Thursday, January 31, 2013


By: Jaime Correa

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find Roman ruins in America. This absence of a direct lineage to a great civilization generates a rootless culture which has been trained to think of its regional fields as a resolute vacuum of virgin lands, and of its cities as disturbances within pristine ecological mosaics.[1] The absent of a lineage coupled with the desire to modify every corner of a “virgin” world creates an urban disengagement and a desire for the idea of landscape to fill, rigorously, the ills of the present and the anxieties of the future. 

In a collective logic where cities are perceived as disturbances, branding operations force upon all of us a system of false characterizations about their urban content and that of the regional field. Somehow, we have been told that America is nothing but a conglomeration of: first, banal issues of geography -water, weather, mountains, canyons, or mesas; second, issues of cultural hybridization -Islamic mosques in New York, the so-called Miami “Cuban/Latino refuge”, or even Mexican food; and third, nostalgic recollections of small invented territories -represented by our invention of the concept of “historic neighborhood” and “historic architecture” or by the preservation of vast amounts of territories under the National Park System. This three-fold type of branding mechanism generates identification marks and regional atmospheres that have nothing to do with nature, art, or science and which can only be described as a commodity or as an excursion into a series of “themed environments”. America is no longer understood as a mosaic of natural regions but as a place of relentless sameness and absolute lack of distinction; a retrograde experience, in which all future interventions are not judged by their own merits but by their capacity to fit within the rules; a moment in time in which change and advancement are seeing with suspicion or denial.

Cities continue loosing population to their suburban counterparts; large areas of the region are paved over; huge pieces of public infrastructure are subjected to deterioration; economic development is taken prisoner by political figures looking after themselves; racial struggles find their own abode in the metropolis; fossil fuel dependency and environmental problems are a matter of fact; and, most importantly, decreased densities and extensive vegetation removal continue at an accelerated pace. Everything unfit to the branding slogans is pulled away from the political discourse; as a result, intelligent contemporary proposals never see the light of the day unless they show up, by choice or by default, as part of a natural catastrophe, as part of a shameful political scandal, or when inflexible post-Fordist development practices reveal our current human isolation, our dependence on fossil fuels, and our absence of alternative infrastructures.

In the midst of these circumstances, urbanism plays a secondary role; an inferior position in which design, science, art, myth, and poetry are no longer the lens through which new building disciplines can emerge; a minor job where tourism, recreation, destination entertainment, preservation, real estate development, civil engineering, political games, traditional recollections, and racial struggles replace the unique metaphysical possibilities of a discipline in search of new modes of description, scholarship, and discourse.

[1] See McHarg, Ian L. Design with nature. John Wiley and Sons. 1992.

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