(Img.1) Ca. 1965 advertisement for Braniff International Airways. What a surreal display of playful naïveté! As United Airlines Flight 811 can grimly attest, the jet engine is no hospitable place for the human being. Nonetheless, its presented peril only seems to heighten the playfulness of this visual. Does our lighthearted engagement with the built world, too, string itself so tangentially to the ominous presence of demise? (Img.2) Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Busan Cinema Complex, with its sculpturally jocular cantilever, boasts at once a presence of experiential estrangement and supposed danger. To frolic below its copiously weighted spans is to engage the contrariety between ludic play and ludicrous annihilation.

The strange phenomenon about most things ludic is their enhanced eccentricity in immediate vicinity of danger. It is almost as if those behaviors or interactions we find most laughable are heightened only in the clear presence of life-threatening backdrops – existential termination as prerequisite to joviality, or a state quite akin to Burke’s sublime (131). A flight attendant whimsically flaunts her airline in an advertisement, parading inches from the blades of a jet turbine; a man lightheartedly tiptoes across a hair-width string between the formerly coupled towers of the World Trade Center — each of these jubilant displays dances the beleaguered partition between our otherwise quotidian livelihoods and the persistent presence of doom so inherent to our mentality in an age wrought with mechanical disaster, political terrorism and the like.

When we really ponder it, the “ludic” isn’t as playful as first presumed. The etymological distance parsing it from the related “ludicrous” seems foreshortened at best, coincident at worst. This experiential interchange between the ordinary and the abhorrently aberrant is offered as the domain of a surreal “playfulness”, a methodology by which we might estrange ourselves from the pervasive disenchantment we face in a reality increasingly intricate and deterministic. While this often productive distancing is efficiently explicated through the incongruities of ludic behavior, we would do well to calibrate its suitability in use. Explicated architecturally, the notion of this “anticlimax as dénouement”, as notably pontificated by Koolhaas, serves to procure for us a grounds of pleasure perfectly tangential to the unarticulated possibility of extinction (Koolhaas 27). In as much as the cantilever grows only more jocose whilst it forcefully appears to overreach in soaring above our heads, we grasp to the morose dichotomy which divides our play from our demise.

Implicit to this mental juxtaposition is a perversion of things or situations often overtaken in everyday life by habitualization, in so doing allotting us novel experiences performed to logically ludic (or ludicrous) ends. Upon return from our journey of what Russian literary theorist Viktor Shklovsky coins “defamiliarization”, we encounter a tweaked perspective, something more akin to the nuances of our existence to which we have been numbed (781). This is the unique ability of our constructed surroundings to shift, without conscious effort or blatant patronage, the very mechanisms through which we perceive existence by engaging alternative conditions such as ludic frivolousness. This leaves the architect with a considerably large responsibility to the constituencies of a building. If the ludic can be a pathway to shaping the subjecthood of those who inhabit our spaces, this dichotomy of frivolity and annihilation more than ever must be meticulously conceived and implemented. In its wake, we, the audience, might become irreversibly more indulgent, enhanced spectators capable of a deeper interaction within our world.



Connor Gravelle 
April 2015

1. Burke, Edmund. The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Volume 1. Salt Lake City: Project Gutenberg, 2005. Ebook.

2. Koolhaas, Rem. Delirious New York. New first edition. New York: Monacelli Press, 1994. Print.

3. Shklovsky, Viktor. “Art as Technique”. The Critical Tradition. Third edition. Ed. David H. Richter. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s. 2006.