A few days ago I posted my proposal for the Bustler/Archinect “Michael Jackson Monument” competition: “Becoming Ben”
I have no idea how many entries they received, but they have posted 157 “finalists” online for public voting – for the “people’s choice award.” I believe the winners will be selected by the Jury independent of popular opinion. Nevertheless, please go check out the entries, and please vote on mine if you see fit.
An open question: do the five bays of St. Mark’s facade represent the five domes capping the church?
Is this mosaic asection?
Or is this facade itself a cut-away view of a larger church? A doubled San Marco sitting in the square?
The facade, oddly, is disconnected from the interior spaces (in plan, the facade arcade wraps a more-traditional cross). While the bay structure corresponds to the over grid of the plan, the placement of the half-domes represented on the facade is off. It’s fascinating to imagine that this separation inspired the architects to represent the domes of the church on a flattened plane, turning the main facade into a representation of the building itself:
Michael Jackson lived one of the most extravagant, magnificent, and crafted lives in centuries. What act of design could possibly outshine the combined effect of the star’s own intricate life?
While the music and images Michael left us will seal his cultural immortality, we are still obliged to commemorate him. What is the nature of a monument to Michael Jackson? What single place do we choose to remember a person who touched the globe and had aspirations for the moon?
What is the appropriate scale to remember a man who operated on everything possible – from the studied renovation of his own human form to the creation of an architectural-scale wunderkamer at Neverland Ranch? What design proposal can top his own unrealized plans to construct a 50-foot robotic replica of himself that roams the Las Vegas desert shooting laser beams out of its eyes?
Live Forever challenges you to design a monument to the epic that was Michael Jackson. There are no limits to this open competition. Your monument may be located anywhere you choose and be any scale that you deem appropriate.
An intriguing competition, for sure, but I hadn’t really planned on submitting anything, and the deadline was August 22nd. This afternoon, when I saw that the deadline had been extended by a few days, I decided to whip this up. Though it is sort of a joke, I think there are some interesting points to be made about philosophy, architecture, celebrity, and monumentality. (And apologies to be made to Katharina Fritsch, for the rat.)
A few years ago, I was reading Deleuze & Guattari‘s 1000 Plateaus, and was struck by a passage* focusing on Willard, a 1971 horror film about a young boy who befriends a colony of rats, becoming more rat-like through the interaction. The philosophers use the plot to illustrate their concept of “becoming.” In their work, the dynamic concept of “becoming” takes the place of a static identity, as they prefer loose definitions that rely on context and process rather than an appeal to some ideal. In Willard, the frightening aspect of the film is not the killer rats themselves, but the boy – Willard – who through his actions becomes one of them, and instructs them to kill….
The film was apparently successful enough to inspire a sequel the following year, Ben, with the main rat-antagonist of the first film in the eponymous role. Paralleling the first film, a young boy, a social outcast, befriends the rats – but here their roles are reversed: the rat Ben undergoes a becoming-human, contrasting Willard’s becoming-rat in the first film.
Though neither film is great (I recommend watching the 2003 remake, starring Crispin Glover), this philosophically-rich territory becomes infinitely more interesting when you consider that Ben marks the starting point of Michael Jackson’s solo career.
The theme song to Ben (video) was Michael Jackson’s first hit as a solo artist. When considered alongside the plot of the film and D&G’s interpretation, it could be seen as prophesy: mystically imbuing Jackson with the goal of continual transformation: the dynamic becoming that would characterize his life and career.
It believe there must have been some subconscious force at work. Even before Jackson’s most dramatic formal metamorphoses, his work dealt explicitly with morphosis: no need here to launch into a description of Thriller‘s werewolves and zombies or Black or White‘s still-impressive morphing fx: both indicate at least a passing interest in transformation.
(And let’s just ignore “Black or White”‘s pre-chorus progression that – in 1991 – echos Duran Duran’s 1982 hit “Hungry Like The Wolf”- yet another reference to Deleuzian becoming…)
With all this in mind, I feel that the proposal above is the most appropriate way to memorialize the King of Pop. The form of the rat is a reference to his first hit, and to a philosophic subtext that explains his continuous transformation, corroborated by evidence in his own songs. The placement is a not-so-subtle reference to his famous dance move, but it also allows the monument to make a statement about celebrity: though always visible, the monument is also isolated, and this distance reduces the monumentality of the object to a mere speck perceptually. The contrast between real and perceived scale reminds us of the disconnect celebrities must feel as they are over-exposed and cut off from the world simultaneously. Finally, in our view from Earth, Jackson finds his rightful place: eternally among the stars.
At the risk of being overly reductive, we can identify two trends in the early work of Herzog & de Meuron. Their projects were driven either by forces on site, or by the simple application of graphics.
[Schwitter Apartment Building (1985-88), Herzog & de Meuron]
In their Plywood House, the building’s plan deflects to accommodate an existing tree. In the Schwitter Apartment Building, the plan follows the curve of the road.
[Architektur Denkform, 1988]
In their Architektur Denkform exhibit of 1988, images of their projects are printed on transparent sheets and mounted to the exterior windows of the gallery. In their Greek Orthodox Church project of the following year, images of icons are reproduced using a halftone screen, enlarged to massive scale, and transformed into abstract patterns, only visible as icons from a great distance, or in the scale model. In the Eberswalde Library the form is purposefully minimal: the “dumb box” allows the façade imagery to take center stage.
In their later work, these two lines of investigation begin to overlap in highly productive ways. At the Cottbus University Library, the architects’ use of graphics begins to merge with their site-driven formalism.
[Cottbus University Library]
Though the amorphous Cottbus design is ostensibly derived from existing footpaths on the site and the relationship to nearby campus buildings, the formal affinity with a halftone screen is undeniable: it’s as if the plan was derived from several dots in a newspaper photo, expanded to the size of a building.
[Cottbus University Library]
The amoeboid form denies an easy reading of entrance. Sited atop an artificial hill, from certain vantages the library appears impenetrable, a fortress. Under overcast skies, however, the milky white façade blends with the clouds. The building occupies an ambiguous realm between monumentality and invisibility.
[Cottbus University Library]
Approaching the library, the abstract patterning of the façade reveals itself to be a matrix of superimposed characters from the world’s alphabets. Herzog & de Meuron’s use of text on glass facades can be traced back to their SUVA Haus (1993), in which an existing office building was encased in a new glass skin, screen printed with small lines of text repeating the name of the company ad infinitum. From a distance, the text becomes indistinct and lends the glass façade a subtle white tinge. At close range, the letters are clear, and brand of the building, like a watermark. At Cottbus this is reversed. The text is only perceived as text from a medium distance, and since these overlaid glyphs have no content and form no coherent words, the letters serve as a generalized representation of the literature stored within. At close range, the letters dissolve into abstract halftone patterns: a field of white dots. The architects maintain that the density of this dot pattern is varied to account for solar gain.
This façade thus serves multiple functions: from a distance, the homogeneity of the pattern reinforces the monumentality and import of the library as a cultural institution and denies an easy reading of scale, as the façade makes no concessions to the floor levels within; at medium range it acts as a signifier of the library’s physical content, and from close range the abstract pattern is modulated to satisfy environmental requirements. Though complex and nuanced, the façade design remains at the perimeter. The section reveals the building envelope as a double-skin curtain wall: typical construction in today’s Germany. Like Eberswalde, the façade does not influence the interior organization.
The floor plans of Herzog & de Meuron’s Cottbus University Library are fairly banal. Though the amoeboid form contains organelles (elevator cores, spiral stairs, information desks), the layout of the book stacks and reading rooms are orthogonal: typical library organization. Without proposing a radical rethinking of this standard arrangement, Herzog & de Meuron are nonetheless able to enhance it through the use of large-scale graphics. Using the pure colors of a TV test pattern, the architects inscribe a secondary organizational system on the book stacks, as an aid for orientation. The library’s function is enhanced through the imposition of this arbitrary image of colored bands. This wayfinding device is especially useful given the amorphous form of the plan and the indifference of the façade to the library’s internal organization.
At Cottbus this separation is useful as it helps to advance a theory on the role of the library in contemporary culture. Despite technological advances, the library remains a repository for physical books. The TV test pattern represents “new media”, but is itself outdated, a remnant of the days before the 24-hour news cycle and on-demand streaming. The image is still architecturally useful, but its original function is no longer relevant. Consigned to history and embedded in the edifice, the medium of television may be simply a prologue to the era of internet video, but books will not be supplanted.
As any Vonnegut fan knows, Dresden was almost completely destroyed during World War II. The current cityscape is largely the result of post-war reconstruction by the East German government, who we have to thank for Gottfried Semper’s Opera, and Der Zwinger, and the majority of Dresden’s picturesque medieval fabric… but not every historic building was reconstructed so quickly: Dresden’s Frauenkirche had to wait until 2005 for its reconsecration.
Standing as a ruin for decades, the remains of the church were eventually collected and cataloged, and reconstruction began using as much of the original material as possible. Where the walls were still standing, they remained. Where stones were lost they were replaced, but those that retained some structural integrity were used in the reconstruction.
The result is a brilliant approach to restoration. Using the original stones where possible, the reconstruction does not deny history. The charred stones are an index of its destruction. By rebuilding the church’s form faithfully, the pious (and historicist) are placated. The resulting pixelated facade is shockingly contemporary.
I can appreciate the appeal of reconstruction – what stood as a ruin for decades is now once again a functioning church, and an anchor in a pleasant urban plaza.
Another approach is demonstrated by architects Wandel-Hoefer & Lorch, whose New Synagogue stands on the site of Gottfried Semper’s Synagogue, destroyed during Kristallnacht. Rather than reconstructing the lost building, they’ve created a new public plaza on the site, with a thin metal wire embedded in the pavement, indicating the extents of the original building, and a fragment of the original wall incorporated in the new…
Though these examples are highly charged, I think it’s important for practicing architects to be cognizant of the “use and abuse of history” for architecture. As our planet’s natural resources diminish, the availability and appeal of “tabula rasa” sites will diminish as well. Studying approaches to restoration, rehabilitation, and renovation may soon become very important for aspiring architects like myself….