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Architecture in mass media society

Part 1 Dissertation 1998
Jamie Scott
University of Liverpool | UK
It is the intention of this study to explore the relationship between architecture and contemporary media of communication, the mass media.

Central to the discussion is the premise that society’s understanding of architecture as expressed in the media is not the same as the architect’s. If this is accepted it is necessary to explore the issues that bring about this condition, and its consequences.

Considering the importance and amount of mass media in society, its engagement with architecture is a very broad subject.

In order to define this study it will make two related explorations, first one considering an architectural theory which engaged with the mass media and then an analysis of the portrayal of architecture in a mass media.

The paper starts with an exploration of the work of the architects Alison and Peter Smithson in relation to the Independent Group in the 1950s. The Independent Group were some of the first artists and intellectuals to consider and engage with the mass (popular) culture which has developed during the 20th century. Whilst other architects have engaged with the media in various ways, notably Le Corbusier prior to the Independent Group, and Venturi / Scott Brown later , it is the Independent Group which most directly engaged with the mass media. It is possible to study the Independent Group objectively with the benefit of hindsight, something which cannot be done in the study of contemporary architectural responses to the media.

The second part of the paper analyses the architectural coverage in ‘Vogue’ magazine to explore the ways in which architecture is portrayed by a particular mass media and draw conclusions about the effectiveness of such communication about architecture. Vogue is a consumer magazine which explicitly covers architecture and, whilst it would be possible to extend the survey to other magazines, for the purposes of this paper a single source is satisfactory.

To make any study of this length possible it is necessary to adopt some conventional understanding about the media , and the investigation of primary material draws on personal appraisal and established theories of mass communication.

The paper, written from an architectural background, will take a naturally ‘culturalist’ approach and a generally ‘media-centric’ viewpoint.

Mass media can be understood as a social institution, implying that the media is dependent on society, in as much as it would have no content or audience without it. A ‘media-centric’ view argues that the media itself influences society and in this instance architecture. Whilst this view attributes an independent quality to mass media it is possible to propose that the media of communication are actually an integral part of society and that any attempt to isolate the condition of mass media from society is invalid. Crucially this suggests mass media cannot then be cited as a negative factor affecting something such as architecture, rather the agent must be considered ‘communication within society’, a much less prejudiced term than ‘mass media’.

The last part of this paper brings together the two investigations and draws some conclusions about the position of architecture in a society which appears to be dominated by communication through mass media.

Jamie Scott

Tutor Statement

Sadly Professor Thistlewood died on 11th August 1998. The following statement is by one of the readers of the dissertation, Linda Sheridan.

The reason that 'Architecture in mass media society' is the School's submission is that it is well written and intelligently argued. It eschews the over-complicated language of much current writing on architecture and offers a well-informed, coherent discussion. It is a fitting mix of wide background reading and some original research in the form of a survey of articles in popular magazines. There are two particularly strong discussions: firstly, of Banham's role in the promulgation/interpretation of the Smithson's work; and secondly, of the commodification of interior architecture.

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