CITY OF AIR
As my journey was nearing its end, and I was preparing to return to my own part of the world, the theory I devised to explain what I had seen began to assume a greater importance than the architecture. There were two reasons. First, the theory did what all good theories must do: it predicted something I had not yet discovered—this was the existence of a fourth city. Second, I found scant physical evidence of it. So, I spent my days making diagrams and conceptual drawings of various kinds, laying out the structure of my theory, and thinking about where I should explore next.
The answer, as it turned out, was fairly simple. Because the theory was based on an idea of natural cycles, such as that of the seasons, and the day, but also of the birth, maturation, death, and rebirth of everything from animals to stars, and, yes, the unseen transformations of energy to matter and back again, in infinite variations—and because the four-part cycle, as described in ancient philosophy and science, of earth, fire, water, and air, seemed so relevant to the cities I had seen, it was clear that the missing city I sought, and that would complete the epic cycle, was a City of Air.
So far, I had not found one. Was it a city of the wind? Was it a city woven into the others, comprised of differing temperatures, densities, aromas, even colors of air? Was it an invisible city, one that had “melted into air?” I did not think so. All of these ideas and expectations were too convoluted, and too intertwined with what I had already experienced and presumed to know. What I was searching for would offer new revelations, just as the other cities had. Finally, I reasoned that the city of the air was simply…in the air, in the domain where we do not expect to find a city at all.
Still, looking to the sky, I saw no structures, and was deeply skeptical of doing so. Perhaps there were a few airplanes, though I had not noticed any until now. If there was a community of people living in the sky, how would they stay up there, defeating gravity, as it were? If they were simply rushing through the sky, hurrying to get from one terrestrial destination to the next, it would not constitute living in the sky, actually inhabiting the vast, open spaces just above the earth, engaging their particular qualities and constituting an “aerial” way of life. What, I wondered, were these qualities? I longed to go into the sky, and live there for a while; to slowly roam the clouds and the changing spaces between them; to be far above the earth and all its landscapes and teeming life, and to see the stars with new intensity and clarity. But I could not.
Going back through my drawings, I discovered one or two in which floating structures appeared. While I thought of them at the time as mere appendages to the structures that were the focus of my interest, mainly because they seemed too massive and heavy ever to be airborne on their own, I now realized they were structures of a different order, one belonging to the terrestrial skies. Combining imagination and reason, I made a number of elaborated drawings of how aerial ‘buildings’ might appear, some supported by lighter-than-air gases, others—giving up that conceit, because of the improbable buoyancy ratios—rising in all their mass and weight, to unseen heights. Had this community discovered new laws of nature? Or, had they gained new command over known forces. enabling them to levitate heavier-than-air structures without noisy engines and propulsion systems? This I was never able to learn.
Leaving the strange world I had explored, I experienced an epiphany of sorts. It occurred to me that the diagrams I had made of the cyclical theory were more truly forms of the aerial community than their levitating habitats, whatever their form and material, whatever the technology that enabled them to fly. The community of the City of Air was divorced from the earth and its material concerns. Existing in the chilly heights, its thoughts and passions turned to the invention of abstract philosophical systems. Its inhabitants were the true overseers of the human toil below—-masters of all, and of none.
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- January 3, 2009 / 10:45 pm
- Lebbeus Woods