Friday, November 11, 2011

Death of the Commune

Whatever happened to the commune? I don't speak of the Hippy Communes of the '70's, which to some extend exist in various communities globally. I speak of the artist communes, in particular the Architect Commune. Artist Communes like the hippy communes exist in some extent, but the architect commune has essentially disappeared.
Tange (centre) and early Metabolist members
Kenzo Tange, Frank Llyod Wright, Le Corbusier and possibly many more all utilized the commune as a sort of ideological incubator, reinforcing their respected architectural movements. While I have no evidence, Archigram to some extent formed a commune, even though they might have never lived together. I am using a broader sense of the commune and transposing it onto the idea of the 'movement'. 

Wright (back facing) and his commune

movement (ˈmuːvmənt) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]
1. a.  the act, process, or result of moving
b.  an instance of moving
2. the manner of moving
3. a.  a group of people with a common ideology, esp a politicalor religious one
b.  the organized action of such a group
4. a trend or tendency in a particular sphere

Tange and Wright formed the commune in the most precise meaning, a close-knit community of people who share common interests. By the creation of this commune they were able to work closely with a set of minds to generate a singular line of thinking. While I have less belief that Wright worked equally with his disciples, Tange has shown that he worked equally with his commune to produce a singular line of thinking; Metabolism. 

How does the architectural commune differ from that of an architectural office? The office is firstly a structure for individuals to generate income and practice architecture secondly. While I do contend that yes an office can be firstly a place to practice architecture, it however runs into an ideological barrier when paying members of its staff. The architecture first office, or the Academic's Office is usually in the form of a group of professors/academics who's salary is generally independent of the offices success. The workforce of the Academic Office takes the form of part time contracts and abducted students, whose hard work is usually rewarded with academic credit. 
Architectural (Mass Production) Office
The standard architectural office lacks the true ideal of the commune or the freedom of the academic office. People who are individually reliant on income typically will form ideas that follow inline with their employers. Can employees truly dictate the ideals of the firm? Its hard to say. I would sense that there are some unique firms out there were the ideals of the staff are transferred into the office culture, but I feel most employees ideals are compromised for the vision of the architect. 
Hierarchical Office Structure a la The Office
The architectural commune disrupts the architectural office concept by making all the employees reliant on each other. As more individuals share the same ideals, the stronger the commune becomes. The hierarchical structure of the commune removes the barriers that the architectural office forms. Individuals works equally on all aspects of a project without the need for giving remedial work to a lower serving staff member. The thought comes to me that the architectural commune makes a brief appearance in the formation of a new office. A group of architects who band together to start an office are usually polarized in one direction. With limited funds these architects will work equally to share the work load without the need of hiring more costly employees. But at a point this commune structure erodes. Does the need to increase company profits in order to lessen the burden on the architects breakdown the commune structure? 

The architectural commune can create a social structure that largely remains elusive in the architecture office. I think architects enjoy the hierarchical structure, the ability to oversea and control the outcome of a set of personal beliefs. But the communes' structure generates a much more powerful sense of control. I am suddenly reminded of Samuel Mockbee's Rural Studio which brought together students and academics to provide solutions for the impoverished rural Alabama. Its the most contemporary architectural commune, but it still lacks that overly cohesiveness. There was still the teacher-student hierarchical structure... an intellect passing down a set of ideals to a new generation. What I am looking for is the architectural commune with a singular mindset, and passion for an ideal that bands individuals together in one direction... to bring forth a Movement.
Jonestown Utopian Commune dead after drinking cyanide laced punch
The architectural commune is dead, just like the architecture Movement. Both are inherently reliant on each other. With our increased individualistic culture, the bringing together of singular ideals are evaporating. 

Maybe I am asking for a call to arms... Why can we not have an architectural Movement today? How can thousands of years of architectural movements suddenly stop today? I say lets bring forth a new movement, a movement that can steady the course of architecture while bringing architects back to the forefront of public opinion. This is not a style or classification of design movement... aesthetics have to be removed from the movements philosophy. Aesthetics remain the biggest divider today... my Apply product is better than yours... 

A new focus must be present... something that we as globalistic creatures can universally back. Is the new focus of the movement the environment? Or a direct rejection of all that we currently are?

I am not sure of this new movement, but its something that I will be exploring.. maybe I will form a new architectural commune after its 50 year hiatus. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Project Japan: Metabolism Talks...

So my book I pre-ordered finally arrived this morning... There was some fear it would not arrive for a long long time after Amazon informed me that the pre-ordered book was delayed. However, out of no where I was informed that the book would be shipped immediately last Friday.

And here it is... Project Japan: Metabolism Talks...
The book is a assembly of interviews with the last remaining members of metabolist movement and people the people directly involved with those members. It is an interesting piece of work as it details the last remaining architectural movement in the 20th century. As many architects already know now, architectural movements are fractured and lack a cohesive direction as they once did. 
I have not yet read through the book, but only flipped the pages and already salivating from the information I will glean from its pages. I hope once I have read through the book I'll be able to post my own book review. I plan to over the next while to post my review of a few architectural books I have brought back from Japan. 

Stay tuned for more book reviews...!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Authenticity vs. Nostalgia

Today I am overseeing the cooking of my mothers baked beans. As she's out, I more or less make sure the beans havent jumped out of the oven and ran off. 

Part of her bean recipe includes the use of molassas which has inspired todays blog.

I was out at the grocery market to buy the aft for mentioned molasses and had to choose between two varieties, Cosby's or Grandma's Fancy Molasses. I was sure, I saw my family use the Crosby Molasses so I picked up that variety. When I got home my mother disappointed, pointed to the mostly empty Grandma's Mollasses container that she likes to use the Grandma's over the Cosby's. 

I picked up the two containers to see what they said differently about each other and found to my surprise they are exactly the same. Same company, same producer location, same company logo, and even the same text on the side of the containers... Cosby's Fancy Mollasses is Grandma's Molasses (or is it Grandma's is Crosby Molasses?). 

This brings me to my issue of the day, Authenticity vs. Nostalgia. My mother likes to use Grandma's because she has used it since she was a child, this is her nostalgia. She would purchase the product because she has always. Now there is likely a market that has always purchased Crosby Molasses. Nostalgia is a powerful aspect of human selection, but at some point in the past, Crosby and Grandma's became a single company. Is it still relavent to keep nostalgia? The company thinks so, that is why it continues to produce two different packages for the same product. But did Grandma's Molasses taste better or worse than Crosby's? We may never know, as each camp of users will say their's tastes superior to the others. The authenticity of the products is gone.

But what about architecture? Is there such a thing as Authenticity vs. Nostalgia? Would it matter to someone if they lived in a Frank Llyod Wright home and then later moved into a Wright replica? Does copying the design aspects of one architect diminish the authenticity of that architect?
Chicago Worlds Fair 1893
The Chicago World's Fair of 1893 saw the construction of gleaming white Baroque pavilions to dazzle and wow the crowds. But these were merely replicas of historic motifs, beneath those white facades was plaster lath and a steel skeleton. The Chicago World's Fair chose the Nostalgia of the Italian Baroque period, while the buildings of the fair had little authenticity. If we look at the World Fair's of today, we still see many examples of nostalgia trumping authenticity. Canada's pavilion at the Shanghai Expo 2010 attempted to create its own authenticity while Thailand's Pavilion chose nostalgia and created a temple replica. Does the temple represent what Thailand is today? Or is the Canadian Pavilion tapping into nostalgic ideals of Canada's past?
Canada Pavilion 2010
Thailand Pavilion 2010
We cling to nostalgia because it gives us comfort. As the world moves forward we as humans need things to comfort us; things to link our memories to happy times. In the end authenticity means little if it does not make the individual happy. Cultural nostalgia, especially in architecture, is a tool to connect ones present culture to  a past identity. At times rapid modernization creates upheaval and nostalgia is able to soften that future change. But, as an architect I warn that nostalgia can stagnate a cultures identity. Even historic motifs changed overtime and we must let our nostalgia continue to modify so we can continue to retain our own authenticity.