I used to be more intrigued by the voodoo goat head in New Orleans, but lately, cities designed in few charrette hours became more of a curiosity.
I like the ones that twirl but I even developed a particular taste for those 20 ft. square ones on pedestals attended by architecture students, their teachers, bartenders and by others who go to pecha kucha parties.
Playing instant cities on plywood trays are easy, fast and you get to meet a lot of people. This activity is usually done with creative types who like cultural districts full of galleries and sidewalk cafes where trend followers wait on the line to get eggs Benedict with fresh urban farmed herbs in weekend mornings.
Don't get me as full cynical pedestrian. I also like these good times when I can have the power to change the location of skyscrapers, demolish few city blocks of unimportant buildings I dislike and where my friends don't live.
Master planned communities are all the rage right now. The architectural world is heavily involved producing these perfectly cut and pasted neatly infrastructured developments on a dime. These seemingly well designed districts are usually no more than gated communities, make no mistake.
There are many types of these master planned worlds. Here are some characteristics.
The socially and economically gentrifying, visually transforming versions which usually take inner city neighborhoods, the formerly industrial areas, or the blighted neighborhoods, as they are called, and all turned into one hell of a mixed used green life style communities with decorative agricultural fields where tomatoes are grown and entertained individuals move around dancing to the music pumped to their ears from their smart phones and living in all Ikea like no mess, everything polished and dusted no nonsense puritan dwellings. These are the citizens of a usually happiness and performance arts as a life style kind of society, where there are always some kind of balmy weather and happy birds flying overhead.
This is the theme of this kind of propaganda, life in the drawings, things that flash. Architecture and urban design heavily relies on them for the uncertain future, this is the architecture of detached renderings and positive group therapy.
Only if they could be all that innocent.
If anything, these are the materials and actors of the latest China syndrome of designing master plan developments by many large American and European firms. These are their legacy of faster pussycat cities where the overnight ideas of towns and concerns of millions of people are in the domains of blundering moves of the architects who overwhelmingly rely on the blue skied idealizations of real life, removed and irrelevant. All for fast money blown real estate bubbles.
Prompted by their developer clients and responsive to on paper demand for rapid urbanization, architects and urban designers are frantically moving large scale infrastructures and living quarters in fast moves, what it took decades if not centuries to build and to make them economically possible, are now replaced with blue spongy insulation boards cut in building like pieces in model shops readied for urban transformation. This is done without enjoying what we have, appreciate our less than perfect apartments, deemed “ugly” streets, sharing a conversation not under the designer built shade structure but beneath the mulberry tree?
I want cities to be un-fast-planned. I want cities to be a little dirty, chaotic, little on the edge and politically nervous, so, nobody thinks they can cut and paste things on them without being accountable. I don't want them to lie to me on the internet “best city to live” surveys of Forbes magazine. Don't fix everything at sight. Don't clean the destruction before the uprising ends. Don't be like the “wombles.” Let it sink and digest!
As architects we are in a survival battle with business as usual. Sure, there is nothing wrong with dreaming, and part of our service is to dream, however, if you think we ought to gather over beer and snacks and have impossible cities built for fun in the afternoons and take them seriously, you are not only killing the conversation but losing your grip on the awareness.
If you think I am being a slingshot, listen to Reyner Banham, the systems man, who concludes his essay “Bricologues A La Lanterne” with this;
“People who can believe that mass bricolage is a sovereign remedy for forces and ideas that hinder the fulfillment of human purposes...large corporations...philosophies of behaviorism... modern architecture” because it is the opposite of faceless “technostructure” of engineering, should think again, carefully. Modern bricolage, on the evidence of the illustrations in Adhocism (and the pix, at least, do observe the real world) works only with the offcuts and discards of engineering. Not a single un-manufactured piece of natural material, not an ass's jawbone nor a twig of willow appears in this conspectus. The bricoleur's universe of instrument proves-in this version- to be just another colonial dependency of the dreaded technostructure.
Touchez pas au brico! It could be injurious to your health if you don't know what it's about. After all, and at the end of the day, the bricolage to end all bricologues is the use of a lamp post as a gallows!”
As architecture have turned its attention to cities with now famous statistic that, two thirds of the world's population will live in the cities in the 21st century, so the physical city design became a market filler for many architects without the new singular building design contracts. Since then a breakneck speed of making cities reached dizzying levels. Hell, if we can't find the fast diminishing clients who want office building look alike luxury homes with art galleries in them anymore, why not make cities with large condominiums with art galleries in them where you can live and work in homogeneity and make lots of money from creative ideas and artsy lifestyles? If there is a loan freeze from the banks for small projects, why not design large sections of small cities on a schematic design contracts. Suburbia is dead, long live the city. Right?
But really.. It is looking more and more that neat and organized suburbian mentality is moving into the cities. Bringing its “everything needs to be fixed” mind set. Treating the cities as mentally disturbed or sickly developed step child they now adopted or bought and about to send to reform school.
Telling long time dwellers with lesser means, “sorry, everything you have here is wrong and we are here to make it right. You can leave and go to the empty suburbs as we are fixing the city for ourselves. Once we transform it, there will be arts and culture everywhere, enhancing our lives.”
This is the service for life styles that involve above average income, no manufacturing jobs here and it heavily relies on production of a consumer culture and commuting service workers.
This is the consumer culture's life-stylism as urbanism.
If you are stuck with too little cash on the wrong side of that new rapid rail metro line, my friends, either arm yourselves for a war of low income survival and resistance or get ready for the old lamp post, which the dutiful city transformers will save for the time being, as your gallows.