An Argument for Ornament: Louder than Status Quo
curtain walls, global architecture, artifacts, ornament, ethnocentrism
There is a pervasive silence in architecture today - one created by methodological monolingualism, the limits of core and shell logics, and the emphasis on marketable iconicity. Broad moves like curtain walls, fixtures like mullions, or comfort systems like air conditioning become an assumed part of the environment. This is problematic because these artifacts are heavy with ideology. Their ubiquitousness and the complacency in their use leave us with an increasingly seamless and self-similar global architecture, such that it becomes a dogmatically assumed part of the environment - such that we have no awareness of what we subscribe to by making and inhabiting these spaces.
Understandably, the progressively narrower boundaries of intervention in the practice - and the threat of law - make doing otherwise near impossible. The layout of efficiencies, accessibility, circulation - even proportion - are more and more governed by less and less localized code. Take all these things away, and we have very little left in the realm of architecture and even fewer options to make it more explicit. We have only what we've neglected in favor of a belief in the linear progression towards some state of exaltation away from the need to make artifacts shout their tenets: the inefficient, the intensely local, the communally ingrained, those artifacts whose performance cannot be logistically evaluated. We have an ornament.
The efficacy of ornament is not related to its ability to decorate a space. Ornament is an artifact or set of artifacts that carry/transmit the indelible integration of culture in architecture - ornament is the spatial conceit, the cross-section of revelatory text and dimensional punctuation. These are conditions not easily met and which come with their own pitfalls.
And so this project presents three things: first, a reframing of what ornament must be in a post-postmodern world; second, a methodology of development that should allow continuous refinement; third, the products of this methodology - the start of a catalogue of actionable methods and parameters to make ornament today that is louder than the soft silence of ethnocentrism, program fetishism and high-handed detailing.
Zenawi, Marda, "An Argument for Ornament: Louder than Status Quo" (2019). Architecture Senior Theses. 516.
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