Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Re-sampling Ornament: Swiss Architecture Museum in Basel

Curators: Oliver Domeisen, Francesca Ferguson
Event dates: 1 June 2008 to 21 September 2008
Swiss Architecture Museum Basel

Exactly 100 years after Adolf Loos wrote Ornament and Crime, a manifesto that effectively relegated ornament in architecture to the peripheries of the discourse, “Re-sampling Ornament” takes a first step towards tracing its re-emergence. For decades the language of architectural ornament has remained largely unspoken, but for a few memorable post-modern architectural experiments. Yet from Owen Jones 'Grammar of Ornament' to John Ruskin, Gottfried Semper, Louis Sullivan and William Hogarth – and contemporaries such as Kent Bloomer, a rich vocabulary of opposing and often contradictory theories exists to be readapted, re-sampled, and once again applied at the heart of architectural practice.

Oliver Domeisen's research at his unit at London’s Architectural Association into the history and contemporary application of ornament in architecture has made it possible to embellish and enrich a mutual selection of new architectural projects with terminology drawn from many dictionaries; allowing for associations and groupings that can identify vital traces of ornament in current practice and at the same time rethink its boundaries, creating a new context within which contemporary projects can be redefined and rethought.
Whilst the ideological rigor of Modernism once rejected the supposed decadence and wastefulness associated with the mass production of ornament, it is undeniable that over the past 10 years entirely new construction and manufacturing processes have made the return of ornament economically viable. 3D computer modelling can now steer mass-customisation processes from CNC milling to laser cutting.

Ornament is the home of metamorphosis uniting and transforming conflicting worldly elements. It is an image of combination and a spectacle of transformation. Ornament is a method to subsume almost anything into the architectural idiom: human bodies, plants, militaria, microscopic patterns, fantastical beasts – it is the realm of monsters and hybrids. Ornament is transgressive. It sits comfortably between realism and abstraction, antiquity and modernity, mechanical objectivity and artistic subjectivity, convention and expression, and the real and the ideal.

Crucial to a new reading of ornament in architecture is its enduring relationship to nature. “Re-sampling Ornament” reasserts the right to enjoy the intelligent conceptual play with beauty and to rediscover sensuality in current manifestations of ornament in architecture. According to the architectural historian Kent Bloomer, there are malleable and erotic 'Bio-Keys' that span cultures and histories, as though there were some deeply rooted genetic code of ornament. Ruskin's "Curves of Temperance and Intemperance" sought the geometry of virtue in ornament, one that William Hogarth traces with scientific exactitude in the curvature of bones and the lines of a woman's pelvis. Today, computer-aided design can bring forth organic forms in architecture as well as stretching artifice to its extremes.

In our age of conspicuous consumption, brand culture also becomes a welcome resource for the architecture of ornament in all its opulence. The icons of our age are perhaps the logos that define the corporate world that surrounds us; the manufacturers of desire. The architects featured as defining new styles and languages to accommodate this iconography are distinguished by the elegance with which they resolve the dilemma of representation in unique ways – uniting ornament with a pertinent commentary on contemporary visual culture.
“Re-sampling Ornament” reinstates ornament in contemporary architecture with an abundance of new conceptual and aesthetic possibilities. Ornament operates trans-historically and trans-culturally. It is constant dynamic movement and expansion. Ornament is not truth – it is mimesis, material transubstantiation, deception, artifice, pleasure and beauty that render utility acceptable.

(text & images via: Swiss Architecture Museum & Wallpaper Magazine)

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