DRAWINGS, STORIES

The truth is, the so-called New City was not so new. Many of the buildings seemed in a state of decay, or at least what we might call ‘deferred maintenance.’ Also, the buildings appeared to each have been built in several very different styles or stages, which suggests that their construction—indeed their very conception—must have taken considerable periods of time, perhaps whole epochs. The other thing is that it was clearly not a city, at least in any usual sense. True, it was a collection of buildings densely gathered, and the buildings were large, suggesting a substantial population of inhabitants. We could only see the city from afar, so we could not see people—if any were actually there—or other signs of normal daily life, such as roads, parking lots, movie theaters, marketplaces, shopping malls. There were only imposing, austere structures grouped like sentinels guarding some secret. Sitting in an open, though not barren, landscape, the monumental ensemble reminded us of a mirage, something only imagined, desired, or feared.

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The building looks like a ruin, but is far from it, only a few decades old (so we learned) and fully lived in over that span of time by the usual assortment of urban characters—workers, stock brokers, boutique managers, pole dancers, architects—all those dependent on the intensity and density of the city for survival. Wandering around the building for a while, but not actually going inside, we impulsively guessed that it had originally been built as a kind of free-standing, large-scale sculpture. One of the locals we spoke to explained its history this way: “In this town, we have the philosophy, build a building any way you want to, then we’ll move in and figure out how to live in it!” At this we just shrugged. “Isn’t that the way it always is? We’re born into a world we didn’t create and we just have to learn how to live in it!” She laughed, a little ruefully, and said, “Sure. But most people don’t think that way. They think they design buildings for a purpose and that people move in to live that way.” “So?” we said. “Yeah, well there’s a guy in this building who says he’s an architect who designs what he calls “functional” buildings. He says he knows what people want, or at least what they really need. But he gets very upset when people move in and do something else, like knock a hole in the wall for a new window!” “Oh,” we said. “Or knock down the walls inside and maybe a hole in the floor, or even take out the floor or tilt it in a funny way” she went on. “It spoils his functional design, he says.” “Oh,” we said. Being architects ourselves (which we didn’t bother to mention), we simply thanked her for her time, said goodbye, and went on our way.

LW


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