November 20, 2019
Surrealism as an art movement identifies a state of being as well as a particular visual aesthetic. Emerging in the 1920’s, it transformed the worlds of fine art, design, even fashion for the following decade and continues today. Surrealism’s overarching philosophy and themes embrace the attempts to coalesce the dream world and reality, to be a reality on top of the one we currently experience in order to achieve a greater understanding of both, and to embrace automation or allowing the subconscious a voice in design. The architects’ desire and ability to move between ‘virtual space’ and ‘actual space’ reflect the values of Surrealism in that they both spaces struggle with the concept of space and its formation. The ability to create a structure or space that has the qualities of existence yet at the same time feel non-existent, to direct a person with nothing more than its presence, is the essence of Surrealism in architecture. As such, the tenants of Surrealism are demonstrated in modern and contemporary architecture. By analyzing and attempting to define a theory of Surrealism in architecture from the works of architectural scholars, a significance between architecture and the Surrealist movement can be made clearer.
In his work ‘Fantasy, the Uncanny and Surrealist Theories of Architecture’, Anthony Vidler relates Surrealist theory as being a specific culture, not sub-culture, of modernism in the inter-war period in Europe. Despite what Vidler describes as the apparent obliviousness of the Surrealists to architecture, he argues that architecture would seem to be the most fruitful of all media for a truly Surrealist practice. Architecture provides the physical and mental structure of the anthropomorphic representation of ‘home’ – a concept deeply embedded in Surrealist thought because of its similarity to the womb (Vidler 2003). Vidler attempts to define Surrealist theory as a series of interpretations of modern architecture using the typology of symbolic forms (much in the same way one communicates in dreams) rather than a set of rules. Furthermore, Vidler asserts that Surrealist theory manifests itself in ‘space’, within which mental projection move freely and without fixed boundaries. Architecture, therefore, is defined in this Surrealist theory as a site for the expression of all the spatial inconsistencies and contradictions that have plagued the human psyche. In short, identifiable Surrealism in architecture it is not so much in the blobbing amorphisms of Dalí, or the wild fantasies of outsider art, but as a spatial-mental machine: an instrument of the uncanny (Vidler 2003).
Dr. Ernestyna Loranc describes Surrealist theory by delving into the actual movement. She states that the Surrealist movement created an atmosphere whereby architects could develop architectural theories that went beyond the modern conception(Loranc-Szpakowska 2003). She uses Surrealist tendencies as the baseline for a definition of Surrealist theory and utilizes this as a lens to search through the domestic residence for clues that align with Surrealism. Often, this search leads to the house acquiring deeper meanings than what is given to it by the physicality of a building. Dr. Loranc writes that Surrealism was in contention with rationalism, and as such attacked Le Corbusier’s aesthetics, proposing instead a reversal of the mechanisms within rationalism such as of control, taste, calculation and judgment (‘the International Style’) (Loranc-Szpakowska 2003). The type of modern architecture proposed by the Surrealists, the home as a place to exist Dr. Loranc argues, can be justified in the surreal infatuation with automatism, or allowing the subconscious to take control, which plays heavily into the definition of Surrealist theory.
Frances Hsu takes a concentrated gaze at Rem Koolhaas as an incubator for Surrealist theory in architecture. In Koolhaas’s Delirious New York, the architect’s main ambition was to devise a theory, practice, strategy, and ethic based on the programs and ideologies that had produced Manhattan (Hsu 2003). Hsu uses this ambition of Koolhaas to parlay into a tactic used to reveal the unconsciousness in architecture. This is significant, as Hsu also uses the concept of The Surrealist Paranoid-Critical Method, created by Salvador Dali, to legitimize and frame the discovery of the unconscious dimension of Manhattan as the counterpart of the Modern Movement. The Surrealist Paranoid-Critical Method, or SPCM, is a surrealist technique which consists of the artist invoking a paranoid state resulting in a deconstruction of the psychological concept of the artists identity, such that subjectivity becomes the primary aspect of the artwork (Hsu 2003). Hsu facilitates Dali’s Paranoid-Critical Method to describe how Koolhaas derived his rhetoric in Delirious New York as a method to systematize confusion in order to discredit the world of reality. Such notions can be evidenced in the way Koolhaas tries to stimulate confusion while wholly appearing, at least on the surface, to insist on clarification in his projects (Hsu 2003). With that in mind, Hsu defines Surrealist theory as one that will stimulate confusion under the guise of clarification as Koolhaas has done. He further defines Surrealism as part of the tendency to seek the irrational in modern and contemporary architecture in which Koolhaas firmly plays a part.
Shiyi Zhang uses his article in order to identify Surrealist theory not only in architecture, but in the whole of the art world. He argues that the criteria to be used in order to judge whether or not a theory of Surrealist design in architecture is legitimate is if it has the ability, once discovered, to generate a systematized formula capable of transforming an architectural work completely through all levels into something uncanny (Zhang 2016). In its purest definition, Zhang states that Surrealist theory strives to express the actual functioning of thought and argues that the Surrealist theory can be categorized as a balance between perception and representation. He goes on to say that for the Surrealists, a theory could be surmised as the material world being casually cut, fragmented, and reassembled according to internal compositions not represented by the material world but concatenated with its representations (Zhang 2016). In this definition of Surrealist theory, the primary goal is to reconcile all contradictions to the higher synthesis of sur-reality (above-reality) and resolve the dichotomy of perception and representation in the absence of any control exercised by reason, and is exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern (Zhang 2016).
Conversely, Dalibor Vesely recognizes that all previous attempts to reduce Surrealism to a set of principles and goals such as automatism, objective chance, and transformation have been unsuccessful because they do not reveal the true goal of Surrealism. He proposes that Surrealism is concerned with the reconciliation between dreams and reality. He argues that the definition of Surrealist theory does not represent the avant-garde or the absurd, but ironically it exists within modernism as an autonomous movement. Vesely surmises that Surrealist theory could be described as the belief that the truth about dreams, myths, and marvels stands above the truth of contemporary logic (reason), a characteristic of which includes spontaneous associations and the transformation of conventional reality to fantastic reality (Vesely 1978, 87-95). Vesely uses the realm of the dream to formulate his definition of Surrealist theory in practice as one in which the development of free-association techniques for design (automatism) is the core concept of the design method. However, he notes that within this definition, representation and perception are not distinct in Surrealist building (Vesely 1978, 87-95).
Key relations can be found between the various definitions inferred from the essays. Dr. Loranc writes that the architect Frédéric Borel admitted to Surreal inspirations in his buildings with deconstructive forms (Loranc-Szpakowska 2003). She uses Frédéric Borels urban experiments as an example of Surrealist influence by describing them as spaces recognizing aspects of transition and flux, two surreal themes, as characteristics of contemporaneity in complexity and ambiguity. Consequentially, pure, functional forms emerged from his design which segue into an architectural play with spaces that influence the emotions of the participants by becoming a juxtaposition of closed space with openings, or creating a sense of freedom but also isolation (Loranc-Szpakowska 2003). Likewise, Vidler argues that Surrealist theory manifests itself in architectural space within which juxtapositions and transitions which move freely and without fixed boundaries and therefore, architecture is a medium in which the uncanny may exist and contradictions engage (Vidler 2003).
Zhang and Hsu both have relatively similar assumptions about the definition of Surrealism, both using Rem Koolhaas as an example of Surrealism in architecture. They both agree on the systematizing of confusion in order to benefit from a Surrealist theory, and both authors hold that confusion is a major contributing factor to the feelings of space that Surrealists would want to convey in their work, especially in architecture. The dissecting of Rem Koolhaas provides the backdrop to the structure of their views on Surrealist theory. Specifically, both authors call on the paranoid-critical method of design developed by Salvador Dali as a means to express through Koolhaas a sort of ‘subversive’ style of Surrealist theory (Hsu 2003). Hsu proposes that elements of PCM can be seen in Delirious New York yet is labeled as ‘Manahattanism’, while Zhang postulates that Koolhaas engaged paranoia in order to assert its disturbing characteristics of his subconscious on the external world and in doing so, forcing the world to accept his version of reality (Zhang 2016).
A majority of the essays share a common theme their description of Surrealism as a movement against modernism, which embraced a design technique that suppresses conscious control of the making process and allows the subconscious mind to express itself. Zhang describes that in surrealist automatism, a word placed on paper,for example, loses its human touch and becomes transformed from a mental symbol into a tacit representation uncontaminated by reason(Zhang 2016). This therefore represents the most pure form of creation in that the human can now visualize purest forms without having to layer human intonations on top of them. Dr. Loranc as well as Velsely, describe Surrealism as a movement that criticized the automation of human life (more specifically, the white collar work life) which they believed narrowed avenues of creativity and restrained creative vision, and instead vouched for the automatism as a way to not only derive solutions and understandings, but as a way to live (Loranc-Szpakowska 2003).
Concept as a Tool
In 1924 André Breton, the co-founder and principle theorist of the Surrealist movement, wrote the Surrealist Manifesto in which he called for the destabilization or outright disintegration between the barriers that separate dreams and reality/objectivity and subjectivity. There have been many artists of the Surrealist movement that have dabbled in architecture such as Salvador Dali, and likewise, there are many architects who had been attracted to Surrealism’s application of its fundamental core values to the environment, using Breton’s Surrealist thinking to examine the role architecture may play in the conception of reality. Since then, artists from Salvador Dali and Frederick Kiesler to Frank Gehry have embraced at least a facet of Surrealism and have showcased its profound impact that helped to shape contemporary architecture. By investigating the relationship between Surrealist theory and its application to architecture, a largely unnoticed influence upon the modern world can be divulged allowing us to understand the logic embraced by architects repeated shaping and question of reality.
Settling on a Frame
While all of the essays chosen have similar definitions for Surrealism, in the interest of the thesis topic the definitions used by Zhang, Hsu, and Vidler are the ones that provide the most utility. The definitions utilized by the authors not only have a more ‘quantifiable’ relationship with Surrealism but seem to be more clearly laid out and organized as a possible theory. The research that has gone into these essays more than solidifies their validity and provides for more extensive reading on their respective subjects. The similarity in the fundamental core of each essay provides a coherence that allows a reader to traverse from one reading to another without significantly adjusting their thought process. Most importantly, each definition is built upon examples and writings used to elaborate upon a theory of Surrealism itself which strengthens the ties between an architectural theory and work.
Hsu, Frances, “The Revolutionary (Re)Vision of Modern Architecture:
Rem Koolhaas, from Surrealism to the Structuralist Activity” Master’s Thesis, Georgia Institute
of Technology, 2003.
Loranc-Szpakowska, Ernestyna. Surreal Houses. Publication. Architecture, Cracow University of Tech
nology. Cracow, Poland, 2003.
Vesely, Dalibor. 1978. “Surrealism, Myth and Modernity.” Architectural Design 2 (3): 87-95.
Vidler, Anthony. 2003. “Fantasy, the Uncanny and Surrealist Theories of Architecture..” Papers of Sur
realism (1). http://www.Surrealismcentre.ac.uk/papersofSurrealism/jour
Zhang, Shiyi, “From Sur-Reality to Sur-Architecture” masters thesis, The Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale
de Lausanne, 2016, https://archivesma.epfl.ch/2017/086/zhang_enonce/From_Sur-real
THOUGHTS ON CIRCADIAN RHYTHM: ARCHITECTURE OF BALANCE
August 13, 2019
Architecture, by nature, is an expression of the society in which it was created, a contributor to the zeitgeist; though it is an inanimate object, it can nevertheless express power. As such, its presence, decoration, and organization have intrinsic values that can be used to showcase overt messages or subtle subtext. Kim Dovey, the author of Framing Places: Mediating Power in Built Form, illustrates the meaning of power that can be observed in architecture by defining the concept of power as being commonly understood as power to & power over (Dovey, 2008). He defines the first term as the “capacity to achieve some end”, while the latter declares a “relationship between people” (Dovey, 2008). Dovey additionally discusses the sophisticated dimensions of seduction and authority which are power used to spatially manipulate the interests, perceptions, and desires of people, or legitimize them in the form of the built environment.
For our purposes, analyzing subvert ‘power over’ forms in the built environment will show that architecture can be designed to exert power in a discernible manner. Rulers have used architectural monumentality in order to legitimize their regimes for centuries. Hitler and Mussolini, for example, used the New Reich Chancellery and the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana as strong symbols of the overt power they wield over their respective states. Power can also be expressed in more surreptitious and sophisticated ways through seemingly benign cultural institutions like Disney. The built environments created by these institutions are the ones that embody complex and nuanced expressions of power, authority, and control. Only with the careful and critical eye can the true intentions of projects be scrutinized.
Overt Expressions of Power
When one imagines buildings which express power, many famous grand structures may come to mind. Several categories can differentiate the source of the power being expressed by buildings: governmental power is expressed through the US Capitol Building or Versailles, institutional power is represented with the Pentonville Prison, the power of enterprise is displayed in the The World Trade Center, and the power of brute force is internalized with Mussolini's “Square Coliseum.”
The New Reich Chancellery, designed in the 1930s for Adolf Hitler by architect Albert Speer, is an example of Architecture used in a an attempt to express visible power (Lehrer, 2006). From the outside, the chancellery had a stern, authoritarian appearance. The building has been called the architectural embodiment of the Nazi claim to totalitarian rule (Hoffman, 2014). Everything about the Chancellery seemed to be made with the intention of showcasing immense authority, something that can be deduced by analyzing, for example, the series of rooms comprising the approach to Hitler's reception gallery or the imposing courtyard entryway.
The Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, on the other hand, is arguably the most famous of Mussolini’s fascist-era constructions paralleling the Reich Chancellery (Olson, 2015). A facility which draws on the architectural theming of ancient Rome in the likes of the Coliseums magnificent arches, the Palazzo has become famous as a symbol of Italy’s fascist period and the important role of architecture in the establishment of power and control.
Insidious Expressions of Power
Cultural hegemony represented in architectural forms or places which seem the most benign and wholesome, like Disney, can shift the focus of users from reality to a selected narrative. Media theorist and sociologist Dick Hebdige discusses the dilution of historical and cultural tradition by Disney. The type of strategic retelling, the simplification of stories, which Disney engages in is what Hebdige calls disgnosis: the “simulated innocence of selective ignorance” (Hebdige, 2010, 9). It favors the easy and comfortable telling of the story, the idealized walk down Mainstreet, and the idyllic view of past and present over critical analysis and intellectual rigor, especially in the modern age when truth and justice have seemingly lost their meaning entirely (Hebdige, 2010, 9). All too welcoming are the sweet songs of nostalgia and innocence which Disney sings and an increased public willingness to accept them as the arbiter of the truth has left the public vulnerable to influence and subversion (Hebdige, 2010,8-9). The rose-colored glossing of historical narratives and spaces can be seen through both Disney films and the construction of their resorts.
The Controlled Narrative
In the early days of Walt Disney Studios, films focused on lands of fantasy and stories of magic, heroism, and dreams which, although inspiring, were not particularly routed in contemporary cultural or historical context. In recent decades, the expansion of the Disney empire has stretched their storytelling into much more historical narratives such as Pocahontas, Mulan, and Hercules, blurring the line between imagination and explanation.
1997’s Hercules is a wonderful example of the truth being pacified for the sake of narrative. In the Greek legend, Hercules is not the child of happily married Zeus and Hera but rather the illegitimate offspring of one of Zeus’ many affairs. In the myth, Hercules suffers under the jealous taunting of Hera, but in the film the antagonist is shifted to Hades in order to construct a cut and dry good vs. evil narrative rather than tell the complicated truth (Hebdige, 2010,4). The retelling is simply easier, more comfortable, more inclined to sell, and therefore it is Disney. The modification of a story, in Disney’s eyes, is not an issue so long as it creates an artfully constructed narrative which sells; the alterations are simply a means to an end.
The Controlled Space
Earlier this year, Disney announced the construction of yet another themed resort in its Florida complex, a several hundred acre complex consisting of four theme parks, two water parks, dozens of hotels, and a complete retail and entertainment center. Nestled just steps from Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Disney’s Polynesian Resort, Boardwalk Resort, and just a lake jump from Disney’s Grand Floridian, the yet unnamed resort will be themed after nature itself (Moniuszko 2018). The announcement of Disney’s new nature resort recalls the continued growth of the constructed environment under their purview, and perhaps the under-criticized power which Disney’s constructions yield. Disney will, undoubtedly, have the opportunity to teach lessons and stories about nature through this new structure, in much the same way that its other resorts, such as the Polynesian, create representations of lands far away (Moniuszko 2018). The hotel will likely consume massive amounts of energy for climate control in the Floridian heat, but feature theming which suggests its environmental merits, leaving the user with potentially un authentic experience.
Likewise, the inescapable presence of branding and the consumer citizen forced 20th-century art to begin to embrace or mock this very system. In response, Disney has carefully selected those gatekeepers of high culture, art, and design to spearhead projects over the past 20 years (Goldberger, 1990). Names such as Michael Graves, Frank Gehry, Aldo Rossi, and other “starchitects” were the preference of former CEO Michael Eisner (same thing, use the speaker we heard this from). For example, Los Angeles' Disney Concert Hall, from Gehry, represents a centerpiece of this union. This marriage with culture as a whole has allowed Disney to merchandise their brand to an increasing degree into our lives. With both large-scale influence and corroboration from the high courts of the arts, Disney has cemented its authority and seduction through the built environment.
There is a reason why Disneyland is a theme park, not an amusement park. While many mainstream amusement parks such as Six Flags or Cedar Point rely on thrills for entertainment, for example in providing rides that toss and turn the participan, Disney relies on their ability to create an alternative world. Upon entering the theme park, a visitor is instantly transported to what seems to be a different plane of existence, being instantly cut off from the drudgery of the real world. The colors, lights, sounds, smells all coalesce to create a vision of semi-surreal fantasy which allows the participant to transcend the reality of the everyday. From a walk down Mainstreet USA, one of the first aspects to be encountered on a visit to the magic kingdom - which represents an idealized version of the quintessential, American small town street - to a stroll through Tomorrowland - a venue steeped in futuristic utopian ideals -, every experience in a Disney space is tied to an artfully constructed story and experience. Some lands, like Fantasyland, have little grounding in reality as the designs for the environment stem from German and French vernacular. However, they act as extreme, fantastical caricatures of the original representation. Yet others, like the aforementioned Tomorrowland, are strongly rooted in their symbolism often with a corporate sponsor.
It is when the task of telling a historical or cultural story such as those represented by vernacular architecture? arises that the ethical implications of Disney’s control come into question for who is Disney to rewrite the history of a culture to which they do not belong or represent? For example, many visitors consider Disney to be their one, great vacation experience. They do not have the ability or funding to travel around the world and view different cultures as they truly exist or see landmarks such as the temples of ancient Greece or the snow dusted peaks of the Alps. They have Disney and their representations of fantasy to rely on telling them a story of a part of the world they may never have the chance to visit and in doing so creates a false equivalence between what is real and what is not, skewing perception and likely inadvertently spreading misinformation.
Disney, though benign in appearance, carefully and calculatedly exerts influence on the public, the telling of history, and culture through its choice of theme and narrative in both built and imaginary environments, as we have seen through the movies and the construction of spaces . Power and influence are not simply inherent or granted to an institution; they are cultivated through a series of compounding actions and likewise, Disney cements its ethos through cultural hegemony and pacification.
Insidious power is very nuanced, drawing heavily from symbolism and meaning rather than physical obstacle or form. Architecture is exploited to create a controlled mental experience, or as Dovey explains, it creates a manipulation of the relationships between people (in this case between Disney and the masses). Moreover, it allows the commodification of real-world properties and of the imaginary. We feel that Disney should not continue to change historical narratives in order to seduce the public into a sense of fantasy for the sake of profit. Rather, they should harness the creative forces the undoubtedly have access to and create new and exciting story which both inspire and succeed from a business perspective. Moreover, a re-assertion of the cognition of who is in control of the story is imperative in order to preserve our history. It is on us, the public, on increase our awareness of the story our built and narrative environments tell, and consume culture responsibly and critically. From an ethical perspective we must ask who should retain the control over which narrative is distributed to the mass (or more importantly, when does that control of the narrative begin to encroach on the zeitgeist and create its own primary narrative that changes facts to suit an entities own interests)? How should architecture be used to tell the story? This form of power is not always the most obvious manner of institutions whose agenda and tactics are reflected in built form, but it is deliberately used and challenges the critical thinking abilities of the public.
Dovey, K. (2008). Framing Places: Mediating Power in Built Form (2nd ed.). London; New York: Routledge.
Goldberger, Paul. 1990. "Disney Deco; and Now, an Architectural Kingdom." The New York Times, April 8, https://www.nytimes.com/1990/04/08/magazine/disney-deco-and-now-an-architectural-kingdom.html.
Hebdige, D. (2010). Dis-gnosis : Disney and the Re-Tooling of Knowledge, Art, Culture, Life, Etc. Cultural Studies, 17(2), 150-167. doi:10.1080/0950238032000071667
Hoffmann, Heinrich. "The New Reich Chancellery, Designed by Albert Speer (C. 1940)." German History in Documents and Images, accessed November 6, 2018, http://ghdi.ghi-dc.org/sub_image.cfm?image_id=2334.
Moniuszko, Sara. 2018. "Walt Disney World Announces 'Nature-Inspired' Resort for 2022." USA Today, October 19, 2018, https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/experience/america/theme-parks/2018/10/19/walt-disney-world-announces-nature-themed-resort-2022/1695128002/.
Olsen, K. (2015). Fendi moves its headquarters to rome’s palazzo della civiltà italiana. Architectural Digest, https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/fendi-rome-headquarters-article