“beyond a certain scale, architecture acquires the properties of bigness. the best reason to broach bigness is the one given by climbers of mount everest: ‘because its there’. bigness is ultimate architecture. it seems incredible that the size of a building alone embodies an ideological program, independent of the will of its architects.” – rem koolhaas [1]

05/08/2011 § 3 Comments

bela tarr, werckmeister harmonies (2000)

 

laszlo krasznahorkai writes long sentences.  george szirtes, the translator of krasznahorkai’s the melancholy of resistance, once described his prose as “a slow lava-flow of narrative, a vast black river of type. [2]”  this style of prose, found in many hungarian authors [3], makes it easy to lose yourself as linear thoughts begin to inflect or the point of departure is a faint memory and the end is nowhere to be seen.  unless i am completely devoted and sharply focused, i’ll forget where i began and back track in order to make more sense of the what i’ve just read.

it’s no surprise then that this story when translated into film, would also employ bigness.  bela tarr is known for unending camera shots.  his film santantango is infamous for being seven hours long.  in the werkmeister harmonies, based on the melancholy of resistance, bela’s shots run for up to an entire roll of black and white 8 mm without a cut (somewhere between 8 and 11 minutes, i can’t remember).  this is not an easy feat to complete as beautifully as he does.

a similarly strenuous undertaking must have occurred when a group of photographers comprising part of the legacy project transformed the el toro marine air station into a gigantic pin-hole camera (via greg.org).  the comically huge photograph captured the sprawling orange county skyline, which in and of itself is part of a massive metropolitan area.  bigness is visible everywhere.

what’s interesting is laszlo krasznahorkai’s literature is still considered literature.  bela tarr’s films are still thought of as works of cinema.  and the great picture have still created a piece of art, despite its massive size.


bela tarr, stills from werkmeister harmonies (2000)

the legacy project, the great photograph (2006)

 

i only mention this because several prominent architectural historians/practitioners believe that architecture is architecture only up to a point.  manfredo tarfuri makes a claim that skyscrapers aren’t architecture, but rather “an instrument – and no longer an ‘expression’ – of economic policy. [4]”  tarfuri would rather speak of skyscrapers as economics than as a piece of composed design.  on the opposite side of the spectrum,  rem koolhaas declares that:

bigness recognizes that architecture as we know it is in difficulty, but it does not overcompensate through regurgitations of even more architecture.  it proposes a new economy in which no longer ‘all is architecture’, but in which a strategic position is regained through retreat and concentration, yielding the rest of a contested territory to enemy forces. [5]

in effect, you can biggie size a lot of things, but not architecture.  suddenly this dwarf star becomes something entirely different, a planet.  koolhaas and tarfuri seem to be arguing that there is something too spectacular or to economic about a huge structure, which thrusts it outside of realm of architecture.  the moment it becomes a lava flow of circulation or a black river of structure, a building transforms into something beyond architecture.

 

rem koolhaas, cctv tower

 

ultimately i’m not sure if i buy into these narrow visions of what constitutes architecture.  gianni pettena once described architecture in an appealing way – someone is an architect and creates architecture “because they speak of architecture and they are such legally. [6]

 

hello weekend

a young hare

 

 

notes:

[1]     this posts title comes from “rem koolhaas, bigness: or the problem of large” found in: Jencks, Charles, and Karl Kropf. Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture. Chichester: Wiley Academy, 2006. Print.

[2]     Wood, James. “Madness and Civiliazation: The Very Strange Fictions of Laszlo Krasznahorkai.” The New Yorker July 4 (2011): 71-75. Print.

[3]     i would recommend imre kertesz and peter nadas’ novels.

[4]     Hatherly, Owen. “High Times: Owen Hatherly on Renzo Piano’s Shard.” ArtForum International Summer (2011): 133-34. Print.

[5]     ibid

[6]     Pettena, Gianni. “from ‘lanarchitetto’.” Gianni Pettena. Ed. Dario Cimorelli. Cinisello Balsamo (Milano): Silvana Editoriale, 2003. Print.

§ 3 Responses to “beyond a certain scale, architecture acquires the properties of bigness. the best reason to broach bigness is the one given by climbers of mount everest: ‘because its there’. bigness is ultimate architecture. it seems incredible that the size of a building alone embodies an ideological program, independent of the will of its architects.” – rem koolhaas [1]

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You are currently reading “beyond a certain scale, architecture acquires the properties of bigness. the best reason to broach bigness is the one given by climbers of mount everest: ‘because its there’. bigness is ultimate architecture. it seems incredible that the size of a building alone embodies an ideological program, independent of the will of its architects.” – rem koolhaas [1] at a young hare.

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