CHRISTOPHER PEREZ Transparency as Farce

In his book Living in the End Times, Slavoj Žižek wrote:

“…transparency is, of course, a pseudo-transparency, like that of the stalls in big food supermarkets where food is prepared in front of our eyes…” 

What Žižek means here is not that buildings that are transparent are representations of food chains, but rather that the transparency created by the materials generates a false appearance that is not true to the reality of the business that owns the building. This quote represents the thoughts that were generated while attending the lecture by Ray Calabro; an architect from Seattle who has designed buildings such as the Apple cube in New York City.

BOHLIN CYWINSKI JACKSON, APPLE STORE, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK. 2007

BOHLIN CYWINSKI JACKSON, APPLE STORE, NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK. 2007

According to Ray, the style of his firm is transparency via the use of glass, floating cantilevers in the air, and a very keen attention to detail in terms of how the various elements of the buildings are put together. While these may be the goals of thefirm, the transparency that was created in the design of the Apple building in NYC is a farce. The idea that a glass box being used by a corporation is able to convey the meaning of transparency is an immediate sign that the company is attempting to hide something. Apple is currently using a phantom office in Ireland to avoid paying as much in taxes as they would have to if they were in the United States. A corporation paying a tax rate that is almost zero is not only ridiculous, but also goes to show that corporations really only care about themselves. While an attempt was made to use glass in order to convey transparency, transparent results are not always met in transparent façades. Apple has also recently been known to treat their workers in China poorly, just like every other major corporation that manufactures goods in China. While the glass box is attempting to convey transparency, the meaning is lost in the reality that is the corporate, capitalistic world. 

Another example where transparency is used to convey a pseudo-transparent meaning is found in Foster’s dome atop the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany. While some view the glass as an ode to transparency in the government of a country that has a fascist past, it should be critiqued in terms of who actually determined this transparency.Is it really democratic and transparent when the government itself, along with Foster,decided to use this material to convey this meaning? Would it not, then, mean this glass, transparent affect is forced upon the people? If so, then glass is being used to convey a meaning that the government hopes the public can buy, without going through the trouble of asking the polis themselves. The government is selling their ideas well,considering that the people are investing in this idea that the government has become transparent. Returning to Žižek, he mentions

“When a building embodies democratic openness, this appearance is never a mere appearance — it has a reality of its own, it structures the way individuals interact in their real lives”.

The individuals both in the Reichstag dome and the Apple store have found themselves trapped in glass façades believing that what they are partaking in is the result of transparent practices. On the side of Apple, the users within the glass box believe that their consumption is a seamless result of fair practices and partaking in the consumer culture. In Berlin, the users — be them citizens of Germany or tourists — end up believing that the country has left its authoritative past and that now the people are above the government both in terms of location of the dome and in being able to see the works of laws being enacted. In both cases glass has been used in order to bring forth this idea that the corporations and government are transparent. Architecture has the ability to connect society and bridge gaps. However, using transparency via glass as a tool loses its meaning the second it is used only as such. In the culture industry, we constantly use and replicate various aspects of life in order to make one feel comfortable or accepted. If architects, such as Ray, continue to design structures that ignore the human condition and attempt to convey forced meanings,society is at major risk. Designing structures for big-name corporations to make profit without paying attention to the culture and society of the area in question is playing into the nefarious hands of capitalism, and Ray and his firm do just this. //

1. Žižek, Slavoj. "Architectural Parallax." Living in the End Times. London: Verso, 2010. 260. Print.
2. Warren, Elizabeth. "Elizabeth Warren: What Apple Teaches Us About Taxes." The New York Times. The New York
3. Times, 8 Sept. 2016. Web. Bilton, Richard. "Apple 'failing to Protect Chinese Factory Workers'" BBC News. N.p., 18 Dec. 2014. Web.

 


 

Christopher Perez is a Masters of Architecture Student at Iowa State University. Prior to studying architecture, he earned a B.A. in German and International Studies from Iowa State University. His research focuses on the intersection of capital and data within the built environment of Eastern Europe.

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