For an Architecture of Reality - Part 1
1. Benedikt starts the book describing a particular type of "Valued Times" that can be called "direct esthetic experiences of the real." Provide your own example of a valued time that matches the intent of the author but is from your personal experience. Describe how your own example matches the intent of the author.
Around me, I hear people complaining that they've never have an "ah ha!" moment. For me, this has never been a problem -- I get them frequently. These "direct aesthetic experiences of the real" happen most often when I am in the car. For whatever reason, the landscape flying by out of focus brings the world into focus. The most recent of these automobile-catalyzed "Valued Times" was my last taxi ride in Mexico.
My ipod was on, set to the postrock band Explosions in the Sky. The windows in the cramped taxi were down -- no air conditioning in Mexico, after all -- and the wind almost hurt as it struck my face in the back seat. The highway, curving through one of the suburbs of Guadalajara, was crowded as we sped out of town. Everything, really, about Tlaquepaque was crowded. Brightly colored houses in traditional Mexican style were scrunched onto hills. Litter bustled along the street in a slight breeze. A too-bright sun pushed presumptuous clouds out of the sky. Graffiti overlapped in an urge to all fit on a wall at a time.
Perhaps it was the sensory near-overload that brought on the sudden heart-clenching joy I felt. It certainly wasn't a joy of leaving -- I could have stayed in Guadalajara forever. Something, however, just felt so ... right. This was Mexico -- dirty and colorful and crowded and wonderfully uninhibited. While I had admired Mexico before, never had it clicked together in such a coherent manner.
2. According to the author what are the potential problems with symbols and their relation to the "direct esthetic experiences of the real?" Provide an image that illustrates your example.
Benedikt's argument against symbols harks, to me, of mass communication's symbol systems theory. This theory states that certain objects have been coded into our brains to elicit certain feelings. The American flag, for example, is not just a tri-colored piece of canvas, but a symbol of America, freedom, and patriotism. Of course, that's just for Americans. For countries, however, the American flag expresses tyranny and oppression. In any situation, such a symbol is loaded. According to Benedikt, however, in a direct esthetic experience of the real a flag should be meaningful only of itself -- we should appreciate the flag snapping in the wind for its own sake.
3. Provide an example image (interior or exterior) of Postmodern architecture that uses history and symbols to create meaning and realness. Describe specific features that provide evidence that the design is Postmodern.
Charles W. Moore's Piazza d'Italia in New Orleans is a prime example of postmodern architecture. It features an earthy color scheme combined with city-inspired black and whites. In an obvious salute to Italy, it has numerous columns and arches. There are historical references as well as references to skyscrapers (there's one right next to it) and technology (it incorporates neon and concrete). It has no real need to reference these things -- if it were modern, it wouldn't -- but it does, part of what makes it postmodern.
4. Provide an example image (interior or exterior) of architecture that relates to the author's bias and provides for "direct esthetic experiences of the real." Describe specific features that provide evidence that the design is Postmodern.
The Abteiberg Museum in Germany, unlike the Piazza D'Italia, does not make any sweeping historical or symbolic references. Instead, the buildings of the museum are sculptural and fun, each one different. Though at first glance they appear to be minimalist, they are not. Unlike a rigid Modernist construction, the buildings fit together organically.
5. According to your own point of view, what makes design/architecture more or less real?
Going beyond mere existential fact, architecture becomes more real depending upon how it is experienced. Experiencing some architecture is an out of body experience. Sure, you're there and occupying space, but it makes no impact upon you. The experience of architecture, in order for it to be real, has to be an in body experience. Design is sensual; so should the experience of it. Only when it can be experienced in a sensual manner can it truly be real.
6. According to your own point of view, what makes design/architecture more or less meaningful?
This question immediately makes me think of my conversation with Dave a few weeks ago, when we touched upon the lack of honesty in the architecture on OU's campus. Just as OU's architecture adheres to Georgian symbols without Georgian building practices, residential architecture is awash with poor imitations of other, more successful architecture. These buildings focus on appearance rather than experience, skimping on materials and structural integrity in order to give unsuspecting people their "dream house." Is this architecture meaningful? No, because it is not honest. It does not attempt to give people what they truly want, it just gives them places to live.