1

Koolhaas, R. Generic city. Sassenheim: Sikkens Foundation (1995)

 

2

Ídem.

The Generic City. Global Versus Local

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We live in a world of precipitous change and high-speed results, one which demands immediate experiences and where the image is the new reality. Globalisation has shortened distances, diminished the time factor and smashed through geographical and cultural barriers. The motto of this new age is “Anything, anywhere”. The city of today is the product of synergies between postmodernism, capitalism, mass tourism and a constant flow of different ideas, cultures and intentions. Its urban fabric reflects the laws of supply and demand, suppressing cultures, establishing a new global identity and often severing ties with the past.

But that’s not the reason why the generic city is homogeneous. There’s so much variety that we’ve reached the point of what Koolhaas would call “varied boredom”1. The modern metropolis is a chaos of disparate forms, functions and moments. Repetition is the exception.

“The generic city is ‘superficial’ like a Hollywood studio lot. It can produce a new identity every Monday morning.”2

Might we be losing the soul of our cities in the name of absolute functionality? Local culture is imperative for a city’s healthy existence. It’s what makes it possible to differentiate Lisbon from New York, Paris or Barcelona. Portuguese paving and Gaudí’s architecture constitute a heritage well worth preserving.

It’s imperative to endow inhabitants, cultural movements and urban art with a voice. It’s also the responsibility of urban planners and architects to implement solutions that can be integrated at local level. In Lisbon, a 60m high, 16-storey multipurpose tower was proposed for Avenida Almirante Reis, one of the city’s main arteries. The building would not integrate well into its surroundings. The area is occupied mainly by low-elevation buildings and there is a strong local community which has already declared its opposition to a development it considers inappropriate for the location because it would cast a huge shadow over the neighbouring streets.

The city cannot relinquish either its connection with the past or the unpredictability which makes it so unique, just to become a place dedicated exclusively to easy, well-organised consumer activity. The city centre runs the risk of ending up as somewhere frequented only by the upper classes and by tourists, of becoming a peripheral zone for a dormitory area occupied mainly by housing clusters which limit direct interpersonal interaction. Rather than a meeting place and a venue for cultural activity, the street is now becoming scarcely more than a simple transit space.

In Europe, cities’ histories are largely still respected, but in some cities in Asia and the United States local identities are being sacrificed to the god of neoliberal pragmatism. Cities are now simplified, adaptable, reusable and mass-produced. Dubai, for example, is a rationally planned, post-modern machine-city which functions almost as if it were a theme park. And it’s a model that’s easy to copy elsewhere.

The generic city is characterised by its lack of history. Marc Augé, talking about “supermodernity”, defined transitory spaces lacking in anthropological references, such as airports, shopping malls and big traffic infrastructures, as “non-places”. What will become of the city when places lose their connection with history? Will it just be a map showing routes between “non-places”? First and foremost, cities should be built through a process of constant dialogue between local and global dimensions. We can’t allow them to lose their identity, because that’s precisely what makes them real places.


Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor.

Notas de página
1

Koolhaas, R. Generic city. Sassenheim: Sikkens Foundation (1995)

 

2

Ídem.

Autor:
(Coimbra, 1991) Arquiteto recém-graduado pela Universidade de Coimbra, estando um ano de Erasmus na HCU em Hamburgo, cidade onde também realizei um estágio pelo mesmo programa. Considero a viagem das coisas mais importantes na formação do arquiteto e interesso-me particularmente pelo urbanismo e modo de habitar a cidade.

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