Just what is a vacation? According to the Brother Grimms’ dictionary of the German language, the German word “Urlaub” stems from the Old High German “irlouben”, the Middle High German “erlouben” and new standard German “erlauben”, which means permit. Someone who wishes to remove themselves at least temporarily from their customary task, needs permission to do so; the prerequisite for the request being granted is an employer, an authority, a superior, in short someone you ask for permission to leave, perhaps even forever, which leaves a vacancy as you have vacated yourself. “Vacances” is the French term, while “vacation” is used in English. Initially, in all three languages the terms referred to days when no court was held, while today they refer to school holidays and other extended holiday periods.
Are holidays overrated? Not if you gain insights when away and draw the right conclusions on your return. In 1774, Matthias Claudius had his hero “Urian” set out to explore the world. “Whoever goes travelling / has stories to tell”. The North Pole, Greenland, America, Asia and China were also on Urian's sightseeing program. On his return Urian summed it all up: “Found everywhere the same as here, / Everywhere cows say “moo”, / People just like me and you, / and every bit as foolish, too.
When in 1796 Goethe wrote to Schiller from Weimar: “I am now enjoying the ultimate in holidays,” he was not talking about free time, dawdling or leisure in the contemporary sense, because in the same sentence he delights “in the immense workload that lies ahead”. As such, holidays are about self-determination, the permission to do as you please, in other words not only to have free time, but also to be free. Twenty years previously in a lyrical drama from his Storm and Stress period (“Claudine von Villa Bella”) Goethe described the opposite scenario. Don Pedro, one of the protagonists, slipped out secretly to his beloved, naturally without permission, and must now return hastily: “My vacation is coming to an end. While now absence, I am sorely missed, and could easily fall out of favor/ With the king and my superiors.” That sounds familiar to us: Yet traditional authority no longer exists, but has given way to a middle-class web of connections, which depending on the situation is understood sometimes as close and binding and other times as informal.
At the latest with industrialization non-regulated time as defined by the authorities and nature came to an end. Railway clocks were synchronized, for the first time space and time appeared to be connected. The pace was set by factory machines, which ideally never stopped. Factory workers needed to be available around the clock to operate them. In decades of industrial disputes, workers and employees wrested from superiors and employers all manner of legal and contractual holiday rules and periods. An achievement of industrial society that might appear as an outdated quirk in a leisure, and which has made the seamless transition between diversion and permanent activity into an authoritative rule. The Fordian clocking-in card in the factory which recorded when people started and finished work has been replaced by post-Fordian Messenger software, which reveals where and how long a chat partner is online.
The concept of the holiday, which in a better season than this one can also be spent on a balcony, in the garden or park, is synonymous with a journey, even more so in an age when a flight can be had for the price of a thick book, six packs of cigarettes or three cinema tickets. The English word “travel” has common roots with the French “travail” or work. If we consult the Grimms’ dictionary again, the word “Reise” or journey has the general meaning of “a movement upwards, a ‘rising up’ and a ‘setting out’”, in the narrow sense of “setting out for war”, a meaning still common in the 16th century. Be it as work or removal to foreign beaches: the journey and its preparation seldom appear as a diversion or even restful, but are synonymous with an effort accepted in order to achieve the desired goal. Only for the aimless traveler, but not the holidaymaker is the journey the reward. Comparable perhaps with a stroll or walk, two modes of locomotion that arguably only literature specialists with an historical interest can still appreciate.
Is it still possible to have a holiday at all? Physical absence and continual digital presence are no longer a contradiction. Idleness, diversion and boredom which were once a part of holidays are now eaten up by time-saving digital devices that replace books, newspapers and telephones and keep us in a permanent busy modus. We can, for example, browse through older Stylepark articles to keep up to speed. After all, many of the topics raised here, stories and images, which have already been disseminated remain open, unresolved or refer to solutions for everyday issues that are still pending.
There is the consideration of how we will drive in the future. Not merely the technical dimension of autopilots, electric or hybrid vehicles but likewise and still very much on the agenda the idea of an altered guise for the new. Perhaps a future vehicle will resemble today’s cars just as much or little as the elegant horse-drawn carriage resembles the far-from-elegant SUV. Writing about the visionary concept car “GINA Light” presented in 2008 by Chris Bangle, the former Chief Designer at BMW, Thomas Wagner said that this idea of flexible fabric stretched over a metal frame not only heralded the entry of “a kind of material ‘morphing’ into auto design, but also a crossover of superimposition and transformation.” (› to the article) Rather, with “this highly pioneering design” we were also seeing the return of the “fascination for constant design change, as advocated by Futurism in its obsession with speed in the early 20th-century – and which now verges on the ‘idolisation of constant change’.”
Today, the auto industry still relies on constant change and its visionary description. This is done both with real products, which often have small conceptual failings, some tiny error in order to be useful and aesthetically pleasing, and also with concept cars, which promise in the foreseeable future to abandon this very provisional nature of the car and replace it with a new dimension, a new technology or design. A promise that may be entertaining, but which we long since know to be illusory. Soon, in September the latest examples will be unveiled in Paris at the Mondial de l'Automobil.
While the future of mobility and its manifestations can appear highly attractive at times, the often unpopular architectural legacy of Modernism is highly challenging. Are we going to allow yesterday’s future, buildings that often replaced familiar traditions with generous gestures, to still play a decisive role? Such issues are still a topic of controversy in urban societies around the world. Often, economic considerations are presented in the guise of aesthetic convictions. In 2009, Nora Sobich reported what that can mean in her example of a “Modernist cuckoo’s egg”: Boston City Hall, designed as a Brutalist structure between 1963 in 1968. The “objections to the exemplary building” had in Boston “taken on the character of a national sport”. (› to the article) Incidentally, one of the architects was Gerhard Michael Kallmann (1915-2012), born in Berlin, who emigrated to London in 1937 with his parents, where he studied at the Architectural Association before going to America in 1948. For the time being demolition plans do not seem to be on the agenda, but the forecourt to the City Hall is to be redesigned. However, according to the SOS Brutalism page of the Deutsches Architekturmuseum this significant building is not about to be declared a landmark, as long demanded, nor are plans in place for its much-needed redevelopment in line with heritage requirements.
Another monument, once again the year is 1968, but this time there is no danger of demolition occurring: “In my opinion, everything should be white” is the title of a concise and precise interview Franziska von Bethmann conducted with Richard Hamilton on the graphic concept for the Beatles’ “White Album”. Although he admits he did not have any strong connection to white, it had the advantage that it did not represent a conscious choice; it is more about the absence of color. And to his mind, white was an option as long as there was no reason for another color. (› to the article)
The fact that artists occasionally dabble in design is still overlooked by the one or other art historian. Hamilton was not only involved in mass design for the “White Album”. “Products” was the name of his 2003 catalog for Gagosian, in which he not only included his designs for the Swedish Unix computer Diab DS 101, but also the Japanese amplifier “Lux 50”. Hamilton argued that his devices would not suffer the fate of soon being technologically outdated or functioning badly, since their validity as works of art would not be affected. Rather, they had the same chance of surviving in a museum as did “any other of my painted images”. The catalog also devotes ample space to his analysis of Braun household appliances of the 1960s (mainly designed by Reinhold Weiss). The most famous object combines an early electric toothbrush with a joke article from Brighton in the form of false teeth, and appeared as a print in 1968 as part of Hamilton's documenta contribution entitled “The critic laughs”.
Many people consider Alessandro Mendini to be largely a post-modern interior designer. Sandra Hofmeister proved how superficial this view was with her interview “In the design world we all love each other”. There, Mendini underscores the strange special role of product culture and its designers: “Design has hardly any critics, but architecture and literature have many critics, some of them can even kill with words. In the design world we all love one another. In particular, the chief editors of magazines have to love everyone, otherwise they would not get any adverts. This is a truly tragi-comical matter.” Apart from criticizing such market mechanisms, which have by no means improved since the interview was published in 2010, Mendini also dishes out ample criticism of his colleagues: “Designers are often superficial stylists, who tend to ignore people’s needs. The connection to people is essential because design is very realistic thing. People tend to forget that today.” (› to the article)
But what is reality? Architect Lina Bo Bardi created a specific form of reality. After World War II she emigrated to Brazil with her husband Pietro Maria Bardi (the famous gallery owner and politician for cultural affairs in Milan during the Mussolini era whom she married in 1946). In recent years her work has attracted considerable international attention since it represents a special kind of architecture for free spaces with a strong social thrust. Uta Abendroth wrote about the architect in 2013. (› to the article) One of her most important buildings “SESC Pompéia” came about 1977 as a conversion and expansion of an abandoned factory in São Paulo. The building serves as a center for sports and culture, offering various rooms as meeting places where people can converge. What the architect envisaged was not the culture of commerce, which sees shopping as the greatest aim in life but rather in her buildings “to visualize the social components and prevent hierarchies”, as Abendroth writes. In other words, the building is a place that can also be used by people with little or no money, who do not wish to be entertained by others. There is of course an unpleasant aspect to reality, too: The solid wooden stools Bo Bardi designed for SESC Pompéia and which were still to be found there recently have turned up in large numbers on the vintage market for historical design furniture. Hunting along the tracks scouted by Modernist historians, furniture dealers remove highly specific objects from that place for which they were intended and made.
People that live in Glück’s (Luck’s) building, can count themselves lucky! At any rate, Vienna is considered a paradise for tenants, as people do not try to tell them that it is the market that has driven prices so high and made the cities and their centers uninhabitable, because those on low or normal incomes simply cannot afford them anymore. In Austria’s capital city, the housing market is regulated. Apartments are built, and subsidized housing plays a decisive role for the city’s positive image of itself. And back in history again: Take the three high-rise blocks, each 300 m long and 94 m tall, which architect Harry Glück created from 1973 onwards in Alt-Erlaa in the south of the city. Adeline Seidel portrays the architect and his most important work, which shows how such compact architecture can produce a sense of community, if it is well done and well thought through. (› to the article) In defiance of all prejudices towards compact architecture it proves that “long-term extras for occupants” are essential to a positive notion of economic feasibility. And Adeline Seidel leaves the talking to Glück, who comments at length on the topic: “I believe I was able to show that the quality of life that many people search for in the suburbs can be realized in large cities – and though it is different it is not worse. Moreover, several conveniences that the occupants of my apartments can afford remain unattainable for the individual housebuilder.” What might prompt somebody to venture a comparable project?
“Even the most violent passions grant us a little respite at times,” wrote the aristocratic creator of aphorisms Rochefoucauld, “only vanity keeps us in ceaseless motion.”
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