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More Fashion in Architecture

Jonni Roos, art historian and cultural journalist, encourages architects to have more awareness of the transitionary contemporary – just like they do in the fashion business. By courtesy of the Finnish Architectural Review 3/2014, we are proud to re-publish his insightful essay on the complex relationship between architecture and fashion.

More Fashion in Architecture

Fashion is deeply human in that it is present at different time in different cultures. Fashion separates people from each other and brings them together, just like building, and it is also related to the identification of social positions. If all goes well, a fashionable piece of clothing gives the person an opportunity to be seen in a positive context, just like architecture which gives people a positively experienced environment.

Of course, fashion often emphasises the aspects of being transitory, disposable and an end in itself. It is thus remarkably different from architecture which usually tries to be linked with opposite values. The apparent, rootless attempt by fashion to achieve an “authentic look” may also be a problematic value from the perspective of architecture. High fashion and top-level architecture do, however, largely serve the same people, but it is a slightly awkward topic to discuss. Luckily the same applies to art, which is even more awkward considering its alleged radicalism.

Fashion, with the exception of the most exclusive part, is based on large volumes while good architecture requires its uniqueness to be taken into consideration. However, buildings consisting of standard parts, which is the case for almost all Finnish buildings, is in a way architecture in large volumes.

Feminine and masculine

Architecture and fashion are strongly linked with a specific gender. Therefore, diminishing the importance of fashion in an architectural debate gives reason to ask if architecture contains such subconscious values that should be included in an open discussion.

Even though old men have taken over the most visible positions in both industries, fashion is still often associated as part of a feminine sphere, while it is rather pointless to try to find feminine values in architecture. Vitruvius’ venustas could, of course, be considered feminine, but it is hard to avoid the thought that it is specifically to do with beauty experienced by the eyes of a man.

The same applies to the planned use of buildings. Art historian Kirsi Saarikangas has shown that in the Finnish type-planned houses of the reconstruction era home is seen, in a family-centred manner, as a place where the mothers operate (fashionably) and where the fathers are some kind of external members who do not need a specific space, except for the garage. Another sphere that is traditionally seen as feminine is department stores where the fashion departments are probably still considered to particularly serve women’s needs.

Feminine spheres have been and are necessary because a large part of public space is considered to be male-dominated and the presence of women, amazingly enough, still attracts attention based on gender, whether it is a question of women driving or the appropriateness of their clothing at night time. Mentioning fashion in an architectural discussion requires one to be prepared to take a stand on the gender aspect.

Giving shape to people’s wishes

Because “architecture” and “fashion” do not refer to a concrete object, but rather describe extensive social and individual creative processes, it is possible to say almost anything about them or their relationship. Yet still, whatever we say, architecture and fashion also remain separate from each other.
Personally, I believe that the relationship between architecture and fashion is a fruitful landscape of opportunities for both parties. If we adopted from fashion the positive (and probably idealistic) view that it tries to articulate change, mobility, creativity, people’s wishes, longing and the sense of community, it could be said that architecture could benefit a great deal from exploring these very values.

On the other hand, if we think (optimistically) that architecture tries to create sustainable solutions, reflect and support a number of deep human needs and analyse both a physical and social space so that the very diverse needs and functions of a community become possible, it could be said that fashion could benefit greatly from exploring the values of architecture.

In other words, fashion lacks architecture and architecture could have more fashion. Perhaps fashion which adopts some of the values of architecture would not cause the side effects that we usually associate with fashion. And maybe architecture which selectively adopts fashion values would not be bland and transient.

The attempt to create something new has been written in the history of architecture with numerous examples and even though architects have not always consciously pursued the spirit of the times, the history of architecture can easily be seen as a continuum of various spirits of the times.

Fashion’s ability to give shape to people’s wishes and to the longing they experience is one of the areas that architecture could learn from. Fashion professionals do this part of their job through observation. I am of the opinion that in the field of architecture it has been seen fit to draw human-related conclusions not from concrete observations, but instead from the architects’ very general view of people which seems unchanging and universally applicable but is most likely far from it.

Text by Jonni Roos.
Originally published in the Finnish Architectural Review 3/2014, p. 66–67.

Fashion Show of Anna Ruohonen's Autumn/Winter 2014 collection in Helsinki.

Fashion Show of Anna Ruohonen’s Autumn/Winter 2014 collection in Helsinki.

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