Dorner on architecture

For architects, one of the more interesting aspects of Christopher Dorner’s “Manifesto” is his critique of the new LAPD headquarters building. Conventional accounts of the building claim that glass (i.e., transparency) in this context somehow corresponds to, or symbolizes, “openness” and “democracy”:

“In doing so, the LAPD hasn’t sought to simply upgrade facilities. It’s set out to build stations that embody its hopes for a new relationship with local communities — one of transparency and cooperation.” The Future of Los Angeles’ Police Stations: Is the LAPD misplacing something important in the process of building the next generation of police stations?


“In designing the replacement for their aging and unsafe headquarters, the main goal of the LAPD was to make manifest their desire for increased transparency while at the same time maintain a secure and safe environment for the building’s users and visitors… A goal for the project and design process was to strike a balance between the LAPD’s desire for openness and transparency while preserving operational security that the department required.” LAPD Police Administration Building

Such critiques can be best understood as instances of what Princeton philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt calls bullshit: Frankfurt suggests “that although bullshit can take many innocent forms, excessive indulgence in it can eventually undermine the practitioner’s capacity to tell the truth in a way that lying does not. Liars at least acknowledge that it matters what is true. By virtue of this, Frankfurt writes, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

Eric Jarosinski, in his Architectural Symbolism and the Rhetoric of Transparency — A Berlin Ghost Story [PDF], describes the history of this phenomenon — the equation of a building’s literal “transparency” with various cultural outcomes — in some detail: “The current discourse’s equation of glass with democracy and the future borrows from a tradition in pre-world war and Weimar-era architecture most closely associated with the designers Paul Scheerbart and Bruno Taut. As poet and architect, Scheerbart theorized a revolutionarily transformative ‘glass culture’ that would produce a new transparent landscape and a newly enlightened civilization.”

Here is what Dorner says in his Manifesto: “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones. How ironic that you [the LAPD] utilize a fixed glass structure as your command HQ. You use as a luminous building to symbolize that you are transparent, have nothing to hide, or suppress when in essence, concealing, omitting, and obscuring is your forte.”

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