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ARCHITECTURE AND IDENTITY

&
Different approach to create new

Changmin Han
MA Interactive Digital Media
Ravensbourne College of Design & Communication

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Finnish architect Alvar Aalto wholeheartedly embraced the industrial age, but he always
maintained that technology should be used humanistically to enrich rather than to
invalidate life. He was aware of the ever present danger of sacrificing culture for
technology and thereby losing the meaning of existence. He therefore used his vision and
imagination to focus on combining carefully designed details extracted from life and culture
to form a harmonious whole through the organic fit of scale and proportion. Without this
kind of harmony, buildings have no spirit, because they are incapable of touching us.
(An Identity of Architecture, Angela Mazzi, 1993)

Structure of the Paper

1. Introduction
2. Interdisciplinary discussion about architecture and identity
3. New proposal for an identity of architecture
4. Reference

1. Introduction

Since I wrote my first MAnifesto, I have made it a rule to walk around the central city to find
something for indirect interactivity every weekend. A few weeks ago, the TATE Modern
museum was the place for my quest. The first impression I had when I stepped into building
cant be expressed in a verbal language. It was amazing. I felt something gigantic was
standing on the frontal empty space of main hall. This amazing view made me believe that
this building has its own life or identity.
Now I look around the London city with a different perception. Whole city is a museum to me.
With its long history, they became great heritage. And their long history has made them living
entities along with human kind. They seem to have their own identities.

In 1994, Seoul, South Korea, 18 stories building named Life-building was on the brink of
explosion. Crowds gathered lest they should miss this spectacular Exploding performance
without realizing that deadly harmful particles from explosion were being breathed to their
respiratory organs. I still dont understand why that building, only 13-year old, had to be
destroyed. That building was just a meaningless concrete lump. No chance was allowed for
that building to be a member of our society any more.

Now I wonder what is an identity of architecture?

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2. Interdisciplinary Discussion about Architecture and Identity

Classicism vs Modernism
The research for this subject Architecture and Identity - has been performed by many
brains all over the world in terms of cultural, sociological, historical and aesthetical
perspective.
Speaking of Identity of Architecture, there are the most deeply divided point of views,
Classicism and Modernism. We can see how deeply divided they are from the discussion by
panelists during the forum of Architecture as Identity at the Soanes Museum Foundation in
1999.

The discussion quickly focused on the language of classicism. Classical architecture is


defined and bound by a certain vocabulary. That was as much common ground as could be
agreed upon. For the modernists this aspect of classicism is its downfall. Each successive
classicist is forced to replicate the work of his predecessors. Creativity is disallowed
because newness threatens the syntactical consistency of the project. Byard put this
abruptly when he equated classicism with a fear of facing the reality of a changing world
and said that it was fostering an unhealthy desire for comfort and reassurance. He called it
a fear of the new.
Allan Greenberg countered from a formal point of view that Modernism despite its bold
ambitions has failed to create a viable vernacular tradition. Donald Rattner took a more
cunning approach. The Modernists chief argument was that classicism is the Architecture
of comfort, Rattner reversed this logic and reduced it to absurdity. He asked what are you
proposing, architecture of pain? Should architecture be designed to cause discomfort?
The Modernist and the Classicists had both attempted to condemn each other by
pointing out the inherent paradoxes in each others position.
(review by Leonard Porter, http://www.classicist.org/bboard/old_messages/48.html)

Power of Capitalism
Hundreds of thousands of buildings are deployed as frontline for visually cohesive identity of
a city. Not like commodities however, which can be produced in a relatively shorter time on
demand, the identity of a city which would take centuries may confront a lot of variables.
Amid those, the worst is WAR. By this devastation, everything goes back to primitive stage
and any regulation to keep citys inherent architectural style become obsolete. Major concern
in stage must have been only reconstruction. At this urban renewal stage, every rebuilding
architecture was heavily influenced by very strong ideology, namely capitalism.

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<No decree to preserve our cultural heritage.>
The first Stock trade center of Korea has started to be demolished by its owner even though
cultural heritage administration noticed that trade center will be registered as Cultural
Assets. The citizen group is protesting its demolition saying this stock trade center is very
valuable in its historical importance so that it should be preserved.
We are devoid of any decree to stop this demolition because of public notion that private
ownership mustnt be hampered by any means, says officer of cultural heritage
administration. Thus public opinion now starts to raise its voice in order to change its
powerless registration system into mandatory decree for our cultural heritage.
(Newspaper article, 25/09/2005, Yeonhap News KOREA)

Such an ambiguous identity, arisen from lack of contextual continuity, for example in country
like South Korea which undergone the break of historical context because of the aggression
by Japan, is now on the question, how can we establish an identity then? How can we
contextualize our look of city which is already suffered from its international style?

The international style, on the other hand, was the outcome of a rational approach to
design, unhampered by historical and cultural restrains,
(Bahga, Bahga and Bahga, 1993)

Protest
In 2004, international conference and research project was held in Berlin to talk about the
cultural identity in the contemporary architecture of developing countries. There were 5
regional research projects covering areas such as Singapore, Middle East, India, Brazil and
Mexico. Most of researchers for this regional study commonly speak out its difficulties in
contextualizing its multidisciplinary identity.

On the contrary, the designer-architects try to create proposals to be carried out presently:
here and now, each day in our drawing tables.. Therefore when we architects see the
issue of identity as the need to seek for a kind of pre-defined list of the X identity
characteristics and before long, find and recover them, we face an impossible mission: this
recuperation is not inherently feasible.
(Regional Study, Brazil by Ruth Verde Zein, 2004)

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In addition to conference like this, many media has dealt with this subject. In some cases,
interviewer even seems to really dislike this kind of argument. It is as if they are fighting
against criminal ideology.

As architects, we seem to be bound by a rope of mediocrity that inhibits us from working in


a different way from what we did hundred years ago. If architecture is to determine our
historical identity, where do we stand today?
(Deccan Herald, India, 2005)

While doing this research in the conventional perspective, I was simply overwhelmed by its
intertwined insistence. Everything was simply list of their assertion and analysis based on its
inevitable history. Is it worth doing this kind of research? If there is only one specific error
code blemishing the identity of city, how easy it would be to debug this?
Maybe only lunatic imagination can solve this complicated problem - demolish all
architecture and reconstruct under a mandatory regulation.

If it is impractical to discuss this subject with multidisciplinary, academic perspective, is


there any chance to construct this identity with other perspective?

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3. New proposal for an identity of architecture

One of the important figures of modern architecture and is the best-known Finnish architect
abroad, Alvar Aalto realized that architecture is inherently an instrument of communication,
and therefore he relied on built elements themselves, rather than symbolic or literal devices,
to accomplish his objectives. The relationships and attitudes about harmony and unity that
Aalto wanted to convey exist through the architecture, and therefore create a compelling
building with an undeniable message.
(An architecture of identity, Angela Mazzi, 1993)

My proposal for the identity of architecture is based on the discernment of identities as


followings.

Personal Identity
Role Identity
Regional Identity

In case of architecture, according to above categories, the first represents architecture itself,
the second functionality of architecture library, museum, etc and the last subject in which
we theoretically speak of architecture and identity.
Now I want to propose unique approach from personal identity of architecture with my own
perspective. This personal identity doesnt mean the identity with historical context like Big
Ben in London. This just means identity itself. Basic idea for this is as simple as that if we
cant change the past, we should change the future.
In South Korea, every citizen is issued Certificate of Residence. This kind of ID card is
being issued in lots of other countries. Moreover there is a similar ID card issued for
architecture, maybe not well recognized, which is a Cornerstone. Some basic information
about architecture is inscribed on cornerstone contents may vary in other countries - such as
name of architect and year of construction. Thus this can be considered as a certificate of
residence for architecture.
My goal is to strengthen the identity of architecture by implementing present and forthcoming
technology in cornerstone. In other words, lack of aesthetical, historical and cultural identity
can be overcome by digital identity which is never tried before, neither in theory nor in
practice. It means that new beginning of context with brand new identity with Digital
Cornerstone.

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Repetition of demolishing and rebuilding architecture on the basis of capitalistic economy has
gradually weakened the contextual identity of city, especially visual side. This weakness can
be overcome by providing the new paradigm to the city like SEOUL, which is willingly
adopting a platform for Digital City. It is neither about serious modification of the existing
infrastructure nor construction of the cutting edge, intelligent architecture. It is merely about
putting some technology into very simple, common and mandatory element of all
architecture, not suggesting never-existed standard for the future. It is just revising the
meaningless metal nameplate into something meaningful for the Identity of Interactive
Digital City.

Then how beneficial is this digital cornerstone to us? It is not only vivid display showing the
name and year of construction of an architecture, but a kind of the open architecture prototype
- hardware - for a building at the future need as Linux is an open source code - software -
which can be developed and extended at need.
The biggest potential of Digital Cornerstone is that it can be another possibility for network
infrastructure of city by its aspect of pervasive computing.

Digital cornerstone can be new network terminal of which features can be augmented by
future need. It is as if people gather to form the society by network. Now it is happening
in the world of architecture.
Architecture can communicate each other by A.I (This is homage to ARCHIGRAM).
Digital Cornerstone is another possibility for future network infrastructure. It can be used
as terminal for GPS.
Ultimately it can be evolved as the core or black box of architecture, collecting
information both inside and outside.

The social and economic benefits of the fully networked city can be real and significant. But
they will not result from simple substitution of Web pages for bricks-and-mortar, or of
telecommunication for transportation within existing urban patterns, as many have
imagined. In order to achieve these benefits, architects, planners, and public policy makers
will have to understand the complex and subtle restructuring of space use, transportation
demand, and intelligence and management strategies that the new electronic infrastructure
entails. And we cannot expect the potential benefits to follow automatically; we will need
imaginative visions of possible urban futures, and the will and energy to work towards them.
(William J. Mitchell, 2001)

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4. References

1. An architecture of identity, Angela Mazzi 1993,


http://architronic.saed.kent.edu/v2n2/v2n2.07.html

2. Architecture as Identity at the Soanes Museum Foundation, Leonard Porter, 1999.


http://www.classicist.org/bboard/old_messages/48.html

3. Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City, William Mitchell, 2003

4. Architecture and historical identity, Article of Sunday Herald Art & Culture, 2005

5. Cultural Heritage, Article of Yeonhap News Korea, 09.2005

6. Research papers for Architecture & Identity in Berlin, William S.W.Lim, Khaled Asfour,

Rahul Mehrotra, Ruth Verde Zein, Susanne Dussel, 2004

7. The Fully Networked City, R&I 2000, William J. Mitchell

8. Future wireless applications for a networked city, Nigel Davies, Keith Cheverst, 2002