September 24, 2010
germania laser
Model of the Volkshalle (People’s Hall), Albert Speer (source)


Robert Harris’ Fatherland describes a parallel time-line in which Nazi Germany has won the Second World War, asserting its political influence across Europe. The capital of this super-nation is a reinvented Berlin, dubbed the Welthaupstadt (World Capital), its provincial architecture replaced by the fantastical visions of Albert Speer: a 400 foot tall triumphal arch, a great hall capable of hosting Nazi celebrations of over 160,000, and a grand avenue flanked on either side by the spoils of modern warfare. While a fictional thriller, Harris’ reinvented Berlin is not imagined, but based on actual plans developed by Albert Speer for the Fuhrer in anticipation of victory in the Second World War. Land was amassed, sites were cleared, soil was tested, and construction was initiated.


Thankfully, contrary to Harris’ version of history, the Germans did not win the war. Speer, implicated in war crimes, would spend the next twenty years of his life behind bars, his visions (the fictional variety as well as the architectural drawings that document his work) relegated to paper.


E. Sean Bailey


Laser Dress, Hussein Chalayan, 2008 (source)


Architects and fashion designers share materials, techniques and methods of construction. With both groups arguably investigating enclosure however, these studies happen at different scales. Scale is possibly the critical difference between the disciplines and the root from which all other differences emerge. While fashion is typically tailored to the singular body, architecture is usually occupied by multiple people.


Though a fashion designer such as Hussein Chalayan caters to an enclosure for the singular body, his work is still able to influence architects as a result of his application of spatial thinking to the smallest scale of bodily enclosure. His Fall 2000 collection offers the classic example from his oeuvre, with dresses that transform through expansion and retraction into furniture, thereby examining how one can take their possessions with them. In his Spring 2008 collection, lasers project from a dress to expand the volume of the garment in a dynamic manner. Spring 2009’s collection creates the atmosphere of speed by generating effects that rely heavily on 3D technology. Perhaps work like Chalayan’s is so fascinating to architects because it remains simultaneously familiar and out of reach, as recognizable maneuvers are re-contextualized.


Erand de Silva




One Response to “PARALLEL”

  • figjer says:


    Chalayan’s body of work undoubtedly has architectural allure to designers once over through the very points mentioned – the extension of space, patterning, and use of 3D technology. However, what becomes parallelingly (to coin a word) interesting to consider in Chalayan’s work, specifically the laser dress, is a lineage of thought that arguably began with McLuhan’s consideration of media and digital technology as an extension of ones nervous system in terms of speed by which data, news, and information would circulate and be processed. This is not to say that Chalayan is re-presenting McLuhan’s polemic in the form of a dress, which would be misleading, since Atsuko Tanaka’s 1956 Electric Dress ( could be considered the more compelling precedent to Chalayan’s contemporary integration of space, light, and technology.


    It is refreshing to look at a fashion designer such as Chalayan who encompasses degrees of experimentation via the integration of technique and technological innovation in his pieces which obviously becomes critical in terms of reinventing ones ideas about garments and their relation to the body, while simultaneously designing clothing that needs to be practical and function while not losing any of its ambition. While the fashion industry has prided itself on couture houses world wide, having “couture” as a qualitative association with their collections, these days being considered couture is not nearly enough. Perhaps couture work can keep its validity if the terms by which couture exists can be redefined with Chalayan-like sensibility.


    Architects are also in this same boat.


    Producing quality architecture requires a sensibility that combines digital techniques, a means to execute on the scale of buildings, as well as a practicality as it relates to a buildings inhabitants and space to say the least. As Branko Kolervic pointed out in his 2003 book, Architecture in the Digital Age: Design and Manufacturing, ( where he drew upon a correlation between in architecture in a digital age and that of a medieval master craftsman, who, as an individual was both the executer and designer of work.


    As found in fashion, there is a closer proximity between the designer and their garments; in architecture this proximity often moves in the opposite direction where the gap is widening, instead of drawing closer. Let us hope architectural ambition does not get left at the pier, as ideas set sail without couture sensibility in the meantime.



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