (Smith, 2003, 21) But if architecture is the art of creating places for people, is it fair that the human is excluded from architec-

his Linked Hybrid in Beijing. Both pieces of architecture are based on a principle of repetition. Even though rhythm is a natural phenomenon (heart rate, day – night…), British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead agreed that: “A mere recurrence kills rhythm as does a mere confusion of differences.” (Whitehead, 1919) Daniel Day in Places of the Soul also turns to music to illustrate his claim:

“Repetition is the basis of rhythm. It can bring an anchoring structure, but organization by repetition is organization by the imposition of lifeless systems.”
(Day, 1990, 90)

Steven Holl’s building could in this sense be perceived as an example of depersonalized architecture, architecture that with pure repetition destroys any attempt of the dweller to establish a rapport with the building.

tion 4’33’’ consisting of four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. These kinds of deviations in norms of aesthetics are an interesting exploration of the boundaries of music and architecture, however all of the above theorists would agree that harmony is the essence of beauty. And harmony

The third extreme that goes even further in eliminating message from architecture is the architecture of emptiness, a perfect example of which would be the Ghost House by Datar. A house reminiscent of a blank canvas and possibly one of the most minimalist examples of contemporary architecture uses only one element to address the viewer’s eye – white colour. Peter Sm3ith illustrates the difference between sterile emptiness and ordered chaos with an example from music. He is determined that even a single tone should have a harmonic significance “which becomes apparent when we compare an electronically produced note with a same note from a violin. The former is bland, whereas the latter is the combination of sounds. The dominant note is called the fundamental. However other notes are present called the harmonics… the note we hear contains notes at the interval of an octave, a fifth and a fourth and so on…” (Smith, 2003, 21) In the end the final message of beauty is perceived as a result of a conflict between the fundamental note and the harmonics, whereas in the case of Ghost House only the fundamental note exists. And if we use this knowledge from music, we could say that it is hard to identify with pure emptiness, hard to find harmony and beauty in it. It is hard to understand it on a spiritual level, because it is hard to communicate with it. However, if we approach emptiness from another point of view, it might be argued that a building such as Ghost House challenges the everyday aesthetics to its very core, in fact in musical terms it might be seen as aesthetics of silence, beautiful in its solitude. In a similar way has John Cage challenged rules of music in his composi-

between all the constituent elements gives the building soul. Together with issue of uniqueness, which will be discussed in further chapters, inability to fully identify with a large part of today’s popular music on an emotional level might also be connected with perfection. Technology in music has allowed us to produce sounds to a level of perfection where there is no more space for spontaneity and imperfection. Human factor and human error has been omitted from music and even vocals, as a solely human product are now modified to the level of perfection with tools such as Auto – tune. Peter Smith in the same way sees beauty in imperfect vocal as he does in the harmonic sound of a violin. In his opinion: “Both singers and instrumentalists avoid producing a perfect sustained note … This involves oscillating between the main note and a pitch slightly bellow it...” (Smith, 2003, 21) Another explanation would be that a modern song is based on a recurrence in melody and rhythm, whereas masters of the past built their music on repetition as well as variety. Nicholas Humphrey uses Chopin’s nocturne in E flat as an example: “… the first tune is repeated twice so that the main key and the main subject matter may be well established in the memory of a hearer. Then comes the second tune, which is the most related key. Then the two tunes alternate, while at each repetition small changes are introduced.” (Humphrey in Mikelledes, 1980, 70) In longer pieces such as sonatas an author in some parts distances from the main theme almost to

the point where the main theme disappears, but then in the end introduces it again, closing a perfect circle of harmony, filled with variety and similarity. And according to architectural theorists mentioned above, all these principles should be used in design process in order to create “alive” buildings that speak to us. Examples and opinions might suggest that contemporary architecture in many cases fails to address the very crucial member of the design process – the dweller. Instead of filling the dweller with life, many of today’s buildings leave him cold or confused. Do we really want to run towards uniformity, meaninglessness and soullessness, to run away from what makes us human? But as said before, there is more to message than just the visual aspect. In fact Pallasmaa argues that the very visual fixation, which we suffer from, is the reason for architecture becoming detached from emotions.

clear in case of the Ghost House, but was present already in Modernism, creates places of rejection. However, Le Corbusier as the voice of the modernism advocated sensory reductivism with all his heart by stating, “Architecture is a plastic thing. I mean by “plastic” what is seen and measured by eyes.” (Le Corbusier, 1959, 164) If we take a step back from visual communication between architecture and people, area where as we have seen some rules might be applied in terms of aesthetics, we should also consider more subjective influences on comprehension of the message, such as memory and nostalgia. We can speak about nostalgia and memory in terms of entire nations, various groups or individuals. In this case an emotional response is elicited after seeing a building or hearing a song, however a question arises whether a strong emotional response is caused by the buildings or songs alone, or because

“The world becomes a hedonistic, but meaningless visual journey”
(Pallasmaa, 2005, 22)

of a time factor and idolized past. Pallasma’s opinion is that “Buildings and cities are instruments and museums of time”. (Pallasmaa, 2005, 52) Buildings and songs in a way become artefacts representing an era.

Pallasma sees reasons for emotional detachment in architecture in advent of computers. He claims that: “Computer imaging tends to flatten our magnificent, multi sensory, simultaneous and synchronic capacities of imagination by turning the design process into a passive visual manipulation, a retinal journey. The computer creates a distance between the maker and the object…” (Pallasma, 2005, 12)

Nevertheless is sentimental longing for the past and designing with memory in mind by many architects seen as blasphemy, backwardness. Le Corbusier in Decorative Art of Today advocated blank canvas principle. He sees memories that cannot remain without reinforcement of artefacts as unimportant:

“If we feel inclined to converse with beings now vanished, is pure memory not more
As a consequence of a dishonest relationship between “the maker and the object” the connection between a building and its dweller can hardly be genuine and spiritual. Sensory reductivism to strictly visual, which is

lively and accurate than memory roused through dead objects?”
(Le Corbusier, 1925, 189)

Jean Baudrillard, a renowned French philosopher in his architectural writings agrees that we should not seek message in the past:

Is it possible to talk about universal message or language in art, a message that everyone understands in the same way exactly as the artist predicted? Jean Baudrillard claims that:

“We are looking for a lost object … we have to confront what we have lost and anticipate what is ahead of us.”
(Baudrillard in Proto, 2006, 26)

“This is difficult to predict because it is the masses themselves who create the meaning of something – in the end the meaning as such does not exist, it is the one who receives it that creates her/his own meaning. But the masses are, neutral and impersonal, and will not succeed in creating any meaning.”
(Baudrillard in Proto, 2006, 179)

However architects such as Peter Zumthor find memory as a crucial part of experiencing a building. As architect he is very interested in objects that have meaning and that evoke memories in dwellers of his buildings. He achieves this with materiality and detailing. “When I think about architecture, images come into my mind… I can almost feel a particular door handle in my hand … I can hear the heavy front door closing…” (Zumthor, 2006, 7) Zumthor opposes sensory reductivism, since he finds all senses equally important for understanding the message a building conveys to the dweller. All these subjective biases may contribute to the full understanding of a message. Together with visual aspect they might be the reason for a complete emotional experience of architecture. In the first part of the chapter we have seen that message is understood as a relationship of signs. Is it possible that same signs could have a different meaning to different people and so evoke different memories? After all we don’t all share the same past, or do we?

These words put into question not only the above universal laws of aesthetics and beauty, but also mass architecture and possibility of a universal message in architecture, which is a wonderful starting point for discussions about uniqueness and mass culture in the second chapter and vernacular identity in the third chapter.

02 one
chapter about uniqueness

“Everything merges into everything else, and mass communication creates an artificial world of signs…”
(Zumthor 2006)

Nature is again a perfect place to look for answers about beauty and diversity. If in previous chapter the rule of “similarity and novelty” was applied to single buildings or objects and words such as repetition and rhythm were used in relationship to patterns in a single building, we are now going to take a look at relationships between buildings.

Thoughts of Peter Zumthor describe the world we live in today. They put into words our state of mind and epoch of our time. Unification that we experience today on all fronts is for some people a terrible side effect of the global life that we live and a beautiful symbol of development for the others. In architecture is the presence of universal aesthetic values very strong. A question is whether there is a difference between styles that existed in the past and the mass identity architecture of the last decade or two. Is unification and sampling really a sign and necessary side effect of our technological and mental evolution or does the reason lie somewhere else, perhaps in economics, politics, or just pure disappearance of ideas? Are unification and sampling just outcomes of some yet unknown reason that might be identified later in this chapter or is unification in architecture actually a consequence of sampling itself? Because it just might be that copying has brought us to the point where the original is unrecognizable. But if everything actually merges into everything else, where is beauty then when everything looks the same? Where is identity in mass architecture? Where is soul in cities and buildings without identity? There are many questions that don’t always lead to the same answers. But they must be answered, because global merging of moral and aesthetic values might just become something that will distinguish our generation from previous ones. There are several aspects of this issue that we will examine, but since last chapter already started to talk about diversity and beauty lets see how unification in architecture can be explained in aesthetic terms.

Lets imagine a forest where all the trees are not only of the same kind but also age and shape or a meadow of only flowers of the same kind. Even though a single tree is beautiful, do we still perceive it the same when it gets lost in the bunch? Nicholas Humphrey claims that:

“Thus while the flowers of one species rhyme with each other, the rhyme is given added poignancy by the contrasting rhymes of different species.”
(Humphrey in Mikellides, 1980, 68)

In architectural terms a forest of the same trees could be compared to a modern residential neighbourhood such as Rainbow Neighbourhood in Netherlands. Neighbourhood consists of 48 pre-fabricated units all of the same shape and colour. Except of the name there are no similarities between a rainbow and the architecture used. There is no diversity and no uniqueness in this living environment. And even though architects claim that internal spaces are completely bespoke to the dweller, the view outside does not make the dweller feel special at all.

Another way we can use trees to find out whether there is a connection between mass production and experience of beauty is if we imagine that trees were mass-produced in the same way as cars or nowadays houses, that same trees would grow in all the forests in the world. How would this affect our perception of their beauty and uniqueness? One of the few things that I remember from my trip to Africa , when I was still a child, were enormous baobab trees and ebony trees that I have seen for the first and only time in my life. Is it possible that if I had a chance to see those trees every day, they would not stay in my memory for almost 15 years? Wicham van Eyck, who is the architect of the Rainbow Neighbourhood that we have mentioned before, says “The aesthetic can be and is independent of the method of construction if one chooses it to be.” (Van Eyck cited in Arief, 2002, 63)

styles have existed almost since the beginning of architecture. Castles in the Middle Ages were copied around the world, Gothic Cathedrals in Cologne, Vienna or Bruges are very similar and some would say that even Hanseatic houses of Belgian, Dutch or German medieval cities look alike, International Style of Mies van der Rohe, Walter Groupious or Le Corbusier has left a mark in most of the cities we live in today. However Peter Smith explains the difference between modern movement and medieval styles:

“The so called “international style” created an international identity. Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Dallas are all interchangeable. To gauge the measure of this collapse we can refer to an earlier international style, which was the trademark of the medieval transnational trading organisation the Hanseatic League. The style is immediately identifiable, but each country interpreted it in a distinctive way…”
(Smith 2005, 39)

But French philosopher Ricoeur has a different view on universalization and uniformity in architecture: “The phenomenon of universalization, while being an advancement of mankind, at the same time constitutes a sort of subtle destruction, not only to traditional cultures, which might not be irreparable wrong, but also what I shall call for the time being the creative nucleus of great cultures…” He then goes even further when saying:

Words of Peter Smith in a way suggest that there is a difference between a style and mass identity. He sees style more as a guideline, a brief that can be bent, and a rule that can be broken. It does not need

“This threat is expressed among other disturbing effects by spreading before our eyes of a mediocre civilization…”
(Ricoeur, 1961, 276)

to force a global identity into the cities and into the minds of the people. From Smiths words we can sense that mass identity is much more dangerous than a style in terms of uniqueness. But is it more dangerous than mass production?

Many supporters of mass architecture would agree that we are not the first copycat generation. To be honest,

Many would agree that in several cases a well designed pre-fabricated house is a better place to live than a bad original, but in a moment when mass identity comes into the picture pre-fab and non-prefab houses start to look the same, as well as museums, schools, shops and churches. But what is then the reason for the global identity in architecture of today? Is it education of architects? Architectural schools in the past such as Beaux Arts would teach a style, not giving much space to the imagination. Nowadays an architectural student is merely guided trough the design process, but still has a lot of freedom. Also, many of today’s most influential architects were in their youth inspired by modernists, however their architecture rarely resembles any aesthetic qualities of modernism. Even though some might argue that Norman Foster, who was a great admirer of Mies and Le Corbusier in his youth, now thinks globally because of these lessons from the past. According to Jean Nouvel the greatest danger to the future architecture and also to music as we will see later comes from relying solely on computer design. He sees an enemy in computer tools that have made architecture much easier in recent years.

architecture. Some of the most unique and controversial buildings of our time could not be built if it wasn’t for state of the art software tools. Projects like Yokohama Ferry Terminal by Foreign Office and Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao that we have already mentioned in previous chapter are direct products of software manipulation. But why is it then that almost all Gehry’s buildings after Bilbao, such as Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles or Bard College in New York, look very similar. John Silber in Architecture of the Absurd sees all recent Gehry’s buildings as highly unsuccessful saying that: “Evidently there were not enough scraps left from Bilbao.” (Silber, 2007, 75) No matter how original and iconic his Bilbao Guggenheim museum is, the problem lies in repetition after Bilbao, which in a way drowns the original in a sea of copies. Ellen Dunham Jones identifies this very problem:

“Bilbao in many regards is a fabulous building. Gehry is building a building at MIT so I am watching for Bilbao 2. The problem is, it (MIT) isn’t Bilbao 2, it’s Bilbao 15. Gehry is now reproducing the same building all over the world; it has become a franchise. How does this building contribute to the local economy? The Guggenheim has put Bilbao on the map.”
(Dunham-Jones cited in Owen, 2009, 30)

“It is easy to copy just by changing a single parameter, without giving any thought to insertion and without there being any invention in the poetic sense. The big danger is cloned or genetically modified architecture.”
(Nouvel cited in Rambert, 2005, 114)

But don’t be mislead by this statement. Computers are the worst and the greatest thing that has happened to

Will Bilbao 15 have the same power to inspire? Probably not.

Jean Baudrilllard questions himself wherther architecture “might now be in a situation where it can only repeat itself to infinity, or work its way through all the possible variations of the pre-programmed code, that code trotting out its generic stock of of conventional forms in some pale imitation of the generic code?” (Baudrillard, 2006, 170) A very obvious question presents itself: If we have more powerful tools and building technology, if there are almost no boundaries in terms of material limitations and if we now have software that can create any possible shape that a human mind could imagine; why are we stuck repeating ourselves and each other? There is an enormous amount of buildings that are obvious examples of, as Jean Nouvel called it, “genetically modified architecture.” If in biological terms genetic modification means alteration of genes in architectural terms it means almost the same. It means taking the essence, soul, identity of a building and then slightly modifying the characteristics. Bird’s Nest Stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing is probably one of the greatest achievements of this decade in technological terms. In terms of design it can be considered as an original building, designed most probably with the help of software manipulation. It became a trademark of Beijing and architectural icon. In 2014 Socchi in Russia will host the Winter Olympics and the stadium designed for this occasion by Populous is according to latest presentations going to look as a genetically modified Bird’s Nest, with slightly altered shape and patterns, so that similarity is slightly camouflaged. Austrian architect Frederick Kiesler in Francis Rambert’s Future Architecture confides that: “There are three kinds of architects. Those who have ideas a long time in advance, so that the second lot can adapt them; and the third lot who are just reactionaries.” Rambert then continues by saying:

“Today with the new tools that are available, words like remix and sampling come more easily. But the important thing is to pay tribute to these architects who have allowed others to convert their touchdowns.”
(Rambert, 2005, 57)

Sampling and remix are just musical terms for genetic modification. The global state of mind is perhaps in music even stronger than in architecture. Popular music is in terms of uniqueness facing same problems or challenges as architecture. Computer has been a friend and a foe to the popular music in last decade. In the last chapter we have compared an electronic sound to a sound of a violin and concluded that the computer-generated sound is perfect, but what some like about violin is the imperfection. Computers can now generate any sound that we can imagine. There are no limits, no borders. All this suggests that music of the new millennium should by all rules be the most diverse in the history, with thousands of styles, rhythms, and meanings… But is it really? Music is becoming genetically modified. After choosing a precedent musicians alter and modify attributes a little so that repetition is not obvious. But even when repetition is obvious no one seems to care. Chris Cutler, one of the leading figures in vanguard music is very much fascinated by how popular music slowly eats itself. Plunderphonia as he calls this phenomenon in music, has become something ordinary.

“The old idea of originality in production gives way to another of originality in consumption…” which means that we now measure originality of sampling the precedents. “Selections sampled may be traceable or untraceable, it need not matter. Reference is not the aim so much as a kind of creative consumerism.”
(Cutler 2004, 153)

“Here together are cannibalism, laziness and the feeling that everything has already been originated, so that it is enough now endlessly to reinterpret and rearrange it all.”
(Cutler 2004, 153).

In music we get even a stronger feeling that everything has already been written. In last decades a Brian Eno one of the most important and influential figures in modern music agrees with Cutler’s opinion that talent and originality have been replaced by the skill of sampling. But bad judgement can lead to uniformity in music and architecture, which kills their human characteristics. “The great benefit of tools like Cubase is that they remove the issue of skill, and replace it with the issue of judgement. With Cubase and Photoshop anybody can do actually anything, and you can make stuff that sounds very much like stuff you’d hear on the radio, or looks much like anything you’d see in magazines.” (Brian Eno, 1995) If we take a look at US iTunes chart of singles for October 2009 and compare top ten songs on the chart, we notice that all ten songs use the Auto-Tune voice-modifying tool. Auto –Tune has first been used in rap and r’n’b music but has now spread to the extent where there is very hard to find an Auto –Tune – free song. Architects of popular music have, instead of using the powers they were given to create diverse, beautiful and soul-filling music, in many cases turned it into a cheap mass product. In the same way that a prefabricated house is built like a car, a song is now a mass-produced prefabricated house that does not need a context. But why are we not even trying to move towards uniqueness, originality? notable inflation of love related songs has occurred, most of them with sexual connotation. Messages of popular songs of last decade are far from unique. In fact, if we go back to the iTunes chart we notice that 6 out of 10 songs in October 2009 have a sexual connotation, whereas in 1969, in the year of the sexual revolution, Honky Tonk Woman by the Rolling Stones was the only song with sexual connotation among 20 songs on the Billboard Chart. It seems that music and architecture have both tried to find a universal message of some sort. Whether they were forced into doing that by some other factor will be discussed later on in this essay. But it was not an intention of this chapter to argue whether have evolved in last 60, 70 years. The intention was to show that we should fight not to drown in this whirlpool of global identity and use tools that we have at our disposal to create diverse environments. Because uniqueness is what makes us special and identity is what makes us human. And as architects and musicians we should work towards a goal that words of Peter Zumthor from the beginning of the chapter never come true. “Everything merges into everything else, and mass communication creates an artificial world of signs…”

03 seven nation army
a chapter about vernacular identity

“Does being part of the culture impose a systematic dishonesty upon us, because we are part of a culture and not free?”
(Rem Koolhaas, Architecture and Globalization, 1996)

far, some suggest modern and traditional should meet half way. But some abandon idea of tradition in architecture completely and get rid of the shackles of everything that is not contemporary. So which is the right way to go? French philosopher Paul Ricoeur in History and Truth asks himself whether:

In first two chapters we have taken a look at disappearance of message and uniqueness, that both contributed to what seems to be depersonalization in architecture. Third chapter focuses on culture and the vernacular aspect in architecture. In a way it is a continuation of the chapter about uniqueness, but from a more locally oriented point of view. If the previous chapter was more focused on unification as a phenomenon, this chapter will focus on consequences that our global way of thinking has caused on a local scale. Vernacular is the dialect, a language of ordinary people in a certain country or region. Diversity of our languages is one of the crucial characteristics that makes us unique as groups of people or individuals and differentiates us from other groups and individuals. Vernacular identity is an important aspect that gives architecture soul in its environment. Some might say it gives people feeling of safeness and familiarity that comforts them, but at the same time it also makes sure that a building blends in perfectly with existing architecture. It does not only have a role in preserving the national or cultural identity, but it gives cities a special quality that distinguishes them from other cities and cultures, just like language does. In the times when media, technology and advances in travel almost erased borders between cultures, in times when a new global culture is emerging, traditional cultures are fading away. The question is whether this is a problem or not? There are several different approaches to this issue, but what is the correct approach to vernacular architecture? Many architects see the vernacular context as one of the crucial things to be considered in the design process, some take it too This sentence raises not only the question of sacrificing the old culture for the new one, but also whether the battle between modern and vernacular is in fact a battle between old and new. Is an architect that builds with vernacular characteristics in mind actually unwilling to move forward and not capable of letting go of the past or is he only guarding the culture and identity that made him? Ricoeur calls culture raison d’être which in translation means “reason for being”. This does not mean that architecture made us into what we are now, even though this dilemma could be discussed in some other essay. Buildings are museums of our cultures and our ways of life. But is paying homage to your raison d’être a correct way? Rem Koolhaas in the first quote of this chapter sees culture as a possible enemy. In his eyes having to obey the rules of your own culture takes freedom away. Him wanting to refuse his own culture proves that there is an emotional connection between a person and architecture he grew up with, since uncon-

“In order to get on to the road toward modernization, is it necessary to jettison the old cultural past which has been the “raison d’être” of a nation?”
(Ricoeur, 1961, 276)

sciously it leads him. But Koolhaas does not want this. He is prepared to reject his raison d’être. However the only way he can do this is to go abroad, think globally and not locally. If he goes abroad he can get rid of the chains that did not let him be free at home. Abroad he has an excuse not to obey rules of the culture because he is not a part of it. And so he says that:

Is it possible that the global architecture is becoming the global vernacular as the world cultures merge and disappear? Without a doubt the world has changed a lot in recent years. Architecture sure had to adapt to that change. And this is sort of an alibi for the universalization of architecture today. Architecture just followed the road that we took in other aspects of our lives. But if we say that this change is an excuse

“Maybe one of the exhilarating possibilities of a leap somewhere else, where we no longer have to posture to become members in good standing of our communities, is this uncamouflaged freedom.”
(Koolhaas, 96, 236)

for mass production, prefabrication and global style is it also an excuse for depersonalization? Many of today’s architects seem to forget that there is much more to the vernacular than shapes and colours of the buildings. There is a strong emotional connection in many cases, which is probably due to memory, nostalgia, feeling of warmth, feeling of safeness and similar factors. Should architects address these questions or just ignore them?

But is it moral to build abroad when with leaving home to abandon the emotional guilt he admits that what he builds there has no emotional and spiritual connection to him and to the people there? To be honest, not many firms in the world can solely rely their existence on the work abroad, This could mean that the reason for universalization lies in the local architects in the modern world who no longer feel the emotional connection to their own culture and rather copy the soulless icon. This way a new international style spreads like a virus, killing the vernacular architecture. And Koolhaas sees vernacular as unimportant. In Understanding the New Urban Condition in his eyes the new era and the new condition do not allow us to rely on the past. We must move forward and address the issues such as “flows of traffic, flows of human beings, flows of money…“ (Koolhaas, 96,13)

Allison Arieff in Pre-Fab links question of subjective needs to pre-fabricated houses. In her opinion mass production should not be an excuse for rejection of the vernacular:

“ Ideally, prefabrication combines traditional materials with contemporary aesthetics, to create innovative housing solutions.“
However she then realizes the reality of the situation: “ In truth, the majority of new housing constructs-prefab and stick-built alike-cling formula that fails to address the evolving nature of families, the need for energy efficiency and environmental sensitivity, and a more modern vernacular style desired by a new generation of the home buyers (…)

It is imperative that the home evolves to meet those needs.” (Arieff, 2002, 36) Her opinion is that with the technology aquired we should be able to build even prefabricated houses that would be bespoke either to users or local culture. Even though current situation is not very bright, she still sees the light at the end of a tunnel even for mass production.

“Every town and city is a unique “species” in the sense that its accumulation of buildings and spaces constitutes the epigenic programme for that place. What exists sets the fundamental rules for the way that new development should respond to its context.”
(Smith, 2003, 50)

“Prefabrication for twenty-first century allows for repetition of the same systems without replication of the same house, and this promise of mass customization may be the last best hope for prefab that really works.”
(Arieff, 2002, 36) To explain the principle we should take a look at some contemporary examples. Ordos City in Inner Mongolia is an emerging city that has been built in the middle of the desert in 2001. A part of the city is divided into 100 parcels, each of them 1000 square meters in size. One hundred architects from 27 countries have been invited to Mongolia to enjoy their “uncamouflaged freedom”, as Koolhaas calls Peter Smith interprets idea of vernacular architecture a bit differently. He takes a more biological approach. He sees the battle between contemporary and vernacular as a battle between genes and environments in our body, where genes are the cultural identity and environment is the contemporary needs and forces. In biology this principle is called epigenesis. C.J. Lumsden in Genes, Mind and Culture describes it as: “The process of interaction between genes and the environment that ultimately results in distinctive anatomical, physiological, cognitive and behavioural traits of the organism.” (Lumsden, 1982, 370) Which means that a successful design is at least according to Smith the one that does not egoistically reject everything but modern view and also does not overreact with genetic characteristics of the culture. Smith transfers this biological knowledge into architecture: it. Desert is clearly a perfect “tabula rasa” for these architects to express their wildest dreams. But is it correct to say that there is no background to that specific place? Is it just to fill the desert with buildings that clearly do not in any way, spiritual or physical, originate from that specific region? Even desert such as Ordos desert has some sort of vernacular architecture. Mostly quite primitive and basic such as mud huts and tents, which does mean that literal translation of local vernacular might be inappropriate. However there are things such as memory and context, traits and needs of local people, purpose… All these factors contribute to building having soul in a way that it spiritually influences its inhabitants, gives them more than just a roof over their heads. Even presentation photos of Ordos villas show ignorance of local people and use them only to make a visually strong image, to make a suggestion that local community is involved spiritually with these buildings, even though it is clear as

daylight that a nomad can hardly interact with a concrete villa on a spiritual level. But this kind of erasure of vernacular architecture and ignorance of specific local needs, values and memories is happening all around the world. There are millions of examples where international architects seek freedom and high commissions and flee abroad to build in a global manner. Consequence is that cities such as Shanghai or Beijing, cities with strong and admired vernacular architecture are slowly starting to become identical to New York or Singapore. This plague then spreads to local architects and the vernacular slowly starts to disappear. Even though it would be expected that the star architects are to blame for disappearance of the vernacular there are some bright exceptions that take context into account and then build around it. David Chipperfield is one of those architects who does not reject the spirit of the place.

So to answer to Rem Koolhass, it might be that being a part of a culture imposes dishonesty upon architects, but architects are in the same way as many other employees of the culture and not employees of themselves. Building because of money and ego and erasing a foreign culture or even your own culture and seeking for excuse in globalization and economy is not moral and in a way narcissistic. But more and more architects start to think differently. In a world of conformist people (including architects), who would identify with almost anything, it might be that one day the vernacular becomes trendy.

“What’s needed is continuity, and our responsibility is to find clues to this memory in context.”
(Chipperfield cited in Rambert, 2005, 21)

Chipperfield is the author of River and Rowing Museum at Henley - on – Thames, where he appreciates local, slightly conservative values, vernacular tradition and intelligently mixes them with his characteristic minimalism. The result is a building that communicates and breathes with the community.

04 take a look around
a chapter about reason

Reason: (n) a cause, explanation, or justification (v) think, understand, and form judgments logically
Last chapter of this dissertation will in a way try to bring all the previous chapters together and look at reasons and possible consequences of depersonalization. The chapter will deal with dilemma whether architecture alone is the one responsible for this depersonalization or was it just not strong enough to cope with external forces and pressures. We will examine the extent to which factors such as technological development, social changes, politics and media pointed architecture in the direction it is heading now. We will take a closer look at the role of the architect and the moral perspective of the profession. As the beginning suggests we will try to find a reason, a cause, a context, a background behind this depersonalization. Many writers who share this opinion describe contemporary architecture as inhumane. Inhumane means lacking human characteristics of compassion and mercy. Word indicates insincerity in communication between the inhumane object (architecture) and a person. Pallasmaa sees the reason for the disregard for humanity in technology, as the most influential force.

Le Corbusier’s opening thoughts for his essay Eyes Which Do Not See were: “A great epoch has begun. There exists a new spirit.” (Le Corbusier, 1946, 82) He as well was referring to technology as the new spirit. In 1926 he envisioned a change, but the epoch of his time evolved into something almost uncontrollable. Technology not only changed our lives, but is according to Pallasmaa also responsible for the disease of our senses. This detachment of emotions occurs every day. Social networks on one hand have made our generation probably the most sociable generation in history, but have at the same time offered us only an illusion of actually being with friends, or being at a concert. Technology can convey words and images and videos, but can hardly convey emotions. And so it tries to imitate emotions with “hugs”, “pokes” and “presents”, but are those really emotions? From Pallasmaas words we can sense a fear that this disease of the senses could eventually turn into reality, hyper-real emotions, where these artificial feeling could unconsciously become a real emotion, a learned emotion. In architecture technology allows architects to design building in places they have never been, for the people they have never met in the cultures they do not know, but they can always “google” them and find out more about those cultures. This not only generates a gap between architecture and emotions, but also between architecture and environment and between architecture and culture. This way spiri-

“The inhumanity of contemporary architecture and cities can be understood as the consequence of the negligence of the body and the senses (…) The growing experiences of alienation, detachment and solitude in the technological world today may be related with a certain pathology of the senses.”
(Pallasmaa, 2005, 17).

tual, cultural and environmental contexts become just an unnecessary burden in the design process, when they could fuel the design and connect it with the people. We have seen in previous chapters that in many cases technology works perfectly fine and can on some level create buildings that connect to people. We have seen that with technology we in fact have a limitless potential in terms of design and it is certain that technology is whether we want it or not going to remain an extremely important factor

in architecture. But even if technology offers infinite possibilities, we use this against us. Why? This question is everything but new. We are not the first generation with a new acquired technology. In the same way as computers changed our generation of architects, advances in building technology and engineering caused an enormous change in construction methods in the first half of the previous century. Le Corbusier was thrilled about limitless potential for construction, however modernism remained a relatively unified style. Architect Kunyo Mayekawa wrote in Thoughts On Civilization in Architecture:

the reason for absurd architecture such as Burj Khalifa in Dubai by S.O.M., that has very little to do with reality and reason, but most importantly is an examples of a building where human is the least important thing. And so architects flee abroad to the countries where money is not an issue. Architects ethics is then on trial. Usually money wins the soul. On the other side is reality, where money is becoming an obstacle more and more. It could be argued that monetary condition in many cases leads to unification, mass architecture and depersonalization. Because after all as Gary Stevens says in Architecture, Ethics and Globalization:

“Modern architecture is and must be squarely based on solid achievements of modern science, technology and engineering. Why then does it often tend to become something inhuman? (…) Modern architecture must recall its rudiments, its initial principles as human architecture. Whereas science and engineering are the products of human brains, the modern architecture and the modern cities which are built by them tend to become inhuman.”
He then suggests that there must be some other underlying cause for this. “I believe that one of the main reasons is that it is not always created merely to satisfy human requirements, but rather for some other reason, such as the profit motive…” (Mayekawa, 1965, 229-230) And so we move to the next strong force in architecture. Monetary influence is strongly connected to ethics, since once money enters the game, all the other reasons become unimportant or of almost no importance. Architecture stops being an art of creating living spaces, it becomes a tool, manipulated by everyone else but architects. Money can guide architecture in two ways. There is one direction where abundance of money is

“Architects are a lot less important as they think they are. In the end it all comes down to who’s paying you, and very few individuals in the profession could get away from that.”
(Stevens in Owen, 2009, 60).

Ellen Dunham-Jones in the same discussion continues the thought of Gary Stevens: “My husband is an artist, and I am often somewhat jealous of how he can present his work by just showing it. He doesn’t have to justify it.” (Dunham-Jones in Owen, 2009, 60) In the case where funding is limited, situation is certainly specific. But does it have to be a rule that low-budget architecture needs to be depersonalized architecture? We have discussed the idea of successful and more human-oriented mass production in previous chapters. This certainly is one of the ways. There are more and more people who can acquire skills to become architects. Computer tools have

given opportunity even to people without talent. But in cases such as the one we described above, where funding is limited, skill is not enough. This is where talent is needed badly, since in cases like this talent is the factor that draws the line between successful and depersonalized architecture. Music is facing the same problems. Anyone can create music because anyone can learn the skills. Brian Eno explains this issue perfectly:

this kind of architecture. On the other hand:

“nihilistic eye deliberately advances sensory and mental detachment and alienation. Instead of reinforcing one’s body–centred and integrated experience of the world, nihilistic architecture disengages and isolates the body, and instead of attempting to reconstruct cultural order, it makes a reading of collective signification impossible.”
(Pallasmaa, 2005, 229)

“...the question becomes not whether you can do it or not, because any drudge can do it (…) the question then is: of all the things you can do now, which do you choose to do? This is a whole issue for which there are not manuals!”
(Eno cited in Cox, 2008, 363)

Oxford dictionary describes nihilism as rejection of moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless. In terms of our time, nihilists would probably be those who have given-in to the current

Question arises whether it is the architect’s fault for caving-in under the influence of money. In the case where money is limited talent is an important factor. In cases where money is abundant it is the question of architect’s ethic principles, since he has an opportunity to say no if he wants to. Pallasma as well sees a problem in moral values of the architects. In his opinion many of the 21st century projects, celebrated by architectural press, were designed by two sorts of architects: narcissists and nihilists. He makes a distinction between the two by saying:

situation. Nihilists would be those who have accepted that factors such as globalization, urbanization, increase in population, technology, media and money are the ones who control the world now and not the people. They have accepted the fact that there is nothing we can do anymore, but listen to those factors. Rem Koolhas identifies this new condition:

“Confronted with this mutation, this new urban condition, we refuse to recognize that we are powerless to forestall it…”
(Koolhaas, 1996,13)

“ The narcissistic eye views architecture solely as a means of self expression, and as an intellectual-artistic game detached from essential mental and societal connections.”
Architectures of Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid or Daniel Libeskind would probably be most appropriate examples of

city of tommorow

He then goes on by trying to explain this with an example: “It seems clear that somehow we should be able, when given the impossibly difficult problem of designing in two weeks a city for three million people, to respond with vigour and skill.” (Koolhaas, 1996, 13)

Does this sound like reality or only like a bad joke?

Has the state of the world changed so drastically that this is actually our reality or is designing a city for three million people in two weeks in a way violation of human rights and dignity? If the social, economic, technological and political factors are so strong in the new millennium can we really blame architecture and architects for the depersonalization? Perhaps not, but they sure did give-in very quickly, even though they had the power to fight back.

As architects we must be careful about this issue, because one day, not far from now, we might reach the point where globalization, urbanization, increase in population, technology, media, money and similar factors will become the only reasons behind architecture instead of people, culture and environment.

That does not sound very reasonable does it?

05 house of the rising sun?

On our journey through four chapters, we tried to understand the spiritual connection and non-verbal communication between a building and its dweller, as an important attribute of architecture with soul. We then focused on repetition and mass identity that evolved from this repetition. We examined the impact of this global phenomenon on local cultures and local traditional architectures. In the previous chapter we have tried to identify a reason for loss of spiritual connection, mass identity and vanishing of the vernacular identity and taken a look at ethical perspective of the profession. We concluded that this conglomerate of reasons is slowly excluding a human from design process and human characteristics from architecture.

now more than ever has the power to be inspiring, emotional, meaningful, unique, and soulful. There is no need whatsoever for architecture to comply with the global pressures, in fact it has the opportunity to work side by side with all those factors and exploit their benefits. There is no need to run towards uniformity and soullessness, to run towards mass identity. It is true that the new epoch has begun and it is true that a new spirit exists. But a spirit is not a dead thing. History has proven that periods of inhuman architecture were short lived. As people we are emotional beings with souls and hence we deserve a decent environment, which respects us and treats them as equals.

“Buildings are the pressure cookers of cultural change. This is because, as artefacts they are large and unavoidable.”
(Smith, 2003, 15)

Architect’s obligation is to fight back at global pressures that indirectly control our lives. Instead in many ways he misunderstands these global signs and uses them as alibis to play god. Without taking other people into account, an architect is in many cases “no longer a decorator of our lives, but the organiser.” (Ginzburg in Rambert, 2005s, 110) As Peter Smith stated before, buildings are “unavoidable” artefacts. They show our state of mind, state of development and state of our emotional intelligence. And especially the latter is of crucial importance in this dissertation. A dissertation, which started with a reminder that even though buildings are built out of dead things, emotionless things, architecture does not need to be dead and depersonalized. Quite the opposite. Architecture

“There are small and large, impressive and important buildings or complexes that dwarf me, that oppress me, that exclude me or rebuff me. But there are also the buildings or ensembles of buildings, both small ones and monumental ones, that make me feel good, that make me look good, that give me a sense of dignity and freedom, that make me want to stay awhile and that I enjoy using.”
Peter Zumthor, Thinking Architecture


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