Joining the Invisible Choir :
Instrumental Euphemisms for Death
Published in Soil #6 : Deathscrapers
with Shane Reiner-Roth
Mr. Praline and a pet shop owner dispute the status of an immobile parrot. The pet store owner argues the bird is resting after a particularly active morning, while Mr. Praline obstinately maintains the argument that the bird is simply dead and has been since purchase.
According to the pet shop owner, the bird continues to possess a variety of character traits and is now resting them off: spritely, stubborn, cowardly, and, at the moment, sleepy. To Mr. Praline, however, the bird is just dead. Concluding a tense back and forth on the subject, he loudly states,
“He’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! He’s expired and gone to meet his maker! He’s a stiff! Bereft of life, he rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed him to the perch he’d be pushing up the daisies! His metabolic processes are now history! He’s off the twig! He’s kicked the bucket, shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible! This is an ex-parrot!”
It is the popular opinion that ‘character’ expires when a thing passes on in the world, yet Mr. Praline’s bird sounds more active in death than most parrots do alive. The euphemisms of death distinguish a mirror state to life, one equally fulfilling and toilsome. Whether Mr. Praline knows it or not, he is exploring just some of the functions allowable for the deceased that are either impossible or ill-advised for the living through his interactions with an “ex-parrot.” A valuable lesson for classification is at play here, as we can begin to reveal the advantages of death brought to any piece of the built environment as opposed to its setbacks.
There are three general types of death for architecture: the publicly hanged, the miscarried, and the unconceived.
Tod Williams and Billie Tsien’s Folk Art Museum was built in 2001 in New York City. Its stone-cold presence, contrasted by the vast expanse of faceted hallways hidden inside, made it feel instantly like a permanent member of the city’s storied history. And though it appeared to be the unmoving object that many hoped it would be, its placement next to the Museum of Modern Art, that famously unstoppable force, spelled swift death. After ten years of a life well lived, it was bought by MoMA and quickly turned to scaffolding; it remains in that state today. A decade is a remarkably short existence for any building, especially one so beloved by a community. The Folk Art Museum was publicly hanged.
After producing some of the most provocative drawings and models in the field at the time, Diller + Scofidio’s Slow House broke ground in 1992 on Long Island. The client was motivated, the architects were thrilled, but the Long Island community was visibly less so. They held regular meetings to stall the house’s completion, giving it nicknames such as “the banana” and “the slug.” The foundation was poured but little else had made its way to the site following a defamatory article written in the local