21 October 2011

That's No Moon...





Fortunately, Owen Hatherley's a prolific blogger and writes for numerous online publications. I've long been curious about his two books on architecture, but they're not the sort of thing that circulates very widely here, on account of the fact that they're very British/Euro in focus -- be it his revisionist take on Brutalism, or his attack on generic contemporary urban architecture. The latter being his book A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain. Thing is, the critical thrust of the latter isn't an exclusively U.K. phenom, since the sort of architecture he critiques has (it seems) become something of a new International Style. The glimmering yet soullessly homogenized buildings that seem to be going up in (if not glutting) every middling/large city -- not just here in the U.S. or in Britain, but many other places as well.

I gathered this scenario was much more common that I reckoned a while back when I was checking the traffic to a particular recent post of mine. The post had generated an unusual (for this humble blog) amount of hits and linkage. One link went to a blog written by someone hailing from a town in Portugal, where the author could relate to the very thing I was talking about.

I lived in Chicago for the better part of 16 years. In that span of time, I watched the city "turn around" in some respects; with certain parts of the city being developed to the point of being unrecognizable from how I'd know them during the 1990s. This became especially true as the housing bubble began to emerge back around the beginning on the Noughties. River North, Printers Row, Fulton Market, Greektown, and many other neighborhoods sweeping with generic boutique-y rows of shops, filling up with blocks and high-rises of bland and blocky "luxury" condominiums. In some cases, I suddenly found it difficult to navigate or orient myself in places I'd previously known quite well, because all the landmarks had been erased or were obscured by high rises.





In some instances, these new (over)built environs felt downright oppressive. A not-uncommon plan for some blocks of condos -- wedged into this or that span of street -- was to a multi-level parking deck for the residents, with the Lego luxury abodes stacked atop. Thing is, city ordinances reputedlym dictated that these parking levels had to be walled in, could not be open. So as you walked along a row of one of these things, you'd face a solid concrete wall extending up about 2-3 stories running down the length of the street. A dingy chasm, effectively -- dwarfing, alienating, drab. (I believe once upon a time, the popular word for this sort of effect was "dehumanizing.")

Which brings us to the song above, up there in the Youtube clip. Wifey and I caught the Country Teasers back in 2006 when they hit the U.S for their The Empire Strikes Back tour. They trotted out this tune ("Mos E17ley"), and it immediately became something of a recurring trope in our lives. Inevitably we'd find ourselves driving or walking through a neighborhood like those described above, and one of us would mutter, "This place...is like the fuckin' Death Star."

5 comments:

Mr. W. Kasper said...

When I saw Dark Knight - filmed in Chicago - the scenery was very distracting, but not in a good 'expressionist' way. I kept thinking: Why are they fighting so hard to preserve this monotonous police state Dystopia? The 'ghetto' of the earlier movie was wiped away for corporate singularity. The 'cleaned up city' looked like my idea of Hell. Sadly, city planners across the world treat that like the path to Utopia. it was particularly striking watching Tahir Square in February, and being surprised how much it looked like the UK. I wondered if that was what helped western audiences find it easier to sympathise.

Greyhoos said...

Funny you mention that. Yeah, as with the last Transformers movie, most of that was filmed along the river and in the northern part of downtown -- where most of the glitzy, more contempo architecture is. The south (and larger) portion downtown has a predominantly late 19th/early 20th century style.

But you know...the city's the "cradle of modern architecture," on account of the fire. That being the case, it's often trying to keep some claim to that rep, letting new buildings up. Which leads to a "don't let it stand in the way of progress, just knock it down" attitude to older buildings & whatnot. So preservationists in the city always face a steep uphill battle.

But mainly they went totally apeshit with the housing bubble biz. High-rises going up everywhere, like everyone in the city forgot how to do anything but build cheap, shitty condos. Around 2005, I remember looking around and counting over a dozen cranes in the south Loop alone; and Tyvek, Tyvek, Tyvek everywhere you looked.

But what you're talking about: Yeah. It's why me & wifey went to go see Transformers 3 at the drive-in this summer. We were both looking forward to see that part of the city take a punishing. (I personally was hoping to see Trump Tower crumble, but was denied the pleasure, alas.)

Greyhoos said...

And Trump Tower was bad enough, but this is what they were gonna do next, just before I left...

http://www.chicagoarchitecture.info/ShowBuilding/357.php

Talk about messing up the skyline. (Looks like some fuckin' hippy candle.) They started laying the foundation, then the 2008 market collapse 86'd the whole thing. I believe a lot of the financeers are all suing each other these days.

Mr. W. Kasper said...

"Hippy candle" - LOL

Well, you know where I'm from. We once had a famously picturesque skyline - now fucked up by (empty) 'luxury apartments' and (empty) high-rise carparks. Like the river's history was erased. It's tragic. I hear coke dealers laundering money through these eyesores are doing just dandy though. Makes me wish I was Batman sometimes...

Greyhoos said...

Yeah, and I gather Manchester's going/gone the same route, as have a lot of places. Like I said above, seems to be a fairly common complaint these days.

And if you do decide to become Batman, make sure you go with a bad-ass version of the Nelson Riddle theme music.

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