After The City
Lerup, Lars. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001. 200 p., 14.95, paperback. ISBN 0262122243.
“The full story of distance in American culture -— its motions, voids, and vapors—has yet to be written” (Lerup 83).
Lars Lerup’s After the City begins with a series of photographs of the Houston landscape, accompanied by thoughtful meditations which tease out surreal motifs for contemplation: “Lifting out of the ground, the freeway abandons its base to join, ever so briefly, the air space” (9). But as Lerup traces the trajectory from the city to the “metropolitan galaxy” (46), these surreal refrains gain more and more substance, becoming convincing features of the new metropolis. The result is a convincing argument that, “The metropolis has replaced the city, and as a consequence architecture as a static enterprise has been displaced by architecture as a form of software” (22).
Lerup describes his position:
The realization that speed dominates stasis, and that stasis has become mere pause and rest, completely undermines the age old concepts of permanence and identity in favor of transformation and event. The city is being swept away by the metropolis. This does not just replace one noun with another, but radically turns the state of affairs into a state of perpetual motion. (77)
In other words, Lerup, in pointing out that contemporary society is a society at motion, is advocating an architecture that factors this sensibility into its design. Rather than design structures, the solution is to design meaningful spaces for bodies in motion —- places to be for a world where “being” means being in motion.
Lerup makes a strong appeal to architects, reminding them of the human purpose of the profession, “we help living bodies” (114). In Lerup’s view, the desire for greatness has led architects away from their true calling, and purged thoughtful and artistic designs from the everyday experience of the average citizen. “Instead,” Lerup argues, “architectural educators should promote teamwork and choose the design of authorless objects as their fundamental preoccupation, combined with the integration of design and practice” (26). Rather than concern themselves with grand projects, fame, and prestige, Lerup suggest that architects insert themselves into humble projects -— like suburban developments. The ultimate goal being the “formation of the metropolitan consciousness” (28).
Using a wide range of postmodern and avant-garde thinkers to formulate his strategy for a new architecture, Lerup draws upon Marcel Duchamp, Georges Bataille, Jacques Derrida, William Gibson, and Paul Virilio (among many, many others). But perhaps most significant are his use of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, whose emphasis on “lines of flight” prompted Michel Foucault to describe their work as a “guide to non-fascist living.” In advocating an architecture that facilitates liberated movement and encourages the free use of space, Lerup is calling architects to take an active role in making the world a better place.
But more than being a book for architects, After the City might prove useful to a much wider readership. It’s discussions of space and place are relevant for anyone interested in motion, space, urbanism, American culture, and virtual reality. Beyond its sensitive synthesis of postmodern theory, Lerup’s work is a thought-provoking plea to all cultural workers. While ambitious claims such as, “Le Corbusier’s new man will appear a simpleton next to the redesigned humans of the future,” may raise a few eyebrows, it is difficult to ignore Lerup’s plea for a rethinking of the human-centered project in the face of postmodern cynicism.