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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Absurdity, Sex, and Architecture

Our judgment of what is good or what is acceptable is widely based on what we see in the day to day as well as our own boundaries of what is exciting or simply ridiculous.  There is a degree of absurdity that makes something really interesting and exciting- that little rub of inconsistency and obscurity.   It is that little inconsistency of mystery or absurdity that sparks our interest as critics of the everyday.  In this sense, architecture is like sex.  Both seek to push boundaries in able to reach new heights of understanding.  This is portrayed and evaluated in parallel formats as we’ve seen by Rem Koolhaas, Sophia Coppola, Paulo Coelho and Godard’s own analysis.

Rem Koolhaas writes of this relationship in SMLXL.  He sites Japanese porn as this instance where it is more exciting to have the most essentials parts hidden from view.  In many Japanese pornographies the essentials are blurred out and left a mystery, revealing nothing but pixilation.  Rem relates his pixilation to miniature Mondrian paintings of flesh colored squares and dark lines.   These vague lines and color blocks reveal nothing and everything  because the excitement of what could be there is so much more promising than see the actual genitalia.  In this case it is the relationship of the unseen and the seen that relates to good architecture.  It is not the absurdity of the new and different but the allure of what could be there.  An architectural example of this is Mario Botta’s part of the Leeum Museum.   The exterior begs of mystery, giving no hint of what is inside.  The brick is pixilated unto itself, departing from what we expect it to be.  Upon entering you are shuttled to the top and forced to circulate in a downward spiral.    The cylindrical stairs are punctuated with framed views to reveal what lies ahead of you, but only as a glimpse.  When traversing each floor the circular plan furthers this selectivity.  One is never allowed to see the museum exhibit as a whole, there is no grand hallway lined with celadon blue ceramics.   Instead each piece is revealed to you in its own time, each turn you walk around allowing a new experience.   There is a constant sense of being teased by unknowing of what is around the up coming turn and never being allowed to see the whole.

In this way good architecture can vastly be related to Sophia Coppolla’s Lost in Translation.  The sexual relationship (or truly lack there of) between the film’s main characters is reflected in how the city is framed.    The sexual and visual tension between these characters is overtly apparent.  There is obvious attraction between these characters, shared feelings, but nothing is ever done about it.  They lie in bed next to each other, speaking so very intimately, but nothing physical ever happens between them.  This is reflected in how Tokyo is filmed.  In a sense, Tokyo becomes a visual embodiment of their sexual relationship.  When they positively interact we see the Tokyo Skyline from some high up floor- out of reach, beautiful and alluring in all the glory the Tokyo skyline can possess.  It is only when their relationship becomes tumultuous that we are allowed to see the city in any other way.  When there is no longer a tease or allure in those character’s relationship the city is no longer distant and alluring- it’s sonorous and crowded.  When they go out to lunch in the prime of their disgruntled state the bowels of Tokyo are shown- the street life, cars, taxis, honking, ect.

Finally, there is the attraction of the absurd.  This is an attraction we can’t help but simultaneous dislike and enjoy.  The absurd identifies with the book by Paulo Coelho Eleven Minutes.   The main character briefly gets drawn into the world of sadomasochist sex because of the clarity is brings her.  Physical pain helped to take her to the limits of what is her conceived reality.  However the absurdity involved is that each experience creates a new outlying boundary, therefore each following experience forces further exploration to get that previous high.  Each experience then becomes more absurd and desensitizing, creating greater distance from the original meaning.  A further example of this is in Godard’s Week End, a film so absurd it is literally a car crash in which you can’t help but stare.   Despite the obvious spectacle of absurdity throughout the film, the film opens by talking about a woman’s fetishized threesome.  She describes each act in her sexual encounter involving improbable positions, cracking an egg with her buttocks and cumming in a dish of milk.  Essentially these types of absurd sexual experience relates back to the absurdity of architecture.   They are removed from the everyday life, and have one far beyond that rub interesting inconsistency, so very far from its origin, that it is a bad thing.  Such architectural sites include Paju in South Korea or The Ring in Shenzhen.  Paju falls into absurdity due to the excessiveness of design.  Each building holds true in singular form but together, a town where everything is individually designed without consideration of its surroundings, becomes absurd.  It is too much and too far from its origin.   This is also true for The Ring but in a different way.  It’s the scale and perfect symmetry that makes it so absurd.  Its simply too large for anyone to walk casually, programmed or not.  Yet for some reason there is something rather enticing about both of these pieces of architecture.  For Paju, there is an allure that can’t really be explained except to say it is visually stunning.  That these publishers and stores care to define themselves by using architecture on this type of design scale is impressive.  Each building creates an identity and draw for itself.  The Ring stands to be even more impressive to me.  In a country like China, where the Great Wall can be seen from outer space, how does something as large and cumbersome as this massive ring as a centralization tool seem out of place?  It is by all means fantastical, yet still has a function that could only be fulfilled in a country such as China; in city like Shenzhen where everything is so new everyone is always looking for that next boundary to top.  But what could possibly be that next fix?

So is it better to seek that perfect mysterious moment or break out of the everyday?  Each architecture we’ve looked at through Asia and in truly in our lifetime seeks to accomplish at least one of these.  And so it is when we see these moments of inconsistency, mystery, or absurdity that makes that moment come to life and be more than simply the mundane.

//Lexie

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Filed under: Architectural Absurdity, Architectural Spectacle, Architecture, China, Godard, Korea, Psyche, Rem Koolhaas, Uncategorized

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Director:
Andrew Liang
Instructors:
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Students:
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu