This series of photographs was shot from the train window between Osaka and Kobe on the Hankyu line using the panorama function on my iPod touch.  The rapid shifting between foreground and background focus points ended up confusing the camera and resulted in these gloriously fragmented views of what would otherwise be a mostly bland urban landscape.  In fact, there are ways in which “glitchopolis,” as I like to call the city that has been formed in these photographs, is perhaps more of an accurate representation of contemporary urban space than a more mimetic still image would be.  For one thing, urban space in Osaka is changing so rapidly in some neighborhoods that the stability afforded by a still photograph actually serves to disguise the way in which even the most pedestrian urban neighborhoods are constantly being refigured.  Even my own neighborhood — a completely standard slice of Japanese suburbia — has changed dramatically in the two years since I moved in: there’s a 7-Eleven where there once was only a parking lot, a favorite bamboo grove of mine has become an apartment complex, and at least eight buildings in relatively close proximity to my house have been demolished and are being replaced with new buildings.

These images remind me somewhat of the work of the architect Lebbeus Woods, who designed radical new environments based on the idea of systems in crisis.  Often these designs take the form of newly articulated architectural forms — looking like nothing so much as alien structures from an alternative future — that are growing out of the interstices of contemporary city spaces.  While these drawing look radical, in fact they are — in a way — only replicating what already happens under capitalism (or war) as a city landscape formed under a particular set of social and material conditions is superseded by structures associated with a new social formation.  The physical space that’s being occupied may be the same, but history is producing a new race of mutant children that sit right alongside the parents.

Woods also designed several projects around sites of disaster and crisis, including a 1995 project based in San Francisco that featured buildings that would reconfigure themselves during an earthquake.  Japanese cities are, of course, designed around the inevitability of earthquakes — which informs the fundamental parameters of architectural design —  and are reconfigured dramatically when quakes prove too strong for the design parameters involved.  More destructive than earthquakes, however, were the wartime bombing raids that — even excluding the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki —  decimated cities all over Japan, including Osaka.  One of the reasons that the architecture of many Japanese cities feels so fluid and changeable is that it’s built on the blanked space of military decimation.  When the historical shape of a city has vanished, it’s possible for any set of shapes to take its place.

All that is solid melts into air.


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