Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ornament is Fine: Neon Houses, Electronic Cottages and Instant Architecture

I spent Christmas in Kent by the sea. On New Years day we walked along the sea front and then up through the quiet dark streets of the town. Lights blinked in the windows of the houses. Occasionally we came across one completely covered in lights, their roofs, walls and chimneys picked out in pulsing fibre-optic light, like a glowing, coloured drawing rather than the real thing.

Here was Archigram's electronic cottage made manifest, an instant electronic architecture sitting in a cartoon winter landscape populated by mythical creatures and flickering messages of peace and love. On one lawn a family of fibre-optic reindeer nodded their heads in unison. Two more skulked below a window in an adjacent garden with some glowing miniature bearded men for company. It's only not weird because we have seen it so many times before.

I'm a sucker for coloured lights just as I am for the flashing bulbs and painted signs of the seaside pier. It may be futile but I admire the effort and every now and again it looks like magic. Here the banal architecture is transformed into a bizarre pageant of signs, sentiment and nostalgia as sinisterly saccarine but sweetly perfect as Disney. Ordinary suburban houses aiming for the romantic uplift of Bollywood.

A single tree stood glowing in the dark, lighting up the pavement, more beautiful than any number of public art installations or other official improvements to the urban landscape.

And the next day they were all gone.

Happy new year people!

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