Hyperreality Adam Richards 11/05/09 19.08
Speculations on the next cultural paradigm
The universally accepted demise of the '1950s concrete monolith', exemplified by the Park Hill Estate in Sheffield, and subsequent renovation (or lack of - covered in a recent BBC Two documentary) provoked me to consider what the future holds in terms of paradigms of 'style' for architecture.
I feel it would be disingenuous not to reveal my best guess on what the future holds - considering my only enjoyment of Modernism is the irony I enjoy through hindsight. But to put my thoughts in context, I need you to entertain the idea that Post-modernism should only be used as an umbrella term to describe an „ethos‟ and not relate to „aesthetics‟ of buildings, because in fact the current condition of Post-modernism only serves to surppress various paradigms which have failed to emerge with significant might to overthrow the Modern architecture that is ubiquitous across the globe.
The problem with Modern architecture, (amongst many other things) is its inability to address social problems through design. This is most noticeable during its early years in the USA where corporate capitalist might and the perceived utopia that it developed was seen as a means to create a complete society - but is equally evident in the european socialist utopias - which aimed to construct the solution to social problems around the idea that society was becoming more equal.
In reality, society was becoming more polarised and stigma became attached to the physical form of these buildings as representing one side of that divide.
Unsurprisingly a desire for a lifestyle free from the sterile, elitist context arose, manifesting itself in places like Las Vegas and Disneyland, and the subsequent rise of Pop Art and work by the Ant Farm collective in particular provided a deeper critique of the Modernist hegemony.
The dilemma of many modernist buildings (Park Hill included) is the perfect illustration of a society whose cartographers have created a map so detailed that it covers the very things it was designed to represent (both literally and metaphorically). When the empire inevitably declines, the map fades into the landscape and there is neither the representation nor the real remaining- just the hyperreal.
Hyperreality tricks consciousness into detaching from any real emotional engagement, instead opting for artificial simulation. Instead, emotional stimulation is found through simulation and imitation of a transient simulacrum of reality, rather than interaction with any „real‟ reality.
Pornography, Dubai, online games, virtual reality and McDonalds are all synonymous with modern life; but more influential than these is the role of media in creating the hyperreal. Such as the promotion of the facts and version of events in the recent Israel Gaza war, reality TV and the disgusting endorsement of a desire for lives which cannot be (such as the perfect facsimile of a celebrity's invented persona).
Osama bin Laden, a man whose continued existence is pretty much irrelevant, as long as his simulacrum (a combination of blurry photos and wonky videos) exists within the media - he does his job, both for his supporters and his opponents, as hero and villain. Even al-Qaida itself only "exists" as a loose notion of shared values, rather than a cohesive organisation. It comes into being because individuals and groups act in its name; and because we (via our political representatives and the media) also attribute those actions to it. The representation is bigger and brighter than the reality, although looking for the links between the two are futile.
9/11 - 11 / 28
So, to highlight my ideas (with more dramatic effect than accuracy): Modernism died on September 11th 2001 when the iconic Twin Towers were destroyed.
Not to be outdone on any Post-modern fun George Bush appeared in Iraq in November 2003, bearing a Thanksgiving turkey. The turkey was intended to represent the peace and prosperity that the coalition forces had brought to Iraq, thus offering a perfect simulacrum- a hyperreal symbol for something that doesn't exist. To add to the irony of the situation the turkey was also fake.
Modern architecture has passed up, down and through many aesthetic and economic hoops far more successfully than any alternative- mainly due to its ethos rather than for any aesthetic reason. We can hope though that there may well be a return in the short-term, up to a point - in public architecture and design. Indeed, government investment in building might even be necessary to help kick-start the economy in the months ahead. Schools, colleges and hospitals would require architects to think outside of the "iconic" box. Commercial skyscrapers and big-name museums and galleries have been flashy in recent years to draw maximum attention to themselves and to their promoters. This wouldn't be necessary, or even desirable, in the case of public buildings.
The hyperreal in contrast, ignorant to sign exchange value and devoid of context, proposes a very serious response to the tabula rasa of Modernism.
Maybe a new modesty will emerge for a while. However you only have to look at all the bright colours, visual jokes, architectural puns, allusions, elisions and illusions of the Park Hill redevelopment to realise that the chances of a paradigm manifesting in a physical form is very unlikely and this redevelopment definitely won‟t be the catalyst.
Although providing an interesting visual parody of the organisations involved, it definitely doesn‟t showcase an example of architects succumbing to power and greed anytime soon.
Hopefully, akin to Jean Baudrillard, who once wrote “Dying is pointless” and, “You have to know how to disappear.” We just haven‟t noticed Modernism has gone.
Bring on the Hyperreal.
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