Concrete Reveries: Consciousness and the City
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An exploration of urbanism, personal identity, and how the space we live in shapes us
According to philosopher and cultural critic Mark Kingwell, the transnational global city—New York and Shanghai—is the most significant machine our species has ever produced. And yet, he says, we fail again and again to understand it. How do cities shape us, and how do we shape them? That is the subject of Concrete Reveries, which investigates how we occupy city space and why place is so important to who we are.
Kingwell explores the sights, smells, and forms of the city, reflecting on how they mold our notions of identity, the limits of social and political engagement, and our moral obligations as citizens. He offers a critique of the monumental architectural supermodernism in which buildings are valued more for their exteriors than for what is inside, as well as some lively writing on the significance of threshold structures like doorways, lobbies, and porches and the kinds of emotional attachments we form to ballparks, carnival grounds, and gardens. In the process, he gives us a whole new set of models and metaphors for thinking about the city.
With a spectacular interior design and more than seventy-five photos, Concrete Reveries will appeal to fans of Jane Jacobs, Witold Rybczynski, and Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness.
of light and shadow between inside and outside, like the thin marble panels that clad the Beinecke Library at Yale University (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 1960-63): stone refashioned as almost glass. Not surprisingly, the cost of producing Litracon, because of the glass and plastic fibers, makes it unsuitable for widespread use in everyday construction. “The most sensible commercial use,” one writer noted, “might be see-through barriers of the sort that shield the halls of government from
If anything, they make it more alive and well than ever, only this time under conditions overtly hostile to democracy. “A building condenses a culture in one place.” (Edward Casey) Evan Penny’s multipiece bronze sculpture Pi (1992), Toronto: art for the urban interior created by built forms. One might say that architects would do well to remember these things, but in truth the responsibility is more general. The logic of inside and out belongs to us all—not only because we all must
of the place. A few Chinese couples canoodled under dim light. A middle-aged Western man with an outgrown white mullet sat side by side with an absurdly young Chinese girl, on whose knee his big, bejeweled paw rested. A table was set up with a bottle of Chivas Regal, an ice bucket, and cut-glass tumblers—luxury mise en place. No one ever came to sit there. Groups of wealthy Shanghainese began to arrive. They shoved tables together and shouted orders for cosmopolitans and layered liqueur
came anyway, and the couple’s quiet evening ended with a broken-down door and them in handcuffs. Inside the city’s threshold, everything and everyone is revealed as disposable, subject to subjection; and then, as Bloch puts it, “the furniture vanishes … goes to the wall.” Now the home is no cherished private sphere but the site of judgment, interrogation, trial. ii. Imaginary City And yet, these conclusions are far too pessimistic, and too passive, to convince us for long or finally.
concessions of the city. The excellent 1987 Steven Spielberg film adaptation, starring John Malkovich and Christian Bale, gave the novel new visibility. See also Kazuo Ishiguro, When We Were Orphans (Random House, 2000). In Shanghai and the Edges of Empire (University of Minnesota Press, 2006), Meng Yue brings postmodern and hybridity theory usefully to bear on the new economic and political conditions of the city as it enters the twenty-first century. Trotsky’s remarks about skyscrapers are