Depth and Frustration (Or my day in rewrites...)


Spent the whole day on the section(s) on Depth and Familiarity. Eventually realised that there should be two sections. The one on Depth and Frustration introduces the ideas from Venturi and their (mis)application, then the one on Depth and Familiarity explaining the "class split" in design. Anyway, enough caveats, here's the first section (the second is even rougher, no point posting it yet)...

Depth and Frustration
Faced with many modern architectural designs, people are struck by their seeming lack of concern for the user. Many designers produce designs that can seem sadistically focused on frustrating the user. The underlying “movements” of these designs are often so hideously complex and abstract that they appear to have no particular relationship to the life of any normal person. Things seem to happen for no reason whatsoever, and trying to investigate the underlying order merely leads to meaning-free textual analysis or similarly empty truths.

This state of affairs can be traced fairly directly to Venturi's seminal work “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture” from the 1960's. Venturi identified and catalogued the existence of physical depth in adjudged “great” works of architecture from history. He argued at length and convincingly that it was the presence of depth in architecture that made it great. He pointed to the presence of features within great designs which frustrated the user's expectations, which conflicted with one another, or which were complex enough to trigger interest on the part of the user.
Reacting to the Functionalist movement, which demanded an ordered and logical explanation for all elements within a design on the grounds of utility for the user, Venturi blessed the idea of frustrating the user's needs in order to accomplish a higher goal. Of course, what precisely this higher goal would be was somewhat unclear.

Venturi's approach is rooted in the popular philosophy of the 20th century, in which it is pointless or fruitless to try to understand the world in a greater sense, as all meaning is contingent and self-referential. Within such a philosophical framework, it is just as likely that a Coke can will allow the user to discover the meanings of the universe as it applies to them as the Venus d'Milo. Venturi advocates for physical depth as the end in itself, the mark of greatness as a simple physical reality.

This is not to say that Venturi didn't inspire intellectual rigor in the creation of physical depth. It would be hard to argue that the Deridaesque analysis of texts that in which some post-modern architects have engaged does not require thought. By intellectual depth we refer to meaning and understanding in the wider sense, access to the greater unresolved patterns of life, wisdom, as distinct from thought.

For users, increasingly abstract generative influences, combined with a free hand to frustrate expectations and utility has tended to produce a disaffection with post-modern architecture. Even those willing to devote significant time to understanding the works often discover the underlying patterns to be nothing more than philosophical chop-logic applied to irrelevant texts. Rather than discovering the secrets of the unverse, the user is faced with an impenetrable thicket of jargon and arbitrary choices leading to nothing of any great moment. Frustrated in their day-to-day operations, they don't find a meaningful reason for the frustration, and the whole exercise begins to look sadistic.

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