I find there is something wonderfully sublime about architectural drawings, and lucky for me, as the preparator for the Department of Architecture and Design, I get to see a lot of them, particularly when the curators prepare a new exhibition of works from the collection like the current installation Cut ‘n’ Paste: From Architectural Assemblage to Collage City.
Though plans and technical drawings are not without room for the imagination, it’s another form of architectural drawing—the one where you get to follow the architect’s fancy of fancy, and find yourself wondering, “What is going on here?”—that is my favorite. For me this is where the possibilities begin to shine and where you get invited to enter into the architectural story.
One of the newest works from the collection on view in the exhibition is Belgian architect and architectural photographer Filip Dujardin’s, Untitled, where at first glance the structure seems “real,” but which closer inspection reveals to be a fictional reimagining of the modernist concrete-slab apartment complex. The image, like Dujardin’s other fictional pictures of buildings, was created on a computer with Photoshop and Google SketchUp through digital manipulation of appropriated architectural elements.
Be it fiction or non-fiction, collage is a supreme storytelling tool, ideal for the architectural narrative. And it serves to illustrate that architecture—like visual art, literature, music, and pretty much everything else—doesn’t exist as a separate endeavor but is firmly connected to a larger cultural and aesthetic narrative, making the use of narrative tools such as reference, metaphor, irony, allusion, and perhaps even appropriation and sampling, perfectly sensible. It puts the material culture of yesterday into focus with today’s vision.
I remember my mother telling me after what was no doubt ample provocation on my part, that I didn’t invent Billie Holiday. So when it was my turn to tell my niece that she hadn’t invented Etta James, I did so while knowing that her efforts to enlighten me to the groove also meant she and her generation were entering into the contemporary cultural conversation—and presumably bringing their new consciousness with them.
Naturally not all collage incorporates images from the past, but whether its Dujardin’s nod to Le Corbusier and the Unite d’Habitation, Mies’s wink at Maillol, or Rem Koolhaas’s glance into the rear-view mirror as The Museum of Modern Art forges ahead into the future, the introduction of external elements and references expands the story and pushes the imagination in unexpected directions.
Cut ‘n’ Paste: From Architectural Assemblage to Collage City, organized by Pedro Gadanho, Curator, and Phoebe Springstubb, Curatorial Assistant, is on view in MoMA’s third-floor Architecture and Design Galleries through December 1, 2013.