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weblog archives
eXTReMe Tracker
Monday, March 29, 2004
A thought. For many of today's children, the most spectacular interior spaces they're ever likely to experience will be virtual. Spaces dreamt up for first person video games are the successors to theme parks. Just as Disneyland and its ilk created ('imagineered') compact versions of the world's wonders for the post-war generation, negating the need to actually visit the originals, video games squish geography, architecture and environments into high-resolution textures, mapping cities and landscapes on an invisible grid. The cavernous halls of Unreal Tournament, countless Quake Mods, the virtually recreated worlds in the James Bond games, the dystopic futures of Doom III, or even 'real' cities, like Tomb Raider's Venice, The Getaway's London, Midtown Madnesses's Chicago, are all pumped up, visually and gravitationally, going way beyond dreary old reality.

Why travel when you can walk the sandy beaches of Far Cry, schlep through the jungles of Turok or the alien worlds of Halo? Come to think of it, why study history at all when you're able to fight the 20th century's various wars (WWII, Vietnam, etc.) again and again and again? Conversely, why care that much about your own immediate environment when you spend your spare hours creeping through the desolate urban hell-holes of Max Payne, Stalker and Half Life 2, etc., etc.?

So will the medieval gothic vaulting of Europe's great cathedrals pale in comparison? The idea that grandeur can be associated with contemplation and calm, rather than mayhem and chaos, is under threat. A whole generation might grow up believing that grandiose and epic architectural statements are intrinsically linked to rampaging alien hordes, snipers, really big guns and the ever-present threat of being fragged into next week. Watch today's youth twitch nervously as they enter anywhere that's vaguely more impressive than the bland, homogenous spaces of the shopping mall and housing estate (malls rarely feature in games, for some reason, except in things like GTA).

Occasionally, architecture tries to match up to the theatrics offered by computers. But are designs born on screen overly complex for the demands of the real world? Certainly not everyone is happy with the recent decision to award the 2004 Pritzker Prize to Zaha Hadid. Slate asks whether Hadid is truly radical. The article plays devil's advocate, implying that she throws a swathe of jargon and complexity around her work, just like the Issey Miyake clothes she's so fond of: 'But Hadid took that disdain a step further: She walled off her work visually, too. Nearly every one of her early designs made an enemy of aesthetic clarity and legibility... Many of her renderings seemed to be composed from the perspective of a helicopter dipping into a crazy sideways tailspin.'

The idea that Hadid deliberately embraces alienation is more than a little bit patronising - it suggests that she needs to conform a bit more if she wants the same piece of the action the 'boys' get. Granted, there's a cult of personality there, but no more so than in any other media-literate and visible area of modern life (and their website seems to be designed for widescreen monitors only). Clay Risen goes further in The New Republic, suggesting that the architect is 'an awful choice for the Pritzker,' with an 'inability to translate her ideas into realistic projects' and citing her paucity of built work (images of ongoing projects here). But like almost every award, the Priztker follows fashion, consolidating reputations and drawing media attention to an architect of global prominence and ability, rather than simply honour a lifetime's work (past winners).

More than any other medium, our perception of architecture is increasingly mediated through renders, walkthroughs and glossy artist's impressions. In this increasingly vapid and, yes, virtual world, Hadid's architecture doesn't appear especially 'unbuildable' or deliberately awkward. Instead, it is an architecture of possibility, a demonstration of the limits (which are rarely, if ever, 'unbuildable') that can be pushed with the maximum exertion of technology and effort. We're back to cathedrals again.

*

Some other things. Swen's Weblog looks at artists that have been in The Wire magazine, a dense and usually rather humourless music monthly / talking type with Stanley Kubrick's assistant, a great piece by Jon Ronson in last week's Guardian. Follow-up webchat / Arf! / parking lot / Star Wars paper craft (via novablog - see also the destroyed buildings in Sarajevo for a welcome reminder of the proximity of modern conflict, and how daft it is to want to yomp around virtual recreations of the same) / lady names / French cathedrals.

Your literary masterpiece was delicious -'a little project that reads Russian novels and converts them to pretty pictures' / slick wallpapers from Russia / vintage IBM fashions (via j-walk) / signs at Disneyland (via scrubbles) / apparently 8 out of 10 digital photos are never printed. In our experience, it might be nearer 99 out of 100.... / Eye of the Goof, a weblog / illustration by Rachell Sumpter / Slightly Foxed, a new literary quarterly to watch out for.