What is left of the past in our cities? – Of course there are exceptions, but many old monuments in our cities deal with human religious or metaphysical needs. Many towns and villages have their holy places in the center, be it temples, shrines, churches, mosques, or stupas. Of course, there are the really special cases, such as the Pyramids or Macchu Picchu. The list is endless. These buildings remind us of what was important at the time they were built.
What do we build today in our city centers? Take a moment to think about the latest building projects in your community. What are the central monuments of our time?
Secular times have given rise to secular monuments. The last years before the financial crisis hanba followed the rise of malls all over the Western world with reservation. The malls seem to be the modern monuments. They have been given the best real-estate in the middle of our cities. Our cities! The centers of our cities have great cultural importance. The buildings we erect in the middle of our cities have a great impact our daily practical lives, our social lives, our cultural, spiritual and metaphysical needs.
The malls are where many of us congregate in busy days, both weekdays and weekends. To escape the elements, the citizens take cover under air-conditioned walkway plazas, perhaps indulging in a refreshing smoothie. When in need of reassurance, a modern citizen may buy a new sweater. A great example is Hiroyuki Miyake’s ice cream parlour in Tokyo. Here, the ice cream experience has been upgraded into something solemn, meditative. Do not get me wrong, while I do not condemn consumerism as such, I oppose placing the shopping experience to a pedestal – upgrading commercial transactions into sacraments. Having said that, however, I do not think we should build any more mastodont cathedrals either.
What to build then? All the suffering aside, the financial crisis may make us think more about this very question. The mall era, I believe, has come to an end ( hanba is not the only one to have this view.) I don’t know what kind of places we revere after the crisis. I don’t know how our future holy places will look like, but I think it will be something different. -What do you think?
Ps 1. Writing this, I am reminded of a recent review of a new Westfield mall in London, England by William Wiles IconEye 19/12/2008
“Maybe Westfield will prosper, draining money and life out of the surrounding boroughs. It could be the shape of things to come, an air-con, CCTV-covered future where we swan about amassing Nectar points on our ID cards. Or, alternatively, it could be a dinosaur with the poor luck to be born after the asteroid strike. Westfield’s timing, of course, could not have been worse, with the UK already in recession and joblessness soaring. We’re not likely to see another debt-driven retail boom like the one that birthed this beast any time soon”
Ps2. Check out the next hanba post, tropicalizing a city, where a vision for post-mall urbanism is discussed.