The Problematic Discourse on ’Philippe Starck’s’ Delano Hotel (1999) - Discussion

R.J. Preece (ADP)
Creative Business & Entrepreneurship | 17 June 2012

VI. Discussion: The Problematic Questions and Implications

In this discussion section, a summary of the dissertation is provided tying together the form-to-content-orientated strands of Chapters II-IV, followed by a discussion of the "content" in Chapter V along two strands: how the content is within a writing context, and how a fusion of language, structure, media representation, and the design have occurred and generate the hotel’s meaning.

This dissertation illustrates that critical discourse analysis, applied genre analysis, and argumentation can provide new insights into the issues of design historical and critical discussions along several strands: by contextualizing the information-gathering, research, and writing processes that all writers work in. By focusing on the sources that we select— and those inherent limitations across languages and modes of "published" communication— and the sociocultural processes that we work in— or that material is written in— it will provide a better understanding of the strengths and limitations of these writings. It will also facilitate a more knowledgeable context for quoting these writings, either explicitly or implicitly, as discussed in Section II. An awareness of the presences and absences within each text and its cumulative effect, compared to the totalities in Figures 1, 2 and 3, is intended to help facilitate a better critical discourse awareness as outlined by Fairclough (1995b). A knowledge of the processes that include the working environments and dynamics helps to further contextualize writings, and while this opens up a series of potential doubts, these are healthy and realistic doubts for critical inquiry. The published writings also need to be considered within the context of the legalities of writing, which affect not only popular press, but also academic, and in the process of the construction of this dissertation, it was discovered by myself and the Registrar and Secretary of this University that dissertations are also legally defined as publication, and are subjected to the same legal concerns. Because some of the interpretation and discussion in this dissertation is potentially defamatory, certain section have been actively self-censored to not only demonstrate these dynamics, but to allow for examiners to view contentious material and the problems of dealing with contentious material at a non-journalistic, interpretive level. During the research on this dissertation, it was discovered that employing an interpretive construct is not a defense, raising question about the power of journalism over academic procedure. So, for design historians approaching contentious topics on contemporary designers, we need to— at times— think more like journalists instead of academics.

The publication types— public relations material, newspapers, magazines, and books— each show certain limitations within their form— and are governed by angles which include and exclude certain information and depth of discussion. The voices within the writings on the Delano, are consistent with general claims about newspaper texts, illustrate that the intention-oriented information is coming from a very finite number of sources, and reflects the working and power dynamics within organizations. Further, within the sample of published writings, xxx x xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxx xxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx xx intention is often fused with the somewhat authoritative presentation by the design writers, and the procedures of agreement and disagreement are not necessarily explicit in the writings. Meanwhile, the microstructures, an area which needs more investigation, illustrate a framework that fuses design discourse interests and writing processes. Also, in the selected published writings, these structures are comparable to genre-mixing, and surface as various phrases and sentences in a flowing piece to fit the genre. Genre friction cannot be underestimated, which is why in this dissertation, I have actively opted to use APA in-text, bibliographic, and endnote procedures against those recommended for art historical writings for the purpose of raising the status and appearance of the sources of the writings, as opposed to essentially hiding them in footnotes where progression seems to be more highly valued. Secondly, and perhaps more contentiously, I have used heavy amounts of quotations (as explained in endnote 1).

The cumulative comparison of specific topics of the hotel within the writings is revealing. First, it shows some problems with accuracy of content, usage of predictable voices, the flow and power of intention and the movement of intention to "interpretation", and highlights presences and a great deal of absences. Taking into account the microstructures, macrostructures, voices, genres, and sociocultural practices, the writings become a surface structure of a complex decision-making process clouded over by a great deal of mystery— in certain ways, they can be approached as if they were art works themselves. Unfortunately for some, this study raises more questions than answers; for others, this could be perceived as a healthy breakthrough to a more "honest" account of design research practice. It is believed that this sort of approach has implications for the approach to historical material— or dead designers— as the risks seem less likely as no one can defame the dead, as contentious writing on the dead shows. Problematically, with the critical examination of the material on this hotel— in Miami, open as we speak, and all of the players are alive— it shows that a great distance occurs at this juncture, and the distance of time will make the inquiry more complicated, more tentative, and more problematic. Further, if we are going to write material about the dead, should we write material in ways that are not potentially legally defamatory as if they were alive? And are these legalities themselves problematic, restricting discourse and our "right to know"? Should art historians think more like lawyers, or could art history teach law a thing or two?

Art history as truth / fiction. The results of this dissertation facilitate claims along many fronts. First, with its cumulative comparison of the published writings, it shows that there are many design fictions already in place— through not only factual conflicts that are often unresolvable, but also through the route of absences within texts which, while not necessarily fiction, facilitate fiction or a misleading lack of context. It has also been shown that the information-gathering and writing construction system actively requires answers to questions that many writers are ill-equipped to answer authoritatively. Here, journalism such as that by Miller in Newsweek (1995) may be a way out of the box— when she actively uses quotation to distinguish assertions. Unfortunately, the art and design press and academic publications seem to feed into the problem, with the frequent requirement of a somehow-fused intention-interpretation which is employed in a discussion of the authoritative meaning of the work, and the process and distinctions aren’t often explicitly stated.

Further, the cumulative assessment seems to suggest certain things. First, regarding intention-interpretation friction and alignment, the basic information and design process information is problematic in that it enables the designer and aligned vested interests to actively create and manipulate their discourse— as would certain contextual scaffolds. Yet, regarding the actual design, as it is visual, the power relationship would seem more equalized— yet can be subjected to limitations such as inspiration (which anyone participating in a crit will know that "truth" isn’t always presented), and material and technique— which isn’t always clear, particularly with modern methods. From this juncture, the scaffolds of contexts and methodological structures may occur, which then feed into David Carrier’s argumentation (1987, 1991) and the problems of intention-interpretation and spiraling interpretation.

Art history as product / process. While Walker essentially calls for more inquiry into the design process (1989: 64), design history would also benefit by more inquiry into the design research, information-gathering and writing processes. This would illuminate the practices of different levels of design research and help equalize the roles of design writers to their subjects and eliminate the special privileging and status that designers and companies can provide certain "court" writers. Perhaps if more writers and design historians publicly state that they were refused copyright permission or access, then this might not only raise awareness of the power relationships but also help to socioculturally contextualize the writing when access is in fact granted. Problematically, while examining the design process can make designers concerned, so too will the same examination procedures when applied to design writers who deal with their own sociocultural processes— be they concerning publication politics or academic ones. How many writers and academics are willing to be observed, questioned, and risk receiving critical and negative "publicity"? While an explanation and documentation of the writer’s process would raise awareness of difficulties and information gatekeeping, it also runs the risk of being intention-based pitted against interpretation as well. In other words, this approach would also be subjected to the problems and limits of truthful presentation and representation.

Limitations. There are several limitations to this study: its representative scope for one, and its importation of non-traditional approaches to design historical / critical inquiry. While Carrier (1987, 1991) has employed argumentation to raise questions of art historical writings, the more abstract genre analysis and critical discourse analysis’ sociocultural processes discussions are a step removed from the content— which I’m convinced is at times legally necessary. In other words, argumentation facilitates claims that design history may be more comfortable in dealing with, although argumentation itself has been controversial to some art historians. As is perhaps understandable with the introduction of new ways of discussing art and design history, this is just one emplotment of the "fusion" of the two disciplines. Secondly, the fusion of these approaches within the context of evaluating design historical content has essentially spread out standard practice of using the approach within applied linguistics orientations, where the results they are looking for seem more formally-orientated, and new claims regarding the content of the material do not seem as necessary as they do for the design history community.

Media Design?

Lastly, with regard to the result of a more traditional design-centred discussion, the information presented in the assessment on cumulative writings revealed an additional discovery, and that is the relationship between the design, public relations, and the media. Sifting through the potential fiction, we can assert that the Starck-Schrager team is some sort of fusion of a media and a design superstar. We know that Schrager has been reported to perceive design as a marketing tool, and that he presents himself as the power holder over Starck when it comes to bottom-line decision-making, and claims himself as an "editor". We know visually that Starck’s indoor-outdoor lobby procession, the guest rooms, and many of the objects function as focal point notables— be it a still outrageous-looking Eames’ La Chaise (1948), a giant pendant lamp or chessboard and other manipulations of scale, or a table and chairs sitting in a pool. Starck’s success while able to offer the consensus-oriented agreements of fun, theatricality, and surprise, are basically based upon a brilliant manipulation of focal point. So, when you approach the hotel, you see an unexpected blue door, an unusual installation of furnishings on the front porch, La Chaise, the eat-in-kitchen, etc. The bombardment of focal points— including the historical design objects— are reconfigured and appear like stage sets. When one talks about the guest rooms, one talks about the "sensation" of whiteness, the angel over the bed, the green apple installation, etc. This is clearly presented within the writings in the press kit, and Schrager apparently states that design is used as a marketing tool, and it surfaces in the abundance of writings— as if the entire package from design to publicity to writing is fused and prophetic. Taking into account Schrager’s knowledge of the media, and his knowledge of celebrity press benefits and the power of being able to say that celeb A and celeb B stayed in the hotel or gave a party— and the lingering effects— is it surprising to claim that the same expertise has been employed to make the design work for the hotel’s success as well? Further, the access of the art and design media provides another venue for discussions on the hotel and Schrager, and when the design is rather accessible like Starck’s, it feeds into the other trade and general presses. And just as the celebrity-Schrager combinations work for both parties, so does the Schrager-Starck fusion, and the Schrager connection has helped Starck gain more prominence within the less design-centred circles and has helped to facilitate the creation of Starck, the superstar designer.

More studies on the relationship between contemporary design and the writing on it would help to illuminate to what extent "media design" is in fact a current or developing phenomenon. It’s quite a troubling concept, with disturbing potential— not only does it mean that the writings on a design and designer are manipulated, but that the designs themselves may be designed to achieve the same task. The precept is that within the design construction, there is some combination that can be so sensual and sexual, that can grab one’s attention with such intensity like an advertisement, and make us be drawn to it, remember it, and perhaps even "love" it, and that the marketing strategies have entered the realm of interiors to the extent that we are unconsciously, and now consciously, being actively manipulated— perhaps even physiologically— to the objects, and to the interiors. Unfortunately, unlike TV sets, we can’t turn off walking through interiors or walking down the street. And the powers either know this potential now, or will soon know this.

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