The New New Realists: Building the Social Imaginary

SP. 21

ARCH 502A: Architectural Design V

Instructor: Mary Casper

Since the advent of photography in the early 18th century, architects have had to contend with “realism” – a promise of objectivity that made it possible to substitute a singularly framed view of a space for a physical experience of it. And yet, however ironically, the photographic representation of even the most unreal project has become a measure of its realness, even as the tools to produce such images are totally unreal; digital models, digitally rendered, digitally manipulated and digitally filtered now yield images so realistic they are often undistinguishable from so-called real photographs of so-called real buildings.

Of course, so-called realist movements in architecture have also taken many forms, under the banners of pragmatism, modernism, rationalism, organicism and contextualism. We will privilege Realism as a technique of design representation. Beyond mere subject, style or agenda, Realism as a design methodology will fuel our construction of elaborate, projective and even radical spatial proposals that posit new forms of the Social Imaginary: the set of values, institutions, laws and symbols through which people imagine their social whole.

In the prequel to this course, we established working definitions of Realism and the Social Imaginary through a series of historic representational dialectics: photography/painting, documentary/narrative, fact/fiction, collage/clay and building/image. Together we defined the critical terms, techniques and values of our collective research before embarking on individual research trajectories.

Continuing our exploration of reality’s relationship to artifice and architecture’s relationship to media, the studio actively utilized the reciprocal influence of image and its referent to develop an architectural project that tests the capacity of media to become an environment and vice versa, and the related dynamics of this symbolic economy on structures of power and urbanism. Guiding our work is the fundamental understanding that any single project is neither image nor referent, neither film nor architecture, neither building nor city; instead, we champion architectural ideas that bridge the sum of their readings. A series of additive projects, each student’s project has been developed vis a vis an exploration of media: a photo essay, a flip book, a trailer and a stop motion film.