in the time of
first appeared in different form in theMY SPACE column of GENTLEMAN magazine, July 2001
A variety of architecture is represented here in this cluster of buildings; a variety of styles, shapes, periods are grouped together. The American writer, Norman Mailer finds modern buildings arrogant, intimidating, as if to say: Keep Out, Stay Out, Don’t Mess With Me. The soaring glass and reinforced concrete structures of today are hardly on a human scale. They seem to alienate people, existing on a grand, inhuman scale that belittles them. (See modified picture below).
A BBC-TV series titled "How Buildings Learn" inspired me to write thus: As long as a building is in constant use, it cannot be a monument. Yet, many buildings become just that. They sit smugly, eventually driving out their occupants, for whom they no longer serve any purpose. A building must adapt to the changing needs of its users; it must grow with them. It should be a living organism. And organisms tend to learn. Looking at these buildings, they seem immutable. Not ones which learn. But time changes a building, and is the real architect. Cyber, or computer-aided, design can rapidly adapt to changing demands, commercial or residential or a combination of the two, allowing multifaceted views of a proposed building—virtual adaptation to the ravages of time.
The buildings depicted above coexist, but uneasily. They appear to be grouped together at random, to create some kind of avant garde effect. The picture actually comes from the clip art gallery of Microsoft Word. What can one do with it, except to play around with the toolbars in Word and modify a given image according to spec? I went ahead and created a scene, pulling these buildings apart and adding some surroundings:
Great fun, but hardly inspiring. Once you’ve learned the ropes, the challenge is gone. Your ingenuity is either exhausted, or just plain reaches its limits. It all comes down to the aesthetic pleasure of graphic art, where spaces are defined, and visual properties are altered according to personal taste and fancy.
Mailer would just love to cut these edifices down to size, down to human scale. What a wonderful pastime in cyberspace, if you like that sort of thing. The idea is to have the facility, the capability. But to what purpose? One is tempted to poke a little fun at Microsoft’s clip art, to indulge in a bit of idle speculation on the meaning of it all. By manipulating this picture, I got a slight sense of satisfaction that I’ve participated in this cybergraphics-driven world where you can have fun using given tools and raw materials to fashion something, nay, create something new that might conceivably be of some use, tangible or intangible, to someone else. And the illusion, even in impoverished or derelict surroundings, of jetting into the ultra-modern age of sophisticated technologies.
Oh, the thrill of it all ! How I wish I could dissect these buildings, roam through them, renovate them, and imagine visiting and working in them. Are we heading towards some kind of post-modern experience, where image and imagination reign, where we need not get our hands dirty, where tactile experience is missing? The medium as the massage ? What else would McLuhan, that guru of the electronic age, have said? He observed that modern man is largely visual in his orientation, eschewing the tactile. I get a visual and cerebral charge out of this piece, but scarcely a sensual one. I suspect that such pleasures, and the accompanying pains of sitting at the console, actually diminish one’s sensual powers, though they may well increase one’s appetite for sensual delights as a form of release from the bondage of that flickering—but sterile?—monitor.