In the Mood for Love
2000, 98 minutes
directed by: Wong Kar-wai
Well, this was the last film I screened at Yale before I graduated with my M.Arch, and I suppose it was fitting that I showed the film that got me interested about the exploration between film and architecture in the first place. Several years ago, a good friend of mine who was working on a PhD on “atmosphere” at the GSD showed this film to me, and seeing it was a small revelation. First of all, the film is a profoundly beautiful film (it remains one of my favorite films of all time from one of my favorite directors). Secondly, I had no idea that there was scholarship on something as seemingly disparate as cinema and architecture. In the Mood for Love is a beautiful document of love, urbanism, and cultural identity. It’s about space, atmosphere, and time; the beautiful actors Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung are the players. For more on Wong Kar-Wai, read my post about his other movie, Chungking Express.
When I first started the film society at Yale, it was mainly as a means for creating a debate about the relationship between architecture and media within the school. Specifically, the focus would be films, but broadly, about all of technology in general. Film is technology, and both architecture and technology share the same etymological root (tech: from Gk. tekhne-, “art, skill, craft, method, system”). The moving picture, invented at the beginning of the 20th century, contemporaneously accompanied a sequence and succession of technological changes that have fundamentally altered the world around us and architecture to no lesser degree. Le Corbusier changed the way we put buildings together at the same time, but he changed it in part because he was inspired by the technology of film. To understand these changes is to understand why our built environment is the way it is. In short, architecture is, like film, an expression of humanity.
On this topic of cultural technologies, humanities, and digital media, there is nobody more eloquent and erudite as Mario Carpo. Having initially come across him in the first semester while writing a paper for Alan Plattus’ urbanism class, it was incredible to have him come and teach a graduate seminar in my final year. Much of what had only begun to approximate in thinking I found had already been expounded upon at length by the world’s most prominent architectural media theorist. In terms of thinking about media and architecture, Mario Carpo is, so far, the last word. His lecture at Yale in the spring of ’08 was an exciting reminder of how contentious the fields of history, historiography, philosophy, media and technology are when they come together in the study of architecture. Earlier in that same day, Steven Holl, Peter Eisenman, Mario Carpo, and Bob Stern sat and debated the changing paradigms of architecture, urbanism, and landscape, and reminisced about their shared background as young architects in New York. They were seated next to about twenty students. In one room. Such is the power of the place of Yale and its community of individuals. I miss it dearly.
The format of the Yale Architecture Film Society wasn’t really well thought out; it was simply a matter of cobbling together something that I thought was sufficiently time manageable—screen a movie once a week or so and argue a position about the movie and its relation to architecture in a distributable format for the Yale community. However, at the time, I was simply printing out sheets of paper and posting them around the school. Looking back, it was a laughably low-tech way of going about it. I should have created a website or blog, posted links, film clips, and the written portions as well. This blog is an attempt to redistribute that information and reanimate those discussions. All the struggling I did each week over the years with how much to write, what images to include, or different ways to advertise the screenings and communicate with those who were interested would have been elegantly solved by the Web 2.0. It would have been an exploration of a modern medium using the new forms of media that are starting to influence architecture irreversibly. This blog is a continuation of that goal.
This marks the end of the series of films I began discussing under the theme of “The Future is Asian.” The next theme I will blog about will be “American Landscapes.”
Buildings by REX/OMA. Renzo Piano. Norman Foster. I. M. Pei. Morphosis. Allied Works. All in one district; literally next door to each other and across the street from one another. Four Pritzker Prize winners’ buildings elbow to elbow. Should be great, no?
The recent opening of REX/OMA’s Wyly Theatre (above) has brought a new spate of attention to this district within Dallas. David Dillon of the Dallas Morning News addressed this topic lightly in his article for Architectural Record, subtitled, “Does an impressive collection of buildings add up to a truly urban neighborhood for the arts?” The goal for the district, as stated in the original Carr Lynch report which spurred the civic project, was to “not to create memorable buildings or support real estate development, but to bring the arts into the lives of the people of Dallas, in an immediate and personal way, in the course of everyday life.”
But I believe David Dillon was much to deferential in his final judgment, in which he stated that: “Architecture can do only so much. Without sensitively designed streets, plazas, and landscapes — a so-called “public realm” — even great buildings end up as solitary objects, wonderful to look at but lifeless and forbidding. . . Street life remains a fantasy, with no shops and cafés, only a handful of restaurants, and few public events outside the walls of the cultural institutions. Most nights and weekends, the ‘urban neighborhood’ is dead.”
Lifeless and forbidding is probably the best thing I believe you can say about any of these buildings. Though some deserve it more than others, without a doubt. I bristle at Dillon’s statement that “Architecture can only do so much.” It only feels that way because of the limited scope of consciousness displayed by buildings such as the Wyly Theatre, which seems to have no regard for anything outside of the tight shirts of its designers. Architecture can do so much more–it just isn’t on display here.
So I’m going to go out and say what Dillon is merely insinuating, which is that this Dallas Arts District is one of the most disturbing, anti-architectural, and plain wrong-headed urban developments currently going on in America (there is too much bad urbanism in other parts of the world to warrant competition with the world). It does the architectural profession, the city, and humanity in general no greater disservice than to see a bunch of cocksure blowhard “designers” strut around stages arguing for their technical monstrosities in this district while their buildings are completely bereft of any urban or humanistic (to say nothing of “architectural”) sensitivity. This is both the culmination of the planning of this district, a type which I thought we had learned was anti-urban half a century ago, but also because of the sad nature of the buildings within them, which do nothing to address this. At the very least, this district, and each of the buildings within them, fail at the stated goal, which is “to bring the arts into the lives of the people of Dallas, in an immediate and personal way, in the course of everyday life.”
From the New Yorker: “the National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, which indicates that the number of people who venture out to classical music performances in a given year has been declining for almost three decades. Further, each new generation participates less than the one that came before it. Generation X, which is now entering middle age, shows no sign of chucking its Pixies records in favor of Prokofiev.” Sadly, Architecture isn’t going to change that–certainly not in Dallas. Not because it can’t, but because it isn’t even thinking about it.