Technologies of Defamiliarization


The first concept Tschumi offers for postmodern architecture is the necessity for using contemporary technologies to defamiliarize daily life, to make us see things in an unfamiliar way to point out or problematize common relationships. In the first figure, you can see the Guild House, a senior citizen housing development designed by Venturi and Rauch, Cope and Lippincott Architects in the early 1960s. As Venturi argues (Complexity, p. 116), the Guild House attempts to use conventional elements to strike odd chords with inhabitants and passersby through elements such as the windows, which are out of proportion with the facade of the building, and the frankly enormous antenna. Venturi says that "[T]he antenna, with its anodized gold surface, can be interpreted in two ways: abstractly, as sculpture ... and as a symbol of the aged, who spend so much time looking at T.V." (Complexity, p. 116). Venturi here defamiliarizes, placing objects in new ways to make critical self-comments about the sort of lifestyle his very project engenders.

Venturi, Guild House (from Venturi, Complexity, 117)

This powerful technique can be taken up in a postmodern architecture of textuality through the the act of structuring texts as spaces, especially in ways that don't merely depend on form-follows-function (which we now know were actually more complicated than that) and in structure textual space in fundamentally odd ways. Brown University's Hypertext Hotel (along with numerous other MOOs) challenges us rethink the space of writing. Similarly, what does it mean to think of an artificial intelligence as a text--something that Jay Bolter mentioned many years ago, but few people have followed up on. In the MOO we're using now in a grad seminar at Purdue, several of the people in the class are are programming 'bots--which are a little too simplistic to be called AI, but are a start--we're programming 'bots in ways that make these objects act as texts, interacting with ongoing conversations by other MOO participants. These sorts of 'bots are common on many MOOs; in several ways, they defamiliarize two different concepts in the MOO--both texts (which not, literally, talk back) and the participants themselves. As Sherry Turkle points out in her book Life on the Screen, some 'bots are so complex that it becomes impossible to tell them apart from humans--especially since so many MOO participants would gleefully pretend to be a 'bot in order to fool someone.

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