Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


It's a Small World



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'It's a Small World' is a ride at Disneyland. But because the world isn't really that small, it's really four identical rides in California, Florida, Disneyland Paris and Tokyo. And they are all a copy of a ride developed by Disney in 1964 as a Pepsi sponsored exhibit at the World Fair in New York.

I'm in Disneyland Paris, an outpost of America in the flat grey fields full of beetroot and the bones of old soldiers. Quietly, like vapour from ether, the theme tune of Its a Small World theme tune rises. Hypnotic and intoxicating, as though sung by munchkin sirens it draws me in until I'm standing in the queue. The facade is a be-bop billboard in pastel blues pinks and yellows. Composed as though it were pieces of card overlaid on an animators copy stand. A jazzy eiffel tower jives with the kremlin.

A row of fibreglass boats wait under a canopy. We board, and the boat lurches off, then slides though a hole snipped in the facade. Everything goes dark. The boat swings into a miniaturised anamatronic world. We drift past Ireland, where robot Leprechauns play harps drunkenly, past a place that is Africa-ish where natives in grass skirts thump drums wearing bones through their noses. Past more cheerfully gross stereotypes and happy insults. I feel like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now - warily watching the shores as we head into the heart of the dark ride.

The ride climaxes as the boat drifts under an arch into a open plan glimmering scene where races and religions join together in a chorus of the Small World song. Swathed in white, spinning and dancing, bathed in a glittering pink light. This final scene of Its a Small World is dreamlike. Maybe its meant as 'It's a Small Small Afterlife'. Its a place that's the opposite of geography, anthropology and sociology. National Dress cast aside in favour of cult-esque robes. Disneys message seems to say: only in death do we escape the confines of circumstance. It says there is something beyond the earthly world where identity dissolves into unity.

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Making a story about life, geography and death starring rubbish robot dolls is ambitious - a kind of cosmic scale made in miniature. Its the kind of ambition that recalls the hysterical storytelling of the baroque and rococo. The Asamkirche in Munich for example, tells the whole history of the world in its 15 meters height. From the base rock of the earths beginning up through caves, into buildings then into the sky, onto the ceiling and into the kingdom of heaven.

Certain kinds of modern building projects have to deal with this bigger-than-architecture programme.

The opposite of the story telling architecture of the Assam Kirch and the ethnic stereotyping of 'It's a Small World' is The United Nations HQ in New York. Built in 1956, and designed amongst others by Le Corbusier, its an International Style building. Which means it's purged of local or national identity. It's whitewashed, flat and abstract. National identities are displayed by the row of flags in front and distinctly separate from the building itself. Identity is applied as 2D graphic design.

As part of the Dutch presidency of the European Union, OMA were commissioned to build a tent. Erected in Brussels, it houses an exhibition exploring the European Unions past and its possible futures. The tents fabric is printed with the extruded European flag that was developed by OMA a few years ago. Here, the flag becomes the architecture.

The design of the flag was made by placing all the individual flags of the member states in a horizontal line, then extruding them vertically. Its a flag for an entity that is not quite a nation and not exactly a place. Its a political and economic organisation not a country. If you tried to visit it you would only find something else - like Italy, or Austria or Poland. One federal superstate under a gigantic duvet with everyone tucked up cosily underneath. The EU is a thing that can expand as other countries join - or conceivably shrink. The flag too can grow along its x and y axis. Which makes flat graphic design into something spatial - and architectural. It functions in a different way to a traditional flag. Rather than identifying geography, its more like the jolly roger - a statement of intent. Like mayonnaise, its something of equal consistency that can be spread over the top regardless of what's underneath. The pattern has a weird optical effect. Like looking at a broken escalator, your eyes make it move. It makes you think of machines which extrude endless lengths of material, or the perverse gloopy mindless pleasure of squeezing out your Aquafresh all in one go. That kind of mind numbing sensation seems entirely appropriate for a body legendary for its beaurocresy.

To get an angle on what its like on the inside of an architecture project , I emailed Tony Fretton. He's currently designing the British Embassy in Warsaw. Best known for the Lisson Gallery, and more recently the Camden Arts Centre, I suggested that he's about as far from the Indian Restaurant ethnic-vernacular-counjouring-up-an-image-of-a-place as one can be.

He describes his design as being urbane subtle and sophisticated. Its accessible and visible rather than defensive and protective. Its about being European rather than American in this sense - though Poland is part Donald Rumsfelds New Europe. Fretton suspects that its enough to be a British designer for the design to be British. The brief from the Foreign Office suggested that the building was really about the culture of diplomacy. Frettons design is interested in its local context - the effect is has on the neighbouring buildings and in the way that its acts rather than what it looks like.

As for the Indian restaurant bit - Tony said that he didn't get it. And maybe I don't either now. What I meant to say to him was something like this: Isn't there something about globalism that has changed the concept of vernacular. That its no longer anything to do with local materials and techniques. Are Half Timbered houses the same in Beaconsfield, or Bel Air, or Beijing? When you bite into a Stuffed Crust Pizza Hut Pizza do you feel your teeth sinking into 3000 years of history, migration, war, and technology? Isn't identity complicated? Isn't even 'being' hard work?

Back in Disneyland, I'm lolling in the back of a boat that keeps orbiting 'Its a Small World'. Small world days pass every 7 minutes, every one the same. The song repeating like a mantra. Dummies arms banging bongos repeatedly - fixed by their endless smiles.

Architects will often tell you architecture is about function - because function is easy to define, and you can tell if you have done it. But actually, all architecture is about identity - not just when its corporate entertainment, or superstate roadshow or an embassy. Addressing identity means thinking about all kinds of awkward things - like who you are and what you think you are doing. Things that are nothing to do with architecture and everything to do with the rest of the universe.

Architecture remakes a small piece of the world in the image of its creators. It's the closest you can get to the raw unedited unconscious sentiment of culture. Which is why no architect should be allowed near a copy of Autocad without a rite of passage through the watery caverns of Its a Small World.

First published in Contemporary



Posted by anothersam at October 12, 2004 10:01 AM.



Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

On Christmas Trees, Folk Forests and Staples Office Supplies

Hampton Courts Shrouded Sculptures

Named Fabric: 20 Sponsored Pieces of Architecture at the New Museum

Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

Nelsons Cavern

Foam Gargoyle

New Tory Logo: A Hazy Shade of Politics

Jeff Koons, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine

Souvenir Empire

Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

Suburban Growth: Matthew Moores Field of Dreams

Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

Picture of the Week 1

A Little Light Product Placement

Some Advice To A Young Designer

London and on and on

In the Gallery of Ice Creams

Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

LegoLand London Cluster

In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

Marchitecture. Architectural things to do in London this March

Metallic Jet Powered Cloud

"When we got married I had no idea he would do something like this, he just said he was going to do some decorating."

The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

Commitment ...

Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

What happens when you cross a pen with a car?

Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

TomTom Mobile 5 / GO 700

Winning Design

Another Croydon

Holiday Snap II : Giant Glowing French Balls

Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

Pecha Kucha London

Anatomy of an Architectural News Story

Big Bens

First Cut - Case Closed

The Texas Tower

Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

White Cubed Blues

Poundbury, unexpectedly, in the rain

The Exploding Concrete Inevitable. Lou Reed and the Casa da Musica

Swingball

Untitled (Plastic Sack and Timber)

Berlin 1945 - The Obscene Picturesque

Pizza Planet

Goal Sculptures

Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane

Previewing Cedric Price

The Mardas Touch

Building a Lionel Richie Head

Ornament is Grime 2

An Incredible Smell of Roasting Coffee

Flatpack Frenzy at New IKEA

Langlands & Bell - The House of Osama Bin Laden

Labour is kind of working

Happy Death Men

Build to Let

Architectural Criticism gets Sharp

Niagara Falls

Ornament is Grime

FA(ke) Cup

Q&A: Wouter Vanstiphout

X-treme urinals

Unigate Cowscape

Spray-on Snow

From the Baffler ...

One in a Taxi

The Queen Machine

The Knork

Venturi, Scott Brown and my love that dare not speak its name.

Polictical Placards

The Ketchup Conumdrum

Douglas Coupland: Design and Fiction

It's a Small World

Images de Parfums

Soft Carcass

Christopher Dresser at the V&A

Blow up Pub

Municipal Mummification

The Matt and Ron Show

Semi - detached

Half Timbered Van

Feltham Future

Favorite Things

Fugitives and Refugees' - Chuck Palahniuk

The Pop Vernacular

Design by Chefs

Just What is it That Makes Yesterdays Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

Sorry Mies

The Flaming Lips - Live.

Everything Counts - The Sound of Geography Collapsing.

Carlton Terrace Extension

Other:

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