Do you remember the film Marie Antoinette by Sofia Coppola? In the film, there were so many things pink and sweet. The pink dresses, sweet colors and of course, the cakes Marie Antoinette is famous for: If they have no bread, then let them eat cake!
The concept of “pink, saccharine” architecture I described in an earlier post may be a bit elusive. I’ve tried to define it in this post, using libraries in the Swedish city of Malmo as an example. The public library extension by Henning Larsen Tegnestue (completed 1997), is a very beautiful building featuring a multitude of interesting, trendy design details. It involves the usage of open space and is a place where several different media and information sources cohabit. Many traditional library-users, however, may have been a tad disappointed, appreciating silence and logical categorization of books more than the attractive design curves. For the people who want to study, the Malmo public library provides desks. However, if you inspect the trendy, beautiful open space solution here, it is obvious that anybody talking anywhere within the premises is heard by everyone else, disturbing the studying process.
Cell phones beeping, people asking the librarians questions, high heels on the wooden floor. There is a constant background noise and hustle. Yet, despite of this, the library is popular, people spend time there. The library has succeeded being a contemporary space used by the public. A “dryer” library may have attracted only a small fraction of the society to use it (the nerds/academics/bourgeois). The trendiness truly has made the library accessible. One can question, however, if it fulfills its function anymore.
One characteristic of the “pink, saccharine” architecture is that it is accessible and pleasant, popular. Also, it wants to attract comments of awe and presents immediate gratification; “wow funky!” The function of studying is no longer the focus. The focus is in the easy-access popularity. Just open your book, look trendy and smart. The library is a place to congregate, chat and enjoy yourself!
There is another new library in Malmo, in a place called The Clinical Resarch Centre. (See pics below). This is a center for biomedical research and tuition purposes. Not unlike the public library, it is a “cool” place. I’ve had the chance to see the old biomedical library settings, and have found the transition from old to new very interesting. The old library was a very unimpressive place design-wise, consisting of simple shelves, school-style desks and chairs on rows (built in the seventies/eighties?) While the exterior is postmodern, the library itself has a modernist, functional stamp to it. While not completely silent, it provided a simple atmosphere for studying. (There’s a pic at the end of the post.) The new library, in contrast, is an open place, not unlike the public library. Candylike colors, sweet details. Silence is lost, and the body language has changed. The people are conscious of the trendy environment. Again, the people not only go there to study, but to “look studious”. This small shift in purpose a characteristic of saccharine architecture.
It starts to become obvious that “pink, saccharine” architecture is a subdivision of postmodern architecture. Postmodern architecture is a reaction to functionalist, modern architecture. According to functionalism, any form has to serve the building’s ultimate purpose. With modernism, ornaments were banished, since they have no function. In early postmodern architecture, the ornaments were re-established, and references to earlier architecture styles, such as the greco-roman styles were common. Also, there was often a playfulness, irony in the way several older architectural styles were mixed together in postmodernism. Saccharine architecture, on the other hand, while it has re-established ornaments and makes references to the past (particularly the International Style), it has lost the postmodern irony. The building is to be taken seriously, it is to be awed, respected for its trendiness. There is no humor in the candylike colors. Also, the building’s wonky details are more important than the function.
The last statement can be further exemplified by these chairs in the Research Centre:
The lower part is for sitting, and the upper part is either a back rest or laptop table. However, in these chairs, nobody has ever been reported sitting in (with or without a laptop). Anyone who has done any serious studying may question the positioning; why should a biomedical student sit right in the middle of a corridor, where people go back and forth? Again, this is not a place for serious studying, but rather, a place where you sit to be seen by peers. While one may argue that a public library may have other purposes than strictly studying, a biomedical library surely must put studying at focus? Here, again, the purpose of the chairs is secondary to the cool, trendy atmosphere they create.
I find this shift from functionality to trendy sensations and immediate gratification to be very interesting. The more I study these libraries, the more obvious is their subtle, yet massive dose of rebellion against the modernist doctrine “form follows function”.
Here’s my attempt at a definition: “Pink or saccharine architecture” refers to the practice of choosing interesting, pleasing colors and forms, as well as giving the viewers the immediate gratification through funky, awe-inspiring details. The actual function of the building is secondary to its popularity. The primary purpose is to be cool, hip and appreciated by the wide masses.
I guess I’m drifting a bit too far with my associations, but since this is my blog, I have the right to do it anyway; I see a connection between the pink architecture and the growing obesity issue. (sic!) Have you not seen how the pre/peripubertal kids are so fat these days? It’s not their fault, really; we have subjected them to too much candy floss and cupcakes. They live by the saccharine principles of hedonism and instant gratification. They’ve been raised by the trendy and cool stuff; everything must be easily accessed! There is a candy stand around every corner.
Nevertheless, I believe candy and pink saccharine are like fire in an old Finnish proverb; a good servant but a bad host. A couple of ornaments here and there is just a nice addition (just look at the green, wonky hanbablog logo!). Similarly, sweet cakes are a nice addition in life, but you cannot really live off of them – as Marie Antoinette found out.