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6: DISGUISE

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So far I’ve mentioned aesthetic ideas that Separate and aesthetic ideas that Unite. Because they’re ideas, they’re totally subjective – all in our minds – and dependent on what we know, feel or are told. They’re also liable to change or to becoming dated and, perhaps because of this, they’re both important types of idea in architectural aesthetics. They combine with the visual reality of a building to produce the six effects I’ve described so far but they cannot describe everything.

Kikunae Ikeda is credited with identifying the fifth taste of umami in 1908. He reasoned that a broth made from kombu seaweed wasn’t sweet, sour, bitter, or salty and must therefore be some other type of taste. He called it umami which is Japanese for deliciousness. (The English word savoury is close in meaning.) If Ikeda hadn’t been Japanese, he might have arrived at the same conclusion from thinking about cheese or tomatoes or wine, all of which aren’t sweet, sour, bitter or salty. It wasn’t until 2009 that the umami taste receptors were identified.

In the same way, the two visual realities of SEPARATE and UNITE and the two types of ideas of Separate and Unite don’t describe everything. Using the six aesthetic effects I’ve introduced so far, we can see that these next three buildings all look different from what’s around them and we could also say – at a stretch – that the one that looks like a leaf is in somewhat leafy surroundings, the one that looks like a duck is in what looks like a rural environment, and the one that looks like a pineapple is next to a pineapple field. As such, they would all be examples of EXTRACT with a visible difference countered by a conceptual unity but something else is happening. The building on the left adopts the shape and color of a leaf, the middle one has a colour and shape that suggest a duck, and the one on the right adopts the colour, pattern and shape of a pineapple. Leaves, ducks and pineapples are not buildings. The more a building looks like something that’s not a building, the less we comprehend it as one. In short, part of the identity of these building has been negated. I say part because we’re not fooled. They don’t have the Size of a leaf, duck or pineapple.

You might be thinking “but all these buildings are signs” and indeed they are. I could say that signs are still things aren’t buildings and I’d be right (in the same sense that a leaf, duck or pineapple aren’t buildings) but it’s more useful to keep within the bounds of the framework and say a building can only be a sign if we understand what it is it’s signifying. If we do, then all it means is that some idea of Unite is present to link signifier and signified. It’s nothing special. We understand the building on the left has something to do with “green building”, the one in the middle has something to do with ducks on a farm, and the one on the right is some sort of celebration of pineapples. If we can’t decode the sign, then all we see is a building that looks like something not a building. Even this is subjective for it assumes we know what a building is, and what one should be, or at least look like. This has very important implications but I’ll stop it here for now and come back to it later. For now though,

if (an attribute of) a building looks like (that of) something other than a building, then an idea of Negate is working to negate the identity of the building and make it seem as if it is something other than a building, or at least something other than the building it is.

For the Surface attributes, the tangible reality of NEGATE is perfect camouflage. If you saw this next image somewhere that wasn’t this architecture blog, you wouldn’t think even for a second that it might be a building perfectly camouflaged as a haystack.

For the Placement attributes, any building that actually moves from one position to another isn’t a building, but a building that is moved from one place to another would be a tangible example of Position to NEGATE in that, you might go see it and find it’s not there because it’s now somewhere else. More common are ideas of Negate that imply the potential for movement. [c.f. Motion Sickness]

A completely underground building would be an example of Alignment to Negate. It would be as if the building has not “grown out of the ground” but been absorbed back into it. This happens more often than we think. This next image is of a town whose alignment changed relative to a rising water level. Questions of architectural aesthetics don’t exist, although the town still exists as poetic memory.

I offer Buckminster Fuller’s proposed dome over Manhattan as a tangible example of Size to NEGATE. It would’ve been so large it wouldn’t have been perceived as a building.

Buildings can also be so small as to lose their identity as buildings. A tiny house is just a small house but a miniature building is either a doll’s house or an amusement park attraction. (This suggests that being able to be occupied by people is essential to our notion of what a building is.)

Each of the six attributes thus have a tangible state of NEGATE but of no concern for architectural aesthetics as there’s nothing to see. This statement will hold true until we concede that non-visual dimensions of buildings each have their own aesthetics by which judgments of worth are made. (After all, we speak of an elegant theory or an elegant solution in mathematics.) Until that time comes, a building that looks beautiful may have an ugly carbon footprint and environmental performance, or perhaps exist only for, or only because of, some mechanism of unethical gain.

Yet, buildings that don’t yet exist do have meaning as architectural designs and buildings that once existed do have meaning as memories. But both these instances are outside the scope of this aesthetic framework that deals with MASS as visual reality in the here and now. Both could however be organized into an aesthetic framework for the dimension of TIME. [c.f. Time & Architecture: Part I (NOW and WAS NOW), Time & Architecture: Part 2]. But not yet.

Back. The definitions I provided above for the components of DISGUISE are self-explanatory but one important case they don’t draw attention to is buildings that make us re-think what it is a building can be. These are the buildings that test our assumptions of what a building is, and what one should be, or at least look like. They are the buildings that make us wonder in amazement “Is that really a building?” or exclaim either in joy or disgust “That’s not a building!”. When people talk about “redefining architecture” this is what they mean. They’re referring to attributes – usually Shape – that are like those of no building we’ve either seen before or know of. A building doesn’t have to look like anything else in particular to not look like a building. These are the buildings that, for better or worse, make us re-define what it is a building can be.

Ideas of Negate may be responsible for much trivial architecture but the concept of Ideas of Negate is anything but trivial.


6: DISGUISE

The discussion so far has introduced the concept of an attribute of a building appearing to be that of something else, of not appearing to be what it is. If something makes us think a building is not a building or the building it is, for even for a split second, then it’s an attribute acting to Negate the identity of that building. When ideas of Negate combine with the tangible reality of SEPARATE, then the aesthetic effect is 6: DISGUISE which is what this post is about. When ideas of Negate combine with the tangible reality of UNITE, then the aesthetic effect is 7: MERGE which is what the next post in this series will be about. These two effects are best thought of together. Suppose you want to make your building look like a mountain and you succeed in doing so. The aesthetic effect is 6: DISGUISE if your building looks like a mountain and there are no other mountains around, and the aesthetic effect is 7: MERGE if there are.

Colour to 6: DISGUISE

Here, the colour (of actual grass) is being used to create the impression of a landform in a place where there are no landforms to be seen.

Pattern to 6: DISGUISE

In times of war, buildings are camouflaged to negate their identity as buildings by having the colors and patterns of their surroundings applied to them. This next example was in California but similar examples existed in France during WWII.

Peacetime uses are also researched for buildings people would rather not be seen.

The above are examples Pattern being used to negate the identity of a building in cases where the building is made to look like it surroundings. This is MERGE and will be discussed later. DISGUISE is when a building is made to look like something other than the building it is, and when there is nothing similar around. In this next, a photograph of a different building becomes a wrap intended to make the original building not look like the building it is. It’s an outdoor bar area so there’s nothing wrong with a mildly fantasy experience.

This next is Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s 1972 work, Wrapped Reichstag. The building looks different from anything around it and also has a pattern that isn’t the pattern of a building even though it could conceivably be. Instead of us questioning what a building can be we question what art can be and, for the duration of the installation, the building’s identity was as an artwork.

Shape to 6: DISGUISE

Here’s an example of DISGUISE for the building attribute of Shape. It’s also an example for the two other Surface attributes of Colour and Pattern and this makes it a strong example. [In passing, the position of a building shaped (but not sized) like a duck and in what appears to be a rural surrounding, is an example of EXTRACT.]

We’ve probably all seen this next project that assumes the colour, pattern and some of the shape of a pile of logs.

Position to 6: DISGUISE

You’ll have noticed that examples of DISGUISE tends to have an element of the surreal and this is true of the next examples for Position to DISGUISE. For both examples, when we think, “That is not a building!” we probably suspect they are an artwork, the effect of both of which rests on the incongruity of position. In some sense they’re both still buildings. It’s just that we understand them as artworks. Position to DISGUISE is when a building is not where you expect to find it.

Alignment to 6: DISGUISE

On the left below is what looks like a house with an alignment that’s so out-of-kilter with its surroundings that it can’t possibly be a house. Because it’s impaled itself on an art gallery, we rightly suspect it might be art, or at least a sign for some art. Upside-down houses are standard attractions around the world. They look different yet can still be navigated despite their apparent misalignment.

Buildings that occupy the top of another building as if it were a landform are examples of Position to DISGUISE but, if our attention is drawn to an apparent resetting of ground level then, they’re also examples of Alignment to DISGUISE, such as the MVRDV village or Gehry’s 1981-84 Wosk Residence.

Size to 6: DISGUISE

It’s not as large as Fuller’s NYC dome but Tropical Islands Resort just south of Berlin is the closest we’ve come. There’s not much in the way of a building to be seen, and there’s not much talk of aesthetics either. The whole point is to create a reality not normally found inside a building.


SUMMARY

  • DISGUISE is when a characteristic of a building looks different from what’s around it and misleads us into thinking it doesn’t belong to a building – or at least the building actually there. These ideas negate the identity of a building.*
  • DISGUISE is when an idea of negate is evoked by the visual reality of SEPARATE. The idea of negate makes us momentarily wonder if what we’re looking at is actually a building.
  • Ideas of Negate have the power to challenge our notions of what a building can be.
  • Usually however, DISGUISE is when a building is made to look like a mountain or a tree when there aren’t any mountains or trees around.
  • DISGUISE is surreal difference.

666 66 6: The Beauty of DISGUISE

The Beauty of DISGUISE occurs when the following six tangible conditions for SEPARATE are satisfied, and each attribute also evokes a notional [conceptual, intangible] unity.

SURFACE ATTRIBUTES
Colour

A building’s colour is not seen (to be) in that building’s context.
A building’s colour can be ‘seen’ not to be the colour of a building.
Pattern
A building’s pattern is not seen (to be) in that building’s context.
A building’s pattern can be ‘seen’ not to be the pattern of a building.
SHAPE
A building’s shape is not seen (to be) in that building’s context.
A building’s shape can be ‘seen’ not to be the shape of a building.

PLACEMENT ATTRIBUTES
Position
A building’s position is not seen (to be) with respect to that building’s context.
A building’s position can be ‘seen’ not to be the position of a building.
Alignment
A building’s alignment is not seen (to be) with respect to that building’s context.
A building’s alignment can be ‘seen’ not to be the alignment of a building.

SIZE ATTRIBUTE
Size

A building’s size is not seen (to be) with respect to that building’s context.
A building’s size can be ‘seen’ not to be the size of a building.

This next building has all six attributes working to the same effect and is a good example of The Beauty of DISGUISE. The point of DISGUISE is not to make a building go away but to make its identity as a building disappear. No-one is actually fooled by this building or, if they are, not for long as (even from a photograph) we know that [i.e. education tells us] the building lacks the attribute of motion of a real dinosaur.

I promised you a mountain building when there are no other mountains around and here it is. It’s Thomas Heatherwick’s 1,000 Trees project in Shanghai. All attributes hit the right buttons and definitely negate the identity of the building as a building. It’s as convincing as the dinosaur.

Lastly, tangible NEGATE such as invisibility and such is the result of an excess of unity, but a single built reality such as a dinosaur can evoke ideas of Separate and ideas of Negate at the same time. The big leaf building definitely looked different as well as like something not a building. Interesting effects arise when. the single built reality evokes two different types of ideas but next, we’ll have to talk about MERGE and situations when there are other mountains around.

DISGUISE and the upcoming MERGE bring much of what has previously been thought of as weird and trivial into the same aesthetic framework that will explain the supposedly profound and sublime. Future posts will show how ideas of Negate combine with the two other types of idea to classify (and in doing so, explain) aesthetic phenomena that have hitherto been under-explained or wrongly explained or simply left unexplained.


POSTSCRIPT:

Now we have a concept of Negate, it’s possible to understand what’s happening in this next image. There’s definitely an overabundance of UNITE as all these houses look the same as the one after the one next to it. In much the same way as we can’t talk about the visual aesthetics of the perfect haystack building or the submerged village, with this village we can’t talk about aesthetics of an object in its surroundings if the concept of “surroundings” no longer has any meaning. In this example, the concept of surroundings no longer exists. We cannot talk about the aesthetic suitability of these buildings in their surroundings if we can’t see them. All we can talk about is the suitability, aesthetic or otherwise, of these buildings as a design.

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The buildings in the left of the two examples below can be seen to be part of some semi-rural environment. We will probably conclude that the buildings are appropriate for their time and place but we can’t make similar judgments about the (aesthetics of the) buildings in the image on the right because they have become their own surroundings. We can only speak of them as a design.

The 2007 Draft: Introduction
The 2007 Draft: Derivation
The Architecture of Architectures (2007 ~ )
0: SEPARATE
1: UNITE
2: DETACH
3: ATTACH

4: EXTRACT
5: COMBINE
6: DISGUISE
7: MERGE
8: ALIENATE
9: ASSIMILATE
A: DIFFERENTIATE
B: INTEGRATE
C: JUXTAPOSE
D: CONFLATE
E: DESIGNATE
F: ASSOCIATE
Consistency
Importance
Strength
Emphasis
Beauty
Afterword

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