distraction / user

benjamin states that, in contrast to the concentrated contemplation of the individual absorbed work of art, ‘the distracted mass absorbs the work of art. this is most obvious with regards to buildings. architecture has always represented the prototype of a work of art the reception of which is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction. stan allen writes: ‘benjamin’s definition of distraction oscillates between an active form –distraction as deviation from habitual behaviour- and a passive form –a state of absent-mindedness enforced by habit and repetition.’ benjamin considers both forms of distraction preferable to the absorbed concentration of contemplation but status that the passive form of distraction is the usual experience of buildings.

according to benjamin the type of distraction, whether passive or active, is a result of the medium not the individuals who experience it. he associates distraction with shock; individuals are first passive and then made aware by the artwork. but the user does not necessarily need the stimulus of an outside agency in order to act. sudden realization is one way for the user to acquire understanding and awareness of architecture but habit is not necessarily passive because it enables understanding to growth and experience. rather than benjamin’s model of passive and active distraction, which should more accurately be called reactive distraction, i suggest three types of use: passive, reactive and creative. the passive user is predictable and unable to transform use, space and meaning. the reactive user modifies the physical characteristics of a space as needs change but must select from a narrow and predictable range of configurations largely defined by the architect. the creative user either creates a new space or gives an existing one new meanings and uses. creative use can either be a reaction to habit, result from the knowledge learned through habit, or be base don habit, as a conscious, evolving deviation from established behaviour.

jonathan hill, actions of architecture

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