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Fantasy of New York: Power and Freedom in the American city

Part 2 Dissertation 2010
Negar Mihanyar
Mackintosh School of Architecture Glasgow UK
The dissertation offers the opportunity for a discourse in architecture, an in-depth exploration of a personal fascination. Mine came after I had the opportunity to work in New York for six months. It was an exciting experience which left me curious and puzzled by this iconic city; fascinated by its evolution, history and sheer absurdity.

The focus of the dissertation is Manhattan, which in many ways represents the ultimate consumer society. In 1626, when Manhattan was purchased by the Dutch East India Company for $24, its future was set; it was never to become a city governed by religious or political motivations but rather a city striving primarily for financial and commercial gain. The development of New York’s architecture, governed so strictly by its two dimensional grid and its three dimensional zoning laws of 1916, established a unique context; a breeding ground for an artificial world of capitalism, where the desires of man were indulged to the extreme.

New York, as described by Rem Koolhaas, was a ‘collective experiment in which the entire city became a factory of man-made experience, where the real and natural world ceased to exist; a means by which to live inside fantasy.’ This investigation looks at ‘moments’ within the city where the inhabitant is given the opportunity to escape the artificial 'city Island’ - different ways in which the individual was allowed to live inside the fantasy that Koolhaas begins to describe- instances that in unexpected ways change our perception of New York itself. These ‘moments’ will take the form of three case studies: Coney Island, Central Park and Rockefeller Centre.

The aim of this paper is to explore the paradoxical way in which the perception of fantasy was used to portray individual freedom – differing freedoms from differing subjects – whilst ultimately being used as a tool to enforce or reinforce social order. The selected case studies, analysed through the themes of power and freedom in the city explore architectural moments that alter our relationship to the present and everyday, indeed, the city in the most familiar sense.






Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York, (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1994) p. 10

Negar Mihanyar


Comments on Dissertation, ‘Fantasy of New York: Power and Freedom in the American City. A study of Coney Island, Central Park and Rockefeller Centre’

Inspired by Rem Koolhas’s writing on New York, this dissertation sets out to understand some very broad general themes about cities through specific and detailed historical investigation of carefully chosen case studies of urban institutions. Each of them – the Coney Island amusement park, Central Park and the Rockefeller Center – provides a counterpoint to the wider city which is also a reflection upon it created by its inhabitants. In the students analysis, particular processes and artefacts within these locations become the means of thinking through the tensions between democratic freedom and social control in the city, and examining how these tensions are concealed, negotiated, or cautiously released within permissible boundaries, in order to maintain them in balance for the functioning of the city as a whole.
The students dissertation wears its scholarship lightly. There is a strong theoretical background which is not overplayed, so that the force of their arguments is always at the surface. There is some very detailed secondary reading on the case studies as well as original archival research, and this material is filtered and articulated through the logic of the argument. Most of all, the dissertation is interesting: it keeps the reader alert to its ideas and fascinated by its subject matter. The images and their captions are not just illustrations of the text but suggestive of further relevant avenues and ideas that have been suppressed for the sake of a compact and clearly defined piece of work. They open the reader to further thoughts and show the richness of their wider understanding.
This work evidently grows out of a concern in its author’s studies in architectural design about perceived problems with the contemporary city – particularly the loss of public space through privatisation and regulation. The historical and theoretical analysis in this dissertation has been a way of exploring this very contemporary anxiety, if not to cure it, at least to rationalise it, and perhaps to come to terms with it as a phenomenon of the modern city.



Tutor(s)
Mr Mark Baines
Dr Robert Proctor
2010
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