28 January 2008

Skin Job



skin.jpgIt‘s facelift timeBlade Runner, in which it was used with relish to describe Replicants, genetically engineered human beings with limited life-spans, used for slave labor. A fittingly unsavory word, but a whole lot better than the slightly cuddly «robbies» «andies», which was the word used by Philip K. Dick in his short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep on which Scott’s film was based.

Digressions aside, the photo above shows the front of what was, until recently, the Britisch Council on Hackescher Markt. Last week I ask two builders, who were ripping off the styrofoam cladding, what exactly was going on. Were they having to redo some shoddy workmanship, or if they were removing the foam blocks so that they might be cleaned? The old tennant’s moved out, they said, and we’re getting the place ready for the next people. I pressed them for details. Was new cladding going to be hung onto the concrete sub-structure? No, we’re going to put it all back again.

No further information than that, but the idea that you could completely change the façade of a building by swapping the cladding intrigued me. The parallels to modern website design and software interface design were unmistakable: you take a featureless structure (a concrete box, or a database), and then you design the front (you hang styrofoam fake-sandstone cladding on it, or you connect the database to document templates and to CSS-files). Theoretically I could change the way SLAB looks by replacing a single text file on the server, and with modern bland-box architecture it’s the same. It’s skinning, customisation. Separate content from form and you have a modular system which can be tweaked as fashions change.