Saturday, February 9, 2008

Fakery is the New PoMo

Paper or Plastic... Fake or Real. No, these are not the perennial Christmas question, or a variation of the paper or plastic debate, but another round of abstractions of all things landscape. I stumbled upon an old post on Strange Harvest that had some amazing images of design for Montreal's 1967 World's Expo (aka Expo 67) and the unique Canadian Pulp and Paper Pavilion building. Quoted: "Its abstraction - the geometric interpretation of 'forest' - suggests the relationship of abstract ideas and processes to the natural landscape."

:: images via Strange Harvest

Abstraction is often a tool to express 'artistry' as part of the design strategy. This is particularly evident in landscape architecture, because the primary material is a living material. The most notable example is Ken Smith's rooftop 'garden' for MoMA in New York built in 2005. Taking the idea of camoflauge as a parti, the design liberally juxtaposes fake boulders, rubber mulch, crushed glass, and artificial boxwoods.

:: a fake of the 'real' fake - image via Archinect

While venturing into kitsch, there is some precendent and theoretical underpinnings behind this fakery. From Archinect: "If you are going to fake it, make it epic, make it at volume 11, make it massive. Landscape architects understand this. There is a tradition of faking it in landscape, from the garden at the Villa D'Este to Humphrey Repton's landscapes in England. But with the advent of Pop in 1960s, a new era of fake was born. Contemporary landscape architects mine the fertile territory of Warhol's Pop-riddled 1960s and the slap-dash fakery that dazzles with wit and whimsy. Smith and other landscape architects such as Martha Schwartz and West 8 are using the same amplifiers."

Maybe a response to some of the design stoicism (read: boring) design today, it strikes chords similar to post-modern architecture and it's reaction to the 'soulless' formality of modernism. Artistically, PoMoArch is "...described as 'neo-eclectic', where reference and ornament have returned to the facade, replacing the aggressively unornamented modern styles. This eclecticism is often combined with the use of non-orthogonal angles and unusual surfaces." Sounds familiar. I offer in case, our own Portland Building.

:: image via , um, Great Buildings

While the Portland Building, which is the unfortunate poster-child for PoMoArch, deserves some further scrutiny beyond this - (especially the ecoroof on top) - it is a fitting example architecturally. There are garden precendents too. From Schwartz' Bagel Garden to Charles Moore's Piazza d'Italia - this historicity and sheer audacity - is similar to the rationale offered above for fakery. One aspect to differentiate landscape is that modernism in the landscape vs. buildings has taken wildly different paths and timelines, so one does not necessarily equal the other. Read more on Post-modernism in landscape architecture and architecture, there are many books, perhaps this one by Charles Jencks.

:: image via Wikipedia Commons

A very pomo/fake idea is abstracted vegetation, which has been covered in L+U previously. The concept is so incredibly fascinating as to become a regular feature. While the levels of abstraction to vary widely, one interesting phenomenon is the painstaking effort put into creating fake trees that look real. Popular in interior landscapes, it is taken up a notch with some more expansive efforts. My mom growing up had nothing by plastic plants, because they never died and the dog didn't eat them (most of the time). We also had a fake Christmas tree, and knick-knacks ringed in plastic vines to add that needed greenery without the muss and fuss to any interior. Ironic that i'm a landscape architect.

:: image via Fake Landscapes

Abstraction doesn't stop at trees or plantings. A few items that have uses in the landscape are designed to mimick nature, either for cost, weight, or other less understood reasons. Couched in terms such as 'cultured' or 'simulated', stone is a great example. And they are all just another way of saying 'fake'. But sometimes, maybe there's a time and place for artifice in the landscape. And sometimes, maybe not...

:: fake wood - image via Trex; fake stone - image via Cultured Stone; fake rocks - image via Exterior Accents

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