The models of the merchandise metropolis – like Las Vegas in the 1950s, the Ginza district of Tokyo in the 1960s, the Shanghai waterfront in the 2000s – have expanded, and they are now the only true metropolitan reference point around the world, the only realistic scenario to represent the commodification of architecture, nature, the sea, lakes and rivers. As in the film The Truman Show (1998) by Peter Weir, everything is fake, even life.
Similar to Miami, where the palms, beaches and skyscrapers seem real, but are actually part of a general fiction, in a phenomenon that could also include California, the Caribbean islands, Brazil, hypermarkets, and every megalopolis that reproduces itself and its myths of wellbeing, getting beyond the limits of local identity.
This is the marketed civilization of the 21st century: a world where the merchandise is packaged, shipped, sold, purchased and circulates like an invasive fluid, in globalized markets, in a definitive challenge to local history and, with it, to architecture itself.
The phenomenon of the starchitects is simply the heroic reaction to this universal swallowing up, generating exceptions that are not edible for the market; exceptions that are at least visual, if they cannot manage to also be substantial or political. The skyscrapers and palms of Miami are simply the images of themselves; splendid, reassuring and potent images, that tells us a physical world exists whose image can freely circulate through the media, engulfing nature itself, in what is simply the reproduction of a universe to be consumed.
Inside this universe, more media-driven than real, inside these landscapes generated by a grand narrative, the real human territory is represented by that molecular system of internal spaces, furnishing objects, information tools, hygienic services, workstations. Industrial products of small, large and even mass production; each of them designed, functional, decorative.
During Miami Art Week all this becomes clear: there exists a metropolis – or, more precisely, an image of a metropolis – inside which there is a true merchandise metropolis, that contains human relations and functions; the skyscrapers and urban spaces are merely simulations of stacked and packaged products, high enough to reach the heavens.
In a certain sense, the metropolitan scenario is like a cosmic extension of the shelves of a hypermarket. What we call ‘city’ is simply a territory constituted by “one computer every 20 square meters,” while the rest is made of fragile chrysalides. Many see this transformation of our civilization as an anthropological disaster that will lead to widespread madness: actually, it is simply the extreme effect of the industrial civilization that began in the 18th century, hailed as the advent of an era in which technological and cultural progress would go hand in hand.
And, in effect, they have positively changed the world and transformed it into a secular mega-system, that represents only itself and its own future at the same time. Metaphysics, theology and religion have become the chapters of a science fiction story, terribly real and dangerous, using the most advanced technologies to represent themselves and the world.
The commodified civilization has the capacity to modify the social framework of the world: millions of persons are on the move, to reach wealthier markets, transforming old continents like Europe, with its decrepit national allocations, into a new multiracial settlement similar to America, where the sum of ethnic minorities produces a creative and entrepreneurial effect of great energy.
by Andrea Branzi