Monday, June 20, 2011

the standardization of cool

It's hard to doubt that vacant industrial architecture, stitched into the neglected post-industrial landscape, is at the top of the list of cool (especially in the context of the last decade).

The ease at which one can transform a vacant warehouse into an art studio or a music hall is extraordinary. These once average, or below average, landscapes (e.g. The High Line, The Allegheny River Front, Hudson River Piers) and utilitarian architecture (a vast majority of the East River waterfront) now provide spaces for a variety of uses, most of which tend to draw inspiration from the aged composition of industrial architecture and landscape. We don't have to look too far to see that this trend exists internationally - take the Ruhr Valley in Germany or Victoria Street in Melbourne, for example.

The question of how the post-industrial urban form can transform has certainly been answered, in numerous cities and by numerous cultures. Can we begin to infer, then, that the notion of what is cool in this regard has become standardized? Has the trend in post-industrial urban revitalization now simply become a predictable morphology?

It isn't too much of a stretch to guess where I'm taking this story:

Industry fades, industry vacates, the structures and landscape that remain are easily adaptable, artisans and counter culture moves in, the mood and culture of the neighborhood shifts, more people are attracted to it, the middle and upper class enjoy the art, enjoy the food and music, economically it makes sense to begin to cater to wealth, loft living inserts itself into the warehouses, small galleries are eventually pushed out, the chic culture grows, the neighborhood sees new structures built, playing off the industrial vibe.

Years later, just as industry fell and inspired a new aesthetic, the once new aesthetic is gentrified and the standardization of cool transforms into the standardization of loft living, high end galleries and a class of people far different from those who inspired the initial transformation. This is, of course, a strong generalization, but one that is valid in many ways and many contexts.

The next task for me is to prove myself wrong and adjust my theory to specifically 2011 and the future. To understand how this theory of the standardization of post-industrial urban morphology will prove incorrect in years to come.

While I do believe this pseudo-standardization theory to be true in many ways, in an America where the economy is still on crutches, how does post-industrial urban morphology change? What does gentrification begin to look like in an age of economic down turn? Do people want to live in chic industrial lofts or is there a new pattern of living desires. How does this relate to the booming economy of China or to the long standing transformed Ruhr Valley, where many of the families from the industrial culture remain and some industry still functions?

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