fifth column

Domino, no, no!

By Benedict Seymour, 6 April 2014
Image: Domino no no! Life after the sugar factory's destruction

The Domino sugar factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is  currently being torn down and replaced with massive condominiums.

As it happens, these fly-thru-friendly towers (pictured  above) uncannily resemble some absurd drawings for post-9/11 skyscrapers I made back when everyone was supposed to think the real threat of massive destruction was coming from Al-Qaida.

In reality, however, the horsemen of the apocalypse wear black crew necks, like developer Jed Walentas, and promise a small increase in 'affordable housing' to offset the devastation they themselves cause. 

It's doubly painful to find out that buildings you love are being destroyed and replaced with computer renderings of what you thought were the most outrageous satires or parodies of capital's most idiot imagingings. 

This pretty much sums up the dynamic of the avant-garde I guess, and the arc of creative destruction in our time. It's a bit like the plot of Philip K Dick's 'The Zap Gun': The drawings some visionary does to send up and protest the latest delirium themselves become the blueprint for the next round of disaster.

The CGI version of this logic turns the block into something more like a digital '0'. To it's right another forms what must be an 'n'. Put them together and you can literally read off the translation of protest and negation into the structure of the new wall of accumulation: n0 - says the frozen and privatised outcry; and a little way down river a tall glass tower provides the necessary !

The landscape is literally becoming a frozen and quantified scream, mute negativity turned against itself, rendered in something like Lego. 

This actually bears out Rem Koolhaas' logic of Manhattanism (the retroactively formulated manifesto of 'delirious New York'), playing out its afterlife in the trans-Boro bardo.

An already 'acephalous architecture'* is now dreaming & screaming a protest against itself, like a child reaching the age of literacy and forming its first sentences block by block. Is acephalous architecture, then, becoming sentient? If the machines could speak would we understand them? Or is this a new level of alienation, with things preempting and annexing our own gasp of horror?

Richer people than yourself will move into your congealed spasm of indignation, enjoying the river view that used to be available to you, when the waterside was still public.

The new level of what one might call 'built negation' means satire is preempted, built in, en suite, as it were. You can't really curse back at the latest phrase in the gargantuan mumblings of the urban (un)death sentence. Just scan it and repeat. It's all so self-evident.

In this sense the developments really are the perfect pitch of allegory, the logical updating, in accordance with the basic pulse of capital's eternal return, of the horrors first transcribed by the seismograph of Baudelaire's poetry and later decoded by Benjamin.

Are the new monoliths spelling out the sequel to Baudrillard's binary 1 and 0 – the code of the (later) cancelled WTC? Does digital architecture now come with various code-to-text options pre-set to pronounce and so sublate any resistance?

I would suggest that the apparently unconscious 'statement' of the Brooklyn behemoths should be taken at face value. Rather than a design accident, the chance encounter of CGI and the market-to-affordable housing ratio, this sentence should be read as the automatic expropriation of previous landmark 'no's:

The 'no' of all of those who lived in the wake of 1971 (the end of Bretton Woods and the beginning of the US 'free lunch' at the world's expense, pace Michael Hudson) and the deferred aftershock of New York's bankruptcy; the 'no' of those who were ready to rise up against the empty War on Terror, the 'new normal' of 0 Freedom in the post-2001 years; the 'no' of all of us who were more than ready to see the whole racket end in 2008, &  who now are wondering, once again, how much degrading afterlife and reflation there can be.

As such this development should be collectively redesignated as a Preemptive Monument to the period post-1971 ti the present (aka Insufficiently Late Capitalism). It is a piece of automatic and reflexive architectural (un)history standing in admonition to us all: yet another negation, sub-citizens, if you would be post-capital!

Rather than negating it – since the negation of its negation would be simple affirmation – we need to forcefully agree with the developers' ventriloquism. 'n0!' is exactly right. 

If capital has now integrated protest and its object, fully expropriating our speech, we must read the writing on the walls. A complete evacuation of its social architecture is the only way back to the waterside and the power of collective language, expanded reproduction of the majority not just a moronic elite.

In the case of hulking lego lumps like these, given that planes might just fly through them, and refunctioning seems too good for 'em, I would imagine that – like the FIRE economy that drives their frozen NO – deletion, a non-reproduction without reserve, is the only language they'd understand.

Surely a preemptive demolition or instantaneous supercession would be the best way to move on from this monumental mutilation of the productive forces? In plain english, stop knocking down the Domino RIGHT NOW, and don't build this stupid 'no'!


*Its ghostly (almost spiritual) structural principle is to secure the maximum possible rental return by extending the number of storeys upwards.