Reflection

We have allowed an essentially beautiful little city to develop into a squalid, violent horror. Kingston is our reflection and it is sick -are we going to let ourselves die in the mirror? Patrick Stanigar, 1996.(1)

 

To say that architecture reflects the values and ideas of a given culture is to misunderstand the functioning of an art. To reflect implies in unequivocal terms that it presents in some way a causal mirage. Architec≠ture is an organ of culture, and organic part of it. If one puts a culture in front of a mirror one sees a reflection of its skin, its surface in a place where it isnít. Therefore, if we repeat the first sentence. That architecture reflects the values of a given cultural cell it goes some way to indicate that a culture's skin is its architecture, or at least its clothes. But then it is not necessary to reflect the image; we can look directly at a culture with our own eyes, see its skin, admire its clothes. Architecture does not reflect, it is; it is the skin, or the clothes. The implications of this are as follows. Rather than being a reflection, it becomes more in the nature of a mask, an expression of intention on the one hand, and a revelation of its degree of failure to achieve that intention on the other. In partaking of a society it is part of its organic structure. If one sees it as the skin of a society it serves to protect and to hold together its internal organs; if as clothes it performs, charms and hides, or other endless possibilities. But in some sense, architecture is more than just the skin, it is that which remains, the skeleton.

 

Another implication of the denial of the reflective power of architec≠ture and seeing it instead as a form of clothing, or skin or supporting structure of a cultural cell or political ideology, is that it is put in its proper place as a language. It thus becomes a supportive language completely dependent on its ideology and cultural context for its sig≠nificance. One cannot reconstruct the Presidentís politics from his suit, and yet his suit and his politics are in many ways similar.