THE NEW CITY (CUTS/NOTES)

Richard Matheson’s bookI Am Legend was previously adapted to film in the seventies as the movie The Omega Man. The book seems to function as a kind of testing device, formalizing the fears of the moment. The Omega Man pit Charlton Heston in a post-apocalyptic LA against the Manson-esque collective “The Family.” The 2007 film ends with Neville’s crucifixion and Christological matyrdom.

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“Sadder than destitution,” wrote Jean Baudrillard in Cool Memories, “sadder than a beggar is the man who eats alone in public.” Baudrillard adds: “Nothing more contradicts the laws of man or beast, for animals always do each other the honor of sharing or disputing each other’s food.” Loneliness, shame, and eating alone. In the film Romance the heroine’s disgust for her partner comes down to the fact that he is happily able to eat alone in a restaurant. One episode of Sex and the City explored the practice of bringing decoys (magazines, books, etc) to solo lunch dates as protections against illegitimacy. The historian Rebecca Spang points out that the restaurant is where you go to be seen, not where you go to eat.

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Demographic trends indicate that anomie is on the rise. In a famous article published in 1995 the sociologist Robert Putnam argued that America’s stock of “social capital” had been run down to such a degree that people have started bowling alone. “In these times,” remarks Mishima, “to part is normal, and to meet is the miracle.”

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In the age of the web, the city is in crisis. The newspapers which flattered the twentieth century are dying all across the America; castrated by the loss of classified ads to the internet, and then finished-off by the financial crisis.

As people increasingly interact with screens rather than other people, the function of the city as the central hub in global information networks is waning. The unity of the city has been smashed, time and space redistributed into networks. The citizen becomes the user, and the city turns into a shadow of its former self.

Maybe. Destruction is only one side of the new media’s power. The other aspect is creation – and if the traditional modernist city is no longer operative, this is not necessarily a fact to be mourned. The modernist grid was built on exclusions, imperialism, and hierarchy – its original development in Paris emerged out of a counter-revolutionary strategy: cavalry charges against insurrections…

The grid of the Manhattan street plan was also a grid of identities, of roles.

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“Architecture is the will of an epoch,” wrote Mies van der Rohe, “translated into space.” Architecture is changing. In the words of William Mitchell: “It’s an old script replayed with new actors. Silicon is the new steel, and the Internet is new railroad.” Bits become the building material of the present and future, and architecture mutates in function.

The architectural form of the grid constituted the spatial will of the (simultaneously) utopian and imperial heart of the disciplinary societies. Everything clearly separated and distinct. There was a intellectual wing to this world as while as a pure power-relation. The disciplinary societies all gave birth to the disciplines, and the modern university discourse .. Humboldt establishing his campus in Berlin around the same time that French architecture was turning towards engineering.

Is the discipline of architecture now under threat? In the last ten years, the profession seems to have undergone something of a sea-change. In the book Hatch, Kieran Long lists people like Eyal Weizman and collectives like AUDC amongst the new breed of architects. Though Weizman designed his own house, he remains best known for his theoretical and mapping work, and his book Hollow Land, a text that proposed to “treat the concept of architecture in two different senses.” A recent list of the most exciting architects in Icon magazines included practices like Mexico’s ToroLab, a group which inhabits the space between art and architecture and which has been involved in designing types of food.

When theory and architecture being to miscegenate, criticism needs to respond with a little more creativity. In 2009, the associate editor of Blueprint, Tim Abrahams drew-attention to the degree of nostalgia pervading most web-based architectural blogs. Abrahams identified a lack of critical and conceptual resources, a myopic focus on the shapes of building (only to critique the obsession with shape as superficial) a total disregard of the concept of space (“Castells… doesn’t understand space,” claimed Henri Lefebvre) and a general disinterest in deeper architectural questions.

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“The computer,” Vito Acconci remarked in 2006, “makes the city seem almost unnecessary.” If you can have all the information in front of you on a computer, do you need the actual city?”



VIA

The city isn’t being replaced by the internet, but reshaped by it. The world wide web has created new proximities and new distances; parts of New York are now more closely linked to parts of Berlin then they are to physical areas within the same city.

See Kazys Varnelis. Varnelis is the director of the Network Architecture Lab at Columbia University. Interview with him here.

Augmented space; urban zones are supplemented by technology rather than haunted by history. The term was coined by Lev Manovich, author of The Language of the New Media. Network architecture, augmented space…

Augmented Space: Space is rearranging as new recording and screening equipment are mutate patterns of social interaction. Social networks are altering logics of human connections; social groups are beginning to organize around blogs.

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“Suppose you were lost in New York without money or means of communication,” asks Mark Kingwell

and had to meet the one person who could help you. With no way of contacting this person… how would you do it? You go to Grand Central Terminal, at noon, and wait by the famous clock-capped information kiosk in the middle of the Grand concourse… Your party will be there too, because she also knows that this is the right answer. This is not because of some configuration of the universe, but, rather, because within the logic established by the city, the many superimposed grids of urban sense-making, this is what counts as the correct answer. It is conventional, not metaphysical; but it is not contingent because it could not be otherwise.
The clock generates “an objective way of reading the city, transparent in principle to all interested parties, which allows each to perceive the presence of the center.”

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Sven-Olov Wallenstein summarizes the research findings of some of Foucault’s students:

The contribution by Blandine Barret Kriegel… shows how the idea of the habitat grows out of a need to control integral processes of production and consumption in order to avert the threat from overcrowded living quarters and epidemics…. The problem becomes more complicated as it has to deal with the relations between open and closed, light and space, etc.– too much transparency and circulation leads to a “social contagion,” to indolence and depravity, and [Danielle] Rancière formulates the equation as follows: “The worker’s lodging has to be opened to the exterior (air, light), at the same time as it is closed off toward the neighbours. One has to increase light at the same time as light should be reduced. There is need for a space where currents of air can cross, but not the workers. The city has to be open and closed.

“This problem,” Wallenstein notes, “could be called the squaring of the urban circle: to separate and join at the same time, to create a union that separates and individualizes, that averts the illegitimate mixtures while still maximizing the production assemblages.” In the nineteenth century, solutions were forged through an architectures of borders, walls, doors, and locks, and the regular urbanism of the modernist grid. In the twentieth-first century, the grid has transmogrified into the web, and architecture has turned into a matter of passwords, fire walls, public key encryption, and security certificates.

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Modernist urbanism was born out of an impulse to sanitize the city following the French revolution. The political movements which emerged in its wake emerged by inventing new patterns of associations. Or detourning (to use a line from Debord) the existing patterns. Marx’s identification of the proleteriat as the revolutionary class was based above all on spatial determinations: ultimately more powerful than the Christological definition of the proleteriat as the class which was nothing, had nothing, was the fact that in the factory, Marx perceived a logic of association which reached beyond conventional definitions of selfhood towards a new logic of collectivity. It was no accident in this regard that Lenin put the Taylorist program of the division of labor (into every smaller units of activity) at the heart of the Soviet economic program. The new man, and the new society, was to emerge out of the pulverization of activity into smaller units; the old language needed to be smashed (as it was being smashed, by capitalism) in order for a new language to emerge. This was also the idea at the root of Marx’s point in the 18th Brumaire that social movements needed to derive their poetry from the future.

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The urbanization of humanity is one of the few narratives to have proceeded more-or-less uninterruptedly since the beginning of history. If the contemporary city is changing, this doesn’t mean urban space is in decline. 10% of the world’s population lived in cities in 1900, 50% by 2007, and an estimated 75% of the global population will be urbanized by 2050.

But these zones are fundamentally different to the twentieth century urban model. The idea of the city as political zone – polis – appears under threat. The idea of the city as a political space of meetings is overtaken by a networked environment in which the center is no longer so vital.

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The state of play still remains largely obscure. One theme is the colonization of the city by an expanded creative class (designers, journalists, academics, intellectuals, artists, musicians), spreading from the central and financial districts. New York, aped by London, provides the principal model. This is gentrification, the subject of vociferous critiques from a Left which is today largely drawn from it.

The city turns into a capital for a new kind of capital.

The city converts into a touristic space.

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Yet the swelling urban spaces of the world are located mainly in the global south; the new mega-cities are more like Lagos than New York. It is impossible to understand the new urban logic by myopically focusing on what is happening in the West.

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At one extreme is the pessimistic vision presented in George Romero’s film Land of the Dead: a sterilized oligarchic core (the fortified city of Fiddler’s Green) surrounded by a second-world sprawl, itself barricaded against Zombie wastelands. The irony of this model is that it applies equally to the origins of the city as it does to any possible urban future. The classical Greek city was a central hub where Greek farmers met to decide the matters of the day, barricaded against Barbarian hinterlands. Which goes to show that you should never trust conceptual models just because they have zombies in them.

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The new provokes anxiety, generating flights into the past, or flights into fantasy.

In November 2007, the New York Times, a company whose value has declined by 70 percent in five years, moved into a building that its own architecture critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff described as “rooted in a more comforting time: the era of corporate Modernism that reached its apogee in New York in the 1950s and 60s. If he has gently updated that ethos for the Internet age, the building is still more a paean to the past than to the future.1”

Antonio Negri’s recent article on Rem Koolhaas in Radical Philosophy arguably gave way into a similar complex: “Between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, between Simmel and Weber, Burckhardt and Braudel, the city had become polis again, the imperial centre. Now space and time destroy this utopian centrality.” This language is thought-provoking. The term “utopian” now appears interchangeable with the term “imperial.”

Is there a possibility of a post-Imperial urban destiny? “The Empire Never Ended,” says Dick.

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The world seems in the process of steady conversion to non-places (Marc Augé); characterless zones of terminal architecture belonging to a vast global network of exchange, shallow and shiny.

The city as Alphaville; Godard’s nightmare of a technologically-administrated dystopia… yet this is one of Godard’s few films to have a happy ending. Augé’s argument is more subtle then many of his critics have imagined. In an interview in 2008, the ethnographer pointed out:

Encounters often take place in a space that is not yet symbolized, which cannot prescribe social relations; in a nonplace the notion of the unknown, the mysterious appears. Knights errant, the Knights of the Round Table, in the stories handed down to us from the Middle Ages, set off in search of adventure. Fine: setting off in search of adventure means going somewhere where you know no one else. If I come back to the narrow definition that I gave of non-place at the beginning, then we have to say that adventure takes place in a non-place. I could continue with this, and sing the praises of the non-place, but this too would be misleading, because, quite sincerely, I never employed this notion with any reference to a system of values.
The proliferation of non-places provides opportunities as well as limiting them, just as the advances of capitalism liberated the peasantry from rural idiocy.

What is in fact passing away is not the city itself, but the grid. A grid which is not just a map of geography. A set of predicates underpinning ideas of identity, gender; the social as such.

In Concrete Reveries, Mark Kingwell names New York “the capital of the twentieth century” and nominating Shanghai as “the city of tomorrow.” “The Chinese know what we don’t,” he claimed, “that we are nothing.” With the demise of a certain form of architecture, a certain form of subjectivity is ending as well.

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