I’m in New York again with oddly restless toes, watching deep rimmed fixie bikes transport bare-ankled, bespectacled New Yorkers down Franklin Avenue. I came here for Makerfaire and OHSummit amongst other things and I will leave shortly for Eindhoven via Boston and London.

I’ve been walking Manhattan, Williamsburg and Brooklyn, exploring old haunts, remembering the city differently this time and wondering at the creeping corporatisation of public spaces, at which I point to this article in the New Yorker. In line with this thought process I visited MoMA Exhibition ‘9+1 ways of being political’ an examination of the political potential of architecture.

Suggesting that the 9+1 include; radical stances, fiction and dystopia, deconstruction, consuming brandscapes, performing public spaces, iconoclasm and institutional critique, enacting transparency, occupying social borders, interrogating shelter and politics of the domestic: 9+1 Ways of Being Political: 50 Years of Political Stances in Architecture and Urban Design, curated by Pedro Gadanho with Margot Weller presents a thoughtful exhibition.

Performing spaces explored public and private spaces and the tensions within referencing the works of Emilio Ambasz and Will Alsop. While iconoclasm and institutional critique explored rule breaking architectural strategies through the work of Hans Hollein in the 1960s and Diller Scofidio in the 1980s. Enacting transparency explored known architectural tropes of democratic ideals and the alternative ideological reality nearing the panopticon and associated control.

Occupying social borders looked at work that sought custom responses to individual social and political situations. Interrogating Shelter examined work by Marjetica Potrc, Michael Rakowitz, Gaetano Pesce, Ant Farm and Peter Eisenman. Finally politics of the domestic examined Ikea Disobedients and presented a performance by Andrés Jaque questioning the construction of home and place, normative structures, politics and disobedients.

Radical Stances explored neo-avant-garde movements that criticised modernist functionalist responses to World War II. While fiction and dystopia acknowledged idealism and utopian failure stances evidenced in the work of Superstudio, Rem Koolhaas and Bernard Tschumi. Deconstruction explored deconstruction as a form of rebellion against the established norm.

Perhaps most interesting was the idea of consuming brandscapes considering how architecture practice is influenced by branding culture, resulting (perhaps) in emergent market driven architecture. Where I have been exploring the notion of brand and identity in on-demand, custom manufacturing models, I’ve also been exploring similar concepts in science fiction and architecture. The Mere Future by Sarah Schulman – a future where a president figure bans all franchises and all publically visible branding reflects on a post-corporate/branded space.

‘Starbucks became a Euphemism for Tyrannosaurus rex. Consistency was no longer considered desirable, infact it became icky and weird… It was spectacular. We all had homes. We all had commerce that resembled the strangeness of our individual organisms.’

In this science fictional landscape the author contrasts thoughts of highly differentiated and humananised public landscapes with homogenised, corporate portals remaining on the internet. Suggesting that the homogeny of a corporate landscape rendered New Yorkers confused, depressed and lost but that with the shift to individualism a realisation that consistency and familiarity where ‘the most comforting of all’ emerged and this was to be found in the still heavily branded and familiar internets. (eh?)

We observe then, tensions between comfort of familiarity and the confusion and alienation of sameness and repetition. But when spaces, specifically public or private spaces give naming rights to corporations as the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn or Times Square surely this raises questions over civic-corporate boundaries.

São Paulo is  a contemporary example of a city where advertsing was heavily regulated and virtually banned and we subsequently observed citizens of the city speak of a change in language of the city. Unveiling of social problems previously hidden by advertising banners and a shift to colour signalling instead of advertising.

So where advertising pervades our social and civic landscape as well as our traditional cultures we subtly change the language of the city facilitating the emergence of a cultural consciousness penetrated by consumerism.  With globalisation this is increasingly a globally understood language, Barclays, American Airlines, The Times, we all know these corpwhales… and in all of this I am disappointed and confused.


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