I Want to Be #Superordinary
It’s happened again. This time in the shape of an aerial fitted in full accordance with the logic of telecommunications but completely contrary to the tenets of architectural composition to which so many of us continue automatically to adhere. But why does such an image upset us so much? I’d better warn you now, this text contains more questions than answers.
Many of us architects have been exalting ordinariness, in its different interpretations (routine, banality, spontaneity, “what’s there”), for decades. See, for example, the writings of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Rem Koolhaas, the Smithsons… many of which Enrique Walker brought together in a book of that same name in 2010. However, in many of those historical cases and in other, more recent, examples in Spanish architecture the concept of ordinariness has been unilaterally – and somewhat snobbishly – hijacked. Today, ordinariness, understood as the everyday manifestation of society in all its different facets, has become a habitual feature of certain widely recognised discourses put forth by one sector of architectural critique. But is there really anything ordinary about these architectural products? When Archigram (I want to avoid examples closer to home) made its collages with images of popular culture, little of that culture remained in the final work: the architect’s own subjectivity practically overshadowed that of the hypothetical user. The end products were highly sophisticated and accessible only to an architecturally literate public. Products based on the ordinary were, and today continue to be, praised effusively in exhibition rooms and specialised publications very far removed from their origins.
So can we still talk about ordinariness in architecture?
At the same time, and – it must be said – in a broader, more inclusive environment, Google Images and Pinterest now empower potential customers by allowing them to express their deepest desires through images. The wonderful world of images, a world until recently circumscribed to experts, has been democratised. As Jelena Prokopljevic pointed out in her article, by supplying “a series of images and concepts with which a social group can identify” these platforms may be activating a new ideology. Little by little, they’re becoming instruments of communication between architects and “the others”. Or, in other words, they’re becoming vehicles for the institution of ordinariness as a great paradigm. The aerial is an eyesore, but now we get just as upset about the colour of walls, or the inclusion of a bedside table, or opaque flowery curtains covering up a beautiful corner window. The situation inevitably brings to mind Mies van der Rohe’s ticking off of Philip Johnson in his Glass House: so much effort to get rid of the corner pillar, and all for this… This is where the controversy begins. Should we bring in a lorryload of “appropriate” furniture for the photo session? If a piece of architecture is good, to what extent can it survive contact with ordinary subjectivity? Or rather, shouldn’t architecture be capable of uninhibitedly accommodating the decisions of its dwellers? What would happen if we ignored the standards imposed by certain architecture magazines and critics and showed the “reality” of our architecture as compared with true ordinariness? Perhaps, as Carlos Santamarina-Macho says, it is these “convention breakers (…) which turn any simple, monotonous dwelling into a unique, personal home.”
We’ll soon find out. In the meantime, I’m in the process of assimilating the idea.
I want to be #Superordinary.