Monday, November 08, 2010

Book Review: Monsterpieces

Monsterpieces: Once Upon a Time . . . of the 2000s! by Aude-Line Duliere and Clara Wong
ORO Editions, 2010
Hardcover, 100 pages

What an intriguing title. Monsterpieces. One part masterpiece and one part Frankenstein. Judging from the buildings arrayed across the bottom of the cover -- Bird's Nest by Herzog & de Meuron, Will Alsop's OCAD, Peter Cook's Kunsthaus Graz, and OMA's CCTV tower and Seattle Public Library -- the masterpieces of the 2000s are its strange creatures, buildings all about form over function. But what exactly are monsterpieces? In the hands of self-declared "rebellious daughters of the Koolhaasian 90s" Aude-Line Duliere and Clara Wong, they are speculations on what happens in these and other buildings well after they've served their original purpose, decades or centuries beyond their expiration date. In one instance OCAD is illustrated as a swimming pool during the "Pet-Obsessed Period," in another CCTV tower is seen as a venue for bungee jumping. Duliere and Wong's illustrations that comprise the bulk of the book (their introduction lays out the theme and some big names comment on their project afterwords) combine conventional architecture drawings, mostly sections, with silhouetted figures, everything from dogs swimming and people having sex to oversized bugs and robots. They are carefully composed and playfully done, equal parts children's book and architectural presentation.

A couple things came to mind as I read and absorbed the images in the book. First is an essay from Environment and Behavior class in undergrad (the source escapes me), in which a 20th-century room is found by a people far in the future. Their interpretation of the artifacts that survive the millennia aren't even close to what they were actually used for, just like CCTV is seen as a bungee tower as part of the Beijing Olympics. And second is, of course, The Simpsons, specifically the episode with none other than Frank Gehry. His design for a opera house in Springfield becomes, years later because noboby in the town is interested in opera, a prison. Future Systems' Selfridges department store is likewise converted into a prison in this book. The morphing of the Simpsons building from one function to another -- in the case of the prison, only fencing with lookouts are added, otherwise the building is the same -- is certainly a commentary on the arbitrariness of the formal invention. It also hits on the fact that the expense architecture masterpieces incur necessitates their reuse; one does not knock down a half-a-billion dollar Gehry because its original purpose is obselete. The speculations in these pages are a blend of what future people will think of the buildings and what other functions may be appropriate in the forms created. It's a very interesting experiment and critique of a formalism we are still in the midst of. This small book gives the architects aiming for a masterpiece something more to think about.