For architects to be fully accepted among the [creative arts] they need to be allowed the full range of their medium and that medium is the building.The one who spoke these words was John Szot, a young architect from New York who knows of Baltimore just by the few blocks it took him to walk from Penn Station to MICA's Brown Center where he addressed a good crowd as part of the AIA spring lecture series.
With terms like "Buildingness" and a dense design lingo that he had to read off a script to not get confused himself. He probably threw off some older architects who are used to the standard lecture of showing their work in pretty slides. Language example:
Through the mechanisms of vandalism, idiosyncrasy, anddilapidation, the buildings raise the possibility that architecture might transcend its practical obligations to become our most potent form of cultural expression.
John began with a few slides as well but then proceeded to show his film "Architecture and the Unspeakable,"three fictional projects in an exclusive viewing since this film is not yet officially released.
A story about three buildings, each with a pathological
problem connecting it to a larger cultural dialog.
What is his shtick that gets him John Szot to be such a hot ticket invited in many places? He marries visualization and virtual technology with architecture. With those tools in hand he and his studio design fictional buildings, put it in a real setting. His film does this for three different buildings in three distinct, specific locales: New York, Detroit, (Tokyo including Japanese voice over).
Film lets him put his virtual buildings into a time machine, which means he speculatively subjects them to the vagaries of real life via film and simulation. Real life could be influences of nature, decay, vandalism, user preferences. Szot says that the unpredictability and open-endedness of these situations fascinates him. His films try to simulate the randomness of what happens but, of course, can show only a small range of options, in effect, make what happens controlled.
In the case of New York we see a concrete structure be vandalized before its construction is completed. After it is "saturated" with this random uncontrolled outside intervention (grafficti and the like) the construction is completed and the final product incorporates the random external interventions. The result is some mix of urban chic with streetlevel art, not unlike many loft architecture that leaves old wall advertising or rusty industrial contraptions in place in high price condos.
In Szot's Detroit case we see a ruin shell first filled with doorless concrete block partitions and subsequently opened up with sledgehammers for access to the spaces. All virtual, of course, and lovingly filmed, dust and rubble realistically included. In the end the random sledge hammer created openings connect the finished spaces and once again create a raw, jugged aesthetic.
The Tokyo case is less destructive. A simulated concrete (again concrete!) high rise provides habitation and interior design opportunities for families and people of all walks of life and incomes (a favorite ideal of architects). Plus, on top, three levels of LED billboard facade. The film gives is a tour de maison with detailed impressions of the different lifestyles in apartments throughout the building including behind the advertising walls.
The purpose of all this? Szot doesn't provide a simple answer. I think he is trying to show us design without architects, the power of random influences for which buildings are nothing but a canvas. He clearly cherishes the influence of outside forces on buildings, just those forces that are outside the control of architects and that architects usually ignore or try to eliminate. As such, he is a rebel and a rabble rouser.
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
|The New York project in the film after it is saturated with street art intervention|