Plinths very much still in progress, but in the wise words of Georges “tonights the night” – going to focus on the line drawing this evening!
The City of the Captive Architect is devoted to the idea that we as architects can improve the world through design. The conflict within is that in order to believe this idea we become self-absorbed professionals losing site of reality.
Our story begins in Minoru Yamasaki’s office. Our young Japanese-American Architect shields himself from reality by engrossing himself in an endless drawing of the gridded-City. Each plot begins under extreme controlled conditions with a standardised plinth raising the building into an abstracted context away from unwelcomed truths. It is a space where philosophies and theories thrive through drawing.
To his left Yamasaki’s cherished Monograph encapsulates an idealised body of work glorified through a series of carefully selected models, photographs and essays. The Architect’s ego is articulated from the beginning as Yamasaki’s opening sentance reads “Architecture is a fascinating and unique profession that, in its ideal, combines function and beauty to create an atmosphere in which man can live, work and enjoy.” Supporting this statement is a hoarde of memorobilia taped to the drawing board, self-propoganda nourishing the Ego and framing the unfinished plinths that are still pure from the corruption of reality. Glorification through a series of awards, news articles and postcards, encourage our young architect to keep designing.
At the top of the gridded city newly drawn pristine plinths sit in limbo, waiting for their eventual fate. The reality of drawing and building differ greatly. Romanticised conditions fail and complex realities penetrate the plots, destroying theories, ideologies, social structures, and the eventually physical object. Fallen from the drawing board the older corrupted plinths lie out of view from the Architect, willfully forgotten by his ego.
The Ruin feasts on a paradox of utopian innocence and self-absorbed ego nurtured by the sterile world drawn by the architect. In a blind optimism the Architect’s hand continues to mark construction lines for the plinths that will create the ruins of the future.
Pruitt-Igoe, arguably Yamasaki’s most revolutionary project, sits awkwardly isolated on its broken plinth, dismissed by the architect. The monotnous high-rise housing scheme, which is today the epitomy of Social Ruin, failed due to a combination of flawed design and governence, leaving a trail of destruction in place of “progress”. Its demolition, immortalised through film and photography, provided precedent for high-rise estates over the world, instrumental in portraying what Charles Jencks called “The death of the Modern Movement”. Erased from the monograph, but not from history, it is curious that Yamasaki should obliterate one of his most famous and influential projects from his book, indicating denial of the ruin. But the ghost haunts the Ego as he writes “Those buildings not included…have of course been of benefit, acting as forceful reminders that we must do more carefully thought-out work on succeeding commissions.”
Towering over the Social Ruin is what has become Yamasaki’s most famous project – a building now engrained in minds world over, indistinguishable from its destruction – The World Trade Centre. The embodiment of Political Ruin.
Even though buildings are drawn on isolated plots in Reality the plinths do not exist independent of one another. The aeroplanes that flew into The Twin Towers departed from Logan Airport in Boston, where Yamasaki designed the now defunct Terminal A.
The sterile grid that has been intercepted by reality begins to showcase a chaotic array of different ruin-types.
Physical ruin through lack of maintenance, such as at the McGreggor Memorial Centre; to accidental ruin, for example The Military Records Centre in St Louis which burnt to the ground in an arson attack as no sprinkler system had been installed by request of the client; to ruin by natural disaster like the tornado that ripped through St Louis Airport; to urban-ruin, shown by the eventual demolition of The Quo Vadis Centre in Detroit, which lay abandoned due to the mass depopularisation of the city. The stories behind each of the ruined plots which Yamasaki tried so hard to distract us from become more captivating than the meticulous line drawings that the architect laboured over so intensely.
Finally we see the ruin of Yamasaki’s office, the space in which “the most significant architect of cataclysmic ruins of the late twentieth – and early twenty-first centuries” were designed. The drawing spills onto the floor, his office plinth trampled and ripped. Surrounding the drawing-board are unpaid bills, negative images and press recording the plinths downfall. We join Yamasaki on The Architects plinth. Blinded by the Catch 22 of Architect and ruin, we too fell victim to the drawing board, obscuring our view beyond.