THERE CAN SOMETIMES BE CONFLICT CAUSED BY OVER DETERMINATION OF CONTEXT. FROM, “I SAY WHAT I MEAN, I MEAN WHAT I SAY” TO “I SAY WHAT I DON’T MEAN, I MEAN WHAT I DON’T SAY.” ARCHITECTURE CAN SAY ONE THING AND YET MEAN TWO DIFFERENT THINGS IN DIFFERENT CONTEXTS…
In his book, Delirious New York, Rem Koolhass commented on the dramatic change in modern architecture brought about by the elevator. Before the invention of the elevator, ground-level property was the premium – only the rich could afford to live on or near the ground-level. In multi-storey apartments the top floor had always been the cheapest.
The elevator put an end to all of that. The elevator, in fact, turned this theory upside down. The significance of the ground was erased and the “condominium effect” was brought into practice. It is now the top floor of a building that is desirable – the penthouse, for instance, is always on the top floor.
The ground is the only unchangeable context of architecture. And the elevator has now changed the significance of the ground. The context of architecture has, thus, been changed by the sub-context within architecture itself.
There can sometimes be conflict in context caused by an over determination of context. From, “I say what I mean, I mean what I say” to “I say what I don’t mean, I mean what I don’t say.” Architecture can say one thing and yet mean two different things in different contexts. An example of such confusion can easily be found in the mayhem of Bangkok.
With the exception of the Grand Palace island area, Bangkok produces an incredibly chaotic context for architecture. Take Ramkamhaeng Road, for example: A bunch of shopping centers. The shops and retail outlets sprung up incoherently, with no relation to each other.
One piece of architecture, however, braved this no-man’s land of context – The Shiseido Building.
The building’s principle footprint is a rectangle, in accordance to its neighboring context. Meanwhile, its own sub-context of beauty identifies the force of architecture’s response to one aspect of this issue of context. The front façade of Shiseido, is more or less an eclipse, trying to merge itself with the rectangular mass behind. This a full tension within. Together with the contrast of textured metal, sheet cladding and solid stone, the attraction becomes even stronger.
Shiseido may become a new context on the street and possibly add to the existing chaos. But the effect may not be negative; it might prove to be the context of the future, who knows?
Originally published in art4d October, 1995