Sanford Kwinter is a self-indulgent hyper intellectual speed train who gives no concession to his readers on disparate references and breadth of knowledge. This collection of essays derives from a life devoted to analysis and intellectualism around the topics of architecture and urbanism but no less discussed are philosophical studies, cultural studies, economic theory, theoretical physics and many more disciplines and strands of thought that interweave all together in a continuum of analysis and self-reflection.
For architects, it is primarily a document of hope (and slightly less so an emancipating one) since it contains several hints to the future of the profession and indications of self-worth for the current one.
“When architecture finds the courage to take its place alongside other practices as a full-fledged form of thought, it will then realize its potential to lead the way- to produce knowledge and not only deduce it, and to make apprehensible to the senses the vast and remote conspiracy of forces that produce our world today”
“We need to face the fact that architecture is fast becoming part of the knowledge industry. “Design” is becoming increasingly dissociated from simple “building” and progressively more associated with the production of intellectual property: ideas, routines, contexts, entire social and cultural environments and processes”
Requiem for the city at the end of the millennium rarely mentions a concrete city or project, yet its brilliant analysis dwells on the underlying elements and the wider processes of modern urban life itself: globalization, liberalism, the deregulated free market and the image-laden global culture of the XXI st century often with such incendiary comments as the following one:
“The poverty of much urbanist thought can be traced to a persistent fallacy: that the city, or Metropolis, expresses itself preeminently in it physical form and that is amenable to analysis and intervention as a finite concrete object alone.”
The brilliance of this book is in its well delivered networking of ideas. It begins with the analysis of Richard Roger and Renzo Piano’s Pompidou Centre in counterpoint to Gordon Matta Clark’s work in Beaubourg (conical intersect) and their adaptation in modern French Culture and its modernization, following with disparate and contrasting subjects such as liberalization and the unfettered market, the reshaping of the American mall, modern bureaucratic structures, Rem Koolhaas’s ideas on Bigness, and ending finally with a post 9/11 discussion of Ground Zero’s architectural possibilities.
It suffices to say that the city is one of the most complex of human creations and Kwinter will pay enough respect to make a diligent and cogent analysis on the superimposition of the so many layers of existence that give rise to current urban trends and the emergence of new cities.
This short book is a highly self-referential and anecdotal in character especially for an author well-known for his reticence towards commenting personal life, Sanford includes a piece of storytelling about a personal travel to Japan during one of Cynthia Davidson’s ANY conferences that took place in the 90s and how these experiences shaped him and his thoughts as an author.