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historic monumentality

In the past, Monuments were used to perpetuate a singular truth. This “truth” often would be presented by a hierarchical power like religion or state. Monuments were sources of their information to promote a specific agenda. This informational strategy can be seen as an act of survival. By gathering people and using architectural strategies to perpetuate their singular, unyielding truth, they reinforce their ability to continue. The cultural powers are embedded in the monuments. Architectural symbolism or spatial cues help to physicalize their ideas. The extreme proportion of space compared to the human body in a catholic church (monuments to religion) are used to convey omnipotent power. 

MONUMENTS EDIFIED STRENGTH AND POWER

LOSS OF THE GRAND NARRATIVE

In 1937, American Philosopher Lewis Mumford declared the “death of the monument.” He thought the concept of monumentalism had no use in modern society. He believed that monuments “stifle the possibilities of adaptation, movement and effective improvement.” He is suggesting that monuments are too solid and if used in our situation, possibly restrict development of the future. The time we are living in, is fundamentally different than the age where historical monuments were useful. He notes that humanity is no longer primarily concerned with mortality. “Instead of being oriented toward death and fixity, we are oriented toward life and change.” Mere existence is no longer a problem of humanity. We accept change and strive for “life.” Technology and globalization have already projected society into the future. 

 

Anthony Gidden in his book, The Consequences of Modernity gives three main sources for the “dynamism of modernity”: the separation of time and space, the development of disembedding mechanisms, and the reflexive appropriation of knowledge. The way society today understands time, power, and knowledge has evolved. “The reflexive appropriation of knowledge, which is intrinsically energizing but also necessarily unstable, extends to incorporate massive spans of time-space. The disembedding mechanisms provide the means of this extension by lifting social relations cut of their “situatedness” in specific locales.” Knowledge is infinitely more accessible to most. Historic, systemic hierarchies, if not broken down, are at least revealed with modernity. Therefore, there is also an increase of individualization as a general consequence of modernity. A plurality of bottom-up ideas disrupts power hierarchies. This process begins roughly with the invention of the printing press, and is famously analogized by Victor Hugo in his book Notre Dame de Paris (aka The Hunchback of Notre Dame). The character of the archdeacon grimly suggests that the printed book will undermine the authority of the church and state, as embodied in the monumentality of the cathedral; first pointing to the book, and then to Notre Dame cathedral, he proclaims: “This will kill that.” Essentially, the accessibility knowledge will destroy the singular power of the church. Even if religion continues, there is not a need for a common physical source of information. Modernity would suggest that physical monuments are not needed as a source of information.   

SOCIETY NO LONGER NEEDS MONUMENTS AS CONVEYERS OF  TOP-DOWN INFORMATION

monument as memorial

The one of the most common types of monumentality is the memorial: an object to commemorate the impact of something, most often the death of people. Historically, these often appear as realistic sculptures that resemble the human forms to whom they were dedicated. Sculptural monuments link a human story to non-human materials. The continuation of their physical body edifies the person’s impact on the world. These may have been productive in a pre-photography age. Simply seeing the person’s likeness, may have effectively linked the viewer to the story of the person. However, in a contemporary society just the reproduction of a person’s physical forms may not achieve the gravitas that some believe that memorials can have.  

One of the first times that a spatial experience was prioritized over human form in a monument was Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Instead of a sculpture of anonymous heroic soldiers going into battle (as most war memorials have often done) Lin sought to connect the world of the dead to the living. As it is built now, visitors ascend slowly down a slope along a ‘V’ shaped cut in the ground. Where the ground is sliced, visitors are confronted with a reflective black surface with over 58,000 names inscribed into it: a list of the dead, presented in chronological order of death. In 2000, she reflected on some of the experiential goals she had for the memorial. “It would be an interface, between our world and the quieter, darker, more peaceful world beyond. I chose black granite in order to make the surface reflective and peaceful. I never looked at the memorial as a wall, an object, but as an edge to the earth, an opened side. The mirrored effect would double the size of the park, creating two worlds, one we are a part of and one we cannot enter.” Viewers are supposed to recognize death in order to come to peace with losses of the war. The monument is presented them as an opposition to their own world: slicing into the ground and processing along the reflective surface that mirrored the world of the living. This kind of experiential approach to a memorial was novel to most viewers. Experiencing this monument offers more than a didactic visual cue like human forms. It asked the viewer to analyze, reflect, even search for the names of loved ones.  

LINCOLN MEMORIAL RELIES ON IMITATING HUMAN FORM

VIETNAM MEMORIAL IS AN INTERFACE BETWEEN THE LIVING AND DEAD 

the multitude_MICHEAL HARDT AND ANTONIO NEGRI

Another part of modernity, as hinted to previously, is the rejection of the antiquated term, “public.” Historic monuments, perhaps, spoke generally, to subvert a wide audience to best achieve the power’s goal. However, now it is accepted that reducing an entire population to a homogeneous “public” may be reductive. A visitor to a monument brings with them individualized preconceptions that alter their experience. This individualized reality should not be ignored.       

In Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri express this sentiment. They contrast the singular, antiquated idea of “the people” with their idea of “the multitude.” “The multitude is composed of innumerable internal differences that can never be reduced to a unity or a single identity- different cultures, races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations; different forms of labor; different ways of living; different views of the world; and different desires. The multitude is a multiplicity of all these singular differences.” There are too many unique qualities of a person to compile all humans together. Individual idiosyncrasies are valid and important. That being said, there is often a degree of commonality as well. This allows groups of people to cohere into a social body. Most likely one’s subjectivity is enacted across a spectrum from individual idiosyncrasy to completely shared commonality. In tribal conditions, it could be presumed that coherence was necessary for the tribe’s survival. Now, modernity has allowed for a condition where one’s identity as an individual is dominant, even though it has not eliminated our subjectivity as a member of a society. So overall, as time has progressed, one’s subjectivity has shifted to prioritize individual over one’s identity as member of society. However, there are points in western history when group identity has trumped individual identity. During times of crisis (war, economic hardship, etc.), the idea of “the common good” resurfaces to hold sway over individual desires. The two World Wars, Great Depression, and Cold War have masked this trend during the first part of the 20th century. Crises bring people together. If “America” is fighting a war; that is the common denominator of identity.

WARTIME REDUCES ' THE PUBLIC'S' COMMONALITIES TO A NATIONAL IDENTITY

cuboid ballon_ junya ishigami

There have been many installations or architectures that resist formal comprehension or ask the viewer to question their perceptions. The Cuboid Balloon by Junya Ishigami, constructed in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, plays with the viewers perceptual experience. A giant, reflective ballon floats effortlessly in the gallery space. There are videos of people touching the gigantic balloon like it’s a child’s toy tapping it around the room. In reality, the substructure of the balloon weighs over a ton and the balloon is filled with helium so that it achieves an equilibrium in the shared space with humans. There is a duality in its weight physical weight, but also its visual appearance. The balloon appears to be a solid, chrome mass. Yet, it is floating effortlessly right above you. In reality, the ‘mass’ is primarily empty. This special effect promotes a feeling of wonder. The impossibility in its construction and perceptual disconnect are issues that can be applied to this thesis. However, most visitors without the added information about how the balloon is constructed, most likely leave just in awe. Awe and wonder are valuable. However, it would be interesting that if at some points, instead of the chrome finish there was a clear film to peer into the mass. So that at some vantage points or with certain movements of the balloon, the viewer could be able to experience this other ‘reality’ of the mass: an empty, dark, skeleton-like, and heavy object directly above them. The Cuboid Balloon is interesting because the aesthetic distance of the special effect is very far. Producing an impactful effect. However, conflicting perceptions could produce the desired self-questioning.  

MONOLITHIC APPEARING OBJECT IS HOLLOW 

2 TON BALLON APPEARS WEIGHTLESS

ARCHITECTURAL TECHNIQUES

FACADE THAT ALTERS PERCEPTION OVER TIME

Kukje Art Center by SO-IL utilizes a stainless steel mesh to blend objects- sometimes appearing solid

Ned Kahn's finetic facades provide a temporal reality to the way a surface appears

REVEALS WITH PROXIMITY

“That’s no moon, it’s a space station.”  From Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope.

Sylvia Lavin in "Kissing Architecture" discusses how Pipilotti Rist's Exibit, Pour Your Body Out, kisses the existing architecture around it

BLENDING OF PROGRAMATIC SPACE

Contrasty, Piranesi’s Imaginary Prisons shows multiplicity  through multi-perspective scenes 

DECONSTRUCTION OF THE ONE-POINT PERSPECTIVE

School of Athens, an Italian fresco at the Vatican by Raphael, is painted in a strong one-point perspective to show strength and balance

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