On Urban Distortions
It is not at all difficult at this stage to support the lack of validity of a term such as city. Both the loss of spatial content of the subject city and its overcoming by supranational bodies of economic nature drive us to conceive the urban context as a radically diffuse magma. Contemporary metropolises have ceased to be space to become condition, jointed as social form by consumer goods. The idea of thinking about the city as a “place” becomes more and more anachronistic when we pay attention to the multiple local-global type relations and interactions (movements of capital, of goods, of images, of information) that define the development of a certain global social order which indirectly determines the life conditions of practically all the nations of the earth.
We tend to think of this new city more and more as a line of flight, as a significant posthistoric void, a meeting point for discontinuous intensities that relentlessly question the modern conception of the city as a living, mutable and evolutionary organ. It is impossible to hold the organic-evolutionist model against the drive of a non-linear reality which models in the same manner both the urban context and our way of perceiving it according to global mechanisms that escape us and whose structuring principle is, despite everything, worldwide capitalism.
These processes of metropolitan gathering are inevitably associated to the generation of new urban dimensions which are difficult to classify. We are witnesses in the most developed areas of the industrialised world as well as in the underdeveloped world – where it is more noticeable – to the appearance of disintensified areas which, at best, pass before us unnoticed. These deserts (which are as much spatial as they are social) are the result of the lack of political interest of our advanced societies.
In this juncture the role of the architect is no longer that of the visionary messiah of modernity holding with as much firmness as unconsciousness the destroying mallet of technological development. The architect has now turned into the mere administrator of huge resources (following the orders of politics which are almost always trivial and obsolete) whose clever innovations will allow, at best, the pseudo-intellectual aesthetic enjoyment of a reduced number of people who share his/her same beliefs. It is worrying to perceive the literality with which the contemporary architectonic practice embraces the impunity of capital in search of a certain creative freedom.
When Virilio poses the question of whether space can do without cinema, without the special effects of the communication machine, he abruptly pushes us, once the architecture- sculpture age has been overcome, towards the age of “cinematographic facticity”. A new form of show architecture which immediately links us to the last generation of junk culture. The public is a transvestite of the private, reality of fiction, symbols yield their place to codes. It is a new context in which advertising and corporative language prevails as the essential modeller of social behaviour and profoundly modifies the nature of relationships. Graphic design sets itself as the new technologies guru, even to the point where the meaning of the city is moved towards a commercial.
Far from leading us to any kind of moral judgement, the ascertainment of this new form of existence forces us to redefine our strategies. Once the impossibility of overcoming capitalism, of producing a new truth that will overthrow it, is assumed, we face the challenge of carrying out a new reading of our surrounding world. As opposed to the rationalist ideas of overcoming and progress, a distortion is suggested, a new way of being established. Just as Scott Brown and Venturi invited us to look at Las Vegas out from curiosity and lack of prejudice, we try to reflect on the new contemporary metropolis. Only through the analysis of these deserts and apparently waste realities will we learn to channel the enormous possibilities offered by this productive muscle which even today stresses above all a suicidal feedback.
Ben Castro Terán (Basurama).
Translation: Natalie Gómez Handford and Ana Fernandez-Caparrós Turina