Fireworks displays and outdoor searchlights, crisscrossing in the sky, used to be just for the Fourth of July, or to announce the circus had come to town. But today they are a popular form of entertainment — any day of the year. We’ve grown accustomed to splashy displays of noise and light to celebrate just about anything.
Architecture, far from being immune from such exuberance, is now an active participant. Buildings offer such wonderful heights and façades for lighting and lasers — and fireworks (see Spotlight, page 50)! Beyond that, architecture has in some cases become itself a medium for entertainment, deliberately and legitimately so.
Denise Scott Brown praises the new Pop Century Resort at Disney World in Florida as “beautifully done,” while her colleague Robert Venturi says, “We love it, the idea of it and the skill with which it has been designed” (Metropolis April 2004). The economy (“value-priced”) motel, designed by Arquitectonia, incorporates giant, mid-century icons such as the Mickey Mouse telephone, Mr. and Mrs. Potato-head, and a can of Play-Doh into its architecture.
What the resort’s design lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in “symbolic content” — a vital but under-appreciated ingredient, say Brown and Venturi, in a new architecture where “surface and form, graphic signage, and sculptural symbolism” all convene “in the service of enhanced communication, the vital community-building tool of our multicultural era.” Just like the religious and civic iconography of previous eras, these new commercial icons have communication value.
The value is entertainment — our modern-day hallmark and obsession. Indeed, as entertainment architect Gregory Beck argues (ARCHI-TECH Nov/Dec 2000), “Entertainment is now driving our
culture. This creates a new challenge for the architect. We are used to solving aesthetic issues with forms. Now the forms are content-driven and must incorporate media and other tools, including theatrical lighting, video, and sound.”
Resorts and hotels are an obvious place where entertainment can take center stage (see page 42). But, curiously, so are museums (see pages 22 and 28), where both lighting and audio/video play a central role in helping to elicit the emotional response that entertainment, by its nature, demands. The more “integrated” the technology — and the iconography — the better the artifice succeeds.
Architecture is how the new entertainment culture works.