chapter  13
9 Pages

Rem Koolhaas: from Manhattan to the city of exacerbated difference


In Delirious New York (1978), his ‘retrospective manifesto’ for Manhattan, Rem Koolhaas published an old tinted postcard of the city skyline of the early 1930s. It presents the Empire State, Chrysler, and other landmark buildings of the time with a visionary twist – a dirigible set to dock at the spire of the Empire State. It is an image of the twentiethcentury city as a spectacle of new tourism, to be sure, but also as a utopia of new spaces – of people free to circulate from the street, through the tower, to the sky, and back down again. (The image is not strictly capitalist: the utopian conjunction of skyscraper and airship appears in revolutionary Russian designs of the 1920s as well.) The attack on the World Trade Center – of the two jets flown into the two towers – was a dystopian perversion of this modernist dream of free movement through cosmopolitan space. Much damage was done to this great vision of skyscraper and city – and to New York as the capital of this dream.