To a certain stripe of observer, it is impossible to contemplate the serried, involuted vistas of a John Portman hotel lobby without recalling the theorist Frederic Jameson’s words on the subject. Analyzing the interiors of Portman’s Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, Jameson identified the logic of late capitalism at work. The airless atrium was all surfaces that replicated and contradicted one another, producing within people (or as architects like to call them, “users”) feelings of helplessness and confusion. Here was an architecture of control, but perhaps also one of lobotomy.
The theme is elaborated upon in the Canadian Centre for Architecture’s (CCA) latest exhibition, The Design of Carpets That Design Us. Curator Dan Handel extends Jameson’s insight and attempts to show how this architectural pathology—which first emerged in the urban centers of the advanced economies—has expanded across the globe. The twist, of course, is that Handel chooses to illustrate the point solely with recourse to floor coverings.
It’s a more capacious conceit than one might guess. Handel has dug up plenty of fodder to exhibit at the CCA, including carpet designs by Peter Eisenman and a few other recognizable names. But by and large, architects long ago ceded this ground to others, Handel suggests, and to underscore the point, he made sure to incorporate the perspectives of manufacturers, hotel and casino operators, and other actors. In a recent interview, he described the approach as a “Rashomon narrative” that allows for “the coexistence of different perspectives that are basically incongruent.”