“Manhattan is an accumulation of possible disasters that never happen.”
Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York_ A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan
The City as a Theatre
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. The site embodies Manhattan continuous cycle of cannibalism and consequently rebuilding; by building – destroying – remaking – recycling…this dynamic conception of architecture brings architecture to its limits and perhaps all architecture rather than being about functional standards, is the result of mental constructions that have taken over the reality in a continuous loop between reality and imagination. The artificial two-dimensional order of the city creates undreamt freedom for three-dimensional anarchy.
We don’t know when our sense of reality began to fray, but at some point it was decided that reality was not the only option, that one could substitute with a more pleasant product. Selective fantasy replaced reality as a more profitable American cityscape. This Phenomenon generates the city’s identity, glorifying the unreal over the real with the reinvention of the environment as themed entertainment. ‘Everything is destined to reappear as simulation, you wonder if the world itself isn’t advertising a copy for some other world’_Baudrillard
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 City Filmstrip
The city becomes a filmstrip 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. A single mutation on a building block affects all others as a latent possibility. One of the most visible aspects of the strip cityscape is its use of dramatic architecture.
The strip 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 are mute, hollow history. The real world is only one of the many possibilities that can be moved back and forth; the city 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 a hyper real reality. Far from a prior reality the city itself is a construct of the parallel projected hard and soft fictions of architecture and film.
The Fourth Wall
The imaginary boundary between any fictional work and its audience is called the fourth wall. Breaking this wall is considered a technique of metafiction, were 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. By contrary, the acceptance of the transparency of the fourth wall allows the observer to enjoy the fiction as if they were observing real events. Umberto Eco, has suggested that in America, in particular, things that look real become real even if they have 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 turning the filmstrip into the city itself, isolated from time and space.