Landscapes of Power
Group presentation and seminar discussion about Sharon Zukin’s 1991 book ‘Landscapes of Power: From Detroit to Disneyworld’
Lisa Kinch: Explorations in Architecture and Urbanism
Readings, thoughts and ideas related to studies at the Manchester School of Architecture
Landscapes of Power
Group presentation and seminar discussion about Sharon Zukin’s 1991 book ‘Landscapes of Power: From Detroit to Disneyworld’
The Spirit of Terrorism
‘The Spirit of Terrorism’ is part of a three book series on 9/11 published by Verso. The three books all try to make sense of the events and comprehend their philosophical meaning. The other two books included in this series are ‘Ground Zero’ by Paul Virilio and ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’ by Slavoj Zizek.
Below are notes I took whilst reading the book.
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Essay 1 - The Spirit of Terrorism
9/11 represented a setback for globalisation itself. It was a symbolic attack, not just against America or the workers in the buildings and their families.
“All that has been said and written is evidence of a gigantic abreaction to the event itself, and the fascination it exerts.” p.4
Baudrillard argues that, in a way, America brought the attacks on itself. America has through globalisation also helped spread terroristic imagination around the world. Globalisation is the power of a superpower.
…“they did it, but we wished for it”. p.5 There is a symbolic dimension to it all
There is hatred amongst those on the wrong side of the global order, amongst those who live in poverty and starvation.
…”increase in the power of power heightens the will to destroy it.” p.7
America declared war on itself by becoming too powerful.
“The countless disaster movies bear witness to this fantasy, which they clearly attempt to exorcise with images, drowning out the whole thing with special effects. But the universal attraction they exert […] shows that acting-out is never very far away, the impulse to reject any system growing all the stronger as it approaches perfection or omnipotence.” p.7
The collapse of Twin Towers had the greatest symbolic impact. They collapsed on their own, committed suicide, joined in to “round off the event”. p.8
Terroristic situational transfer (p.9) is the only viable reaction to aggressive globalisation
…”forced the Other to change the rules.” p.9
Terrorism is everywhere, it is viral. Terrorism is globalisation fighting itself.
“With each succeeding war, we have moved further towards a single world order.” p.12
1st – supremacy of Europe and colonial era
2nd – Nazism
3rd – (cold war) Communism
4th – globalisation
…”for it is the world, the globe itself, which resists globalization.” p.12
Terrorism – immoral
Globalisation – immoral
Spirit of terrorism – all about the symbolic and the sacrificial death.
“Defy the system by a gift to which it cannot respond except by its own death and its own collapse.” p.17
“It is the tactic of the terrorist model to bring about an excess of reality, and have the system collapse beneath that excess of reality.” p.18
Terrorism – symbolic – martyrdom – paradise/hope in death
“In all these vicissitudes, what stays with us, above all else, is the sight of the images. This impact of the images, and their fascination, are necessarily what we retain, since images are, whether we like it or not, our primal scene.” p.26
“The image consumed the event, in the sense that it absorbs it and offers it for consumption.” p.27
“We might almost say that reality is jealous of fiction, that the real is jealous of the image… It is a kind of duel between them, a contest to see which can be the most unimaginable.” p.28
“And in this singular event, in this Manhattan disaster movie, the twentieth century’s two elements of mass fascination are combined: the white magic of the cinema and the black magic of terrorism; the white light of the image and the black light of terrorism.” pp.29-30
Essay 2 – Requiem for the Twin Towers
“The architectural graphism is the embodiment of a system that is no longer competitive, but digital and countable, and from which competition has disappeared in favour of networks and monopoly.” pp.42-43
“The violence of globalization also involves architecture, and hence the violent protest against it also involves the destruction of that architecture.” p.45
“They [the Twin Towers], which were the symbol of omnipotence, have become, by their absence, the symbol of the possible disappearance of that omnipotence – which is perhaps an ever more potent symbol.” p.51
Baudrillard, J. (2002) The Spirit of Terrorism. London: Verso.
Books reviewed and evaluated in relation to thesis work include ‘Modernity at Large’ by Arjun Appadurai, ‘Economies of Signs and Space’ by Scott Lash and John Urry and ‘The Tourist Gaze’, also by John Urry.
The Tourist Gaze
Globalizing the Gaze
As a result of technological developments, people have now been brought closer to each other than ever before. A kind of time-space compression has occurred through the use of mobile phones, television and the Internet, creating an ‘omnivorous production and consumption’ of space through remote images and sounds. Virtual travel is easier than ever before. Our imagination is easily assister (or restrained?) by images wired from the other side of the planet accompanied by unfamiliar voices and strange sounds. This virtual travel also stimulates physical, corporeal, mobility. We want to see and experience things directly. We want to see, though, smell taste the actual thing ourselves.
John Urry discusses this virtual/physical distinction, as well as the implications of virtual/physical tourism in his book ‘The Tourist Gaze’. Chapter 8 in this book, entitled ‘Globalizing the Gaze’, explores how tourism has become a globalised phenomenon and how cultures become commercialised, created and re-created in producing the convincing image of the ‘Other’.
There exists a dominant ideology of sight in contemporary Western culture. Western ideals have developed through a culture of image, including film, photography and other media. There is a sense of ‘what you see is what you get’, although looks can, of course, be deceiving. The significance of vision, hence also the gaze, has originated from the scientific method. A priori knowledge (reasoning) has gradually become considered inferior to posteriori knowledge (observation).
Constance Classen writes the following on the subject of sight in Western culture in her 1998 book ‘The Colour of Angels’:
“Modern Western culture is a culture of the eye. We are constantly bombarded, seduced, and shaped by visual models and representations, from maps and graphs to pictures and texts. This rule of sight carries with it a powerful aura of rationality and objectivity, even though many of its contemporary manifestations, such as advertising. seem designed to manipulate the emotions more than to exercise reason. The photographic nature of much of twentieth-century representation helps maintain this aura of objectivity by appearing to provide the viewer with direct access to reality, rather than only mediating reality.” (p.1)
Being part of a culture often necessitates corporeal travel. In order to see sacred sites, read sacred texts, gaze upon sacred objects or take part in sacred rituals rather than looking at their representations in photographs or videos, bodies have to physically move through space.
Corporeal travel, the physical movement of bodies in space, has become a core component of modern life. Whether it is the daily commute to work or holidays in South East Asia, we often assume mobility to be one of our rights. Urry identifies a ‘nomadic quality’ of contemporary social life, embodied for example in the Sony Walkman - a device designed for listening to music whilst on the move. This device was, of course, soon followed by advanced mobile phones, mp3 players, laptops, iPads, Kindles etc. Most everyday facilities are today designed to be carried around on the body. Expectations are to eventually carry them within our bodies.
The modern corporeal travel has produced a number of bi-products. Architecturally significant are the so-called ‘non-places’; train stations, air ports, ferry terminals and the like. These spaces are not seen as destinations, but represent the ‘pause’ before the tourist moves on. Of course, these locations are more than non-places to certain people. For example, employees at these hubs experience close relationships to them.
Further bi-products include the vast production of images, icons and the mediatising and circulation of them. As Urry explains, tourist experiences are primarily visual. Our gaze orders and regulates what is presented to us. It defines and identifies the ‘Other’. Sight sacralisation, the way an object is turned into a ‘sacred site of tourism’ occurs through a series of stages. Mechanical reproduction of souvenirs and images is one of the most important. Repeatedly seeing images of the Eiffel Tower makes the icon seem more important and it turns into a destination.
Urry does acknowledge the importance of other senses in ‘The Tourist Gaze’, but maintains that vision is the most important one. Visual consumption has become an everyday commodity in the society of spectacle where we travel to and pay to enter through the gates at sites of visual stimulus. The creation of the ‘hyper-real’ is the physical manifestation of vision’s triumph over the remaining senses. In these simulated places with exaggerated visible features, fake objects appear more real than the original.
The interconnectedness between tourism and culture is strong in today’s mobile world. Not only tourists (or worshippers) travel, but so do objects, cultures and images. Tourists travel to cultural sites to witness the ‘Other’ culture and reinforce their own identity. The culture of film can necessitate corporeal travel in order to experience sites through the ‘mediatised gaze’. This gaze occurs at sites where scenes or aspects of a mediated event can be relived, ‘seen with one’s own eyes’. Such sites include Hollywood, Disneyland and the Bradbury Building.
Urry also touches on the development of so called ‘dark tourism’ (thanatourism), the travelling to former war zones, concentration camps and areas hit by natural disasters or nuclear fallout, or as the Institute of Dark Tourism Research (iDTR) at the University of Central Lancashire puts it: ‘Dark tourism is travel to sites of death, disaster, or the seemingly macabre’. Urry refers to a couple of books on the topic, including ‘Dark Tourism’ by John Lennon and Malcom Foley (London: Continuum, 2000).
Dark tourism is an aspect of Urry’s book that ties in closely with my thesis work. Although gaining in popularity, it is not strictly a modern phenomenon. Professor Tony Seaton cites a number of attractions including graves, prisons, and public executions and, in particular, the battlefield of Waterloo to which tourists flocked from 1816 onwards in his 1996 article ‘Guided by the Dark: from thanatopsis to thanatourism’.
Why are we attracted to scenes of death and disaster? Is it way for us to come to terms with our own end? Is it because we only truly appreciate beauty once it has been destroyed? Is it a morbid kind of satisfaction, ‘better them than me’? Does it all originate from jealousy? Or are we simply adrenaline junkies looking for another high?
Urry indirectly offers one explanation of what disaster films (and dark tourism) attempts to do. He explains how public perception of nature gradually changed over an extended period of time. As a familiarity with nature developed through expeditions and adventure trips, descriptions of nature changed from ‘a wild, frightening beast’ to ‘alluring, picturesque scenery’. Is this what disaster films try to achieve? By allowing the audience to visit dark, frightening places (in the comfort of our own home and the pause button within reach) can we familiarise ourselves with these places and make them appear less frightening?
Maybe it is just another way of identifying the ‘Other’ in order to reinforce our own identity. We have not been hit by an alien invasion/hyper resistant virus/environmental disaster. Yet.
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Classen, C. (1998) The Colour of Angels. London: Routledge
Seaton, A.V. (1996) ‘Guided by the Dark: from thanatopsis to thanatourism.’ Journal of Heritage Studies. Vol 2(4) pp. 234-244.
Urry, J. (2002) The Tourist Gaze. 2 ed., London: Sage
All Over the Map
Michael Sorkin was born 1948, in Washington, D.C. He is a Distinguished Professor of Architecture and has taught at numerous schools including the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, the Architectural Association, Yale and Harvard. He is currently Director of the Graduate Urban Design Program at the City College of New York, but still lectures around the world and has written several hundred articles in a wide range of both professional and general publications. Sorkin is also the Chair of the New York Institute for Urban Design, a non-profit organization that provides a forum for debate about contemporary urban planning, development and design. Moreover, he runs his own practice Michael Sorkin Studio.
Sorkin’s latest publication ‘All Over the Map’ is a chronological collection of 76 medium length articles written between 2000 and 2009. The majority of articles were originally published either in Architectural Record, Sorkin’s 2003 book ‘Starting from Zero’ or Harvard Design Magazine. Most chapters take the form of essays, but there are a few exceptions. One chapter provides a diagrammatical analysis of the Pritzker prize winners and juries. Another is a 62 point instruction on how to enter a building, Sorkin’s satirical commentary on increased building security. There are hardly any images, and the few times Sorkin presents his own work it is always in the form of a drawing. The book presents no photographs of any finished projects.
Sorkin’s style of writing is frank and to the point. He is strongly opinionated and things are either black or white. People are good or bad. He either hates or loves them, and he is not scared of making his opinion known. As he writes in his own introduction; ‘I’ve bitten quite a few hands, many of which, it turned out, might otherwise have been feeding me. Nevertheless, architectural flesh always proved tasty to me, and the urge to chomp has continued.’ A consequence of this subjective style of writing is the blurring of boundaries between objective fact and subjective opinion, demanding a critical approach to his work.
Although the content of the 76 chapters is very diverse, some overarching themes are identifiable. These include the importance of public realm and the social implications of architecture, mainly in relation to Ground Zero, security and the right to freely assemble, his dislike of Philip Johnson and Rem Koolhaas (who seems to be nothing but his arch enemy) and his love for Jane Jacobs.
Sorkin dedicates the majority of his writing to the controversies surrounding 9/11 and the Ground Zero design process. Since he lives and works near Ground Zero, he was personally affected by the attacks and tells stories about how he took long detours around imagined threats. The chronological articles provide a constantly developing account of the design competitions. Controversies surrounding the decision makers are carefully analysed, leading Sorkin to ask who truly decides what is to be built; the competition jury, the general public or Larry Silverstein.
Sorkin analyses a number of proposals for Ground Zero, but spends little time debating the actual designs of the buildings. Instead, he questions the very idea that new buildings must replace the lost ones. Furthermore, he observes a problematic lack of suitable space dedicated to assembly in New York and emphasises that the situation has worsened after the 9/11 attacks. His own proposal for Ground Zero, Liberty Square, is therefore simply an open public space encouraging peaceable assembly.
Philip Johnson is portrayed as an anti-hero, a committed Nazi sympathiser and cynical player of power games. The chapter entitled ‘My Last Philipic’ compares the life of Johnson with that of porn film maker Russ Meyer, claiming that both made ‘enduring, seminal contributions to the ironic, vaguely pornographic, and deeply kitsch sensibility that has become one of the major markers of our contemporary creativity’. Johnson’s contribution to American architecture is never acknowledged.
Sorkin goes on to include Johnson in an imaginary story prompted by Philip Roth’s novel ‘The Plot Against America’. Roth describes how Charles Lindbergh becomes a pro-Nazi president in 1940, and Sorkin subsequently imagines Johnson embracing the regime. In a plot including Henry Ford and Walt Disney, Johnson designs Disneyfied, remote identical towns for Jews and black people, all mass-produced on Ford’s famous assembly line. This particular essay was originally published in Emmanuel Petit’s 2009 book ‘Philip Johnson: The Constancy of Change’, considered the first in-depth study to follow Johnson’s death. This publication potentially makes Sorkin’s essay an ironic tribute to Johnson, rather than an offensive critique.
If Philip Johnson is Sorkin’s villain, Jane Jacob’s is his hero. He argues that her success originated from knowing both what she was attacking and what she was defending. Jacobs’ ability to understand and describe the interaction of the social and physical components vital for rich community life has deeply influenced Sorkin’s writings. He references her book ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ on a regular basis, especially in connection with the redevelopment of Ground Zero. He demonstrates how numerous redevelopment projects evoke Jane Jacobs’ principles; the importance of the street and its life, the advantages of short blocks, the need for density and a mix of uses. He describes how her principles are crudely simplified and distorted to suit the developers’ own needs. The more genuine spirit of Jane Jacobs, he argues, is therefore found in the opposition to these projects.
The last chapter, entitled ‘Eutopia Now!’ was originally published in Harvard Design Magazine. It examines the development of utopia in city planning from Plato to contemporary Science Fiction via Joseph Stalin and Karl Mannheim. The latter describes planning as the “rational mastery of the irrational”, a description Sorkin believes also applies to psychoanalysis. Dreams, therefore, are similar to cities in that they are constructed from the concrete, but the familiar is constantly changing from our interaction with it.
Jane Jacobs’ version of utopia is introduced to this chapter through Patrick Gedde’s urbanisation of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s theory of evolution. Social heritage, Gedde claims, could be passed down through generations; envisioning the future cannot be done without accounting for its past-in-present. Jacob’s utopianism, builds on Gedde’s theory. She bases her argument on two components. The first component implies that the good city must be a self-organising system. The second, morphological, component is her prescriptive utopia of form, with origins from Greenwich Village. Sorkin does not consider this pre-existing element of Jacob’s utopian model as a problem, despite previous objections to realisation of utopian ideas. Instead, he says, her nostalgia is a kind of utopia in itself.
Concluding the chapter is Sorkin’s own manifesto, a 12 point guide listing the qualities of Eutopian Cities. Heavily influenced by Jacobs and Ebenezer Howard, he argues for equitable, body-based, diverse cities where social interaction, accessibility and sustainability are in focus. Sorkin makes the important distinction between U-topia (ideal place) and EU-topia (better place) arguably due to the tainted history of utopian architectural ideas previously discussed in the chapter. The ethos of his manifesto is present throughout the entire book and ties its diverse content together to an organised whole.