“Manhattan is an accumulation of possible disasters that never happen.”
Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York_ A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan
The Fall and Rise of Pennsylvania Station represents the entire Island of Manhattan in a sense of reality waiting to be deconstructed and eventually transformed. This dynamic conception of architecture brings architecture to its limits and perhaps all architecture rather than being about functional standards is about love and death.
Commissioners’ proposal for Manhattan Grid, 1811 divided the island of Manhattan in 2,028 blocks, making conceptual speculation. In spite of its apparent neutrality, it implies an intellectual program for the island that claims the superiority of mental construction over reality. The Grid’s two-dimensional discipline generates undreamt-of freedom for three-dimensional fantasy.
The city becomes a mosaic of episodes, each with its own particular life span. Each block is covered with several layers of phantom architecture in the form of past occupancies, aborted projects and popular fantasies that provide alternative images to the New York that exists.
The reconstruction of the Penn Station takes place in a series of episodes, where the imagination of disaster takes over the real story. Considering that there is nothing like the thrill of watching expensive sets come tumbling down, the making off process will be recorded, so it can be seen after the episode.
Since all Manhattan’s blocks are identical, a mutation in a single one affects all others as a latent possibility. That potential also implies an essential isolation:
No longer does the city consist of a more or less of a complementary urban fragments- but each block is now alone like an island, fundamentally on its own and the Stage is the place where time, space and event exist independently.
Only when they come together an instant of continuity is conceived. In the stage the narratives of the story are seen fragmented, composite sequences may be linear, deconstructed, or dissociated creating a composition of succession of frames-shoots that confronts spaces, movements, and events, each with own combinatory structure and inherent set of rules (scale-contrast-isolation-conglomeration, the world within the world…)
From these givens, the future can be extrapolated forever: since the exterminating principles never cease to act, it follows that what is refinement one moment will be barbarism the next. We can explicitly link the cinematic spectator with a traveller among ruins; the cinema both creates and feeds on the ruins of earlier notions of space, perception, and movement. And there is this moment when we don’t now anymore what came first, the film or the reality: architecture influence on film as much as film influences architecture.
Lang’s film benefited from the work of Eugene Schufftan, a pioneering effects artist who would later move into cinematography. He had invented “the Schufftan process” — which involved using mirrors to seamlessly combine actors, full-sized sets and miniatures — for an abandoned production of Gulliver’s Travels.