Sunday, October 16, 2011

Materialism, Realism, Hadidism

["Completed for the northern terminal of the city’s B tramline, our concept utilizes overlapping fields:  echoing the energetic movement of cars, trams, bicycles and pedestrians; fusing together to form a constantly shifting but clearly delineated whole.  In the car park, floor marks and light delineate a ‘magnetic field’.” – text from ZHA website]

[“Completed for the big box shed of Charlottesville, Virginia's Pantops Shopping center, our concept utilizes comingling fields echoing the confluence of hydrological systems of the Appalachian foothills comingling with the Rivanna River as well as the markings of cows that dot the hillsides, stupidly chewing on fescue to form an amorphous yet specific region clearly legible from outer space. The result is the creation of a ‘magnetic field’ at least as attractive as the Starbucks anchoring the eastern end of the shopping shed.” – text made up on the spot after two sazeracs.]

Panning around on Google Earth one is likely to discover novel perspectives on infrastructural networks and massive environmental construction projects.  There are also bizarre delights like the one above which is all the more striking for its aerial resemblance to the early and much-published Hoenheim-Nord project by Zaha Hadid Architects.  These are the types of projects which begs the response:

If that is the answer, what the hell was the question?

In the case of the ZHA project the question is almost certainly "How can we make every building project look like one of Zaha's paintings from the 70's?"  While not without merit (that's right, it must be softened with a double negative- it's that lame), this idealist approach produces results which elicit the following response, "No, no, I get it...  (head shaking) That's some stupid shit."  In the case of Hoenheim, it looks cool and cheeky and you can take a rad aerial photo of it, but then all of those criteria are easily satisfied by the roof on the Pantops shopping center.

A general characteristic of landscape/architectural practice is the receiving of problems-as-stated, which are then critiqued and solved according to very sophisticated formal, technological, and sociological methods.  Unfortunately, we deploy those methods to investigate the wrong problem and end up with situations that are wildly inappropriate, or "stupid shit".  Gilles Deleuze offers some insight into this tendency and the nature of problems:

We are led to believe that problems are given ready-made, and that they disappear in the responses or the solution. Already, under this double aspect, they can be no more than phantoms. We are led to believe that the activity of thinking, along with truth and falsehood in relation to that activity, begins only with the search for solutions, that both of these concern only solutions...  A solution always has the truth it deserves according to the problem to which it is a response, and the problem always has the solution it deserves in proportion to its own truth or falsity - in other words, in proportion to its sense...  'solvability' must depend upon an internal characteristic: it must be determined by the conditions of the problem, engendered in and by the problem along with the real solutions.  (Difference and Repetition, p 158)

By moving away from idealist methodologies and the over-reliance on abstraction and critique just a bit, and toward materialist and realist methods, the practice of landscape might recover and reclaim surprising directions and insights through cross pollination and experimentation.


  1. Ha. I kind of like that Hadid project, but in the same way I like the Pantops shopping center. My problem is that they and their apologists bill it as something conceptually sophisticated and significant, which it's not.