train of thoughts

December 18, 2006 Interpretation, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (0) 1031

The train I ride to work each day is lined with the lots of a changing city – buildings being built, demolished; lots cleared and cluttered again, landscapers, industries, condominiums and playgrounds. The “transformation” of the CHA and restorartion of the great landscape parks.

You see plenty of new buildings being built along the “L”, which makes sense because homes there have the added bonus of potential car-free transportation, the kind that soothes rather than angers the soul. The kind that allows you to write this down rather than listen to what some provocateur has to say and be further enflamed.

Watching these buildings being built I am struck by two things: First, the returned urbanism of the 3-flat and the 6-flat, the formal resurgence of building types and styles lost a hundred years agao and now back with a low-interest vengeance. There is a fat historical irony in seeing these things rise on lots knowing that very similar structures stood there in 1910 and were considered obsolete a generation ago.

The second thing that strikes me has to do with materiality. I watch a crane hoist drywall into the third floor of a new condo in Austin and the only thing I can think about is plaster, real, thick, sound-absorbing plaster, the kind I have always lived within. I think about wood windows that I have always lived within and the blank stares of those polyvinyl and silicon barriers that stare back at me on the “L”, so hopelessly, perilously thin.

There is a loss of materiality in our buildings today, even as we return to the images of materiality, the Renaissance-Revivals and neo-Victorians and the ubiquitous flailing of the Colonial-cum-Georgian, the zombie undead of American architectural styles. Like all styles, they are there to say something, and in this case they are lying. They are saying here is something with history and here is something that has permanence. But they are lying, especially now.

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