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Why an architect should be well-dressed

Federica Buzzi

36:45 min

I ALWAYS FOUND SURPRISING that a stern modern architect such as Adolf Loos would write a book titled Why a Man Should be Well Dressed, making a serious intellectual endeavour in on one of the most trivialised aesthetic matters, fashion. Fashion is a discipline architects seem to be hesitant or dismissive about. Often pulling an antagonistic attitude towards the fashion system, few architects were seriously committed to fashion design and criticism.

Instead of trying to understand what architects really think about fashion, I decided to turn my attention to what architects wear. Self-staging through fashion is no less important in architecture than in any other field of the creative industry. Just think of Zaha Hadid's dramatic capes or Bernard Tschumi's red scarf, and how certain looks came to signify and enhance architectural charisma.

I selected three videos from the Architecture Player's archive in which architects make an appearance wearing deliberately bizarre outfits. In these videos architects use their attire to complement the project’s narrative, to make a statement on the architect’s profession, or present their clothing as architecture itself. These architects' apparel denies, affirms and mocks assumptions on what architects should look like.

DRESSED LIKE ARCHITECTS. "SUPERHARBOUR" BY PLOT (BJARKE INGELS AND JULIEN DE SMEDT) is a video illustrating the ludicrously ambitious project of an imposing star shaped harbour, strategically placed where the yet-to-be-built Fehmern bridge would link Denmark and Germany. Through cinematic renderings and data visualization, SUPERHARBOUR is presented as the definitive infrastructural solution to the problem of commercial flows in the area.

The video conflates unintentional humour with rigorous research and information. Similarly, the two architects’ outfits are intended to conform to a professional look while lampooning it. In full high visibility orange workwear, Bjarke Ingels epitomises the hands-on, masculine idea of the architect as a builder. On the other hand, with his far-fetched shiny tuxedo, Julien de Smedt embodies the architect as a businessman.

The strange duo turns into sartorial parody the complex professional expectations characterizing the architect, to be a figure capable of pragmatism and entrepreneurship at the same time.

UNDRESSING ARCHITECTS. IN THE "CERIMONIA" FILM some members from the radical group of architects Superstudio (that included Gian Piero Frassinelli, Roberto Magris, Alessandro Magris, Adolfo Natalini, Alessandro Poli, Cristiano Toraldo di Francia) appear wearing fanciful clothes – rustic overalls, white wavy garments, gaudy cowboy apparel or just underwear. Their extravagant outfits represent Superstudio’s rejection to perform the architect's professional persona.

Set in a scenario at once primitive and post-apocalyptic, the video shows a group of inhabitants of an underground village cluttered with objects who decide to come to the surface to start a new life. The novel architecture they realise on the surface is stripped bare to the act of “occupying space and time and the relationship between us and others”: it is invisible and performative architecture.

We see one of the actors, Gian Piero Frassinelli, emerging from the underground and starting to wrap himself in a white cloth. Within the anti-consumerist moral tale of Cerimonia, nakedness becomes something more than just an hippie posture, but the metaphor of Superstudio's rejection of buildings and body architectures as they are, and their pursuit of the fundamentals practices of life.

THE ARCHITECT’S NEW CLOTHES. ARCHIZOOM'S MEMBERS WERE AWARE THAT CLOTHING CARRIES CULTURAL, SOCIAL AND IDEOLOGICAL NARRATIVES. They did not simply subvert them – yet they tried to oppose these narratives by creating an 'easy' fashion project, in which dressing is reduced to materials and shape. Denying sartorial traditions, seasonal and gender-specific clothing and abolishing the distinction between producer and consumer, "Dressing is easy" was a radical attack on the culture of fashion of the time.

This video shows a clothing system that is not tailored on the body, but based on geometric shapes, with proportions determined by industrial textiles’ dimensions. The project embodies all the contradictions of this group's practice: at once standardized and crafty, workwear and leisurewear, rational and playful, generic and local. Neither a parody nor a statement of non-conformity, Archizoom's "Dressing is Easy" solves once and for all the issue of fashion by proposing a radical uniform that conceals all social identities, including the architect's one.



A spectacular presentation of a new project, based on big questions.

Starting with this seminal experiment, PLOT, the former group of Bjarke Ingels and Julien De Smedt, uses video as a tool to explain and spread its ideas to a wide audience. In "Superharbour" it is clear that the main aim is to let spectators visualize the data of a project that has yet to see its inception. Each element of the video is adapted to shorten the distance between experts and global citizens by means of shaping a pedagogical style towards better communication and promoting purposes.

Through this video PLOT combines images, spoken dialogues, numbers and graphic schemes within the general narration in order to present this planning research proposal for the Fehmern Belt area for the occasion of the 2004 Architecture Biennale in Venice. An initial three-dimensional reconstruction of a spectacular and futuristic Superharbour is followed by a meticulous and clear explanation of the project and of its benefits and effects on the global economy. Complex data and statistics are simplified and made understandable.

The Danish architects propose an articulate project to consolidate all Danish harbour traffic into a star shaped Superharbour. Considered a new gate to the Baltic Sea markets, it is strategically located on the yet-to-be-built Fehmern bridge between Denmark and Germany, at the optimum intersection of north-south traffic between Scandinavia and Europe. Actually this imagined new industrial growth zone would allow "the cities to consolidate their growth where people want to live, rather than scattering ever more suburban developments on the urban outskirts". PLOT, by means of the video, seems to invite architects to use their "collective creativity and competence not on small decorative details – but on big questions".


Architect: JDS Architects

Denmark 2004
Duration: 7'39''

Selected for SCRIPT, the 2005 edition of the BEYOND MEDIA Festival organized by Image.