Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pop Life

Owen has subtly shifted the rules of the game to soundtracks to places rather than buildings and also raised an interesting point by describing post-punk as a late, after-the-fact corrolary of Brutalism. In fact he goes further, suggesting that architecture in the first half of the 20th century was way ahead of the game, or at least ahead of pop in its formal development (the example Owen uses is Park Hill flats in Sheffield, which is literally contemporaneous to Lonnie Donegan but conceptually closer to Public Image Ltd.).

This point reminded me of the astonishing modernity of something like the Villa Stein in comparison to the vintage cars that accompany it in early period photographs. Or indeed the 1950's Rolls Royce I recall parked alongside the just finished Leicester Engineering building by Stirling and Gowan in early b/w photographs. In both cases the buildings seem light years in advance of the cars, objects that still seem startlingly new even now. Perhaps this has something to do with how architecture - at least in the UK - has concerned itself more and more with historical references since that period while cars have continued in a more or less linear development.

Going back to the Architecture/Pop question though, I wonder if there is not something to do with the fact that whereas pop tends to chronicle or soundtrack experience, architecture is that experience. Or, to put it another way, the architecture of brutalism naturally prefigures the experience that pop articulates.

While it is certainly reductive to claim that pop is simply a reflection of society - or somehow a pure distillation of it - surely it's true to say that architecture is not purely a representational artform. It is as much, if not more, about constructing life as it is about reflecting it. It shapes us, physically, emotionally, socially, politically, in ways that are inescapable and all the more profound for their insidiousnes. Although pop shifts and constructs the cultural landscape that we inhabit it can't be said to be a part of it in quite the same way.

Put another way, the estates of east london prefigure grime because grime arises out of the experience of living there just as goth grew out of a reaction to the optimistic conformity of the suburbs and new romanticism from the streets in the air and concrete walkways of post war brutalism.

Anyway, in the spirit of the above, here's a final more autobiographical outing for the pop/architecture pairings. Some ZX Spectrum digital romanticism from architypal suburban misfits Depeche Mode and the 'ugly and ordinary' modernism of Harlow new town.


Rob said...

Hmm, all this musical metaphor stuff is making me wonder whether I should dust off the guitarchitecture category again.

Chris Tree said...

oh, Bravo!

Charles Holland said...

Essex boy?

BAE said...


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