antediluvian urbanism

Any view of what has come to be known as urbanism by western architects, has to confront from the first, its own view of its origin, no matter how apocryphal or mythical this origin might be. Aspects of the philosophy of the western world, most particularly those which reflect upon its status viewed against other cultures, proceed comparatively and ethnocentrically, from a view of itself as the antediluvian garden of Eden. From this perspective the terms for the production of an effective urbanism, an urbanism which might embrace emerging cultural, economic and political contexts at the end of the twentieth century, and which might confront the consequences of the much vaunted global market place is always and already contaminated by this insistent archetype. It can be no surprise therefore to find that architectural urbanism, where it has any credence at all, adopts, by default, the revisionism of a medical metaphor by which such an archetype is unremittingly reconstructed through projected acts of prognosis, surgical removal, prosthetic addition and contrived aesthetic healing.

The medical metaphor is neither innocent nor benign here. Incited by an aesthetic addiction to completeness, wholeness, and Gestalt, architects conceive the city as a latent pictographic figure always prior to a projected but ultimate consummation. This metaphor masquerading as a altruistic contextualism and as a liberal antidote to the poisonous centralisms of an un-reconstructed Modernism remains well within the intellectual orbit of the Modernist agenda. The very idea that the complexities of the metropolis can be solved by means of a formal revision of its material mass alone and from a single aesthetic perspective, fails to dispense with the preoccupations of what might be called an oppositional Modernism in which a singular vision, a single aesthetic idea, whether stylistically Modernist or not, offers a dramatic counter programmatic to solve the ills of the city at a stroke.

Singular visions which at present provide the only means to sustain a feeble and thoroughly a-social avant-gardism, such as it remains within the tawdry pages of indistinguishable trade magazines, also provides the means for a continuous rehabilitation of the indifferent work of the rank and file through an inured and incorporated plagiarism. Indeed so much is the avant-garde ‘s desperate economy, not to say its implicit Faustian objective. Collage, neo-suprematism, neo-rationalism, deconstruction/ism, fragmentation, complexity, affiliation, folding; are all singular visions of the oppositional type and remain always and already commodities played as counters in a game of signature and brand peddling.

Within this frame any material engagement with the terms of urban reality, in its fullest sense, is automatically condemned as of secondary importance with respect to the construction and promotion of a partial, intrinsic and self referential economy of ideas. Consequently, any urbanism which accepts the structural changes to economic reality at the end of the twentieth century and conceives alternative formal strategies to conceive the contemporary city, will find itself entirely excommunicated from this holy economy.

The territories of the contemporary metropolis are far too dense to be circumscribed by such a contrived commodification, no matter what its constitutive conceptual ground might be. Solutions to contemporary urban problems must be firstly economic and cultural, that is to say political. Traditionally of course this has always been the point at which the profession -both established and avant-gardist inclinations alike- has disconnected itself. By begging professionalism, architecture remains a disinterested service, condemned to merely elaborate rather than influence politically consequent ideas. As such its command of contemporary urban problems remains entirely formal, reductive and one dimensional.

If the achievements of a comprehensive post-structuralist critique of western values is to be taken seriously, that is to say, as effective. And if the political implications of this critique are assumed to be immanent, then notions which repeat the myopic singularities of an oppositional Modernist ideology, medically or otherwise, must be understood as weak at best, not to say entirely misleading, even politically dangerous.

The world is now comprehensively plural and increasingly global in its outlook, most certainly from the perspective of western Europe and the United States. An architectural urbanism which uncritically mimes a liberal exegesis at the expense of a recognition of immanent material reality not only lacks a future but constitutes the very counter force which will precipitate the permanent shift of urban speculation into other more apposite spheres of knowledge.


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