Joshua Comaroff & Ong Ker-Shing - normal compositions become strange: extra limbs appear, holes open where they should not, individual objects are doubled or split or perversely occupied. These buildings reimagine the possibilities of architectural language, shifting from natural norms to other, more rarefied and exciting options. They define an expanded aesthetic field that marries the beautiful to the distorted, the awkward, the manifold, and the indeterminate
Joshua Comaroff & Ong Ker-Shing, Horror in Architecture, ORO Editions, 2013.
This book looks at the idea of horror and its analogues in architecture. In these, normal compositions become strange: extra limbs appear, holes open where they should not, individual objects are doubled or split or perversely occupied.
Horrifying buildings re-imagine the possibilities of architectural language, shifting from "natural" norms to other, more rarified and exciting options. They define an expanded aesthetic field that marries the beautiful to the distorted, the awkward, the manifold, and the indeterminate.
Through an investigation that spans architecture, art, and literature, this study attempts to limn horror through its shifting forms and meanings--and to identify a creeping unease that lingers at the very center of the modern project.
Horror in Architecture may be read as a history, as an alternative to the classic canon of good and proper architectures, or as a sly manifesto for a new approach to the design of the built environment--one that encourages a playful subversion of conventions.
To capture horror in its many guises, this study is presented in a unique manner. An introductory essay describes the historical fortunes of horror as an aesthetic idea, from Roman antiquity to the pulp films and novels of the present day. Here, the authors put forward a new theory of the sources and effects of horror in modernity and in modern architecture. This is followed by case studies of types, linking classic tropes (clones, doubles, hybrids, psychotics and the undead) to specific buildings and architectural theories.
As a result, this study may be read in a number of different ways. It may be consumed as a total theoretical piece, from start to finish. Or it may provide a series of more casual readings, in the various chapters and brief presentations of the works of individual architects or buildings.
I had been eagerly awaiting the publication of Singapore-based architects Joshua Comaroff & Ong Ker-Shing’s new book Horror in Architecture for months as it specifically addresses the two very things I’m currently researching: horror and architecture. The book’s introduction nails a correlation between “horror” and the sublime, an idea that I usually discard because of its cathartic and religious implications but presenting the two as being both unknowable, spectral and inexplicable but extremely palpable is quite convincing. “Horror is the truth about abstraction” is another provocative statement that also rings true when considering how horror “weirds” what is familiar. From there, their discussions of the double, disjunction, repetition, deformation, interior/exterior are certainly of interest if perhaps all too brief.
Horror in Architecture seems particularly interested in relating architecture to the monstrous, a valid correlation that loses its poignancy when the authors continuously refer to Mary Shelley’s monster as “Frankenstein” when, in fact, “Frankenstein” is the young mad doctor. Along with the green face, bolts to the neck, and flat head, it’s a pop-culture adaptational norm to call the monster “Frankenstein” but it’s still glaringly incorrect. While I would argue that Dr. Frankenstein is perhaps even more monstrous that the monster he created, it’s hard to overlook this error and to trust further concepts they put forth that I’m unfamiliar with.
Aside from other general editorial issues (wrong words, doubling of words, incorrect spacing), the book really omits the real source of architecture’s horror by offer only a cursory address of economics and capitalism in relation to buildings, culture, and society. Horror very pointedly tackles socio-political issues of its time and, with the immediacy of architecture to the population and the economic context in which houses, businesses, and skyscrapers are built, it would seem fundamental in a discussion about how architecture embraces the horrific. For instance, what could be more horrifying than neglected public housing complexes ala Candyman (Bernard Rose, 1992)? Politics, economics, society – these are all fundamental elements to why horror and architecture exist and, most importantly, what they represent.What we must take-away from Architectural Horrors is an idea proposed towards the beginning: ”…all present the possibilities of deviant architecture as an opening into new worlds of form, composition, space-making, program and hierarchy.” As scholars, filmmakers, authors, and artists use horror to establish an understanding of the world around us, it therefore seems crucial to consider the relationship between our built environment and horror as a productive site of contemplation and of future possibilities. -