“Manhattan is an accumulation of possible disasters that never happen.”
Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York_ A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan
We don’t know when our sense of reality began to fray. We don’t know when we have lost or interest in it, but at some point it was decided that reality was not the only option that it was possible, permissible, and even desirable to improve on it; that one could substitute with a more agreeable product. The replacement of reality with selective fantasy is a profitable American phenomenon. Glorifying the unreal over the real with the reinvention of the environment as themed entertainment.
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 mental constructions based on fictional experiences.
Baudrillard has outlined a progression by which this disengagement occurs, and by which a disassociation between representation and reality is produced. He has argued it begins with a representation that is a reflection of reality; moves on to the perversion of that reality when the original is no longer present, and finally ends with the simulacrum, a form of representation with no further relationship to the original.
‘Everything is destined to reappear as simulation, you wonder if the world itself isn’t advertising a copy for some other world’
What the perfect fake or impeccable restoration lacks are the hallmarks of time and place. Wiped out all the incidents of life and change. There is nothing left of the journey from there to here, nothing that palpably joins the past to the present, that makes direct physical and emotional contact with the viewer.
The imaginary boundary between any fictional work and its audience is called the fourth wall. This wall is originally situated at the front of the stage in a traditional three-walled box, through which the audience sees the action in the world of the play. Just by breaking this wall, which is considered a technique of metafiction, the audience can penetrate the boundaries normally set up by works of fiction and take consciousness of the unauthentic reality we have started to inhabit. To be able to break the wall, an alienation effect needs to be provoked, so the audience can no longer have the illusion of being the unseen spectator of the event, which is really taking place. By disclosing and making obvious the manipulative contrivances and “fictive” qualities of the medium, the actors alienate the viewer from any passive acceptance.
This effect of making the familiar strange serves a didactic function insofar as it teaches the viewer not to take the style and content for granted, since the medium itself is highly constructed. But the particulars of a spectator’s psyche and of the tension aroused by a specific alienating device may actually increase emotional impact.
By contrary, the acceptance of the transparency of the fourth wall is part of the suspension of disbelief between a fictional work and an audience, allowing the observer to enjoy the fiction as if they were observing real events. Umberto Eco, also continuing in this conceptual framework, has suggested that in America, in particular, things that look real become real even if they never existed. Real cities are now often imagined, built, and articulated based on reel experiences, where the essence of architectural space appears free of the functional requirements, technical restrictions and limitations of the professional conventions of architects. The architecture becomes a direct reflection of mental images, memories and dreams.
The architecture of the mind takes place in a real fake space created in a very specific stip of Manhattan, where the rail lines nourished the city’s past-present and future. The conquest of the region was possible only after the railroad conquered a number of geological, technological, and engineering hurdles: the ability to overcome rivers, silt, and bedrock; to harness electricity to power trains; and to build tunnels underwater. The Pennsylvania Sation changed the law of nature; it annihilated the water barrier and reshaped the landscape of New York into a continuous network of rail connections, creating a complete fake environment, with an artificial sun, computerized weather systems,…
One of the most visible aspects of the strip cityscape is its use of dramatic architecture. The designation means they have features that do not exist elsewhere in the world but inside the strip. The stip is conceived as a bounded island landscape, a convenient analytical box for investigating cultural and biological change. The things that appear here do not belong to reality. They are copies and distortions
that have been ripped out of time and jumbled together. These objects and places simply do not resonate. They are mute. They are hollow history. It is this resonance that gives an object “the power to reach out beyond its formal boundaries to a larger world, to invoke in the viewer the complex, dynamic cultural forces from which it has emerged.” Stephen Greenblatt. The real world is only one of the many possibilities that can be moved back and forth; the game would remain incomplete if one were to accept reality as a finished product. The ruins of the universe are stored in warehouses for sets, representative samples of all periods, peoples, and styles. In order for the world to be shown on the screens, it is first cut to pieces in the film city space to accomplish the American desire to reconstruct urban experience to achieve an ideal past, and an hyper real reality.