Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Nostalgia, Values and Sustainability

This is going to be a difficult assignment for me to address because I don’t really understand what a value system is. It’s been mentioned in class but never talked about like some of the other things we’ve addressed. I found Cecil Balmond’s presentation and his answers to all of the questions asked insanely inspirational. I gathered quite a collection of interesting quotes that awarded me with hours of pondering after the lecture. I was getting to the point that I no longer knew what I really wanted to do and why but some of the things he said reminded me of my reasons for getting into architecture.

His comment that things aren’t being done the way the used to and that nostalgia is the architect who does everything stood out the most. It’s something I was thinking about when I listened to Frank Gehry speak last semester but I never quite wrapped me head around it. I remember talking to my girlfriend after his panel discussion and saying that he really doesn’t seem to have that much to do with his projects anymore besides throwing some crap together, sending hoards of people to figure out how to build it and stamping his name on the plans when it’s done. By his own admission, he doesn’t know a thing about how to do stuff on the computers, which is interesting since his designs are entirely reliant upon that technology. I kept arguing that it’s an embarrassment to architecture that he wasn’t doing it himself and that he doesn’t deserve the popularity he has. Now that Cecil has open my mind to the fact that it’s simply the nature of the profession today that there are no longer singular people doing great architecture, I’m able to understand my frustration and why things are the way they are today.

People outside of our little profession have no idea what goes into the design and construction of a building. They don’t know how many phases you go through or how many people’s hands and minds will touch the drawings from their initial conception until the ribbon is cut. They just see the building and see the person who owns the company that designed it. Since I’ve been able to see the process from start to finish, I’ve had a hard time grasping that it isn’t one person doing everything. Now I see that it’s the only way anything can get built nowadays. Nostalgia really is the time when one architect did everything. Imhotep is nostalgia.

So now I’m in the modern condition, with all of this knowledge and understanding that 99% of the world lacks. Do I feel powerful? Not in the least. People are so hung up on being nostalgic that they’ve lost their own ability to create anything new and instead try to relive and recreate the greatness of the past. Proof in point is this little thing called branding. Now that us designers and architects understand that it is pointless to reminisce about the olden days when one man did it all, rather then accept our collaborative futures, we brand ourselves. We try to create a commodity of our name, our work, and ourselves. It’s rather interesting actually. When you can’t be the person who does everything, why not create a fictitious identity that still is you and sell it to the masses. Then it’s that entity which does all the work. What remains are Gehries, Hadids, Mosses, Fosters, Nouvels, Andoes and so on. I write their names this way purposefully because they shouldn’t show ownership to the authors because the author is an agglomeration. Now everyone is able to get their own piece of Nostalgia, and realize they wasted their money on an industrialized collectible.

I don’t even want to get started on sustainability, but I have to. It’s part of the assignment.

Nothing sickens me more then when something that benefits the health and wellbeing of every aspect of our lives is packaged up and handed to me with an inflated pricetag. It’s not that I don’t think the movement is incredibly important. I do. I realize that without it, my future is fucked. I just don’t like how something this important has to become mainstream in order for it to be accepted by society, and that simple acceptance means it comes at a price.

In relating the topic of sustainability to my previous rantings, what I find most interesting about sustainability is that in its modern form, it’s one of the few original ideas that exist. BUT…despite this originality, there is still a great deal of nostalgia associated with it. People aren’t thinking about the future and how wonderful it’s going to once we’re no longer dependent on foreign oil like the commercials say. They aren’t happy that birds and ducks all over the world will have their feet free from plastic bags and soda can holders. They aren’t thrilled that the t-shirt they just bought was made from recycled toilet paper and for whatever reason only comes in brown. All anyone thinks about or really talks about is how easy everything used to be. “Remember when gasoline used to cost you $1 a gallon and you could smoke cigarettes in airplanes? Remember when we didn’t have to pass smog tests? Remember when I didn’t have to pay for my employee’s benefits? Remember when we used to be able to dump all of our industrial waste into that river outback? Remember when children used to be able to work in factories and could get into those tight spaces?”

It’s all bullshit because in reality, people don’t care. They want the easy way out. They don’t want their time wasted, their money wasted or their new French manicure wasted. Why else would people be nostalgic? The only reason is because they think things were so much better back then. People only care about sustainability today because we’re to the point that if they didn’t, everyone will think they’re a jackass. There aren’t many people around who would think twice about buying a 10mpg BMW over a 35mpg Saturn if they could afford it.

Sustainability is a brand and society is behind it. Nostalgia is wishing sustainability wasn’t a brand.

What is Architecture? What is a Building?

These are all questions that I hate. In fact, I hate all questions that are anything like these ones. I’ve never been one to ponder philosophical notions because I’ve always seen it as unproductive. It’s not that I don’t understand that people want to try to determine the difference between designing architecture and designing buildings so they can try to improve their own work. I get that. I just don’t think it will ever affect me or my work. I look at philosophy like I look at religion. Some people believe in it and spend their lives devoted to it and it changes them. If you don’t believe in it then how can it change you? Because I don’t like searching the depths of my psyche to obtain a deeper understanding of the possible differences between architecture and buildings, I don’t see how doing so would really have and profound benefit to me. I don’t think we need to distinguish between buildings and architecture. If we’re going to make an argument that just about anything could be design, related to design, or even be architecture (ie a snowboard), then why try to say there is a difference between a building and architecture. Why can’t it just be two words to describe the same thing?

Cultural anthropology teaches us that each and every culture has different words for the same things. I’m not just talking about languages. Whenever something is important to a culture, or necessary to their survival, they develop more words to describe it. Take for instance the Eskimos. Snow was very important to their survival during the winter months. They developed words to describe the various types of snow that can be used in different ways that don’t exist in our vocabulary. Even if you look at us and consider how many words exist in our language for money. I can think of at least a dozen off the top of my head. Cultures where money is nonexistent or unimportant have less, or none at all. If I take this approach to my understanding of the differences between architecture and a building, I can start to see some differences. Obviously a building can be architecture but not all architecture is buildings. Architecture can be houses, skyscrapers, bridges, garages, shacks, and so on. The way I see it, have always seen it and will probably continue to see it is that Architecture is this huge category, inside which exist these smaller, descriptive words that are necessary for communication between members of a society. This is the only way I can begin to see a difference between Architecture and buildings. Things need to be cut and dry, or black and white for me. Not because I’m incapable of seeing beyond, I am, I almost majored in theoretical physics. Then again, maybe that’s a bad example since theories in physics are only proven by the most precise and definitive of equations.

To quickly touch on design, I look at it the same way I look at the differences between Architecture and buildings. Design is this broad category encompassing anything that is created by the mind to serve some sort of purpose. I know, it’s incredible vague and broad, but if you’re going to ask someone like myself to answer a question like that, it’s the only answer I can come up with. I know that you’re not even expecting answers to these question from us, just exploration, but I can’t do that. I need answers.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Values, Nostalgia, Sustainability

Our values in the United States are shaped by nostalgia, a desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life. When applied to architecture, this return to the former seems to cause a conflict between the world’s concern with sustainability in the built environment and what people want, defined by their values. However, I believe that the link between values, nostalgia, sustainability, single-ownership, and branding are ever apparent and are congruent within our value systems.
Nostalgia is not about excess, as defined by Paul Tang in class. It is a longing for the past and simpler times, when there seemed to be a clearer definition of what is right and wrong. It defines our comfort zones and often reflects a shared love of people or a place. Nostalgia is not about excess, and neither are our core values. Nostalgia is about simplicity.
Sustainability, on the other hand, is a new age idea. It brings new technologies to our built environment for the good of the future. It provides a support to keep this world a healthy living place for everyone. Sustainability is about efficiency.
The underlying commonality between nostalgia and sustainability is the return to simplicity through efficiency. Sustainability will sell in the United States because it is a return to simplicity, using the values that nostalgia has developed within us. Our values tell us that we want to return to a different time, and this nostalgia sells. Although sustainability may be using the latest technology, it will sell in the United States based on the core values within Americans defined by nostalgia.
The apparent contradictions between nostalgia and sustainability are actually similarities, one must just look past society’s definition of values, such as money and material things, and return to the values that have been defined by nostalgia. By using your own values, you will see the underlying congruency between these ideas. The nostalgia that developed your values is now defining sustainability with in the scope of your values. Therefore, sustainability will easily be sold, is the same fashion as nostalgia.
Selling nostalgia brings up the conflict between single-ownership and branding. However, both are congruent and can exist in the US. Branding sells in America, but when a name carries value, it has become a brand. Therefore, both single-ownership and branding are related and will sell in the US. If an item does not have one or the other, however, it will not sell in the US because our values defined by nostalgia have taught us to rely on this method of identification for reliance, trust, and dependency.
Just as nostalgia and values are congruent, single-ownership and branding are congruent. Our values also identify single-ownership and branding as import, serving as a link between these ideas. Sustainability serves as a similarity to nostalgia, and therefore our values, and can be sold through single-ownership and branding. Therefore, all five ideas of nostalgia, values, sustainability, single ownership, and branding are congruent.

What is Architecture?

Architecture is a creative spirit.
It can exist in one’s mind, on paper, on the computer, in clothes we wear, in buildings we use, in cities we live in.

Architecture is an environment.
It is an environment for people, animals, things, and ideas.
It shapes our daily routines, rituals, movements, and thoughts.

People relate to ideas that have aesthetic appeal, visual intent, or physical necessity.
This relation results in the creation of a culture.

Architecture brings meaning to culture.
It creates a product that encompasses the art of civilization, living, and ideas.
It demonstrates age, history, change, and the nature of man.
It can reflect the evolution, or create the evolution, of a society as circumstances of the environment change.
It has cultural, political, and economic effects that shape how we live and think as individuals, families, and communities.

Architecture addresses social concerns, but must also create a worth in and of itself to achieve significance.

Architecture contains an apparent plan of the object, idea, or system that allows it to function.
Through the manipulation of space, volumes, materials, and light – physical means are achieved.

Architecture is a synthesis of all of former creation, current circumstances, and future conditions.

Sandy Liao - Nostalgia vs. Sustainability

How do you place value on nostalgia, sustainability, and single authorship? Are they congruent thoughts, or disjunctive thoughts?

Humans have a tendency to place value on items that are nostalgic. They collect things that remind them of cherished memories, wanting to keep the lifestyle they grew up with: music, clothing, houses. This action is driven by the notion that they are always surrounded by something secure and loving. It is the way humans decorate their “nest”. For inventors, nostalgia is important because they have value placed upon them based on how their items are valued. Single-authorship describes the fame one person can have when what they have created is widely cherished.

Yet there are some that believe in rejecting the past, thinking that it will hold them back from what the future can bring. These people promote changes- often selling the idea of a healthier, heartier lifestyle. Currently, with the idea of global warming endangering the planet’s inhabitants, sustainability has become widely supported. It caters to the idea of living an earth-conscious lifestyle, lessening pollution and encouraging giving back to nature. Its value lies in a future for the planet, whereas nostalgia has a value in the past.

While the two types of belief- nostalgia and “the new”- may seem disjunctive, they actually have a lot in common. Although they address lifestyle differently, both cater to human needs and wants. In the end, people are still living day to day using something they believe will give them happiness. As improved versions or new inventions are made, all previous items become nostalgic- just memories of the past. The cycle of new and old is constant and necessary for evolution, like yin and yang. People need to have something to look back upon in order to judge how to do things better for the future.

The current debate is that sustainability is so earth-conscious that is lacks the human element of single-authorship, but with time, sustainability will become another relic of the past- a memory of how people first began to save their planet. As newer architecture and better inventions are made, our current form of sustainability will become less valued for its purpose, and more valued for its existence as a prototype. At that point, it will become nostalgic, and people will recognize the creators for their inventions’ value.

Sandy Liao - What Is Architecture?

Before coming to USC, I understood architecture to be the designing of buildings. In a way, I understood it to be art at a larger scale. I saw architecture as easily discerned from other structures because it was never mundane. Instead, it was symbolic of whomever or whatever resided within- a self-expression.

What I didn’t understand then is that architecture is more than just an art. In fact, a building can be architecture even if it looks like a typical housing structure. The term architecture is used to convey a structure that a designer has given expression to. The symbolism can be felt in the procession or the layout of the spaces to become smooth and flowing. A good space is created when it lends ease to the users. The expression can also be shown through visual symbolism, meaning the style of the structure, both inside and out.
While the initial appearance of a Frank Gehry structure may differ from that of a Le Corbusier, the rules are similar. Firstly, it requires a vast knowledge about society. Architects need to know about their clients, and their clients can come from any number of backgrounds. The architect can create a more usable space if they understand more about how their clients’ habits. Secondly, it requires an adaptable mindset, which most architects exhibit. The architect is in charge of design, but also in a position to convince a client or builder to do things for a better outcome. Therefore, an architect must be able to alter designs to suit the location, and change minds to please everyone. Having a good head for construction, building media, and locations can also make things easier.
Now, having been in studio for almost five years, I see architecture is more than just design, or pretty pictures come to life. It is the combination of both design and human lifestyle, with the design becoming a symbol of the idea, and the lifestyle reflected in the procession through the space. Architecture requires a wide array of people types to come together to create something everyone can enjoy. It is sensual in that it is tangible, visual, and everything else sensory. Similar to the gothic cathedrals created by craftsmen long ago, architecture has the embedded human element to it other types of construction lack. It is constructed to fit a purpose, and sculpted to become a symbol of that purpose.

Sandy Liao - Who I Am

I made a list and began a self-portrait, since I didn’t know how to begin to define myself.
Middle child of three girls
Educator mother (K-12 tutoring)
Diplomat father (ambassador)
Educator grandmother (kindergarten)
Government official grandfather
Deceased farming grandparents on father’s side
Come from a large family on both ends
Mom’s end is “city”
Dad’s end is “country”
I’m a bit country (spent first years in Tai-Chuang farmland)
Grew up without video games or soda in the house
Grew up wishing I could be as smart as my older sister
Never sought popularity, just friendship
Visual expression (art) was my unique “talent”

Sing a lot
Awkward or clumsy
Believe a drawing isn’t done until the name is signed
Can stay in a museum all day
Can draw an entire day
Can examine an art piece for a second or an hour
Communicate best when face to face
Collect drawing implements
(Used to) collect rocks
Dislike 3d programs
Don’t like it when people question my art before it is done
Don’t understand “abstract” art
Don’t appreciate ancient artifacts unless the skill is easily recognized
Enjoy nature and the slow passing of time
Enjoy and employ use of colors and mixing
Enjoy Photoshop
Enjoy being around other people
Enjoy connecting with other people
Enjoy reading Sci-Fi and Fantasy
Enjoy organizing and taking notes
Learn best with encouragement
Like to hum
Like to be nice
Like to observe other people
Love to whistle
Love to use Prismacolor color pencils
Mature slowly intellectually
Nervous around shy people
Not good with technology
Paranoid in empty hallways and parking lots
Put a lot of emphasis on family
Realize that some choices must be made for myself

See myself and art hand in hand
Am worried about what kind of job I can get with my degree
Am categorized by my international status
Don’t have much of a working background
Would like to employ my architecture skills of modeling and packaging somehow
Feel stronger with my art and studio background
Feel weaker due to lack of experience
Feel I am living year to year worrying about stability
Have been feeling depressed and lackadaisical
Am set on incorporating art into my future so I can feel alive
See production design as something I might enjoy, and also be able to do with my skills set
Am very confused at the moment, but trying my best to figure out “myself”