chapter
The machine city
Pages 19

Like the computer of CyberCity and the postmodern, the machine of the

Machine City is ingrained in the way we represent and imagine (or have

represented and imagined) the modern city. Metaphors of the Machine City

linked to representations of and reflecting attitudes toward modernity and the

metropolis at the turn of the twentieth century come easily to mind. Calvin

Coolidge seemed to encapsulate the idolization of the machine age when he

proclaimed, “The man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man who

works there worships there.”6 The metropolis was believed to be an inorganic

and fabricated environment, the product of mathematics and the creation of

the engineer. Thus we find, for example, Ludwig Meidner in “Directions for

Painting Images of the Metropolis” advising the artist of 1914 to pay attention

to “tumultuous streets, the elegance of iron suspension bridges, the gasome-

ters, . . . the howling colors of the autobuses and express locomotives, the

rolling telephone wires, the harlequinade of the advertisement pillars.”7 And

before long the dynamics of motion in the big city, as well as the visual juxtapo-

sition of disparate elements (graphics, musical rhythms, typography, and photo-

graphy) used to create picture poems, were captured by one of the machines

of the twentieth century: the movie camera. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy explained in

his fourteen-page film script for Dynamics of the Metropolis of 1921-22 that

there were to be shots of construction sites from below, from above, from

diagonal views, from revolving cranes, shots of the flashing letters of electric

advertisements, and shots filmed from racing automobiles and moving trains,

to set up the dynamic tempo of the city. Although Moholy-Nagy’s script was

never produced as a film, it seems to have reached fruition in William

Ruttmann’s Berlin: A Symphony of the City of 1929.