Essay by Evangelina Guerra Luján
Once, a city was divided in two parts. One part became the Good Half, the other became the Bad Half. The inhabitants of the Bad Half began to flock to the Good Half of the divided city, rapidly swelling into an urban exodus. After all attempts to interrupt this undesirable migration had failed, the authorities of the Bad Half made desperate and savage use of architecture: they built a wall around the Good Half of the city, making it completely accessible to their subject. This is how the London we know today was structured. (For more information, see Rem Koolhaas project for London 1972: The Strip Project.)
Another city experienced the same story: Zürich. After all attempts to stop immigration from the bad parts of the city failed, the authorities of Zürich desperately ran towards architecture solutions to improve the situation. Savage use of architecture was made and then it was born: a wall was built around the city, as well as a sphere that covered the heart of Zürich. Underground passages were built so the inhabitants could reach the mountains if they wanted to, and secondary large buildings were attached to the main wall. These facilities accommodate all kinds of tourist services. The media noticed it: once more, the import of an urban model was a success, unifying cultures, making bonds, and making everyone stronger. Once again “The Urban Copy Paste” was the megalopolitan answer.
This wall was responsible for many changes in the city. For example: Paradeplatz (previously a pig market) was now one of the most paradisiacal, pleasant and safe spots in all Europe. All the pleasures came to The Good Zürich. There were all the desirable alternatives a citizen ever wanted. The authorities structured a plan called “Sensorial Project” so the inhabitants were stimulated by the senses at all times. Thousands of chocolate stores popped out of nowhere, turning the public realm into a delicious one. Graphic design was embedded everywhere. The most astonishing typefaces, flyers, ads, here and there… everywhere. The bills that the government decided to transform into the city’s strongest cultural object were beautiful. The inhabitants, those strong enough to love the new metropolis, were joyful: they had the most beautiful bills in the world. Even the garbage bags were an example of beauty. It was perfect. You could frame a bag and put it in a museum of any other country next to a label: “This is a Masterpiece”. But the true masterpiece was the city. Not the wall, not the sphere over the heart of Zürich; it was all the ideal urban idea of Zürich.
Transportation was another asset of the city. Name the spot, there was a mobile tube with an individual place for each one, to travel in comfort even the shortest distance. The most efficient transportation system was created, and every day of the year, it was updating itself. In that world where the city of Zürich was re-structured, another important element was acquired. Clocks were placed in every corner of the city, the beauty of punctuality in all its splendor. Not one minute more or less in every aspect of Zürich life was ever again experienced. No flaws were allowed. Some of them would sing the time and this melody would be heard in every corner of the city. Each one of the citizens was living in an uninterrupted harmonic urban space.
Disposal became an art: trash was elegantly thrown away. Each type of product package had its container. Each container, its architectural space. Every architectural space, a series of instructions on how to approach it. The do’s and the dont’s. All this achieved by means of the beauty of graphic design. The sight in perpetual nourishment as part of the “Sensorial Program.” The trash had never been so clean, and in the middle of this oxymoron, there was the exquisiteness.
The city suddenly muted into a runway of serene monuments in a continuous ornamental frenzy and decorative delirium, an overdose of symbols. Consumption of goods was the indirect answer of the inhabitants to the authorities as a response to their wealth in every possible aspect of their lives. The most prestigious brands from all over the world contacted the authorities in order to open a store in Zürich, and it was carefully curated by the Department of Art of Acquiring Goods. Not every brand had the qualities of infinite and lifetime pleasure to a Swiss buyer. The most lusted-after places were the ones in the perimeter of the sphere.
The atmosphere was so different than in London, the urban model of the strip, followed as expected and in much more pleasant ways. Zürich had not only imported London’s Urban Model, it had defeated London in terms of urban design. It became a plausible moment: the rise of the Urbanalization.
In such a little time frame the inhabitants, miraculously, started to follow all the rules imposed by the authorities, and soon, the wall stopped its construction and the sphere was removed. This spatial decision did not change the behavior of the inhabitants. To the contrary, they continued all the norms of urbanity. In some parts of the city, you still could see the remains of the wall, left as a footprint of this urban phase.
Time passed, and a dew of stress and concern engulfed the behavior of the citizens. Something changed. The inhabitants did not know what, and even though the authorities knew it, the information had to be kept and secured for everyone’s own safety. Otherwise the “Swiss way of life” could have been interrupted. One of the guesses amongst the inhabitants of a slight but notorious dissolution of their happiness was the incredible amount of people begging the city for admission. These human flocks were merely caused by the intense mass media exporting and communicating all the pleasures experience in the hedonistic Swiss land. Some of the applicants were admitted, after careful medical, intellectual and financial analysis, and some others managed to permeate the city limits. All the inhabitants, the welcome and the unwelcomed, became then, in a way or another, voluntary prisoners of the urban dictatorship in the territory.
Time passed and, suddenly one day, it happened. Something occurred in the mind of just one of the inhabitants. All types of pleasures had been supplied and yet this fullness suppressed her insides.
Where in this city could she get “nothingness”?
She trembled with desire and sighed. Is there a way out?
She spread curiosity amongst other prisoners and in one month, there were 670 prisoners tying to escape. Visual demands of liberation of leader prisoners started to appear in the urban landscape. In an emergency state of mind, they started expeditions in the territory and trespassed every single architecture element of every spot in the city, mapping one by one the emergency exits for Zürich and passing this cartography notebook from generation to generation. Only one copy was made. It was available for consult, but no copies were made in order to protect the information. The data should have been evangelically passed on, but some of them called it rumors and others urban myths. This caused a decrease in the number on prisoners wanting to keep, and therefore pass, the information. These prisoners lost the ability to locate the exits and in their blindness, they continued in the urban dungeon forever.
Most of the information was lost.
Other data was suppressed.
There is only the certainty of one emergency exit.
We call it : Notausgang 73.
Evangelina Guerra Luján (a.k.a. The Nomad ) is an urban architect, public space designer / strategist, spatial designer and lecturer/pedagogue. Trained in Urban Architecture at ITESM (Guadalajara, México) with a postgraduate degree in Design, Art and Society: Actions on Public Space at ELISAVA (Barcelona, Spain) and a Master Advanced Studies of Applied Sciences in Spatial Design (ehem. Scenography) at ZHdK (Zürich, Switzerland), Evangelina develops her professional practice beyond the traditional boundaries of Architecture. She is founder and director of The Nomad Network and OTUN Studio.
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