April 09, 2003
Those crumbling shopping centres have mostly now crumbled completely

Rootling around in CoblyCosh.com got me to this, which is a piece about those funny (in both senses – peculiar and ha-ha) American shopping centres which were deliberately designed to look broken, crumbly, tilting, or with curling walls. I loved them when I first saw the pictures. Very post-modern, deconstructivist, blah blah. I never learned the art-speak around these things. I just thought they were a laugh, and that, exactly as intended, they inserted a little cultural fizz into a part of modern life (and a very big part) which is normally considered aesthetically beyond bothering with. (See also this Samizdata piece of mine about the aesthetics of car parks, which was animated by the same ambition.)

Sadly, it seems that these peculiar and ha-ha erections are mostly now no more. The company which commissioned them went bankrupt.

But, what a difference it makes that we still have lots of pictures of them from before they were destroyed.

In his From Bauhaus to Our House, Tom Wolfe wrote derisively about "buildings" which only ever existed as drawings and projects. They never "actually existed", yet architecture critics wrote elaborate essays about them exactly as if they really did exist.

Here is another architectural hybrid: the building which did exist, but only for a brief while, but of which there is an elaborate architectural and pictorial record. One can imagine, for example, the curling wall, being faked up again in another setting, such as a big museum, or being rebuilt as an art gallery.

I don't know all of what this means. One of the many possibilities of blogging rather than only essay-ing, is that you can take half-baked thoughts out of the oven and have a nibble. (Incidentally, note how the word "essay" now means the finished article. Taken literally, the word actually means only an "attempt", like this posting.)

But, one of the things this story means is that here as almost everywhere in art, photography – and record-keeping and recording (and distribution e.g. via the internet of said records) technology generally – has had a profound effect on every aspect of the thing, from the making and pre-publicity for the original creation itself, through to the experience of the final physical object, to the point where we can all still gaze at the photos long after the things themselves have disappeared into the rubble that to begin with they were only pretending artfully to resemble.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:47 PM
Category: Architecture