Philosophy of Structure - Final Project

Tatoos, Plastic Surgery and Performance Art :
Dynamic Body, Redefined Space

"We restore, rebuild, and make whole those parts which nature hath
given but which fortune has taken away; not so much that it may delight
the eye, but that it might buoy up the spirit, and help the mind of the

- Tagliacozzi, 1570 - Florentine surgeon

Since the very beginnings of recorded human experience, the body and its structure have been a central focus of concern. As with any other element of perceptual experience, man has strived to change it to fit his needs.

A brief history of the phenomenon of bodily modification
Since the very beginnings of recorded human experience, the body and its structure have been a central focus of concern. As with any other element of perceptual experience, man has strived to change it to fit his needs.
Thus, bodily modifications have always been a presence in just about every culture on Earth, inserted in the social fabric: everywhere from the small tribal villages to the bustling contemporary metropolis, and everywhere in between. Whether in the mainstream or marginalized, the motivations behind these actions have been as varied as their manifestations.
In traditional societies the impetus for these manifestations could mostly be found in cultural tradition and religion.
In non-Western small-village cultures, these acts are performed as parts of rituals in which members of society participate.

Body modification as an attempt to establish an identity within a cultural structure (family and community). It is a cultural ritual often meant to define a





But in Western society, for a long time body modification was seen as deviant and aberrant behaviour.

- Old Testament Leviticus 19:28: "Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor imprint any marks upon you" . Similar prohibition in Koran. The Christian Bible associates body markings with sin as shown in the story of Cain, who was marked in punishment for slaying his brother.

Body Modification as ritual: In Western society, the creation of a semi-private ritual.

The individual must search for witnesses, and often relies on a larger, less familiar, and not necessarily willing public.

Is it for the public, or for the self?

Who is the audience, who is the spectator?

Tatoos, piercings, branding: Acts that ask to be witnessed - acts not only of of self-expression but self-initiation. Perhaps the most accurate term would be self-evolution. These are acts of positive expression of social custom and individualalisim. Purify and recreate.

Acts as resolution to crisis in identity, religious faith and modern social structure.


The Modern Body: New, Improved, Image-Conscious

Today's world is increasingly driven, on a macroscopic scale, by market forces. The reality is that we live in a consumer-driven society; it could be argued that, perhaps as much as any other characteristic, the unifying characteristic of human beings is that we are all consumers.
And in this world where products have reached such a prominent importance, the human body is not only used to sell products, but has become a product itself.
Every era has had its ideal body shape. Indeed, in the Middle Ages when ressources were scarce, only the rich could afford to eat well... and so the ideal body shape was the round one: being overweight was a sign a prosperity and high social standing. Thoughout history then, the 'ideal' has been created 'from the top down'.
Today, the situation has shifted somewhat. While it is true that public figures influence trends in some ways, it is more often the marketing departments of various companies, most notably in the fashion industry, which create the ideal look. Their influence can be felt in almost every aspect of daily life, because the propagation of their message, through every form of mass-media available, is so pervasive. And in most of these marketing messages, be they billboard advertisements, magazine ads, television commercials, the human body takes on an increasingly large importance. And clearly, thhe image projected by almost all of these messages is one of youth, beauty, freshness, thinness... these are all the attributes of the new perfect body. The catchphrase 'sex sells' is often used in conjuction with this marketing startegy; but it's not necessarily the sex but the beatiful, ideal people involved in it that sell. Thus, the arm of influence for propagating the new ideal is mass-media.


Here is a copy of a recent Montreal Gazette article, documenting this evolution in the ideal conception of the body throughout the twentieth century:

Model moments: evolution of beauty. (The Gazette, April 10th 2001)

1921: The first Miss America pageant is held in Atlantic City, N.J.

1948: Marylin Monroe poses for a series of nude calendar shots.

1953: Playboy hits the newsstands. It publishes the Monroe shots.

1956: French model/actress/sex kitten Brigitte Bardot stars in And God Created Woman.

1965: The average model weights 8 per cent less than the average American woman.

1967: British model Twiggy hits the scene. She weights 91 pounds and stands 5 foot 7.

1973: Farrah Fawcett, she of the shaggy do, stars in The Great American Beauty Pageant.

1978: Brooke Shields plays a child prostitute in Pretty Baby.

1980s: The fitness craze. Jane Fonda' s Workout is the best-selling video ever.

1987: The average model weights 23 per cent less than the average American woman.

1990: Madonna plays the dominatrix in cone bras and other fetish gear by Jean Paul Gaultier on her Blond Ambition tour.

1990s: The age of the supermodel. Top earner Elle Macpherson is reported to have amased $40.3 million. Canadian Linda Evangelista says she doesn't get out of bed for less than $10,000.

1992: Working Women magazine reports that 65 million Americans are on a diet.

1992: Kate Moss stars in a Calvin Klein ad. She also stras in the look called heroin chic.

1998: Catwalk queen Naomi Campbell pleads guilty to assaulting her former assistant.

1998: Camryn Manheim of The Practice dedicates her Emmy to all the "fat girls."

1999: Buxom Gisele Bundchen is the model of the moment.

1999: A BBC doumentary highlighting the sex-and-drugs underside of the Milan modeling world creates a furor. A few heads roll.

2000: Ultra-thin Calista Flockart, who consistently says she eats enough, collapses on the set of Ally McBeal.

2001: Tough models like Eleonora Bose and Omahyra Mota, skinny Belgians and the voluptuous Sophie Dahl all share the catwalk.

With examples such as the ones cited above above, it is evident that unrealistic images of the body are influencing the individual's notion of what the self should be.
An idealized media-driven form:
Dolly Parton


Pamela Anderson




The Male Model



Natalia Ilyn, in her book Blonde Like Me, writes:

'...When was the last time you saw a Gap window and said, "Hey, I look just like that gal in the skimpy tee!" No, you scuttled off feeling like a heel. And you bought something to make you feel better... You bought something because Ms. Apollo in the Gap window reminded you of how you don't measure up. A crevasse has opened between the "you" that is you and the "you" you think you should be...

...We still believe that what we look like on the outside reflects what we are on the inside. This is our Greek legacy, and it fits in very nicely with our " buying" culture. Our economy depends on us feeling like toads. If you liked your wonderful Self all that much, would you go out and buy that "age-defying lotion," the new blow dryer with "frizz-ease styling wand," that "under-eye corrective concealer"? Of course not. The American economy would come to a Bugs Bunny, heel-screeching stop if tomorrow every woman in the country woke up, took a look in the mirror, wrapped her arms around herself and said, "I just love good old me."


With so many people espousing the attitudes decribed by Ilyn, it is no wonder that more and more are turning to the ultimate quick fix: plastic surgery. Indeed, as plastic surgery is becoming more popular, so has its acceptance as a mainstream form of cosmetic change. In many circles, plastic surgery has shed its hidden, even shameful character, and has been embraced wholehartedly.




Towards a mainstreamization: Cosmetic Surgery Magazine
An indication of just how mainstream cosmetic surgery has become is evident in the launch, a few months ago, of Cosmetic Surgery Magazine. Aimed at a wide market, it can be found at large chain bookstores such as Chapters. It features numerous stories of seemingly ordinary people who relate their positive experiences with the procedures they have had. With its tone and style, the magazine feels very much like a typical general-interest and general-readership magazine,not a medical periodical. The only difference being that it has chosen as its focus plastic surgery.
It is also interesting to note that while many of the notions about the ideal body applied almost exclusively to women in the past, a more recent phenomenon has involved the increasing male 'body awareness'. Mirroring the influence of the ads seen above in the Polo Ralph Lauren ads, an increasing number of men are opting for cosmetic surgery too:

Idea: Everyone can have plastic surgery, just another form of makeup. The body no longer decays, it is restored at will. Nature is defeated by the powers of modern technology.
Why? Increased media influence, preocupation with body image, increased time and money to 'indulge' in ever-more diverse and commonplace bodily changes in a consumer-driven culture.

At the same time as this banalization of plastic surgery, there are still boundaries to be pushed: Orlan
The French performance artist Orlan has in the last 20 years undergone numerous plastic surgeries in the name of art. About every year, she undergoes a plastic surgery operation which is broadcast live into an art gallery. Thus, she has achieved in redefining the artistic object: no longer is it stone or canvas: the art object is her body, the surgery is the artistic process. In this way, she has pushed the boundaries of our perception of the body not only as a functional entity whose transformations are to be merely superficial, but to a whole new questioning, both technological and ethical, as to the dynamic nature of the human body and its real plastic potential.


What does this have to do with architecture?

Is this right?

Addition proposed by Marcel Breuer's office for Grand Central Terminal in 1968.
Does it make you uncomfortable?

The image pictured above is sure to strike a discordant note in the minds of most people. The contruction of this proposed addition, a great Modernist slab atop the neo-classical Grand Central Station, was forbidden by the city of New York, and the United States Supreme Court upheld the city's actions.
In a way, it stirs up the same kind of uncomfortableness as Orlan's experiments in plastic surgery... it could be argued that this addition is simply not natural, just as Orlan's artificial nose or eyebrows are unnatural.

The Architecture of Addition can be seen as architectural plastic surgery.

It is important to distinguish first between restoration and addition. Indeed, the aim of restoration work is to preserve the old, to maintain the character and form of what is already there, and to be as faithful to the spirit of the past as possible in order to keep intact a structure of historical and cultural importance.
When additions are built onto pre-existing structures however, the programmatic and conceptual challenges are of another order altogether. It is generally acknowledged today that for a building to function successfully it must be sensitive to its immediate surroundings and environment. This design criterion is especially important in the architecture of addition, where the new and the old are not only in juxtaposition, but where these different elements are required to fuse into a new functional entity.
Thus, when a new addition is added onto an existing building, many of the same questions confronted when dealing with Orlan's particular form of art come up again. If the existing 'natural' body is the preexisting building, the original canvas, then the construction of an addition can be seen as a form of plastic surgery...And it is up to the architect to decide if the new structure is to be a subtle, almost imperceptibly different reflection of the original or a radical, new, and perhaps dissonant and incongrous twist on the existing scheme: The architect/surgeon must decide for the patient/public: is the new structure going to be a simple and discreet nose job or a loud, new Orlan-like statement.
The decision is by no means easy or straightforward. The value of the new addition rests on its ultimate worth as a piece of meaningful architecture, and more precisely when that expression is read in conjuction with that of its older neighbour.
The central questions in the architecture of addition, as in aesthetic plastic surgery, is:
What is to be maintained, what is to be destroyed?
How can the old live harmoniously with the new?
In the book The Architecture of Additions, the author identifies two main questions:


He goes on to write:

" The first question is ideally the basic business of every thoughtful design of an addition to an old building. The second question, given its consequences, has a special public importance. The Penn Central example stands for the proposition that an addition that says the wrong thing to a protected neighbour can be forbidden, a serious consequence indeed. When in fairness is that consequence the right consequence? How can it be avoided? "

These questions are best treated by examining a few examples. In this relatively brief treatment of the subject, two contemporary yet very different approaches to museum additions will be treated: Veturi and Brown's 1991 Sainsbury Wing addition to the National Gallery in London, and I.M. Pei's 1993 glass pyramid addition to the Louvre in Paris. To add a local flavour to the subject, a few examples of architectural plastic surgery here in Montreal are presented as well. Also, this shows that the question of architectural addition and preservation, long a distinctly European concern due to the combination of rich architectural heritage within a limited space, has become in the past few decades a North American concern as well.
Does harmonious mean imitative?... A fine line...where referential subtlety sometimes is just too subtle for most...

Sainsbury Wing, National Gallery, Venturi & Brown, 1991.



A more radical approach:

Louvre Pyramid, Palais du Louvre, I.M.Pei, 1993


Many examples here in Montreal:




Sherbrooke Street Facade







In a sense, radical new additions are like what Orlan is doing to her body… What Mother Nature never intended… What are the new criterions?

The point: Some of the same dilemnas brought forth by Orlan come back in architecture: how far is the limit?
A central concern in the architecture of addition…
How is new architecture to be integrated into the existing environment and what must be the relationship between the new and the old?
How different from the original form should plastic surgery go?
Perhaps the lesson is: farther than conventions will allow.
How far are we willing to accept, to stretch the notion of "normal".



Adrian Ranga

Philosophy of Structure / Winter 2001

Prof. Sijpkes