Thursday, 4 April 2013

Deconstructing the Ziff - Part 2

Inside/Outside, Right/Left or Behind the Lines

This is part 2 of the blog. Please click here for Part 1
You can just see a little PEEP of the passage in Looking-glass House, if you leave the door of our drawing-room wide open: and it's very like our passage as far as you can see, only you know it may be quite different beyond. Oh, Kitty! how nice it would be if we could only get through into Looking-glass House! (Lewis Carroll Through the Looking-Glass)
In the above photo of the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff building at the University of Leeds, you can see a reflection of another building in the sheath-like glass fascia. This is the Michael Sadler building next to it, a building from another period and made of Portland Stone on this side. Portland Stone was used a lot in civic buildings for a few hundred years until the 20th century. As a material it makes a statement about public life and civic pride. Not only can we often see it in buildings belonging to royalty, such as Buckingham Palace, but also in our Town Halls. So when we pass this side of the Ziff building we can see the Michael Sadler building doubled, in both its real self on one side of us, and it's reflection on the other side. This reminds us that while the University of Leeds is a contemporary university (we have, and can afford, a brand new postmodern building like 'the Ziff'), it also has historic civic origins which add gravitas to the perception of it as an established university. This is what the university said about the Ziff building in a press release at the point the building work was planned:
The Marjorie and Arnold Ziff building [...]will present a world-class face to the community it serves - the University's past, present and future students, its partners and the region. The building will also represent, more visibly than any other project, the ambitious plan for Leeds to rank among the world's top 50 universities by 2015. (University of Leeds 2006)
While the mirror-like quality of glass has the effect of opening up space - the Ziff building fits snugly into what was a relatively small 'vacant plot' - it also reflects the university back onto itself in the same way the Westin Bonaventure does with LA. The Ziff building presents both a "word class face" yet also, in the same moment, reaffirms its past.

Reinhold Martin explains the effects of this mirroring quality which is so prevalent in postmodern architecture. He describes it as forming "feedback loops" which constantly repeats binary structures such as: "inside outside inside outside", "vertical horizontal vertical horizontal" or "right left right left". (2010: 106) The effects of this may be more apparent in a photograph of the other side of the Ziff building (see above). This side of the building is a wall of curved glass and steel. The mesh-like steel decoration, while part of the building, is also reflected in the building itself. So the steel appears twice, creating the lines of the complex matrix you can see here.

Here we not only see the surrounding area reflected in the face of the building, but also the steel embellishment reflected in the building too; the building also reflects itself. Martin says that these mirrored architectural styles are "less oppositional or complementary than they are redundant, a doubling back of the surface onto itself". (ibid.) He goes on to say that the mirror is a function belonging to postmodernism as it appears as late capitalism, agreeing with both David Harvey and Fredric Jameson's dialectical critiques of how capital operates in urban space. Martin says this occurs at the "point at which what is culture and what is capital cannot be distinguished in any useful way." (ibid.)

This is apparent in the reaffirmation of the university's current strapline in their press release above about the Ziff building: "The building will also represent, more visibly than any other project, the ambitious plan for Leeds to rank among the world's top 50 universities by 2015". As Martin explains, architecture "appears as a cipher in which is encoded a virtual universe of production and consumption, as well as a material unit, a piece of that universe that helps to keep it going." (Martin 2010: xi)

This becomes an interesting point when it comes to postmodern artworks such as Anish Kapoor's mirrored public sculptures, for example his 2010 artwork Turning the World Upside Down and, especially, Cloud Gate (2006) (above) which reflects Chicago back onto itself. The $23 million it cost to fund Cloud Gate, came from donations from individuals and corporations.

Jameson, FredriƧ. 2009. Postmodernism or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London and New York: Verso).
Martin, Reinhold. 2010. Utopia's Ghost: Architecture and Postmodernism, Again (London: Profile Books).
University of Leeds. 'Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Building', The Reporter (27 November 2006), [accessed 5 November 2012]

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