The image is created
The image creates
“The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.” Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle
The following is more or a less a stream-of-consciousness exercise aimed at understanding image and architecture. The three parts examine separate but related pieces of image as it relates to architecture and society, historical applications of architectural image, and image and power, mediated through architecture. Image has a dynamic definition, as the applications and connotations vary widely.
Buildings of government and commerce translate to images of power over society, to the images of those behind the glass, and behind the camera. What does the image connote? Me on the outside, excluded, and on camera, conforming to social norms, or breaking them. What does the fixation on the image cause? According to Andrea Kahn, we see through and we see past, effectually overlooking what we are seeing. Our fixation on the image causes us to overlook the power structures behind the image. According to the Society of the Spectacle, “At the same time all individual reality has become social reality directly dependent on social power and shaped by it.” Image gives power to those behind the glass or camera, and their reality is one of being in power. However, their reality is dependent on social power and shaped by it. They are caught in the mirror, unsure of which image is real. Are they in power over the society of the spectacle, or is the society, “as a social relation among people mediated by images”, in power over them? Architecture has a preoccupation with the image. The image hides from us all that we can’t see, all that is real. We see one image, the built form, and cannot see the realities of social power behind it. That power does not want us to see. It wants to be transparently invisible.
A historical look at architecture and power. Pyramids, ziggurats, temples, castles, Mayan, Incan, and Aztec ruins, the St. Petersburg Metro, Albert Speer, and high rises. All reflect systems of power structure and societal control. Pyramids and temples manifest the power of the pharaohs. Castles show the power of the king, and the associated feudal system of peasant control and social hierarchy. The Central American cultures built amazing stone temples and cities, for the power of the king and the power of the gods. St. Petersburg was built on a marsh by slave labor and the construction was as deadly to the workers as the gulags. The metro system, the deepest in the world, was built as a palace for the workers. Just as Peter the Great had the Winter Palace, so the workers had their own palace, the illusion of social equality achieved through socialism. The ideal of a transparent and equal society manifested in architecture; image hiding the inequalities. Albert Speer’s designs were the image of Nazism and the Third Reich, of a new ideal, masquerading the insanity and terror behind the ideal. High rises showing the power of the commerce, or industry, reflective glass marking a clear divider between those inside and those outside. The White House, the image of power and democracy, has gates, cameras, and guards excluding the masses.
Power and society, evaluated through architecture, transparency, image, and surveillance. Following my research, power is gained through society and mediated, or regulated, by transparency and surveillance. Society maintains its power through these tools. Society uses architecture as an image of its power. Architecture is fixated on the image. The image mediates the spectacle among society, establishing a social relation. We all agree who is in power and for the most part we all conform to the social norms established by that power. I do not know the lawmakers of my country, I know them only through image. Transparency allows for multiple spatial realities to exist without destroying the image. Likewise, multiple social realities can exist. The image of a fair and democratic society and can conceal another reality of imperialism, greed and exploitation. Enron. A historic notion of power, and surveillance, was the panopticon prison, a tool to watch and control the population of the prison. Exploiting transparency to control the behavior of inmates. According to Michel Foucault, modern society operates as a corollary to the panopticon, employing cameras and other tactics of transparency to ensure the citizenry conforms to established social norms. The image of the way to live and behave, translated into an architectural image (suburban house and white picket fence) concealing the society and power behind the creation of the image. Or does the image create the society?