UGLY

February 4, 2010
Bryce 2 Island content
Bryce Two – Island (source)

 

As a child growing up, there was a mantra passed on to me by my older brother: imperfection is perfection. Raised in a design family, at a young age, our parents bought us a Macintosh SE (exotic at the time) to spark our creativity. We spent all of our subsequent free time, into adulthood and beyond, making 2D animations, later graduating to what constituted 3D in those days. What quickly became apparent, even to our young eyes, was that the 2D pixel and 3D primitive geometries, the then standard tools of design, made everything we created a little too perfect. Whereas in reality, even the most polished surface contained scratches and dimples, our swivel 3D cubes and cylinders had no flaws to speak of. For hours on end, time which would have been better spent playing outdoors, we would sit next to each other at the computer screen attempting to fabricate the imperfect. This played out in dirtied texture and bump maps, and relied heavily on post processing in Photoshop.

 

We were not alone in our awkward relationship with the ultra perfect. Freud developed the theory of the uncanny in the 1900s, which documents a general discomfort with objects that are familiar and foreign at the same time. In film, the term ‘uncanny valley’ is used to describe the repulsion that is felt when observing digital actors whose movement falls just short of natural—’this accounts for the unease you might have experienced when watching the Final Fantasy movie for the first time, or more recently Avatar (though the latter is more successful at tricking our perceptions).

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

Content, OMA/AMO, 2004 (source)

 

As the follow-up to S, M, L, XL, Rem Koolhaas and his collaborators released the architectural monograph Content, which has generally been regarded as ‘ugly’ in contrast to its well received predecessor. In his essay on the topic—’The Ugly’—the cultural critic Mark Cousins defines ugly entities as those which are out of place. Accordingly, a climate of displacement inspired Content.

 

At the moment of its publication, the architectural practice was witnessing a distinct shift in agenda, regional focus and client. This shift is manifested in the physical document in its rigorously repositioned authorship, form, subject matter and target audience. Content displaces the author through its collaborative configuration. It displaces the format of the architectural monograph by adopting a magazine template. It displaces the ‘where’ that Western architects traditionally looked for in their commissions by advocating a move East. Content seeks a generic audience, a desire which is clearly communicated by both its format and the graphic content of the publication. The publication excludes standard architectural drawings in favor of a varied representational approach that makes complex ideas accessible. While its ugliness seems to have deliberately stripped Content of S, M, L, XL’s timeless quality and designated it to a specific moment, there is little doubt that its conceptual brilliance will influence (contaminate) generations to come, within and beyond the architectural discipline.

 

Erandi de Silva

 

 

 

 

 

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