Mark GAGE talks about Valentine’s Day, aesthetic theory, sensation vs. gimmick, King Kong’s wrinkles, and the importance of expertise.
images clockwise from top left: “Valentine to Times Square” Sculpture, Nicola Formichetti Store (BOFFO), Solar Flowers, Kaohsiung Pop Center
sP: A few years back at Yale you introduced into your courses ideas like sensation, atmosphere, and affect from thinkers such as Jeff Kipnis, ideas which ten to fifteen years earlier would have been taboo or even laughable to bring into academia. Could you talk about that interest, or how those ideas are now open for play and discussion in your work and in academia?
mG: I think there are only two ways you can talk about this. One is in an intellectual way—and this is Peter Eisenman’s real ethic of operation—and it’s the Aristotelian idea that you can construct a three-dimensional mental image of the building, which allows you to simultaneously see inside and outside, spaces and volumes, lines and alignment. That’s an intellectual thing because it’s happening in your mind. The second is in an experiential way, where the question becomes: How long after you leave a building are you still thinking about it? A reaction to that formulation is to say, no, the affect of the building would be how long it impacts you at an emotional level. It has nothing to do with the mental cognition of rotating around an Aristotelian three-dimensional model, but instead has to do with how long you feel inspired, creeped out, psyched up, or civil. And I think the only way you really feel those things is through a language of sensations. There are only two ways of understanding things: one is intellectually and the other is through sensation. So if we’re trying to get away from the intellectual, the logic would have to move toward one of sensation, which is why you have so many people talking about affect and sensation without entirely understanding it. Affect and sensation isn’t a discourse that’s like walking into a room and seeing a bunch of laser-lights and fog and saying, “It’s an atmosphere! Wooooo! Let’s dance! Awesome!” Rather, it’s having the strategic ambition for what you want to produce with your architecture and realizing that what you produce actually has an impact on viewers. And the nice thing about sensation, in terms of sensation as a form of impact, is that it doesn’t require any preloaded intelligence, which makes it democratic. If my mom can walk into [Frank Gehry’s] Bilbao and be utterly blown away and inspired, that’s far more interesting to me than my mom walking into a Ken Yeang building with the knowledge that it’s the greenest building on the planet, had LEED diamond certification, and reuses all its toilet water as drinking water. That requires a prepackaged idea about why the building is good.
sP: It doesn’t hit you in the gut.
mG: It doesn’t hit you in the gut, exactly. It doesn’t sucker punch you—I’m sure, that’s why you guys use that term. The point of sensation isn’t gimmicks. I think sensation can produce architectural qualities through lighting, texture, height, volume, space, surfaces, even sound—which are all already within the language of architecture. That’s when I think sensation is interesting, if you can get an architectural language to perform at the level of sensation as opposed to importing a gimmick like rubbing walls with Lysol or whatever.
sP: We were just at Brennan Buck’s review at Yale and, in dealing with some of the things you were just describing, the question of the threshold between whimsy, fun, playfulness, and exuberance came up. Where do you stand on that? We were thinking about your Valentine project, because it deals with color and there is something fun about it. Where is the line where fun stops and gimmick begins? In the review there was a kind of trepidation, almost, to take on some of these ideas. Architects get very nervous at this line, even with just the idea of color.
mG: The “funny” line. I think there’s a difference. I think there is architecture as a project, and whimsy and fun is part of that, and then I think there is an interior design project that has to do with non architectural components. I think humor is part of the architectural discourse, I think gimmicks aren’t. Actually, with regard to the Valentine project (Valentine to Times Square, 2009), it was supposed to be a Christmas tree, but the client didn’t raise enough funding, so I just turned two Christmas trees upside down and put them together to make a heart. I told the client they should make it into a heart, that it would give them an extra month and a half, from Christmas to Valentine’s Day, to get their shit together. They loved the idea and, obviously, it was built. We did the heart in 2009, but then, over the next couple of years, proposals went from architectural projects—and I’ll talk about why ours is an architectural project—to gimmicks. I think stacking up a bunch of ice and carving it has no architectural implications whatsoever. I think the proposal this year (Hold up the Heart, 2011), where the public is meant to hold a heart off the ground, is a gimmick. Getting people to hold something up is not a tectonic argument about architecture, it’s a gimmick. I think that project, along with PS1 (MoMa PS1 Young Architects Program), is being taken in the direction of gimmick. If we plant everything, it’s a gimmick. It’s fun. I like going to these things, I like urban farms and string and water and stuff, but I think most of the competitions that young architects are entering and putting in galleries are ending up on the side of gimmick as opposed to ending up on the side of architecture.
We addressed architectural problems in the Valentine project. The heart, which was intended to be fun, lovely, and beautiful, was built like a skyscraper—it had a central core, floor plates, and a skin. We did some interesting research with Dupont on their translucent Corian and at which frequencies it reacted with LED lighting, and tuned the LED lighting so it produced different effects. Lighting is an effect and something I’m really interested in. When artificial lighting came on the market, so to speak, in the 1920s and ’30s, Hugh Ferriss made these unbelievable drawings of bottom-lit buildings that the world had never seen before. There was an idea in those drawings of architecture revolutionized by virtue of a new idea about lighting. I think our revolutionary idea about lighting is subsurface scattering, translucency, and lighting effects that have to do with being inside the mass, not on top of it. Hugh Ferriss’s light is all on the mass, but with the heart we were trying to achieve frequencies where the waves of light literally go through the Corian, producing vibrating color effects tuned in the colors of Valentine’s Day. Getting the light to change over the course of a couple minutes allowed us to use color, material, and lighting that capitalized on subsurface scattering in order to advance this research. The fact that we covered the heart in a chrome skin, so it bounced around all the lighting, was entirely an atmospheric idea, but I still don’t think it was a gimmick. I think it was in the tradition of follies in architecture. It was innovative, but I think it’s innovative aspects were overshadowed by its fun-ness. Had I designed a heart out of Voronois, built them out of wood, stacked them all up, and stapled them together in my basement, it would have been interesting by virtue of its innovative tectonic. But our heart was overshadowed by virtue of its fun-ness, which was something it was supposed to have done.
sP: With that project being in Times Square at a heavily trafficked moment, people literally embraced it. It’s interesting to us that this language of complex surfaces, color, and sensation is something the public today is super hungry for. There’s a giant market for 3-D films that basically just promise a new experience. Handheld videogames are now 3-D. The Kinect is a gestural experience that deals with the virtual. It seems that consumer culture is demanding, and willing to pay for, the idea of a new sensation. The public will pay $30 to go see a movie because it promises something more visually exciting than before. I’m wondering if there starts to be an interesting collision there, where this work with sensation can get out of the gallery and the realm of intellectual tinkering and start to engage the public and find a new clientele or new desire within present-day culture to help provide the money and reason for doing these projects.
mG: Yeah, that’s the hope. It’s interesting, because when I talk about the work of the office—and I talked about it in a different way earlier—if you compare it to the room we’re in or to the Farnsworth House, for example, architecture is still caught up in a language of two-dimensionality and abstraction. I don’t really think we’re in a world of three-dimensional architecture. Everything we do is planar and all of the three-dimensionality comes through the interpretation of our eyes. We see a perspective, but it’s still a flat ceiling and a flat wall that puts it all in dialogue. It’s never the architecture that’s behaving in three dimensions. So as a project—and I hadn’t thought about the comparison to 3-D movies, but absolutely—there’s one good outcome and one bad outcome. One is the public is hungry for novelty, and architecture gets into the business of feeding them novelty, which I don’t think is the goal.
The other outcome is that architecture is experientially memorable and goes back to the idea of affect. If I walk into St. Paul’s Cathedral, walk out, and then walk into the renovated MoMA, for example, I come out of the Cathedral with a sense of awe—which is something museums used to curate. If you walk into the Guggenheim (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum), awe. If you walk into the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art), awe. I think the great museums of the world curate the sensibility that you’re in a space where you’re seeing things special to humanity, and that demands a certain amount of attention. When I walk into MoMA, I don’t walk away with that sense of awe. Although the space at MoMA is perhaps of a similar size as St. Paul’s, the cathedral has an ambition to produce an architectural experience, whereas the MoMA has the ambition to produce, perhaps an intellectual experience, but certainly not an affective, architectural one. That’s something that Sylvia Lavin wrote about in the issue of Log (“Kissing Architecture: Super Disciplinarity and Confounding Mediums,” Log 17) I co-edited with Florencia Pita: MoMA was never at its best until the artist Pipilotti Rist projected lips all over its walls (Pour Your Body Out [7354 Cubic Meters], 2008–2009) and gave the space a life that it never really had. In architecture today, we’re in a period, not only in schools, but also in the world, where architecture relies entirely on two-dimensionality. So I think you’re totally right when you say that any move, whether it’s novel or not, moves into an experience economy.
sP: Since you brought up the issue of Log, I’m curious what feedback you’ve gotten since that issue’s publication. I know the issue was also a moment where a lot of young architects who had been doing some great work—Jason Payne and David Ruy, for example—wrote some of their first pieces, or their first pieces that were widely read. It also seemed like that issue was in some ways aimed at presenting a dissatisfaction with what was being validated as research in practice and what was open for discussion in academia.
mG: Well, actually, I wrote an essay titled “In Defense of Design” in the Log prior to the one I co-edited, and after that essay was published I got a lot of emails that led to a lot of future writing. I think that essay hit a nerve with a lot of people who were dissatisfied with the logic of research architecture. I was in a really bad mood that year and that piece came off as a snarky attack on research architecture, which it was intended to be, but now I read it and think maybe it was a little heavy-handed. Now people want me to write, but in that voice, and I’m actually in a pretty good mood these days, so it doesn’t come out that easily. That got a lot of the research architecture out of the way, but writing against things and doing critical projects is something I’m trying not to do as much anymore; instead, I’m trying to do things and produce things.
sP: Champion . . .
mG: Champion things. Log 17 was Florencia and I championing our generation and allowing for a discussion, casually referred to as a discussion about affect and sensation, to overtake an issue. All the writing in the issue was, in a sense, anti-intellectual, but I don’t think the issue wanted to be anti-intellectual; it wanted to be pro-experience, pro-affect. I know if you use the word affect now—and people have used it for four years—people think you’re out of date—the cycles are changing so much faster now. The issue was created with the ambition to produce a way of writing about architecture that wasn’t about intellectualization. The last 20 years of writing about architecture have been about its intellectualization and we were trying to find a way to write about things that are pink and fluffy, but not necessarily gimmicky. How do we even talk about this new language of techniques, materials, and affects we’re producing? Can we even talk about it, or do we just show a picture and that’s the end of it?
sP: Well, it’s a question of whether or not you want to overintellectualize the work that you championed in Log 17. At the same time, you want some intelligence to go into how you think and write about that work. It’s a new way of answering exactly the question: How do you discuss this type of architecture? And it’s not the same as the ’80s discussion.
mG: That’s exactly it. I would say in that issue of Log a lot of the pieces are failures, in that they show directions which, in my opinion, aren’t particularly fruitful for future ways of talking about or theoretically positioning that type of work.
sP: It seems there is also a defensiveness in a number of the pieces, almost as if the authors already felt as if they were against the ropes and knew that they had to fight their way out of the corner. Instead of presenting themselves more on the offensive—let’s go and do this, and this is how we’re going to talk about it—on the whole the authors wrote with a sort of defensive resistance.
mG: I think you’re right. It definitely was a defense against getting beaten down. I think the public at large engages with this work in a way that they haven’t engaged with work for decades. I just finished, literally yesterday, a proof of the cover of a compendium in aesthetic theory I’m editing titled Aesthetic Theory: Essential Texts for Architecture and Design, which is entirely based on looking back throughout history to find ammunition from philosophy and theory that supports this work. It’s basically a book full of writing—from Plato and Aristotle through [Georges] Bataille, up through recent authors like Susan Sontag, Elaine Scarry, and Nick Zangwill—that emerges not only as a discourse of aesthetics, but also as a discourse of philosophy, of thinking how aesthetic impact has a cultural impact, of how aesthetics has a relationship to democracy and community, and of how aesthetics has a relationship to political ideas like war. Historically, in war the goal has been to destroy the identity, through architecture, of the enemy. So you don’t bomb your enemy’s fields, you bomb their capital, because it’s a source of their identity. You bomb their architecture because it’s the most valuable thing to their collective identity. So all of these ideas are being picked up in this book, and I hope and think that this book isn’t contemporary theory, but some background radiation. My hope is that it will be picked up and be useful to someone, somewhere, as a way to historically position the discussions happening today. When I was working for the last ten years I desperately needed, and didn’t find, some way to access that kind of information. So I took six years and went through it, and finally put it all in one place. That will be out this fall.
suckerPUNCH: Perhaps we could talk a little bit about what you’ve taught in the last year in your seminars at Yale.
mark GAGE: For the last seminar I taught I made some contacts at Autodesk’s Mudbox. Basically, I think surface modeling, in terms of smoothness, has a limited lifespan, and a couple of ways out of that language are, one, to look at surfaces in terms of scripting multiples, accumulations, and swarms, or two, to look at new ways of articulating surfaces. So I worked and had a couple of conversations with people at Mudbox, and they ended up sponsoring a seminar that I was teaching, which was designed entirely on coming up with new languages of rustication for architecture. This rustication is something that has been of interest to me for, I don’t know, four or five years, but we really haven’t had the tools to do it. Right now, I’m looking at the car industry and their understanding and articulation of surfaces—the book I just published along with Greg Lynn, Composites, Surfaces, and Software: High Performance Architecture, has a piece with automotive designer Chris Bangle. It was interesting to talk to Chris about what the automotive industry is doing because they’re also looking at rustication, as opposed to smoothness, as a future language. The reason they want to use rustication in cars—with facets, for example—is because if you facet a car panel, it makes the panel stronger, because the triangulated geometry is inherently structural. If the geometry is stronger, you can use thinner steel, so it’s less resource intensive to build a faceted car than a standard, contoured car. Second, if done right, a faceted car can actually generate vortices that make it more aerodynamic than a smooth car, because wind isn’t hitting the entire surface—it’s only hitting these little vortices, like how a shark’s skin works in relation to water. Third, because facets look so good, so shiny, twinkly, and sparkly, automakers think they can convince the public to buy cars without paint—and paint is the most energy intensive process at a car-manufacturing facility. So all of these reasons, which are all counterintuitive, lead Chris to think the future of cars is going to be in a language of facets and rustication. I’m trying to figure out what that language means in terms of architecture. My starting point was with Mudbox. Mudbox was designed to create wrinkles in King Kong’s face [for Peter Jackson’s 2005 film King Kong]. Skin on wrinkles is just another way of saying detail on surfaces, and if Mudbox is a tool to create detail on surfaces, then it has an architectural efficacy. So I got some funding, then got some students for the seminar and had them start by playing with Mudbox. It was, as I expected, a total disaster, because I got a bunch of building patterns that looked like nipples and ogre skin; all the things that Mudbox was designed to do, they did. So then I had someone from Mudbox, who worked for Pixar and really knew the software, come and spend a bunch of time teaching the students how to use the software in a way that was more expert and more specific to architecture than just coming up with funky shapes. The students took those results—they had $2,000 to experiment with materiality and color—and built small panels for a couple of hundred dollars followed by large, full-scale, four-foot by six-foot panels for their final project using different foams, coatings, and a lot of automotive technology.
sP: How do you think this type of research plays out within the practice of architecture?
mG: As I see it, there are a couple of trajectories in contemporary architecture. One is what I call “the tinkerer,” which is: you come up with an amazing script, laser-cut it in your basement, and assemble it all in a gallery. You can produce amazing things and I think that’s a totally valid area of research. I also think it has limited efficacy in terms of its potential impact on architecture as a discipline. I think the other trajectory is more useful in looking across disciplinary boundaries and seeking out expertise in other industries to import into architecture. The thing that allows us to do that today, in a way that we couldn’t in the past, is software. With Mudbox, for example, I can talk to someone whose only job was to put wrinkles on King Kong; we can talk about polygon counts, about how he uses them and how I can use them, for example, to make a wrinkle, not necessarily because it looks cool, but instead as a way to channel water, create vortexes to shed wind, create thickness, or to create shadow, shade, or different lighting effects. These are all microscale, microsectional architectures that happen at the level of skin, which is different than Jean Nouvel’s 11th Avenue Tower (2010) on the West Side that uses small windows at different angles to create a microsectional effect that is, nonetheless, very interesting. I think the next generation of microsectional effects is going to be done in two ways: in surfaces, with technologies like Mudbox, and at a molecular, biological, or chemical level. If architecture is going to be interested in expertise in software and in chemistry and biology, we’re not the discipline to do so alone. We need to work with automotive designers, origami experts, fashion designers, and so on. We need to get away from our amateur culture of scripts, get out of our basements, and really start opening up the profession to this kind of dialogue between experts. So that’s the focus of my next book. The working title is Dissensus, and the reason I like the word dissensus is it’s the opposite of consensus. The only way we think about consensus in contemporary discourse is that we have a lack of consensus—everyone cries that there is a lack of architectural discourse and consensus today. Dissensus is a stable state of disagreement. There are a lot of different things going on and a lot of different forms of collaboration, and that is our discourse; we’re not all talking about folds and we’re not all talking about scripting. Instead, a discourse of dissensus is developing, where dissensus is not a lack of something, it is something; it is something that you’re doing something with someone and I’m doing something else with someone else, and it is all getting out on suckerPUNCH. Dissensus is a more liquid attitude toward architecture. It may be that the great contribution of our generation isn’t a particular tool or technique in the computer, but, instead, a new form of creative practice and collaboration. And that’s something I also just wrote about in Composites, Surfaces, and Software. It’s all about how there are camps of scripters, parametricists, and Maya offices, and how they’re all little monocultures. I talk about the Irish Potato Famine, which was a monoculture that died by virtue of its reliance on one particular strain of food. So, in a bad way, we’re developing into a discipline where scripters have their scripting conferences, Maya architects have their Maya conferences, and parametric architects have their Processing conferences. And we all talk about how the other cultures are useless and stupid. We’re all critical of what everyone else is doing and of how outdated it is, when, in truth, the real gift of these technologies is realizing they’re opening up new worlds and new ways of talking to new people at an expert level. Instead of thinking I can come out of a three-year architecture school as an expert scripter, I would much rather collaborate with a computer programmer, and not try to delude myself into thinking that I’m going to come up with something significant in that field. The discourse of architecture right now has a method of teaching that is based on problem solving. Any student you give an architectural problem to is going to do a program analysis chart, or they’re going to do as Sarah Whiting said at the Future of Design conference: they will go look at something like Omega-3 fatty acids for example, and design a residential complex based on Omega-3 fatty acids. You research anything but architecture to address an architectural problem. My reason for using the École des Beaux-Arts method is that it forces students to do an esquisse (preliminary design sketch) and come up with an idea separate from any other form of information—it’s really a pure architectural idea that isn’t tainted by analysis. I think we need to be able to make architectural moves without them needing to respond to analysis. Architecture can’t just be the solution to a problem. That’s what the Mudbox studio was about: looking at different technologies, collaborations, and softwares, but trying to do so in a way that encouraged architecture not as a result of study, but as the product of an idea or the product of collaboration.
sP: You talked about going from Beaux-Arts principles to Mudbox or to whatever kind of technology that can be folded into architecture to give us new microsectional effects that weren’t available 200 years ago, but you also acknowledged that architectural problems still exist—you have to enter the building, you have to keep rain out, you have to have a window, and so on. This also speaks to the discipline “getting out of the basement” and taking on architectural concerns rather than purely addressing issues of biology or assemblage. Given that your education spanned from a classical undergraduate experience at Notre Dame to experimental graduate work at Yale with figures such as Greg Lynn, what do you see as the relationship between fundamental architectural concerns and advanced geometric investigations?
mG: My education was this strange, Beaux-Arts thing. The reason I was doing classicism, and that I was into it, was because it was so incredibly figurative. But it just didn’t have any more mileage in it. What are you going to do with classicism today? I’m sure in the future there will be someone who does something interesting with the language. The reason I started getting into heavy figuration—as was recently allowable through the computer—was that I wanted to do work more figurative than classicism would allow, and the only alternative to classicism was to develop into a more modern practice. I see the work in Mudbox and the work in Maya, software, and figuration as a continuation of the tradition of ancient Greek, Roman, Beaux-Arts, even Art-Nouveau architecture. That work is a continuation of a figurative strain of architecture that would have continued had it not been for the moment of intense abstraction that was Modernism. I’m not an expert in Modernism, and I actually joke a lot that my education stopped in 1920 and it picked up again in 2002, which, literally, it did.
Something I’ve been talking with Greg Lynn a lot about is how the language of surfaces that the computer allowed for is being combined with an entirely new tectonic language, which is a language of composites. If classicism had a tectonic and figural language that were fused together by stacking stones or bricks, when you stack the arch together it’s the keystone, the most important stone, that gets all the ornament. So there’s a fusion between the tectonics and the figure. Modernism had a similar language for that fusion: you would abstract everything. The glass would be totally abstracted, the floor would be totally abstracted, the column would be totally abstracted, and where they came together, that’s where you fetishized the ornamental detail. When Mies says “god is in the details,” that’s really the modern version of the keystone: you just go to town on how to connect this little fucking thing—you make all these little screws and bolts and it’s so precise and articulate. Modernism, being a great architectural language, was the fusion of an aesthetic agenda, an ideological agenda, a tectonic agenda, and a figural agenda, which happened to be an abstraction or a lack in figuration. I think we’re just now realizing that the language of surfaces and computation also has a language of composites.
sP: What are some of the influences on your work? What are you reading, listening to, and watching?
mG: I’m a huge, huge fan of Harold Bloom, who, just for the record, is at Yale—he’s probably Yale’s most respected professor of literary criticism, the world’s foremost expert on Shakespeare, and a very controversial figure. I actually see parallels between what he did in poetry in the ’60s and what we’re trying to do in architecture today. Bloom valorized the Romanticsand started talking about poetry in an emotional and affective sense, arguing that poetry wasn’t important by virtue of its structure alone and that you couldn’t study poetry by only looking at the poetry without understanding what it referred to in terms of emotional, or even worldwide linkages. Architecture is, naturally, several years late. I actually think—and I haven’t written on or proven this—that Peter Eisenman brought a lot of his ideas into architecture through Harold Bloom.
sP: Anxiety of Influence, Map of Misreading . . .
mG: Exactly. All Bloom’s work is going into that “Eisenman” project about misreading, which is misreading Misreading, in some ways. But if it ends up in interesting architecture, who cares? But Bloom just came out with his magnum opus, The Anatomy of Influence, which is what I’ve been reading. I’ve been thinking about what we’re doing, as a project, in the office, and I realize that a lot of what we’ve done and a lot of our MO was driven by a kind of anxiety about what the latest thing was—everyone’s using Maya now, we have to use Maya; everyone’s using Grasshopper, we have to get someone that knows Grasshopper and we have to see what we can do with Grasshopper; everyone’s using Processing, we have to use Processing. And I think that’s what a lot of offices have done. While it’s so cheesy to say “digital architecture,” and I cringe because it feels so outdated to me, I do think whatever has been going on in architecture in the last 20 years is a project that is going to be remembered historically, holistically, as one thing as opposed to a bunch of separate little projects in scripting, in Maya, in surfaces, or in milling and laser cutting. That’s actually something that I’ve been thinking about—about thinking this as a larger project and my role in it—and that’s why I’ve been writing about history and trying to do work that not only uses technology, but also puts it into dialogue with larger ideas. So, in terms of influence, what influences me right now is reading things like Harold Bloom’s book, which is basically him tracking his influence on literary theory through his interest in what I would call a logic of affect. So my project in architecture as a whole—outside of, but including the office—is thinking about this project in terms of its historic relevance, its contemporary efficacy, and how it trickles down and impacts the world through my office and work like, most popularly, the heart. That’s what’s so important about the project you guys are doing with suckerPUNCH: this is a project that, like you said, creates a place to go for a public starved for this kind of architecture. It’s the antidote to all us architects in our moms’ basements fucking around with competitions we’ll never win and never making any linkages to the outside world.
sP: There’s an audience out there. You used to be able to go to Kanye West’s blog and see, every day, the hottest watch, the hottest shoes, and so on, but then the hottest architecture is a modernist rainscreen. You think “No!” But they don’t know that progressive digital work is out there and it’s doing everything they ask of the rest of their curated world.
sP: Any “trash” you’re watching? T.V.? Film?
mG: Totally. Let’s see, what am I watching . . . Oh yeah, let me talk about a couple of things. I’m excited about this new show on sandcastles (Sand Masters). It’s a reality show about these guys that basically build sandcastles. I watch a lot of the Travel Channel, because of its food shows—the food shows on the Food Network suck. I read Anthony Bourdain’s new book, Medium Raw, which has been hugely influential on me—I highly recommend it. He’s a huge fan of expertise, and he slams the Food Network because all they air are shows like Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute Meals, where the premise is “Here’s paradise. Aren’t the tacos good in paradise?” It’s not about the food. And, ironically, the Travel Channel airs the more hardcore food shows that show real chefs with real expertise. Do you know Guy Fieri? In his book, Bourdain slams Guy Fieri. Bourdain says he couldn’t do what Fieri does—that is, make food into a game. He specifically uses the example—and this is what has been influential to me—of Guy Fieri making a barbeque roast-rib sushi roll with sushi rice. And Bourdain is like, “No. That’s a gimmick.” So when I talk about gimmick, that’s what I mean. Anthony Bourdain knows that there are chefs in the sushi industry that train on rice for three years before ever putting their hands on fish, and for someone to come along and throw some other crap on top of rice does not “sushi” make. Architecture is the same way, innovations require expertise and real knowledge of the discipline– whereas gimmicks are just amateur short ribs on rice. So now we live in a world mostly defined by architectural gimmicks—short rib sushi buildings (Oh look, I took a two-week Grasshopper class and am scripting “facades”). If I had my way, students would not be allow to design a facade until their final year. It’s such a casual thing now: after one has done the ludicrous program analysis charts or analyzed Omega-3 fatty acid structures, the facade is what is left over from the programmatic massing solutions. I believe in composition, in aesthetic effects, in expertise, and in actual human talent as being required to make architectural decisions that significantly impact the urban landscape. It’s not enough us to say our building look like they do because they are the result of an internal programmatic solution or the result of an amateur script that ran according to some very suspect data set. As architects we need to intervene in processes, and not wholly adopt them as “scientistic.” And in order to intervene, we had better have enough expertise to make the right calls. Obviously, we have lost that ability in past generations, just look at our cities. Most cities are now looking for an iconic gimmick to revitalize them—Milwaukee’s wing flapping bird museum by [Santiago] Calatrava, or, even worse, that London eye, or even our own 1776-foot-tall Freedom Tower. All short ribs on rice.
Other than that, watching American Horror Story these days, so will probably end up subconsciously doing some black latexy mutant project down the road. We’ll see.