Little Castles Revisited Formstone, Colour, Mimesis, & Power. John McCartin
Rowhomes covered in formstone. The left shows its original, varied, integral colour pattern, while the right is painted a simple green and white.
In roughly four decades in the middle of the 20th Century, Baltimore, Maryland changed colours. Baltimore’s seemingly endless landscape of rowhomes (elsewhere called terraces or townhouses) had before then been overwhelmingly red. Journalist and critic H.L. Menken wrote, “Almost without exception, [Baltimore’s rowhomes] were built of red brick, with white trim -- the latter of marble or painted wood.”1 Menken leans on colour in recalling Baltimore, the city of his youth. “The green [of shade trees] against the red, with flecks of white showing through, was always dignified and very charming.” Of course, Menken immediately enunciates his uniformly lapsarian view of Baltimore: “Many such rows survive, but the trees are gone, and new storefronts, plate glass front doors, concrete steps, and other such horrors have pretty well corrupted their old placid beauty.”2 That was 1927. Ten years later, Lewis Albert Knight patented ‘Formstone,’ the colourized concrete siding that would transform Baltimore’s rows from their singular red to a muted patchwork of gray, brown, yellow, red, and blue, upending Baltimore’s visual, material, and political landscape.
1 Mencken, “Aesthetic Diatribe,” cited in Hayward & Belfoure, The Baltimore Rowhouse, pp. 1 2 ibid.
§ Formstone Explained Formstone is a siding product that was adopted by thousands of homeowners in Baltimore and the surrounding area from roughly 1940-1970. The name formstone is the trademark of the original patented product, but it now refers generically to any such siding trading under any name. Essentially, formstone is a lathe and three layers of concrete applied to a wall face. That, in itself, was not new. Formstone’s true innovation was to efficiently and affordably create “artificial stone wall facings and finishes... [with] particular reference to polychrome wall facings...”3 The third concrete layer was organized as a series of ‘blocks,’ colourized variously with mineral pigments. “The facings produced by my novel process possess a very attractive appearance, effectively simulating that of unfinished or undressed natural stone. Since the mortar cements used for yielding the polychrome effects have the pigment incorporated throughout the masses, and since these coloured mortar cements are of substantial depth, the colour extends a substantial distance below the surface of the facing.”4 Though most Baltimoreans probably wouldn’t know it, formstone is then ultimately about colour. Prior to formstone, commissioning a multi-coloured, faux-stone concrete wall was prohibitively expensive for most homeowners. The process for building such a wall face involved numerous unique forms, each corresponding to the shape of a different ‘stone.’5 Formstone, on the other hand, merely required quick
3 Knight, “Process of Making Artificial Stone Wall Facings,” U.S. Patent 2095641, pp. 1 4 ibid., pp. 2 5 ibid.
action, adherence to the process laid out in the patent, and a new tool for sculpting the ‘blocks.’6 Through formstone, the ‘polychrome’ home became an attainable goal for Baltimore’s working class homeowners. Following its introduction, formstone began going up on homes across Baltimore.7 Nowhere else is it more prevalent than in Southeast Baltimore, where entire blocks have been formstoned, though by obviously different contractors with slightly different patterns for applying their colours. The popular record accounts for formstone’s mass adoption as a simple act of economic prudence on the part of the industrial middle class.8 Workers’ rowhomes were built by developers with cheap, porous brick. That brick made the homes more difficult to heat in the winter and gave no respite from Baltimore’s choking summer humidity. Many families took to painting their homes to minimize brick wash-off, and so they required repainting every few years. Formstone conveniently solved both issues for a relatively small fixed, upfront cost. The extra concrete siding would keep out excess moisture while retaining heat, and formstone’s intrinsic colour would last as long as the concrete itself. At least, that’s how formstone salesmen told the story, and they told it well, looking at the city.
6 ibid. 7 The Baltimore Sun, at this time, published building permits issued in the City. Formstone starts appearing with some frequency in the early forties, mostly in East and Southeast Batlimore. By the mid50s, a steady stream of formstone permits were being issued all over the City and beyond. Formstone’s footprint is centered in Baltimore City, with examples extending into the suburbs and beyond with progressively less frequency. 8 cf. Kilar & Marbella, “Formstone would be banned on new buildings under proposal.”
The diagrams illustrating the original formstone patent.
Formstoneâ€™s colour patterns vary drastically in the colours used and internal complexity.
§ Little Castles, Colour, and Mass Migration To unearth the unrecognized significance of formstone’s colour, one must simply look to a short film called Little Castles: A Formstone Phenomenon.9 In the 1998 documentary, two Baltimore filmmakers took perhaps the only thorough look at formstone and the people who covered their homes in the material. The evidence for formstone’s true power, that of its colours, is subtle but overwhelming. The film’s title is taken from one of its interviewees, Leon Meekin, who said the formstoned homes “looked like little castles when they were finished.”10 The quote almost sounds tongue-in-cheek, but it could not be more earnest. Formstone, in turns out, does look a bit like a kitsch castle.
Butch the Formstoner, applying formstone ornamentation to a doorway Source: Jason Knauer.
But why this bizarre patchwork of coloured concrete masquerading as stone? Any colourized concrete or stucco would do the trick if weatherization and maintenance were the only concerns. What makes formstone different? The history of formstone’s adoption, its adaptation, its interpretation, and the project of its dismantling all point to a deeper story than crude economism. Formstone’s particular use of colour, its combinations of colour, and the meaning of its colour are what truly set it apart.
“OK, we like formstone. We had it put on in 1941, and I think everyone in Baltimore City should have it put on,” says John Durkin, speaking for he and his wife Mary, both of them residents of the Southeast Baltimore neighborhood Highlandtown.11 “Well, I can remember when it was red brick and it looked like shantytown with red brick. A man came in with formstone and made it look like Hollywood. That’s the truth. That’s the God’s truth.” The red brick of Baltimore’s rowhomes was, according to Durkin, poor, powerless, and unstable: a shantytown. The polychrome Formstone city was Hollywood, the height of mid-20th Century American wealth and fashion, the powerhouse of American culture. Class dynamics are at the front of Durkin’s explanation, along with a hint at the
9 Bowers & Cyzyk, Little Castles: A Formstone Phenomenon. 10 ibid. 11 ibid.
concomitant divide between the immigrant and native forces at play in Baltimore. Highlandtown and the many neighborhoods around it housed Baltimore’s industrial workers. Those workers, in the first few decades of the 20th Century, were mostly immigrants. They came from Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe: Germans, Poles, Czechs, Greeks, Italians, etc. In part due to Baltimore’s rowhome housing typology, immigrant factory workers were able to purchase homes in Baltimore at rates far higher than comparable cities, and their first-generation American children even more so. In the mid-20th Century, these groups were still politically marginalized. Mainstream representational politics were dominated by Nativist power blocs and Irish
Democratic Clubs. (The notable exception here being the Italians under Mayor Thomas D’Alesandro, Jr., whose daughter Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives.) Meanwhile, the radical workers movements that could have fought for these communities along class lines had lost much of their steam in Baltimore with the rise of the Soviet Union. It is only within this context of mass migration, selective assimilation, and political marginalization that the mysteries of formstone begin to unfurl. The metaphor of “little castles” popping up on every block in the city is not merely a platitude deflecting criticism of a ridiculous use of colour in architecture. Rather, it identifies a
Mary & John Durkin in front of their formstoned house. Source: Little Castles.
Aliceanna and Dallas streets, 1936. Likely one of the oldest rows in Southeast Baltimore, shown here one year before formstoneâ€™s invention. Source: Library of Congress.
View looking northeast into heavily formstoned Canton, Southeast Baltimore from the American Can Company plant on Boston & Hudson streets. Source: Library of Congress.
specific, if largely unspoken, appropriation of colour. “Stone had always signified wealth and status to the [immigrant] Europeans.”12 In Baltimore, working class immigrant European communities were taking the colour of stone, and specifically the erratic sequence of colours that might appear on a stone castle in Europe, and using it within the only architectural interventions under their control. Their city was a city of little castles. Formstone’s colour is mimetic, and that act of mimesis was a symbolic grab for power. It would be crude -- and given formstone’s
12 Hayward & Belfoure, The Baltimore Rowhouse, pp. 181
appearance, likely funny -- to say that Baltimore’s working class people were trying to signal themselves in any direct way as heirs to the power vested in European castles, or to say such a signal would bring political gravity to these communities. Those European castles were of course vestigial, and such a proposition would confuse or obfuscate the ambiguous relationship the recent immigrant/first generation communities in Baltimore had with the “Old Country,” both in terms of the prior social position of the migrants and their qualified thrust toward Americanization. Furthermore, this proposition reduces the relationship between mimesis and power to a 1:1 correlation, that is, to the extent that one imitates and imitates well. Avoiding
Bedzin Castle, Poland. More or less ruins since the 17th Century (now a museum), this castle and others like it serve as social-aesthetic forerunners to formstone’s patchwork of colour. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
this reductionist logic also opens doors for interpreting the colour of formstone in a more robust way.
§ Theories of Mimesis & the Colours of Formstone Walter Benjamin sets in motion contemporary thought on mimesis in developing his concept of the ‘mimetic faculty.’13 This is a capacity in all humans to produce and discern similarity, but a capacity that carries the weight of its own history within it. The mimetic was, and is, the magical: the ‘primitive’ magic invoked by reproducing the movement of the stars through dance, for instance, or more ubiquitously, through language. For Theodor Adorno, whose work on mimesis was in conversation with Benjamin’s, “mimesis is a behavior which reaches towards the object, stands in a reflected immediacy to it, and thus it implies the archaic affinity between subject and object.”14
Formstone falling apart to reveal the portland cement, wire lathe, and red brick underneath.
The magical dance has, at least in some capacity, a “sensuous similarity” to the star movements, some perceptible imitation through which the mimetic relationship is formed. Language, alternatively, is dominated by non-sensuous similarity, a sort of non-obvious mimesis that ‘flashes up’ through meaning, its mimetic quality having been passed through history via meaning.15 Language is thus “an increasingly disenchanted and codified extrusion of mimetic production,” each word possessing a distant mimetic quality that is nonetheless present now.16 Non-sensuous similarity brings mimesis beyond simple imitation.
13 See Benjamin “On the Mimetic Faculty” and an earlier version: “Doctrine of the Similar.” 14 Cahn, cited in Sinha, “Adorno on Mimesis in Aesthetic Theory” 15 Benjamin, “On the Mimetic Faculty,” pp. 772 16 Mowbray, “Mimetic Faculty”
Benjamin does not entirely discount sensuous similarity as a sort of vulgar mimesis, though. Language, he argues, is at its most sensuously similar in writing. He uses graphology, the reading of psychology through handwriting, as his jumping off point.17 The script-image of one’s handwriting, while seemingly arbitrary in its relationship to the signified idea, contains in it the hieroglyphics of the proto-writing which was mimetically tied to the scriptimage’s meaning. Importantly, as writing contains ur-writing, so the writer contains the ur-writer. The writer, in channeling the mimesis of the ur-writer, appropriates the ur-writer’s power and authority to write.18 Mimesis is not only that sensuous similarity in writing, but that non-sensuous appropriation of authority through writing. (Benjamin similarly derives his more general theory of language from the Bible. In Genesis, man uses naming to appropriate God’s power to create the universe through language.19 Language is mimetic in its relation to divine speech, sensuously through its use of utterance and non-sensuously through its reflection of divine power.)
modernity. Anthropologist Michael Taussig, building upon Benjamin work, writes: “The wonder of mimesis lies in the copy drawing on the character and power of the original, to the point whereby the representation may even assume that character and that power. In an older language, this is ‘sympathetic magic’...”21
This dual construction of mimesis, its foundation in both sensuous and nonsensuous similarity, is how formstone’s colour transcends its place as ‘the polyester of brick’20 and into an active appropriation of power. Sensuously, formstone’s colourful patchwork is reminiscent of European castles, symbols of power on an abandoned continent and from a lost age -- a mythopoetic power destabilized through
In its non-sensuous similarity to both the mythopoetic architecture of European castles and the techno-rational urbanization of the 20th Century city, formstone explains the specific immigrant alterity of the communities who adopted it. Taussig explores mimesis as a tool for colonial alters. His central example are wooden figurines used to cure illness in the Cuna tribe of Panama.23 These figurines, first documented in the 19th Century, are carved to look like Europeans of the 16th and 17th Century. The
By applying colour, Baltimore’s immigrant working class also appropriated the power to transform the landscape. This was the colours’ non-sensuous similarity. The power of urbanization had never belonged to these communities, neither in Europe nor in the US. They congealed the practice of urbanization in the application of colour, which was nonsensuously similar to landscape-altering practices of Old European Castles and in the techno-rational urbanization of Baltimore’s growth machine. Indeed, in being a patented, technological process itself, formstoning appeals to Adorno’s conception of mimesis in art: “Both art and rationality mobilize technology: one employs it for the sake of the survival of its magical heritage, the other pays no attention to it.”22
17 Benjamin, “On the Mimetic Faculty,” pp. 772 18 ibid. 19 Benjamin, “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man,” pp. 67-69
20 Baltimore’s cult filmmaker John Waters called it just that in Little Castles.
21 Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity, pp. xiii-xiv 22 Adorno, cited in Sinha, “Adorno on Mimesis in Aesthetic Theory” 23 cf. Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity, Ch. 1
figurines objectify the colonizing Europeans for appropriative use, upending the political power structure and empowering alters through a mimetic material culture. In formstone, the alter population weighs its own alterity against two power structures: the geographically and temporally dislocated European capitalism that they left and the dominating native capitalist class of Baltimore. This is migrant alterity, at home in neither its place of origin nor its current geography. Thus, colour and colourization are used to appropriate a power that draws on both a romanticized European power and the rationalized American power. Put simply, formstone posits an architectural use of colour. This is a magical, mimetic colour based on sensuous and nonsensuous similarities of colour and practice -- a colour which elides visual forms with social power and is used by political alters to objectify, appropriate, and wield authority.
Central Avenue, featuring three styles of formstone and an Italian Bakery. Source: Library of Congress.
Formstone deteriorating to reveal the original brick faรงade, which has been painted to resemble formstone.
§ Formstone Politics “The memory trace of mimesis unearthed by every art work, among other things, anticipates a condition of reconciliation between the individual and the collectivity. And this collective remembrance is not divorced from the subject but actualizes itself through it.”24 The metaphor is perhaps too simplistic, but one feels the tension between individual and collectivity as colour traverses scales and topples over itself in formstone. Formstone creates a polychromal landscape, the grandiose speckling of an entire city. The colour kaleidoscopes, layering tones to create a singular mass. At every level in its production and reception, the colour of formstone careens between the individuated and the collective. In his obituary, the Baltimore Sun wrote that Albert Knight, inventor of formstone and “Colonel Sanders of the Formstone Business,” would pulverize small stones and pebbles in his workshop.25 He would mix the resultant powder into cement to build to colour profiles for his formstone. “No two stones are alike in colour...”26 The essence of individual pebbles, together proclaiming a unified colour. He applied these collectivized plastics one by one to build the polychrome face, discreet fiefdoms of colour. Together on a single home, the individuated ‘blocks’ articulate a unified sequence of mimetic colour. These sequences varied from mason to mason. Each home was its own ‘little castle,’ after all -- distinct. But taken together, home
by home, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, formstone becomes the variegated landscape on which a collective politics of individual action is constructed. Three decades into formstone’s slow seizure of colour in Baltimore, its adoptees found their political voice. Consciousness of mutual alterity and political disenfranchisement had been growing for some time, but the 1970’s saw an eruption of political activity in Southeast Baltimore.27 Just as suburbanization and deindustrialization were beginning to pressure the working class neighborhoods there, organizing kicked into full gear. Ethnic enclaves with historical animosities came together to fight a political machine that treated them as, at best, collateral damage. In particular, a network of interrelated community groups and political organizations mobilized to kill a plan that would have destroyed hundreds of city blocks in Southeast Baltimore and forcibly relocated thousands of families.28 The plan would have built a massive intersection, connecting Interstate 83, Baltimore’s primary north-south highway, to Interstate 95, which runs east-west through downtown. That connection was never built. Similarly, the groups were able to alter a plan to turn Southeast Baltimore’s largest high school into a specialized school for maritime & construction trades. Though most of those communities worked in those trades, they viewed the plan as a way to limit their children’s educational attainment and thus their economic mobility.29 (The school battle
24 Adorno, cited in Sinha, “Adorno on Mimesis in Aesthetic Theory”
25 The Baltimore Sun, “L. Albert Knight, who gave
27 Durr, “The Not So Silent Majority.”
the city Formstone, dies at 76,” March 16, 1980
carries an unfortunate caveat: the high school conversion plan was wrapped into an integration bussing program, racializing a good deal of the opposition.) The collectivity was formalized in a number of organizations, including the South East Community Organization (SECO), which continued to battle the City and other interests for decades. SECO and the conflicts of the seventies launched the career of now U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski, the most powerful woman in the Senate.30 Mikulski’s landmark speech at Catholic University in Washington, DC, the speech that began her career in public life, was about the urban struggles of “Ethnic Americans.”31 The speech -- and the New York Times editorial that followed -- lamented the American political and business class, disavowed White America, and situated the ethnic body as a mere “instrument of production” in the American consciousness. Just as with formstone’s colour, the speech celebrated the collective through the articulation of the individual.
§ Contemporary Developments in Formstone & Colour Baltimore, particularly Southeast Baltimore, is in the midst of a mammoth demographic reorganization. Core constituencies of ethnically Eastern, Central, and Southern European workers are losing their neighborhood majorities. Young, white,
30 NB: The two most powerful women in the current Congress, Nancy Pelosi & Barbara Mikulski, both hail from the working class European enclaves of Southeast Baltimore. The correlation is unclear but worth noting. 31 O’Rourke, GENO: The Life and Mission of Geno Baroni, pp. 87.
white collar workers with high educational attainment are relocating from the suburbs of Baltimore and other cities to these waterfront neighborhoods. With them comes unfamiliar development, social disorganization, and a harsh uptick in the cost of living. Meanwhile, latino/a immigrants from Central and South America are settling in Southeast Baltimore, typically further inland where housing is cheaper.32 A refugee resettlement center is also in Southeast Baltimore, bringing a myriad of ethnicities to the area, especially East Africans. How each of these shifts affects formstone and/or colour in architecture generally could constitute papers in and of themselves and cannot be adequately addressed here. For reference, below is a synopsis of recent developments in colour and formstone. Dismantling & Red: a Mimesis of Luxury Already in the early 1990s, the project of dismantling formstone had begun. There had been attempts as early as the seventies to ban new formstone construction, attempts that were struck down by the City Council.33 The Council could not, however, prevent homeowners and investors from removing the existing formstone facades. New gentrifying buyers, who began moving to Fell’s Point in the 70s and gained complete control of neighborhood by the 90s, were retreating from the suburbs where they grew up. The draw of the city, at least for many, was a romanticized vision of urban life before the ‘Urban Crisis.’ In Baltimore, the symbol of that constructed history is the red of brick.
32 Baltimore’s Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
publicly deprioritized immigration enforcement, in an effort to attract (legal and illegal) latino migrants who find hostile reception elsewhere.
33 Smith, “Council passes formstone-protecting Fells Point ordinance.”
The proces of removing formstone to expose the red brick beneath. In this 2007 example, the brick façade was relatively unscarred in the process. Source: Flickr user ‘emjones.’
New arrivals and investors hoping to profit from them began tearing formstone off the walls. During the building boom of the noughts, new rowhome construction in Southeast Baltimore, and most rehabs, used the red brick facade (and exposed red brick interior) as a marker of a historicallytinged, luxuriant, waterfront urban lifestyle. Red became the colour of the new political economy of mass migration. Again colour is used mimetically on the Baltimore rowhome, simultaneously borrowing and constructing a mythopoetic history from which to take power.
‘Baytriot,’ i.e. a patriot of Baltimore (via its association with the Chesapeake Bay). Each ad stated something ‘Real Baytriots’ do, thereby associating Old Bay with an authentic Baltimorean lifestyle. One billboard on Downtown Baltimore’s major southbound thoroughfare read ‘REAL BAYTRIOTS LIVE BEHIND FORMSTONE.’ Here again the narrative emerges: a true
Tearing off formstone is risky business. Few know if they’ll find red brick underneath. If they do, it could have been destroyed in either the application or removal of the formstone. Either way, the colour is worth it, adding tens of thousands of dollars to potential resale values. Gray & the New Natives: a Mimesis of Authenticity Removing formstone is not without its discontents. A colleague of mine who works in Southeast Baltimore recalls talking to a group of young Highlandtown natives who sneeringly discounted the red brick of the new Canton rowhomes and who reportedly ‘didn’t understand’ why someone would waste the effort removing the formstone. The underlying narrative of course being that red brick is for newcomers whereas formstone is the true material of Baltimore. Formstone is infused with an aura of authenticity -- the obviously Baltimorean signal in a contest of signs. Surprisingly, the idea of formstone as more authentically Baltimore made its way into a major advertising campaign. Old Bay (Baltimore’s signature spice mix that is eaten on crabs, shrimp, fries, etc.) began a campaign in 2012 using the neologism
Baltimorean doesn’t remove their formstone, but relishes it. Formstone is beginning to take on a secondary mimetic function. Already a powerful mimetic tool, formstone is internalizing a new mythopoetic vision of a historical Baltimore. This imagined Baltimore contests bourgeois gentrifier mythology, represented in red brick, with an authentic, unified Baltimore, free from the antagonisms of mass migration, and represented in the subdued hues of
formstone. Architectural colour acting as a weapon in a contest of mimetic acts, each colour (or set of colours) seeking to appropriate power from a constructed historical antecedent. Clearly, even if “these colours don’t run,” the meaning and power embedded in architectural colour is able to reorganize itself with shifts in political economics and demographics.
The Paint Can & Divergent Practices Some residents cannot or will not remove their formstone but do want to drastically change it through colour. Paint is an obvious option for those who want to increase property values or disavow the mimesis of formstone’s ‘natural’ colour scheme. According to analysts during the housing boom, painting formstone could
increase a home’s value by up to $5000.34 The colours used to paint formstone vary wildly. Some are unsurprisingly painted to look like red brick with white trim, adding an additional mimetic layer onto an already cluttered chain of associations. Others are painted according to a set of colour schemes developed in the early 2000s by a local community development non-profit.35 Confusingly titled ¡Viva Formstone! and having little to do with the area’s growing hispanic population, the program painted formstone in complementary pastel shades on a fair number of homes in Highlandtown. There is perhaps mimesis in these colours -- maybe an indistinct association with the idyllic small town community imagined in such ‘Main Street’ development efforts. Study for such a connection is warranted, but cannot be conducted here. The majority of formstone painters take a different tack, though, choosing to paint their homes in an individuated colour scheme. “Most homeowners choose one shade for the body of the house and a contrasting colour for the window lintels,” writes the Sun.36 White with a bright blue or green accent is common. Some go for the brightest, most garish colour schemes. Some use complex multi-coloured sequences. Occasionally, a homeowner borrows a colour scheme from existing brands, such as Baltimore’s football team, the Ravens (purple & black), or in one case, the motorcycle company Harley Davidson (black & orange, though not to be confused with the black & orange of Baltimore’s baseball team, the Orioles,
34 Garman-Weimar, Linda. “Cure for Formstone found in paint can.” 35 Disclosure: This author volunteered as an intern at this non-profit in 2011. 36 Garman-Weimar, Linda. “Cure for Formstone found in paint can.”
ยกViva Formstone! houses are quickly identified by their complementary pastels.
Lime green painted formstone adjacent to a scarred red brick faรงade.
Harley Davidson formstone.
Purple & Black formstone, no doubt a Ravens household, next to bright white & gray.
whose colours have found their way onto formstone elsewhere). While these brande-evoking colours are clearly imitation, mimesis is not the driving factor in these individuated paint jobs. Rather, these colour schemes are chosen precisely for their individuation. This can serve two functions. Individuation through colour could set homes apart in the marketplace, which has many otherwise similar rowhomes available at any given time. More intriguing: the colour could reflect on the homeowner, advertizing that person as unique and affirming for the homeowner their belonging in a cult of creative individualism. This is a mimesis that relies on unusual or uncommon visuals, a sensuous unsimilarity in the service of a nonsensuous affiliation with creativity as a social power.
§ Moving Forward Formstone is an illustration. How is colour wielded in the built environment, as an instrument reflective of and active in the totality of social life? The answer, according to formstone, is “variously.” What’s most clear is that colour can act mimetically, as a historically loaded weapon in the antagonisms of political economics and mass migrations. It would be bold to claim that formstone’s colour has a causal relationship with the mass politics of working class ‘ethnic’ communities of Southeast Baltimore. However, it’s equally bold to discount the wholesale re-colouring of landscape as an economistic act, irrelevant in the social life of that city. As the medium of everyday life, the built environment is host to social and ideological battles at all scales. What’s also clear is that no use of architectural colour has a fixed meaning or fixed role to play
in social life; changing political economic conditions will yield a changing deployment and interpretation of colour. For critics, this makes criticism all the more complex and fun. For architects, designers, planners, and activists, the political mimetics of colour add a potent new layer to urban intervention. How can we use colour mimetically in a politically useful (or at least politically un-dangerous) way? How can we use interpretation of colour as an architectural act in itself? To these questions, Michael Taussig’s optimistic conclusions on mimesis inspire possibility. He posits a “mimetic excess,” a use, reuse, and recombination of mimesis, “an excess creating reflexive awareness as to the mimetic faculty.”37 This excess undoes the ontological fallacies that allow mimesis to act as an apparatus of repression. Citing Adorno, he notes “the mimetic faculty, with its capacity to combine sensuousness with copy, provide[s] the immersion in the concrete necessary to break definitively from the fetishes and myths of commodified practices of freedom.”38 Architectural colour can contain the mimetic faculty, and it’s our duty in intervention to wield colour in just such an excessive and positive way.
37 Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity, pp. 255 38 ibid., pp. 254
Works Cited Baltimore Sun. “L. Albert Knight, who gave the city Formstone, dies at 76.” 16 Mar. 1980: B1. Benjamin, Walter. “On the Mimetic Faculty.” Selected Writings Volume 2, Part 2. Jennings, et al. (ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999. Benjamin, Walter. “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man.” Selected Writings Volume 1. Bullock, Marcus and Michael Jennings (ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997. Benjamin, Walter and Knut Tarnowski (translator). “Doctrine of the Similar.” New German Critique 17 (1979): 65-69. Bowers, Lillian an Skizz Cyzyk. Little Castles: A Formstone Phenomenon. Formstone Films Foundation, 1998. Durr, Kenneth. “The Not So Silent Majority: White Working-Class Community Activism in Baltimore, 1967-1975” From Mobtown to Charm City: New Perspectives on Baltimore’s History. Elfenbein, Jessica, et al. (ed.). Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1999. 222-245. See also Durr, Kenneth. Behind the Backlash: White Working-Class Politics in Baltimore, 1940-1980. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2003.
Knight, L. Albert, et al. “Process of Making Artificial Stone Wall Facings.” U.S. Patent 2095641. Filed 1 Mar. 1937, issued 12 Oct. 1937. Mikulski, Barbara. “Who Speaks for Ethnic America?” New York Times. 29 Sept. 1970: 43. Mowbray, Mike. “Mimetic Faculty” Sixth Sense Abcderium. <http://sixthsensereader.org/ about-thebook/abcderium-index/mimetic-faculty/> (20 Mar. 2013) O’Rourke, Lawrence. GENO: The Life and Mission of Geno Baroni. New York: Paulist Press, 1991. Sinha, Amresh. “Adorno on Mimesis in Aesthetic Theory.” In Practice: Adorno, Critical Theory and Cultural Studies. Briel, Holger and Andreas Kramer (ed.). Bern: Lang, 2000. 145-159. Available online: <http://www.wbenjamin.org/mimesis.html> (20 Mar. 2013) Smith, C. Fraser. “Council passes formstone-protecting Fells Point ordinance.” The Baltimore Sun. 1 May 1979: C6. Taussig, Michael. Mimesis and Alterity. New York: Routledge, 1993.
Garman-Weimar, Linda. “Cure for Formstone found in paint can.” The Baltimore Sun. 13 June 2004: 1L. Hayward, Mary Ellen and Charles Belfoure. The Baltimore Rowhouse. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2001. Jones, Em (Flickr username). “Formstone Removal.” Flickr. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/emjones/> (20 Mar. 2013) Kilar, Steve and Jean Marbella. “Formstone would be banned on new buildings under proposal,” The Baltimore Sun. 1 Dec. 2012: no page. <http:// articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-12-01/ business/ bs-bz-transform-formstone-20121130_1_formstoneformstone-artificial-stone> (20 Mar. 2013) Knauer, Jason. “Butch the Formstoner.” <http://www. jasonknauer.com/Baltimore/Butch-The-Formstoner/> (20 Mar. 2013)
Produced for Saturated Space, the colour research cluster at the Architectural Association School of Architecture.
Acknowledgements Special thanks to Adam Furman & the Saturated Space research cluster at the Architectural Association; Kari Snyder, Amanda Smit-Peters, Chris Ryer, and the rest of the Southeast CDC; Sheila Moussavi for helping me explore the formstone city; Will Krieger for soundboarding theory with me; and the people of Baltimore for being endlessly fascinating.
Published on Apr 1, 2013
A detailed look into the urban phenomenon of formstone in Baltimore, Maryland. From its invention as a technique, to its cultural significan...