simulacrum of architecture
architecture of simulacrum

In the late 90s green semitransparent walls of banner fabric were hiding construction works from Moscow citizens. Nowadays this 'frontier' looks completely different: buildings are hidden behind various false facade textures.

The question is whether this purely functional subject requires a stand-alone analysis?

The answer is univocal — it does: new textures created a brand new category — simulacrum of architecture. Or architecture of simulacrum.

click to enlarge the photos
'False facade architecture that imitates non-existent buildings' seems to be too tedious but one can simplify it using the notion of 'simulacrum' — semiotic category denoting a copy without an original1. Hence our research focuses on the architecture of simulacrum: variety of urban facades that hide restoration processes and construction activities imitating nonentity — a fairly common feature of our times.
One of the first and most obvious questions is as follows:
What is depicted on a false facade?

Is it the current state of the building?
The image that exists now in the present?
Its appearance before the start of construction or restoration work?
The way it looked in the past?
Or the image of the future: the one to appear after the false facade is dismantled?

The question remains open: we cannot answer for sure whether it's past, present or future exhibited in front of us.

Even if the image of the 'successor building' is applied to the texture, we cannot be sure that this drawing really corresponds to the final project and conveys its appearance without distortion or simplification.

In the case of new buildings, however, it is easier to find an unambiguous answer — we have an illustration of an architect's idea hence the design illustrates future. This format is devoid of some details of the completed project, but gives a general idea of what the building may look like. In the film industry, we would call this format a "teaser": the information void is full, we got the first idea of the project, but we still don't know the details.
The dark green color of the construction grid, which we identified as the predecessor of the false facades (and the architecture of the simulacra, respectively), however, is still found in the city. Here, camouflage of a similar color immediately reveals itself: look at the second house (photo 2) with the texture of the wall and windows and — immediately — at the building behind it — the difference is obvious.
False facades look especially advantageous from afar: for example, in landscape shots. The unnaturally flat geometry of the building becomes less apparent and the simulacrum's camouflage function is more convincing:
Regardless of texture patterns one of the main visual characteristics of the false facade is an unnaturally flat building surface, imitating three-dimensionality. In this sense, the architecture of the simulacrum is close to video games, where many buildings are parallelepipeds covered with textures — for the sake of greater graphic performance:
By the way, 3D mode of modern navigators sometimes looks like the video game screenshot posted above: simple geometric shapes and textures with minimum details.
Architecture of simulacrum features multidimensional shapes as well: sometimes such designs look inaccurate (photos 1, 2, 4), sometimes not (the Trinity Tower of the Kremlin in the third photo):
From time to time facade texture is not firmly fixed so folds may appear. They oscilate with gusts of wind and the entire facade "comes to life", as if it's a kinetic sculpture that sets in motion due to the force of the wind.
Example of kinetic sculpture: LIQUID SHARD / Patrick Shearn / Poetic Kinetics
Can an architectural simulacrum be an example of kinetic sculpture? At a certain level of abstraction it can — and the definition of the term does not contradict this assumption2.

But there are even more unusual states of false facades:
This is an illustration of the absurdity of the simulacrum: the "bricks" or other elements of the building are not even able to preserve shape — in the end, it makes sense to analyze all other architectural functions only if the building retains its geometry. However, a snapshot in which a building "threw off" a false facade like a snake sheds old skin can be seen in another way — as an example of a temporary architecture.
Temporary Pavilion in Gorky Park Gorky / Moscow / 2013

Not only time can be conditional for false facades — sometimes space is distorted in a fanciful way. The picture on the left was taken on the 42nd km of the Moscow Ring Road, the picture on the right — predictably — in St. Petersburg:
Another example of spatial distortion: a forest simulacrum appears at the second floor level. In another case, the environments are more similar to each other: an artificial forest emerges in a park area.
By the way, these are the first banners in this set to feature photos as textures.

Photographs are not as abstract as the designs of false facades we have already considered, and this is — oddly enough — one of the drawbacks of such a solution. Despite the fact that 'drawn' facade often contains shadows (to create an illusion of volume), it remains neutral to the surrounding reality when photos always show you the same season and time of a day (imagine how these simulations look in winter or at night when daytime images look inappropriate).

In both cases, despite the greater realism of the image this simulacrum still leaves the building unaccessible. In part, this may be logical: in the end, the forest does not always traversable — it's a not wrought-by-hand environment that develops according to the laws of nature, without taking into account the needs of man.

However, restrictions may occur in the opposite case: simulacrum of a public space portal is an example: it's a man-made environment, which — on the contrary — is designed to ensure the physical accessibility of the adjacent territories.

In the photo below is the entrance group of the Gorky Park is deprived of such a function (even if one manages to pass through the first perimeter, a fence simulacrum on a false facade will prevent from entering the park). But this is just one of the examples of the "portal" category in the architecture of simulacrum.
Large-scale portals dedicated to the Moscow City Day celebrations (photo 1) with a certain amount of abstraction can be called three-dimensional simulacrum: they also imitate the non-existent, but unlike flat fake facades they always have three dimensions.

Due to the ideological function of the architecture of "Culture 2" (in the terminology of V. Paperny 3), Gorky Park entrance installed between space of labor and the territory of culture, everyday existence and festive life, connecting the two worlds.

The portals for the Moscow City Day celebrations are installed on squares and don't always logically connect the spaces that they "separate" with their physical presence: for example, the gate in the photo above, mounted on the Jawaharlal Nehru Square.

Where will the citizen, passing through the portal? On the same square.

Thus, the design of this simulacrum looses its original function — the connection of two different spaces: it becomes just a reminder of the holiday — like a text on a billboard.
Examples of other non-functional simulacrum: the closed door and unexpectedly exposed interior of the building.
But can we really use the expression "non-functional simulacrum", meaning the physical inaccessibility of the building?

It looks like building often loses entrances and exits after being hidden behind the wall-texture.

Strangely enough, in some cases, building retain a part of their 'default' functionality.

For example, physical accessibility of the interior (photo 1, 2), individual services placed on the facade (photo with an ATM) and even the possibility of exposing objects in windows (photo with a mannequin) may still be available.

Anthropomorphic images in photos above appear in our study for the first time. Images of people (sometimes stylized) are used in the design of false facades, but this is not the most common solution. If images of people are placed in the exterior of the facade, the density of graphic images increases (photo 1), which is not always the best option for a normally laconic texture, while individual figures of people "inside the building" sometimes look inappropriate (photo 2, 3).
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the false facades is the changes that occur to them during the exposure. De facto, they duplicate the processes typical of "traditional" architecture:
Facade surface gets old
American architectural critic Paul Goldberger, in his work "Why architecture is needed," wrote that "buildings help visualize time <...> They should be covered with a layer of patina" (4) . Due to the temporary nature of the architecture of simulacrum architecture, it cannot grow old 'aesthetically' — only wear out.
Facade surface is covered with graffiti and / or deformed
A typical process for "ordinary" buildings has its own specificity in the case of the simulacrum architecture: graffiti looks almost the same, but physical damage is represented by cuts and sometimes "lacerated wounds" features unthinkable in the world of brick, glass and concrete buildings.
Facade surface is being repaired
The nature of this repair is also unusual: a patch is placed onto damaged surface — a process more suitable for clothes rather than a firm structure of an 'ordinary' building
Anthropomorphic allusions are appropriate: architectural theorists sometimes compared the surface of a building to human skin(5), and therefore the architecture of a simulacrum as a "dress" for a building is a metaphor we can use.

The fabric of facades is also used for creative self-expression — contemporary artist Kirill Kto cuts eyes who stare at citizens from many Moscow banners (photo 3):
However, the list of processes occurring to the architecture of simulacrum will be incomplete without mentioning one amazing feature.

Sometimes a false facade changes completely — a metamorphosis impossible during the life cycle of an "ordinary" building:
Another feature of the architecture of the simulacrum is a much more extensive inclusion of the text in the architectural design in comparison with the "ordinary" architecture. In this case, the text can perform the following functions:

+ informational (photo 1);
+ advertising (photo 2);
+ educational and ideological (photo 3);
At the same time, the architecture of the simulacrum is international: in addition to the Moscow architectural simulacrum in the gallery below, there are pictures from Berlin and Paris.

In some cases, not only large but also small architectural forms are imitated: for example, benches or tubs with ornamental plants.
By analogy with the architecture of portals, sometimes small architectural forms also acquire an additional dimension, becoming three-dimensional copies of non-existent originals. For example, two-dimensional tubs with plants can "mutate" into wooden benches with a primitive imitation of sakura.
But perhaps the most common small architectural form (for simulacrum) is fences.

Normally a photograph is used in its design: the texture of the usual fence (photo 2) can reproduce the rhythm of the sections, but white space between them almost always looks unnatural. Therefore, one of the most suitable options is to replace the 'drawing' with a picture.

Sometimes, however, this leads to curiosity: it is obvious that the wall made of stones can't open in a way gates do (photo 3).
The list of so-called "urban paradoxes" (6) related to the architecture of the simulacrum can be continued:

+ imitation of the sky on the second floor level (photo 1) and the effect of the "falling building";
+ a mixture of epochs (archaic gates in a modern building — photo 2);
+ door, half 'drowned' into the pavement (photo 3);
+ the decor of the building, still visible when using a false facade (portrait of Hermann Hesse by Portuguese artist Alexander Farto — photo 4);


However, one of the urban paradoxes associated with the architecture of the simulacrum should be considered separately:

Projection on a false facade (photo 1) is a common thing: many musical or mapping shows project images, animation or videos using an architectural facade as a backdrop (for example, Jean-Michel Jarre's performance : photo 2 / show of Sila Sveta studio: photo 3). Simulacrum architecture's use of projection is close to a near-perfect situation thanks to a flat facade.
Conceptually, a similar scheme is close to the projection in the cinema, where the image is broadcasted on cloth stretched across the opposite wall. And this is another allusion to the world of cinema in the architecture of simulacrum.

At the same time — continuing to draw parallels with the cinema — one can also recall the architecture of the film studios: the outdoor street pavilions, where all the facades of the buildings are false facades. Thus, an architectural simulacrum finds itself inside another simulacrum — a film that imitates a nonexistent world.

In this context one can remember 'Apparences' — a short movie which rethinks the traditional image of Paris, turning the city into a huge film set with the help of false facades:
But this is not the only example — one can recall music videos:
U2 — Magnificent
And even texts of Russian classical literature 7:
N. Gogol

The Government Inspector
Governor «Well, hear me, then—this is what you are to do : the policelieutenant—he is tall, so he's to stand on the bridge—that will give a good effect. Then the old fence, near the boot-maker's, must be pulled down at once and scattered about, and a post stuck up with a wisp of straw, so as to look like building operations. The more litter there is the more it will show the Governor's zeal and activity. . . . Good God ! though, I forgot that about forty cart-loads of rubbish have been shot behind that fence.

(act I, scene V)
In this context, it is impossible not to recall the myth of the so-called "Potemkin Villages", which were allegedly built at certain points in the route of Empress Catherine II during the Tauride voyage — if this story were true, the architecture of simulacrum was already at least several centuries old.

XIX century / author unknown 8 / XX century: Walker Evans

These architectural facades built a century and a half ago are in tune with modern "media facades" since advertising is also shown on their surface (albeit, now at a speed of 25 images per second).

Thus, not only the form of a false facade can be set in motion (as in the case of kinetic sculptures described above), but also its content.
However, media facades have an important feature: they need a viewer and therefore they are often located in public spaces. The more traditional architecture of simulacrum is much less noticeable, especially with a good selection of colors and realistic design.
But one of the most amazing features of the architecture of the simulacrum is its lifetime cycle.

Modern technologies of construction and restoration were supposed to shorten the century of false facades, but reality observation suggests quite the opposite.

Below is a view of Nikolskaya Street - one of the central pedestrian streets of Moscow - in 2015 and 2018 — the center of latest FIFA World Cup celebrations:
Another example is the view of the Sofia Embankment in 2008–2018. During this time period, the facade changed 5 times (even flowers 'grew' on its surface 2013 to 2015 ).

10 years — seems like architecture of simulacrum is not 'temporary'.
photo: Yandex

This study began with the question of whether it makes sense to analyze the notion of false facades in a wider context. The answer was given immediately, but now we know exactly why.

Even with certain distortion of time and space (9), the function of architecture of the simulacrum corresponds to one of the main functions of the "ordinary" architecture: it creates the space for human life. It's true for false facades which allow citizens inside the building. For those types of simulacrum, that leave their inner space inaccessible, facades serve as a part of urban scenery for citizens.

Space formation is not the only function of the simulacrum of architecture.
It also:
- retains the rhythmic pattern of the urban environment (unlike previously used green textures);
- reports compliance with the norm (keeping the image and the number of floors of the building - instead of, for example, the excavation at the construction site);
- serves as protective tool (helping to reduce the impact of the environment and weather factors on the processes inside the perimeter of the false facade);

At the same time, some processes are similar to the world of "ordinary" architecture (except maybe turning into a kinetic sculpture or completely changing the appearance during the lifetime of the building).

The forms and types of architectural simulacrum are numerous and varied (including not only false facades, but also, for example, small architectural forms), and the geographic range isn't limited to a country or a continent while its lifetime circle is between the 'temporary' and 'ordinary' architecture lasting from several years to a decade.

Finally, the architecture of the simulacrum is extremely relevant to a post-industrial society, in which simulacrum plays a significant role. The abundance of advertising (rarely reflecting reality without distortion), the culture of post-truth (always reflecting reality with distortion) and the nature reality's representation in social networks (often unrelated to reality) are the other examples of simulacrum in everyday life. Therefore, the "simulacrum of architecture" can be viewed in a wider context, using the entire polysemy of the term "architecture".

But this is a topic for a separate study.
links and notes
1. Jean Baudrillard // 'Simulacra and Simulation' // p. 6 // 1981;
2. Encyclopedia Britannica // 'Kinetic Sculpture' //;
3. V. Paperny // 'Culture 2' // p. 18 //
4. Paul Goldberger // Why architecture matters? // стр. 194 // Yale University Press, 2011;
5. Double facades are sometimes called 'doble skin facade' (for instance: Terri Meyer Boake // What are double skin facades and how they work? // or 'Culture 2' by V. Paperny: «Architecture is sometimes percieved throught anthropomorphical categories: hence facades become its 'skin' thanks to pink flesh-color ceramics used more often. Culture 2 breaks down in the end of 1950s and those ceramic 'flakes' ocassionally fall on pedestrians so that buildings are equipped with special nets to prevent injuries. Skin diseases always testify abnormalities of central nervous system. // 'Culture' 2 // p. 271 //
6. Strelka Magazine // «Urban Paradox: repainted buildings» //;
7. N. Gogol // «The Government Inspector» //
8. 'History Colorado' website // False Front Commercial //
9. Referred to the idea of what stage is depicted on the facade texture: past, present or future and urban paradoxes (for instance, the Winter Palace at the Moscow Ring Road).
photo / text / design: Dmitry Voinov
(in other cases authors of photos / texts mentioned above)