THE METROPOLIS AS LANDSCAPE seminar
This seminar looks at ways that the urban is conceived and perceived as landscape, understood here in both the original sense of the word – as scenery to be viewed for pleasure – as well as emerging temporal and performative notions of landscape. The contention here is that the recent shift in many western cities from an economy based primarily upon industrial production toward one based increasingly on consumption and services (the tertiary economic sector) is transforming our "view" of the urban: the metropolis is increasingly, in effect, a landscape; a panorama as well as a field condition.
What roles do planning, architecture, technology and politics play in this scene? The emergence of the new field of Landscape Urbanism as well as the current tendency on the part of architects to use terminology borrowed from physical geography to describe large urbanization projects point to a reconception of both the very idea of "landscape" as well as "city". In more traditional picturesque conceptions of landscape and urbanism, a similar approximation can be observed. The phenomenon of Everyday Camouflage, in which facilities inconsistent with an urban image or theme are concealed behind misleading facades, provides an example of a "scenic" strategy, as does the use of certain cities as stand-ins for other, real cities by the film industry (similar to the role that the landscape of Almeria has played in the production of Spaghetti Westerns).
Camouflage, in both nature and warfare, is a means for escaping visual detection by an enemy or predator, presupposing a combative relationship between a viewing and a viewed subject. Yet, a civilian, presumably non-adversarial form of camouflage is increasingly present in many Western cities that has little to do with physical conflict and everything to do with (the prevention of) ideological conflict; with appeasing prevailing aesthetic sensibilities and notions of civic rectitude in the interests of creating an image of uniformity and cohesion.
"Everyday camouflage," as it is identified here, is a strategy for concealing potentially problematic or undesirable building content by means of contrived architectural simulation. Examples include the concealment of new construction -- especially urban infrastructure installations -- behind traditional building façades; clandestine religious groups operating under the cover of "normal" secular architecture; banality concealed behind spectacular architecture; wealth disguised behind an image of poverty; or buildings whose contentious histories are "cleansed" by the application of new exterior surface materials. More generally, it is possible to identify three main cultural issues which seem to prompt applications of everyday camouflage: modernity, class, and memory.
In cases of everyday camouflage, the notion of "building type" is appropriated and at the same time subverted. The correlation that normally exists between building content and building form is taken advantage of in order to conceal by means of a deceptive simulation. A disjunction is thereby made to exist between what a building contains and what it "looks like" it contains. Any consistency between form and content is made yield to a consistency among forms. Such an urban formal uniformity appeals to popular fantasies of the city as a harmonious space; a sentiment that is on the rise in an increasingly heterogeneous and pluralist age.
The existence of this everyday form of camouflage puts into question the socio-political construction of the city as the space par excellence of civilized society, revealing instead hidden deceits and the extent to which a mythical urban image must, at times, be made to prevail over reality. It shows, moreover, how the city is increasingly constructed and manipulated as a landscape; as "scenery" with which architecture is expected to conform, regardless of content. The very authenticity of what is experienced and seen is put into question by this marginal, relatively unusual phenomenon.
Everyday camouflage also reveals how architectural appearance can be made to perform in a strategic and performative capacity; how architectural aesthetics can comprise a stratagem – a means to an end – as opposed to an object of visual contemplation – an end in itself.