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. 

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