Semiotic Mythologies and the Green Agenda
The frontier of the post-icon era, brought about by the downward-spiralling economy/ecology, has formed a new breed of architect of less moral stature than the capitalist’s ‘building designer’. Previously embedded as part of the marketing strategy of a brand, the architect today is tailored for a token green agenda. Governed by state dictation, most buildings today require efficiency attributes, some without a trace of carbon-emission; a nominal paradigm shifts exists in this newly created responsibility in which there appears to be two serious issues with the deployment of the ‘green icon’.
The contemporary icon is conceived by a marriage of a successfully marketed entity and the established architect. The aim of the icon is to manifest a physical representation of the identity of the brand - the most potent example being Bank headquarters. Early 19th Century mercantile architecture resembled important civic institutional buildings; fortresses, allowing little light to permeate. Today they represent more than they are; transparent, readable, attainable, reflective, open and with a green agenda, certainly not the model modern banking stipulates. The misdemeanour of specifying sustainability as corporate identity wreaks of tokenism and fallibility. What best represents a banking institution today? A trough.
The image of banking institutions today. Sourced from Poor William.
The advent of green architectural marketing are second-order signs where buildings have fallen victim to Barthes’ Red Wine analogy. The bourgeois’ full, dark bottle is to signify healthy, robust, relaxing wine. The reality is that this image contains subtle embedded semiotic manipulations with the desire to sell the product and the simple desire to maintain the status quo (Barthes, Mythologies, p. 60). Sustainability is the bottle in this case.
Roland Barthes. Sourced from Islakotero.
Palace, 2009. Banking institutions then and now. Left: Former brank of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Edinburgh (1847). Right: Cook+Fox Architects. Bank of America Tower, New York (2009).
Architects are caught in the Green agenda, speculating merely as no-man’s-land designers, in the same way Government tries to regulate emerging technologies or the internet, albeit on a nominalistic scale. The thinking stops at the formulation of infrastructure embedded in the building and green baton is passed to environmental engineer/consultant/designer/specialist. This is merely a problem of specialisation, the age-old ‘jack-of-all-trades’ debate, which is why architects should choose their friends wisely. The issue is in the presentation of the design being flawed, superficial and let alone misconceived, however fulfilling the market appeal of the brand.
The running joke is that apparently today, icons are sensitive too.
The noble orientation of our established architects today is that of an architectural iconoclast.
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