- January 24, 2018
JAMES COLEMAN (M.ARCH I ’18)
It is no extravagant claim to say that, in the past thirty years, audiences have shrunk in singular mass but expanded in number, diversity, and definition. Audiences are now more capable of achieving greater levels of connectivity, if not communication. The active creation, re-categorization, and inclusion of these micro-audiences has developed beyond mere algorithmic mind-reading, and into the stale online experience of content delivery services and instant articles as entities clamor to deliver to their click-based demographics. As their character has evolved to suit the market, more and more audiences are available, and more and more often they are being bought and sold, estranging the notion of popularity.
Today popularity is its own paradox. The unpopular finds an audience that affords a relational self-confirmation, thus achieving popularity, and subverting both terms. Within this model one would expect each participant to be a performer, as there is seemingly no way to escape one’s audience. However, the simultaneous and egalitarian character of our digital world means the lines of performer/audience have moved beyond the dialectical relationship, positing instead a mirrored audience; a performance of audience participation.
Within this new and perplexing world in which participants vie for authority or influence, design (generally speaking) has offered itself as the material mediator, churning out content to garner attention and gain agency as a performer. The flurry which passes by our senses (ourselves members of thousands of micro-audiences) harkens back to the first critical reaction to accelerated content, reminiscent of the modernist fear, and subsequent analysis of the distracted subject addressed by Walter Benjamin and others. If history tells us that audiences are continuously capable of adapting to faster data processing, then one could understand how these designers-as-performers suffer from increasing demand.
Certainly the modernist ‘hero’ architect was a performer in popular culture. However, in trying to maintain this guise, architecture finds itself seemingly out-performed by its audience. This generates an exacerbated and nervous profession desperately trying to produce and maintain relevance. Likewise, the attempted popularisation of architecture through imagery and content in an effort to retain its own audience, is doomed to dilute the innovation of architectural apparatus, operation, and form. The Debord-esque audience has undergone a kind of self-sublimation, leaving an ineffective but ever-present audience, of which architecture must struggle against to affirm its own identity.
Must master the art of observation
Before all other arts.
For what matters is not how you look but
What you have seen and can show us. What’s worth knowing
Is what you know.”
Speech to Danish Working-Class Actors on the Art of Observation, Bertolt Brecht
Architects must consider the introvert. An introvert expends energy not to entertain but to constantly adjust, avoiding the shifting light so that they may understand public exchange from an objective viewpoint. Rather than searching for new and expanding audiences, the introvert embraces its position outside of these audiences, as an enabler of interaction. For better or worse, architects design the apparatus, or as Benjamin puts it, the “performance test” through which a public “must find their humanity.”
 Bertolt Brecht. “Speech to Danish Working-Class Actors on the Art of Observation.” in Bertolt Brecht Poems 1913-1956, ed. John Willett, Ralph Manheim, Erich Fried (New York: Methuen: 1976): p233-238.
 Walter Benjamin. “The Work of Art In The Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” in The Work of Art In The Age of Its Technological Reproducibility and Other Writings On Media, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Thomas Y. Levin, trans. Edmund Jephcott, Rodney Livingstone, Howard Eiland, and Others (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University: 2008): p19-55.