13 April 2011

Review: Monsterpieces

Presented as a provocative collection of bestiaries, 'Once upon a time... Monsterpieces of the 2000s!' (2010) offers a critique of the trend for iconic architecture that characterised the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st (and still continues as projects commissioned earlier reach completion). Written by Aude-Line Duliere and Clara Wong, two graduates of Harvard 's GSD and self confessed "rebellious daughters of the Koolhaasian 90s", the illustrations take on the qualities of children's drawings to provide a parody and critique of the iconic form making of the period. Duliere and Wong provide "a retrospective of a new form of functionalism" that surely owes some part to Rem Koolhaas' own retrospective manifesto, Delirious New York (1978). The book provides a fictional account of future archaeologists and palaeontologists interpreting use of ruined structures, trying to derive their programme based purely on their form and asking a simple question - "What was this?" A series of short essays written by Antoine Picon, Monica Pone de Leon, Timothy HydeJonathan D. Solomon and Spyros Papapetros sit alongside the illustrations to provide additional commentary on the content of the book and further questions raised by it.

Monsterpieces (ORO Editions, 2010)

Each of the icons is re-imagined with the same language of cartoon graphics and a child-like naivety. A restrictive colour palette of black, white and yellow is applied to either a section or elevation of the building alongside a blurred silhouette that is simply form. This process reduces the buildings to pure iconic form and allows the new uses to fully appropriate onto them. As a result Casa da Musica (Porto by OMA) becomes a beach; Phaeno Science Centre (Wolfsburg by Zaha Hadid) a carwash-brotherl; the Hearst Tower (New York by Foster + Partners) a spaceport. Scale is also confused as the forms rub up against giant insects and other creatures. This format though is highly successful in providing just enough information to make the scenarios believable without loosing the sense of fun and wit.

OMA's Casa da Musica becomes a beach.

The reductive nature of the drawings portrays each icon as a simple form which serves to highlight the trend for each building to be a representation of its diagram. If starting from the modernist mantra that form follows function then these diagrams must surely be derived from the original function of the building. It is this logic that is used to reconstruct the programme of these "monsters". Duliere and Wong point to the "reducibility of contemporary architecture to its diagrams" as a lazy approach used to "sell the project in competitions and to clients" asking the question "Shouldn't the architectural diagram be a simplified representation of a sophisticated reality, rather than the direct translation of a simplified reality?"

Foster + Partners' Hearst Tower becomes a spaceport. 

In providing these retrospective musings Duliere and Wong are also providing possible future alternatives for the iconic buildings. These speculations question whether or not the current  uses of these buildings are sustainable and if they are not what will they be used for?

The success then of this short but timely book ultimately lies in the way it is able to present a complex and often decisive argument in a simple and inventive manner. The unique approach employs a range of techniques, borrowing heavily on surrealism in addition to the afore mentioned graphic devices,  to craft a critique of the absurd forms that were generated in search of the iconic.


Duliere, A. and Wong, C. (2010), Once upon a time... Monsterpieces of the 2000s!, 1st Edition, ORO Editions