Comments for March 18th readings

Koolhaas leads us through the city holding a very personal light. He is a citizen observer and yet a practitioner. All three texts are polluted by the very mundane details of architecture practice; gypsum wall boards, steel stud connections, HVAC ducts route. But Hell is made out of details. He knows, he has obviously been to Hell. This dual personality of his allows him to lift a veil on the urban experience of the everyday citizens.

Do you need the architectural eye to observe the decay of space? I guess to us it is a constant sty but for most citizens, it is just a recurrent but punctual conjunctivitis. Older generations often complain about the cities decline but it is mostly in nostalgic terms. Cheap décor is the plague. Gyproc condos. Although Koolhaas’ ”Notes to architects” in Junkspace reminds me that a lot of architects are part of it, almost embracing it.

(Koolhaas’ metaphors are sometimes delicious. Postmodernism bashing is a ton of fun to read.)

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5 Responses to Comments for March 18th readings

  1. City without Context – Generic

    We live in a world where everything we ever needed to know can be found at the tips of our finger. Being original and different is becoming harder and harder to achieve in this day and age where people are easily influence by one another, and where even being different is normal. All these symptoms lead to the formation of the generic city, which can be found all over the world, through globalization. Almost every city in the states has the same restaurants and coffee shops on their street corners, and it becomes harder to tell the different cities apart, they all start to look like each other. The generic city originated from the development of technology, and people’s realization to abandon what does not work and start over. The best example of this can be seen in Toronto, the city is growing at an exponentially high rate, however, the city is no different from its sister counter parts in the US, and it is very easy to get lost in the city because each street looks just like the last.
    The quintessential notion of the generic city is the atrium and its void space. The atrium was re-invented by John Portman, and his intention was to revive the downtown core, which at the time (late 1970s) was ailing all over America. What he had not anticipated was that his creation would eventually be copied and recreated in most generic building types, such as shopping malls, creating an increase in urban sprawl, the de-centralization of the downtown core and the creation of multiple quasi-downtowns, introducing multicentric cities.

  2. cambedard says:

    Koolhaas’s texts are a declaration of love to postmodernism. Polarities are mutually seduced and, from their passionate embrace, the postmodern city is born. The old mingles with the new, the local with the global, nature with culture. Among such irresolvable couples, a certainty prevails: in the future, the center will disappear, and so will the periphery. Indeed, Koolhaas argues that Atlanta has realized the prophecy of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City: the American continent has become an endless urban condition, without beginning or end. In “The Generic City,” his description of the eroding rural America refers to an infectious condition, which will slowly but progressively and assuredly absorbe the rural landscape.

    Koolhaas’s postmodern condition is one of isolation and cacophony, fragmentation and anarchy. Cities are no longer united through design and planning, but rather atomized. The city of tomorrow is vertical, its towers like notes on a musical staff : a note on its own reverberates a single sound, but when all notes are played together, harmony or cacophony is heard. For Koolhaas, harmony is not essential, he seems rather pleased with dissonance and tensions that emerge from it.

    In his postmodern writing style, Koolhaas contradicts himself constantly. He praises cacophony yet argues that the Generic City is one of eerie calm. His texts are dense, his writing is breathless, aggressive, dogmatic. Urgency is crouching under his short sentences, syncopated enumerations and astute metaphors. Nonetheless, he admits this sense of urgency quite straightforwardly in “The Generic City” with his point 11.10 : “Postmodernism is the only movement that has succeeded in connecting the practice of architecture with the practice of panic.” Citius, Altius, Fortius: build faster, higher, and stronger, otherwise the city of tomorrow will turn to rubble.

  3. tsouthcott says:

    Koolhaas’ texts read like a stream of consciousness, punctuated by provocative observations about the condition of the contemporary City. He writes from the vantage of the informed observer – Atlanta is his case study – an outsider trying to make sense of what is ‘the real city’ at the end of the 20th century. But how outside is he – Koolhaas, architect, urbanist, theorist? His scathing review of the contribution of John Portman, architect, developer, inventor of the modern panopticon, disurbanist to the world, seems disproportionate to the power he typically affords the architect in the making of Junkspace and the Generic City where the architect is mere facilitator, “the former megalomania of a profession contracted to manageable size”. John Portman has struck a chord with Koolhaas’ conception of the profession through his thoughtlessness, or lack of theoretical framework in his work. Koolhaas describes his expectations for the profession of architecture by what John Portman is not, where architecture has become ‘the systematic application of the unprincipled’. Is it a celebration, or a call-to-arms, an annotation or a manifesto?

  4. Ashleigh Huza says:

    Junk space describes the shape and form of our environment today as a result from the many years of “piling matter on top of matter, cemented to form a solid new whole”. Our society has literally been built over throughout the generations – it could be said that our buildings have been designed for short term use which have been substituted by new ones which together form the ‘additive’ layers of building and demolition. How does this reflect our society? Does it represent our disposable society? Our deficiency of long term planning? Or the incessant need to create money?

    The generic city, Koolhaas explains, is modeled after the airport. Similar to airports the generic lacks identity; it has no past, no future and no distinction. Koolhaas contends that the generic city is ‘a city without qualities,’ a condition that even highly unique cities could become, such as Paris. Koolhaas explains, “the generic city is the city liberated from the captivity of center, from the straightjacket of identity. […] it is nothing but a reflection of present need and present ability, the city without history”. When reading this quote I can’t help but think of the periphery municipalities off the island of Montreal. In recent years, some of the areas west of Montreal have developed rather quickly, catering to the needs of the new influx of residents. Vaudreuil, in particular, has sporadically developed shopping complexes adjacent to one another over the last decade. The result is a rather inconsistent site combining both the notions of junk space and generic city.

  5. yfaras says:

    In his derisive critique of Portman, Koolhaas argues how atrium typology has contributed to the proliferations of “distributed downtowns” : “With atrium at their private-mini centers, buildings no longer depend on specific locations. They can be anywhere. And if they can be anywhere, why should they be downtown”? But perhaps the most interesting and unsettling legacy of the atrium-experiment, as noted by Gwendolyn Wright is its consequence on the nature of the urban experience. As noted by Wright these buildings created “two architectural and urban realms, one inside and carefully packaged, the other outside and left to decline”; This critical viewpoint on the nature of atrium-buildings is very similar to Jane Jacobs’s scathing criticism against Le Corbusier’s radiant city and its effect on the removal of the urban-life from the streets and sidewalks, which become deserted as a consequence.

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