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<nettime> de|con-structing the Wherehouse

 de|con-structing the Wherehouse
 by brian thomas carroll

 an architectural analysis of the destruction of the operatic
 performance in the single building of the Opera House, due to
 a division of labor of the architectural program resulting from
 new electronic media systems, represented by the Wherehouse music-
 video franchise store, in turn enabling the construction of the
 individual Home Opera where the electronic opera is now consumed.

 4 parts: Preface, the Program, the Building, Conclusions;
 with over 70 digital architectural drawings & illustrations.


preface: a tale of two architectures

it was nighttime again, time to walk through the electric landscape, cars
rushing by, streetlights, traffic lights, and time spent walking, trying to
get to the shoreline so i could once again see the San Francisco Bay, all
the while, i was thinking about a recent discussion on the Design-L mailing

(Design-L. Basic and applied design. Art and Architecture. )

between myself and the Bay stood the subject. it was the sea of the "Big
Big Lot" for parking all of those cars, for all those people who go to the
"Big Big Store" in their "Big Big Sports Utility Vehicles", almost like
cargo vans nowadays (M.K, R.F).  it was the subject: the enigma of the
built environment, the shopping mall complex. it is the most daunting of
tasks to walk through this consumer megamachine, through a landscape
absent of pedestrian scale. it carries a sense of walking on water, all of
that asphalt, the lines and oil mirages for the car-boats to park in this
economic port, and everytime i make the walk through this field, i feel
like i am drowning in the void, in the scale, in the emptiness, in the
wasteland. quintessential, it is the american experience. 

foot by foot, i make my way, zig-zagging, jogging, stopping, looking back
and forth and back and forth again to make certain i am not going to get
hit while jaywalking across the intersection, cars, congested, steaming
and coughing, wheezing and even roaring to go go go forward- to progress.
and i, eyes all around, paranoid, a human without a machine in an
artificial landscape. 

what exactly is this landscape- the mundane- the everyday built environment?

the subject "Learning from Venturi" was on the mailing list, and sparked a
discussion that seemed to have stalled in the academic halls, for it was
and is still too profane for the priests of architecture to admit.
"Learning from Las Vegas", that classic book of architecture which
investigated the epicenter of american popular culture, Las Vegas, for its
natural evolution of built form, and in doing so, contributed an economic,
social, and political analysis of the everyday main street as seen in signs
and on ordinary buildings which are represented by shopping malls all
around the world.

the architectural archives on Design-L has the tale, but what sparked my
mind was seeing these "Big Boxes" and their "Big Signs" in this landscape
that i so detest, which are so vacant, so inhuman, but which, at the same
time, speak to me in the same way as did Venturi's et al. analysis of this
mundane realm, in search of understanding the ordinary.

what thought i arrived at was new for me. it was not new in an
architectural sense, but instead, was a newly arrived appreciation of this
mundane world. the scale of the buildings, seen in drawings, the flatness
of their facades, and the importance of their signage for revealing the
program of the building, its purpose, its reason for existing, i wondered
how this unremarkable construction could have any meaning compared to the
richness of the past.

 (buildings #12, 13, &14: )

the relevation i had was in fact a conceptual flashback. these buildings
most reminded me of a factory, which may seem evident, but even moreso,
the factory-warehouse, where the goods that are produced are held over for
a temporary period for shipping distribution. 

[Husker Du's "Warehouse Songs & Stories" plays in my head]

thus, the typology of these "Big Big Boxes" begged my memory to conjure up
this allusion, and i began dreaming. again. the same old dream. that is,
that there is meaning in the built environment, as much meaning as was in
the past, but here, today, infront of me, before me, and around me. that
is, that today is like the past, and this day will someday be the past for
another, i hope. my reflection always begs the question of Prof. Geesaman,
regarding Walker Percy's question. what if an alien came down to Earth,
what would they see? would they find meaning in the placement of forks,
and spoons, and knives in a formal dinner setting? is there an
'architecture of the meal', as Prof. Geesaman had asked me years ago. 

yes, there's got to be meaning in this environment. maybe not an alien for
my taste, but surely an archaeologist, a new kind of archaeologist that
would be looking into the recent past, trying to understand the
hyper-evolution of the built environment while culture instantly
disintegrates and disappears under the ideology of progress. 

the car lights blare in my eyes, i begin to wake from my hazey dream, and
find myself standing infront of 'the Wherehouse' music and video store at
the far end of the shopping mall parking lot.  in the five minutes of this
traverse, i realized i had pen and paper, and would try to capture and
document this thought as best as i could. 

the thought: that the idea of 'architecture' exists today, as a language
of the built environment, to understand and communicate knowledge through
a cultural order which represents the economic, social, and political
environment, which it gives life to within built form. 

oh so dead design, one might say, memorials to grand-design, to marble
monuments, to leaders and the pyramids of power that rule the culture. but
today, the profane, the sacred landscape, the sacred building, debunked,
by a deconstruction of the signs of communication. 

the schools, they still teach of "Architecture", the one pure sacred
vision, so modern and clean, without all the messy details and undone
knots of everyday life. less complex, and deliberately so. or so simple
and evident, but only if it conveniently propels the belief in the grand
unity of "light, structure, material, and form" of the traditional
orthodox architectural values. 

instead, i stand facing the "other" architecture, non-architecture,
anti-architecture, the mundane, the profane, glaring of the Electronic
False-Day of Paul Virilio, something oddly over-familiar about this
"Wherehouse", the pun, the factory-warehouse, not coincidental but
purposefully honest. it was and is architecture. so i began my
architectural experiment. 

knowing the corporate retail environment, i was hesitant to go in
sketching the building without permission, so i went through the facade,
through a screen of light and advertisements and electronic surveillance
and electronic security gates and asked for the manager. my words fumbled,
i tried to communicate that i wanted to sketch the building because i am
an independent architectural researcher. i was pointed outside. the
manager was outside on their break. the electric buzz of the store
providing an electric backdrop for the scenes which follows in this

the best i can describe it is as an investigation of 'a tale of two

my intution of years said there was something to this building. but it is
in a different paradigm than all those of the past.

once, as the architectural historians teach, there was "Architecture", in
the outdoor theaters of Greece and Rome, in the opera houses of France, the
concert halls of Germany, and symphony and orchestra halls of America.  the
music, the stage, the theater, the musicians and actors and actresses, the
acoustics refined over centuries of typological evolution of built forms,
and with it, traditions of theater and music and performance, the art of
high culture, of the West, of progress. this Architecture with a capital A,
an inner sanctum for the fine arts, an ideology for the inner guard around
the non-existent wizard in the center. the mythological West.

these Architectural buildings worked as machines, much as did the
performers as Lewis Mumford states, the conductor of the orchestra
representing the factory leader, and the musicians as machinists,
synchronized, working an assemblyline of the musical composition, using
precision crafted tools, acting as a single machine, in a building made
for the presentation of this paradigm of order to those who were
conductors in their everyday lives. heads of state, heads of resources,
heads of people as resources, the elite, and this was their stage, to
watch and to play in. a cultural order reflecting the economic, social,
and political culture in built form. these were the buildings that made
up, and still make up this idea of sacred Architecture. 

but then, there is the profane landscape, glaring, blaring in the eyes and
face of everyday onlookers and participants in the present working world
megamachine that is the built environment. what happened since--

well, you must know by now..

what was the big change since the Opera House as Architecture, and the
Wherehouse, a typical franchise music-video retail store as an
architecture? there is a paradigm of difference, yet, there is also a
continuity of resemblence in the similarities of music, theater. in fact,
the same music of the halls finds itself in this new architecture, anew,
but old still, older still.

what is it.. what is the difference? my guess, my thesis is that there has
been a change in the nature of order, in the way things are built, in the
way things are understood, which has brought with it a new way of
perceiving the world around us.

the old order, an expert system with expert actors, and a new order, with
new experts and an evolving expert system. embodied in two architectures.
one, built on the principles of light, material, and the form of one
paradigm, and the other, built on these same principles, but with a spark,

a tale of two architectures, one electrical, the other not.

the thesis argument is rather long, but in the main it can be avoided and
instead, be put into direct practice by an evaluation of these two
architectures. one side of the analysis will depend upon the memory of the
individual, who has heard the dreams, the myths and legends of culture,
tradition, of order and High Art. the other information is contained
within these pages and drawings, and of the direct experience of the
individual in the everyday built environment of the popular cultural
order, and its economic, social, and political dimensions. 

the challenge then is to connect these two ideas together, here and now,
if only for a temporary moment, to map the connections before they
disappear again into infinite abstraction often found in stormy seas of
cultural ubiquity. is there any way to get outside of the current cultural
paradigm to see its order? i've been trying for years to do just this, and
have found it an incredible task, as it is hard to get 'outside' of this
electrical civilization and its paradigmatic ordering of the (natural and)
artificial (and virtual) built environment. 

but now i would again try to make my stab at the problem. "outside, over
there?" i said, pointing from the cashier's counter inside the blaringly
bright fluorescently-lit Wherehouse, to a concrete planter design feature
where a person was sitting, as i could see out the glass facade, past the
posters for movies. "thanks alot" i said to the worker, and i walked out
through the security gate, out past the cameras, out of the electronic
music and light, and into the shadows of the moonlit night, but meshed,
with shadows of parking lot lights, multiple lightsources, natural and
artificial, multiple shadows, perplexing.

I slowly walk up to the Wherehouse manager who is intensely sitting, with
little time left on his break, smoking, breathing, smoking, drinking,
smoking, smoking.  "hi", i say. "i was just inside and i wondered if you
have a plan of the store, as i am trying to document the building" i say.
the store manager looks at me quizically. 

"ahh, i am .. uh, well, .." i am fumbling my lines again. i never know how
to start to say what i need to say to make sense of myself, it comes out
all jumbled, mixed, like this writing, all over, multilinear, if one could
call it that. multiple tense, sense, or none at all... 

"uh- I am an architectural researcher and i am interested in this building
and i wondered if you would have a "plan" of the building, you know, like a
"map" of how the store is layed-out. i want to document it because i think
this music-video store is important to understanding our culture." the
store manager, Tony, started to agree.

i tried to convey my honest interest in wanting to know more about this
building he works in. to understand how it works. to analyze it. Tony
understood, he lived it, lives it, he manages it. i then knew i was on to
something significant. 

the thesis that architecture represents the (economic, social, and
political) cultural order was instantly understood by his direct
experience.  i said i study "electricity" and am trying to document the
role of electricity in the built environment through "electrical
buildings" like this music-video store. 

Tony began to speak of the store, the system, without a political opinion,
without an economic judgement, without a social morale saying it was
profane, nor sacred, but honest and straightforward: he shared what he
thought it is. how it is. how it exists as an entity. 

what could be better in an architectural analysis than having an occupant
of an architectural building tell you how the building functions, that is,
the success of its program. again, intuition about the Wherehouse as
production-factory-warehouse was revealed to be the foundation for this
cultural construction, fossil fueling the audiovisual media industry. 

"7,732 square feet" Tony said, after i asked him how big the store was.
that seemed about right, around 70 feet deep and 100 wide.  the program of
the store came out of his voice: "the whole place, [the store], changes
every week, the walls, displays, there is always a sale.. this place
exists for the media companies to push their products... there are always
weekly advertisements with deals in the paper... they come out of the
national headquarters." 

things like this that i expected to hear, if only i could read the signs,
were hallucinatory to my ears and eyes, blaring glaring, the electronic
false-day so bright, my eyes strain, my ears try to hear, getting close to
the truth of this building... 

there is all sorts of music inside, i said, is there anything that you
specialize in? i ask. no, Tony said, there is everything inside, lots of
everything. i then asked what is the difference between a place like the
Wherehouse and a place like Amoeba or Rasputin's in nearby Berkeley.
"those are independents" he said. they get to carry a lot more of the
imports because they can sell them there to their clientele. here, there
are few imports because they don't sell and they are too expensive, he
explains.  i remark, "yeah, there is a real difference between those
stores and this. at Amoeba they have a real relaxed crowd and a real
scene, and their walls have posters all over and they even have compact
disks used as decorations on the walls and ceilings and even as part of
the stairway." 

but the Wherehouse is not like this, it is the opposite, very clean, very
corporate, a franchise, not an independent music store. this is a national
chain, a money-making machine. not so tied into a micro-local ecosystem,
as much as part of a larger media organism- an extension of the media
industry itself, an interface, in the form of a building- of the
electronic cultural media construction in its macroscopic dimensions. 

Tony said it was okay if i went in and sketched the building. i had two
hours before they closed at 10 pm. he was too busy working to talk, and so
he granted me the role of observer inside this magical everyday
environment, to sketch, to document, to analyze, and to attempt to
understand what i can about all of these signs. 

i walked in the door with a piece of paper and a pen, and started to
sketch out the store. first the plan, the walls and windows, no, the
lights- televisions, oh, don't forget the music, and the stacks, 10, 20,
70, carpet is blue-grey, how do you spell linoleum? i don't have anything
to write on. hmmm... look at all these sale signs. compact disk box sets,
don't forget that. and look at this, all-star-wrestling videos.. 

a flashback to outside, hearing Tony speak, at a time before the avalanche
of data which is inherent in this exploration falls upon all incoherent
attempts at reasoning, was "Titanic, anything Titanic or Celine Dionne is
going out of this store..." to paraphrase the awe of this media building
as machine, and now, i am standing inside this machine, looking at its
inner workings, its parts, components, its decentralized engine of
cultural change and morphosis.. i am beginning to drown in the signs... 

the following is my attempt to de|con-struct The Wherehouse as


september 1998
alameda, california

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