The Corporate City

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The Corporate City

Maria Paola Michelotto @ TU Delft 

Project

The project was developed during a two months stay in Chicago (IL), with the aim of conducting a research on field focused on unfolding past and future transformations of the American city.

The starting point of the research was the Company Town of Pullman, built in 1880 by the car magnate George M. Pullman. The intention of the town was to end suburban slums and offer workers better life standards as a mean to increase the production profit. To fulfil this objective, the architectural and social layout of the town were carefully planned to facilitate the creation of a hyper-controlled environment, in which workers were never able to truly end a working day.

Due to its features, the town has been considered as both American, as the physical translation of the capitalistic system, and Un-American at its most, representing the antithesis of the theories of laissez-faire and freedom on which American cities were founded.

Diagram 1_The American city before the Corporation

Diagram 2_Current situation_The Corporation and the city

While belonging to the past, Company Towns are far from being forgotten, and many references can be drawn with the current development of Corporate Campuses. The Campus intangible configuration is in fact based on the same principles of the Company Towns, aiming to offer better facilities and individual privileges that lead workers to the abstraction from the reality of the city. The diversity of the public realm is therefore deleted in favour of the tidiness of the working place.

Diagram 3_Future Scenario or the City inside the Corporate Campus

The project pushes forward the driving concepts of the Campus and imagines the future American city as ruled by Corporations. In this scenario, the city is reduced to an endless sequence of interiors, capable to replace the variety of the modern living environment. Natural and industrial landscapes, classic ruins, yoga lessons, everyday life scenes, are all displayed with the same intensity in a radial shaped structure that recalls the architecture of control introduced by Ledoux and Bentham. The worker, or the inhabitant, imprisoned in a Metropolis-like setting, is finally alienated from the surrounding, controlled 24/7 by an intangible machine able to influence his decisions through the architectural configuration.

The Corporate City_Architecture of control_Axonometric diagram

Juxtaposed to this are the remains of the American society, where good and bad coexist as an ensemble, fluctuating on a grid symbol of the non-hierarchic development. Classic references and images of Afro-Americans protesters showcase the strong presence of a political machine in which people can still take part in the discussion and participate in the government of the city.

The Corporate City_Collage 5

Personal Reflection

The hyperbole represented by the American society gives us the chance to study the modern culture under an infrared light, that puts in evidence all the aspects of everyday life that we usually don’t take in consideration. This serves as a magnifying lens that allows to start a process of self-analysis, bringing us to the comparison of America and Europe, two realities that run in parallel and that have grown and developed under the influence of one another.

The aim of the project is to start a reflection on the controversial relationship between American architecture and capitalism. More in general, it questions the limits of the power of architecture when it comes to economic and social control, showcasing how the tangible space generated by the architectural design can be used as an instrument to control the masses.

The project aims to provide a ground for discussion, encouraging us to consider architecture as a multifaceted discipline, that deeply intersects with sociology, economy and politic. I strongly believe that we, as architects, have the duty to read and interpret our time, to translate and foresee the transformations of the city, in order to awake citizens’ interest and understanding of the metamorphosis of our common living environment.

The Corporate City_Collage 4

Interview

Who influences you graphically?

I wouldn’t say I have a specific list of references, it usually depends on what I want to communicate with the drawing. I believe each specific style carries a different message for the understanding of a project; in this sense, I consider each drawing as a piece of art in itself, and trials and errors to be fundamental steps in the creative process.

De_Chirico's_Love_Song

The Song of Love by Giorgio De Chirico

For this project, in particular, I was inspired by the paintings of Giorgio De Chirico and Renè Magritte, and the juxtaposition of colours of Mark Rothko. It is not a casualty that the Corporate City recalls the metaphysic landscapes of surrealism; the purpose, in fact, was to recreate an ambient that could look at the same time intimate but monumental, in which every single detail finds its place in the composition. Whereas, if taking in consideration the typology of drawing I was largely inspired by Rem Koolhaas Exodus, or the voluntary prisoners of architecture and Superstudio collages for Twelve Cautionary Tales for Christmas (12 Ideal Cities).

Superstudio collages for Twelve Cautionary Tales for Christmas (12 Ideal Cities).

Superstudio collages for Twelve Cautionary Tales for Christmas (12 Ideal Cities).

What is the effect and purpose of the white frame?

The production of graphic material often involves the necessity to communicate a message not bounded to the media itself: in this particular case the drawing had to be displayed on a physical support that needed the presence of a passepartout. However, the internal outline becomes much more than a mere transition element between the drawing and its frame. In this sense, the neutrality of the white contributes to shift the gaze on the details of the content, stimulating the perception of deeper meanings and sensations, and creating a sense of familiarity that allows the viewer to see the piece as a part of an already existing exposition, facilitating the process of questioning on the content.

IMG_0250.jpg

What dictated the selection of references you choose to include within this multitude of interiors?

Each interior was conceived to showcase a different aspect of the everyday life: family gatherings, working spaces, natural landscapes, artistic expositions, and industrial realities. The objects refer to a vocabulary of hidden meanings that is able to summarise the life in the Corporate Campus. In this sense, the illusory freedom and the absence of the political machine are translated in the intricate system of wires that links each room with the other, metaphorically representing the control of movements and accessibility, and the intangible influence of the layout on citizens’ decisions. The purpose was to recreate the variety of the American City in the Corporate hyper controlled environment, without loosing the allegorical aspect. For this reason next to artistic references and Apple devices, are placed the workers of Metropolis, together with the stereotypical American family, culminating in the frontal camera of the IPhone suspended in the sky, the last provocation referring to the Corporate takeover.

The Corporate City_Collage 1

What is your take on the contemporary architectural montage?

This is actually a very good question, it took me a while to find the right words. I believe the montage to be the one technique that provides the architectural drawing with an additional layer of meaning. In such a piece, every element not only is there for a reason and has a precise position and relation to the others and the background, but has to be properly selected among a set of similar ones to achieve a coherent final product. In this view, the allegorical language becomes the main tool for the interpretation: the observer’s need to search for a deeper meaning constitutes the way to stimulate curiosity, to arise questions and to catch attention. On the other side, in many cases the architectural information is overshadowed by an exaggerate use of symbolism, that is not essential for the design itself. In this sense, I think each drawing should be conceived following the representation style that better communicates its meaning, avoiding to follow the “trend” and considering each architectural product as unique and deeply link to its function.

To what extent did the 2month experience in Chicago effect the resolution of the project?

I believe that the stay in Chicago had an essential role in the outcome of the project. Firstly, because it gave me the chance to constantly be part of an active environment that encouraged discussion and confrontation. To share ideas and experiences with other brilliant architecture students contributed greatly to my work. Also, I had the possibility to attend events and conferences, and experience the multifaceted realities of the American City: from the Loop skyscrapers to the Afro American social housing complexes. In this way, I was also able to have a better understanding of the American culture with its excesses and contradictions, grasping an insight on the population political and social feelings in relation to the present situation of the country.

Finally, I carried on a very specific research on the Model Town of Pullman, one of the most famous American Company Towns (what could be considered as the predecessor of Corporate Campuses), that represented my starting point of exploration.

The Corporate City_Collage 3

As a result of this project and your studies where do you see you operating next as an architect?

The hyperbole represented by the American society gives us the chance to study the modern culture under an infrared light, that puts in evidence all the aspects of everyday life that we usually don’t take in consideration. This serves as a magnifying lens that allows to start a process of self analysis, bringing us to the comparison of America and Europe, two realities that run in parallel and that have grown and developed under the influence of one another.

The aim of the project is to start a reflection on the controversial relationship between American architecture and capitalism. More in general, it questions the limits of the power of architecture when it comes to economic and social control, showcasing how the tangible space generated by the architectural design can be used as an instrument to control the masses.

The project wants to become a ground for discussion, encouraging us to consider architecture as a multifaceted discipline, that deeply intersects with sociology, economy and politic. I strongly believe that we, as architects, have the duty to read and interpret our time, to translate and foresee the transformations of the city, in order to awake citizens’ interest and understanding of the metamorphosis of our common living environment.

 The Corporate City_Plan

About 

MariaPaola completed her bachelor at the Architecture University of Venice IUAV. In 2015 she participated in the Erasmus programme doing a one-year exchange at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris-Belleville.

In 2016MariaPaola did a one-year internship in Copenhagen at NORD Architects.

She is currently attending her second year of Master at TU Delft, starting her thesis with the chair Explore Lab. The intention is to carry out a theoretical and global investigation regarding the future of capitalism and industrial developments. Especially, which role will the machine component occupy in the planning of new industrial spaces, and which, instead, will be the position taken by the working class, exploring the consequences this would bring to the architectural and urban layout of the contemporary metropolis.

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