WWhat do a fake hill, a giant illuminated ball, gondola rides 300 meters in the air, stairs to nowhere, a park perched on a river, and a glass elevator stuck on the side of a skyscraper have in common?
They are all part of the experienced modern city. The Mound, London’s dismal artificial turf scaffolding structure, could soon join Sphere and Tulip, while New York already has Vessel, Little Island and Summit One Vanderbilt.
Big cities are on a roll, commissioning giant and peculiar structures with the purpose of attracting consumers by providing them with a unique experience. This trend is not so much a stylistic move as an expression of financial pragmatism. Designers, no matter how brilliant, are in debt to the interests of their clients.
Take the mound, commissioned by the Westminster City Council and designed by the Dutch firm MVRDV. The goal was to get people to shop again on Oxford Street and turn a prime area of central London into a paid attraction. The plan didn’t quite go according to plan, and eventually the site had to offer free admission to attract visitors.
It was the same thinking behind British designer Thomas Heatherwick’s Vessel, a 46-meter (150-foot) tall gazebo costing $ 200 million (£ 144 million), built to increase crowds in the Hudson Yards luxury shopping district. from Manhattan. Unfortunately, the visible and accessible high place also attracted suicides. The Vessel closed for several months earlier this year after the third death, reopening with the requirement that people have to come together in groups of two to enter. In July, a 14-year-old boy died after jumping in front of his family. Now it could close forever.
Just a few blocks away, in downtown Manhattan, the Summit SL Green Realty will open next month. The skyscraper promises to get people straight out of Grand Central Station with a dizzying bar, a room of infinite mirrors made for selfies, and glass-bottomed cantilevers. The entire tower cost $ 3.3 billion to build, and ticket prices (the glass elevator ride is separate, of course), have yet to be announced.
The tulip, which awaits a final planning decision, is perhaps the strangest on paper. Elevated 305 meters above the city of London on a concrete pole, the bulbous capsule, commissioned by the Safra Group, designed by Foster + Partners, will include rides and slides located outside the building. It is not just the land that is now monetized, it is the airspace that surrounds it.
These buildings first entered our cities in the form of the amusement park structures of the millennium: the giant Ferris wheel of the Eye and the big top of the Dome circus. Definite articles were added to their names, emphasizing the supremacy of the attractions. The financialization of property that occurred over the next several decades caused developers to seek profit by buying and selling land at inflated prices. Caught in a trap of their own making, they were forced to monetize commercial properties to make higher profits from increasingly expensive assets. Ironically, they are having to attract people to the neighborhoods from which they were excluded.
If the primary goal of these experience-driven attractions is to generate cash for their developers, it’s no wonder they’re actively making our cities worse, and not just aesthetically. Little Island, nicknamed “Instagram Park,” and also designed by Heatherwick, is a wonderland of trees and plants hollowed out by concrete columns rising from the Hudson River. The construction cost billionaire Barry Diller $ 260 million and, although it is free, you have to reserve a place in advance. Diller said he paid for 24 hour security, apparently to avoid a repeat of the problems at Vessel.
The joy of impulsiveness disappears if you have to pre-register your personal details in a park. Discovery is no longer a welcome wandering accident when security gates obstruct your path, and spaces are no longer public if we are only allowed to walk under the gaze of security guards.
It does not have to be this way. People don’t want to live in a privatized playground: they want a city that really inspires them and that works. And it is not moralistic to suggest that free public services may actually be more attractive as attractions. Just see Oodi, Finland’s impressive Helsinki Central Library by ALA Architects, or the Nippon Foundation’s Tokyo Vanity Project, where big names like Tadao Ando and Toyo Ito have designed public toilets that light up or show through when not. are in use. Imagine what Norman Foster could do with a couple million for a toilet, instead of the Tulip.
India Block is assistant editor of the architecture and design magazine Dezeen
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism