Emoji architecture :) or :(

Wednesday, May 3, 2017
by Cameron Shelley

In a Wired article, Sam Lubell describes a building that incorporates emojis into its exterior.  Dutch architect Changiz Tehrani decided to enliven the facade of an apartment building in Vathorst by having emojis molded in relief in intersections of its surface elements.

No particular message was intended, says Tehrani: "Because the building is very strong, even severe, we wanted some funniness to lighten it up." 

Some observers registered disapproval, such as the feature being gimmicky or faddish:  Sure, people may enjoy the feature today but, like an old joke, they will stop laughing soon and have to endure it for decades.

The gesture illustrates an ongoing issue in matters of style.  From a modernist perspective, good design requires that form follows function, where function is understood in a narrow physical or biological sense.  From that perspective, whimsical elements are, at best, superfluous and, at worst, distractions from the real work of architecture.

Postmodernists and others argue that the utility of buildings (or other designs) go beyond mere function, so understood.  A "fun" facade may serve useful, social goals such as giving people in the area around the building something to talk or complain to each other about.

So, is the emoji facade a gimmicky plea for attention from a bored architect or a useful contribution to the public realm?