Superheroes, Experience, and Language
Updated: Jun 14, 2019
This past Wednesday, a package came in the mail containing a Halloween costume. Everette, the child I nanny for, opened it with such excitement until the entire dining room floor was covered with The Flash costume pieces. Everette is no mediocre fan of the superhero, instead he is an avid one, watching the TV show every night, wearing The Flash clothing to school, eating out of the superhero’s lunchbox, reading only books on the superhero, and always insisting on playing The Flash whenever the neighborhood kids get together. However, when it got to the costume, Everette’s eyes lost some of their eagerness, such as a man who, “travels to a primitive people in a remote region only to discover that the strangeness he hopes to study is lost as soon as he learns what it consists of.” He realized that the costume contained too many parts which took too long to put on, was not stretchy enough to perform superhero movements, and realized that putting on the costume did not make him a superhero, as he had thought. The same goes for architecture in which language or a piece of written dialect cannot stand in place for the experience of viewing and visiting a building yet holds a form of metaphor in which a single piece of that experience is described.
Similarly, to Everette whose anticipation minimized the actual experience, the architectural experience cannot be minimized and shared through dialect. One’s architectural experience is rooted, “between visual sensation and metal perception”, in which the process between sifting from sight to evoked emotion becomes the event. However, too many of these processes occur to be able to write about all of them, in the depth needed, to gain knowledge of what it felt to be in and of the architecture. It is possible to evoke feeling through writing however we, “would destroy the experience if we explicably isolate meanings.” Thus, meaning that architecture is rooted in the experience and lost among translation when language is used to describe a sensory experience.
One cannot describe in full detail the experience of an event. Instead the written piece becomes a metaphor. Similar to the costume and what it stood for in relation to Everette. Or of Andy Warhol’s art installations which represented pieces of popular culture at the time but did not reflect on popular culture as a whole. Unless one is there, in flesh, to view the building, “dimensions of meaning is conveyed through association, metaphors or the whole treasure of past memory.” There is no possible way to recreate the experience and one is subjugated to postulating like things and substituting them for another. One has to describe the event in shorter sequences and isolate components, then related them to something already known. The event gets divided into smaller pieces that are easier to convey with language.
“One has to describe the event in shorter sequences and isolate components, then related them to something already known.”
Overall, the experience gets distorted through the small lens of viewing things as all separate components and relating them to other things to make the language more concise. The experience not only includes things seen but also emotions evoked and cannot be comprise in a single piece of writing. Similarly, to that of Andy Warhol’s work which reflects the ideals of popular culture at the time but do not encompass everything that was happening. Or to that of Everette’s costume, which was a disappointment, as it only represented a partial representation of the whole idea of the superhero. Since, architecture is expressed in a different media than print, the translation between the two is distorted.
 Adrian Forty,” The Language of Modernism” & “Language Metaphors” in Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000): 22
 Adrian Forty,” The Language of Modernism” & “Language Metaphors” 27
 Charles Jencks, “Semiology and Architecture” (1969) in Meaning in Architecture (New York: George Braziller, 1969): 16
 Charles Jencks, “Semiology and Architecture”: 22