Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Without Space, They Can't Hear Us Scream

Model of the Nostromo, Alien (1979); Model of proposal for Tiananmen Square Extrusion (2012)

For those in Hong Kong, I have a series of architectural models at the Saamlung Gallery, in a group show there called "No One Can Hear You Scream." The show takes it's title from the tagline of the original 1979 film Alien"a primal scene in its graceful collapse of science fiction and a broader spatial concern, and it is this possibility--space as something generated by a cultural object." My contribution for the show is a series of modest proposals, three of which I originally made as large scale foam core models for a show about public space in March of 2001. The fourth proposal (shown above right), of nine Freedom Towers transplanted from New York's WTC site to Beijing's Tiananmen Square, I've never shown before. With the help of my friend and fellow scifi geek, the architect Otto Ruano I was able to recreate the original models (long ago destroyed) as well as realize the fourth, all as 3D printouts based on CAD models (the future is indeed awesome).

While my proposals have nothing to do with scifi, and were instead inspired by minimalist art and a very real concern about the waning of political space in American cities (which I will write about elsewhere), in the spirit of the show I thought I'd share my projects here alongside images, culled from Gavin Rothery's awesome blog, of models built for the original Alien film. Because, just as the gallery notes in their statement about the show, "All space is future space, and all space is fiction."

Alien (1979); Installation (2012)

Invulnerable Spaces:
For the past forty years American urbanism has been characterized by an obsessive inbuilding; a spreading horror vacui. Anxieties over mass assembly have, in part, been expressed as increasingly heroic divisions and enclosures. Our public lands have been leased, loaned, exchanged, and given away to developers who have transformed our commons into destinations for shopping and other commercial amusements. What these quasi-public spaces do not provide, are opportunities for our body politic to move en masse.
Alien (1979); Penn Station Superblock proposal model

Midtown New York, Penn Station
The vast interior of the original Penn Station was intended to evoke awe in those arriving into New York and to embody the city’s ambition and importance. Like its nineteenth-century predecessor, my proposal for Penn Station will likewise celebrate the ideals and optimism of New York and create a heroic entrance to the city. I propose to alter a substantial area of Manhattan in order to create a large open plaza free of any sort of obstruction or division. The project will make a wholly contemporary urban statement by giving over one of the city’s last important areas of open land the public. By extending the horizontal grade from Eighth Avenue between Thirty-first and Thirty-fifth Streets, and then gradually stepping down toward the water as a tiered extension over the Hudson River, an unprecedented open plaza can be created. Trains and terminals will be contained beneath this plaza. Most traffic will also be diverted below the Plaza, creating an underground area for through traffic. To avoid isolating the plaza, streets and avenues will be altered to provide gradual approaches to its plane from all sides as well as a two-tiered system of streets and avenues. This will create a level around the plaza for pedestrian as well as local and cross-town traffic and will provide much-needed relief for the express and tunnel traffic that now congests this area.
Alien (1979); World War II Memorial Superblock proposal model

Washington DC, World War II Memorial
This proposal for the National Mall in Washington, D.C., would remove a 300 foot cubic volume of earth at the east end of the reflecting pool to create a deep shaft with sides of dressed stone. This massive aperture would be covered by a steel grate of sufficient strength to support a dense concentration of people. At the bottom of this shaft would be rushing water, flowing west toward the Lincoln Memorial. I propose to honor the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous 1963 address on the Mall. That day, the crowd was orientated west making explicit this site’s importance for expressing core national principals: in the first instance, the country’s founding as a republic under Washington, representing a turning away from monarchy and, secondly, Emancipation under Lincoln which guaranteed freedom and equality as a birthright for all Americans. The day King made his “I have a Dream” speech, the crowd looked to a future that in many ways began with and extends from these choices. By evoking how that speech turned the nation while at the same time preserving the Mall as a stage for Americans to stand together and demonstrate against injustice, I hope to represent the generation of WWII as making a third fundamental choice. Like Independence and Emancipation this generation’s resolve to oppose fascism and injustice can be celebrated without breaking the historic physical and symbolic connection between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
Alien (1979); Guggenheim Superblock proposal model

Downtown New York, Guggenheim Plaza
I imagine this proposal for a Guggenheim Plaza on piers 9, 11, 13, and 14, below the Brooklyn Bridge on the East River, as one element of a larger park ringing Manhattan. My proposal is meant to follow in the footsteps of earlier efforts to shape city life, like New York’s Central Park. I am proposing to drop the South Street Viaduct (an elevated expressway) below grade and create a 400,000-square-foot riverside plaza with an unobstructed entrance from downtown Manhattan on top of these piers. Boston has faced the fact that in order to revive its waterfronts it must remove the elevated highways that have acted as barriers throughout the city. New York should do the same. These highways act as a fire wall, isolating the waterfront from the crowds only a few blocks away. Connecting this plaza to the city by moving the South Street Viaduct is the most crucial part of the design.
Alien (1979); Tiananmen Square proposal model (2012)

Beijing China, Tiananmen Square 
I propose building nine Freedom Towers on this underdeveloped site. Each tower would follow the SOM design, and have a bombproof cubic base 200’ X 200’ X 200’ of “impenetrable concrete.” The towers will then rise another 1150’ and finally, sprouting from a circular support ring “similar to the Statue of Liberty’s torch” will be tall radio towers for a total height of 1776’. These 9 towers would fill the entire 38 acre square, allowing only narrow grid of open space for traffic – a “win-win move for development.”2 The duel premises, that large unbroken urban spaces are fascist marching grounds in some essentialist way and that freedom can be “represented” (rather that expressed) by bombproof architecture, can be simultaneously tested by this proposal. 
Alien (1979); Detail of Tiananmen proposal, Monument to the People's Heroes in foreground

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