Architecture vs. Media

My Dad and I often end up talking about the similarities between architecture and media as we are both very interested in these realms of creativity – I’ve been working in his architecture office for a couple of years now and he’s also the person I go to about film or photography. Anyway, we were in the car last night discussing the architectural theories he’s been studying recently; one of which was deconstructionist theory. From what I can gather, this concept was the aftermath of post modern theory, which was of course the aftermath of modernism. It is characterized by fragmentation, the manipulation of a building’s surface and curvilinear shapes which appear to distort and dislocate elements of architecture. The finished visual appearance of buildings that exhibit deconstructivist ‘style’ are characterised by unpredictability and controlled chaos. But what caught me, was the idea that deconstructionist architects are against the idea of a structure with a singular ‘narrative’, or purpose. My Dad hates the idea that something has to have a narrative; a concept that is drummed into us as media students constantly. There are people out there whose sole job is to create ‘interpretative narratives’ in buildings. Take zoos for instance; there is now a massive concentration on how people move through spaces and landscapes, what they read and in what order and how their senses are engaged.  Ultimately these designers want to create a fabricated story experience for people. But deconstructivist theorists ask why… Why does there always have to be a narrative?

Let’s take the famous deconstructionist example of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum located in the Spanish city of Bilbao. As you can see from the image below, the very appearance of the building looks deconstructed and fragmented, it is hard to know where the ‘centre’ of the structure is (probably because there really isn’t one). Additionally, there is not one preferred entrance nor one preferred pathway through the exhibition. In fact, every person who receives an ‘audio guide’ essentially chooses their own way through the gallery – it is up to them to press the numbers on the audio device, which correlate to the artworks they are looking at, in order to find out more about them. What is important to note here is that there is not one set sequence they must view the artworks or rooms in.


I found this idea related to a lot of what we have been studying in Network Media in regards to materiality, but specifically the second of this week’s readings, which concentrated on the differences between interactive narratives and print narratives. Like deconstructionist architecture, interactive narratives are ‘polysequential’, they are ‘discontinuous’ and ‘non-linear’ or rather multi-linear. Furthermore, hypertext narratives are also fragmented and decentralised – deconstuctionists were ‘pulling apart’ the elements of architecture to make new forms, just as hypertext authors are essentially ‘reconstructing’ narrative form by deconstructing it. Interactive narratives and deconstructivist structures are also both unpredictable – deconstructivist buildings are designed around the idea of shock and surprise, similarly most hypertext narratives are created on the basis that the outcomes of the story are not set in concrete from the beginning, nor can they be fully controlled by the author. As Douglas suggests, someone who ‘reads’ a hypertext narrative ‘cannot be entirely certain… that [their] carefully considered choice [of pathway] has not triggered a connection randomly’. Interactive narratives do not necessarily have one default story route from a single place. This essentially means that ‘the same answer to the same question does not [necessarily] yield the same reply’. Thus, just like deconstructivist architecture, hypertext mediums are also a form of ‘controlled chaos’.




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