A call for less transparency (I: introduction)

A topic I’ve always been particularly interested in is transparency. By many it is considered a virtues feature but I have a kind of love-hate relationship with its properties. Yes, transparency stands for the ideal of openness, truth and clarity. But at the same time something is missing: imagination, meaning, myth, properties that will address our senses to experience our belongings to a specific place and time.

I believe that the modernist ideal to see the world ‘as it is’ will not hold, since experiencing the ‘real’ is subjective to the individual’s background and environment in which it is situated. Art, architecture, products… all carry meaning, expressing hidden and repressed mental contents, dreams, desires and fears, opening a direct view into the heart of culture. In order to convey meaning it needs to be materialized.

Proposing a purely opaqueness and materialization, like that of postmodernism architecture with their appeal to roots, to tradition, and to local specificity, would be too simple. Instead I would like to argue for a combination of transparency (in its broadest sense) and mystery. I propose qualities that can result in a more meaningful and spiritually invigorating world: ambivalence, contradiction, imperfection and deceit.

The replacement of opacity and depth by the enmeshing and layering of translucent, perforated, and transparent surfaces results in ambivalence. Addressing our curiosity and introducing mystery.

Through the use of contradiction, in this case between truth and transparency on the one side and myth and materiality on the other, a unity can be achieved. For example glass, holding the polarities transparency and reflection, when accurately used, is perfect material for this property.

We should not strive for perfect transparency and truth; individual inadequacies should be completed within the human spirit. Where perfection tends to close imagination and prohibit participation, imperfection creates interaction, thus becoming a source of beauty. Or, as Paul Valéry states: “Sometimes it is necessary to lie in order to tell the truth”.

herz jesu kirche

Herz Jesu Kirche, München, Germany
Interior view of front facade
Allman Sattler Wappner (architect), 1996-2000