By chance I came across this obvious but supremely insightful comment (there must be some fabulous German term I need to know meaning “obvious, but insightful”) by one Russell Davies, designer: “One of the things I hate about the design of most things ... is they're all designed to be new.” This immediately brought a number of thoughts together for me. It encapsulates the problem I have with a good deal of bad Modernist architecture, especially those of the Brutalist persuasion. I've hated Brutalism from the moment I set eyes on this particular building. When I 'knew' it, the building was about 25+ years old and was a disaster to be in and around. Corbusier and Rudolph, et al., had envisioned a gleaming Utopia. Unfortunately the bloom is off that “radiant” rose. Modernism in general and brutalism in particular do not age well--stained and chipped concrete just do not belong in Utopia!

One of the comments with Davies' post about the process of 'things aging gracefully'
mentions the Japanese terms wabi and sabi. I learned of these a few years ago and was astonished (and oddly relieved) to have found a definition (a codification!) of the vague aesthetic ideas and ideals that I held but never pieced together and could never explain satisfactorily. Growing up, I often related to things around me as "the farthest thing" from what I would find appealing. What I was, what I liked, was opposite to a large part of what I found around me. (This was Queens in the 1970s and 80s, which explains a lot, and I will return to that in another post .)
Here is a quote from Andrew Juniper on wabi and sabi:
The term wabi-sabi suggests such qualities as impermanence, humility, asymmetry, and imperfection. These underlying principles are diametrically opposed to those of their Western counterparts, whose values are rooted in the Hellenic worldview....an aesthetic sensibility that finds a melancholic beauty in the impermanence of all things.
Another essay about w-s I just read today adds in the term "inexhaustibility" saying, "the object resounds ... with endless possibilities and nuances, at once hidden and successively revealed." That goes far in describing some of what I felt at Ellis Island in 1976, and explicating the sense of loss upon my return after the renovation. Ruins (which I think deserve their own post) embody w-s. I think it makes sense to me now.

1 comment:

angvou said...

thumbprint-- thanks for stopping by!


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