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“Et in Arcadia Ego”
“And it’s a question of how far we’re willing to go in order to let the ego shine, in order to let that beacon penetrate not only the local scene but the world.”
For all its promise of unlimited connetivity, Apple´s design seems to leave almost everything out. Apple has built a style on impenetrability, providing us with sleek, polished technological gizmos that are not only, a product of design, but a symbol of designed obsolescence.
Apple is itself a brand and a symbol, a signifier of future and Buzz-Lightyear-ian progress towards infinity. However, its approach to design takes us back to a past, long gone vision of future utopia bred in hardcore modernism. When Apple´s New Wave was launched in 1984, cyberpunk had started to reshape the image of the future and future technology according to a postmodern sensibility. Star Wars, Alien and Blade Runner introduced an image of the future as a layered, additive and textured place, a dark but rich metropolitan –megalopolitan- reality whose productive (thanks, Chen&Young) dystopianism provided us with an inclusive approach to postmodernism, as opposed to the exclussiveness of academic PoMo, and a new way to conceptualise (a new eye to look through) our urban postmodern reality.It´s extraordinarily fitting that the man chosen to inaugurate the era of Apple Design in a commercial reminiscent of Owrell´s 1984 was precisely Ridley Scott, who touched in the lapse of two years on the two poles that, as Peter Lunenfeld notes, still rule contemporary culture thirty years after.
Apple´s present-future is not the system of constant retrofitting dictated by the permanence of every-thing that Syd Mead designed for Blade Runner, but the clean, plastic and semi-translucent reality of Alex Proyas´s I Robot, a reality of immutable and ephemeral objects designed to shine and die, as user-friendly as they remain impermeable to change (…the light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long). And in doing so, Apple leaps over postmodernity to recover the dream of a clean, antiseptic, white utopia dreamt in the age of pulp. Jobs´s dream of the future is that of William Cameron Menzies´s Things to come, of streamline design, of Norman Bel-Geddes´s Futurama, where Roman togas have been substituted for Mao collars and turtlenecks.
Looking like an alien mothership hanging gently in the middle of Arcadia, the new Cupertino campus resounds with echoes of Steve Jobs sitting in peaceful yoga position in his empty apartment in the 80s, and it really speaks of a dream of ascetic-aesthetic plenitude that goes back to modern utopianism. Foster´s design, bred in a sensibility nourished by Dan Dare, Werner Von Braun and the visionary 60s conjures an ultimate state of the Corbusian cult of the liner as a model for architectural assertion. The platonic exactitude of Cupertino´s rounded shell conjures the old ideal of ectopic utopianism: a technological eutopia of isolated perfection in an anthitetic relationship with natural beauty. Apple leaves behind the organic, anarchic ambiguity of postmodernity, substituting the visceral for the virtual; and somehow, this renewed dream of an (old) brave new world scares me a little bit.
But then, I´m a PC guy.
Image Captions: 1. Cupertino: Apple Campus 2. Foster and Parners, 2011. 2. Things to Come. William Cameron Menzies, 1936. 3. Heliopolis. Project for an Olympic Village in the Mountains of Tatras. Alex Mlynarcik, 1968. 4. Werner Von Braun et al.: Space Station. Across the Space Frontier, 1952. 5. Thalassa: Project for a Floating City. Paul Maymont, 1959.
Image credits: Heliopolis photographed by the artist. In RAGON, Michel:Histoire mondiale de l’architecture et de l’urbanisme modernes. T.3. Prospective et futurologie; 350. Thalassa: Photo by P. Joly/ Vera Cardot. In RAGON, Michel: Les Cités de l’Avenir. Paris: Editions Planète, 1968. Space station: Illustration by Chesley Bonstell. In KAPLAN, Joseph et al.: Across the Space Frontier. New York, Viking Press, 1952. Everytown: Frame from William Cameron Menzies´s Things to Come. London Film Productions/United Artists, 1936.
Luis Miguel Lus-Arana: “Return to Ectopia: Apple Design and Futurist Classicism”. Published in MAY, Kyle et al. (edited by): Clog: Apple nº 2. NY: February 2012, pp. 96-7
CLOG: APPLE. On 7 June 2011, Steve Jobs presented Apple Campus 2 to the Cupertino City Council. Due to Apple’s high profile – not to mention the scale and iconic nature of Foster + Partners’s design – the online reaction to the “spaceship” was immediate and strong. While Apple has been building retail stores throughout the world for over a decade, discussion, even among architects, has typically focused on the company’s famed product design. With one of the largest American office projects in history underway in Cupertino, it’s time to talk about Apple and architecture.
Contributors: Michael Abrahamson, Paul Adamson, Gary Allen, Collin Anderson, Haik Avanian, Rachel Berger, Freek Bos, Gabrielle Brainard, Tom Brooksbank, Keith Burns, Marcus Carter, Haiko Cornelissen, Philippine d’Avout D’Auerstaedt, Erandi de Silva, Kevin Erickson, Matthew J. Giordano, Hanny Hindi, Julia van den Hout, Allyn Hughes, Axel Kilian, Klaus, Austin Kotting, Michael Kubo, Jimenez Lai, Nicholas Leahy, Christopher Lee, Frank Lesser, Michael Ludvik, Luis Miguel Lus-Arana, Kyle May, Adam Nathaniel Mayer, Nicholas McDermott, Mark McKenna, Samuel Medina, Louise A. Mozingo, Rob Nijsse, The Office of PlayLab, Inc., Glenn Phillips, Graffitilab, Nina Rappaport, Jacob Reidel, Erin M. Routson, Mika Savela, Chris Shelley, Noam Shoked, Mike Treff, Kazys Varnelis, Ronald Wayne, and Human Wu.
November 28, 2011
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“Tim Cook has just been given the toughest job of his life. He is stepping into the shoes of one of the most innovative leaders of our time and he now has to do it alone. And can anyone truly run a company that is really completely synonymous with its former leader? Tim Cook has not only been asked to replace a great manager but an icon.”
Meredith Lepore. – How Will Tim Cook Follow Steve Jobs?
The image in this post has been clipped from a bigger cartoon-proposal for Clog: Apple, the second installment of Clog Magazine that focuses on Apple´s architecture and design. Clog: Apple will be released in February 2012. My contribution for Clog´s first issue (Clog: Big) can be found here and here.