New York has always been the centre of international commerce and free market capitalism. From the Wall Street Crash of 1929 to the attacks on the World Trade Centre, it has stood at the forefront of of the global economy, symbolising the power and wealth of capitalist society. Despite all this, New York is hugely fragmented in terms of its social distribution of capital. The American dream thrives in the city, yet it is also a paradoxical phenomenon as the rich/poor divide becomes increasingly segregated, resulting in tension between the marginally few elites and the populist notion of the working class. New York, as the centre of international commerce, epitomizes the mercantilism of Western society and the uneven distribution of wealth that it has come to represent.
Architecture in New York is about constraints and expression. Working within the ambiguous city blocks of the city, developers and their architects jostle to make their mark on a skyline crowded with towering statements, all vying to be the tallest, the flashiest and/or the most dominant. In essence, the architecture of the city transforms into a Foucauldian articulation of the panopticon, whereby each individual building represents a visual repression on society. From the Art Deco skyscrapers of the early 20th century to the development of the International style and recent concerns with symbolism in a post-9/11 society, the architecture of New York acts as a medium towards the greater epoch of the time, be it extravagance, corporatism or national unity.
New York of the 1920’s was fascinated with the airship and its promise of travel and glamour. To suddenly be able to glide effortlessly towards exotic places as far flung as Cairo and Karachi, the airship symbolised a rediscovery of the old world. Precisely because the airship never did develop into a mode of mass transportation, it forever exists in a utopian reality whereby its imagery is etched only as a notion of romantic allure.
To consider the three spectrums of New York in unity; the commercialism, the urban condition and the historical connotation, it becomes a logical development in the future of New York to harken back to its heyday of glamour in the 1920’s. To separate programme from the physical form of architecture, given rise by the growing lack of lots for development and a sharp advance in technology, airships become a viable future for additional programme within an existing building. Programme becomes separated from architecture and alludes to the Archigram notion of the Plug-in-City, though grounded in the realism of commerce and financial ability. Given the cost of such developments, it follows that only the super rich would be able to afford this luxury of space but even this is logical within a society of capitalist commercialism such as New York.
The visibility of airships over New York represent both a harkening back to the New York of old while simultaneously exemplifying the capitalist condition that has come to dominate the city. For those who can afford it, any imaginable programme could now be accessed from the top of their office or apartment within the comfort and convenience of the city. Be it a swimming pool, a car showroom complete with test track or even an aquarium, such programmes are within reach as they float above the city in a pocket of helium.
Architecture is not only separated from building through the introduction of the airship; it is further used as a means of critique against the free market mercantilism which New York has come to represent, driving the city to a polemic. In the airship, one can forget about Occupy Wall Street. The 1% can float above the city, disdaining the populist demands of the street while casually casting a shadow over them. The basic rights to sunlight becomes a privilege to the rich, transforming the airship into a dissident object while complicating architecturally the social division of the city. Architecture gives voice to the undertone of discern within New York, translating into physical form the social conditions of the city.
The project brings back the romantic glamour of New York in its optimistic heyday, but faced with the complicated realities of the city that it is now, transforms into an architectural expression of capitalistic exploitation, polemicizing New York into the city of the elites and the city of the people.
TEAM: Joey Yim, Kenneth Ip
PROGRAMME: Vision for retail, leisure and entertainment proposal for the city of New York
COMPLETION DATE: 2012