Monday, February 18, 2002
By Martin Zimmerman
Special to the Observer
On the college campus
where I reside stands a sleek, angular dormitory, called Mission
Park. It is a modernist building, designed by a renowned architectural
firm and clad in monochromatic concrete (in the manner of Le Corbusier
who was a godfather of the modernist era).
Mission Park has nevertheless
garnered its share of derision since its construction in 1973, especially
so in places like Williams College, which admirably represents the
brick, cut stone, and wood clapboard of much-revered New England.
Anthony Tung, author
of "Preserving the World's Great Cities," writes that
such stylistic rejection is but a footnote to much larger issues
that have had a profound impact upon major cities around the globe.
This book, the author's first, is the product of seven years of
painstaking research along with extensive travels crisscrossing
between many of the oldest and most beautiful cities on five continents,
from Tokyo to Beijing, New York to Mexico City, Cairo to London,
Athens to Moscow, Rome to Singapore, Warsaw to Paris, Venice to
Tung's prognosis is gloomy.
Simply put, it is that the 20th century may be unique in terms of
the relentless assault wreaked upon the historic urban landscape;
he calls this modern phenomenon the "culture of destruction."
Despite some exceptions where circumstance and collective will have
combined to forge radical improvement, such as the resuscitation
of the bombed out core of Warsaw following World War II, or the
more recent success saving Venice form drowning, which garnered
financial support around
the world, the overriding trend remains negative.
According to Tung, in the last 100 years, more than 50 percent of
the world's most precious cityscapes have been "purposely,
thoughtlessly, and sometimes with malice removed from the earth
forever." The implications for the future are for even greater
loss, not only of precious architectural ensembles, such as the
Acropolis of Athens, the Muslim core of Cairo, and the wooden vernacular
housing of Kyoto, to name a few, but even more ominous, the loss
of the intangible, which is what defines and distinguishes all cultures.
The causes of this prognosis
are complex. They are linked to wars large and small, endemic poverty,
unchecked ideologies political and economic, (from Marxism to laissez-faire
capitalism), metastasized bureaucracies, ecological devastation,
corruption and neglect. These factors are compounded by mushrooming
population growth, ten to twenty-fold in the last two generations,
which is far faster than can be coped with even by the so-called
advanced Western cities.
This book fits in seamlessly
with published by other scholars of urban culture and history, most
notably another self-taught historian Lewis Mumford, whose works,
"the Culture of Cities," and "The City in History,"
are considered classics. Certainly one can quibble with some of
its structural inconsistencies, and one cannot help but wonder why
such cities such as Boston, Chicago or Washington, D.C. did not
merit full chapters along with, or instead of, New York and Charleston.
Nevertheless, Tung has
managed to probe deeply into the hostile forces that are impacting
our urbanized planet, and to communicate with precision, erudition
and compassion the horrific risk of loss that may portend for the
an architect and former director of facilities planning for UNC
charlotte, is the campus planner for Williams College in western
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