Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Retroactive Manifesto's

Manhattan as the built representative of the American dream. The land were everything is possible and success is within everybody's possibilities. "Manhattan is the theater of progress"...

Rem Koolhaas gives not only a retroactive manifesto for Manhattan in his Delirious New York. He also looks closer to the very base of what American metropolitan culture is about. Manhattan is seen as a laboratory for a new "American" lifestyle in which the architecture "could be pursued as a collective experiment in which the entire city became a factory of man-made experience. where the real and the natural ceased to exist."


After the discovery of Manhattan in 1609 by Henry Hudson the project of Manhattan starts by the urbanist knowledge that is taken with from the European continent. Europeans moved to the new continent to chase their dreams and hopes for a better life. America had to become the utopian Europe and thus the European paradigms regarding urbanism where the base of the colonization movement in America. Illustrative is the engraving by Jollain of New Amsterdam, one of the first pictures of the new continent going round in Europe, where he depicts not the reality of Manhattan but of the project of Manhattan, the ideal image.

Image: Jollain, engraving of New Amsterdam, 1672

It is the first time the dream, or the mental construction, claims its superiority over reality. This is one of the essentials that will continue through the whole process of making Manhattan and is also of essence in comprehending the foundations of American culture.
Koolhaas illustrates this in various ways:

The concept of Coney Island as escaping the enervations of urban civilization in Manhattan, which eventually leads to Coney Island as a big theme park, a collection of dreams far away from the physical reality of Coney Island.
An urbanism is created that is based " on the New Technology of the Fantastic: a permanent conspiracy against the realities of the external world. It defines completely new relationships between site,program,form and technology..."(p62)

The Manhattan Skyscraper. Koolhaas says: " It represents the fortuitous meeting of three distinct urbanist breakthroughs that, after relatively independent lives, converge to form a single mechanism: 
1. the reproduction of the world , 2. the annexation of the Tower, 3. The block alone" (p82)
The reproduction of the world essential means dreaming of a vast collection of different realities. This idea is presented as the 1909 theorem, a slender steel structure that supports 84 horizontal planes. Each of the planes is seen as a virgin plot in which a new dream of reality can be created.

Image: the 1909 theorem, Delirious New York p83, Rem Koolhaas

Through this concept an endless range of possibilities and uncertainties emerge. Architecture is becoming less an act of forsight but more and more dreaming of possibilities within  the given framework. the birth of congestion.

Lobotomy. "In Western architecture there has been the humanistic assumption that it is desirable to establish a moral relationship between interior and exterior." p100
In a Skyscraper this relationship is impossible to keep. More and more interior surface has to be presented by exterior until a certain point where this get's impossible. this break is called "Automonumentality". The everyday life is going to be hidden behind the facade, the cardboard image of the building. Koolhaas talks about Henri Erkins "Murray's Roman Gardens" (p 101-104), where the architect makes an interior that reconstructs a Roman residence. Instead of thinking about new paradigms interiors are recycled, converts and fabricated memories and dreams that register and shift metropolitan culture.

The 1916 Zoning Law and the Culture of Congestion.
"The Zoning Law describes on each plot or block of Manhattan's surface an imaginary envelope that defines the outlines of the maximum allowable construction"
"the 1916 Zoning Law defines Manhattan for all time as a collection of 2,028 colossal phantom houses that together form a Mega-Villlage."
The 1916 Zoning Law was seen as a design document, where the legally allowable was immediately translated into reality.
The person of Hugh Ferris will play a very important role in the continuation of materializing the dream images of reality. In the 1920's the renderer of big architecture firms, a job created to seduce the public. With his charcoal interpretations that are essentially suggestive smudges that give no detailed view of the projects he has to depict he creates what Koolhaas calls "the Ferrisian Void".
man inside the Ferrisian void, Hugh Ferris
The Ferrisian Void is an architectural womb that gives birth to the consecutive stages of the Skyscraper in a sequence of sometimes overlapping pregnancies, and that promises to generate ever-new ones...Manhattism is concieved in Ferris' womb." (p117) The dream of never-ending creation of endless realities continues.

In his ficitional conclusion Koolhaas describes in beautiful abstract way this American idea of the dream, the endless possible realities, and the suppression of physical reality by the projected reality. In the City of the Captive globe he says :" The City of the Captive Globe is devoted to the artificial conception and accelerated birth of theories, interpretations, mental constructions, proposals and their infliction on the World. It is the capital of Ego, where science, art, poetry and forms of madness compete under ideal conditions to invent, destroy and restore the world of phenomenal Reality. Each science has his own plot...All these institutes together form an enormous incubator of the World itself; they are breeding on the globe."(p294)

Madelon Vriesendorp, the City of the Captive Globe
Where lies the end of this city of dreams? How does Brooklyn deals with this?

Source: KOOLHAAS, Rem, Delirious New York, Monacelli Press, New York, 1994, 320 pp.