Architecture of Cruelty


18-09-20 07:38:00,

Van Gogh was most creative during the autumn and spring, I remember reading somewhere, because a radical shift in the weather was exhilarating. This shouldn’t mean you should look forward to leaves changing color, however, or even exuberant flowers smearing their sassily obscene palette on your tumescent eyeballs. Stop playing with yourself, dude. Da Vinci noted, “He who looks forward to spring is looking forward to his own death.” You’re only allotted so many grains of sand, sunsets, departures and whiffs.

There’s a brisk wind this morning. Summer is almost done. On Zdravka Čelara, two women are taking their sons to school. Although the boys are old enough to hump their own backpacks, these negligible burdens are slung over their mothers’ shoulders. The trim kids are dressed in cheerful shirts, pants, socks and shoes, and their svelte moms are similarly colorful, a rebuttal to the gray and beige concrete of nearly all the buildings glowering and glooming over them.

You know you’re in Eastern Europe when you see all these monstrous, brutalist blocks that enclose most citizens still. In the US, similar buildings existed to warehouse welfare blacks, mostly, but nearly all have been torn down. After two miserable decades, the 33-building Pruitt–Igoe in St Louis was dynamited in the 70’s. Its architect, Minoru Yamasaki, is best known for the Twin Towers, also purposely pulled. What should be his epitaph, I wonder?

I blew? They blew me? They blew me because I blew?

On my first visit to NYC in 1979, I zoomed up to the observation deck of the World Trade Center. It was astonishing to look down on such a thicket of lesser skyscrapers. I felt like Superman. With daily access to such a view, the novelty would wear off, I’m sure, and be overridden by more practical matters, such as the time needed to ride elevators up and down. Still, a worker there could clock out each evening. How many of us would care to live on, say, the 88th floor of any building?

Towards Midtown, in the hazy distance, were some of the most iconic and enduring NYC buildings, though Alfred Barr, MoMA’s first director, felt nothing but contempt for them, “Romanesque, Mayan, Assyrian, Renaissance, Aztec, Gothic and especially Modernistic—everything from the stainless steel gargoyles of the Chrysler Building to the fantastic mooring mast atop the Empire State.

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