Redefine the New Normal: Reinterpret the Obsolete

Designer’s Role: City building through the lens of reinterpretation and selective negotiation

Tatum Lau ( MAUD ‘19)


Camille Pissaro: "Le Boulevard Montmartre, effet de nuit (The Boulevard Montmartre at Night)",

In modern life nothing produces such an effect as a good platitude. It makes the whole world kin. - Oscar Wilde

As an architect and urban designer, one is reminded daily to redefine open and public spaces under the market of modern development. To adapt to new technological progress and restraints, several architectural features are replaced with anti-spatial elements. Plazas are replaced by Amazon, town criers are substituted with the New York Times, and essential fountains of sustenance are integrated into each individual’s plumbing system at home. Nevertheless, with all these advancements, our environment becomes more engaging and receptive when it allows us to reminisce in its presence. The pedagogy of design therefore acknowledges the importance that good platitude could be signified as moments of the obsolete. However, while selected through the appropriate lens of Art, the informal surrounding makes the whole world kin.

Certain charms of the past no longer entice us, or at times become a certain hindrance rather than cultivating desire. Instead of a depiction of affluence, one may feel convoluted with a certain baroque entry procession sequence. With urban growth and expected efficiency, processions through buildings have developed through visual connections. The value of these architectural elements has diverged through time. Therefore, the need for a practical architect comes into play. The picturesque is not dubbed an idiosyncrasy and abandoned, as an alternative it is further rationalized with technical possibilities. During each innate conflict between the picturesque and the practical, it is up to the architect and designer to decide if that is a particular battle worth the confrontation.

As an architect picks his or her battles between the picturesque and the practical, he or she also experiences the same tension between the formal and informal. Both abide by various rules and complexities and one is not independent of the other. Through this process, an architect should remain courteous and realize that a complete imitation of nature is beyond one’s capabilities. By respecting what already stands in the original site, the designer should then cherish and preserve the intent of precedence. One begins to define the new through the participation of the old, and not lust for a creation of a site-less estranged icon. It becomes a practice of filtering through the puzzle and rearranging of the parts. The exhilaration comes from finding and interpreting a suited composition, instead of from creating a new addition whenever one hits a complication.

The blurring of entities becomes a quintessential aspect of design. The blurring of art and life in the picturesque demarcates a dialogue between the past and present, while the blurring of the informal and the formal negotiates policies that adapt to varying sites. The designer retains an authorship to their design, though by understanding the subtleties of the mediation between these elements, he or she has to remain civil to the needs of the surrounding. As Wagner’s idea of the metropolis states, “it is a conception that understands the city itself to be a place, not of some homogenized [global] culture or deracinated [multiculturalism], but rather where the presence of difference within culture, is inscribed and articulated.” In other words, one must not be obsessed with explicit characterization. Furthermore, designing to feed aspiration may begin with a simple form of anonymity in which the addressee can adapt, perceive, and customize the formation.


  1. Macarthur, John. The Picturesque: Architecture, Disgust and Other Irregularities. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.

  2. Blau, Eve. "Supranational Principle as Urban Model: Otto Wagner's GroBstadt and City Making in Central Europe." (n.d.): 495-508. Print.

  3. Wagner, Otto. “The Development of a Great City” from Architectural Record (n.d) 102-117. Print.

  4. Unwin. Of Formal and Informal Beauty (n.d) 115-139. Print.

  5. Sitte. Artistic Limitation of Modern City Planning (n.d) 243-250. Print