Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi

The Bicentennial Commemoration 1976


"The Bicentennial Commemoration 1976"
Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi
The Architectural Forum, October 1969

Against technology
In the last two Expos, the U. S. has been content to let its industrial and technological might be illustrated on the road to the fair. Inside we were selling non-aggression and simple joys, Hollywood and Raggedy Ann. The satellites up in the Montreal dome were a foreign note, toned in with the rest through their beautiful Op parachutes which hovered above from the ceiling. Why should Little Upper Begonia strive to show us its plastic factory when it has so much to say on the harnessing of teen-age revolt or on the housing of rural migrants? Demonstrations of industrial might are a hangover from the World Fairs of the 19th century. Demonstrations of avant garde technology are exciting and popular but seem out of keeping with out present need, which is to use the technologies we have to solve social problems. The great technological innovations we should be demonstrating in 1976 are ways of meshing the relative simplicities of scientific systems with the messy unmanageableness of social systems. We need scientific methods for dealing with uncertainty, chancy models for risky deals, one-of-a-kind programs for one-of-a-kind people. We need great strides in organizational technology rather than in industrial and manufacturing technology. In architecture and planning this means forgetting our futuristic, space age fantasies and concentrating on organizing what methods we have, to build for the poor rather than against them and to combat the public squalor and decrepitude of our cities.

Against megastructures
The urban problems, the problems of sprawl city and the problems of freedom and control will be evaded if we accept for our Expo the "megastructures" that are fashionable in urban design today. These medieval hill-towns with their avant garde trappings are the resort of architects who can't deal with the city on its own terms and turn with nostalgia to the simpler cities of earlier ages, and to the futuristic imagery of the space age. Megastructures may be suited to some dense central areas but they are not relevant to our important urban problems: the poor are priced out when such intense development occurs on their doorstep, and sprawl city is more interesting than the megastructure. The megastructure is a European importation. Just now the Europeans are turning to America to learn of another city, the process city, the difficult whole where to order is not easily apparent. This city--Los Angeles or the suburban fringes of eastern cities--is increasingly the reality to be faced here and in Europe. It is the real area for physical innovation. The megastructure is not relevant to it.

The megastructure, designed by an individual or team, is often called by its proponents a "total environment," where unitary control of design brings harmony, and where "crass commercialism" and other ugly intrusions on the part of individuals can be excluded. It is not a good prototype since this degree of control is patently unattainable over most portions of most American cities and, as Expo 67 showed, cannot even be achieved at Expos. Even if it were attainable it is not desirable, since it produces that deadness of environment demonstrated by most U. S. urban renewal projects and many European new towns. And the local population, unimpressed by the praise in the architectural magazines, stays away in droves. The people should have a say in the making of the Commemoration. Even if this makes it untidy, it will at least be lively. It should not be the child of the egos of one, two or three "great designers."

Against "human scale"
So the Crystal palace and the Eiffel Tower should not be followed by the Megastructure.

On the other hand, the "human scale" or "townscape" approach to urban design should also be watched with care, since a mass audience has mass needs which, if met at too "human" a scale (say at the scale of campus planning or of Expo 67) cane lead to quite inhuman conditions of overcrowding. Architects are not accustomed to the problem of the design for mass use. It calls for simple, easily understandable site plans (see Disneyland) with great consistency in the location of service areas, toilets and transit stops; with highly scientific signing systems; large overflow spaces adjacent to crowded areas and large spaces at points of decision in the movement flow. This just for a beginning.

Mass use demands, too, a rethinking of interior display systems. Low objects and small screens cannot be seen by the kinds of crowds that waited three hours outside the main pavilions at Expo 67 then moved through the show in phalanx, ten abreast. They need a flat, safe walking surface and exhibits above their heads. There is some question whether real objects should be exhibited in such situations or whether they should be kept for eddies and backwaters, and the major exhibits be movies, lights and electronics. And if movies, why not multiscreens? A movie, unlike a stage performance can be shown in many places at once, so why wait three hours for it? Why not, at least, place closed circuit TV along the waiting lines to show what you would see inside if you waited? Why shouldn't the line itself be the exhibit? And for the mass audience, the more electronics and celluloid and the less reality, the better.

But perhaps the answer is to spread the celebrations between different sites and possibly different cities linked by the refurbished movement systems and the communications media. Then points of connection and intense interaction at interchanges on the movement system would become points of exhibition and communications.




Quondam © 2012.09.03