Friday, August 28, 2009

Clark Kent Irony

Sometimes this critic needs to change venues and this morning went from suburb to city in one traffic ridden commute. The only thing holding me back from complete road rage meltdown at 5mph was NPR's interview with Quentin Tarantino. As a director, his movies feature terrific snippets of snarky, cheesy, but ultimately insightful dialog. Perhaps the best is in Kill Bill where Bill discusses with Beatrix the Clark Kent/Superman mythology. For those of you who just can't sit through a three minute dialog, the basic jist is that, "Clark Kent is Superman's critique of the whole human race." Ironic, since Superman is supposed to protect a race he considers far far far inferior to himself.

You're thinking, "what the hell does this have to do with architecture?". Well readers, this has EVERYTHING to do with architecture! Case in point would be this monstrosity of a house in Chicago, encountered during a late happy hour stop:

On a street with perfectly fine brownstones, someone, SOMEONE, decided it was in the best interest of their unqualified and unrecognized genius to add this nasty white Richard Meier-esq framework. NANANANANA....You've got four eyes Clark Kent!!!! This doesn't imply that the house itself was some sort of superhero creation originally, but damn if the designer didn't decided to intervene and put what is tantamount to glasses on this building's face (or as those in the know would say..."facade"...pronounced "FAH-SAAD"). What's the point? And further, what the hell are those little trees doing inside the fugly framework? What will happen ten years from now when the trees decide to get into a growth fight with the structure? It'll look like an untrimmed bikini line.

After much raging, we finally arrived at a urine smelling dive bar and drank drank drank the architectural woe away. Half a beer later, it was potty time and what's discovered in the loo but another architectural incarnation of the Clark Kent/Superman mythology:

Pabst Blue Ribbon as wallpaper on top of wood paneling? It's 70's architectural perfection covered by a random facade simply for the ironic effect! At least with this example, we were at a "hipster" bar and "hipsters" (air-quoting), seem to have irony in their blood so kitsch PBR wallpaper was strange but accepted, sneers, in this setting.

The point is there is a fine line between ironic serious and ironic tongue and cheek. The first pic clearly was meant to be serious but ended up ugly-fying a fine building. It's looked on with irony because it's unexpected and what's worse is that it's unexpectedly BAD. At least in the second pic, the "hipster" wallpaper is confined to a small space, in a setting glorifying irony, and can be destroyed by the self loathing of "dirty hipsters". No so with an actual built structure. With little thought they are so easy to create, but are so damned difficult to demolish...unless of course, you're some sort of Architectural Superman. Fountainhead anyone?

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