Wednesday, December 12, 2007

You saw the hyped up neo 60’s look the resurrected Orchids and Onions embraced. Perhaps you wondered if they expected- if not a street riot - at least a sit in. Vox populi indeed. A riot between the neo traditional urbanists of North Park and the deconstructivist acolytes of gentrifying Barrio Logan? Or a third wave of late modernist hold outs from Poway fighting in the street? Sadly, the excitement was oversold, and the promise of true dialogue within the design community, and within the larger public remains a pretty dream despite the sincere efforts of the San Diego Architecture Foundation and the AIA.

Those same graphics - a peculiar combination of a ‘60s agitprop featuring a bearded speaker with megaphone and a font style that can only be described as Hello Kitty meets Peter Max- perfectly illustrates the inherent contradiction in this ultimately top down approach to architectural dialogue. Because talking about design is elitist, but everything about the program tried to claim otherwise. It will therefore fail, not at creating controversy, which is very different from dialogue, but at sustaining any interest beyond a couple of cute comments or singling out some particular design gaffe for which everyone who had to good fortune not to be involved with can at least breath a sigh of relief…

Is this program commentary or criticism? Criticism is essentially telling people what you think about things and it's subversive goal is to convince or persuade you (the, uh, informed reader) about what the reader should think about things, or better yet, how to think with ideas rather than unformed opinion - once again these ideas preferably supplied by the kindly writer. Commentary allows one to hide behind "I'm only saying..." and basically get a pass to state half thoughts, half truths and otherwise "offer up for discussion" ideas or halfbaked notions that they (the commentator) doesn't have the guts to claim for his or her own.

Thus, Orchids and Onions. Peeling this "Power to the People" onion was really not fun and really didn't standup to much scrutiny. The erudite readings of today’s cosmopolitan iPhoners or iPodders and Wallpaper subscribers is at serious odds with the opinions of the “man on the street” - particularly when that man is also willing to sign on the Union Tribune’s website in order to vote. The already noted bizarre nostalgia UT- for a time when culture could arise from street action or political action - and equally puzzling ignorance of exactly who those guys behind the megaphone thought they were (Vanguard of the Proletariat, anyone? Shining Path? Red Brigade? Oh, the high jinx! Yes the ‘60s were fun!)illustrates the sincere lack of seriousness. I'm all for cute PR stunts - but this one, especially on the web pages of the UT really rankled. If the program - and the awards ceremony - wants to be, as they use to say back the ‘60s - uh - relevant, they will need to bridge and explore those contradictions instead of relying on recycled revolutionary tropes. Dialogue indeed.

As you might guess, the demographics of the voters must have been skewed towards those who sign their indignant letters to the or the Coronado Eagle with a deservedly proud “U.S.N., Ret.” But no disrespect is intended as the final results were truly skewed by the jury. What? A jury? What about the exalted vox populi? Indeed, the jury posted awards for projects that were not on the original voing website - where did they come from? Where did the jury come from? Who were those people?

While not as sinister as the Magesterium, the good stewards at the San Diego Architecture Foundation apparently wanted to both hedge their bets and sharpen a few political axes. So, in the great tradition of San Diego muddle headedness, they adjudicated on buildings and landscapes with serious headings such as “landscape” or "public art" and left the true vox populi portion of the awards to a single Onion and a single Orchid. I imagine those critical voices were seated somewhere at the AIA’s version of the young peoples’ table at their close to Thanksgiving Day Gala. I should have been there of course. But so what. The buildings are still there, as are the website pictures and though the estimable Keith York from surely kept the proceedings lively and fun - I suspect that the audience was entirely design professionals intent on congratulating each other. Schmoozateria.

The voting site - which was available only through the Union Tribune’s Sign On San Diego website was unremarkable, unsophisticated and dull. And probably free for the SDAF and the AIA. The UT will do anything to get people to the website and I hope the SDAF realizes it got what it paid for...The single photograph of each project was especially annoying. The good projects look bad and the bad projects look merely dull. There was no context, no stories, no site plans, - nothing other than an isolated image. I mean why not a YouTube video walk around of each building? A bad website is as bad as no website at all, and this one seriously sucked. Not finding any content of interest or information, voters, after logging on (which required UT registration) voters would have fled in boredom to Archinect to complain about the site. The followup article by Roger Showley was as wierd as the entire awards program - I'm still reading it trying to figure out what he was trying to say.

So, with that kvetching out of the way, we'll next review the projects. Projects that are all over the map stylistically, but in retrospect seem to offer some inkling of both the jury's thinking, and what the "people" are thinking. Or not.The SDAF has a tough job. Successfully promoting “architecture” is not the same as successfully criticizing architecture. For that you need a critic.

Labels: Architecture, criticism, orchids and onions, San Diego, san diego american institute of architecture, san diego architecture foundation, union tribune

No comments: