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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Parallelism in Post Apartheid South Africa

It is difficult to forget that in the immediate days following the September 11 attacks, Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair urged everyone to go shopping so as not to thrust the British economy into a recession. President Bush also followed suit months later in encouraging Americans to express their patriotism by among other things, worshipping, playing and shopping. The Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas posited in his 2002 publication, “The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping” that indeed “Shopping is arguably the last remaining public activity…not only is shopping melting into everything, but everything is melting into shopping.” This could be supported by the holiday spending indicating retail is seeing resurgence after years of modest profits and slow decline. Well if the culture of shopping heralded the dawn of a new millennium, half way through the first decade it is the culture of fear that has become the most universal and interrelated phenomena of our postmodern era.

While we may think that our society through current threats of terror best evidences the pervasive culture and politics of fear, a recent trip to South Africa revealed the levels to which fear as a condition also runs deep in the veins of a society. Perhaps in the upcoming Black History Month, it is poignant to reflect on the conditions that were present in South Africa a decade ago; the residue of which still remains among much of the country’s forty one million inhabitants. Since 1994, violent crimes in South Africa have risen exponentially to unprecedented levels leaving many to think their worst fears have been realized. Many dreaded in the wake of the apartheid regime that there would be a sudden unleashing by those who had been repressed for several decades. The ongoing threat of crime has had a crippling effect on the social fabric of the country. Largely because of these anxieties, the security industry is one of the few sectors which profited immensely out of the despair. In the past eight years more than 5000 security firms have emerged. The paradox here is that employment has risen out of a need for young black men to serve as security personnel. Well I'd like to know what you all think. Are there parallels of xenophobia and/or threats in your society that has changed your perception of public spaces?


At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fear and consumption is probably intertwined. Keep people afraid and they'll consume. Its a good thing in the short run- for the business and like you said oddly employment in SA has increased....but it certainly is a bad thing for the long run.

At 4:27 PM, Blogger peter said...

so true. but why do you think that consumption is the likely mode of escapism used to combat fear? also..does the culture of fear depend upon the prevalence of a consumer culture in order to thrive?

At 5:24 PM, Blogger EllieGant said...

So, what does this have to do with Architecture? Are you saying that Architects feed into the consumption of fear by designing buildings that perpetuate and give substance to its reality? Does Architecture have a role in breaking away the consumption of fear?

I am reminded of the Cabrini-Green homes and the Robert Taylor homes in Chicago and so many other cities. By building the high-rise apartment buildings with the typical symbols of inner-city life (check-cashing place, liquor store, mediocre supermarket, dollar store), these structures help to perpetuate fear and resulting crime.

Who knows what i'm talking about?

I'm not an Architect. Does Architecture have a role in effecting change here? How?

At 5:44 PM, Anonymous Adrienne said...

This sort of reminds me of places in Jamaica, that if we drive through I know they are a dangerous area.

There are zinc houses that can easiliy be accessed by anyone. There are graffitti on the walls. The houses are not upright, and would not be able to manage a hurricane. At nights there are soldiers standing guard at corners of these streets.

When I pass through these neighborhoods that have been built, I feel scared. I'm only 13years old, but I'm wondering if someone can't do something about these buildings and I wonder if the buildings cause violence? Do they?

At 9:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So how do you think architecture can help in lessening the “pandemic of fear”? Or is it able to do so at all? In which ways?

At 5:36 AM, Blogger peter said...

To anonymous: The field of architecture is not autonomous. I share in the position that architecture is foremost a cultural discipline. I've had trouble discussing this concept with architects and non architects alike. Let’s take this to mean the materialization of society’s behaviors. If this is the case, then firstly: Yes architecture does have a self referential role in shaping and being shaped by our perception of the world. We can look at societies which exacerbate the culture of fear; ultimately this is reflected in the quality of open spaces that are afforded to their inhabitants. Some buildings are made to be fortified in order to exclude, while others purposefully limit/control movement of pedestrians within its environs. Secondly: what can be done is rethinking this “architecture of exclusion” model which is predicated on the need for high walls in the case of residential suburbs and the omission of adequate leisure space within our ever expanding/contracting metropolises.

At 6:08 AM, Blogger peter said...

To Adrienne: Wow!! At 13….cool!!! Your reasons for wondering are right. “…DO BUILDINGS CAUSE VIOLENCE?” Ah, well I’m sure there are the designers who will say it’s the underlying root causes of crime which breeds violence. The urban theorists may well argue too that it is the densely unplanned communities that provide greater ingredients for crime and violence. Adrienne, your question is profound. In short, Yes. My belief is that buildings can create the ingredients for crime and violence to take root in a society. The “zinc houses” to which you refer are merely associative of such behaviors. We should not assume that wherever we see these “zinc houses” it suggests an area that is unsafe. Similarly, we don’t suggest that wherever there are high walls in a residential suburb, it implies the protection of enormous wealth. I will touch on this some more in a later post, but thanks...


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