Architecture never tasted so GOOD!
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“taste in architecture”
Synaesthesia as an emotive design tool
“I live in a house that tastes of mashed potatoes in a fruit gum town”
from “Synaesthetes - In Conversation”
In writing, what colour is the letter C? In music, what does the A minor chord smell like? Be it architecture, painting or song, visual and audio media are used to invigorate the other senses. The use of synaesthesia to provoke a psychedelic experience is not an uncommon notion within the arts.
The sense of taste is immediately associated with the art of gastronomy, a scientific and artistic pursuit which may seem alien to what one calls architecture. Is architecture only associated with visuals? Perhaps, Christopher Day said it best when he advocated that the total experience of a building must encourage us to use all our senses. If a building can be “breathed” in , can it not be tasted?
Synaesthetes claim that they can smell textures, taste sounds… To hear their descriptions of the world is enough to make one feel half-deaf, half-blind or at the least very dim. I personally think that the created “links” will differ between every one of us because our actions are determined by our influences. However there are instances which relate innately to each and every one of us. For example, colour theorists have already noted some sort of link between what we see and what we taste, however the body seems to interpret it as a craving for the taste of that particular colour. In other instances, the body is repelled by the taste of a colour and is put off food. For example, the colour pink would be the best colour used on the front signage of a candy shop since it causes most individuals to taste something sweet. Red meat always tastes better in a restaurant with crimson tablecloths and murals. On the other hand, a diabetic should paint his kitchen lilac since it would put him/her off sugar… as well as most foods!
I remember vaguely an incident where at the age of 4 I told my five-year old Australian cousin “The colours red, pink, green and white feel like girls, while blue, orange and purple are boys.” To which he quickly responded “No. Only pink is a girl. The rest are all boys”. I tend to think that although such powerful side-tracking may be subliminal, they do exist to some degree in each one of us. It doesn’t pay to be sceptical. Statistics being what they are, “estimates range from 1:100,000 all the way down to 1:200! The vast majority of synaesthetes are female, outnumbering male synaesthetes by 8/1 in the US and 25/1 in the United Kingdom”. The growing academic interest in the subject may signify that a growing number of individuals are aware of the phenomenon, to their advantage.
1. From Sound to Taste
Author: Pink Floyd (Musicians)
Work: “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”
Queens of the Stone Age are best known for their creation of Songs for the Deaf, based on the interrelation between touch and hearing through rhythm. However, Pink Floyd are indisputably the forerunners of psychedelic progressive rock where music entices the mind to experience a sense of colour, texture and taste. This work in particular describes one possibly hung-over man fumbling around in his kitchen, trying to make breakfast. Indeed, critics encourage fans not listen to Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast whilst they are hungry, “as you will be consumed with a ravenous craving for bacon and eggs!”
Architecture that Tastes Good?
Author: Various Architects
Work: Auction by Maya Lin in aid of the Greyston Foundation
Architects frequently take on the role of an industrial designer creating much of the glassware, crockery and cutlery that ends up on our dining table. It couldn’t have been long before they took a shot at designing the food itself! In the summer of 2003, New Yorker Maya Lin organized an auction of a very particular set of cakes in benefit of the Greyston Foundation. Participants included Frank Gehry, Rafael Viñoly, Steven Holl, and Richard Meier. The charity may have been merely good fun in support of a good cause, but it certainly was an ideal opportunity for architects to show off their signature style trademarks in a new edible medium. Much like a Bavarian cream pie is considered to be a tasty Rococo, Gehry presented rolling waves of dough, hailed “a baker’s Bilbao” while icing replaced porcelain panels in Meier’s submission, a “white cake”.
Musings on a Possible Personal Linkage between Architecture and Taste
30 St Mary Axe, East London – Foster & Partners
As a joke, I asked a friend of mine from North London whether he has ever wanted to eat a building. He answered that the Gherkin in East London would be a sure candidate. We later identified this building to be Swiss Re’s new headquarters, a Foster & Partners hi-tech creation in high profile glass and steel. No less than six months after the building’s official opening it had already become a London icon, and a popular one at that. 30 St Mary Axe was temporarily opened to the public for the first time as part of the London Open House weekend in 2004. The building was a blockbuster - such that people queued around two city blocks, and over four hours, in order to see inside. Is Norman Foster’s popular pickle enough the raise the level of salivation in our mouths?
Jewish Museum, Berlin – Daniel Libeskind
In 1989, The Polish architect Daniel Libeskind won the competition for the Jewish Museum Berlin, which opened to the public in September 2001 to wide public acclaim. This is one of Libeskind’s many post-war museums however its meaning is all the more poignant within this specific setting. When the “Taste” history group discussed this building, we seemed to conclude that the jagged lines and silvery textures composing Libeskind’s masterpiece have an icy yet sugary taste to them. There is no flakiness about this building yet its poignant sharp edges would remind me more easily of accidentally scraping my teeth against a fork rather than actual food.
Casa Mila, Barcelona – Antonio Gaudí
In the Catalan region of Spain, the phrase mar y muntanya i.e. "sea and mountain" captures the area’s unique blend of flavours. Indeed, many of the country’s best culinary exponents, such as the familiar paella, combine meat and game from the mountains and as well as fish and shellfish from the sea. Residents of Barcelona affectionately call Gaudí’s Casa Mila El Pedrera that is "the quarry." Its audacious building structure gave a total freedom to the distribution of each of the five floors where broken undulating planes dominated, always forming curvilinear perspectives. Layered into its immobile cliff-like surfaces are metalwork and tile mimicking marine life -- fish scales, snails, shells and seaweed. Gaudí exemplifies a balanced mixture of regional flavour accompanied with personal taste.
Jubilee Church, Rome – Richard Meier
Richard Meier's church was originally planned to mark the celebrations of the Jubilee of AD 2000. It resides in an ordinary 1970s 10-storey housing quarter at Tor Tre Teste, a suburb at some distance from the centre of the city. The three shells, or arcs, act as a massive instrument of light gently embodying the sacred space at the heart of the church.
I cannot explain why (and the more experienced synaesthetes never do anyway) but this church always reminds me of Maltese nougat. Friends of mine commented it tastes of coconut or eggshells.
What imagery does our local stone provide to our taste buds? Is it also gastronomically regional, like Gaudí’s. Is it a fresh loaf, still warm from the furnace or the caramelised sweetness oft Italian honey, perhaps? I perceive that since stone becomes “sick” when infested by salts, a salty composition couldn’t be the “right” taste.
“In the end, one experiences only oneself”
Perhaps Nietzsche has provided a fitting, yet different perspective to such pondering. As I have previously indicated, in the end, the convergence of our sensory experiences is told through our own narrative.
When the reality-show personality Neil Forrester stuck his tongue into an irate fan’s mouth on National TV and had it bitten off, he wrote the following words after a painful meal:
“There, I've done it. I have violated my construction with my tearing incisors, the bread crumples under my advance and the bacon fights briefly then gives in. Only the springy crust gives me any trouble, demanding a sideways shake of the head to relinquish its hold. I have my mouthful and begin my careful mastication. There is a melee of flavour. Taste is not spatially coded, but there is the element of time. A dimension that can draw out the sensations as they overlap and separate, as they combine and recombine at once confounding my expectations and reassuring me...”
His temporary deficiency made him painfully aware of the sensual enjoyment one experiences whilst eating, and how this effect is achieved through time, which consequently enabled the amalgamation of the five senses. The precedent musing is followed by a worry which seems to alarm him the most.
“Even assuming that the musculature returns to normal - without sensation I can never be kissed, I can only kiss.”
The greatest personal tragedy to Forrester lies is his understanding that no amount of visual media will him believe he is part of a kiss between another man and woman. Our experiences of physical interaction cannot be absolute. Neither can our individual experience of a building be so. They are just that… individual.
“Architecture can only act as a recipient in which your desires, my desires can be reflected. Thus a piece of architecture is not architectural because it seduces, or because it fulfils some utilitarian function, but because it sets in motion the operations of seduction and the unconscious.”
- Bernard Tschumi