Another interesting example is Banksy’s Dismaland 6 – a glitchy, filthy and distorted
reimagination of the well-known Disneyland amusement parks, which represent the peak of anachronic postmodern architecture. It mocks the dishonest idealism of its doubles that are packed with generic symbolism and semiotic clutter. Here, a work of pop-up, guerilla architecture is created in order to counter the narrative of its source material. Depending on the critical reception of a certain piece of architecture, these ‘nicknames’ and ‘artistic statements’ can also be neutral or even endearing, and are often embraced in architecture theory.
Architectural literacy refers to one’s ability to understand the abstract language of architecture – to read the subliminal messages that are conveyed through synthesis of its elements, details, materials and surroundings. It is a complex skill which requires both imaginative and rational thinking and there is no direct way to learn it. We can only make an effort to indirectly use our knowledge of history, politics and culture to map out and comprehend all of the invisible, soundless signifiers. Unlike the more obvious utilitarian or aesthetic functions which architects today are mostly preoccupied with, architecture’s narrative function 7 is a conglomerate of many – conceptual, poetic, promotional, educational, symbolic, ideological, political – and yet most of it somehow stays under our radar. This is how it manages to dodge critique and remain hidden in our daily affairs.
To live in aphasiac ignorance is tempting, but we must dig deeper than the surface. 8 Architecture may appear mute, but behind the comforting silence there is a whole spatial language which progressively evolved through every era of human development. Architecture never lies, it only hides the truth behind its discrete, cryptic symbols. If we manage to decipher them, architecture won’t ever be able to deceive us and we would become more open to fresh, new ideas. This is why massive concrete walls of brutalism failed to appeal to the masses that were accustomed to graceful (and perpetually recycled) Doric columns from ancient Greek architecture 9. Like any visionary feat in history, brutalism demanded a reprogramming of our aesthetic and symbolic norms and went beyond our visual perception by discarding architectural tropes. It failed because it proved to be too ambitious for its time. We were (and still are) architecturally illiterate as a society and those of us who aren’t are selectively rejecting to broaden the vocabulary. Why do we desire a chair that is adjustable to every curve on our body and yet leave the development of our neighbourhoods to city planners and the magical invisible hand of the free market?