28 August 2007

ornament and crime in the west bank

[image: New York Times]

From the Times two Saturdays ago: an article by Steven Erlanger on a new road under construction in the West Bank. The road is notable for the continuous concrete barrier that separates it into two separate motorways: one Israeli, connected to the surrounding urban areas through regular interchanges, and one Palestinian, an uninterrupted corridor linking the northern and southern parts of the West Bank, with few opportunities to enter or exit along the way.

What first came to mind while reading this article was the extensive research by architect and theorist Eyal Weizman, who has painstakingly theorized the Israel-Palestine predicament through the lens of architecture and urbanism. This road, conceived by Ariel Sharon in his efforts to nominally satisfy Palestinian demands for territorial unity while ensuring the future possibility for Israeli settlement of the West Bank, really validates much of Weizman’s writings, particularly his chronicles of the complex, three-dimensional strategy of urbanism and territorialization that was developed during the Camp David talks. This strategy, which in extreme cases would vertically stratify (in the “z” axis) specific sites in order to mollify the myriad stakeholders insisting on territorial sovereignty, became a lynchpin in Ariel Sharon’s policy of unilateral disengagement in the wake of the collapse of the Camp David talks.

This road that Erlanger tells us about proves how Sharon and his disciples brilliantly coopted the geographical strategies conceived during Camp David into tools for cementing Israeli dominance in the West Bank. As Erlanger says:
Mr. Sharon talked of “transportational contiguity” for Palestinians in a future Palestinian state, meaning that although Israeli settlements would jut into the area, Palestinian cars on the road would pass unimpeded through Israeli-controlled territory and even cross through areas enclosed by the Israeli separation barrier.
The road becomes both a (weak) justification of a commitment to Palestinian territorial sovereignty and an alibi for future Israeli settlement of the West Bank. As Israeli lawyer Daniel Seidemann so clearly puts it, quoted in Erlanger’s piece: “The Israeli theory of a contiguous Palestinian state is 16 meters wide.”

The other thing that really strikes me about this particular incarnation of a border fence (for a comprehensive inventory of such fences, see here) is the aesthetic dimension of its political purpose. As Erlanger notes, the road’s dividing wall – for all intents and purposes, a political border – is textured to resemble the ancient masonry walls found throughout Jerusalem. What could easily pass in a less charged setting as textured concrete, innocuously decorating the roadside, the decoration itself becomes complicit – indeed, instrumental – in the larger political mission.

Something to think about next time you're driving down the highway...

In other news.... I just finished last week's New Yorker (8/27/07) . A brilliant issue, full of fantastic and provocative pieces through and through – save one. Paul Goldberger's piece on the new Stern building on Central Park West made me at once confused, nauseous, and furious. Stay tuned for a follow-up post.

26 August 2007

fleeting fortunes of corporate architectural taste

Just read a nice little feature over at Archinect by Owen Hatherley on the London architecture of Richard Seifert. Hatherley smartly juxtaposes Seifert's glory days of the 1960s with Norman Foster's present dominance of the London corporate architecture scene. He questions the long-term appeal of Foster and suggests that perhaps twenty years from now, Foster's buildings will face the same fate of corporate obsolescence and demolition that threatens Seifert's buildings today. An interesting and prescient reminder of how the tides of architectural taste can be ruthlessly fleeting. Hatherley's piece nevertheless leaves one question unasked: If, in twenty years, the early 21st century oeuvre of Lord Foster will have fallen out of vogue, only to be replaced by the latest glitzy form of corporate architectural excess, will I find myself perversely fond of the Fosterian monuments that I so presently disdain? In other words: imagining into the future, will Foster's works acquire the kind of retro-chic appeal that I (and Hatherley, I presume, judging by the rather heroic portrayal of Seifert's architecture in the article's accompanying photographs) are so drawn to? A disturbing thought!