Neoclassical Façade Misreadings

Preliminary studies for an undergraduate thesis at The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), advisor Michael Young with AT Melissa Shin, thesis coordinator Marcelyn Gow, 2016

This series of investigations sought to take a neoclassical façade (extracted from the west façade of the Lima Museum of Art in Lima, Peru) as a basis for the study of the aesthetic properties of several abstractive techniques.

Using blurring and intentionally exaggerated shadows, the overall inquiry sought to push the façade to its limits, whether that be through overt contrasting between shadows and lightness or poorly focused vision.

These extrapolations tended to reveal inherent characteristics of the neoclassical order and unique organizational properties of the façade, as if to ask how far the reading (or misreading) of this precedent might be taken so that something anew might be revealed.

Studies of Blurring

While representations of architecture traditionally relied on the "snapshot" of a building, as if to capture its existence in an abstract moment of time, the use of animation allows us to understand an expanded degree of purpose for form. These blurred realizations of the façade at the Lima Museum of Art are studies that exist in a range of motions.

They suggest a multiplicity of identities for the building, in this case at a formal level, which address the complexity of architectural reading. The building is not a static object but a physical presence in the world that exists in a state of continuous dialogue with its surroundings, its culture and our discipline.

While these studies are not literal in their articulation of this perpetually changing identity, they use standards of architectural representation in the Western canon to suggest as much. They hint at a figurative sense for the possibility of architecture to attend to many readings, many understandings.

A building is never one thing to all people, and thus the comprehension of how we site it in our cultural landscape less the identification of a monolithic object than the identification of the estuaries in its meaning, how it courses between meanings and relates to the innumerable people for whom it serves a number of purposes, whether those are characterized merely passing-by or continuous inhabitation.

Studies of Shading

Particularly in the case of the architectural representation of highly ornamented Neoclassical façades, the intentional use of shadow on the part of the designer to communicate the physical presence of geometrical articulation, when projected onto the flat canvas of the drawing, has long been a default mode of architectural representation in the Western canon.

While shadow was traditionally implemented as a technique for clarifying the highly ornate nature of such façades, a contemporary reading might emphasize its potential to obfuscate reading, undermining the characteristics of reveal and surface for which it was long employed as a representational lynchpin.

In such explorations it becomes overwhelmingly important to understand that the intensification of shadow, although contemporary in its intention to undermine reading, is not wholly beyond the representational prerogatives of its antecedent. Shading as a tool fo rendering has always, continuously throughout the entirety of Modern Western architecture, been tools of abstraction that hold at their cores a self-aware level of abstraction from reality.

The formulaic perfection of the 45-degree shadow seen in so much of the Beaux-Arts school is itself a distinctly clear divorce reality from the often acute, soft nature of shadow in our physical world. To understand the space that this abstraction provides is to provide its contemporary reassessment with a disciplinary means of contemplating and challenging the engrained prerogatives, at once representational and political, that have perpetually grounded the conceptual foundations of Western architecture.