Remember when you would wait for hours to catch the right song on the radio station just so you could hit record and commit your favorite tune to tape? A tape that would inevitably be played over and over and over again? A tape that, for some, most certainly served as the background music to what you knew would be your big break on Star Search? Yes, those were the days of the mixed tape! (If you thought I was going to say American Idol instead of Star Search, you probably don’t remember the real mixed tape —but do read on for the quirky architectural tie-in and a little recent-history lesson).
For the uninitiated, the concept of the mixed tape was to take songs that meant something to you or to your intended audience and string them together in a way that told a personalized story or provided motivation— something that had meaning and context, and defined a clear message. Nowadays, the mixed tape seems to be a dying art; today’s method of music sharing—tossing a few mp3s on a thumb drive—may sound better and be easier to do, but it lacks clarity, since the music can be played at random in shuffle mode, not to mention skipped altogether. The intended message gets lost.
If you have a mixed tape, you know that for an instant trip down memory lane or to get yourself psyched up for the next challenging event, all you have to do is to put that tape in the cassette player and crank the volume. With the melody comes the clarity; you can visualize the people you knew, remember things that move you, even begin to see the past as if it were right here and now. Ultimately, you recall the little and maybe not so little things that have shaped who you are today.
Now for the tie-in to architecture:
Mixed tapes are to individuals as architecture is to society. KABLAM!!
When the world views architecture—be it a building, an open space, an urban setting, or even space untouched by man—the world should be reminded of the people that had a hand in creating it, it should experience empathy, and it should learn more about how that society came to be. Within our environment, we score the soundtrack—the stories and messages influencing our path to becoming the society we are today.
Like a mixed tape, architecture does not merely reflect the past. It can also document and record current events (Olympic Villages), or even motivate specific action in the future (our schools and universities). Architecture writes a message that deserves to be carefully crafted, not carelessly thrown together and left to repeat on shuffle. The message is written in ancient structures, expansive natural preserves, churches, schools, office buildings, industrial complexes, urban environments, our dwellings—it is written in everything that surrounds us. Clearly, some messages are written more elegantly than others.
In the words of John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity, "The making of a good compilation tape [mixed tape] is a very subtle art.”
Image—Flickr CC: Jinxi Caddel