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by Eugenio Cappuccio

It is fashionable to make ugly architecture through beautiful images. Or do beautiful images make architecture beautiful? When viewing the world through the pixels of a smartphone’s screen, where the image is the medium of communication of an idea, is it inevitable that this visual stimulus becomes the primary tool to manifest an idea about the built environment? Has written text become such an archaic device to the point where the human brain is conditioned by the mere flexing of a scrolling thumb?

We see it in how architecture is categorised today. Previously, movements in architecture were defined by schools of intellectual thought. Today, movements have been replaced by trends, or hypes. The movement, ironically, is not fast enough to respond to a society that is governed by imagery and branding. The objectives of architecture have moved on from championing collective ideology into generating individual hyper-identities. Architects have gone from being respected experts, to loyal subjects, and thus entrepreneurs. For this reason architecture has itself been consumed by the influences of branding. Hypes now dominate and define the industry. Characterised by momentary bursts of energy that spark a reaction, they aim to quickly stimulate and mobilise a specific group and therefore generate interest, embodying an aesthetic that can be identified and associated with a certain style.

Poetic Romanticism or Sterile Monotony?

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It is thus easier to form part of a hype by imitating its aesthetic style. This style must unquestionably be defined by imagery, as the image will be its vessel of attraction. However, it is also much easier to make bad architecture under the guise of pretty imagery. Architecture is instinctively a visual discipline and therefore it is easy to lapse into a superficial interpretation of it through graphic means. The iconography of a specific hype can easily override its functional purpose, and, like a seductive advertising campaign, will lure the consumer into a false sense of fulfilment that advocates nothing more than “a profound monotony and a demand for uniformity” (Baudrillard, The System of Objects).


But how do we distinguish architecture with meaning from that without it? Naturally, meaning is defined by subjective interpretations of past and present phenomena. To consider something to have absolute truth is Platonic idealism, and can discourage radical activity as it “limits the area of criticism and active re-use of the past” (Jencks, Meaning in Architecture). Too rigid an imposition of purpose thus generates a context that is alien and far from reality. Therefore, it is important to create meaning that is dependent on interpreting tradition and memory, formulating a process of ‘hypothesis and correction’ to continuously curate and build on a model that is closer to reality.


But does the constant and fragile state of flux that our hype-oriented profession now faces allow for us to truly give meaning to our architecture? The danger is an architecture without content, and only symbols; Symbols that have been extracted from their contexts to become simulacra – like the collages of Dadaists - in turn leading to a dilution of the empirical truths determined by hundreds of years of the development of the profession. Can architectural thought return to govern our designs or are we doomed to produce an aesthetically coherent catalogue of images that are optimised for the algorithms of social media?

Flexible Environment or Consumable Product? 


©️ 2023 Panta Rhei Collaborative

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