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Against spectacle

“The spectacle is the sun that never sets on the empire of modern passivity.”
Guy Debord

Peter Eisenman stated in a “manifesto”  :  ”

Today, across cultural practices, the distracted viewing of the surface has replaced the reading of depth. This is abetted by media, which stages the appearance of reality as a spectacle. The spectacular is linked to the contemporary inundation of information, which proselytises the new and demands the continual production of new imagery for consumption. The images sought by media are circulated instantaneously, virtually and seamlessly. Media’s search for fantastic imagery, as well as the precedent set for architecture by the “Bilbao effect”, perpetuates an increasing need for the spectacular in the form of ever more precious forms of novelty. These shapes – mutations of their own mediation – are the spectacles of today. Seductive renderings of impossible buildings are their own graphic reality, fuelled by a voracious need for publicity. These images are the narcissistic death rattle of a discipline lost in the tidal wave of image-dependent media. In staging the appearance of reality as spectacle, media induces passivity. The more passive the audience, the more necessary spectacular imagery becomes. It is a vicious cycle in which architecture today is more than ever implicated. In such a context, today’s subject, now rendered passive, is truly in danger of losing the capacity for close reading.

Where is architecture’s critical resistance to this process of loss? The crisis of the spectacular demands a call for a new subjectivity, for a subject removed from the passivity induced by the image and engaged by form in close reading.”

(designism) – this is interesting, but I wonder if Eisenman’s work falls under the same category of being ‘spectacular’. What is the essential difference between his Columbia Convention Center and the Guggenheim Bilbao?

I am surprised and not surprised to see Eisenman quoting Guy Debord, a very influential thinker who applies Marxist theory to contemporary culture. Not surprised because what Debord is saying is correct, and Eisenman is very smart. Surprised because no doubt Debord would indict Eisenman as a promulgator of the spectacle himself.



The Columbus Convention Center by Peter Eisenman



  1. I’m curious, is your point that designism was supposed to be the answer to your question, “Where is architecture’s critical resistance to this process of loss?” But the problem is that designism falls short of escaping its own critique of the spectacular?

    Not, I would say, unless designism is a counter-spectacle to the dominant spectacle that capitalism produces.

    • @lettrist: The question “where is architecture’s critical resistance” is a great question. Its not mine, it is Peter Eisenman’s. I agree, design is a big part of the spectacle. The phrase “designism” is something of a joke on my part. Since everything is an “ism” in the design world, I thought why not create a meta-ism, and call it “designism”? I have no idea what a counter-spectacle would be, what do you think? Is it still possible to live authentically? I suppose the idea would be to insert a monkey-wrench in the works and make things less “convenient” to continue the same mindless processes. The problem is that this is what many “avant-gardes” attempt to do, but this is just another commodity to be bought and sold in the marketplace. But I think you already know that ….

  2. Yeah, when avant garde ideas become commodities themselves, or stripped from the context of their originally subversive attitudes, then the situationists called this “recuperation”. The spectacle recuperates what the avant garde originally designed as an attack on it.

    Insofar as the avant garde work is successful, it is a counter-spectacle. Like punk music before it becomes commercialized. But once it becomes recuperated, it is back in the spectacle of capitalism.

    At any rate, the only way to create a real counter-spectacle is to change the relationship between labor and capital completely. For that, their are plenty of examples. Occupied factories in Greece, say.

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