Appearance

This seminar will focus on architecture’s appearance, on how architecture is rendered both legible and actionable to its audience.

The many labels applied to architecture’s visual bearing illustrate its capriciousness across schools of thought: ‘envelope,’ ‘enclosure,’ ‘façade,’ ‘elevation,’ ‘composition,’ ‘index,’ ‘form,’ ‘representation,’ ‘symbol,’ ‘skin’…the list is long and points in disparate directions.

Appearances proffer architecture’s entry point. What a building looks like operates at the extremes of a building’s physical and metaphysical demands. Regardless of what we may want to do with it, architecture gives us no choice: it will appear. We will see our architectures as objects and we will look beyond their literalities in search of what they might signal. We will see them as exteriors and interiors. We will view them individually and collectively. And we will react to them in ways that are remarkably visceral. Our buildings loom large.

Corrective Lenses

Two corrective lenses, related to each other, will be important to our semester.

Lens One – Appearance and Action:

We will spend the semester discussing architecture’s appearance. With no desire to temper or sidestep that conversation, we will also take up a re-aligned version of Hannah Arendt’s “space of appearance,” in which she poignantly lays out “the various forms in which the public realm can be organized.” This seminar can be thought of as centering on the ‘appearance of space,’ an easy rearrangement of Arendt’s phrase that stays close to her assertion that “the only indispensable material factor in the generation of power is the living together of people.”

Because architecture’s appearance reaches into the very nature of public life, and because both architecture and public life thrive on possibilities more than certainties, we will begin with the view that public life ought to exist because of architecture’s appearance…and never in spite of it.

Lens Two – Parallax:

The second corrective lens, just below, is extracted from a short letter that I recently wrote on beauty. I’m including it here to clarify our starting point and out of fairness to anyone considering taking this seminar (see my note right after this paragraph):

“How we wedge a gap, or lack thereof, between architecture’s superficial and profound natures lies literally/aesthetically/figuratively in the middle of how we constitute beauty. And that’s where so much contemporary flattening is so ungratifying…so less-than beautiful. Much of this recent flattening hovers around notions of ‘image’ and ‘representation,’ terms that have lately acquired a spurious status akin to ‘idea.’ Beauty thrives in the shufflings that come with parallax, wherein the interactions of ‘skin’ and ‘deep’ sweet-talk our reception. And parallax requires depth. Depth of form, program, movement, matter, publicness…depth assembled from architecture’s constituent parts and held together with the glue that oozes from anyone’s engagement with space.”

Behind this excerpt: On some days, not more than occasionally, I am skeptical of architectural postmodernism’s appearance/re-appearance in our discipline. On all other days, I am hostile to it. Anyone interested in this seminar should be aware that we will not take up postmodernism other than establishing a parallel conversation.

‘Appearance’ is intended to advance not only your personal agility in carrying out architecture but also the strength of your actions as they affect public life.