Monday, September 19, 2011

Cornell is in Ithaca, NY, Where Greek meets Indian

The above quote from E.B. White marked the beginning of my course taught by Sebastien Marot.  It was uncanny how much Marot's dissertation would reflect upon my life.  I came to Cornell as a tabula rasa in many aspects and left the weight of Ithaca's history imprinted upon my person.  More on that in the next post but for now I will share the words of one of my favorite instructors.

"Sub-urbanism and Super-urbanism may be considered the most significant subversions to which the concept and practices of urbanism are currently subjected, one being initiated from the realm of landscape architecture, and the other by one of the most creative vanguard of contemporary architecture. While sub-urbanism could be described as a design experiment which holds the site as the matrix in which the program is to be deciphered, super-urbanism, quite to the contrary, stands for an attempt at literally inventing the site through the manipulation and building of the program.

The contemporary hero of super-urbanism is Rem Koolhaas and Delirious New York its undisputed manifesto. For several reasons, which are interesting to reflect upon, sub-urbanism has not yet found such a hero, and has certainly not produced a tale that would have the power of challenging Koolhaas’ “Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan”. Our ambition, however delirious or playful it may seem, is to correct that by moving the stage set from Manhattan to Ithaca (the seat of Cornell University) where it happens that Koolhaas actually started to work out his theoretical and poetic plot.

Our intention, drawing, like Koolhaas, on the critical paranoid method, is to gather the ingredients of a relative manifesto for sub-urbanism able to suggest both that sub-urbanism can only be advocated relatively (not absolutely), and that super-urbanism is but a moment of sub-urbanism. A tale cannot be challenged, except with another tale.

The lecture will link several narratives, moments and people that were critical in shaping the “topolitics” of Ithaca and Cornell: geographers, scientists, agronomists, engineers, architects, artists and writers. In so doing it will seek to illustrate the idea that every landscape is made of a dense fabric of tales, representations and constructions, and that every building or project is a poem composed and written in that three (or four) dimensional page already saturated with real and virtual constructs.

...In 1978, the year Colin Rowe's Collage City and Oswald Mathias Ungers' "Berlin: The City as a Green Archipelago" both came out, Rem Koolhaas published Delirious New York, A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan, a theoretical and poetical masterpiece which can be considered as the manifesto for contemporary super-urbanism (the program fashions the site). Interestingly enough, those three urban manifestoes, each magnetized by a fetish metropolis (Rome, Berlin, New York) share the same "distance point" in the little city of Ithaca, NY, seat of Cornell University where their three authors interacted in 1972-73 and started to build up their theoretical plots. By a curious loop in history, it so happens that this frontier town, located on the inlet of a lake that could figure the geographical antithesis of the Island of Manhattan, was founded by the designer of New York's famous grid (surveyor general Simeon De Witt). Exploiting those coincidences within the laudatio urbis of a hyperlandscape where the poetical adventures of Robert Smithson, Gordon Matta-Clark and Vladimir Nabokov each found their "North-West passage", our ambition is to reverse Rem Koolhaas' demonstration in Delirious New York and produce a relative manifesto for sub-urbanism (the site invents the program). In other words, to quote Fitzcarraldo in Werner Herzog's film, "I am planning something geographical"."

- Sebastien Marot, 'Palimpsestuous Ithaca: A Relative Manifesto for Sub-Urbanism'

Francesco Marullo wrote a fantastic breakdown of Marot's lecture here:

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