What Is In the Dead Center of Your Town?

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.

Helsinki Cathedral, downtown Helsinki. Constructed 1830-1850

Helsinki Cathedral, downtown Helsinki, Finland. Constructed 1830-1850

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.

Kamppi Mall, downtown Helsinki. Constructed 2002-2006 (also serves as a subway/bus station)

Kamppi Mall, downtown Helsinki, Finland. Constructed 2002-2006 (also serves as a subway/bus station)

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.

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4 responses to “What Is In the Dead Center of Your Town?

  1. I share your view that malls may be the modern monuments and buildings that quite often are built in the centres. But I think there may be also a more secular explanation. It may also be that not commercial transactions as such are placed to a pedestal but it is the monetary value. A building site is sold to an organisation that is capable in paying the highest price. Very often they are commercial enterprises.

    I have one example in the Helsinki centre which we may even regard shameful. The main post office building in Helsinki centre was built in 1938 in honour of the year when Finland Post had its 300 anniversary (Finland Post was established in 1638). But some 10 years ago the Postal Headquarters was moved into Helsinki suburb and the building was rent to enterprises, because they could pay higher rent.

    So it may also be that in the future some of our holy places look similar than today but are totally different inside.

  2. In my opinion, we fill our city centres with those things that we value the most in our current society. This goes for all eras. At this moment, the most valued things are money and materia; this can been noticed in our city centres. Earlierthis thing was God and religion.

    The very interesting question is the one you’re posing: what will be the next thing? Could, for instance, our growing concern for the environment be reflected in the city centres in the future? Could cities become more green; not just the architecture but the whole city planning?

    I must tip you about an interesting article on this topic 🙂 http://www.theecologist.org/pages/archive_detail.asp?content_id=2484

    PS. I also draw a parallel from a preach speaking in a church to a commercial heard from the megaphones in today’s shopping malls. Are those commercials our present-day religious sermons? What does it say about our state of development?

  3. Hey thanks for your comments, Juba and Emilia! I’m new to blogging and get so excited when people have interesting opinions to contribute to the discussion!

    Such stories as the post office building, I believe are frequent all over.. nothing to be ashamed of, only a sign of the times. Like you said, Juba, today we give away the best sites to whoever pays most. We’ll see if that changes during our lifetimes? 🙂

    It’s funny you mentioned the environmental planning and green cities, Emilia. Literally minutes from your comment I published my newest post about tropicalization of London. Thanks for the article tip, too!

    Regards /hanba

  4. I think the most striking monuments are those that utilize the “white space” of a crowded urban environment. Central Park is probably my view as to what is the best “center of our town monument” you can think of.

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