Friday, May 13, 2011

The Glib Flip Side of All This Capacity for Patterns

Having just finished extolling the virtues of this budding era of "pattern freedom" in the previous post, I find myself thoroughly burnt out on the variety at this year's National AIA (American Institute of Architects) Convention.  All the pattern variety feels glib.  The manufacturer's clearly have the capacity to make any shape they want and boy do that want to share that with you!

Forgive me if I'm sounding like a snob, but after a couple days of exposure... I think anyone would consider themselves some kind of twisted expert on this little corner of the building product's world.  We are not talking here about the kind of sophistication that someone like Erwin Hauer brings to the subject of patterning.  Erwin makes the subject seem large and mystical.  Ironically, for all its abundance and excess, the expo makes the world of pattern possibilities seem small.

It is admittedly a cheap comparison to pit someone in the creative arts against a product expo.  Still, it underlines the blurred distinction between a raw material that can develop into something beautiful and the whistful desire on the part of the consumer - be they a developer or architect - to buy this beauty "in a can".  No assembly required.  These kinds of products always seem novel when they are still displayed as prototypes on the showroom floor.  

But we have seen this movie before.  

While the patterning capacity we have today is something new it is worth comparing historic images with images from the show today as a cautionary tale about how these patterns might age in the hearts and minds of the general public.  On the one hand you have Wright's Ennis House with tiles he had made specially for his project.  On the other hand, you have the possibility of cheesy prefabricated products that became part of our collective unconscious.  This is ultimately not the manufacturer's fault at all but rather a poverty of imagination associated with the products implementation; a history of expedient decisions.  We look at many of these images now and too often think the developer or designer just wanted to make something fancy without thinking or working very much.  In other words: without creating.

Like any technology or superhero, new patterning technologies can be used for good or evil.  I'm going to  make a mental note to try and ADD this to my tool box without throwing out something conscientious in the process.

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