Archive for the ‘architecture’ Category
A good piece from Owen Hatherley on the Festival(s) of Britain – both the old one and the new one that’s ostensibly on its way – and austerity in the Guardian‘s Comment is Free. Here’s a bit:
In their rhetoric of belt-tightening, in the ludicrous notion that “we’re all in this together”, the millionaires’ austerity government is tapping into something that predates it, but which accompanied the start of the financial crisis in 2008. Since then, an austerity nostalgia has been rife among the middle class: in the wartime aesthetics of Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food; in retro-modernist CCTV posters; most of all in the phenomenal success of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster. At the Festival Hall’s shop, it can sometimes seem like you’re in a 1940s theme park, with all manner of austere rationing-era ephemera for sale. It hinges on the somewhat gross analogy between our predicament and the blitz, or the rationing that lasted well into the 50s – the “blitz spirit” attendant on every transport disruption or tube strike. Cameron’s government has consciously appealed to this trend.
In addition to my IHT, I like a financial paper every day, as the “business section” is the only section where the actual news happens. I used to read the Financial Times until, at MSA 2008, I saw Frederic Jameson carrying around a copy to match mine (we’d probably both walked to the Borders down the road as there was nowhere else to buy such a thing in Nashville) and realized at that moment that this FT shit had, as they say, jumped the shark. So now I kick it old school with a subscription to the Wall Street Journal – European Edition, which is cheaper by miles anyway.
(a joke, btw – in case it’s not clear. maybe a joke. i dunno)
Anyway from yesterday’s WSJ, a strange melange of aesthetics / politics / commercialism that gives us the present state of play in snippets. First, from an article on Ireland’s debt crisis / IMF intervention:
It (an editorial in The Irish Times) went on: “There is the shame of it all. Having obtained our political independence from Britain to be the masters of our own affairs, we have now surrendered our sovereignty to the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.” In Ireland’s parliament, a deputy recited the stanza of Yeats from which the editorial takes its title, an elegy for the dead of an earlier, failed, revolution.
Let a billion quasi-leftist grad seminar papers bloom. Folks have been – at times very cheaply and with a tinge of, dunno, residual and deeply perverse ethnocentrism – using Ireland and its literature as a way to be a “post-colonialist” without dealing with, you know, black people. This would seem to me to be the wet dream via Naomi Klein version of this…. The quotation in question, as another article in the WSJ indicates, was from ‘September 1913’:
Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.
Funny thing is that there are better bits from that poem to cite on this occasion, namely the first stanza (“What need you, being come to sense / But fumble in a greasy till / And add the halfpence to the pence” etc). If I were one of those erstwhile hibernian pocoists, that’s where I’d go with my deconstructively angled paper… Alternately, if I were still attending “mass” on weekend evenings at the Boston Arms in Tufnell Park, I’d ask and receive, I’m sure, incredibly fascinating analyses of this poetry-cum-or-anti-economics issue from the (sometimes) friendly and strangely erudite pensioners who go there to receive liquified communion.
And then there’s this from an article about the CGI in the new Harry Potter film(s):
Leavesden (Studios) is also home to the fictional Ministry of Magic, which is supposed to sit beneath a real street in the London government district of Whitehall. To create the ministry, which first appeared in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” in 2007, Mr. Craig studied underground structures such as the London and Moscow subway stations.
For the new film, Mr. Craig added a towering monument to the ministry’s atrium. The Soviet-style sculpture shows wizards crushing cowering muggles—people without magic powers—and bears an engraving that says “Magic Is Might.” The totalitarian aesthetic, Mr. Craig says, highlights the theme of a world dominated by evil. He used seemingly long, winding corridors to give the ministry a Kafkaesque feel. As the characters explore the building, including an upstairs office and a basement courtroom, viewers soon feel as if they know their way around the place.
Leaving aside the sublation of the Red Menace into noseless (syphlitic?) baddy magicians, that final phrase is a bit bizarre: “viewers soon feel as if they know their way around the place.” Location, Location, Location real estate imaginineering meets Kafkaesque Unheimlichkeit in some sort of illogical and unholy union, no? Perhaps that, my friends, is the definition of the uncanniness of our times: bureaucratic befuddlement that somehow you feel cozy in, that you want to take out a variable-rate mortgage in order to buy-to-let, even though there are no mortgages to be had…
“You can think of a cross between the Apple store in New York and the Louvre,” is how Mauritshuis Director Emilie Gordenker describes the museum’s hopes for the extension and renovation. “We’re going to open up the gates. Then you come in and you end up in a very large, spacious and light-filled foyer.”
And things finally head full-circle. The Apple Store aesthetic, stolen from what I can tell (or remember) out of certain now-lost Soho (NYC) sleek coffeehouses, which in turn had stolen their look out of the galleries that were just then on their way out, returns to garnish the place where they keep Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” What is the next turn of the screw to come in our frenetically static cultural world, the palpating infrastructure built atop an ever self-renewing base? Apple Stores shaped like Aeroflot terminals? Childish pre-sex fantasies (wtf?) cast in the light of Allende-ite democratic socialism? Ezra Pound cantos about usury and the Jews recited on the House floor?
Yangyang International is an airport looking for a reason to exist. Built on South Korea’s east coast just seven years ago, you won’t find any delays or long queues here. In fact, you won’t find any passengers at all.
The initial vision could not have been more different.
Up to three million people a year were meant to throng the gleaming floors of the departure and arrival halls, built at a cost of almost $400m (£260m).
But last year an average of just 26 passengers a day came through the doors, vastly outnumbered by the 146 airport staff on hand to serve them.
In November the last commercial flight took off, and the terminal became what the Korean national press has dubbed a “ghost airport”, an impressive monument to overestimated demand.
The novel that I’m working on this summer basically starts in an airport like this one… I’m trying to think just what the fascination is, for me or in general, with this sort of space. Asia, in my limited experience, is full to the brim with things like this – empty airports built to serve as-yet-non-existent populations, high-volume roadways built for the traffic and trade of 2030 rather than 1958.
Americans on the other hand make do with the opposite – infrastructural elements always seem to be handling triple the load they were intended to handle and living on thirty-years past their projected obsolescence horizon. If an airport is under-crowded in the US, this is generally because the city to which it is attached is in the process of dying. We might even say that the Asian ghost airport is the geopolitical inversion of that utterly common American form – the ruin formed by the triple processes of state defunding, creative destruction and geographical dislocation.
So, while the Korean airport discussed in the BBC piece seems to have been born of political corruption – and even America has its own cases of that sort of thing – there’s still something to this I think. While it’s not at all hard to drive around the US finding the architectural materialization of private-sector speculations and public-sector dereliction, things like empty bullet-trains to unbuilt cities, hulking universities for student populations not yet born, hospitals for patients not yet sick, and slick public housing for populations yet to arrive but who vividly anticipated are very difficult to imagine in anything other than the light of the utopian apparitions. Those of us familiar with the post-industrial portions of the USA, the northeast and the Great Lakes region, know only the bent tracks and silted canals and abandoned silos and factories – the native flora cast in concrete and iron of unemployment, casualization, and privatization.
Nice photospread in Saturday’s FT by Michael Wolf, who “used a telephoto lens to take a surreptitious look behind the façades of Chicago’s international-style architectural gems, he fantasised he would see ‘thrilling things,'” but found of course only banal working and more working….
Also worth looking at the pocket history of the office cubicle that comes at the end of this week’s magazine…
Hundreds of buildings commissioned by the Works Progress Administration and Roosevelt’s other “alphabet” agencies are being demolished or threatened with destruction, mourned or fought over by small groups of citizens in a new national movement to save the architecture of the New Deal. In July, at the Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico, a dozen buildings built in the Spanish Revival style in the 1930s, including murals with Native American themes, were bulldozed. In Chicago, architectural historians have joined with residents of Lathrop Homes — riverfront rows of historic brick public housing — to try to persuade the Chicago Housing Authority not to raze the complex. In Cotton County, Okla., a ruined gymnasium has only holes where windows used to be. Across the country, schools, auditoriums and community centers of the era are headed for the wrecking ball.
(Should have registered this long ago, but do you know how damn cool it is to open up the New Statesman nearly every week and find new work by Owen in there? Some weeks, like this one, twice! Anyway, overdue to say, yes, this is very cool…)