Caitlyn & Bruce – Architecture & Building
Being a decathlete is extreme. 10 sports to train for and compete in over 2 days. Two days doing many things: running short, medium and long distances, jumping long and high, throwing heavy, long and sharp, vaulting with a pole assist. Running a marathon is extreme too, but the extremity is not in complexity, but in simplifying focus into one act: running a long way faster than the others around you.
The act of building is like a decathlon: extreme focus on many things: gravity, weather, materials, sun, cost, durability and, yes, aesthetics. Classic Fine Arts – painting, sculpture, photography – use a few things to do one extreme thing: make beauty.
In playing or singing a solo piece of music every aspect of the expression and appreciation is focused on one singularity: the performer. In choral or symphonic works of mass performance orchestration weaves with virtuosity to make a singularity out of complexity.
Bruce Jenner mastered the decathlon like no American before him: his obsession was focused but broad: strength, speed, endurance and precision – all at the highest level. He has now focused on the solo singularity of finding himself – amid the extreme cacophony of the Kardashians and his own legacy as a symphony of male athleticism.
The deepest sort of personal discernment, commitment and transformation is distilled to the cover of Vanity Fair. Celebrity, hype and gloss triumph over the most complex human realities. Just like the 1968 Wheaties box distilled athletic complexity to a two-dimensional sales gimmick, the extreme complexities of the human identity become crystallized into Annie Leibovitz’s fashionista portrayal of Caitlyn Jenner.
Its easier to deal with a book’s cover than its contents, an ad jingle becomes an ear worm more easily than a symphony. A sculpture is easier to understand than a building.
But the recent popular celebration of celebrities, music and architecture has trended towards mind-numbing superficiality.
Taylor Swift’s latest hook, the size of a Kardashian body part or the coolest swoop or blob of a Hadid building focus attention with an electric extremity. Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn becomes a graphic, rather than a story with decades of complex and subtle realities.
A building that aspires to sculptural expression similarly turns away from the realities of “Why” and “How” and narrows its focus to only “What”. No room for the way a building adapts to a site, a use or a budget. We have no way to know how Bruce became Caitlyn either. We have a magazine cover to hold up to a cereal box.
The difference is we all use the buildings that are designed for that use: and all have an actual site, surrounding culture, build from materials, and deal with an environment it. It really does not matter to the magazine/reality show/cereal company how Bruce or Caitlyn got to be useful to their purposes of grabbing attention to make money, they just care that people are drawn to superficial extremity.
Buildings should not be the car wreck that slows traffic in rubber-necking passing lurid curiosity.
Buildings should not be an earworm of dumbing numbing self-referential internal rhyming and rhythm.
Buildings should not be the gloss on the cover of shallow titillation that makes buying the magazine or logging into the website or tuning in a reality TV show an impulsive tick.
Caitlyn Jenner should not be reduced to a photograph: but she has let herself sell-out the depth of her evolution to be, for many, just another freak: despite 50 years of the deepest sort of introspection, and most extreme form of self-expression.
Yes, music includes ad jingles, architecture includes McMansions: but the popular and the sensational are distractions: sadly our culture is treating our deepest forms of expression – including architecture – as sound bite simple trivialities: distractions that demand the lowest level of understanding or investment.
But music has room for jingles, jazz, hymns and symphonies. Fine arts are abstract, photorealist and conceptual. Writing is poetry, fiction and journalism. Huge bandwidths of perception, expression and presence exist in people’s lives. The projection of architecture into the world is packaged into two exclusive realities: Fine Arts Sculpture or Imitative Developer Pandering.
The projection of what architecture is to the world by the industry’s press and the AIA is as stilted as if TMZ was on all channels all the time: All Caitlyn, no Bruce. I think to know Caitlyn you have to know Bruce. I think Bruce without Caitlyn does not recognize the way Caitlyn came to be herself. TMZ only wants to titillate not explicate.
Cheap thrills have always been with humanity, but the mass wall of sound that the new media floods everywhere 24/7/365 at Level 11 makes the trivial overwhelmingly present. The superficial becomes dominant. The effect overwhelms the cause. The image becomes more important than what made it.
But buildings, unlike a painting, protect us, allow us to work, cost us a great of money and many humans effort to create and maintain.
But the buildings now projected as “important” are as important as the cover of Vanity Fair: they are startlingly evocative, like Caitlyn Jenner, and are presented, intentionally, as having no backstory, depth or explanation. Unfortunately all are built with technology, materials and sites: the denial of which make for extreme misfits.
When reality is denied now, there are consequences later: Bruce had to become Caitlyn. Buildings can be sculpture, but they also exist in an environment, culture and are built of materials and are used: to present them only as sculpture is to present Caitlyn, or any person, as just a magazine cover.