Admission reserved. Perversion in the built environment

Not a bit of it: perverts have perverted this ideal if you like to the point where it can be said that ‘Apartheid is dead. Long live separate development!’. The credo now is ‘admission reserved’.

Some affluent groups in particular are creating a make-believe, perverse world where they are completely divorced from the real African context and from embracing the cultural dynamics of diverse groups. This is partly due to a continuing colonial mentality but also to an inferiority complex that manifests itself in the progressive obliteration of the place called South Africa. It is a totally kitsch world of capsule living and travelling. The architecture is so bizarre that it is difficult to describe it as other than perverse and embarrassing, the product of ideals that are non-sustainable, like trying to live in a Disney world forever. Like the exhibits in a wax museum, the architecture is made of polystyrene, resin and paint.

Take the bizarre ‘Tucson’ house illustrated here. Protected by every security device available, it is a capsule for living. It could be anywhere, but the vague stylistic contortions make it vaguely European of an era that has been completely misunderstood; in a banal way it reflects some idyllic bygone age. Here is a case of a house that expresses opulence and importance; it would be risible if it were not so clearly a derivative of apartheid, conveying a yearning for control and power, for escape from the crime and grime that are part and parcel of a dynamic city. From the house one travels in a luxury car (cars carry great status value in this society, providing another opportunity to display wealth and importance) to the shopping centre which is gated and safe, admission reserved. The architecture must be grand, grander than Versailles or Buckingham Palace, and the absurdity of these misplaced, narcissistic palaces is lost on the users, they don’t understand anymore. No travels in hyperreality here, but travels in the absurd. History no longer exists, place no longer exists and people are surprised to find that they suffer from schizophrenia. The Canal Walk Shopping Centre illustrated here is the biggest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere (status again). It is a ridiculous concoction but what makes it completely unpalatable is that the site it occupies was originally earmarked for a low-income housing precinct, close to the city and its myriad opportunities. The long and short of it is that a dubious bunch of developers and financiers from the ‘old’ South Africa effectively bought out the rights and now there is Shoppertainment and Workertainment instead of much-needed housing. It is a fundamentally perverse if not downright evil development.

From the fakery of the shopping centre one travels to work, entering yet another, equally make-believe capsule that shouts ‘I am important, I have style’. Office parks, like houses and shopping centres, come in a variety of styles: Tucson, Classical, Greek, Cape Dutch, Baroque (although Baroque planning is a bit too intricate so it ends up as a sort of minimalist Baroque in a parking lot), etcetera. Reality does not exist any more. The comforting fake has become ‘real’ to the point where it is possible to live one’s life without ever leaving these pathetic capsules, going nowhere other than trying to live an absurd myth. Trying so hard to emulate a reality that does not exist. The illustrated example is in British classical (read: colonial) style redolent of lords and ladies. Funny that big international firms like Price Waterhouse Coopers should have such hopelessly poor judgement that they try to buy a history that has never existed. For entertainment there is Gambletainment in the form of a casino containing everything from Michelangelo’s David to an Apartheid Museum – in a word, sick.

I suppose it is possible to carry on living in these fake cocoons until the populace revolts. Another French revolution is not at all impossible. I suppose the fatuous advice in this case will be ‘Let them shop…’.

Dirty Details