Galiano_Totem and Catastrophe

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The famous Spanish architectural theorist Luis Fernandez Galiano on the state of Spanish construction, 2006. Published in Log 7
    Totem And CatastropheAuthor(s): Luis Fernández-GalianoSource: Log,  No. 7 (Winter/Spring 2006), pp. 127-130Published by: Anyone CorporationStable URL: 02-03-2017 17:45 UTC   JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusteddigital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information aboutJSTOR, please contact Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at Anyone Corporation  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Log  This content downloaded from on Thu, 02 Mar 2017 17:45:29 UTCAll use subject to   Luis Fernândez-Galiano  Totem  And Catastrophe  Umberto Eco, the semiologist of our pop youth, distinguished  between apocalyptics who fear mass culture and the integrated who submit to it. Following Eco, the dilemma  of today's architects seems to resolve itself in terms of the  apocalyptic and the totemic. Attitudes toward the contem- porary city can also be seen as polarized between those who judge the unchecked urbanization of territories as an ecological and social tragedy, and those who advance the  cause of real estate speculation by erecting signs of identity  or force.  The Boxing Day 2004 tsunami drew attention to the physical vulnerability of modern suburbanity with emotion- ally devastating violence that claimed a quarter of a million victims. Likewise, the hurricanes that whipped Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas - from the foretold destruction of New Orleans, to the chaotic evacuation of Houston - shook  the smug self-confidence of the United States, as frustration  and panic fed millenarian vértigos and mute apocalypses. Against such a panorama of risk and uncertainty brought on by natural disasters and the spectre of climatic change - but  already marked in history and memory by the acts of 9/11  and their echoes, from Madrid's ll/M to London's 7/J - our stars of architecture build and crown urban totems that  turn their backs on the beat of the world, and we are at a  loss about whether to view them as arrogant icons of mas-  culine affirmation in the face of the tribulations of the times, or as vertical exorcisms pretending to keep vigil over the  defenseless slumber of cities besieged by shadows.  A good interpreter of the tremors of our times is Jared  Diamond, geographer and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1999, he explained the success of  the West in Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human  Societies , a Pulitzer Prize-winning book that sold a million  copies. Now, the sequel, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail  or Succeed (2004), addresses the other side of the coin: the  reasons for the failure of past societies, from the inhabitants of Easter Island to the Vikings of Greenland. In Collapse ,  these vanished societies serve as an example and a warning for modern China, Australia, and the United States, whose  127 This content downloaded from on Thu, 02 Mar 2017 17:45:29 UTCAll use subject to   current development exhibits features similar to those that  brought about the demise of the earlier cultures. Among these factors, the social response to environmental problems is determinant for Diamond, and his persuasive description  of the gradual collapse of collective life after the devastation  of a fragile habitat - a consequence of social decisions that are more deliberate than inevitable - has had a predictable impact on our anguished post-tsunami conscience. Indeed,  Katrina and Rita brought a sense of vulnerability to the  heart of a country caught in the quagmire of an impossible  foreign war, a country that suddenly found itself also  defenseless in the face of a natural catastrophe - a political and technological crisis exacerbated by apocalyptic terrorism and the unfathomable mutations that contemporary science  is bringing about in the field of natural biology. All of this  conjures up a nightmarish future. Meanwhile, Diamond  describes life in the Los Angeles suburbs, protected by private  police, where people drink bottled water, live on private pen- sions, and send their children to private schools - so that  they do not much care about the deterioration of the police,  water supply, social security, and public schools - and won-  ders how long it will be before the disenfranchised begin to  threaten elite neighborhoods in the way that the palaces of Mayan kings were attacked or the statues of Easter Island  toppled. No fence will keep out the poor, he says, and this is something he need not repeat to those of us who see the daily  news from Melilla and Ceuta (Spanish cities in North Africa frequently invaded by illegal immigrants who climb the fence separating them from Morocco), a border over- whelmed as much by violence as the colossal gradients of  fertility and income. On this shaken planet, leading figures in architecture  blindly compete with corporate and political leaders, the for-  mer pursuing their narcissistic careers in the same way that the latter concern themselves only with the political or eco- nomic ruses that precariously keep the feeble building of an irresponsible Nomenklatur on its feet. Consider, for example, two figures whom the media frequently tag as artists, even  geniuses, and who for different reasons have been making news of late: Santiago Calatrava and Jean Nouvel. In October, Calatrava opened a solo exhibition of his sculptures, drawings, and models in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and inaugurated Valencia's Palau de les Arts, a work as colossal and calligraphic as a Flash Gordon comic; who in September, in the company of Senator Hillary  Rodham Clinton, laid the first stone - or the first beam - of  128 This content downloaded from on Thu, 02 Mar 2017 17:45:29 UTCAll use subject to   his bristling, lyrical transport hub at Ground Zero; who in August presented Malmö with a twisted skyscraper that,  according to The Architect's Newspaper, makes its occupants  dizzy; and who in July presented a twisting, Solomonic project - again in organic, mannerist torsion - intended to materialize in Chicago, cradle of the skyscraper, as the tallest building in the United States, in dialogue with the two local  giants, the John Hancock and Sears towers, so defying in its  splendid location at the meeting of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, and so disdainful of the security concerns  triggered by 9/11, that it elicited the censure of the developer  Donald Trump: No one in his right mind would put up a building that high in today's horrible world. I don't think it's a real project. It's all a joke. Well, this same Calatrava who made headlines in 2005 was the butt of an anecdote  printed in The New York Times , which illustrates the self-  referential character of contemporary architecture. According  to Brian Carley, vice president of the Fordham Company (the developer of the Chicago skyscraper to be called the Fordham Needle ), the architect's wife turned to Carley during a meeting in Zurich and said: You know, Brian, whatever you call it, it'll be known as the Calatrava. Whether we like it or not, Robertina Calatrava was right. And if the spectacular enlargement of the Reina Sofía Museum, which opened last September, has been named the Nouvel, it is simply in recognition of the media notoriety  that now distinguishes star architects, glittering celebrities  competing with their public and private clients for acclaim. In the Puerta America Hotel in Madrid, which had opened  only four days earlier, Nouvel had to share the limelight with the motley cast of designers who had been brought aboard,  which is the only reason the building of colored canopies is  known not by his name but as the hotel of the architects, or the hotel of the stars, reinforcing the point. And in the  Agbar Tower (Tor Aguas de Barcelona), inaugurated by King  Juan Carlos in that same month, the protagonist role of the architect was so clamorous that El Pais did not hesitate to  run the headline, Nouvel's tower, new totem of the Barcelona sky. The king was relegated to second place, both typographically and photographically, as was Ricard Fornesa, president of the municipal water company and La Caixa  bank, who described the building as a gift to the city. A gift  from Aguas de Barcelona or from the architect? The extraor-  dinary hype surrounding the architect had to be seen in the  context of the hostile takeover bid by Gas Natural (con- trolled by the Barcelona-based La Caixa) for Endesa, the  129 This content downloaded from on Thu, 02 Mar 2017 17:45:29 UTCAll use subject to
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