Shifting Paradigms: Renovating the Decorated Shed

By Steven Song and Sun-Young Park.

Published by The Humanities Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In 1972, we learned from Las Vegas the power of signage, through Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s use of the ‘duck’ and ‘decorated shed’ as metaphors for expressive and symbolic architecture. Their latest collaborative book "Architecture as Signs and Systems" revisits the elemental quality of Architecture as ‘symbol’ and ‘shelter’ in the context of our information age. At Venturi and Scott Brown’s request, we respond to their theories as the voice of a generation that has witnessed technological evolutions and their potentials in architecture. This paper explores shifting social paradigms in modern times that preclude a clear-cut reading of ‘function.’ New technologies blur the boundaries between civic, public, and private spaces at unprecedented rates – an iPod creates the illusion of privacy in a public space while the internet transforms the ‘private’ home into a virtual Mecca of shopping and information exchange. When patterns of use and delineation of program can no longer be mapped, how should the ‘symbol’ and ‘shelter’ of Architecture engage each other to redefine functionalism? Enveloping such spaces with an electronic ‘sign’ that simply charts these shifting uses, assuming such a charting could be performed cogently, demotes architecture to a mimetic device, which is ultimately unfulfilling in its capacity as an agent for social commentary. While technology has significantly affected our approach to building surfaces, we have yet to study its ramifications on traditional architectural elements and how the two may merge to update our design vocabulary. The curtain wall system is one element explored in our study – generally understood as an amalgamation of the age-old elements of wall and window. However, could it function flexibly both as a component of the shed and its symbol, to negotiate the tenuous private/public boundary?

In an era easily seduced by de(con)structive forms and superficial takes on materials and textures, we propose using new communication and engineering technologies to initiate an evolved architectural language – one through which buildings can react to shifting paradigms in contemporary ‘context’ to better perform their dual function of ‘symbol’ and ‘shelter.’

Keywords: Architecture, Modernism, Paradigms, Sign, Symbol, System, Pattern, Functionalism, Modern, Architectural, Venturi, Scott Brown, Decoration, Decorated Shed, Information, Communication, Ornament, Ornamentation, Internet, Signage, Shelter, Context, Contemporary, Steven Song

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.77-98. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 9.009MB).

Steven Song

Arquitectonica, New York, NY, USA

Steven Song, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, is a young architect who currently practices in New York City. He responds to the theories of influential modern architects, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, as the voice of a generation that has witnessed technological evolutions and their potentials in architecture.

Sun-Young Park

Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cambridge, MA, USA

Sun-Young Park is a graduate of Princeton University and a current Master of Architecture candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Her research interests have ranged from concepts of branding in modern architcture to Parisian sewers in the 19th century.


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