We recently gave a team-taught lesson on architecture and urban culture. Here is a brief summary of what our lesson entailed!
For the majority of this semester, we have focused on small objects that have a large impact on our lives: memorabilia, heirlooms, talismans, and trinkets, to name a few. For our team teaching lesson, we questioned the way that large objects, namely buildings and furniture, have a subtle but meaningful impact on our life and our perception of different cultures.
Firstly, architecture is a means of capturing history: through architecture and urban planning, one might discover in what climate a culture is situated, the development of their artistic movements, the prevalence of religion to their people, whether or not they constituted a democracy or a monarchy, or by what other cultures their were colonized.
Secondly, as architecture continues to develop, it gives the people a means to change how others perceive their culture. Because architecture is a form of artistic expression, people have the ability to incorporate their traditional values with their aspirations for the future. We looked at an example of this development in the article on the architecture program in Dubai, most notably the example of the young woman who built a modern chair for the purpose of helping her mother fulfill her Muslim prayer duties.
Thirdly, we looked at how Dubai enormously has expanded over the last two decades. We discussed how the American material culture might have influenced their development as Dubai strives to make “the best of the best”: 7 star hotels, the tallest building in the world, underwater hotels, and man-made islands in the shape of palm trees. These ideas sparked discussion about culture shock, shifting views of materialism between cultures, and the human reaction to environment (both natural and urban).
We then looked at urban culture through the lens of street photography, capturing peoples’ essences through how they express themselves. In particular, we explored the Humans of New York project. Photographer Brandon Stanton roams the streets of New York City (as well as Boston and Tehran) to take pictures of people passing by that he finds interesting. Often, these photos represent people attempting to express originality in such a heavily diverse area. This is especially prevalent in their choice of dress or objects they carry, which relates to our studies in material culture.
From there, we stepped back and looked at photography as a whole. In reading portions of Stephen Bull’s Photography, we were able to identify the issue of the physical, printed photograph being replaced with the digital representation. Photographs act as a vessel for memories, which are more easily discarded in the digital form, yet hard to part with when part of a limited supply of prints. This modernization of photos is just a one example of digitization’s role in material culture, that is, how physical objects are becoming replaced with digital representations.
“Architectures of Control in the Built Environment.” Architectures. Dan Lockton, n.d. Web. 26 March 2013.
This article provided the example of French urban planning and how it prevented riots after the French Revolution, proving how architecture and urban planning are indicative of a culture’s history.
Bull, Stephen. Photography. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Explores the types of photography as well as the more-or-less “philosophy” behind many aspects of photography. In particular, the chapters we read talk about the materialization of print photos being replaced with the dematerialization of digital photos. The section on documentary photography talks about the theory behind the semiotics of objects when photographed.
“The Center as Void: The Civic Realm and Chinese Tradition.” Projective Cities. Architectural Association Graduate School, 12 November 2012. Web. 26 March 2013.
This website gave valuable insight into how architecture played a role in the protest at Tiananmen’s Square, China. The article provided a concrete example of the idea of disciplinary architecture discussed in Kreiger’s book and was relevant to previous class discussions of riot prevention measures.
“Essential Architecture: Dubai.” Dubai-Architecture. n.p., 2009. Web. 26 March 2013.
This website provided startling images about the designs projected for Dubai’s architectural development, starting in 1990 and continuing until 2009. The visuals were an essential companion to the other articles used because they captured the aspirational values of the culture and showed just how drastically architecture can alter the perception of a culture.
Krieger, Alex & William S. Saunders. Urban Design. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minneapolis, 2009. Print.
We used this source to discover more about the purpose of urban planning and to back our claim that cities develop based on cultural and societal needs. This book also lent strength to the examples of disciplinary architecture, demonstrating how society can use architecture as a method of controlling or freeing people.
Sarnecky, William G. “Building a Material Culture in Dubai.” Journal of Architectural Education. 65.2 (2012): 80-88. Print.
This article functioned as a main topic of discussion, tying small-scale objects (furniture) to large-scale objects and architecture. In this article, we see how architecture allows people to combine their artistic ability, traditional values, and state-of-the-art technology (such as 3D printers) to modernize their culture.
Stanton, Brandon. Humans of New York. Web. 21 Apr. 2013. <www.humansofnewyork.com>
The work of photographer Brandon Stanton, which focuses mostly on street portraits in New York City. The photos are often accompanied by anecdotes about the people he meets, which is an entertaining and often heartfelt combination.