This was 13 years, 1 month ago

I had a wonderful party yesterday night, full of laughter and friends and warmth, and I felt very maternal, glad to have people in my space, full of awe and wonder. a buzzed wild happiness, "wet with a decent happiness", to quote a friend's frequent quote. all of a sudden it struck me (still strikes me) that this place has really changed me, altered my attitude, made me more open to change, relaxed, permissible, flexible, porous, permeable.


Hugh Ferriss. Manhattan zoning laws, visualized, from the 1920s.

I think it's entirely possible and often productive to think of architecture and cities and spaces in terms of s&m, sadism and masochism, that the structures and spaces and territories that we live in envelop us, form us, shape us, constrain us, and that there's a productive pleasure to be derived from that -- the pleasure of living, of enjoying a space, of having one's self be altered. I've thinking that there's nothing that has been so altering as a new space, myself in transit plopped down in a new country, or a new neighborhood, or a new house, and that's so valuable, that these forces that can render us malleable and then form us, derive from spaces, are spaces. And it's not just a spatial relationship to the world that changes but a cultural, habitual, phenomenological understanding of what-my-world-is, what-one's-world-is that changes, I think.

on the other hand of this all are the city planners, developers, architects, interior designers, who try to create these macroscopic zones of activity within which microscopic activity will grow and cross-breed and propagate. the double-loaded corridor that you make is then vandalized, skated on, spray-painted, sat in, benches created, trash placed there, gardens planted, bikes locked up. "if you see something, skate something". there seems to be always this push of usage against design, and I think maybe s&m is a better model than 'dictator & subject', simply because s&m is productive, or a co-dependent dynamic. it's not just one-way -- it's both the 'sadist' urge of the architect to form your life for you, or the 'masochistic' giving-way of the user who wanders the halls of your building in a benjaminian "state of distraction", and more importantly also the pushing of boundaries, the question of delineation. where is your safeword? at which point do you draw the line? and there's also question of meta-desire, A wanting to direct B to direct A on how to act, I want you to build my space, for me to live in and to be formed by.

moreover, what happens, what's really interesting about this s&m analogy, what's really valuable about the moment that is full of a rich loam of potential and is so very fertile is the moment of conflict. friction, frisson friction. new york is one of these places that manages to convince everybody that the submission to certain 'inconveniences' is an honorable thing: to generalize roughly (of course) it's a point of pride to be a new yorker, and a source of mild disdain to be a tourist. the image of 'to be' a New Yorker is to adapt, to be okay with lugging your laundry a few blocks to the laundromat, to know how to cross the street, to be appropriately confrontational and friendly. and it's this conviction of submission, the willingness to be malleable, and the corresponding transformation that everyone undertakes that feels like a very very precious and joyful experiment. central park used as public school gyms; sidewalks as living rooms, parks as terraces, and so on and so forth.

I want to reiterate: it's not simply the density that generates a palimpsestic overlay of usage; it's the aura and reputation of legacy and history, and the persuasive charm of the word n-e-w-y-o-r-k that carries a valence as strong as the potency of agar mixtures for e.coli, spilled gasoline about to be lit, heightened anger before a fistfight, the delirium of people and music at a party. the crackling electric air before a storm.

and this is so valuable, not only 'letting one's self be changed', but the knowledge of this change, and the being-complicit in this process, the willing participant of this dance. and I guess that's the reason I'm here, to study the forces of modification, to lend an ear and to dip my whiskers in the flow of space, to understand how to create spaces that will change me, use me, and to engage in reassertions on the level of these usages: for whom, by whom, in the name of what?