purple fish guts

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Architectural Art

I was wandering around snopes.com today and I found this story about a public toilet made out of mirrored glass.


It reminds me of my days in college studying architecture. We would have some of the weirdest assignments. Very rarely were they something like designing a house.... or anything else you might actually encounter while working as an architect. They were more along the lines of.... design a wall to put on this piece of land... and then they were judged based on what sort of meaning you could attribute to your wall. It's a strange process because it really isn't about what you design, it's just a matter of whether the jurors like and agree with the story you made up to go along with your wall you theoretically placed on a vacant piece of land.

I don't mean to say that all of our assignments were like this. We did do houses, museums, bakeries and other stuff. But it was never in a realistic sense. There was never any concern about cost, availability of materials, wishes of the client, or whether what you designed could even be built. It was always about the ideas and reasoning behind what you designed. It couldn't be a "Well, I just like it that way" kind of thing. There always had to be a deeper meaning. Something like:
The concept of how we react to "seeing but not being seen" was put to the test by 38-year-old architectural artist Monica Bonvicini in December 2003, when her work entitled "Don't Miss A Sec" was installed at a construction site...

...Bonvicini's creation is a public toilet enclosed within reflective glass walls that allow the user to see out but prevent those outside from seeing in, an exhibit that challenges whether we can adapt to the idea of being able to view others passing in close proximity to us while we engage in an activity which we don't want them to view — even when we know full well that they can't possibly see us...

...The title of the work refers to Ms. Bonvicini's observation that attendees at art openings were afraid to leave the room for fear of missing a key entrance or comment, hence her "Don't Miss A Sec" exhibit "reflects peoples' reluctance to leave the spectacle, and allows the art-goer to remain in the action, even while on the toilet." Her use of a stainless steel toilet and sink unit was inspired by the fact that the "Don't Miss A Sec" exhibition site once housed Millbank Penitentiary, a 19th century prison facility.

Anyway, it's funny because this sounds like one of those theoretical paper-only architecture projects... but it was actually built. That seems to be pretty rare. Usually the cost is too great. And if the projects are built they tend to be somewhat disappointing becuase the ideas portrayed with paper and words are not readily conveyed through the finished product. I mean... if you were to use this toilet would you realize that the stainless steel is a reference to the prison which was once located at the exhibition site? Or that your willingness to pee in public is somehow being tested? I doubt it.

I actually like this thing, though. Not because of the ideas and reasoning which have been associated with it... but simply because I like it. I think it looks nice. I just hope there aren't any lights inside for night-time use. That would certainly be quite a spectacle.