Ebola, Architecture, and Quarantines
Occasionally, the truth comes out. Age helps you to tell the truth, so does jet lag. But extreme beliefs are often uncontainable in any context. At a press conference this week, an 85 year old and just off the plane Starchitect, Frank Gehry raised his middle finger to the press and blurted:
“’Let me tell you one thing. In this world we are living in, 98 per cent of everything that is built and designed today is pure shit. There’s no sense of design, no respect for humanity or for anything else. They are damn buildings and that’s it. Once in a while, however, a group of people do something special. Very few, but God, leave us alone.”
It was a cry for quarantine – perhaps of Good Architects from The World, but in truth, Gehry’s cry was for the world, and its messy context, history and culture to be put safely away from Great Architecture’s playpen (the “us” in his blurt). Some have said it was a rant against the mediocrity of Modern Architecture, but it was, to my ear, more of a plea to sequester bourgeois infections from the divinely inspired designs of “us”‘.
Architects who execute “something special”, i.e. Fine Arts Architecture, definitionally demand attention. But in truth Fine Arts Architecture’s present radicalism is insignificant to most of us. If a building’s design is clueless, we can still use it without threatening our existence. Intellectual tone deafness may be offensive to sensibilities, but it’s not dangerous.
Gehry’s anger is nothing new, but its delivery system, The New Media, has radicalized every dissonance and disagreement to create a zillion emotional and intellectual quarantines.
“Radical” is a relative term, but if someone can kill you, you naturally view them as radical: we have a huge justice system to protect us from willful violence. That same primal protective instinct creates Pandemic Panic: AIDS a generation ago, Ebola now.
But in this time of instant, universal oversharing of everything the “Radical” perception gets stretched to any number of less instinctive realms of primal fear. Fox News is destroying America. The Tea Party will kill innocents.
Fear creates the Quarantine Imperative. The instinct to protect via quarantine is not limited to criminal behavior or disease. In 1942 Americans who happened to have immigrated here from Japan and for three centuries Africans forced to be slaves were both effectively imprisoned to “protect” Caucasian majorities. Fear is at least as powerful a disease as Ebola.
Society used to compartmentalize those it feared with stereotypes, prejudice and cultural apartheid – now the different are made evil. We quarantine the different into caricature. We have an infinite number of Social Justice Systems convicting those different from us to the hard time of demonization.
Architecture is no different than any other fine arts closed-loop belief system. Those who live within its Petri dish of self-reinforcing ideology feel safe in their distinction from the mediocrity of the rest of the culture. If Gehry was not fearful of a reality he could not control, a reality around everything he has ever built, he may not have been quite so pissed off.
The Tower of Babble known as the internet takes differing perspectives into radicalized confrontation. Into this new paradigm Fine Arts Modernism has new license to isolate and neuter it’s competing aesthetic alternatives.
Like Fox News or MSNBC the architectural press quarantines any architectural apostasies into non-existence for those who listen to the echo chambers of academia and journalism. Schools reinforce this Starchitecture system and the alternatives become marginalized – such as Classicism which lives in a few schools and publications, or, alternatively, un-Modernist voices are crib killed, like Post Modernism.
Fine Arts Architecture does not eat its own: it simply shuns its bastard runt children, quarantines them into a place that goes unseen: consigning them to the rest of the world Gehry railed against. The next question, then, is who is quarantining whom?