Lev Manovich on Tue, 9 Jul 2002 01:33:21 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Learning from Prada (part 5 - FINAL)

Lev Manovich (www.manovich.net)

The Poetics of Augmented Space: Learning from Prada  
[May 2002]

PART 5: Learning from Prada
[posted 7/08/02]

Venturi wants to put electronic ornament and electronic iconography
on traditional buildings, while Lars Spuybroek, in Freshwater
Pavilion, does create a new kind of space but reduces the changing
information to abstract color fields and sound. In Freshwater
Pavilion information surface functions in a very particular way,
displaying color fields rather than text, images, or numbers.
Where can we find today interesting architectural spaces combined
with electronic displays that show the whole range of information,
from ambient color fields to figurative images and numerical

Beginning in the mid 1990s, the avant-garde wing of retail industry
has begun to produce rich and intriguing spaces, many of which
incorporate moving images. Leading architects and designers such
as Droog/NL, Marc Newson, Herzog & de Meuron, Renzo Priano and
Rem Koolhaus created stores for Prada, Mandarina Duck, Hermes,
Commes des Garsons, and other high-end brands; architect Richard
Glucksman colloborated with artist Jenny Holier to create a stunning
Helmut Lang’s parfumerie in New York which incorporates Holzer’s
signature use of LCD display. A store featuring dramatic architecture
and design, and mixing a restaurant, fashion, design and art
gallery became a new paradigm for high-end brands. Otto Riewoldt
describes this paradigm using the term “brandscaping” – promoting
the brand by creating unique spaces. Riewoldt: “Brandscaping
is the hot issue. The site at which good are promoted and sold
has to reinvent itself by developing unique and unmistakable

Rem Koolhaus’s Prada store in New York (2002) pushes brandscaping
to a new level. Koolhaus seems to achieve the impossible by creating
a flagship store for the Prada brand – and at the same time an
ironic statement about the functioning of brands as new religions.
 The imaginative use of electronic displays designed by Reed
Kram of Kramdesign is an important part of this statement. On
entering the store you discover glass cages hanging from the
ceiling throughout the space. Just as a church would present
the relics of saints in special displays, here the glass cages
contain the new objects of worship – Prada cloves. The special
status of Prada cloves is further enhanced by placing small flat
electronic screens throughout the store on the horizontal shelves
right among the merchandize. The cloves are equated to the ephemeral
images playing on the screens, and, vice versa, the images acquire
certain materiality, as though they are objects. By positioning
screens showing moving images right next to cloves the designers
ironically refer to what everybody today knows: we buy objects
not for themselves but in order to emulate the certain images
and narratives presented by the advertisements of these objects.
Finally, on the basement level of the store you discover a screen
with Prada Atlas. Designed by Kram, it maybe be mistaken for
an interactive multimedia presentation of OMA (Office for Metropolitan
Architecture, Rem Koolhaus’s studio) research for his Prada’s
commission. It looks like the kind of stuff brands normally communicate
to their investors but not to their consumers. In designing the
Atlas as well as the whole media of the store, Kram’s goal was
to make “Prada reveal itself, make it completely transparent
to the visitors.” The Atlas lets you list all Prada stores throughout
the world by square footage, look at the analysis of the optimal
locations for stores placement, and study other data sets that
underlie Prada’s brandscaping. This “unveiling” of Prada does
not break our emotional attachment with the brand; on the contrary,
it seems to have the opposite result. Koolhaus and Kram masterfully
engage “I know it is an illusion but nevertheless” effect: we
know that Prada is a business which is governed by economic rationality
and yet we still feel that we are not simply in a store but in
a modem church. 

It is symbolic that Prada NYC has opened in the same space that
was previously occupied by a branch of Guggenheim museum. The
strategies of brandscaping are directly relevant to museums and
galleries which, like all other physical spaces, now have to
compete against the new information, entertainment and retail
space: a computer or PDA screen connected to the Net. Although
museums in the 1990s have similarly expanded their functionality,
often combining galleries, a store, film series, lectures and
concerts, design-wise they can learn from retail design, which,
as Riewold points out, “has learnt two lessons from the entertainment
industry. First: forget the goods, sell thrilling experience
to the people. And secondly: beat the computer screen at its
own game by staging real objects of desire – and by adding some
spice to the space with maybe some audio-visual interactive gadgetry.”


In a high-tech society cultural institutions usually follow the
industry. A new technology is being developed for military, business
or consumer use; after a while cultural institutions notice that
some artists are experimenting with it as well, and start incorporating
it in their programming. Because they have the function of collecting
and preserving the artworks, the art museums today often looks
like historical collections of media technologies of the previous
decades. Thus one may mistake a contemporary art museum for a
museum of obsolete technology. Today, while outside one finds
LCD and PDA, data projectors and DV cameras, inside a museum
we may expect to find slide projectors, 16 mm film equipment,
3/4-inch video decks. 
Can this situation be reversed? Can cultural institutions play
an active, even a leading role, acting as laboratories where
alternative futures are tested? Augmented space – which is slowly
becoming a reality – is one opportunity for these institutions
to take a more active role. While many video installations already
function as a laboratory for the developing of new configurations
of image within space, museums and galleries as a whole could
use their own unique asset – a physical space – to encourage
the development of distinct new spatial forms of art and new
spatial forms of a moving image. In this way they can take a
lead in testing out one part of augmented space future. 

Having stepped outside the picture frame into the white cube
walls, floor, and the whole space, artists and curators should
feel at home taking yet another step: treating this space as
layers of data. This does not mean that the physical space becomes
irrelevant; on the contrary, as the practice of Cardiff and Liberskind
shows, it is at the interaction of the physical space and the
data that some of the most amazing art of our time is being created.

Augmented space also represents an important challenge and an
opportunity for contemporary architecture. As the examples discussed
in this essay demonstrate, while many architects and interior
designers have actively embraced electronic media, they typically
think of it in limited way: as a screen, i.e. as something which
is attached to the “real” stuff of architecture: surfaces defining
volumes. Venturi’s concept of architecture as “information surface”
is only the most extreme expression of this general paradigm.
While Venturi’s logically connects the idea of surface as electronic
screen to the traditional use of ornament in architecture and
to as such features of vernacular architecture as billboards
and window product displays, this historical analogy also limits
our imagination of how architecture can use new media. In this
analogy, an electronic screen becomes simply a moving billboard,
or a moving ornament.

Going beyond surface as electronic screen paradigm, architects
now have the opportunity to think of the material architecture
they are normally preoccupied with, and the new immaterial architecture
of information flows within the physical structure, as one whole.
In short, I suggest that the design of electronically augmented
space can be approached as an architectural problem. In other
words, architects along with artists can take the next logical
step to consider the “invisible” space of electronic data flows
as substance rather than just a void – something that needs a
structure, a politics, and a poetics. 

July 2002, Berlin

(The complete article is available at www.manovich.net)

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