There are countless examples of explorers and prospectors being duped by the gleam of fool’s gold, or pyrite: a mineral that has a remarkably golden sheen but on closer inspection is revealed to be something altogether different. Pyrite has its own uses and can be found in close proximity to real gold deposits, but it lacks the prestige that has long been bestowed on its metallic namesake. A similar phenomenon can be observed in urban environments, where seemingly ‘normal’ neoclassical terraces, castellated towers, 1950s bungalows and even strangely rigid palm-trees pepper the landscape, blending in to their surroundings through cunning acts of architectural camouflage. These carefully crafted façades can sometimes echo their surroundings so effectively that passers-by fail to notice the subtle differences that hint that these structures are not, in fact, what they seem. Appearing on the surface to be one thing whilst operating as something different, one might regard these as architectural ‘fool’s gold’: terraces obscuring subway vents, bungalows masking electrical substations, castellated forms hiding pumping towers and telecommunications masts that take the form of palms, pine trees and church crosses. This paper uses the phenomenon of architectural camouflage, drawing on examples from North America, Europe and Australia, to challenge existing attitudes about authenticity in architectural design and heritage practice. Are these ‘fake’ forms essentially worthless, serving only to highlight a predominantly Western distaste for ugly infrastructure? Or are they of value for a different reason, serving as an indicator of contemporary fondness for ‘hyperreality’, whereby a convincing ‘fake’ of one form is preferable to the gritty reality of another?
33rd Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ) Conference: Gold, Melbourne, Australia 6-9 July 2016
Proceedings of the 33rd Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand / AnnMarie Brennan and Philip Goad (eds): pp.134-143