A short article warning against the dangers of designing with metaphors

June 2013
Coming from a country (England) where the word “Modern” is synonymous, when associated with Architecture, to an evil spirit that infects our cities depraving it of a sense of humanity that only vernacular pseudo-Victorian buildings can achieve, I find myself here in Seoul confronted with another design misconception: the proliferation of metaphor induced design that seems to sweep the Architectural field.  By metaphor-induced I mean buildings that evoke direct/literal connections to their programme, their context or some absurd esoteric connection in order to be accepted by the wider community.
This literal interpretation mostly propagated by Architects, Professionals and Designers, who claim the general public requires these references, symbolical readings to understand, relate and ultimately feel comfortable with the proposed design.  Don’t be conned this is pure and simple propaganda, a convenient falsehood that the professions uses to escape the arduous and painful task of invention and creativity, in other words a cheap and common short–cut.
Buildings are made to look like hypothetical waves and in the most extreme cases like the objects they are displaying (what could a Toilet museum possibly look like?) which begs the question why has architecture been affected with such a viral disease while other design fields such as Industrial Design and Furniture making have been spared?
Architecture has always followed historical paradigms and been influenced by traditions, post-modernism being the most blatant pastiche of them all, yet this latest trend bears a much stronger potential evil, i.e. the disintegration of architecture as a cognitive, intellectual exercise that questions the way we dwell, what has been, from Vitruvius to Le Corbusier, a conceptual profession that find solutions through questioning. 
The metaphor has degenerated the conceptual dimension of our work, reduced it to a banal and trivialized mush, where symbolism has lobotomized architects into thinking buildings can be described as literal metaphors.  This is not new and by no means confined to buildings in Asia, Venturi’s duck shed and Randy’s Donuts in LA were strong predecessors, yet they worked on the iconic dimension, rather than literal mutations.  Buildings today don’t simply have symbols above roofs to announce their function; they are engineered as to make the plan of the building literally fits inside the shape of a doughnut or in the worst case scenario a toilet pan.
Finally I would like to conclude this episode with a remark about a type of metaphor that never tires and which renews itself every time you re-read it, i.e. Kafka’s metaphor.  In all his literature, metaphors become surreal analogies that verge on the absurd, allowing the reader to contemplate the impossible and let your imagination blur the lines between analogy and actuality.  Architects should take a leaf out of Kafka’s metaphors where they create a metaphysical playground for architects and dwellers to get lost not replaced by some absurd object.
Text by Peter W. Ferretto
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