CHAPTER 13: Artist's Essay: Post-Digital Neo-Baroque: Reinterpreting Baroque Reality and Beauty in Contemporary Architectural Design

By Colletti, Marjan | Postmodern Studies, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

CHAPTER 13: Artist's Essay: Post-Digital Neo-Baroque: Reinterpreting Baroque Reality and Beauty in Contemporary Architectural Design


Colletti, Marjan, Postmodern Studies


In the last few decades, a quantum leap in computing power and availability, flexibility and adaptability of computer-aided design (cad) software packages has made computers indispensable to architecture. Digital and calculative processes are to architecture students and practitioners more than common fashion or cool gadgetry. 2D (two-dimensional) drafting tools, 3D (threedimensional) modelling techniques and Rp (rapid-prototyping) technologies, 4D (four-dimensional) animation and simulation protocols, as well as synchronized robotic systems lie at the core of the theorization (of aesthetics, for example) and the manifestation (of practice, for instance) of contemporary architecture.

In my own practice as designer, educator and researcher, I have embraced the digital paradigm shifts, too. In my design-research, and through researchled education, I attempt to contextualize the recent development of computational tools, digital fabrication technologies and simulation methods in architecture not in terms of subject matter or technique, but as cultural catalyst in altering the understanding of reality-of aesthetics and design in present-day society; a society that by now can be described as 'post-digital'. After the first infatuation with virtual reality, cyberspace and disembodied architectures, there has been much more emphasis on the hybridization between digital, analogue, biological and artificial media, spaces and technologies.

The research presented here reflects on a key book about the baroque published 100 years ago: Heinrich Wölfflin's Principles of Art History (1915), in which he studies and characterizes the differences between the baroque and the Renaissance. One century later, it seems that a revived understanding of a neo-baroque idea of reality and aesthetics has been endorsed (e.g. Kaup, Ndalianis, Egginton, Lambert, Calabrese and others). This collection of essays, for example, provides evidence for the impact of a neo-baroque mentality and style across various disciplines. I would confidently state that post-digital architecture is also neo-baroque in essence. It puts principles against the tenets of Modernism similar to those baroque values that Wölfflin presented against the Renaissance. For example, post-digital design presents formal (in Wölfflin's terms: 'decorative') and performative ('imitative') mannerisms (Wölfflin 227), that were unknown, alien, simply awkward or even horrific to Modernist and Postmodernist aesthetics: such as, figurative ornamentation, decoration by machinie fabrication and material intelligence by computation.

In order to elaborate on post-digital neo-baroqueness in more depth, I appropriate Wölfflin's five antithetical 'pairs of concepts' (Wölfflin 14) introduced to position and classify the traits of baroque art and architecture as opposed to Renaissance classicism. All five concepts seem to intriguingly and accurately describe and comment on apparently similar present-day architectural changes and challenges in the 21st century: linear vs painterly, plane vs recession, closed (tectonic) vs. open (a-tectonic) form, multiplicity vs unity, and clearness (absolute clearness) vs. unclearness (relative clearness). Furthermore, I will link Wölfflin's pairs of concepts with more contemporary terms such as straight vs convoluted, 2D/3D vs 3D/4D, solids vs fields, collage vs gradients and order vs adaptability.

Linear vs. Painterly or Straight vs. Convoluted

For Wölfflin, the classically aligned Renaissance representation used lines, contours, edges and boundaries to depict the world, whilst baroque art represented its subject matter by appearance, focussing on vacillating surfaces, folds, volumes, masses, colour and light. The shift from analogue to digital drafting has enabled designers, architects and artist to predict materials, shapes and spaces with a much higher degree of feedback. CAD software packages can handle complex geometric, physical and atmospheric instances extremely well: whether it is about modelling a convoluted 3D form with very detailed surface ornamentation or about simulating photorealistic lights and textures. …

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