Sylvia Lavin’s newest book, viagra order prescription Kissing Architecture, here offers an interesting proposition for artists and architects revolving around the act of kissing. Lavin outlines a theory of interface between architecture and other mediums; she explains how kisses between mediums create new affective conditions on the surfaces of objects and new ways of seeing or feeling the built environment. Kissing indicates a soft and temporary joining of two surfaces, two bodies reshaping and shifting context. A kiss is sensual, yes, but it is also ontological—temporarily changing the nature of being and blurring the lines of identity. In theory this idea is simple, but with the inherent conservatism of the architectural field her proposal may sound preposterous. She proposes that architects should operate outside of their comfort zones, learning to embrace multi-disciplinary practices and collaborations. The sensuality of a kiss becomes a metaphor for reshaping the surfaces of buildings and our experience of them.
A kiss is an interstitial point of contact between two or more distinct things, objects, or beings to create a new (albeit temporary) synthesis. Lavin says that, “Kissing is neither indexical nor reducible to the question of how to make architecture speak, kissing is a means of extending and intensifying architectural effects through the short-term borrowing of the partner medium’s flavor.1 ” The gift of kissing a building is the addition of a layer of affective charm on an inert form. The first portion of Kissing Architecture focuses on video artists Pipalotti Rist and Doug Aitken. Both artists work in immersive and site-specific video art and Lavin uses them to support her thesis that architectural spaces are enriched by the temporary introduction of new media and relationships from outsiders.
In Rist’s Pour Your Body Out (7354 Cubic Meters) (2008), the artist took over the atrium of the MOMA and created an immersive environment complete with organic video, music, plush seats, and a warm pink glow throughout the usually austere white circle. She filled the space from the floor to the ceiling with an affective glossiness, like the feeling of timelessly floating comfortably at the bottom of a pool. Lavin elaborates that Rist kissing Taniguchi’s MOMA was utterly impersonal, without bodily contact or feelings of love but generated disciplinary intimacy and material closeness.2
Doug Aitken works primarily in large, often monumental, scale video. In Sleepwalkers (2007), he told the stories of people’s everyday lives on the exterior walls of the MOMA. The scale of the video created an intimacy, both with the building itself and with the people in the film, offering a perspective that museum-goers would normally never see—putting a human face and human experiences on the walls of the building. Lavin uses Aitken’s Sleepwalkers to outline the human/building relationship. She makes the claim that Aitkin’s video increases what Kevin Lynch calls “the imageability3 ” of the building. The human figures on built surfaces help us to understand and identify the qualities of an object through its relation to this new video layer. Imageability is this zone between the legible, the visible, and the sensible.
What does this temporary video/architecture synthesis really achieve? Unlike a mural, fresco, or curtain wall, video creates a surface that interacts and ephemerally transforms rather than encasing or hanging itself over the structure. “Projected images and architecture converge without collapsing into one-that unlike fresco one sees through a projected image to see the wall and that the relation of image and surface is direct rather than proximate.4” This is not a simple addition but a whole that is greater than its constituent parts. One can see and contemplate a building but only in relation to the images on its surface-they remain temporarily inseparable.
Later, Lavin brings up the window displays of Fredrick Kiesler from the twenties and thirties. His displays served to exteriorize the interior to show glimpses inside from the outside, to fill a middle space between store and street and to peak interest into the contents (products) of the buildings. She also discusses more contemporary work by Diller, Scofido, & Renfro, UN Studio, and Foreign Office. Her argument develops past immersive video into the numerous and varied possibilities offered by texture, color-changing, responsive environmental sensors, and the interstitial layering of affect into new buildings envelopes.
Lavin calls the merging together of architecture and media arts Superarchitecture. Indeed this hybridized practice of mediated surface and architecture needs a name but Archizoom/Superstudio had already used this term in the late sixties to designate the work they were doing. Their fusion of Pop, Kitsch, industrial design, and megastructural proposals were featured in the Superarchitettura exhibitions of radical architecture were held at Pistoia (1966) and Modena (1967).5 It is strange that a historian with such breadth would forget to include this usage, but regardless, what Kissing Architecture offers is a timely set of propositions.
The call for the experimental make-out sessions between the built environment and other media is well-timed. For example, video walls (urban screens) are hardly ubiquitous except for a few tourist areas. Yet already this process has been wholly absorbed by advertising agencies; soon video-mapping and other projection arts will be as pervasive as billboards in Times Square. Kissing means the merging of two or more surfaces with interesting and unpredictable results. Lavin calls for a more nuanced understanding of the relation between interior and exterior, structure and envelope. She asks readers to embrace the many-sidedness of space and to slyly fill in-between spaces with affect and meaning. The attempt to kiss architecture is not a call to strictly promote interiorization or to turn architecture inside out. It is a suggestion to end the false separation of inside and outside. However, a call for affective architecture does serve some level of interiorization as affect is simultaneously individual and collective. The more immersive and affective a building is, the more one could feel the effect of it in private contemplation.
The book also critiques the historic separation of architecture from other forms of cultural production. Architects and their products were first considered below other art forms being merely technicians and now in their current state are often considered above other artistic practice. Kissing Architecture suggests that architecture and other art forms should be reunited and get into relationships with one other.
The way architecture is both produced and experienced is rapidly changing. Buildings are built with increasingly complex algorithms and people are beginning to expect buildings to communicate or react to condition-in other words to contain interactivity. Architecture that changes color in response to weather, pollution, human input, or the programs happening inside is an emerging area of design. Lavin argues that this type of experimental design should be encouraged. This is not necessarily an argument for user-centered design but for promoting a new aesthetic/program of affect. Architecture is not just about building boxes and Lavin demonstrates the potential power of these extra dimensions through the use of textures, layering, reflective surfaces, or video screens. She makes a compelling case, asking the reader to consider how these elements can shape our experience, perception, and understanding of the built form.
Lavin repeatedly attacks the idea of critical distance. Critical distance causes people to regard built objects cerebrally and hesitantly. Critical distance in relationship to architectures means taking a passive stance—a formal appreciation through geometry or economics. Lavin makes the claim that the modernist project was in part about suppressing affect through intellectual detachment. By encouraging the kissing of forms, Lavin instigates the possibility of becoming up-close and personal with new architectural forms and experiencing a new form of intimacy.
But is there a movement towards affective architecture? Are these hybrids ultimately more than just buildings with new programs? The underlying presumption is that immersive/affective architecture is better than merely formal/iconic. Lavin proposes that architects and other creatives should push and grope towards each other, that no longer should white-walled boxes be considered the pinnacle of aesthetic desirability and psychic transcendence, and we should emerge with multi-sensory, intelligible, and emotive built environment.
This book may come as a shot across the bow of contemporary architectural thinking. By no means alone in the quest for affect her timing is impeccable. Lavin astutely observes that architecture is reluctant to give up its autonomy. Autonomy is always a divisive subject in architecture. There have been long-standing arguments6 and positions both for and against such architectural autonomy. Pier Vittorio Aureli’s recently released book, The Possibility of An Absolute Architecture7 is clearly in favor of a concept of architecture’s autonomy. His autonomy is one that is against the undifferentiated grid of late-capitalist urbanism and comes with its own complicated set of propositions. Lavin’s is a proposal for unity set against the autonomy of lingering ghosts and hold-over ideologies of post-war modernism and its offspring, minimalism. The thrust of the modern movement was a push towards empty formalism at the expense of emotive responses. The era of minimalism needs to come to an end.
(1) Sylvia Lavin. Kissing Architecture (Princeton University Press, 2011), 43.
(3) Kevin Lynch,. The Image of the City. (MIT Press, 1960).
(4) Sylvia Lavin. Kissing Architecture. (Princeton University Press, 2011), 36.
(5) “Archizoom Biography.” The Grove Dictionary of Art. (Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2000).
(6) see our review of Architecture at the Edge of Everything Else
(7) Pier Vittorio Aureli. The Possibility Of An Absolute Architecture. (MIT Press, 2011).