COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY GRADUATE SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE PLANNING & PRESERVATION CORE II STUDIO A400.002 Spring 2011 Dress Code: Rethinking Architecture's Civic Presence Karel Klein To approach the question of what constitutes a civic architecture in contemporary society, the studio engages a seldom-considered topic in contemporary discourse—architectural decorum. Stated simply, the problem is that of appropriate expression for a given situation and remains one of the oldest of architectural topics. Instead of interpreting civic architecture as being affiliated with its institutional functionality, the studio examines the civic condition as one of atmosphere and sensibility where the complex network of values in our contemporary society is made intuitive and immediate. Though decorum is sometimes associated with ornamentation, the issues of decorum comprehend many problems in the design of a building. To privilege decorum is not to privilege visual representation but to foreground how a public presence is established and interpreted. When we ask what is appropriate, we are examining values. Spatial conditions, organizational relationships, sensory atmospheres, presence on a site, all answer to judgments of propriety at some point. The interest of the studio is to carefully consider and reconsider our culture’s habits of perception and the expectations of built space commonly brought to the civic arena. As a way to consider notions of decorum more carefully, the studio will examine the world of fashion. It has often been said that how we dress is a reflection of who we think we are. But more accurately, how we dress is always tied to an idea of who we think we are for a particular situation. Further, it is in the world of fashion that the complexities of our culture is immediately grasped. No longer do we have any reliable dress code that can be understood as appropriate for every occasion. The individual in today’s world is a complex amalgam of affectations that unfold in an ever more public arena. We are exposed like never before. And things being the way they are, it seems silly for architecture to assume that there is a universal dress code. The studio is in search of ways to dress a building for a public event, and understands this as a problem full of complexities and contradictions.
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