I’m loving Concrete Park, fucking loving it. Not least because it’s got a map, and these geographies are so familiar:
Looks hell of familiar, as do the faces and the slang and the ways of being of most of the folks in these new graphic novels. The need to name them all off, to describe a wide cast of players and the power they wield over their little piece of the city they have built — a little confusing, but it makes it feel more real because of that I think. That familiarity again, the kind too many of our kids’ survival depends on as they navigate their city.
I was worried it was all a little too familiar, I mean, you imprison all these people from inner city LA and similar neighbourhoods from cities all over the world and ship them off to work as slaves in the ice mines and they reconfigure the gang culture they all grew up with. A little fucking sad of us, right? All that same old shit about turf and respect and power and product, like there’s nothing else for us. But a lot more mixed up, a crazy diverse slang that brings together hindi and arabic and spanish and cantonese and more because of how people were mixed up together working the mines and their loyalties shifted just a little…I love that, you know I love that. Still, there is initially nothing outside this world of gangs — both the good and the bad of them. The way they take care of their own, the way they kill each other. Nothing outside of them except cops.
It’s pretty descriptive of reality for a lot of kids, and some of those adults that keep wearing their tube socks up to their knees and their pants sagged and hobble up the hill home, their bones all tired from methadone. I guess all those veteranos died in the mines, or back on Earth.
Anyway, I like that Erika Alexander and Tony Puryear are writing something that will take us beyond that. Same old on a brand new planet — that’s how it starts. But all that’s about to be radically challenged by a world of crazy technology and older gods, older magics. It’s also about to run out of food and water, get cut off from its supplies and that looming environmental catastrophe is pretty damn familiar too.
And then from page one there’s been a voice calling for rising above all that shit, creating a new world better than the old. Is Chavez named after Cesar or Hugo or both? Is this voice on the radio talking up the revolution for good or ultimately evil?
Who knows, but damn I’m looking forward to the third book. Especially as the ladies are kick-ass in here, my only wish that they challenged a little more than white stereotypes of beauty. But I suppose it’s all right that everyone is hot … as is the website, with translations of the robot’s speech so you find the subplot, and the playlists, and the science behind it all.
Fergus Hume (1859-1932) wrote some of the most popular novels of his period, not excluding Arthur Conan Doyle. They aren’t quite so popular anymore, but easily found now that many are public domain. His most famous book was The Mystery of a Hansome Cab (1886 — and which supposedly inspired Doyle to start his Sherlock Holmes stories with A Study in Scarlet), but the particularly egregious samples of racism I’m exploring today are from The Green Mummy (1908).
It’s not all bad. I quite loved this…
“Oh, it’s all very well asking questions as can’t be answered nohow, my lady, but I be all of a mubble-fubble, that I be.”
“What is a mubble-fubble?” asked Hope, staring.
“It’s a queer-like feeling of death and sorrow and tears of blood and not lifting your head for groans,” said Widow Anne incoherently, “and there’s meanings in mubble-fubbles, as we’re told in Scripture.
My frustrated dreams of archaeology also mean I quite liked this too:
It is to be feared that Braddock was somewhat selfish in his views, but the fixed idea of archaeological research made him egotistical.
There are occasional other gems scattered throughout:
Like a geographical Lord Byron, the isolated village of Gartley awoke one morning to find itself famous.
But on to his view of women — it is not at all nice.
Thus Mrs. Jasher found no one in the drawing-room to welcome her, and, taking the privilege of old friendship, descended to beard Braddock in his den. The Professor raised his eyes from a newly bought scarabeus to behold a stout little lady smiling on him from the doorway. He did not appear to be grateful for the interruption, but Mrs. Jasher was not at all dismayed, being a man-hunter by profession. Besides, she saw that Braddock was in the clouds as usual, and would have received the King himself in the same absent-minded manner.
She’s not the only woman moved by material desires:
Donna Inez clapped her hands and her eyes flashed, for, like every woman, she had a profound love for jewels.
There is much more of the same, but it doesn’t quite compare to the racism reserved for the native of the Solomon Islands (Hume was born in England, but raised after the age of three in New Zealand, only returning to England after several decades).
One member of the Braddock household was not included in the general staff, being a mere appendage of the Professor himself. This was a dwarfish, misshapen Kanaka, a pigmy in height, but a giant in breadth, with short, thick legs, and long, powerful arms. He had a large head, and a somewhat handsome face, with melancholy black eyes and a fine set of white teeth…But the most noticeable thing about him was his huge mop of frizzled hair, which, by some process, known only to himself, he usually dyed a vivid yellow. The flaring locks streaming from his head made him resemble a Peruvian image of the sun, and it was this peculiar coiffure which had procured for him the odd name of Cockatoo. The fact that this grotesque creature invariably wore a white drill suit, emphasized still more the suggestion of his likeness to an Australian parrot.
1st – a mere appendage? 2nd – Kanaka — I know so little about this part of the world, I looked up the term and found this word’s connection with all the horrors and dislocations of Empire: (apologies it’s wikipedia, but for further exploration):
Kanaka was the term for a worker from various Pacific Islands employed in British colonies …. “Kanaka”, sometimes used as a derogatory name, …
They were most often indentured laborers. Cockatoo is really more a kind of slave, though apparently some kind of voluntary one.
Cockatoo had come from the Solomon Islands in his teens to the colony of Queensland, to work on the plantations, and there the Professor had picked him up as his body servant. When Braddock returned to marry Mrs. Kendal, the boy had refused to leave him, although it was represented to the young savage that he was somewhat too barbaric for sober England. Finally, the Professor had consented to bring him over seas, and had never regretted doing so, for Cockatoo, finding his scientific master a true friend, worshiped him as a visible god. Having been captured when young by Pacific black-birders, he talked excellent English, and from contact with the necessary restraints of civilization was, on the whole, extremely well behaved. Occasionally, when teased by the villagers and his fellow-servants, he would break into childish rages, which bordered on the dangerous. But a word from Braddock always quieted him, and when penitent he would crawl like a whipped dog to the feet of his divinity. For the most part he lived entirely in the museum, looking after the collection and guarding it from harm. Lucy—who had a horror of the creature’s uncanny looks—objected to Cockatoo waiting at the table, and it was only on rare occasions that he was permitted to assist the harassed parlormaid. On this night the Kanaka acted excellently as a butler, and crept softly round the table, attending to the needs of the diners. He was an admirable servant, deft and handy, but his blue-lined face and squat figure together with the obtrusively golden halo, rather worried Mrs. Jasher.
Captured, sold into slavery, his character fixed into the straight jacket of another too-common type — the savage who has become partially civilized through the influence of a white master he treats as god and would do anything in the world for. It makes me particularly sick to my stomach. The childish rages are par for the course as well.
Only the Kanaka was unmoved and squatted on his hams, indifferently surveying the living and the dead. As a savage he could not be expected to have the nerves of civilized man.
Lack of empathy. It’s curious how so much of the things attributed to to Cockatoo are clearly reflections of the white attitudes around him.
Let us move on to the Peruvians:
On a nearer view, Don Pedro proved to be a tall, lean, dry man, not unlike Dore’s conception of Don Quixote. He must have had Indian blood in his veins, judging from his very dark eyes, his stiff, lank hair, worn somewhat long, and his high cheek-bones. Also, although he was arrayed in puritanic black, his barbaric love of color betrayed itself in a red tie and in a scarlet handkerchief which was twisted loosely round a soft slouch hat, It was the hat and the brilliant red of tie and handkerchief which had caught Mrs. Jasher’s eye at so great a distance, and which had led her to pronounce the man a stranger, for Mrs. Jasher well knew that no Englishman would affect such vivid tints. All the same, in spite of this eccentricity, Don Pedro looked a thorough Castilian gentleman, and bowed gravely when presented to the ladies by Random.
Don Pedro and his daughter are partly redeemed by their Spanish blood, but I find this insistence on their love of colour as the trace of their barbarous past quite hilarious.
“Ha!” murmured the widow to herself, “then that accounts for your love of color, which is so un-English;”
Yet about Donna Inez there was the same indefinite barbaric look as characterized her father. Her face was lovely, dark and proud in expression, but there was an aloofness about it which puzzled the English girl. Donna Inez might have belonged to a race populating another planet of the solar system. She had large black, melting eyes, a straight Greek nose and perfect mouth, a well-rounded chin and magnificent hair, dark and glossy as the wing of the raven, which was arranged in the latest Parisian style of coiffure. Also, her gown—as the two women guessed in an instant—was from Paris. She was perfectly gloved and booted, and even if she betrayed somehow a barbaric taste for color in the dull ruddy hue of her dress, which was subdued with black braid, yet she looked quite a well-bred woman. All the same, her whole appearance gave an observant onlooker the idea that she would be more at home in a scanty robe and glittering with rudely wrought ornaments of gold.
The exotic other, just white enough to be suitable for fancying and even marrying. But still. More at home in scanty robes. Honestly Fergus Hume, I am ashamed of you.
More on the innate knowledge of the native, and the odd contrast with what a young woman might desire — for her perfect lover to outshine even such an expert:
“Cockatoo is much cleverer than the average white man,” said Braddock dryly, “especially in following a trail. He, if any one, will learn the truth. I would much rather trust the Kanaka than young Hope.”
“Nonsense!” cried Lucy, standing up for her lover. “Archie is the one to discover the assassin. I’ll see him at once. And you, father?”
And of course — and SPOILER here so you can stop reading if you really want to experience Fergus Hume’s The Green Mummy in its full — it is the native who is the violent one and the murderer, even if his brains were never up to planning everything. It turns out the archaeologist Braddock and Cockatoo are behind it all, and Lucy’s fiance is quick to disavow any blood relationship with Braddock. Given the gist of the whole book and its racist reasonings, that kind of criminality is as likely to pass down from father to daughter as any barbaric love of colour:
“Call him your step-father,” he said quickly. “No, dear, I do not think he will be hanged; but as an accessory after the fact he will certainly be condemned to a long term of imprisonment. Cockatoo, however, assuredly will be hanged, and a good job too. He is only a savage, and as such is dangerous in a civilized community.
Only a savage. This boy stolen from his family and his people, sold into slavery, brought to England, made to steal and kill.
“Chuck the mummy and nigger overboard and make for the ship,” he yelled, swimming with long strokes towards the boat.
This order was quite to the sailors’ minds, as they had not reckoned on such a fight. Half a dozen willing hands clutched both Cockatoo and the case, and, in spite of the Kanaka’s cries, both were hurled overboard.
He is hated by all, and thoroughly blamed for everything.
“I don’t quite agree with you, dear. Cockatoo’s innate savagery was the cause, as Professor Braddock did not intend or desire murder. But there, dear, do not think any more about these dismal things. Dream of the time when I shall be the president of the Royal Academy, and you my lady.”
In truth, that ‘But there, dear, do not think any more about these dismal things’ seems to be a common refrain in these stories. Over a hundred years later we are still hearing it.
I’ve been reading these old stories, like Arthur Morrison’s (1863-1945) Martin Hewitt, Investigator (1894) and it continually strikes me not just how very racist they were, but how varied they are in that. Nothing new there, I know, but it’s crazy reading them all the same. Thought I might start collecting strange racisms, maybe do something article-wise with them at some point because they are not just the narratives that have helped form common-sense understandings of race still existing today, but help show how they have shifted as well as the kind of ‘work’ they do — the exploitations and injustices they have made possible. I’ll just collect them for now maybe, though.
I’ve already started a little — the crazy view of the Chinese as the people of evil genius and immense imperial ambition is so evident in Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, then there are the stupid and slow and lustful Chinese dockworkers of Burke’s Limehouse Nights.
Arthur Morrison was a very different author, a man of the East End’s working classes who wrote powerful, and often nicely twisted stories of working class life there. After Tales of Mean Streets and Child of the Jago (both of which serve as a good counterpoint to Burke), I was looking forward to trying a little of his lighter detective fiction. Morrison lived by his journalism and writing, and was a better hack writer than most. Still, his Martin Hewitt stories follow in the mold of his contemporary Arthur Conan Doyle (who came with plenty of his own racism), complete with private detective and his sidekick who narrates the tales.
All was well, and fairly enjoyable until you reach story VII. ‘The Affair of the Tortoise’. This exposes a whole lot of vile beliefs about Haitians in particular, and probably Black folks in general. These tie in, of course, to the fact that Haiti’s revolution (beginning in 1791) was led by slaves and actually did topple to great extent the colonial and racist power structures. There’s some been written about how this incredible movement and period have been written out of radical history and into savagery, sterling examples of historiography like CLR James for one, Trouillot for another. After reading those, it’s interesting how some of the stereotypes they examine continue to emerge in detective fiction from the other side of the world, like Martin Hewitt, Investigator published in 1894. ‘Funny’ how deductive reasoning based on tiny details so often require prejudices and stereotypes to be true.
“Right! Well, here you are.” Hewitt reached an atlas from his book-shelf. “Now, look here: the biggest island of the lot on this map, barring Cuba, is Hayti. You know as well as I do that the western part of that island is peopled by the black republic of Hayti, and that the country is in a degenerate state of almost unexampled savagery, with a ridiculous show of civilization. There are revolutions all the time; the South American republics are peaceful and prosperous compared to Hayti.
We have here the savage. Hewitt is investigating what they believe is the murder of Haitian named Rameau, who fought with almost everyone else in the boarding house, and who killed the pet tortoise of another boarder when he flung it at his head. Hence the title.
But not everything is as it seems, and this because of the striking physical differences held as racist gospel between Black and white,
First, although there was a good deal of blood on the floor just below where the housemaid had seen Rameau lying, there was none between that place and the door. Now, if the body had been dragged, or even carried, to the door, blood must have become smeared about the floor, or at least there would have been drops, but there were none, and this seemed to hint that the corpse might have come to itself, sat up on the sofa, stanched the wound, and walked out. I reflected at once that Rameau was a full-blooded negro, and that a negro’s head is very nearly invulnerable to anything short of bullets.
Right. For a little more on the difference in skulls between the races, along with some unquestioning insults in everyday language:
“I suppose, then,” Nettings remarked slowly, like a man on whose mind something vast was beginning to dawn, “I suppose—why, hang it, you must have just got up while that fool of a girl was screaming and fainting upstairs, and walked out. They say there’s nothing so hard as a nigger’s skull, and yours has certainly made a fool of me. But, then, somebody must have chopped you over the head; who was it?”
Rameau is a stock-character cross between comedy and cowardice:
“My enemies—my great enemies—enemies politique. I am a great man”—this with a faint revival of vanity amid his fear—”a great man in my countree. Zey have great secret club-societies to kill me—me and my fren’s; and one enemy coming in my rooms does zis—one, two”—he indicated wrist and head—”wiz a choppa.”
Along with chopper-proof skulls we have the old stand-by of lazy and shiftless.
The would-be murderer had plainly prepared for the crime: witness the previous preparation of the paper declaring his revenge, an indication of his pride at having run his enemy to earth at such a distant place as this—although I expect he was only in England by chance, for Haytians are not a persistently energetic race.
At least Hewitt acknowledged he had enough brains to plan a little in advance.
Sherwood Anderson published Poor White in 1920, but it feels as though it is from an earlier era (and describes one sure enough). I haven’t read anything else by him, haven’t read Winesburg, Ohio though it is the one on all the lists of American classics…It centers on this guy:
Hugh McVey was born in a little hole of a town stuck on a mud bank on the western shore of the Mississippi River in the State of Missouri. It was a miserable place in which to be born.
In his fourteenth year and when the boy was on the point of sinking into the sort of animal-like stupor in which his father had lived, something happened to him.
It’s all too easy sinking into animal-like stupor, lying on a riverbank. He gets a job at a railroad station, stays with the station master there and falls under the influence of the station master’s wife, who has grand ideas:
When Sarah grew into young womanhood and went about among the young people in the new country, she heard much talk of mortgages and of the difficulty of making ends meet, but every one spoke of the hard conditions as temporary. In every mind the future was bright with promise. Throughout the whole Mid-American country, in Ohio, Northern Indiana and Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa a hopeful spirit prevailed. In every breast hope fought a successful war with poverty and discouragement. Optimism got into the blood of the children and later led to the same kind of hopeful courageous development of the whole western country. The sons and daughters of these hardy people no doubt had their minds too steadily fixed on the problem of the paying off of mortgages and getting on in the world, but there was courage in them. If they, with the frugal and sometimes niggardly New Englanders from whom they were sprung, have given modern American life a too material flavor, they have at least created a land in which a less determinedly materialistic people may in their turn live in comfort.
This is a book of broad generalisations, of sweeping statements, of attempts to plumb the broad changes in the white American psyche during the rise of the industrial age. We learned about it in school as the gilded age, the time of the robber barons and railroad giants. It describes a man who I struggle to imagine now, though I’d never deny the possibility of his existence. Someone so isolated from his fellow men he doesn’t know how to talk to them, doesn’t know the birds and the bees, doesn’t know anything we might read in books or papers, doesn’t understand relationships of any kind. He wanders in a sad isolation, wondering at the strange human beings around him.
This was part of my Chicago reading, what the city meant for this great metropolis, how it connected to the people of the countryside and the towns that filled it. Here is what this simple lad up from riverbank animal-like stupor thought of his few hours in the big city:
In the spring of the first year of his wandering he passed through the city of Chicago and spent two hours there, going in and out at the same railroad station.
He was not tempted to become a city man. The huge commercial city at the foot of Lake Michigan, because of its commanding position in the very center of a vast farming empire, had already become gigantic. He never forgot the two hours he spent standing in the station in the heart of the city and walking in the street adjoining the station. It was evening when he came into the roaring, clanging place. On the long wide plains west of the city he saw farmers at work with their spring plowing as the train went flying along. Presently the farms grew small and the whole prairie dotted with towns. In these the train did not stop but ran into a crowded network of streets filled with multitudes of people. When he got into the big dark station Hugh saw thousands of people rushing about like disturbed insects. Unnumbered thousands of people were going out of the city at the end of their day of work and trains waited to take them to towns on the prairies. They came in droves, hurrying along like distraught cattle, over a bridge and into the station. The in-bound crowds that had alighted from through trains coming from cities of the East and West climbed up a stairway to the street, and those that were out-bound tried to descend by the same stairway and at the same time. The result was a whirling churning mass of humanity. Every one pushed and crowded his way along. Men swore, women grew angry, and children cried. Near the doorway that opened into the street a long line of cab drivers shouted and roared.
Hugh looked at the people who were whirled along past him, and shivered with the nameless fear of multitudes, common to country boys in the city…. They came in waves as water washes along a beach during a storm. Hugh had a feeling that if he were by some chance to get caught in the crowd he would be swept away into some unknown and terrible place.
Hugh doesn’t understand it, flees it. But this is a time when small towns have their hopes and dreams of greatness too. This book is as much a biography of their change as it of the inventor Hugh, who builds machines, helps create the new age, makes a fortune. This is what they were for a while, before the industrial age:
In even the smallest of the towns, inhabited only by farm laborers, a quaint interesting civilization was being developed. Men worked hard but were much in the open air and had time to think. Their minds reached out toward the solution of the mystery of existence. The schoolmaster and the country lawyer read Tom Paine’s “Age of Reason” and Bellamy’s “Looking Backward.” They discussed these books with their fellows. There was a feeling, ill expressed, that America had something real and spiritual to offer to the rest of the world. Workmen talked to each other of the new tricks of their trades, and after hours of discussion of some new way to cultivate corn, shape a horseshoe or build a barn, spoke of God and his intent concerning man. Long drawn out discussions of religious beliefs and the political destiny of America were carried on.
Genocide is half way completed, swathes of land are clear and ripe for development.
In all the towns of mid-western America it was a time of waiting. The country having been cleared and the Indians driven away into a vast distant place spoken of vaguely as the West, the Civil War having been fought and won, and there being no great national problems that touched closely their lives, the minds of men were turned in upon themselves. The soul and its destiny was spoken of openly on the streets… Every one had something to say. Even Charley Mook, who dug ditches, who stuttered so that not a half dozen people in town could understand him, expressed his opinion.
There is such a curious commentary on the need for homogeneity, for safety, for sameness and security so that people can open up and become philosophers:
Within the invisible circle and under the great roof every one knew his neighbor and was known to him. Strangers did not come and go swiftly and mysteriously and there was no constant and confusing roar of machinery and of new projects afoot. For the moment mankind seemed about to take time to try to understand itself.
There is a similar prejudice against foreigners, who are just even more strange strangers I suppose:
Like the other people of Bidwell, Hugh did not like to see foreigners about. He did not understand them and when he saw them going about the streets in groups, was a little afraid. It was a man’s duty, he thought, to look as much as possible like all his fellow men, to lose himself in the crowds, and these fellows did not look like other men. They loved color, and as they talked they made rapid gestures with their hands.
And in this white utopia still aware of hard work and just how hard life can be tied to the soil and struggle, still moving on rural time not city time, still not convinced in the universal belief that profit is the only thing that matters — in this brief time, philosophy begins to flourish:
The judge, an ex-politician from the city of New York who had been involved in some affair that made it uncomfortable for him to return to live in that city, grew prophetic and philosophic after he came to live in Bidwell. In spite of the doubt every one felt concerning his past, he was something of a scholar and a reader of books, and won respect by his apparent wisdom. “Well, there’s going to be a new war here,” he said. “It won’t be like the Civil War, just shooting off guns and killing peoples’ bodies. At first it’s going to be a war between individuals to see to what class a man must belong; then it is going to be a long, silent war between classes, between those who have and those who can’t get. It’ll be the worst war of all.”
This is just one of the men, some of the thoughts burgeoning. But it is already doomed to a short life by progress itself. I haven’t read such sweeping statements as this book contains since Victor Hugo, but the action sections aren’t nearly as good.
I still find myself fascinated by this very particular casting of myth:
A new force that was being born into American life and into life everywhere all over the world was feeding on the old dying individualistic life. The new force stirred and aroused the people. It met a need that was universal. It was meant to seal men together, to wipe out national lines, to walk under seas and fly through the air, to change the entire face of the world in which men lived. Already the giant that was to be king in the place of old kings was calling his servants and his armies to serve him. He used the methods of old kings and promised his followers booty and gain. Everywhere he went unchallenged, surveying the land, raising a new class of men to positions of power. Railroads had already been pushed out across the plains; great coal fields from which was to be taken food to warm the blood in the body of the giant were being opened up; iron fields were being discovered; the roar and clatter of the breathing of the terrible new thing, half hideous, half beautiful in its possibilities, that was for so long to drown the voices and confuse the thinking of men, was heard not only in the towns but even in lonely farm houses, where its willing servants, the newspapers and magazines, had begun to circulate in ever increasing numbers. At the town of Gibsonville, near Bidwell, Ohio, and at Lima and Finley, Ohio, oil and gas fields were discovered. At Cleveland, Ohio, a precise, definite-minded man named Rockefeller bought and sold oil. From the first he served the new thing well and he soon found others to serve with him. The Morgans, Fricks, Goulds, Carnegies, Vanderbilts, servants of the new king, princes of the new faith, merchants all, a new kind of rulers of men, defied the world-old law of class that puts the merchant below the craftsman, and added to the confusion of men by taking on the air of creators. They were merchants glorified and dealt in giant things, in the lives of men and in mines, forests, oil and gas fields, factories, and railroads.
And all over the country, in the towns, the farm houses, and the growing cities of the new country, people stirred and awakened. Thought and poetry died or passed as a heritage to feeble fawning men who also became servants of the new order.
Ah, the passing of poetry. The passing of men of true greatness, rather than men made by their publicists and their ability to make money. It didn’t have to be like this, for there is the special kind of man like Hugh, the inventor who does not care for money:
All men lead their lives behind a wall of misunderstanding they themselves have built, and most men die in silence and unnoticed behind the walls. Now and then a man, cut off from his fellows by the peculiarities of his nature, becomes absorbed in doing something that is impersonal, useful, and beautiful. Word of his activities is carried over the walls. His name is shouted and is carried by the wind into the tiny inclosure in which other men live and in which they are for the most part absorbed in doing some petty task for the furtherance of their own comfort. Men and women stop their complaining about the unfairness and inequality of life and wonder about the man whose name they have heard.
There is everything such men achieve — Anderson signals a moment when the invention of new machinery lightens the terrible burden of toil and allows men to philosophise:
Hugh’s machine took all of the heavier part of the work away. It cut the corn near the ground and bound it into bundles that fell upon a platform. Two men followed the machine, one to drive the horses and the other to place the bundles of stalks against the shocks and to bind the completed shocks. The men went along smoking their pipes and talking. The horses stopped and the driver stared out over the prairies. His arms did not ache with weariness and he had time to think. The wonder and mystery of the wide open places got a little into his blood. At night when the work was done and the cattle fed and made comfortable in the barns, he did not go at once to bed but sometimes went out of his house and stood for a moment under the stars.
This is the moment we perhaps could have clung to. Instead money rather than dreams and the stars became what mattered. This is the fuel for the move of America’s centre from the countryside to the city, a new breed of mice rather than men:
Modern men and women who live in industrial cities are like mice that have come out of the fields to live in houses that do not belong to them. They live within the dark walls of the houses where only a dim light penetrates, and so many have come that they grow thin and haggard with the constant toil of getting food and warmth. Behind the walls the mice scamper about in droves, and there is much squealing and chattering. Now and then a bold mouse stands upon his hind legs and addresses the others. He declares he will force his way through the walls and conquer the gods who have built the house. “I will kill them,” he declares. “The mice shall rule. You shall live in the light and the warmth. There shall be food for all and no one shall go hungry.”
The little mice, gathered in the darkness out of sight in the great houses, squeal with delight. After a time when nothing happens they become sad and depressed. Their minds go back to the time when they lived in the fields, but they do not go out of the walls of the houses, because long living in droves has made them afraid of the silence of long nights and the emptiness of skies. In the houses giant children are being reared. When the children fight and scream in the houses and in the streets, the dark spaces between the walls rumble with strange and appalling noises.
It is the passing of the craftsman, content to do his work well, to earn enough to live on. This is embodied by Joe the old harness maker, mocked and eventually pushed into the corner by his young apprentice Jim, who tells him:
“Can’t you understand what you’re up against? The factories are bound to win. For why? Look here, there can’t any one but some old moss-back who has worked around horses all his life tell the difference between hand- and machine-sewed harness. The machine-made can be sold cheaper. It looks all right and the factories are able to put on a lot of do-dads. That catches the young fellows. It’s good business. Quick sales and profits, that’s the story.”
The arrival of the heavy-handed metaphor of Joe killing Jim in a frenzy without making any change in the system or with the remotest change for the better in his own system doesn’t come as much surprise.
There is not much depth in any of the men, just a whole lot of confusion and isolation, with a dash of poetry perhaps. There are some truly egregious imaginings of women, especially in an attempt to enter the interior emotions of Clara:
There was something back of her desire for a man. She wanted something more than caresses. There was a creative impulse in her that could not function until she had been made love to by a man. The man she wanted was but an instrument she sought in order that she might fulfill herself. Several times during those evenings in the presence of the two men, who talked only of making money out of the products of another man’s mind, she almost forced her mind out into a concrete thought concerning women, and then it became again befogged.
She has a deep friendship with a woman in the big city before returning to her hometown — and it’s curious this friendship with Kate Chancellor who is clearly a lesbian, encouraging Clara to think herself equal of any man, to face life without one. Clearly, she failed, though it doesn’t seem to be for lack of trying. The descriptions of Clara are confusing, in that she doesn’t seem at all worth the effort.
Clara grew tired of thinking, and listened to the talk. The name of Hugh McVey played through the persistent conversation like a refrain. It became fixed in her mind. The inventor was not married. By the social system under which she lived that and that only made him a possibility for her purposes.
Ah, you can see this is trying to be a critique of the social system. It notes that:
She was very hungry for love, but might have got that from another woman. Kate Chancellor would have loved her.
This all reaffirms the ‘natural’ need for a man, for children. How this is strangely tied in to the changing times (I don’t think this means anything more, but maybe it does)
The woman at the window, like every one else in her town and in all the towns of the mid-western country, became touched with the idea of the romance of industry.
That and procreation. The romance of industry and the myth of the great man, not interest in his actual ideas or any sense of who he actually is, or the benefits that could come to others through his work. It is all very sad.
Her father was a schemer; he had even schemed to get her married, perhaps to further his own plans. In reality his schemes were so ineffective that she did not need to be angry with him. There was but one man of them all who was not a schemer. Hugh was what she wanted to be. He was a creative force. In his hands dead inanimate things became creative forces. He was what she wanted not herself but perhaps a son, to be. The thought, at last definitely expressed, startled Clara, and she arose from the chair by the window and prepared to go to bed. Something within her body ached, but she did not allow herself to pursue further the thoughts she had been having.
See? All about procreation. No wonder poor Kate had no chance, with just an ability to talk and think and laugh. To fight. She is a curious figure and I begin to wonder if this post shouldn’t have been all about her instead. But she is too much a caricature, even if a surprising one to find here.
I found the myths rather fascinating, however, all in all. And there are moments I liked. So I will end with one of them:
He looked at the towns and wanted light and color to play over them as they played over the stones, and when that did not happen, his mind, filled with strange new hungers engendered by the disease of thinking, made up words over which lights played. “The gods have scattered towns over the flat lands,” his mind had said, as he sat in the smoking car of the train, and the phrase came back to him later, as he sat in the darkness on the log with his head held in his hands. It was a good phrase and lights could play over it as they played over the colored stones…
America is rich, America is right. Rich is right. Architects have always worked for the rich. We are now also working for the right. And that hasn’t always been the case during the last hundred years. We had better find out who we are working for and what we are trying to say.
The second speech/essay from Bertrand Goldberg to be found in Dans La Ville, and more provocative I think, than even the ‘Critical Mass of Urbanism‘ because it really digs down into the whole point of architecture.
Because it names the reality that for millenia ‘architecture’ — not the everyday homes and settlements and lovely little towns and villages and farms that have grown up over those same millenia, but ‘architecture’ — has been for the rich.
The traditions and history of architecture have been bound together with the ruling societies of their time. Whether the Mayans or the Shakers, architects designed the buildings that spoke for decision-makers. From one period to another, the architect looked not to his colleagues for his kudos , but rather to his clients. For a new plan, a new technology, for a different and sometimes new society, the architect wanted approval from the priest, the banker, or the corporation.
Because it names the hope of architects and planners who are not radical, that the rich will seek what is right through architecture. What is just, what is fair, what will create a better world. We may not share that belief exactly, but I do think that architecture can help to do that.
I like thinking about this potential connection between people and buildings, though it is more dialectical I am sure:
Even in the most usual buildings, architecture is the public
art that shows people what they’ve been thinking. And when architecture creates an unusual building with new technology, it even can nudge social change forward.
But what are we doing instead? I gather Goldberg doesn’t really like post-modernist architecture too much:
Today we find our post-modern buildings are silly and confused. More than a symptom, they are an infection of our times, our people, our economy – a witless, de-humanizing caprice purveyed in the name of historical conscience and stylistic freedom.
There is no question that such trendy garbage relates to the strange, disastrous goings-on in our daily life. Post-modern buildings for the rich who can afford them have the same nonsense quality, the same immaturity, that we presently find in our governments, our economy, and our behavior. Architects are no more confused by this new style than by the many art and architecture critics it inspires; but buildings have more social influence than the critics they give voice
to. In some strange way buildings even reinforce moral majorities and goofy governments. (199)
So what should we be building instead? He looks at how much memory has been lost of what came before Bauhaus, and he pulls out some visionary things that are truly awesome:
But that connection between wealth and architecture sent developments in different directions.
This is how Goldberg explains the rise of postmodern architecture, the social currents it is channeling, its connection to new technologies and means of production:
The artist – the architect – designed for the newly developed rich and shared their change of values. The abstraction of management in governments and business was matched by the abstraction in the arts and architecture. The building artisan was replaced by the factory. The artistic pictorial was replaced by the pattern. Light and shade were replaced by the plane and the line. At the beginning of the 20th century Taut, Loos, Oud, and Gropius shared in the belief of Le Corbusier that “the right angle is the most perfect of all forms because with it we can measure all things.” By the end of World War I, the box was recognized as the perfect shape to package a right-angled society. The design of the perfect box kept pace with mechanization of all types of production : with factory-made clothes, with steel rolling mills, with automobiles, radios, and packaged food…. What started as democracy in government, industrialization in our economy, structuralization in our aesthetics – as three startling promises for individual freedom in the early 19th century – by the first half of the 20th century had produced a controlled, managed, measured, and confused mass society packed in boxes. (202-204)
So arguably they got some things right, started to some extent in the right direction, but:
They forgot that all men are created equal and different.
And what precisely was the need such architecture came to fulfill? Money.
The multinational corporation, like the late 19th century scientists had been seeking a formula for a universal face – a faceless face that would say money, but not whose, without identity as to how it was made, without accountability as to how it was spent. For them, the universality of the International Style served very well.
The governments of the world have been managing people quite the same way that corporations have been managing money. Governments strengthened by social revolution have developed an unconcern with persons, with individuals, and their problems. Our governments, however idealistic in purpose, are organized to orchestrate masses of the electorate. For this kind of government, the design of the buildings according to the International Style has been perfect. These could be designed like business buildings ; official buildings only had to add a facade of columns. (205)
It is a damning indictment of corporations, government AND architecture, and this juncture in which the failings of all three can be seen built into permanent and concrete form.
Where does he see hope lying?
In the past five years we have seen these changes focus as three events: We have changed our expectations about government ; We have said it should become minimal. Give us room. Go away. Leave me be. Second, we have rejected the mechanization which we imposed upon ourselves in our development of industrial society. Architectural verities associated with the box and the right angle are being expunged as part of this larger wave of rejection. Third, we have revived individual ethics, as represented by the Moral Majority. (206)
Minimal government, it sheds a bit more light on the privatised nature of Marina City, and its methods of self-taxation he talks about a little in ‘The Critical Mass of Urbanism’ — a key question for the buildings and community that architecture facilitates.
To return to the built form, though, in a way this is a critique of Bauhaus as a kind of forerunner to postmodernism, despite his categorical refutation of Tom Wolfe’s rather different critique of Bauhaus:
As a Bauhaus student in 1932 and 1933, I can state that almost nothing he described about the Bauhaus is true.
For Goldberg it is this — the failure of living up to the hopes and ideals they themselves professed:
What the idealistic governments of the 19th century became for people, the Bauhaus became for architecture. Abstract, mechanized, industrialized, without concern for humanism, nevertheless they both had a concern for society. Both in a sense have failed to change our values. The serious consequence of that failure we haven ‘t yet recognized: the original targets, the original idealistic goals, the original concerns of the early 19th century remain an incomplete process with an urgent need for development. We have not fulfilled our promise to ourselves for democracy, for humanism, for using mechanization to give us a better life. These main changes in the human condition are still in progress. (207)
Bertrand Goldberg isn’t one in these essays to criticise capitalism, to face squarely the rise of real estate capital, the pressures and drivers of segregation and suburbanisation. I wish he had been younger when Harvey wrote Limits of Capital, or had felt able to identify and call out these larger forces. I always get a sense of subdued desperation from such figures as Goldberg, visionary and imaginative and able to see more than most about how form and function and community come together, while also genuine in their desire to improve the world. Yet not quite able to see what is distorting every vision — or perhaps feeling unable to express it out loud. Perhaps there was nothing else he could write or say having come through McCarthyism and the continuing red baiting of American society.
Goldberg here seems to me to be writing in desperate hope, as though by writing this he could make it true that rich is right. As though by selling a vision, building a single complex, he could show the way and change everything.
I just wish more people built such fabulous buildings, put such time put into making them perfectly suited to the uses for which they were meant:
When Pope John Paul II, in his Encyclical on Human Work, says that the dignity of work “practically does away with the very basis of its ancient differentiation of people into classes according to the kind of work done,” he is continuing the 19th century battle for a classless society. When in the same document he says, “The right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone,” he is continuing the 19th century battle for redefinition of capitalism. Pope John Paul reminds us that the struggle for change Americans launched politically in 1776 is still alive.
The art of architecture is part of that change. Architecture needs a face that can be recognized as committed to that change – a face to show that architecture is a social art in an industrial age, but above all concerned with the individual. Architecture is not frozen music, as Goethe suggested; it is the body of humanism. Let us protect it.
Patrick Modiano has been on my list to read for a while, and this book in particular, partly as I share with so many others that vague fascination for the period of WWII, the fight against fascism, the holocaust. But Dora Bruder is also an exploration of Paris as palimpsest that I loved, almost a documentary account of Modiano’s investigating and unraveling of the story of a young woman who had run away from her home in the same tangles of streets he had been familiar with for much of his life…
From day to day, with the passage of time, I find, perspectives become blurred, one winter merging with into another. That of 1965 and that of 1942.
In 1965, I knew nothing of Dora Bruder. But now, thirty years on, it seems to me that those long waits in the cafes at the Ornano crossroads, those unvarying itineraries–the Rue du Mont-Cernis to me back to some hotel on the Butte Montmartre: the Roma or the Alsina or the Terrass, Rue Caulaincourt–and the fleeting impressions I have retained: snatches of conversation heard on a spring evening, beneath the trees in the Square Cilgnancourt, and again, in winter, on the way down to Simplon and the Boulevard Ornano, all that was not simply due to chance. Perhaps, though not yet fully aware of it, I was following the traces of Dora Bruder and her parents. Already, below the surface, they were there. (6)
For Modiano there are memories of an old photographer, a street market, a girlfriend’s house and waits in cafes, the street deserted and riot police at each crossroads in May 1958 because ‘the situation in Algeria’ (4). I am caught up by such casual references, still struggling to understand just what the legacy of France’s crimes in Algeria has been, and how it has been experienced.
Modiano mentions Les Miserables, the flight of Jean Valjean and cosette across Paris, past the Jardins de Plantes, crossing the bridge and Pont d’Austerlitz:
And suddenly, you have a sensation of vertigo, as if Cosette and Jean Valjean, to escape Javert and the police, have taken a leap into space: thus far, they have been following real Paris streets,, and now, abruptly, Victor Huge thrusts them into the imaginary district of Paris that he calls the Petit Picpus. It is the same sense of strangeness that overcomes you when you find yourself walking through an unfamiliar district in a dream. On waking, you realise, little by little, that the pattern of its streets had overlaid the one with which, in daytime, you are familiar. (41)
But the convent these two literary figures find refuge in is very similar, almost exactly despite its imaginary geography, to the Saint-Coeur-de-Marie school where Dora was a boarder.
She is put there for safety and never registered as a Jew, but runs away, keeps running away. Comes home and the off she runs again. Why does she run? I like that this book never pretends to know, and we are left with the traces of her life that he could find to invent our own histories and ask our own questions. I like how it names streets, painstakingly collects the track record of documents, transfer orders. Addresses carefully noted. The banal bureaucracies of institutional evil all carefully documented. Dora Bruder runs, but not far enough, not fast enough to escape the Nazis and death in Auschwitz.
And then there is the post war reconstruction, whole areas pulled down, whole blocks left rubble alongside houses and churches still standing. So this joins my collection of rubble books, like Vauxhall, like The Chicago Coast. I confess I am looking for them now. Here it is as much to erase the city’s own crime as recognised by the world, as to erase the unrecognised crimes of poverty and injustice.
They have obliterated everything in order to build a sort of Swiss village in order that nobody, ever again, would question its neutrality.
The patches of wallpaper that I had seen thirty years ago in the Rue des Jardins-Saint-Paul were remnants of former rooms–rooms that had been home to young people of Dora’s age until the day when the police had come for them in July 1942. The list of their names is always associated with the same streets. And the street names and house numbers no longer correspond to anything at all. (113)
A visual autobiography…I loved this idea of Otto Neurath’s.
Watching an old black & white 1950s documentary on housing in London, it struck me greatly when they showed graphics like the one below on the screen, talked about something they called isotype in a way that made it seem like a new technology that was being mobilized to understand and change the world.
What struck me most is that as organizers and popular educators in the oughts, we sought to create such graphics all the time (though never creating anything quite so professional I confess). Yet I’d never heard that word before.
I looked it up.
Isotype — International System of TYpographic Picture Education, initially known as the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics (Wiener Methode der Bildstatistik). Developed at the Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum in Wien between 1925 and 1934 — interrupted by the rise of fascism in Austria and Neurath’s and other collaborators’ move to the UK. Found this book. Found that a technology for social change is what Otto Neurath always meant isotype to be, though he thought of it and described it more in the terms of his own day’s idealism and with sometimes unfortunate phrasing.
Also, it might be confirmed that, if you start with visual material, problems which are usually dealt with at a higher level can be discussed within the curriculum at a lower level of education. One of the advantages of this is that people can remain in contact with certain problems throughout a much longer period of their lives. (6)
The point is that making information visual in this way allows us both to understand it better, and to open up meaningful discussion on key issues to forums beyond a handful of experts — and even they may have failed to fully grasp the facts. This in turn is key to any meaningful democracy.
Therefore, whenever the fate of individuals and communities is at stake, we need some comprehensive knowledge to help us make our own decisions. It is for this that I think visual aids are so important, especially when we wish to educate ourselves and others in citizenship. (7)
I kept thinking the phrasing is often not quite what I like, partly the period, partly language and culture and class gaps. Yet his commitment to graphics emerges from a desire to facilitate people looking at their own reality, and then thinking and making decisions about it for themselves. It is also clear that part of this is because the very process of transmitting expert knowledge is not a neutral one. Neurath’s words doesn’t quite nail the issues with it the way Freire does, but grapples with some of the same questions.
Teaching habits, whether we are acting as schoolmasters or museum directors, are often dangerous. Such habits might tempt persons in power to present what they themselves like… (7)
Yet he isn’t quite able to see a world where we all have bias, even when we draw pictures based on just the ‘facts’.
The few remarks I have made here may suffice to explain what Isotype sets out to provide for the masses of citizens who want to learn simple things in a human way and without bias, so that they are stimulated to further reading and museum visiting. (114)
And his goals — I may love these goals, but wonder why he has chosen them for mention above ending poverty, increasing direct democracy, fighting fascism, improving life.
Still, in the end it is a wonderfully visionary and utopian ideal behind all this effort, behind this creation of a visual language for making complexity more immediately graspable that does not rely on spoken language or literacy to show people things as they are.
But there is perhaps a chance that visual communication will play its part in the creation of a brotherhood of man, for it can help to bridge many gaps and reduce some of the sources of antagonism. I should like to take my share of the cooperative work, thinking of the possibilities that lie ahead, while tending to the tasks of today. (8)
I share many of these ideals of communication through visual means, believe in using my many years of work and study to help sift information, understand it, convert it into a graphic form (or work with someone more graphically skilled to do so) that best represents the facts as I have done my best to understand them. This is long and hard — just the way conveying an idea or proposal in one hundred words is so much harder than conveying it in 500. You have to have complete clarity on what you are trying to convey, on what is most important.
Yet it never occurred to me to try to create a universal visual language. I rather love this vision, and initially it made perfect sense. But then I thought about it, and realised as much through his visual autobiography as anything that probably much much of our taste and understanding of pictures emerges from our time and place and culture. How much the images you chose should reflect the people you are trying to reach. Neurath writes:
One of our museum slogans in Vienna was: ‘Words divide, pictures unite’. (126)
Interesting, and perhaps more true than false, but I am not entirely sure. Just imagine depictions of ‘home’, and how much that might differ across countries and cultures.
But to return to the subtitle…what is his visual autobiography? Too complex to capture here, but a wonderful collection of things…
Stickers he knew as shinies, stamps, maps, instruction sheets for building blocks, paper buildings and dolls with whole wardrobes. Berghaus’ PhysikalischerAtlas.
Always he loves pictures that capture information, that transmit knowledge, the more knowledge in the simpler the line and more arresting the graphic the better.
He talks of beautiful etchings of birds and plants, colour-coded maps of military movements
It is not realistic depictions he favours, but what best transmits an idea, gives an overview without need of words.This is particularly interesting I think.
Again and again I felt that the orthodox perspective is somewhat anti-symbolic, putting the onlooker in a privileged position. A perspective drawing fixed from the point from which I had to look, whereas I wanted to be free to look from wherever I chose. (49)
He loves the details abounding in Hogarth:
Egyptian wall paintings
He later writes:
I revive some of the feelings I had when looking at Egyptian wall-paintings, but without the sad undertone: pageantry for the dead. No–now it is pageantry for the living, for people of every kind throughout the world, whatever way of life they may accept, whatever creed they profess of reject, whatever their colour, whatever language they use. (126)
he shares these amazing visual mnemonics from 1808:
At the end there is just a collection of images Neurath had collected after fleeing Austria. I particularly loved these:
All of these things fed into the creation of isotype’s visual language, the attempt to create a new language all together through scientific study, observation and testing.
I think we were the first to evolve a theoretical framework of visualization, which started from a few observations but later on covered a wide field of experience, applying what we had learnt from the behaviour of pupils in schools and visitors to exhibitions, and of course everything one could learn from the literature concerned with visual problems. (103)
One of the key artists Otto Neurath worked with to develop pictograms and the language of Isotype was Gerd Arntz, a google search on his name shows something like this:
These figures — or figures like them are now so familiar. Their impact is clearly visible in the US as well, in graphics like these I found in Cayton and Drake’s Black Metropolis on Chicago — their use pushed this book to one of my very favourite sociological studies as one of the most helpful to the people it studied:
Similar is a pamphlet emerging (somewhat surprisingly perhaps) from the Truman Administration on racism in 1946:
I think these show just how powerful numbers can be when translated into images, and how they can educate the school-educated and non-educated alike, while serving as a call to action. And this as well:
…at least I may be allowed to express my personal hope that the increasing speed of Isotype may perhaps be symptomatic of the spread of certain general trends towards a cosmopolitan attitude, a commonwealth of men connected in a human brotherhood and human orchestration. (126)
There is not really much in the way of a regular biography here, but a look at Krutikov’s early architectural imaginings. It is also an introduction, more a hint of the amazing story of the Vkhutemas (acronym for the Higher Artistic and Technical Studios — architectural studios), two competing schools of the 1920s avant-garde. Aleksandr Vesnin led the Constructivist school, and Nikolai Lavovskii led the Rationalist. Krutikov was one of Lavovskii’s students, and his diploma project that of designing ‘The New Cities’.
The magic of challenging students to imagine the new cities coming to life under socialism…we saw some of Krutikov’s extraordinary images at the Cosmonaut’s exhibition at the Science Museum on the Soviet space program, shown as part of the inspiration for humanity’s leaving the earth for the stars. How could I not investigate further?
in the course if its evolution, humanity has increased the speed at which it is able to move, and that these different forms of transportation have influenced architecture, particularly housing. Krutikov argued that the most recent forms of transport should be regarded as mobile architecture and, as such, they suggested a different way of approaching the problem of the relationship between architecture and the environment. They raised the question: would it ever become possible to detach housing and other buildings from the land? Would it be possible to free the large amount of land on which buildings now stood? For Krutikov, land was vital to human beings, above all, because it enabled them to create favourable conditions for people on Earth. Was it absolutely necessary, therefore, to cover it with buildings? The dispersal of human settlements throughout the world limited man’s potential to use the land effectively in the interests of society as a whole. (12)
Born in Voronezh to a family of teachers, his main interests from a very early age were painting and space travel. The intensity of intellectual endeavour seems particularly Russian to me, I don’t know anywhere else the following sentence could be possible:
Judging from his drawings for The World, in 1912, the twelve-year-old was not familiar with ‘avant-guard’ painting. (17)
By 15, however, he was attracted by it. Also fascinated by aeronautics and airships. And fascinated by certain types of housing — he published ‘Circular or Semi-Circular Housing’ as a student at the architectural faculty in 1927, and designed this student housing:
I love these years in European architecture, when everything seems possible.
For Krutikov’s final project, his flying city, he submitted a series of 16 boards as the analytical component. They are awesome and reproduced in full in the book. The titles alone are incredibly evocative:
No. 1 – The Visual Distortion of Moving Forms
No. 2 – The Composition of Moving Structures
No. 3 – The Formation of the Dynamic Element
No. 4 – The Evolution of the Forms of Cars and Railway Trains
No. 5 – The Evolution of the Forms of Ships, Airships, and Aeroplanes
No. 6 – Modes of Transportation for Sea, Earth and AirNo. 7 – Rudimentary Mobile Residences (Mobile Country Homes of the West)
No. 8 – Living Conditions in Contemporary Mobile Structures
No. 9 – Portability of Mobile Structures (The Lightness of Material and Construction)
No. 10 – The Evolution of Energetics
No. 11 – Physical Culture and the Future Man (This includes men playing tennis on the wings of an aeroplane)
No. 12 – The Evolution of Buildings (from Wooden Huts to Skyscrapers)
No. 13 – Man’s aspirations to Extend his Horizons
No. 14 – The Conquest of New Spaces and New Horizons
No. 15 – The Conquest of New Spaces and New Horizons (2)
What a time that was! The Russian avant-garde in architecture is heart-stopping in its awesomeness, there is so much more to investigate. Like a casual reference to Anton Lavinskii’s City on Springs.
Here, the flying city (these pictures with the spirals and someone else’s hands, they’re from this site about the book):
More the floating city than the flying city, rings of residential and entertainment complexes hovering immobile above an industrial base. Communication between the two is through ‘the universal travel capsule’, imagined as able to move through air and water, with a flexible outer structure able to shift with its occupant, to accommodate their standing or lying down:
Each of the rings a residential and entertainment complex, designed for ultimate flexibility and movement between privacy and communal living:
For visitors, another type of static residence in the form of a hotel:
From his theses:
The fight for the architecture of the future is the fight of today.
I. THE SOCIAL ASPECTS
The international nature of the mobile capsule. Expanding horizons. The disappearance of the state. Community society.
A higher level of spatial organisation, corresponding to a higher level of social organisation.
Instead of linear chaos on the chaotic surface of the Earth there is a graceful organisation in the freedom of three-dimensional space. Linear chaos and the perfection of the circle as spatial contrasts, corresponding respectively to: firstly — the anarchistic and individualistic world of capitalism and secondly to socialism. (85)
The principle of flexible planning (planning that can adjust to changes in the way that the living social organism inhabits the city).
The expansion of the architect’s outlook beyond the limits of a narrow class context. The broad connection between architectural questions and all problems stimulating scientific thought. (87)
II. THE ARCHITECTURAL ASPECTS
The introduction of the dynamic element into architecture, the fourth coordinate of space (time). The particular perception of moving form. The architecture of mobile structures. The architectural expression of moving form. (87)
There follows more of his work — his ideas on the importance of flexible planning, our inability to predict people’s needs and to continually adjust. His designs for temporary exhibits, monuments and focus on theaters and how architecture can respond to and facilitate new kinds of theatre. His designs for a new Town-Commune of Avtostroi to house factory workers, which outwardly share much in common with Le Corbusier (there are no servants quarters, though, let’s not forget Le Corbusier couldn’t even fucking imagine a future without the tiresome shenanigans of servants) — large buildings, great open spaces between them.
This is so much more exciting in the air than on the ground. I like that the main components, however, focus on space for ‘individual relaxation and group (team) interaction…extensive collective social contact…a springboard for mass events’ (100). Also interesting is how he separates sleeping residences from communal residences — reminds me a bit of Alexander’s APattern Language with spaces for privacy and sleep but much more focus on collective living and shared spaces for most of our daily activities. He also pays a lot of attention in the designs to the raising of children, how much is done collectively, how integrated it is into the full life of everyone (but not completely). It shows a rare attention, I think, to issues of the family. But this could be more due to the still revolutionary socialist context, where women fought hard, and somewhat successfully, in these early years to raise such issues to greater attention.
And then it is done. There is the onset of the Stalinist Empire style, an initially slightly playful (and probably disdainful) incorporation and reworking of classical architecture as demanded by the party, but that soon ends and the grim period begins…
Ebenezer Howard’s vision of garden cities has had an enormous impact upon urban planning and the development of cities around the world. Arguably, a rather disastrous one being used as a validation of endless expansion into suburbs of cul-de-sacs and meanders and the resulting sprawl. Rarely is Howard’s actual vision for garden cities remembered:
The whole of the experiment which this book describes…represents pioneer work, which will be carried out by those who have not a merely pious opinion, but an effective belief in the economic, sanitary, and social advantages of common ownership of land, and who, therefore, are not satisfied merely to advocate that those advantages should be secured on the largest scale at the national expense, but are impelled to give their views shape and form as soon as they can see their way to join with a sufficient number of kindred spirits. (58)
This is a reaction to the terrible conditions of the city, and the crisis there provoked by people streaming in from the countryside:
There is, however, a question in regard to which one can scarcely find any difference of opinion. It is wellnigh universally agreed by men of all parties, not only in England, but all over Europe and America and our colonies, that it is deeply to be deplored that the people should continue to stream into the already over-crowded cities, and should thus further deplete the country districts.
The results of this are in fact widely agreed — Howard quotes Lord Roseberry as chairman of the London County Council (ah, the old LCC):
‘There is no thought of pride associated in my mind with the idea of London. I am always haunted by the awfulness of London: by the great appalling fact of these millions cast down, as it would appear by hazard, on the banks of this noble stream, working each in their own groove and their own cell, without regard or knowledge of each other, without heeding each other, without having the slightest idea how the other lives–the heedless casualty of unnumbered thousands of men.’
Dean Farrar says:
‘We are becoming a land of great cities. Villages are stationary or receding; cities are enormously increasing. And if it be true that great cities tend more and more to become the graves of the physique of our race, can we wonder at it when we see the houses so foul, so squalid, so ill-drained, so vitiated by neglect and dirt?’
He quotes labour leaders Ben Tillet and Tom Mann as well, which is nice to see.
Howard argues that to keep people from moving to the city, country towns have to provide three things — wages that allow people a certain standard of comfort, equal possibilities of social intercourse, and opportunities for advancement…and I love this diagram and it’s central question ‘THE PEOPLE: where will they go?’:
If we no longer wish for THE PEOPLE to come to London, what is to be done? The building of garden cities, capturing the best of all possible worlds:
a third alternative…the magnet which will produce the effect for which we are all striving–the spontaneous movement of the people from our crowded cities to the bosom of our kindly mother earth, at once the source of life, of happiness, of wealth, and of power.
But neither the Town magnet nor the Country magnet represents the full plan and purpose of nature. Human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together. The two magnets must be made one. As man and woman by their varied gifts and faculties supplement each other, so should town and country. The town is symbol of society–of mutual help and friendly ‘co-operation, of fatherhood, motherhood, brotherhood, sisterhood, of wide relations between man and man–of broad, expanding sympathies–of science, art, culture, religion. And the country! The country is the symbol of God’s love and care for man.
Thus the Garden City must be brought to birth. He has worked out just what it should look like:
My favourite part of this plan, I think, is this:
Running all round the Central Park (except where it is intersected by the boulevards) is a wide glass arcade called the ‘Crystal Palace’, opening on to the park. This building is in wet weather one of the favourite resorts of the people, whilst the knowledge that its bright shelter is ever close at hand tempts people into Central Park, even in the most doubtful of weathers. (4)
It does sound rather nice, I love arcades though I don’t much care for shopping. What a beautiful structure that could be though. I also love the elements of sustainability built in, as this was written in a time of nowhere near so much plenty as today — a time to which we are soon returning:
the smoke fiend is kept well within bounds in Garden City; for all machinery is driven by electric energy, with the result that the cost of electricity for lighting and other purposes is greatly reduced.
The refuse of the town is utilized on the agricultural portions of the estate, which are held by various individuals in large farms, small holdings, allotments, cow pastures, etc…. (6)
So the question arises, how are the garden cities to be built, how financed? He embarks on rents, working hard to show that building this city is a viable investment — from a Marxist perspective it is interesting that he notes:
Perhaps no difference between town and country is more noticeable than the difference in the rent charged for the use of the soil. (9)
He mentions that this is often called the ‘unearned increment’ (which it is), as that is the rent increase due to the existence of more people and more amenity in its surroundings rather than anything to do with the actual land itself or what is built upon it. Howard prefers to call it the ‘collectively earned increment’ which I quite love and think might be a useful concept to bring back again. It reflects the fact that higher city rents are due to all of us. This collectively generated income on land is what is captured and used to the benefit of all who move to garden cities as a way to finance them.
So who shall live there? He quotes Professor Marshall’s study on the “Housing of the London Poor’ from Contemporary Review, 1884:
Whatever reforms be introduced into the dwellings of the London poor, it will still remain true that the whole are of London is insufficient to supply its population with fresh air and the free space that is wanted for whole some recreation. A remedy for the overcrowding of London will still be wanted….There are large classes of the population of London whose removal into the country would be in the long run economically advantageous; it would benefit alike those who moved and those who remained behind…Of the 150,000 or more hired workers in the clothes-making trades, by far the greater part are very poorly paid, and do work which it is against all economic reason to have done where ground-rent is high.’ (17)
Howard follows up this insight — if these workers ought not to be in London at all given the low value of their labour on very high-rent land, then of course these factories should move and the workers paying exorbitant rents for slum houses should move with them, along with all those who exist to support their existence such a s shopkeepers, schools and etc. But key to this move to the new garden cities is that:
it is essential, as we have said, that there should be unity of design and purpose–that the town should be planned as a whole, and not left to grow up in a chaotic manner as has been the case with all English towns, and more or less so with the towns of all countries. A town, like a flower, or a tree, or an animal, should, at each stage of its growth, possess unity, symmetry, completeness, and the effect of growth should never be to destroy that unity, but to give it greater purpose, nor to mar that symmetry , but to make it more symmetrical; while the completeness of the early structure should be merged in the yet greater completeness of the later development (27)
Howard was not alone in believing all of this possible. Another quote heading chapter six is of Albert Shaw, from Municipal Government in Great Britain, 1895:
The present evils of city life are temporary and remediable. The abolition of the slums, and the destruction of their virus, are as feasible as the drainage of a swamp, and the total dissipation of its miasmas. The conditions and circumstances that surround the lives of the masses of the people in modern cities can be so adjusted to their needs as to result in the highest development of the race, in body, in mind and in moral character. The so-called problems of the modern city are but the various phases of the one main question: How can the environment be most perfectly adapted to the welfare of urban populations? And science can meet and answer every one of these problems. The science of the modern city–of the ordering and the common concerns in dense population groups–draws upon many branches of theoretical and practical knowledge… (42)
So this is the vision — I almost have nostalgia for such ability to believe in such grand sweeping solutions.
Howard didn’t just think of new plan for garden cities, however, he worked very hard to show exactly how they could be paid for. ‘To make this chapter interesting to the general reader would be difficult, perhaps impossible,’ he writes, and he is not wrong. It is a worthy effort though. And there is so much I like in the idea.
Most of all that the garden cities should be as cooperative as possible — the more the citizens wish to participate the less the municipality will do and vice versa. I also quite love that he sees this on a continuum that is flexible depending on people’s wants and needs.
It is distressing, though, that this is such an early model for how the language of business can shape social ideals. This is a very early model for the privatisation of the municipality, the strange mishmash of public and private we are coming to know so well to our cost:
The constitution is modeled upon that of a large and well-appointed business, which is divided into various departments, each department being expected to justify its own continued existence–its officers being selected, not so much for their knowledge of the business generally as for their special fitness for the work of their department. (45)
and then, there is this structure that he calls ‘semi-municipal’:
But Garden City is in a greatly superior position, for by stepping as a quasi public body into the rights of a private landlord, it becomes at once clothed with far larger powers for carrying out the will of the people than are possessed by other local bodies, and thus solves to a large extent the problem of local self-government. (46)
His three main departments of such a constitution? Public Control (assessment, law, inspection), Engineering (roads and etc), and Social Purposes (education, baths and wash-houses, music, libraries, recreation).
Other benefits will come:
Here in Garden City, however, there will be a splendid opportunity for the public conscience to express itself in this regard, and no shopkeeper will, I hope, venture to sell ‘sweated goods’. (55)
It is a revealing comment on what Howard believes is at the base of sweating, his belief that consumer demands will be enough to end it. He writes:
If labour leaders spent half the energy in co-operative organization that they now waste in co-operative disorganization, the end of our present unjust system would be at hand. In Garden City such leaders will have a fair field for the exercise of pro-municipal functions… (60-61)
He quotes Tolstoy and a number of others about the need to honestly proclaim and live your own beliefs, to be the change you want to see — a well-known adage. He is building on thinkers I have not yet heard of (except Herbert Spencer, but I know him not):
Shortly stated, my scheme is a combination of three distinct projects which have, I think, never been united before. There are: (1) The proposals for an organized migratory movement of population of Edward Gibbon Wakefield and of Professor Alfred Marshall; (2) the system of land tenure first proposed by Thos. Spence and afterwards (though with an important modification) by Mr. Herbert Spencer; and (3) the model city of James Silk Buckingham. (72)
Wakefield wrote the Art of Colonization, so I expect I’d have a lot to say about that and a lot of fury to expend. But it also shows the currents into which the garden city idea was tied into – a small group of intellectuals and professionals able to design utopia, able to orchestrate for the masses — whether the working and criminal classes or the natives — a system and a space that will civilize and tame. In the very beginning there is the oddest reference to Opium as he discusses issues of the day over which there is wide disagreement — liquor and prohibition is one and the other?
Discuss the opium traffic and, on the one hand, you will hear that opium is rapidly destroying the morale of the people of China, and, on the other, that this is quite a delusion, and that the Chinese are capable, thanks to opium, of doing work which to a European is quite impossible, and that on food at which the least squeamish of English people would turn up their noses in disgust.
The acceptance that this should even be argument offers a glimpse into a mind that still ranks and categorises people by race, class and gender. My insides revolt at such a casual description of the horror of the opium trade and the criminal nature of Britain’s opium wars fought to open Chinese markets to the drug as they tried to seal it off. A man of his times in this way, it just shows how structured the times were by racism and imperialism.
And at the same time, there is this:
Surely a project, which thus brings what Mr Herbert Spencer still terms ‘the dictum of absolute ethics’–that all men are equally entitled to the use of the earth–into the field of practical life, and makes it a thing immediately realizable by those who believe in it, must be one of greatest public importance. (77)
Can’t argue with that, though per the above, I have my suspicions about what he means by ‘all men’ and there’s a lot of women about as well.
Interesting that he recognizes on our current lands ‘men have laid an immoral foundation for us in the past’ but on ‘territory not yet individually portioned out’ a new equality can be brought into being. This is the dream of colonization, no? A dream that never seems to recognise it has laid a new immoral foundation that will in turn destroy what comes after. But it is also the dream of garden cities here in Britain, where new towns can be founded on empty lands.
Howard argues for one example, well founded, well built and functioning, to show what is possible. Only after this achievement is well established and growing will it be time to think of a national movement. It is social change accomplished through the force of example.
And notice how such a successful experiment as Garden City may easily become will drive into the very bed-rock of vested interests a great wedge, which will split them asunder with irresistible force, and permit the current of legislation to set strongly in a new direction. (100)
The patronising side of me thinks this is very sweet.
After the success of one, clusters of garden cities would grow up. As the first founded reached its optimal size, another would be founded. Each would contain housing, gardens, factories and shopping. Each would sit within a green belt so all its citizens might have access to countryside, linked to each other by a fast railway system allowing freedom of movement.
These crowded cities have done their work; they were the best which a society largely based on selfishness and rapacity could construct, but they are in the nature of things entirely unadapted for a society in which the social side of our nature is demanding a larger share of recognition — a society where even the very love of self leads us to insist upon a greater regard for the well-being of our fellows. (98)
Out of this he hopes for a change, a new kind of society giving birth to a new city (or is it the city giving birth to a new society? Or both coming together?). Stripped of its critique and utopian elements of collective ownership of land, single elements of Howard’s dream were reworked to become part of what lies in the rush to the suburbs, and a widespread use of sentences such as this:
in proving this it will open wide the doors of migration from the old crowded cities with their inflated and artificial rents, back to the land which can now be secured so cheaply. (100)
Only elements of garden cities were ever built, only elements of it incorporated into suburbs in a way to eradicate their radical content. Yet even taken as an utopian vision which in part I agree with, I am so wary of so much of this, hate top-down planning though I know I have all the benefit of hind-sight. I can see how Le Corbusier emerges as naturally from this line of thought as Bertrand Goldberg or even perhaps a planner working along permaculture principles. But I will end on the sentence I most loved:
…homes are being erected for those who have long lived in slums; work is found for the workless, land for the landless, and opportunities for the expenditure of long pent-up energy are presenting themselves at every turn. A new sense of freedom and joy is pervading the hearts of the people as their individual faculties are awakened, and they discover, in a social life which permits alike of the completest concerted action and of the fullest individual liberty, the long-sought-for means of reconciliation between order and freedom–between the wellbeing of the individual and of society. (104)
Form and Philosophy — some amazing drawings from Bertrand Goldberg on the geometries of space, how architecture creates or blocks movement and how it can be structured to facilitate human work and communication.
These are all from Goldberg: Dans la Ville of course, as I continue working my way through it.
Just communities. Just cities. Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.