The BOX is the latest link in a chain of reiterations of the city.
MANIFEST DESTINY & THE GRID
If America was Europe’s testing ground for a new form of city built on tabula rasa on which to test urban potentials, the solution to the experiment was the birth of MANIFEST DESTINY; the belief widely held by Americans in the 19th century that the United States was destined to expand across the continent. “A sense of mission to redeem the Old World by high example.”
MANIFEST DESTINY found form in the GRID.
The GRID, through its abstraction, presents an ambivalent relationship between perception and reality. On the one hand it is an ordering of reality, on the other hand it is the mode of withdrawal from reality. [Krauss gives the example of the window where the GRID becomes a screen – a window is experienced simultaneously as transparent and opaque. If the window is a matrix that allows for transparency, the grid is what helps us focus on this matrix.]
Whilst Europe retroactively measured its existing cities to provide a basis for the definition of the official meter, America had already anticipated the mile as its base for the trace of a colossal urban grid. MANIFEST DESTINY embraced an all pervasive, all encompassing, infinite GRID. Imbued with a mission of progress and unlimited faith, the GRID’s role was elevated from a marking of measurement to the formal basis of new settlements.
LIQUID MODERNITY & THE BOX
Zygmunt Bauman argues that “unlike the culture of the nation-building era, [our culture] has no ‘people’ to ‘cultivate’. It has instead the clients to seduce.” We are no longer interested in proceeding West with our mission, there is no MANIFEST DESTINY. “Today’s culture consists of offerings, not norms… culture lives by seduction, not normative regulation; PR, not policing; creating new needs/desires/wants, not coercion.” Bauman calls this new state LIQUID MODERNITY.
If, accepting Bauman’s thesis, nations have become marketplaces and the citizen is the ultimate consumer, the highest marketable value of a city would be its exclusivity.
LIQUID MODERNITY yearns for an ENCLOSURE, and finds form in the BOX as opposed to the GRID.
The BOX forever reversed the relationship between the container and the contained: now what is contained is engineered to fit the container, rather than the other way around.
The BOX is the ultimate embodiment of the GRID as CONTAINER, it is the ENCLOSED GRID.
If the GRID neutralises and unifies, the BOX creates differentiation and bias. If the GRID acts as the glue that binds disparate objects, the BOX breaks the glue.
Tracing a limit, or defining an ENCLOSURE, refers back to the primordial form of establishing a settlement. Cities have been historically defined as an enclosed space demarcating the limits of inclusion (cities are built on the assumption that the members of the group have something in common with each other) and exclusion (that this thing held in common distinguishes them from the members of any other possible group).
With any enclosure, the psychological and symbolic effects have to be infinitely more powerful than the physical appearance – exemplified in Koolhaas’s documentation of the Berlin Wall. Not all enclosures are necessarily visible – some exist only in the “eye of the beholder”.
Hegel famously said,
“History will forget any race that fails to erect a border fence around a territory which it claims as its own.”