Architecture The New Virtue
posted by May 30 at 12:09 PMon
The article Leaves of Glass needs a few words of explanation. Three things generate its meaning and course of thought. One, the semiotic theories of Roland Barthes. These days, few thinkers give semiotics much value. Marxists and Nietzschians continue to dominate continental criticism. Barthes, like Valery, has practically vanished from the indexes of major works of contemporary theory. But the labor of semiotics is not over; it has much to offer as a demystifying tool. The blending of Marxist sociology with Barthesian structuralism has in it the strength to penetrate the idealogical walls of our currently globalized society.
Now that we have mentioned globalization, we can move to the second of the three meaning makers of the article, which is this wonderful passage by the chief urban designer for New York City, Alexandros Washburn:
The Greeks may not have invented civic virtue, but they certainly branded the idea with architecture… [But] the Corinthian column no longer signifies virtue, civic or otherwise. There has been a paradigm shift away from architecture. What signifies virtue these days is a concern for nature… Just as two millennia ago, a sculptor transformed the biomass of the acanthus plant into a template for architecture, using its stalk, leaves and flower as a model for the shaft and volutes of the Corinthian column, we today must transform the rigidities of architecture into the adaptations of nature.”Two things from the passage. One, the globalization of the Mediterranean plant (the moldings of which can be found from Cape Town to Lima to Seattle) matches the globalization of The New Virtue—a concern for nature.
And two, the beauty of Washburn concept is that this:
Art becomes life. But the art has not left the life. With the new virtue, art has no line that limits it.
The third meaning maker has to do with Seattle. The New Virtue is an international movement. It is simultaneous; it happens all at once; it has no center from which it radiates. With its green (living) roof, the new fire station, Station # 10, in Pioneer Square is a part of that international moment in architecture.
But Seattle has had its own nature/urban discourse. It’s a discourse that is not tied to global issues of sustainability but, instead, to the local geography. Richard Rorty once spoke of “the mirror of philosophy,” Seattle’s architectural discourse is about “the mirror of architecture.”
In the beginning, this discourse was blunt (if not stupid):
Freeway Park marked the point of its complication. The final goal of this local discourse is the eradication of the distinction between not just nature and urban but the outside and the inside. This discourse believes itself to be honest. It wants the movement between mountains and buildings to be uninterrupted. It wants the city to be a mirror of its surroundings.