Glass City

What is Glass City?

[We’re renaming the Photo Digest to Glass City, about photography, writing, creativity, and urbanism.
It will be shared every other week, usually on Tuesdays, but that may be subject to change.
I always struggled with what to call the newsletter. Or perhaps it’s better to use the term column, since that has a dignified air to it. Anyway, I struggled and kept the name generic, as I didn’t have a complete idea in my head for this space. And Glass City feels close to hinting at the philosophy I want to underly its focus.
You can also easily access or share the full column on my website here, it’s a good way to see all the posts and what you might have missed:]
What is a Glass City?
Radiant City, Le Corbusier
Radiant City, Le Corbusier
Similar to Radiant City, designed in 1920 by influential modernist architect Le Corbusier, every detail for ‘ideal’ living was planned, with standardized vertical buildings separated by massive open airy spaces. A city plan that adopted the space and monotony that would became associated with suburban planning. It was a highbrow attempt to redesign the fundamental nature of the city by someone who deep down disliked and misunderstood its nature.
Le Corbusier had a contentious relationship with Manhattan, describing it before his first visit as “utterly devoid of harmony” and “a storm, a tornado, a cataclysm,” as if those were bad things. He wanted buildings that “don’t try to outdo each other but are all identical,” a thought that inherently rejects the spirit of New York embracing difference and uniqueness.
Radiant City, Le Corbusier
Fred Bernstein of Architectural Record writes: “The relationship between Le Corbusier and New York City involved love and hatred, passion and resentment, and ultimately a quest by the architect for ‘revenge, recognition, and money, money, money,’ according to Jean-Louis Cohen”
Peter Cooper Village / Stuyvesant Town, Model.
Robert Moses adopted Le Corbusier’s philosophies, building 28,000 apartments in Manhattan, including the projects between 14th Street and the Brooklyn Bridge, and Peter Cooper Village / Stuyvesant Town. It was a builders’ delight, razing whole neighborhoods for standardized buildings, adding significant sums of money and grease to the wheels. In practice, it was space devoid and lifeless, with dark corners, and a disorienting feeling from the sameness.
For an individual building like the United Nations, the modernist style is a masterful working of light, air, and space. But as a philosophy for a neighborhood and city, it goes against both human and city nature. In practice, these open spaces repelled people, and the lack of “eyes on the street” as Jane Jacobs coined, caused terrible crime rates and ghetto conditions.
Le Corbusier’s plan adopted symmetry and balance, standardization, control, loss of weirdness, chance, and happenstance. Cities are about interaction, and this philosophy had none.
Glass City
The Glass City is a modern problem similar in spirit to Radiant City, full of luxury slums, oft-empty structures where neighbors’ apartments feel as far apart as Corbusier’s buildings.
Endless glass reflecting glass reflecting empty skies. Blank; nothing of note for our eyes to lock onto except inner dread. And endless advertisements, with their refined skin, shiny objects, elusive trends, and expressionless expressions. A purgatory so devoid and lifeless that you might wish you were in Hell just to feel.
Glass City
Glass City
These design philosophies are centered around the ideology of capitalism in its most Utopian form. Where people are the commodity controlled by glass and screen, money and hierarchy. With minimalist marble lobbies to usher us on our way, to keep us from stopping and causing trouble.
Glass City
Where on-the-ground culture is shaped by idealized TV shows of shoes and cupcakes, and art is used to gentrify neighborhoods before it kicks out the artists.
Where the rich get their glass hotel-like neighborhoods, ‘luxury prisons’ in the words of Jeremiah Moss with 100th-floor wraparound 5-star commissaries for residents. Most windows dark at night.
Glass City
Where Hudson Yards, the Glass City equivalent of the Radiant City, steals $1.2 billion in public funds from Harlem through a legal loophole. Where Luxury buildings have Poor Doors, separate entrances for their affordable units in the spirit of separate water fountains of the past. Where amenities aren’t offered to the affordable units. Or even where separate affordable buildings are built in the shadows of the luxury, in exchange for air rights and tax breaks. Poor Buildings.
Glass City
Where you glance at a rogue cactus peeking out a glass window, a practical choice for someone rarely there.
Glass City
Where people prefer to stare at the city from above as if they own it, or voyeuristically gaze out the wall-to-wall windows naked above their marble baths, too far for anyone to actually see. A safe way to act out urges they are unable to do from below. Desiring to be below. Free.
This is the Glass City, a surreal place fundamentally against the natural ways that healthy cities thrive and adapt for their people, and by their people.
Glass City
Glass City
Glass City


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2 thoughts on “What is Glass City?”

  1. Excellent column on an important subject. Brilliant insights and worthwhile history of modern urbanism. “Glass City” is a great name for the newsletter, too. Thank you.

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