Cosmopolitan Hybrids, A Celebration of the Hyperlocal
Last night I attended the event Toward a New Cosmopolitanism at the Storefront for Art and Architecture. The discussion, moderated by the outgoing Dean of Princeton's School of Architecture, Stan Allen, included David Adjaye, Teresita Fernandez, Sarah Whiting, Enrique Walker, and Kwame Anthony Appiah. Taking its title from Appiah's book, Cosmopolitanism, the event touched on the philosopher's notion of the modern city and global ethics laced by entwined mutual experience. I have not read the book - its on the list! - but it seems like it challenges the distinctions of us from them, what is up from down, low from high. This optimistic vision of the city is not new, nor is it revolutionary. It is the foundation from which all progressive societies are born - a celebration of simultaneous difference, respect, and the advancement of love. David spoke about hybridities extant in the metropolis that are the result of tangential interpretations: the chance meeting on the street, the overlap of contact, and the language of nodes of encounter that agglomerate to create an experience of the city. We are but a collection of points, an ever-shifting lattice of matrix dots, operating in a grand algebraic fashion. This hybridity produces an inauthentic narrative - one that can never be precise because it takes only the node, the point of contact as its truth - a position that implicitly acknowledges the limits in the range of that occurrence. (I wonder if it is this pointedly uneducated stance (in the most intentional and learned sense of the word - acknowledging unknown silences) that provokes the criticism of naiveté that some have leveled at David and his project.) But it might be all we have, because history is imprecise, narrative only tells one story, and even that story changes according to who's doing the telling, where, when, and why.
So how do we mine this matrix for its riches, how do we learn from the looking, existing, walking, being, seeing city? I think it starts with a hyperlocal project. Stan Allen made the observation that both Adjaye and Mansilla+Tuñón (the other architecture office & publication the event was meant to highlight) worked initially within their local geographies - building in the East End of London or, as M+T still do, in their native Madrid. Architecture gains its richness from a deep understanding of place, via climate, site, culture, material, etc. In order to communicate globally, we need to mine what we know, enrich our immediate context, and use it as a laboratory for ideas, inclinations, intuitions, and inspiration.
My husband and I are contemplating a move from New York, so these dilemmas are on the brain. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this amazing experiment called New York, Brooklyn, Prospect Park South, Ocean Avenue, my block, my building, my floor, my apartment. These scales of influence have shaped who I am, and helped form my psychogeographic views on city life. So, besides the actual fact that this event happened here, the themes addressed in the discussion strengthened my desire to stay, be a part of it, New York, New York. Let me rub up against you.