Denys Lasdun stated that every architect must devise his or her “own creative myth”. They must formulate a set of values, forms, and ideas that stimulate the process of design. The myth should simultaneously have a sense of the objective as well as the subjective and must have “the architect’s personality (their interests) and be part of their time, partly a distillation of permanent truths and partly an ephemerae of a particular moment”.
Cultivating myths requires some soul reaching.
“What are you interested in?” is a difficult question when, as architects, one SHOULD be interested in a multitude of things. However, it is a question that you, as Master’s students, need to ask.
Masters level is a pedagogic space for students to cultivate their own ‘creative myth’. Though speculation and experimentation Unit 12 will be a conduit for such a search.
Following last year’s brief, Fantastic Ideological Machine, which was an investigation into architecture as language, this year the focus in on Mythologies which Roland Barthes calls a form of speech, a system of communication – a message.
Myths are part of every culture and many sources for myths have been proposed; ranging from the personification of nature or natural phenomena to truthful or hyperbolic accounts of historical events to the explanations of rituals. A culture’s collective mythology convey belonging, offer a tool to discuss shared and religious experiences, provide behavioral models, and propagate moral and practical lessons to the masses. They are usually disseminated through art, performances, rituals, storytelling (both written and verbal) and through architecture.
Traditionally, in architecture, mythologies were overtly displayed on walls, could be read in plans and expressed through forms, decoration, iconography, and symbols. However, the stories can also be hidden from the casual viewer and are often built into the conceptual design of an architectural statement.
“The value of a built environment, therefore, is a conglomeration of the actual physical existence and the historical memories and myths people attach to it, bring to it, and project on it”.
— Oliver, P. (1993) In O. Graber “Why History: the meanings and uses of tradition”.
However, since the advancement of science, rational thought, functionalism, modernism, capitalism and the marginalisation of belief systems and meaning, there has resulted, in architectures, a loss (or at least diminishment) of an important attribute it held .i.e. that of it being a device that can enable, what psychologists call, a perceptual transformation (a device that would provide an imaginative leap). In this case, a leap away from than the architectural space itself and into another realm – in the way literature might do for a reader. With the modernists calling decoration (symbolism and iconography) a crime, the passing of this characteristic was accelerated.
In the west, with the demise of religion and contemporary cathedrals becoming houses of consumerism, the question is: do myths play any part in our contemporary culture? Do we still find meaning from ancient myths or are new mythologies being created for us to find meaning? Certainly, in the fifties, Roland Bathes, in his book Mythologies, suggested that myths were being utilised and reinvented though re-readings and re-appropriation. He also looked at how modern myths were born such as how Einstein’s Brain became a mythological object.
Bathes speculated how the dominant ideologies successfully present itself, ‘as the way it should be’ by appropriating popular culture and repurposing it. He stated that “they” drained popular ideas of their real meaning and repackaged them to create myths that were often new but had different implications or meanings from the original.
He looked into the world of images (especially in advertising) and saw that they could be stripped of their meaning when removed from their original context and reassigned to a different context providing new meaning. Take for instance the re-appropriation of image of Che Guevara by advertising companies when they printed his image onto an energy drink. Associating the energy drink with a revolutionary creates a new myth about the product. It screams “You too could be a revolutionary if you drink this.” Guevera’s Marxist ideas completely disregarded for the purpose of propagating an opposing ideology.
Continuing Bathes theme, Peter Conrad in his book Mythomania, published in 2016, read old ancient mythologies into contemporary phenomena including people,events, places and ideas. Laptops and smartphones are sold under a logo that invokes the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden; skimpily clad classical nymphs cavort our TV reality shows; Narcissus makes a comeback whenever we snap a selfie. Mythical creatures such as handsome vampires appear in best-selling novels; Judge Judy unleashing her judgment like a matronly Roman goddess dispensing justice with a fly swatter and the metamorphosis of Caitlyn Jenner from Olympic athlete and paterfamilias into idealized female form have parallels to the transformations of the residents of Mount Olympus.
Conrad suggests that historic and mythological readings of contemporary events and ideas enrich our everyday experience. Despite the demise of belief, we cannot avoid our past, and even if we are not believers, myths provide a line of flight for the imagination and providing a relief from the mundane
rational and the prosaic.
The Architectures of Mythology – The Project
A contemporary cathedral for a modern theme, idea, person(s), company or Institute.
Cultivating a Creative Myth
At the 1sttutorial (also in the interview for unit choice), you will need to state the themes you want to investigate for the year.
Note: This will have to be agreed as not all interests will be suitable for a master’s project.
Through a series of tactics such as association (historical and mythological), metaphors, collage, use of signs and signifiers, symbols and iconography you are to create language for your MODERN cathedral. The architecture should not only recognize the ideology of the subject (client) but be imbued with myth/meaning that provides a line of flight for the imagination.
With the evolution of architectural technologies and modern manufacturing methods and the environmental and economic constraints, the question is what form will this language take. Unit 12 wants to explore new ways of conveying a message through architecture.
Note: The word cathedral is used as a metaphor – just to be very clear.
Site:London (the specific location with be dependent on your theme).
Field Trip:Athens – Mythological Tour
*Image: From Olympus to Camelot: The World of Mythology