Beautiful Catastrophes

Lars Lerup

Note: this text was written in 2006 and suffers therefore from both hind- and foresight. For example, I missed one other city that operates in tandem with the physical city – the Internet City – whose territory is endless but also devours endless amounts of electric energy and attention. Not to speak of the sudden turn to the right (and I’m not talking about traffic) –welcome to the catastrophic factor...

Futurism has much in common with fiction: interesting maybe, but hardly very effective at telling the future. Plus, reality – rather than futurism or fiction – has proven to be more interesting (and exciting) than either. This does not negate the value of the two lesser arts, but it may shift their use, particularly if we are tempted to employ predictions as planning tools. Thus, when I speculate on the future of cities, I must do so with this caveat: my future-speculations are umbilically bound to current reality. The future that I see as the projection of the real lacks one reproducible ingredient: the unpredictable that is embedded in the real and is essential to its very liveliness. This unpredictability – the catastrophic factor characteristic of all living events – may be what makes reality more interesting than fiction. The following therefore are mere projections, but done with an additional twist to compensate for my inability to recreate the catastrophic factor: done tongue-in-cheek or, more precisely, done without much forethought, catching glimpses of the future lazily from the corner of my eye.

My travels take me frequently back and forth along a specific route: from Houston to Newark (airport), to Stockholm (my hometown), then back to Houston before going on to Berkeley, California, where I have lived and worked on and off for many decades. In a state of idleness imposed by air travel, I have entertained many of my speculations, formulated en route and from the air, i.e., from a healthy distance. This oddly may make the speculations more interesting (at least I hope so) because they are not caught in the iron grip of professional logic.

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[1] One Million Acres & No Zoning. London : Architectural Association, cop. 2011; and The Continuous City: Fourteen Essays on Architecture and Urbanization. Zurich: Park Books; Houston, Texas: Rice Architecture, 2017.
[2] Redistricting entails redefining voting districts to benefit a particular political party, in this case the Republicans.
[3] Deed restrictions have replaced zoning in Houston to allow the wealthy to maintain property values by attaching restrictions to the deed or ownership document, such as a minimum lot size or single-family home occupancy only.