Representation + Interpretation Part I

The following is part 1 of a 4 part series in which I wish to share some of my thoughts on the idea of Representation + Interpretation; what it means, to not only an architect (me), but what this particular architect believes it means in a general sense. As fair warning, I am not interested in solutions or giving the right answer, rather, I enjoy simply stating my opinion and leaving it open to a barrage of criticism, for criticism is welcomed. Nay, it is needed. Suffice to say, as a young architect, it should prove prudent to start with words of a much more experienced one.

Peter Eisenman, an American architect, says in “Visions’ Unfolding: Architecture in the Age of Electronic Media” that “The electronic paradigm directs a powerful challenge to architecture because it defines reality in terms of media and simulation, it values appearance over existence.”[1] It can be argued that there is an issue in terms of the definition of “reality,” and because of this our perception on what is in fact real is bound to be affected. Though I accept that the line between what is in fact real and what is considered unreal has become blurred, I disagree with Eisenman. Architecture is not “challenged” by the electronic paradigm, rather, architecture has the ability to work with the electronic paradigm, and in many ways it already does. Though I contest that architecture still has the obligation to define our body’s spatial experience, its role has move beyond mere shelter; it should, as architect Jacques Herzog recently said in Surface Magazine’s Design Dialogues, “respond to all five senses” (more on this later).[2]

Admittedly, I am concerned with an architecture that lies within the in between; the continuing ambiguity that is resulted when the cognitive and sub-cognitive worlds begin to mesh. I am also concerned with the idea of a non-fixed meaning to architecture. That we, the people decide what architecture means to us; that the architect alone cannot dictate what his creation is exactly. “For instance, one can see, or persuade others to see, all sorts of shapes in a cloud: a horse, a human body, a dragon, a face, a palace, and so on. Any prospect or object of the Physical world can be treated in this manner, from which the proposed conclusion is that it is impossible to concede any value whatsoever to immediate reality, since it may represent or mean anything at all” – Marcel Jean, French surrealist.[3] Yet, I am primarily concerned with place. Paul Goldberger, an architectural critic, once asked “In an age where technology allows you to be anywhere, then what does it mean to be somewhere?”

Norberg-Schulz tells us that place is “an integral part of existence” that it is “meaningless to imagine any happening without reference to a locality,”[4] but to say exactly what place is still poses a challenge. One can argue that this “reference to locality” has been made possible due to architecture, for as Peter Eisenman also tells us “architecture has traditionally been a bastion of what is considered to be real.”[5] Yet I believe we currently exist in a world where nothing is absolute, where concepts of reality are challenged and pushed every day. Thus, while acknowledging its importance and relevance, we have to look outside architecture to get a better grasp on what it means to be, and how we represent being.

In this 4 part essay I will attempt to situate “the representation and interpretation of being” and what it means – or rather could mean – in regards to reality (and to a further extent, architecture), through the use of various scholars and thinkers, but more relevantly, through the use of contemporary cinema. I contest that no other form of media has explored the idea of blurring the distinction between perceptual reality and virtual reality as much as cinema has. As such, no other form of media has challenged the notion of representation and interpretation as much as cinema has. We have moved from an era of “science fiction” to “speculative fiction” (and perhaps one can even argue it can now simply be called research) where notions of reality that were thought to be either fixed or far-fetched years ago, are radically challenged today.

To be continued…

– Peat

Read Part II Here.

[1] Eisenman, Peter. “Vision’s Unfolding.” Nesbit, Kate. Theorizing A New Agenda for Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. 556.

[2] Lasane, Andrew. Kanye West and Jacques Herzog Talk Design. 4 December 2013. Article. 9 December 2013. <http://www.complex.com/art-design/2013/12/kanye-west-jacques-herzog-design-dialogue-art-basel-miami-beach&gt;.

[3] Salvador Dali’s Paranoiac-Critical Method. 31 January 2011 <http://languageisavirus.com/articles/articles.php?subaction=showcomments&id=1099110809&archive=&start_from=&ucat=&&gt;.

[4] Norberg-Schulz, Christian. “The Phenomenon of Place.” Nesbitt, Kate. Theorizing A New Agenda for Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. 414.

[5] Eisenman, Peter. “Vision’s Unfolding.” Nesbit, Kate. Theorizing A New Agenda for Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. 556.

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