Architecture Untreated

Philipp Schaerer, Bildbau No. 1, 2007

Architecture is crazy. Not wild or awesome or amazing crazy, but I’m-afraid-to-introduce-you-to-my-mother, you’re-suffering-from-a-diagnosable-disorder crazy. As a discipline architecture has committed itself to engaging all-at-once with three-dimensional reality and two-dimensional abstraction (in varying proportions depending on who you ask). As a result, it has had to simultaneously address two modes of representation that often find themselves at odds with one another. Caught between the second and third dimensions, architecture has carried on a schizophrenic existence that straddles two distinct personae: one obsessed with perspective, volume, and realism; the other with flatness, abstraction, and potential fiction.

Generally it would be socially unacceptable to leave such a condition untreated: antipsychotics would be administered and therapy sessions would follow. And while those personalities that have been classified as disruptive would be suppressed, a sedated life of reduced pleasure, limited sexual appetite, and increased apathy would surely follow.

As far as architecture is concerned, it would be best to leave this disorder untreated: there is too much to lose. Some of the greatest moments in architecture lie in the unexpected dissonances that reverberate between buildings and their representations. These schizophrenic ruptures are most pronounced when the inherent qualities of architecture’s dueling personalities are embraced and left uncompromised. More specifically, architecture is most powerful when the limits and consequent potentials of two-dimensional representation are acknowledged. One thinks of Mies’s collages or Archizoom’s plans of No-Stop City, pieces that exceed the possibilities of literal representation and embody a quality of composition that allows them to stand on their own as easily as they stand as complements to their respective projects.

Flipping through magazines and scrolling through blogs, however, one is confronted with the distinct and unsettling possibility that architecture’s two-dimensional persona has been deemed aberrant. Even more troubling is that architecture seems to be taking its meds and is now integrating itself all too harmoniously into the real world. Qualities of flatness and abstraction in architectural representation have been subdued in favor of the completely underwhelming reality of high-gloss, lens-flared, and didactic rendering. Gone is the schism between reality and representation. What is left is a completely synchronized (albeit muted) personality, obsessed with perspective, lighting effects, and hyper-realism, and thoroughly opposed to misinterpretation, productive or otherwise.

There are glimmers of hope every now and then. In Philipp Schaerer’s Bildbauten series, architecture seems to have accepted its antisocial tendencies and ‘forgotten’ its medication for a couple days. As an exercise in architectural fantasy, the Bildbauten series exists solely in two-dimensions. Though these images are photorealistic in terms of light and materiality, Schaerer makes no attempt to engage perspective. Instead, he accepts the flatness of the medium, a flatness that hums in juxtaposition to the otherwise hyper-real qualities of the renderings. An obsession with the real is still very much present in Schaerer’s work; however, it does not come at the expense of the flat surface. Both are allowed to exist simultaneously, each speaking at once in support of and opposition to the other.

It is refreshing to see architecture arguing with itself, and to be reminded of its schizophrenia. It confirms the suspicion that it should have never gone on meds in the first place.

Alfie Koetter