Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tokyo and Beijing, SF MOMA edition


I'm not entirely sure what the artist was trying to say in these photographs. Perhaps he was just leaving it to the viewer to draw conclusions. The picture of Tokyo is remarkable for the vast low-rise stretch of buildings, marked by a few tall buildings; the picture of Beijing focuses on a neighborhood of tall apartment complexes in parks. When I saw it, it seemed to be a comparison of a more traditional city built at human scale against the "Radiant City" of Hypertrophic buildings.

From the aerial vantage point, the Beijing picture is more interesting: the Tokyo picture just appears to be a flat space. But if you look close up, then things are the other way around. The tall buildings in Beijing are surrounded by empty green space and parking lots. There are few people. The streets and avenues in Tokyo are busy and alive with people.

It's probably unfair to completely characterize these two cities this way: Tokyo has Hypertrophic buildings (I've been around some) and Beijing has traditional neighborhoods. But I think by-and-large, Tokyo planners and residents understand the virtues of their city and don't try to wipe it out. I cannot say the same thing of the Chinese, who are learning the hard way that central planning can often be quite horrible, especially when it comes to city planning. They seem ashamed of their cultural heritage, sadly, and they attempt to imitate Western practices. Unfortunately, they never bothered to check if those practices are sound.  So they wound up copying from urban planning disasters such as Brooklyn housing projects, and the rest of Le Corbusier's "Radiant City" garbage that has poisoned American cities for the past century. Speaking of the devil...

Also on display: Le Corbusier, destroyer of cities!

Lewis Mumford put it best:
By "mating utilitarian and financial image of the skyscraper city to the romantic image of the organic environment, Le Corbusier had, in fact, produced a sterile hybrid."

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