January 25, 2004

Parallel Cities Reflux

Shades of Parallel Cities!

Years ago... eons ago, I came to the thought that a vision for architecture had to be predicated by a vision of the city. I was riveted on two indices of scale that frames the disposition of the city. One looked towards human scale and therefore into a history where nacent technology had not yet superceded the extents of human limits to order the city. The other sees cities morphing into a superscale fit to the superhuman lives of the new inhabitant (that's us by the way, you and me... our lives), inhabitants who eagerly strap on new technological prothesis to transcend human limits. Cars extend the legs, telephones extend the voice and ears, internet extends the mind, television and movies extends dreams. As the Pioneer probe speeds into interstellar space, there seems to be no wall for this phenomenon.

I was just out of architecture school when I came to this conclusion. Thinking of my previous post that was devoted to my architectural mentor, Gil Sanchez; I remember a moment driving to work at the time I had begun working for Gil, thinking that I could not merely practice architecture*1 for the sake of good taste alone, archtiectural design had to have an orientation. The knight needed a King/Queen to fight for. (Funny to think that now, I can consider an argument for the artist as mercenary... or the opposite, the Roshoman. But nihilism is the certified problem of our time, not a good foundation to build on.)

I have to stop myself from running a ling expostition on Parallel Cities, but click on this link if you need a little more background. Onto the links:

Check out this article about how scale is changing the art world:

"All of these very different works have one thing in common: size. For centuries, sculpture has retained an inheritance from the Renaissance so fundamental that it went almost unnoticed ? its scale. A Giacometti or a Henry Moore may look rather different from a Donatello, but they have in common their human dimensions. They are works that fit snugly into a less than colossal room or the confines of civilised square. One interesting exception to this rule is Michelangelo's giant David ? the greatest sculptural star of all ? but even he would dwindle in the mighty Turbine Hall."

(Also, read his very interesting proposal at the tail of the article, echos of SuperStudio, the Italian architecture collaborative who imagined fanciful superscaled cities.)

And now this from Edward Rothstien in the NYTimes, who focuses first on the phenomena of the WTC designs and how they focused on the private over public memorial. He then he extends this into the way we think of cities nowadays:

But now this kind of debate is typical of urban life. The city is a terrain wrestled over by competing private interests. The city's greatest achievement, it often seems, is the protection of the private realm and competing private interests; about the public realm there is no clear understanding.

After recounting Jane Jacobs he introduces a professor of political science at Yale, Douglas Rae, who pronounces the end of human scale in the way we knew it from the past:

Mr. Rae finds the very qualities of urbanism so often celebrated: close-knit neighborhoods of mixed populations and businesses, flourishing factories, communal and religious organizations, all of which helped create a sense of public affiliation. But that urbanism, he stresses, should not be idealized; it was accompanied poverty and filth and social ills and was the result of forces that cannot be replicated.

During the second half of the 19th century, Mr. Rae points out, there were "accidents of urban creation," forces that favored high-density, centralized growth in particular locations: the rise of steam-driven manufacturing, the development of a rail system and a national marketplace, sustained waves of immigration. But then came the disruptive centrifugal forces created by the introduction of the automobile and the AC electric grid, which ultimately helped bring urbanism to its end.

Here's an article by Ann Wilson Lloyd (again, the NYTimes) that's related to Car City in that the "Bilbao Effect" they refer to is simply a super suburbanism: building as object in a field versus one that is part of an urban fabric:

ust three days into a new exhibition this past September, the Bellevue Art Museum in Bellevue, Wash., abruptly closed its doors and suspended programming. Among the reasons, according to an article in The Seattle Times, were regional financial woes, an unclear mission and leadership conflicts. But another, less familiar issue was also raised: the museum's building, a three-year-old avant-garde edifice designed by the New York architect Stephen Holl. As the article explained, public support for the new museum was weakened by "galleries poorly suited to traditional art shows."

While the institution's past and present leaders are still assessing the situation, many ? including two former directors and the current board chairman ? acknowledge that the new building, with its expansive, soaring interior, called for programming that left local audiences disenchanted.

Bellevue may be the first casualty of a phenomenon known as the Bilbao effect: following the example set by Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, museums are commissioning high-style architecture that will not only raise the profile of the institution but boost the economy of the area. But in addition to spectacular architecture, this can also produce exhibition spaces less in service to works of art than in service to the building itself as art.

There was another article that treads the same territory. It had too much to excerpt and at the same time, too little that blazed different enough territory for me to blockquote here. But it's worth checking out. All of this came form surfing ArtsJournal.com, a hat tip to them.

Back to the studio, Dennis.

*1Yes, for those of you who might be surprised, I was open to the possibility of an architectural practice at one time. At one time, I wanted to do what I thought Corbusier did: painting and architecture and sculpture, all three in the grand tradition. But the cookie didn't crumble that way: I realized that I couldn't paint at the level I wanted to if I divided my time/mind into thirds. And making art in a fusion of the three was a hoary cliche by those times of high theory in the art world of the end of the 80's.

I found myself having to make a choice of one or the other (that is, architecture vs painting, or perhaps one then the othe. Besides, Corbu wasn't a particularly accomplished painter. And painting was the mother of my arts and I still find it to be demmanding.

Posted by Dennis at January 25, 2004 7:21 PM

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