Girl Singing in the Wreckage
In all the recent 'what do we do now?' articles that have pervaded the architectural press and blogs (including myself here), aside from the recognition, made with varying degrees of rancour and schadenfreude that the 'radical' architecture of the boom merely provided ideology via titanium cladding, there has been something missing - the question of what, if we take literally (as we should) Walter Benjamin's claim that every epoch dreams its successor, is going to follow the spaces of neoliberalism? Given that this collapsing order has no obvious successors, and given also the likely spiralling effects of climate change, or the endless war that 'unipolarity' will generate, the chances are at least strong that it will look like we have dreamt our successors in the form of nightmares. The always reliably apocalyptically gleeful Socialism and/or Barbarism has a few intriguing and/or terrifying suggestions, posited in his dialectics-via-giallo idiom as the first in a series of 'apocalyptic notes'. He argues for an aesthetic that, abandoning the shininess of cyberpunk and the consolatory pleasures of steampunk, he calls 'salvagepunk'.
Salvagepunk seems to start from what is probably the best mini-encapsulation of architecture during the boom, at least in the sub-primed/credit-crunched Anglo-Saxon economies - this short post at the FJ, which notes that there has been a weird reversal of Modernist and autopian dreams of mobile cities, houses that can be erected and dismantled at will, the lineage that goes from Frank Lloyd Wright through Mikhail Okhitovich through to Archigram, so that while capital has become completely decentred, moving through a network of 'offshore' and non-state sites where it can avoid sordid earthbound neccessities such as tax (cf also China Mieville's essay on the executive floating cities of neoliberalism for Evil Paradises), the thing which sparked off the inevitable crash was the most blandly grounded architecture imaginable - the vaguely vernacular boxes that, from Indiana to Hertfordshire, 'solid', brick-built, traditional, being sold to those who were in no position to join the 'property-owning democracy'. The result has been that, with appropriate dialectical logic, 'finance itself has taken on the dreams of boundary-less freedom we might once have wished for ourselves, while we have invested all our desires and more than we earn in staying put, staying home.'
So the response by comrade Calder-Williams to our stasis and their deterritoriality is to embrace a cranky, broken and dilapidated version of the Walking City, one which is more based on Howl's Moving Castle or Mad Max than Archigram's proto-Monty Python surrealist Disurbanism, a sort of pragmatic apocalypticism where the leftovers of advanced technologies are used in a debased form, montaged together via 'bits and pieces, rags and bones' into new constructions rather than created ex nihilo, or in harmony with nature via the pieties of sustainability. This all strikes me as being a fine first draft for a new (dis)urbanism, if it didn't have that faintly terrifying, survivalist air. I still find the idea that mess is something we should embrace rather than something imposed upon us unwillingly to be a little dubious, as I remain overly attached to the Modernist jingle of 'clean living under difficult circumstances' - but I look greatly forward to the next parts of this projected series...