Versus Ugly Infrastructure and Useless Monuments

Every reputable blog has been posting these amazing mockups for Choi and Shine Architects’ The Land of Giants project.   Such images instantly evoke that gut feeling of ‘why the hell haven’t we been doing this all along?’

The chronicle of the infrastructure achievements of the 20th century will surely include the phrase ‘done on the cheap’.  Whereas once public works were a canvas for artisans and a symbol of the munificence of the rulers who ordered their construction, rarely has something functional been built in the modern age that has been a delight to behold.  Functionality with minimal adornment has been the  norm, replacing craftsmen with workers and leaving the most grand and inspiring of plans on the drawing board or, at best, the pages of architecture journals.

Bursts of public beauty can be found in the trend across cultures to invest in monuments, often in remembrance of people or events.  It’s a strange contrast to infrastructure though, in that it seems almost taboo for a monument to serve a purpose other than memorial.  Perhaps it’s religion that inspires this disconnect.  After all, many religions apply a strict separation between sacred and profane places.  Think of Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple and the restrictions many indigenous religions place upon who and how one may ascend sacred mountains.

Perhaps this is the lead we follow in making our monuments as a break from the function of our living spaces.  We carve out a small section reserved as the domain of the gods, of heroes, of victims or of ancestors.  This has its worth when such a space creates a contemplative mood vital for meditating upon the significance of the thing referenced, such as the Vietnam Wall or the Battery Park East Coast Memorial.  However, quite often monuments are not contemplative spaces.  Manhattan is littered with statues, obelisks, and granite gardens with no place to sit or worse, fenced off from any interaction with their viewer.

By building anything, we are sacrificing a natural space or the potential for the recreation of one.  If we are to forever alter our landscape (and our mindscape with it) by building, isn’t it imperative upon us to make something at least as functional, beautiful and inspiring as a stand of trees, a river or a beach?  What kind of people could we create by giving them a landscape alive with beauty that still cleans the air, filters the water and generates the power necessary to support human life?

What especially impresses me about the project is its marriage of attention to the practical needs of production with the grandeur of a landscape of colossi:

Despite the large number of possible forms, each pylon-figure is made from the same major assembled parts (torso, fore arm, upper leg, hand etc.) and uses a library of pre-assembled joints between these parts to create the pylon-figures’ appearance. This design allows for many variations in form and height while the pylon-figures’ cost is kept low through identical production, simple assembly and construction. (from Choi + Shine)

What would have to change in our values and in the way we live our lives to demand that the aesthetics and artistic worth of structures be accounted for alongside their mere cost-effectiveness?

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