i'm staring at the cover of the latest issue of harvard design magazine. it's an ugly cover, with this generic ciudad perdida shot (could be bogotá, rio de janeiro or the outskirts of mexico city) and a really bad render of some sort of wacky aluminum-clad community hub connected to a ludicrous aerial tram system (public transport, i assume). this is typical of the "western" (first-world) or "westernized" (u.s. or europe-trained) perspective on what architecture (formal) can do for "non-formal" cities.

first off, there is no such thing as a non-formal city (just like there is no such thing as a "formal city"). you can speak of informal settlements, economies, housing, interventions, dynamics, processes, architectures ... but not cities. the clear split between formal and informal, especially at the city scale, is pretty much useless. one always pervades the other and vice versa. one engenders the other and vice versa.

i open up to page 3, the editor's letter. i find it relatively insulting: he talks about dirty work and third world urbanization, and then goes on describing the rest of the issue (computer-generated ornament and parametric design) with a terribly narrow statement of: "meanwhile, back in the developed world..."  this is the usual inability i find most primermundistas have when trying to grasp the extent and pervasiveness of informality, and recognize it not as a localized or "culturally determined" phenomenon, but as an active product of globalization.

it reminds me of the speech impairments most gringos (and spaniards, and french people for that matter) suffer from when they try to learn a foreign language, they are so little exposed to this type of difference, and feel they have little to none incentives to actually make an effort.

but the thing is they do need to make an effort, now more than ever. it's not a matter of waiting for informality to creep up on the pure and pristine and algorithmic west. they're already knee-high in it.

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1 comment:

Fernando L Lara said...

great post Mario,
haven't seen the HDM yet but I remember well a lecture by its editor about one year ago and your post syntesizes very well all the contradictions of this kind of discourse