The Imaginary Century
Listen to/Watch entire show:
By Marc Porter Zasada
Sometimes, we all wish we could live in the imagined 21st Century. Not the one that actually exists, but the one they pictured in the last century.
Today, for example, the Urban Man buys a ticket for an architectural tour of a single family home built with extreme postmodernism. It's been dropped into a quaint street of Venice Beach bungalows, and at first glance you'd think it were a small office building. Me, I appreciate the severe lines, the thrusting metal beams and the big plates of glass.
I don't know about you, but I get a strangely old-fashioned feeling from recent architectural experiments. It's like reading a favorite science fiction story from the 1950s: there's something charming, even nostalgic about such a deep faith in mathematic principles and exuberant engineering -- no matter how impractical or intimidating the results may be.
I had the same wistful reaction last year when I first saw the new Caltrans building Downtown, designed by Thomas Mayne to look like a drawing out of a kid's sci-fi comic book. I understand that locals now refer to it fondly as -the Death Star."
Because of this oddly familiar feel, I'm rarely surprised by postmodern experiments. For example, on the house tour this afternoon, I see that all the usual rules about breaking architectural rules have been followed: here are the koi ponds and zen gardens, the steep walls and daunting masses, the awkward angles and the luxury without comfort.
Privacy has been minimized: The glass walls have no shades. The master bedroom -- and even the master bath -- have no doors. For a moment, I recall the novels of Robert Heinlein, when handsome heroes of glib intelligence strolled in high tech fortresses and dropped their clothes without embarrassment.
Then I head downstairs, where my footsteps echo on the polished concrete floors.
In the imagined 21st century, I suppose architects figured our souls would resonate with vaulting confidence of these sheer walls and clean lines, along with shadeless plazas and treeless gardens. We would never leave a stray piece of paper lying on an abstract side table. Never leave a smudge on a window pane. And in the presence of large pieces of metal, we would drop history and traditoin to embrace some new and exquisite logic.
It was a beautiful dream, and now that this century has actually arrived in such a loud and messy way, I really wish I could fulfill it.
Sure, I carry a cell phone shaped like a silver bullet. Sure I access the Internet wirelessly. And yes, briefly today, I can stand in this minimalist living room and picture myself occupying the imagined century. I too would keep myself sleek for the surprise visitor to my doorless bedroom. I too would lounge glibly behind these glass walls. I too would live with an uncluttered view.
Then, of course, I can't help picturing my four kids arriving noisily at the door, along with the enormous stacks of paper and magazines that seem to follow me everywhere. I picture the walls getting scratched and the vast panes of glass getting smudged.
In fact, as I leave the house this afternoon, I find myself letting the dream itself retreat into nostalgia, and I return with a certain relief to my own termite-ridden abode, with its painted window frames, its scattered toys and its persistent litter of old ideas and unfinished history.
In the real 21st century, at least, the Urban Man need not be sleek all the time.
Copyright - 2005 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
Click the Full Details link to view the complete transcript. Tapes are not available.
Engage & Discuss
BROUGHT TO YOU BY