In this period of great visibility of architecture, the reputation of architects and urban planners remains limited. We often admire some architecture, but do not like the contemporary city. Rather than drawing your attention to architectural objects, I will direct it toward the relations between the objects, the senses, and the meaning of these relations—that is to say, toward the architecture of the city. If one travels through the contemporary European city along the continuum of their core, to the more complex rhythms of its periphery—more or less structured by the projects of modernity—to finally arrive at the simple rhythms of sprawl or dispersion, one is forced to reflect on the meaning of the analogy a between the city and the metronome. The shape of the contemporary city is the material and imaginary product of a multiplicity of subjects, each one, like the hundred metronomes from György Ligeti’s Poème symphonique (1963), with its idiorythmies, its temporalities, its own rationality.
I have been wandering in and wondering about urban landscapes for at least thirty years, and the way they have mutated in the past decade have been strange, disturbing, wonderful, and terrible. My own education in ruins has progressed enormously the last several years, and I want to start from the premise that ruins can be a sign of abundance, not impoverishment. For there is a paradox at the heart of North American cities now: wealth has become a great destroyer, and poverty a great preservative. While the official future is not the destruction of the ruinous old industrial city, but of some of the hopes and richness of cities hewn from almost everyone and everything, the most ruined of American cities, and perhaps the poorest, Detroit, has opened up wild possibilities for the deep future. This is so apparent to me, maybe because I come from one of the cities of wealth, San Francisco. My city underwent the same urban decay on a modest scale as most other North American cities in the postwar era, but has been under assault by wealth for the past thirty years, most intensively during the dotcom technology boom, which I realise now was more a real-estate boom than anything else, because that’s what lasted when all the silly virtual businesses were blown away like milkweed fluff by a shift in the winds of Capital, one bubble ago.
The CCA Mellon Foundation Senior Fellowship Program was established in 2001 to encourage advanced research in architectural history and thought. With the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the CCA has welcomed distinguished scholars for residencies of one to eight months, culminating in a public lecture.