The Chartreuse Ford
“You can have any colour you like as long as it’s black.”
Oh the indignity of having your surname prefixed by “Post-“! Me, I never knew Post-Fordism existed until page 73 of The Autopoiesis of Architecture Vol.1.
The first two sweeping statements are what happens when your aesthetics has no ethical dimension. Non-visual virtue is invisible. One of the original tenets of Modernism was to provide Post World War I Europe with decent housing. But I digress.
Post-Fordism pops up again on p.305 in connection with flexible specialization and mass customization. Clearly, the author is not talking about mass housing anymore. He never was. He’s talking about the production of architecture and other products less essential to existence. This is sloppy thinking. Insulting, in a way.
Obviously, the drift is that Parametricism is an architectural adaption to the underlying shift blah blah but what kind of adaption is it? Lots of things adapt to other things, after all. And what exactly is an “architectural adaption”? An accommodation? A representation? A critical commentary? A reflexive roll-over?
Two posts back, I gave my reasons why I thought this curvilinear fluidity schtick might appeal to certain clients but I wasn’t talking about those for social housing. I was talking about specialty niche custom product for those who can afford it. These clients were never Fordist. Ever. Fordism and Post-Fordism are red herrings-isms.
- My overriding background objection is that surely there must have been other significant changes in society over the past 50 years more worthy for a new architectural styling to take its cues or clues from? Does the world really need an architectural style adapted to patterns of mass consumption that exist only because there is the production capacity to satisfy them?
- My second point is where exactly is this Post-Fordist society The Autopoiesis of Architecture is supposed to cater to?
There’s so much I don’t know about Post-Fordism. I do know a little bit about Fords.
Everyone knows the 1908 Model-T Ford only came in black. I have it on good authority (my father) that black was chosen because black paint dried the fastest. And it’s my father I remember repeating that quote “You can have it any colour you like as long as it’s black.” Mr. Ford is apparently more famous for the assembly line production that made the Model-T the world’s first affordable automobile. If that’s Fordism, then I’m inclined to think it’s not such a bad thing. Especially since we’re still waiting for it to happen with spatial enclosures.
Fords are still with us a hundred years on but this era of Post-Fordist specialization and mass customisation has been around for, say, about half that. It’s the Post-WWII age of the consumer, of individual choice, of have-it-your-way.
Did I just hear “… without a lot of waiting”? Yeah right.
I drive a 2010 Ford Focus. It’s black, because a black one was for sale and, I guess I must be a Fordist for I didn’t have any strong feelings about what colour my car should be. I don’t think the colour of my car says anything about me other than that. And nor do I believe it should. However, I go to my local Ford dealer every 10,000km or three months whichever comes first and have my Focus serviced.
Last time there was this 2014 Ford Mustang.
Curious to test-drive this new fancy Post-Fordism, I asked a salesman how long I’d have to wait if I wanted it in a custom colour – chartreuse. Not the pukey web CHARTREUSE GREEN #7FFF00 or the vile web CHARTREUSE YELLOW #DFFF00 but the colour of the liqueur that gave the colour the name in the first place. Green, preferably – cheers!
I was told it’d take twelve weeks minimum. This is our evolved Post-Fordist society in action 2014. You can have what you want, but until they finish making it your way you have to make do with nothing.
Post-Fordist society seems to all be about consumerism and shifting goods that sell for more because they’ve had questionable notions of personal status and self-esteem veneered onto them. I can see where any theory of architecture would backdoor into this as it’s not that different from what architecture has always done. Prefabrication and repetition never fire the public imagination.
Slavoj Žižek recently had some things to say about this type of consumption.
What we are witnessing today is the direct commodification of our experiences themselves: what we are buying on the market is fewer and fewer products (material objects) that we want to own, and more and more life experiences – experiences of sex, eating, communicating, cultural consumption, participating in a lifestyle. Michel Foucault’s notion of turning one’s self itself into a work of art thus gets an unexpected confirmation: I buy my bodily fitness by way of visiting fitness clubs; I buy my spiritual enlightenment by way of enrolling in the courses on transcendental meditation; I buy my public persona by way of going to the restaurants visited by people I want to be associated with.
Once, when I lived in Japan, I was asked to accompany someone to the birthday party of a Japanese actor who was “also interested in architecture”. The interior of his apartment had been remodelled in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. Imagine this, but without the space, the light or the height.
Many presents were Frank Lloyd Wright themed. A large Frank Lloyd Wright monograph, or a reproduction Robie House lamp such as this one, glad to be back in Japan.
but won’t say no to a Frank Lloyd Wright Massaro House.
It’s now increasingly easy for architectural likings to bear no relationship to any virtues of the vehicle for those likings. Flaunting architectural likings has become a tribal indicator on par with being seen in an artisan coffee shop.
The implications of this for architecture are enormous. If we’re talking about image, then the branding of architects is not a sideshow but the main event. When Rem Koolhaas or Patrik Schumacher talk about the integration of design and communications, they’re talking about the integration of design and personal branding. I doubt Zaha Hadid has read The Autopoiesis of Architecture. She doesn’t have to as the brand’s pretty much secured. Theory’s not really had much to do with her particular star trek – and I wish her well and good luck! Guest speaker/judge/celebrity trumps university tenure/dull treatises anyday. We just want to be entertained.
So then, if what we like – or claim to like – either defines us or what we’d like to be defined by, then IT DOESN’T REALLY MATTER IF IT’S ANY GOOD. All it needs to be is something that is a carrier for aspirations for, in this day and age, it is a product! Every era has one. IT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S GOOD – I mean, who builds Art Nouveau buildings these days? Or even Post-Modern ones? Has anyone mentioned Deconstructivist and cutting-edge in the same sentence recently?
So then, in order to have popular keywords in the architecture communications space, we can conclude that:
- Being perceived as cutting edge or avant garde or the Next Big Thing is a plus – a Good Thing. It never did any architect any harm. Even when you prostitute your early promise and whatever artistic credentials people once credited you with it’s no problem – people have short memories and don’t want to see you betray whatever they imagine to be left of them. They’ll ignore it as they’d rather pretend they’ve grown with you. A deadly circle. Early enthusiasts become later defenders.
- Expensive is good. What appeals to the rich is always exclusive. Alberti knew it. Palladio milked it. Wren franchised it.
- Unique, or the appearance of it, is good. Clients find it appealing – they find their self-worth in it. Sad-fuck website clickers will like it. Job done.
- Academic incomprehensibility is nothing compared to the mystery of Art. (“I like curves.”) Curvy is good. And when we’re tired of that, angular will be good. You may think I dislike Zaha Hadid – I don’t. I met and interviewed her twice when she was wooing love-hotelier Kuzuwa-san about the time Azabu Juban Building and Tomigaya Building were possibly on the cards.
Anyway, when I met her outside the elevators in some Tokyo hotel, oooh 1991, I instinctively gave her a hug and a kiss. She’s done well with some attitude, some balls and some costume. To her lasting credit, the brand she’s created for mass consumption does what it’s designed to do without any huge amount of thinking and can stand alone without the parasitic theory.
In our culture of instant gratification, as long as I let everyone know a chartreuse Ford is an object of my desire, I don’t actually need to own one. This is just as well as as I’d still be waiting. I suspect this is why images of buildings are more useful for architects’ brands than the things as-built. If the internet is where all our aesthetic lifestyle posturing gets done, then all we need to do that is an image and an opportunity to show we like it. Such a situation is exactly what we have.