Ta prohm in grob-angkor. Image: erik-jan ouwerkerk
The eerily edifying demise of cities
Those who separate the urban architectural scenes of video and computer games from the unity of time, space and action will consider them to be pure fantasy. The city of the future is at "factory fifteen" compiled from billowing honeycombs of housing that contradict any rational tectonics. The residential order is open upwards and to the underground. In the light of antique lanterns cows rest as representatives of absent residents. The townhouse seems to have swallowed the moon, which illuminates the pale night blue of the wall folds. One city away, the residential silos of the conceptual artist daniel dociu rise up like houses of cards made of mirror-like cracked glass, into which they can crash at any time. And the tower of babel is built in ever new variations. What is raised on one side collapses on the other.
It is rearing to be able to return from the fantasy to the bright, dark day, in which contradictory things do not collide so immediately and threaten to drag us down. But if, according to stanislav lem, what is virtual about virtuality is precisely that it is indistinguishable from reality, then it is impossible to return to it. Unless we dream of having returned to reality. Or is the reality itself the dream? The city of the future1 is not a pipe dream. The future is already there. And it is still.
Cows graze in front of the ta prohm temple in angkor/cambodia. From the walls, like from a medusa’s head, grows the giant sausage fig. Or is it the tree that holds the wall?? Grob-angkor was a historical megacity, angkor wat the world’s largest temple complex. The khmer empire experienced its bleeding between the 9th and the 20th century. And 15. Century.
Scholars argue about the reasons of the downfall. Was it invasion, was it intrigue, was it rebellion? A very modern hypothesis is added: climate change. For the rice cultures, the rulers had huge dams and irrigation systems built, a "wonderful mechanism for regulating the world". Precisely because of their dimensions, the complexes were not able to cope with the sharp alternation of droughts and rainy periods. Walking in the real ruins of such civilizations puts one in a semi-awake state of limbo. We are practicing the gesture language that we use in "smart city" will be needed to communicate with technology. Free of physical touches. Dozens of such cities are already being established in sud korea. The more technical the city, the closer the promised garden of eden comes. The only real thing about such paradises will be the expulsion. And the story starts again.
Sausage fig at the temple ta prohm. Picture: fornges
The animators of the virtual age are making use of the trumps of civilization to transform them into visions of the future city. Kowloon, a wild, illegal district of hong kong, also serves as a model. The houses grew frighteningly high until the government had to intervene and evacuate the residential population.
The near-catastrophe was clearly due to human action, but in the long list of causes of urban submersion there are also natural ones such as volcanic eruptions or epidemics. But only the realization that human and natural causes are intertwined gives an insight into what could have happened. In africa, urban regions are decimated by aids. What is the human factor, what is the natural factor??
Venice could become the new atlantis. The sinking is accelerated by anthropogenic influences – quite obviously when the maldivian capital, for example, is threatened by a rise in the sea level in inverse proportion. If the causal chain reaches over the atmospheric warming up to the melting polar caps? Again the scholars argue. Is this dispute a symbol of the unpredictability and unplannability of urban development?? Earthquakes or volcanic eruptions – putting pompeii into the shock of petrification – are due to nature. But are they not in relation to a lack of foresight?? Are cities the scene of tragic spectacles: seeing into ruin without being able to react?? Then sweep up and gather strength for re-foundation.
Museum of ordos-kangbashi. Image: chaloos
But what if a city is founded and no one moves there?? This is what happened in ordos in inner mongolia. Since 2004, a retort city is being built in the steppe near genghis khan’s headquarters, which is to accommodate a million inhabitants in the final stage of development. Everything is there, in the center a 1.5 km long square on an artificial lake, shopping centers, swimming pools, a futuristic library and a museum that looks like a beached whale. The residential buildings embody an inner-chinese colonial style, if there is such a thing. There are no residents and no traffic, even if it is controlled by police officers.
Kangbashi: central square with opera house. Picture: chaloos
The dead silent ghost town embodies wealth and nothing else. At the turn of the millennium huge natural gas and coal deposits were discovered. The small old county seat was merged with the new town of kangbashi, 25 km away, to form the new administrative unit of ordos. The city decided to put its assets into real estate development on its own territory, otherwise the proceeds would fall to the state. In a web of public-private corruption, investors appropriated the apartments in kangbashi, but no one from the old city wanted to move there. Whoever smiles at this speculative city, will be lost with the bursting of the next real estate bubble.
Coal, war and crotes
Utopias came into being around the french revolution "floating islands" auf, losgelost vom festland, um auf ihnen die gluckliche ordnung einer idealstadt zu grunden. There is such an island in the sea off nagasaki. For an american submarine it was a mirage of a battleship. It took them under fire. Gunkanjima (battleship island) is hashima’s nickname, less than 1 km long and a beacon of industrial boom and bust. Acquired favorably by mitsubishi in 1890, at its peak 400.000 tons of coal demanded annually underground. That was in the second world war. Korean and chinese forced laborers were used. 1.300 of them died, escape by swimming was futile.
Hashima, also called gunkanjima (battleship island). Image: nina fischer maroan el sani (from the video installation "spelling dystopia")
But in the beginning there was a model city. A nine-story reinforced concrete building was a novelty in 1916. Housing density became an art form of building: 835 inhabitants per hectare crowded into the labyrinth. The tatami mat; the mab of all homely things in japan, was multiplied by six, and out came less than 10 square meters of rough housing for workers. But everything was there from brothel to hospital. By overburden the "concrete island"2 expanded. The supply came completely from the mainland. A water pipeline was laid in 1957. At that time the workers became pioneers in the use of television and cow cupboards and got acquainted with vegetation by growing vegetables on rooftops. 1974 was the end. Erdol turned hashima into a ghostly post-coal city. The exodus took place overnight and the tables were set with love. Things were abandoned by their masters. They became "pure", being for itself. The reification of the island was at the same time the abolition of domination. Labor emigration was the price.
Hashima to become a world heritage site. Image: nina fischer maroan el sani
Hashima is the background for mangas and for the blockbuster ‘battle royale’, an end game among schoolchildren. The real endgame took place in pripyat. The standard socialist city disintegrated into a dystopia, a hell on earth. It is almost forgotten, or better forgotten, that in 1989 three reactors of chernobyl were started up again. The city, however, which originally hieb atomograd, remained – finally? – even if the school, supermarket and apartment building paradoxically defied the invisibility of the danger through natural and sensual decay. The people did not succeed. But the descendants also keep the material fetishes. One of them returned to pripyat to get the tower of his apartment, where his father had been laid out. Den zynischen kommentar dazu liefern filmtitel wie "return of the living dead".
Pripyat near chernobyl. Photo: alexandr vikulov
Acts of war are the most frequent reason for the evacuation of cities. When the inhabitants of varosha in cyprus fled from their homes to escape the turkish occupation, they loved to hang their washing on the line. They were soon to return. The hope now lasts 38 years. The fact that the famagustas district, developed for vacationers, is located by the sea, has attracted antediluvian creatures. Rare sea turtles breed on the deserted beach in front of the skyscrapers. Vacation resorts can also be transported to the afterlife without wars.
The fiberglass ufo apartments in san zhi/taiwan missed the demand market from the very beginning. During construction there were several deaths. The legend said that the spirits of the deceased lived in the houses, which forbade further occupancy. In 2010, however, the city had been razed to the ground.
Varosha / famagusta. Image: s. Ward
Shrinking was the main theme in the usa and europe until the renaissance of cities, the growth through reurbanization. From the car city of detroit "temporarily stored" half of the city was depopulated, until the youngest pioneers of space discovered the wasteland for themselves at affordable prices. The survival code is urban farming. The ie of demolition is not off the table in europe. In the state of brandenburg, models are on the drawing board for abandoning both city districts and rural areas and regrouping the rump population into new urban clusters. Because the fewer inhabitants are attached to the communal supply networks, the more unprofitable they become as prices rise.
In centralia/philadelphia, poisonous hot vapors still flow from cracks that suddenly open up in the ground. In 1962, a fire had broken out in a coal mine. Human cause or self-destruction? Human action, such as there is no worse, so completely wiped out a community in france that repopulation failed to take place. In oradour, ss troops suspected captured officers. They massacred all the inhabitants they found, including women and children. Such cruelty nevertheless encloses a "bose nature" a. From the disinhibited perpetrators the victims are transformed into creatures that are razed to the ground. Picasso’s guernica shows the horror.
From the gentleness of the end
300 km of trams ran on high stilts above the caspian sea. They ended up in platforms. Like tentacles they stretched up to 30 km around the center of neft dashlari. In 1949, the soviet union built one of the world’s first offshore facilities for up to 5,000 tons of water.000 workers. 16 dormitories were built for them. Thanks to the alternating shift, two workers could share one bed. In the mood of departure came the bolshoi theater. Virgin-robed ballerinas floated above the oily broth fed from numerous leaks. Among the working spectators were many released convicts and soldiers.
The center of neft dashlari is built on submarine rocks. Picture: thin line productions / marc wolfensberger
When the party had a political "instructor" when the soviet union was looking for a new owner for the artificial island, the male functionaries refused. Klavdia fomina jumped in and still lives there, in the hermitage between mobile stove and cardboard boxes. While neft dashlari was a thriving community in the 1970s with a coarse library, grunt plants and even a lemonade factory, today it looks like a metal graveyard. Only more blunts stick out of the water. And klavdia liked to be buried there. But like on hashima, one single utensil is missing: a cemetery. Natural deaths do not pay in industrial utopia. Neither did the accidental ones.
Today’s azerbaijani neft dashlari has not recovered from the fall in oil prices after the fall of communism. As a post-oil city, it has turned into its own monument. Those responsible see a future alternative as a vacation home. The filmmaker marc wolfensberger was allowed to enter the forbidden zone. At the end of the shooting for his stirring documentary film he felt like "a bit like in the south of france. The sea is nowhere near as dirty as it used to be, and when the wind blows, you can barely smell the ol. It is a beautiful place. You have the impression that you are at the end of the world."
the party called, and klavdia fomina was on the spot, on neft dashlari. Image: thin line productions
The end of the world does not have to be an apocalypse. It can already be. The memento mori of the ruins holds hope. The decay is a defensive spell against decay. There were mannerist or romantic times when ruins were built or painted at once. Simulating decay, they are a signal of survival. You get ahead of the decay. Ruins are, on the one hand, a monument to the futility of building arrogant human communities: vanitas. On the other hand, they give a glimpse of eternity: roma aeterna. Vegetables were grown among the ruins of the sinking ancient city.
The tower of babel is in brueghel a work erected to trumps. It carries the disintegration in itself. If the civic society, instead of exercising compulsion to integrate and identify, accepted its inherent disintegration as a moment of self-reflection, it would become more sustainable. The tower of babel is a critique of accomplished architecture. The ruins of the tower mediate between the finished and the decaying, the aspiring and the falling, the artificial and the natural, as between virtuality and reality. It makes absence visible. Between no-more-being and not-yet-being.
If architecture, as understood by the land-art artist robert smithson, thematizes its own disappearance as a bottomless utopia, then all that remains to be done is to take up its remnants, wastelands and glooms, to finally begin to build unfinished and temporarily. Lasting even.