It’s a pretty loaded term. Googling “carchitecture” brings up a lot of pages about architecture designed for cars. “Carchitecture” seems to be about buildings, cities, billboards, infrastructure all made with cars in mind, build to be appreciated from a car or to fit in with motor-vehicle transportation. An isolated home in the forest isn’t so cut off from civilization so long as there is a road that links one to the other, for example, and roadside shopping malls or attractions must be big and featureless from a pedestrian’s perspective so that a driver whizzing by at 60 mph can get the gist of the thing at a glance.
But there seems to be more to the term carchitecture than simply buildings constructed within some frame of automobilism – many of the pages that come up on a google search show that the architecture-oriented view come from the blogs and books of architects. So what then of the people using the term ‘carchitecture’ who come from a car-based perspective? Plenty of pictures of very pretty automobiles come up labeled under carchitecture and from this one can see that carchitecture is also a term to give credibility to the design of cars. The way that cars look and the way that they’re built sometimes has a gravity that leads people to look for a term to put automobile design on the same level of recognition and seriousness as architecture. I am sure that not so long ago, architects struggled to find proper terminology to get some academic recognition for their study.
A built environment constructed for cars as well as cars constructed with equal merit as buildings: these are both design-led perspectives. From a viewer’s point of view, there is a third meaning for carchitecture that also comes at its meaning through architecture. An archaeologist can use the ancient layout of an excavated village to gather information about life in the community itself, and a researcher might interpret shifting emphasis in Christian dogma in Europe throughout the centuries by following the design of cathedrals. Buildings and infrastructure fit into our lives very readily as they are the spaces in which people carry out most of their lives. To wrap this all up, society and architecture are bound up in each other.
Carchitecture is a term that points out how cars and society are interconnected in the same way as are architecture and society. Carchitecture denotes how one might look at cars in the same way that one might look at buildings. Both can be ‘read’ and interpreted. This mid-1980s Toyota shares aspects with the architecture behind it; this neighborhood is full of inexpensive houses with cracking paint and missing trim and so too is the neighborhood filled up with cars like this – with cracking paint and missing trim.
But there is more to this Toyota than a means of making parallels to what one might see in the local architecture. There is something that this Toyota can tell us that the buildings behind it can’t. You see, these coupes were one of the last hurrahs for an old automotive formula – a high-tech small engine sold in a cheap rear-wheel drive coupe. These Corolla coupes from the mid 1980s offered not only some affordable sportiness from the showroom, but also provided platforms for low-budget competition programs, most famously forming the backbone of the drifting scene in Japan and the world. A clean, lowered Corolla coupe is practically the symbol for drifting nowadays, and finding an example that hasn’t been bought up by an enterprising young person and modified to go tearing around sideways is a difficult task in America, Japan, or Europe.
But they’re all over the place in Puerto Rico. Many have been bought up by young people who want some style, but don’t have the funds to pay the gas bills on an equally stylish, but far less fuel-efficient American car. However, there are plenty of these Corolla coupes owned not for their sporty style or drifting reputation in a miserly package, but are just bought and kept because they are cheap, old, reliable Toyotas. For these cars to remain unmodified, there can’t be too much demand from the boy-racer crowd – probably either from lack of funds or from lack of exposure to the drifting scene. Seeing a Corolla coupe in this state tells me about the the kind of money that young people (don’t) have to throw around as well as the psychological distance between Puerto Rico and the driving scene in more connected parts of the world. Now if only I could draw up some more funds to go do a piece on Hungarian drifters in ratty ’80s BMWs, or hell, whatever they’re doing in the rest of the world.