Change Your Thinking, Not Aesthetics
In light of forward thinking, twenty-first century design, there is an obvious restlessness and a need for change in the way we design space. In The Geography of Nowhere, by James Howard Kunstler, the problem is embedded into capitalist society and thus urban development as an expression of misguided philosophies. As much as this is true, however, the continual repetition of a nostalgic sense of place begins to be detrimental to progressive rethinking and solutions to our loss of sense of place. Speaking directly to Modernism, (in Kunstler’s eyes a disillusioned reaction to suburban failure) Kunstsler denounced it as a “barbarous movement” dedicated to “the worship of machines, to sweeping away all architectural history, all romantic impulses, and to jamming all human aspiration into a plain box” (Kunstler 57).
While conceding that there is a problem with the lack of humanistic elements in modern design, it would be naive to not contend that the clean, modern buildings of this century are devoid of any allegiance to the aspirations of man. It is utterly backwards to ascribe the solution of such a large, wholescale problem of our societal “placelessness” on regression to past ideals when man, the creator of the machine, has nothing to feel but awe at the wonder of his creation. Icons of the progressive nature of humans, the iron and steel form-follows-function structures of the twenty-first century are inspiring in their own right, celebrating the triumph of scientific understanding of the intimate workings of the laws of gravity and physics. In this sense, man is present, and modern design is inspirational, and does the opposite of jamming all human aspiration into a plain box, as Kunstler states. It is therefore the problem of society as a whole, then, to change the point of view that America as a capitalist society has on the world, not an aesthetic one. If that were the case we would be back to copying and pasting greek columns onto the outside of our “modern” building to cling to a grandeur of the past.
In the picture included above, Zaha Hadid, one of the premier architects of this century, proposes a design for the Performing Arts Centre in Abu Dhabi. Truly expressive of Sullivan’s watchword, the outer look of Hadid’s work expresses its inner structure, and similar to Frank Gehry’s designs, one of which is the Guggenheim in New York City, her work is far from drab, synthetic, and placeless. An icon itself, the work does laud progress, but different from Kunstler’s point of view, progress is not a bad thing. It is the redesign of how to build, and when to build. Which is worse? Choosing to bury one’s head in the past and long for what was “lost”? Or pasting, as Sullivan did, “so many of the classical devices—columns, arches, pillars, domes” on a building that celebrates the knowledge and success of mankind (Kunstler 66)? Again, the contention is this: a change in thinking is needed, not a change in aesthetics.
Photo credit: http://www.yankodesign.com/2007/02/02/abu-dhabi-performing-arts-centre-by-zaha-hadid/