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Glass as a symbol of panoptical ideology - Essay Example

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Joseph Paxton's innovative and revolutionary design for the Crystal Palace gives rise to philosophical and ideological implications on the use of glass as an architectural material. The concept of architecture as ideological symbol only recently ascended to subject of theoretical analysis, though in retrospect the actual implicit use of architecture as political statement goes back as far the art form itself…
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Glass as a symbol of panoptical ideology
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"Glass as a symbol of panoptical ideology"

Download file to see previous pages Glass as a symbol of panoptical ideology-especially as utilized in Paxton's Crystal Palace-is especially open to interpretation; often interpretation that oversteps the boundaries of intention. The complete opacity of glass offers the spectator a glimpse into another room, yet also leaves the viewer vulnerable to becoming an object of voyeurism. This analytical line of reasoning is perfectly exemplified by Graeme Davison who writes about the Crystal Palace that it "reversed the panoptical principle by fixing the eyes of the multitude upon an assemblage of glamorous commodities. The Panopticon was designed so that everyone could be seen; the Crystal Palace was designed so that everyone could see" (Davison 1982). Although that statement sounds really intelligent and well-considered, the fact remains that the Panopticon was designed with a purpose of surveillance in mind; the Crystal Palace was designed merely to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. ...
Kahn even positions her argument from the viewpoint that the political functions of architecture are covert, and yet still manages to tie this ideological meaning to a very utilitarian description: "the structure was suited to its park site, quickly designed, and easily assembled" (Kahn 1991). Paxton's sketches were quickly designed, almost offhandedly, giving him doubtless little time to think about such things as the ideological meanings behind using glass as a building material. For Paxton, glass was simply available and experiential: he had worked in the medium before. For Paxton glass held no deeper meaning, the call had gone out for a building in which to house an exhibition. An exhibition was something that by its very nature needed to engender an ease with which it could be viewed.
It is not difficult to suppose that Camille Pissarro viewed the great glass structure in much the same way. Pissaro's painting of the Crystal Palace, a subject he went back to twelve times (Nochlin 1989), do not frame the subject of a glass building in a way that presupposes its function as an emblem of modernity or as an ideological statement. For Pissarro, like Paxton, the glass functions in a predominantly utilitarian way. For Paxton, glass functioned as the best way to achieve exhibition; for Pissarro the glass functioned in much the same was as the haystacks functioned for Monet, as an interesting subject for capturing the unique differences in the behavior of light. For the Impressionists, nothing matter more than light. Monet painted haystacks over and over at different times of day, capturing the effects of light upon his subject. Pissarro return to the Crystal Palace because he saw it as a perfect subject for capturing the effects of light.
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