Monday, March 3, 2008

What Would Ayn Rand Say?

In one of the worst New York Times articles I've read, Nicolai Ouroussoff describes a new development that is being planned in Dubai. The project will consist of a six and half square mile artificial Manhattan. Artificial in the sense that the island is landfill, and also in the sense that they are copying the actual Manhattan. Oh, and throwing in one of those London egg-buildings. This will manifest architect Rem Koolhaas' unique and wonderful "generic city" concept. Koolhaas believes, "in its profound sameness, the generic city [is] a more accurate reflection of contemporary urban reality than nostalgic visions of New York or Paris." What better reflection of a generic city than...a generic city??

The article continues:

"The mixed-use project, startling in scale, is a carefully considered critique not just of the generic city but of a potentially greater evil: the growing use of high-end architecture as a tool for self-promotion."

Critiquing the generic city and self-promotion by building a generic city with your name on it - brilliant!

"The way Mr. Koolhaas addresses the island’s isolation raises the most difficult questions. If his island of densely packed towers evokes a fragment of the great 20th-century metropolis, it can also conjure its dystopian twin: a miniaturized version of a city of glittering towers built for the global elite, barricaded against the urban poor and its makeshift shantytowns. (Think of George A. Romero’s 2005 flick, “Land of the Dead,” with its menacing corporate masters peering down on a world of faceless zombies.)"

"But the thrust of his strategy is to turn the logic of the gated community on its head: isolation becomes a way to trap urban energy rather than keep it out."

Alright, I can't keep a straight face anymore. Koolhaas is turning the logic of the gated community on its head by building the world's largest gated community? And he's doing this by building it for Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, the guy who brags about building the first gated communities in Arabia?

"Whatever the answers, Mr. Koolhaas’s design proves once again that he is one of the few architects willing to face the crisis of the contemporary city — from its growing superficiality to its deadening sterility — without flinching."

So this is postmodernism for the profoundly lazy. Why bother to change anything about a concept you are critiquing? Just do the exact same thing and let New York Times columnists sort it out. So we come to my original question - what would Ayn Rand say? Koolhaas and al-Maktoum are realizing their personal vision. Their vision is to innovate by strict imitation. Undeniably a novel approach. Now that I think about it, this project has a lot in common with that George Romero movie. Both are poorly conceived, derivative, and boring. Both have facile justifications tacked on to massage their creators' egos. All they need now is Dennis Hopper. Sheik al-Maktoum, you can make it happen.

Yoggoth here - turning the logic of blogging on its head, challenging generic self-promotion, and facing the crisis of superficial sterility one post at a time.


Herr Zrbo said...

The British affectionately refer to that egg shaped building in London as the 'erotic gherkin'.

Nice pic by the way, very appropriate.

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