chapter
An urban wilderness
Pages 17

A third and final site for probing the city centers on the observatory, an astro-

nomical museum located in Griffith Park that offers a panoramic view of LA

from the San Gabriel to the Santa Monica Mountains. Built in 1935 according to

the designs of John C. Austin and F. M. Ashley, the various domes shelter a

solar telescope, a refractor telescope, and a planetarium – equipment dedicated

to surveying and studying the universe. The most facile reading of the observa-

tory would be to interpret it as a Panopticon, as a structuring system of surveil-

lance that the Scottish social engineer Jeremy Bentham designed and that

Michel Foucault made indelible in the memory of architects and urban design-

ers with his publication of Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Wim

Wender’s depicted this site as a remarkably similar space of social reform in his

1997 film The End of Violence, by transforming the observatory into the head-

quarters for a secret government plot to eliminate criminal activity through

satellite surveillance and instant execution.38 Under the large rotunda that some

might describe as Foucault’s Panoptican we find not a gaoler but, instead, Fou-

cault’s Pendulum, a moving sphere that swings reliably from a suspending

cable, marks the earth’s rotation, and acts as a metronome, keeping time with

the urban pulse.