Yale 1: Earnestness and Irony

One of the first issues that has come up during discussion with my students at Yale is the rhetoric of urban proposals, with irony and earnestness established as one of several dialectics to frame the discussion (Corbusier’s Ville Contemporaine is VERY earnest).  To propel the discussion forward, Jason Bond (one of my students) suggested that I look at the following firms/projects:

Splitterwerk – Projects: Planet Puntigam, Octopus Tower

Mass Studies (note the occasional use of animated gifs) – Projects: Dalki Theme Park, Seoul Commune 2026

I was completely unfamiliar with both firms. Splitterwerk is more my taste; Mass Studies is a little too anime-utopian-TeleTubbie for me.


Mass Studies, Dalki Theme Park

I like the sensibility of the Splitterwerk’s Planet Puntigam model; it points in the direction of the idea of the “messy city” that I talked about with my class.  Looking at the model also reminded me that I need to discuss smart strategies for both physical models and the use of color with my students and that this theory-making might spill over into the office. 


Splitterwerk, Planet Puntigam

 My favorite architectural model of all time (today) is the model that Rem Koolhaas/OMA made for their Parc La Villette submission. Their scheme was much more compelling/ironic than Bernard Tschumi’s more controlled/systematic/earnest proposal.  Despite the red child-like pavilions, there is absolutely no ironic pleasure in the Tschumi scheme. 

In addition, Jason made the following lists:

Architects Exhibiting Ironic Tendencies (excluding those above): BIG, OMA, FOG, WW, Atelier Bow-Wow, Jeffrey Inaba, MVRDV, Neutelings Riedijk, Alsop and Partners, Greg Lynn Form

Serious Business: Alvaro Siza, Rafael Moneo, Foster and Partners, Renzo Piano, Peter Zumthor

The differences between the work of the firms on Jason’s list suggests that a second pole of analysis should be added to the earnest/ironic pole: utopian/realist.  Perhaps a matrix is the best way to map firms (sensibilities/approaches) with Utopian on the top left, Realist on the right, Earnest on the bottom, and Ironic on the top.  The size of the dot could quantify talent and the color could signify level of arrogance/humility (Daniel Libeskind would burn red hot and Tod Williams would be a placid blue). The information graphic would look a lot like the stock value mapping matrix in the business section of the NYTimes.  Lebbeus Woods would be on the far bottom/left and Atelier Bow-Wow (the researchers)and Robert Venturi (the Learning from Las Vegas Yale studio) would be on the far upper right.  Strangely, I think we will mostly agree on all of the attributes.


3 thoughts on “Yale 1: Earnestness and Irony

  1. Another emerging firm that should be placed in this matrix is Danish firm BIG. They are clearly ironic, but perhaps with serious business aspirations. The rhetoric of their graphics and design methodology (perhaps most clearly articulated by their process/ideagraphics than any other firm I’ve seen) is clearly ironic. But these graphics and their work also argue clear ‘retro-active’ self-evidence/inevitability that they, perhaps more than most firms on the list above may be able to translate their visions into ‘serious business.’

  2. We have discussed the ‘list’ a bit more. One thing is for sure, the ‘earnest’ bunch does not need to also mean ‘boring’ and ‘old’. I’m sure it will fill out, though…

  3. I agree completely with the implications of Jerome’s e-mail. There are earnest firms that I like (Moneo, Siza) and ironic firms that I don’t (Mass Studies – sorry Jason!).

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