From a view with a room

‘A view with a room’ by Elizabeth Farrelly (SMH 14 April 2012)

For the traditional city is indeed a pocking of the planet’s surface – a teasing and hummocking of its material to create a common nest of sufficient complexity and comfort to satisfy our immaterial needs as well as our physical ones. The familiar analogy between a city and an ants’ nest suggests itself here, and city images like those extraordinary underground cities in Cappadoccia.

The traditional city, in this sense, is not just a habitation but a tool for infiltrating the planet, even as it protects us from her. Literally, the city makes the planet make room for us.

The modern city, by contrast, is made not of objects holding space – rooms – but of objects occupying space. Modern rhetoric was all about the flow and interpenetration of space, the reality was all about objects: individual, stand-alone buildings – skyscrapers for the city, bungalows for the burbs. This is why modernist planning always focuses, despite itself, not on what the city is like to be in, but on how it works, and what it looks like as an object.