Essays on Metropolis 1.0

Walter Benjamin proposes "reception in a state of distraction" as fundamental to the redefinition of the artwork under conditions of technical reproducibility.  A new aesthetic categories and new types of objects is produced.  The change of perception in the subject itself is registered.  Reception in a State of Distraction is a way to understand the conditions of an urban life.  The stimuli created by many facets of urban experiences, forces one to filter the received information and to process them.  By processing these information under distraction, one becomes familiar with distraction through habit, blasé attitude as described by Georg Simmel.  The rapid and intense nature of the metropolis became a place for reconciliation.  A place where competing conflicts can be resolved and where incompatible elements can coexist.  Conditions created by modernity are on the one hand sensations of standardization, reduction and totalizing, while it is fragmentation and multiplication on the other.  In Simmel's essay On Individuality and Social Forms, he explained how the disengagement of workers to their line of task occurs.   The workers are placed along an assembly line to perform efficiently in completing a single task.  He never sees the completion of a product.  Instead, he sees only parts of the whole construction and perhaps not even the final product itself.  In return, workers became alienated from the production process.  The sense of authenticity and ownership on what he does becomes instead, bland; ambivalent and fragmented.

"The modern city, however, is supplied almost exclusively by production for the market, that is, for entirely unknown purchaser who never appear in the actual field of vision of the producer themselves.  Thereby, the interest of each party acquire a relentless matter-of-factness, and its rationally calculated economic egoism need not fear any divergence from its set path because of the imponderability of personal relationships."

P.327 On individuality and social forms/ Georg Simmel

The way in which the mechanized process of production have fundamentally and psychologically altered how one respond to its living environment is a significant one.  The modern metropolis is structured and formulated heavily based upon the idea of an economic or commerce production.  This idea of capitalism influencing the cultural agendas may be further explain by Kracauer's description of the Tiller Girls.  Kracauer describes Tiller Girls as a product "manufactured in the USA".  They are composites of figures that performed with sets specific and unanimous movements.  They are no longer seen as individual figure of bodies.  Instead, they are fragmented.  Legs and heads that are components 'efficiently' packaged.  He described them as sexless and simply as the 'abstracted signs of their bodies'.  Instead of a figure with body parts, one sees the parts as groupings.  His analytical criticisms tend to formulate around the idea of totality, where mass and quantity of units are describe as an important factor to achieve the sense of totality.   To ask how do mechanization and urbanization alter the social functions of architecture? One must first ask: What are the social functions of architecture?   As argued by Hays, architecture is an instrument of culture.  It is an interrelated, interdependent and interlaced process. One that establishes itself (architecture) by engaging in various aspects (social and economical) of our society.

"…technique of metropolitan life in general is not conceivable without all of its activity and reciprocal relationships being organized and coordinated in the most punctual way into a firmly fixed framework of time which transcends all subject elements."

P.328 On individuality and social forms/ Georg Simmel

"…the optimum relationship to be established between culture and form is one of correspondence, the latter efficiently representing the values of the former."

p.16 Critical Architecture-between culture and form/ K. Michael Hays

If one believe and accept this notion of social function in architecture, then one may consider autonomous architecture as the force that changes this notion.  However, to understand architecture autonomously, one must not solely look at its formal presentation, it is to engage from within, rather than look out for other disciplinary conjunctions.

"The intent is precisely to dismiss any of the worldly, circumstantial, or socially contaminated content of history, because such subject matter would necessarily impinge upon the intellect liberty of criticism and the availability for the formal strategies for reuse."

P.16 Critical Architecture-between culture and form/ K. Michael Hays

The critical term here is the 'strategies for reuse', meaning the reproducibility of the constituent parts, which will ultimately influence the final effect of the architecture.  We are returning to the notion of flatness, blandness and indifferent-ness of the society as a whole.  The effect goes beyond simply the visual impacts of the built environment.  It fundamentally changes the way we perceive our daily actions.

"Instead of reacting emotionally the metropolis type reacts primarily in rational manner, thus creating a mental predominance through the intensification of consciousness, which in turn is caused by it.

P.326 On individuality and social forms/ Georg Simmel

One may consider the urban sprawl phenomenon as a kind of permanent reception in a state of distraction.  The way, in which housings are made exactly from one to the other and where individual identity no longer can be identified, is a kind of distraction that comes from its blandness and totality.  The pre-designed, pre-fabricated architectural elements are pre-selected and built according to a commodity that is based on market values.  Each of the parts gradually loses its particularity, which in extent causes the whole community to become homogeneous.  Another kind of permanence of distraction in architecture is resolving a problem (project) in a utilitarian manner.  Instead of approaching a project towards aesthetics and authenticity of programmatic/ spatial relationship, emphasize is placed on the frequency of use, using data as a way to develop a project.  What the method implies is a dominant influence by the popular culture (the automobile, the office blocks, the shift of priority).  The position is situated on the factual, informational and indexicality criteria.  When compared to Le Corbusier's proposal for the League of Nation, Hannes Meyer's proposal seem to prescribe itself towards the description above.  The way Meyer has located the tower is a gesture to dignify its presence.  Regardless of the perverse effects it had on the context, he states that the tower carried a tremendous meaning and functional value.  This deserves its ease of access and prominence.  By placing the parking lot in the middle of the complex, he is insisting that the utilitarian aspects of the program carried more significance than the argumentative and historical traced meanings.  The quantifiable elements in this case overruled the qualifiable.  It is an approach to accept the popular and to make mockery on the intellectual polemics; it is an attempt to resist the forces of the common practice.  The metropolis is a place where ideas are exchanged, where multiplicity may occur.  It would be generalizing and simplifying to assume a unanimous way to describe the metropolis.  Through distraction there formulates an understanding of the existing yet, constantly changing urban structure, through shock, disjunction, disengagement.  The learned experience becomes an innate habit for dealing with the distraction and to receive from it.  The perception in a state of distraction is a condition difficult to describe singularly or categorically.  Only multi-sided, contradictory terms are capable to formulate and to understand the metropolis.



Kracauer, Siegfried.  The Mass Ornament New German Critique #5. Spring 1975.

Hays, Michael.  Critical Architecture-Between Culture and Form. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984

Simmel, Georg.  The Metropolis and Mental Life  The Sociology of Georg Simmel . New York: 1950

Benjamin, Walter.  A Berlin Chronicle  Essays, Aphorisms, autobiographical writings. New York: 1986

Huyssen, Andreas  After the Great Divide.  Indiana University Press, 1986