Tag Archives: Design with ethics

The War On Culture

The destruction of the 2000 year old Baal Shamin temple at Palmyra, Syria, by Isis militants.

The destruction of the 2000 year old Baal Shamin temple at Palmyra, Syria, by Isis militants.

It is heart-breaking but horrifically fascinating to see Isis use culture as a weapon of war. Ironically it would appear that they fully appreciate the power of cultural language embedded in design and architecture, in a way that western governments currently cutting their arts funding are failing to grasp.  What is it about these ancient historical objects that make them so powerful and threatening today? What fear is driving this extreme erasure? A small part of me gives an angry cheer at the status and value awarded these objects through the prioritising of their destruction. Isis are unwittingly making martyrs of stones and the act of destruction may haunt them longer than the stones stood. Iconoclasm has been a weapon of war for centuries, the Christian church has quite an extensive record in this area of activity. Protestant iconoclasm in the summer of 1566 referred to as the “Beeldenstorm” began with the destruction of the statuary of the Monastery of Saint Lawrence in Steenvoorde the Netherlands and continued through Europe. But what powers such a strong the fear of objects that they have to be destroyed? In a consumerist western culture it would be remarkable if Louboutin burnt down the factory making Jimmy Choo shoes, but then perhaps they are the same factory in China anyway. Maybe this points to the core of the issue, western culture has largely separated the value of meaning from objects through mass manufacturing. If something breaks we just order another one from the same mould. 3D printing will not change this, just extend our consumption to printing another at home. The slow making and skill of crafting unique objects has been side lined to the luxury market of an elite who can afford the expense and we have mostly lost the skills to make things ourselves.

In the war on culture, it is hard not to dream up reprisal acts: 3D printing thousands of miniature models of the Baal Shamin temple in itching powder and dropping them on Isis camps etc… But reprisals are never the answer and just escalate the cultural war. It is more vital to use this event to help us reflect on how valuable culture is and to invest in it now in the UK. Otherwise our descendants will be in the embarrassing position of having nothing of cultural value to blow up in 2000 years time.

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Everything is Architecture…

Everything is Architecture: Bau Magazine from the 60s and 70s – An Exhibition at the ICA

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Some times there is a gap in the clouds and radical sunshine from the past shined through with surprising brightness. Perhaps it is indeed the case that a truly clear thought always holds its charge and can speak from the depths of the past with a sparkling relevance.

Hans Hollein and Walter Picher writing in 1962 penned a manifesto called ‘Absolute Architecture’ in which they declare, to paraphrase: that physically and psychically we repeat, transform and expand our physical and psychical sphere. We determine our “environment” in its widest sense. The spring board of this thought leads us down the walk way of fashion-is-architecture; jewellery-is-architecture; makeup-is-architecture and of course shoes-always-feel-like-architecture, a crossover already extensively explored by Zaha Hadid, Oscar Niemeyer and Julian Hakes. But this declaration goes further than just packaging the body either spatially or stylistically, it declares architecture as a way to communicate a new vision. The optimism of revolution is imbedded in this suggestion that everything is open to be restructured, or constructed in new and exciting ways. ‘Everything is Architecture’ is offering the possibility, that if only we could build our ideals and dreams then they would become real is tantalisingly attractive. This new ‘architecture of everything’ would offer a way to physical and psychological health, through the desired shelter and protection of society itself.

If everything is architecture, then we are all architects. This collapses the hierarchy and elitism of Architecture and suggests that we are all empowered with valid social visions and already have the skills to implement them. In todays context this sounds like the rallying cry for a social media movement, a sort of new build optimism where everything is constructed by the masses for the masses to quote the sci-fi film THX 1138. Twitter, Facebook and the internet have provided the architectural tools to empower people to consider new ways of building societies. The now fading ‘Arab spring’ seemed to offer a new architectural style, as have the new people’s movements such as Podemos in Spain and Syresia in Greece, who have only recently become  dampened and constrained by the uncomfortable realisation that money-is-also-architecture, and that those who already have it, often get to decide the form of what gets built. The rancorous public debate around Jeremey Corbyn’s leadership bid for the Labour party reveals how those already in power are horrified at possible new styles of building.

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So maybe the contradiction that undoes the brave new architectural world is embedded at the heart of the statement, lying dormant waiting to sabotage new building like a virus deep in a hard drive. All of us positive and negative ‘according to his needs and wishes uses the means necessary to satisfy these needs and to fulfil these dreams. He expands his body and his mind. He communicates. – ALLES IST ARCHITEKTUR.’ Indeed, unfortunately we do.


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