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Comments (10) Posted 02.01.10 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Essay: Keith Eggener

Lethal T-Square: Architecture, Violence, Renewal


Robert Moses, with Charles Bronson. [Original photograph by Arnold Newman; update inspired by jdelias' YouTube channel, via Kottke.org]

There is no architecture without action . . . there is no architecture without violence.
Bernard Tschumi, Artforum, 1981

I’m not a criminal, I’m an architect.
Tom Selleck, Three Men and a Baby, 1987


Bernard Tschumi, world-famous architect and former dean of architecture at Columbia University, came to early prominence by linking architecture with violence. In 1978, as part of his "Advertisements for Architecture" project, Tschumi notoriously captioned a photo of a man being pushed from a window with the following: "To really appreciate architecture, you may even need to commit a murder." He followed this with "Violence of Architecture," the essay from which the above quote is taken. [1] So far as I know, Tschumi has never acknowledged his common ground with, or his debt to, Charles Bronson. He should. With Death Wish, his breakthrough movie of 1974, Bronson more powerfully than anyone of that era brought together architecture and violence, while earning for himself the sort of action-hero franchise most architects can only dream of. [2]

Death Wish has been widely condemned as a brutal and misguided fantasy for racists and reactionaries. Bronson plays Paul Kersey, a New York architect who turns vigilante following an attack on his family. Variety called the movie a "poisonous incitement to do-it-yourself law enforcement," while Vincent Canby of the New York Times dismissed it as "bird-brained" and "despicable" fare that "exploit[ed] its audience’s urban paranoia." [3] Despite such censure, Death Wish became a huge hit. Audiences cheered every time Paul pulled the trigger. The fact that Paul is an architect is usually seen as incidental to the story — a token of his middle-class respectability, a mild-mannered intellectual counterpoint used to dramatize his transformation into man of violent action. But what if we were to see Paul's profession as central to the story, and his actions as essentially architectural? On one level, he's simply putting into practice ideas that Tschumi used theoretically. Death Wish bears revisiting, for it sheds a light on architecture's peculiar connections to violence; it provides a parable of architecture pushed to its extremes.

The movie begins with Paul and his wife lounging and loving on a Hawaiian beach. He snaps cheesecake photos of her in her bathing suit. They soon return to New York, to home, work and the big bad city: the idyll is over. Paul is next seen in his office, bantering with colleagues about the crime wave then pummeling the city. It's the early 1970s, the good old bad days of New York — a time of fiscal crisis, crumbling infrastructure, mean streets, white flight and wide lapels. Paul's colleagues wisecrack about the murder rate and chide him as a "bleeding-heart liberal." He concedes the label. He reads Harper's and feels sorry for the poor.

Things take a grisly turn when three grinning goons (including a 22-year-old Jeff Goldblum in his screen debut) break into Paul's Manhattan apartment, beat up his wife, who later dies of the injuries, and rape his daughter, who goes catatonic from the trauma. [4] Though Paul, as played by Bronson, responds to the crime with all the affect of a potted fern, he is apparently sublimating rage and despair. He takes a working vacation in Tucson, where he befriends a gun-toting cowboy client, Ames Jainchill, who drives a station wagon with not one but two sets of bulls' horns mounted on it. As a diversion, Jainchill takes Paul to a mock wild-west town where they watch a staged gun battle between outlaws and the local sheriff. Bronson squints almost imperceptibly as if to show that a light has gone on inside Paul’s head. Jainchill next takes him shooting and as a parting gift gives him a .32 caliber pistol, nicely wrapped. Paul returns to New York (passing through Eero Saarinen’s still resplendent TWA Terminal) with his new gun and new sense of frontier justice. Before long he starts blasting muggers. He still reads Harper’s.

Paul wasn’t always an architect. In the 1972 novel by Brian Garfield, he was an accountant with an aversion to modern architecture. "A God damn shame," he says to a friend while riding in a cab past one rising modernist structure. "Politicians complain about vandalism while they’re tearing down historic monuments to make room for those egg crates." [5] But in the movie, Paul designs late-modernist egg crates. His office is fitted out with drawings and models of boxy towers (one of which looks remarkably like Roche and Dinkeloo’s 1967 Knights of Columbus Hall in New Haven, Connecticut). [6] In an interview published posthumously in 1997, screenwriter Wendell Mayes said that he was "immensely intrigued" with the book and knew it would "be a blockbuster because it was coming at just the right time. The outrage at crime in the streets was a big item." [7] Paul's change of profession is significant, as he transitions from number-cruncher to problem-solver, a man who builds things rather than counts them — and murder becomes another instrument in his constructive program.

For what Paul won't do is "cut and run." Following the attack on his family, the reformed liberal says to a friend, "You know what a liberal is? A liberal is a guy who walks out of the room when the fight starts." [8] During the attack, one of the assailants walks through Paul’s apartment spray-painting everything he passes, "like a feral cat marking its territory." [9] Undaunted, Paul repaints his living room a bright, cheery yellow; this is his territory and he's taking it back. Moreover, he’s done with the broken-down justice system and ineffectual police procedures; he decides to take matters into his own hands. "If the police don't defend us, maybe we ought to do it ourselves," he says. He sees himself as "the first of the Resistance — the first soldier of the underground." [10] Architects are often accused of having God-like egos, and like the medieval Christian image of God as Architect of the Universe, Paul is now a creator-destroyer who takes vengeance and the power to revoke life as his prerogative. [11]

Paul’s first kill makes him vomit, but soon he starts to like it — it becomes a kind of fix. Nightly he walks the city's dark, grimy streets; he prowls parks crowded with junkies, whores and hoodlums. He looks for trouble, for problems to solve, and finds them at every turn. And sure enough, as Paul's death toll and press clippings mount, the city's crime rate drops. Criminals are running scared. Honest citizens take notice, and a few follow Paul’s lead, taking back the streets, beating back the barbarians. An old woman fights off two young assailants with her hatpin (in real life they would have kicked the stuffing out of her, but here she is a force of nature); construction workers rough up a would-be purse-snatcher. Innocents gain strength; the city revives. One imagines children emerging from the dark protective caves of their apartments for the first time in months, rubbing their eyes against the light, picking up long-abandoned jump ropes and baseball bats. Not coincidentally, Paul’s design work becomes more lively, another gift from his client Aimes Jainchill, whose self-proclaimed "funny ideas about building things" Paul adopts. In Tucson, Jainchill had encouraged Paul not to worry about "wasting" space but instead to concentrate on "space for life," and above all to build in harmony with the land. Paul does this to the acclaim of colleagues and becomes, in effect, an "organic" architect. [12] His professional metamorphosis occurs simultaneously with the onset of his killing spree: as bad guys drop, Paul's buildings grow more vigorous.

I thought I might have been the first to recognize the peculiar connection the movie makes between Paul’s hobby and his profession, between his destructive and constructive impulses. Alas, I am not. Writing for the urban planning website Planetizen, in October 2008, journalist Nate Berg compared gun-packing Paul to pen-pushing Jane Jacobs, author of the 1961 classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities. "Each is a champion of creating better neighborhoods, and the work of both Kersey and Jacobs bolsters that of the other. . . . Both have important lessons to teach about what it means to be part of a neighborhood." [13] It's not entirely Berg's fault that these two have now blended in my mind’s eye — leaving a discomforting mental image of Jacobs beaming her grandmotherly have-another-cookie smile down the barrel of a gun — though he does go a bit off the rails in advocating Paul as "a perfect example of citizen participation in the planning process." Their collective wisdom, it would seem, boils down to this: watch thy neighbor, defend thy neighbor, but if thy neighbor messes with you, just bust a cap in his ass. Nonetheless, I take Berg's basic point. Like Kersey, Jacobs viewed citizen involvement as the essential element in keeping the city's streets safe and lively. Moreover, both Kersey and Jacobs chose to stay in the city, resisting the suburban exodus and the assaults on their neighborhoods by criminals and modernist planners.

Paul’s project, however misguided, is fairly seen as one of urban renewal — but Berg roped him to the wrong New Yorker. Jacobs was arguing against death: her book indicted modernist planning for killing American cities, and it offered prescriptions to prevent this from happening further. She compared modernist planners to "bloodletting doctors," sapping the life from those they purported to save. Readers were urged to resist their depredations and the wholesale changes they sought to effect, to study instead what worked in "common, ordinary . . . vital" old neighborhoods like her own Greenwich Village and Boston's North End. Jacobs aimed not to build anew, but to protect and revitalize existing places. Her tactics were limited to polemic and protest. Paul, on the other hand, late-modern master builder and part-time vigilante, wants to remake his city and is more than willing to break a few eggs in the process. [14] His methods are visceral and harsh, yet his violence is surgical and ultimately aimed, he imagines, at healing both himself and his city: in order for the larger urban organism to survive, the parasites destroying it must be exterminated. In this Paul is less like Jane Jacobs and much more like another New York builder, another man of action and practical violence: Robert Moses.

In his voluminous and swashbuckling book, Public Works: A Dangerous Trade, Moses looked back on his many years spent building and rebuilding New York City and the metropolitan region. Though he didn't admit to actually killing anyone, he often resorted to images of fear, violence, battle and even murder. "New York is a vast, amorphous, varied metropolis," he wrote, "a fascinating and terrifying place," where public service "is a rough game, not for sensitive souls." Having started, he could "no more quit than a boxer who blanches at the size, scowl, and threat of his opponent can flee to the dressing room." In his dangerous trade, "an instinct for the jugular" was invaluable. Sometimes the metaphors turned medical: "The first prescription for slum dwellers in the ghettos of the big cities is total, immediate, uncompromising surgical removal." [15] Vehicular traffic was a "disease." Slums, riddled with crime and blight, were a "cancer" demanding "unflinching surgery." [16] Throughout much of the mid-20th century, Moses's bulldozers slashed through the city fabric, destroying long-standing neighborhoods and uprooting countless families and small businesses. His actions also opened the way for hundreds of tidy new housing blocks, much-needed highways and bridges, and parks and pools that have served millions for decades. If thousands were made temporarily or even permanently miserable in the process, this was a price that Moses was willing to see paid. When laws got in his way, as they so often did, he used his formidable political muscle to have them changed. And today we are still asking: what parts vision, daring, initiative, righteousness, ruthlessness and despotism did all this involve?


From "Death Wish and the Life of Great American Cities." [Image via Planetizen]

Paul is less concerned with laws (though he earns the grudging respect of the police, who admire his efficiency). He works on a smaller scale than Moses, and is more direct and expedient. Yet like Moses, he aims to create order out of chaos, even if in so doing he creates new forms of turmoil. Like Moses and so many others in the building and design trades — from Baron Haussmann to Bernard Tschumi — Paul, to borrow economist Joseph Schumpeter’s term, is a “creative destructionist,” effecting renewal through obliteration. Toward the end of Death Wish — before the police run him out of out New York and he moves on to clean up Chicago — Paul goes to a party where he walks out onto a roof terrace to look at the city, his city. Washed in golden light, it appears more tranquil and lovely than at any other point in the picture, refreshed in the wake of his reforms.

Architecture, said the late New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp, "is inherently violent. It invariably subtracts from the range of available possibilities, especially the perennially attractive option of building nothing at all. In this sense, construction sites are crime scenes." [17] While Paul might well agree with the substance of this, his actions reverse the last phrase. His city was a crime scene when he started, a soiled place that he cleaned up and readied for reconstruction. In other words, by eliminating problems, Paul made way for new possibilities. (Or as Joseph Stalin, another tough guy with a plan, put it: "Death solves all problems.")

Paul is an extreme case, but a familiar type. For better or worse, the modern architect (or planner) as man of violence, destroyer-creator, is by now a fixture of our culture, from Haussmann to Moses to Tschumi; from the Italian Futurists demanding eradication of the old to make way for the new and glorifying war as "hygiene" to Le Corbusier boxing his cousin while dreaming of leveling ancien Paris so as to replant it with shiny new towers; from Howard Roark raping Dominique Francon and dynamiting his own compromised building in The Fountainhead ("No man takes what’s mine!") to Frank Gehry's taste for "rough" ice hockey and his hard-guy talk of "tough" houses and Mafia pals [18]. This pungent, testosterone-rich atmosphere may be part of what's drawn so many of Hollywood’s leading men to architect roles. Boris Karloff, Gary Cooper, Kirk Douglas, William Holden, Paul Newman, Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Keanu Reeves, and Matt Dillon are just some of the many who’ve played them in the movies, while Brad Pitt plays at being one in real life. Says film historian Robert Osborne, "There are very, very few professions that still have the ring of heroism about them, and architecture is one of the few that does. . . . it’s one of the last manly professions." [19] The pervasiveness of this attitude means that architecture can still be a tough place for women to get their due. Just ask Denise Scott Brown. [20] For the record, in 2004 the Pritzker jury lauded Zaha Hadid, their lone female laureate (out of 33 so far), for her "heroic struggle" and "fearlessness" — in short, her adeptness at playing the big boys' game. (The fact that she hails from Baghdad didn’t hurt either: there’s nothing girly about Baghdad.)

Ultimately, my intent here is neither to revive a relic of 1970s cinema nor to ridicule certain architects' machismo. Rather it is to ask just what, and whom, are we willing to sacrifice in the cause of reforming our built environments? What quantities of time, resources, good will, blood, spirit, independence, present fabric, future comfort or security are we prepared to expend to "fix" places like post-industrial Detroit or post-Katrina New Orleans (not to mention post-earthquake Haiti), or any of a thousand troubled cities and neighborhoods, failing subdivisions, crumbling bridges and highways, and all-but-abandoned small towns? What's really being fixed when one person's gain is another's loss? So many things are in such dire need of fixing. It's no coincidence — nor is it merely nostalgia or the attainment of historical distance — that Moses's reputation should have been rehabilitated in recent years. [21] Among the many effects of an economic downturn like the one we’re now experiencing — or the one we endured in the early 1970s, when Death Wish became a hit — is a dramatic drop in patience. Witness the mounting frustration with President Obama for his widely perceived "failure," after little more than year in office, to solve problems caused by decades of neglect, mismanagement and bad policy. In times like these, a person who gets things done quickly and efficiently, a person like Paul Kersey or Robert Moses (or Mussolini for that matter), becomes alluring to many people. [22] Paul and Moses broke some eggs, but they got their omelets made, quickly. Whether or not people found the results palatable had everything to do with where, or if, they were standing when they were served, and how deeply felt was their hunger.



Notes

1. These were later reprinted in Tschumi’s Architecture and Disjunction (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994), 100, 121–134.
2. Death Wish was followed by four sequels, the last released in 1994.
3. "Death Wish," Variety, 1 Jan. 1974 (accessed 1 Oct. 2009); and Vincent Canby, "Death Wish," The New York Times, 25 July 1974, (accessed 1 Oct. 2009). To be clear, Paul’s targets are about evenly divided between black and white; his violence is predicated more on class divisions than racial ones.
4. Paul has a remarkable run of bad luck with women. Virtually every female with whom he comes in contact throughout the five-film series — wives, lovers, daughters and employees — comes to a bad end. 
5. Brian Garfield, Death Wish (New York: David McKay Co., 1972), 2.
6. This was an intriguing choice, given that Vincent Scully, referring to the urban unrest of the 1960s, had recently seen in this building "a kind of paramilitary dandyism which seems especially disturbing at the present moment in American history." American Architecture and Urbanism (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1969), 200.
7. Quoted in Pat McGilligan, Backstory 3: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1960s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 269. 
8. Garfield, Death Wish, 68.
9. See "Death Wish – Angry Candy" (accessed 1 Oct. 2009).
10. Garfield, Death Wish, 142.
11. Here again I think of Tschumi writing, in a way guaranteed to flatter a certain kind of architect, about "the violence that all individuals inflict on spaces by their very presence, by their intrusion into the controlled order of architecture." (Architecture and Disjunction, 123.) Undoubtedly, he’s neither the first nor the last designer to cast a wary eye upon those threatening "the purity of [his] architectural order." 
12. Admittedly, not much is made of this in the movie. We see a model of the Tucson project for Jainchill, over which Paul’s colleagues briefly fawn.
13. Nate Berg, "Death Wish and the Life of Great American Cities," Planetizen (accessed 1 Oct. 2009).
14. Or even a whole lot of eggs: at one point in the book Paul surveys his fellow passengers in a subway car and determines that only seven of the 58 people he sees "had a right to survive." Garfield, Death Wish, 86.
15. Robert Moses, Public Works: A Dangerous Trade (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1970), 413, xx-xxii, 473.
16. Robert Moses, Working for the People (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1956), 112, 191. 
17. Herbert Muschamp, "A Handsome Hunk of A Glass Tower," The New York Times, 2 June 2002 (accessed 1 Oct. 2009).
18. Beatriz Colomina, "Media Architect," in Anna Maria Guasch and Joseba Zulaika, eds., Learning from the Bilbao Guggenheim (Reno: Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada, 2005), 262.
19. Quoted in Ruthe Stein, "And now let us praise hot architects. Hollywood can’t get enough of them." San Francisco Chronicle, 30 Aug. 2006 (accessed 23 Oct. 2009).
20. See Andrea Gabor, Einstein’s Wife: Work and Marriage in the Lives of Five Great 20th-Century Women (New York: Penguin). 
21. As in the monumental three-venue exhibition that opened in New York in 2007, curated by Hilary Ballon, and in the related publication edited by Ballon and Kenneth T. Jackson, Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2007).
22. Consider too how many in the west express admiration and even envy over the colossal and fast-paced building feats in places like China and Dubai, where pesky regulations, due process and human rights seldom get in the way — and how many of those projects are designed by western architects.
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Comments (10)   |   JUMP TO MOST RECENT >>

Just this morning I found this recent, related, really interesting post by Geoff Manaugh (BLDGBLOG)--on Bruce Willis's "Die Hard" ("one of the best architectural films of the past 25 years") as related to parkour and Eyal Weizman's essay "Lethal Theory" (concerning the "emerging spatial techniques used by the Israeli Defense Forces"). Highly recommended.

http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/nakatomi-space.html
Keith Eggener
02.16.10 at 11:09

great piece + great illustrations.i look forward to 'the architect as vampire' genre that must surely be about to happen given the current zeitgeist, and what dr. eggener would make of that.
rachel hurst
02.16.10 at 09:47

Nice article, I think it's worth acknowleging Rob Kovitz' great little book from the mid 90s "Death Wish, Starring Charles Bronson Architect" which covered much of the same territory, Kovitz' excerpts of the architectural dialogue from the film are particularly brilliant.
Javier Zeller
02.17.10 at 06:55

I really liked this piece, especially the use of pop culture. However, the conclusion left me confused- it seems you are assuming or buying into the myth of the architecture profession, what with all the talk of it being a masculine profession and then posing the question of "what and whom are architects willing to sacrifice in the cause..."

It seems you accept the characterization of a simplistic Ayn Rand-esque character as broadly true. I would posit that a dialectic exists between the heroic/mythic individual and determinism, and in my experience determinism often plays a bigger part. The focus on individuals and events in the course of history is a curious phenomenon fraught with shortcomings which Robin Dripps goes into in a very cool way in her essay "Groundwork".

For instance, where you hold up Robert Moses, I would counter with Tolstoy's Napoleon: No doubt if Napoleon had not taken offence at the concession required of him, if England had not intrigued with the disposed duke, if the czar, had not been deeply aggrieved, if the government of Russia had not been a despotic monarchy, if the various causes which led up to the French Revolution, the consulate and the empire had never existed- there would have been no war. But at the same time, if only one of this chain of circumstances had been missing, the sequel would not have followed.

Thus it was the sum total of them all and no one event by itself which entailed the fatal consequences. It happened because it was bound to happen; and so it came to pass that some millions of men, ignoring all common sense and human feeling, started to march eastwards to slaughter their fellow-creatures, just as, some centuries before, unnumbered swarms had rushed down on the west, killing all on their way.
(Volume 2, p. 197, the quote goes on and is excellent)

At any rate, great piece. If you (or anyone) has the time, I would love to hear further thoughts on this theme, especially the importance/irrelevance of the heroic/masculine/insert-word-here architect. I would say they aren’t that special and the mentality creates a bizarre pathology when taken to extremes. (this is not to say that architecture isn’t amazing or important)
faslanyc
02.17.10 at 06:58

Roger Angell's piece in the latest New Yorker, which relates to the firebombing of Japan during WWII, or an earlier piece about the rebuilding of Dresden, raises similar questions concerning manipulation of the built environment in a much more consequential and deadly scale.

That said, many of the builders of the post-WWII USA had direct experience with the massive scale of war operations, either in-theater as army corp engineers or sea-bees, or domestically in the massive industrial plant & community building exercises that bloomed in the early 1940s.

For these men, many of whom had witnessed death & destruction at scales unimaginable to us now, plowing the cross-bronx expressway through some old rowhouses, or flattening the LES for Baruch Houses (to name just a couple of examples of wholesale displacement of existing communities) would have seemed inconsequential, and any complaints from evicted residents (who weren't being killed, after all, and we're probably being given at least a pittance to move) were probably greeted as ingratitude.

So the question of who & what we're willing to sacrifice for our built environment is very broad, and most pointedly being answered by the young men & women who are killing and being killed in the wars we're presently fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq - a Utopian project if ever there was one.

Certainly, there are architects churning away on another half-complete school in Basra, or some hospital complex in Kabul, helping in their trailing edge way to secure democracy, in a long arsenal that includes LeMay's incindiary firestormes, Oppenheimers bomb, and, to a lesser extent, Corbu's diagram for domestic slum clearance.
Sprawling
02.17.10 at 11:52

Thanks to all of the above respondents for their thoughtful comments and excellent suggestions. In response to faslanyc, please note that I did not say “what and whom are ARCHITECTS willing to sacrifice.” I asked what are WE willing to sacrifice. I am not an architect, and so when I say we I mean not we as architects but we as people.

I do believe that individuals regularly and powerfully can and do affect events both large and small, for better and worse. But like you (and Tolstoy; great quote), I know that they invariably do so within networks of people and circumstance. My point at the end was not to advocate for heroic individuals (as movies like “Death Wish” and popular myths of famous architects do—both of which I was taking to task), but rather, to express my concern over the mounting impatience in this country—over infrastructural decay and many other problems—and how this opens the door to demagoguery and quick, potentially damaging “solutions.” Good solutions to complex problems require time, compassion, and reasoned thinking, not a quick trigger finger. I suspect we are in agreement here.

For a provocative twist on the theme of the heroic architect—and its propagation by architectural historians--see Dell Upton’s classic essay “Architectural History or Landscape History?” (Journal of Architectural Education, August 1991, pp. 195-99). “We have been content, by and large, to act as the public relations branch of the profession,” he writes. Things have changed since 1991, but still…
Keith Eggener
02.18.10 at 02:37

those are interesting points, sprawling. the utopian/dystopian characterization of modern american warfare is interesting.

Keith, that is a good point; i did miss some of the subtlety of your argument, to be honest. i want to attribute it to harried lunchtime reading and my own bias, not my coarseness... but fear it's all three.

thank you for thoughts and the reference
faslanyc
02.18.10 at 07:37

I hate to be the bearer of buzzkill, since I thought the piece was great, but Paul Kersey is identified in the movie as a "development engineer."
Jute
03.19.10 at 05:46

Thanks. No buzzkill whatsoever. You are correct: in the film, the police identify Paul as a "development engineer." (I don't recall that he identifies himself as one thing or the other.) He is, however, seen working with models and drawings and he talks frequently with other characters about design and redesign. Note also that Bronson and director Michael Winner viewed Paul as an architect. In a 1974 interview Bronson said that he originally didn't want to take the role because Paul was " a meek little New York-born accountant" (a part he saw better suited to Dustin Hoffman), but that he and Winner contrived to make him "an active and virile architect," and thus "make a potful of money." See Bill Davidson, "America's Discovery of Charles Bronson," in "The Lakeland Ledger," Sept. 22, 1974, p. 7-D. http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1347&dat=19740922&id=ZusTAAAAIBAJ&sjid=5_oDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6505,6343871
keith eggener
03.22.10 at 12:04

If the subject is architecture and violent revolution in the movies, I suppose that we also have to look at the Matrix trilogy.
In the second of the films, "The Architect" is an aging, white, white-bearded man who lives alone in a sterile environment, and who understands plans and planning and balance, but for whom the nature of the chaotic life that inhabits his structures is an eternal mystery.

In the "Matrix" films, "The Architect"’s early attempts at constructing a perfect society are disastrous.

"The first matrix I designed was quite naturally perfect. It was a work of art. Flawless. Sublime. A triumph only equaled by its monumental failure."

In the second of the two movies, “The Architect” doesn’t understand the subtleties of human life: according to him, the early incarnations of the Matrix didn’t fail because of his own shortcomings, but because of his inability to appreciate the extent of the inhabitants’ flaws. Although he later tries to accommodate these imperfections (“The Oracle” has pointed out the need for an outlet for people who don’t want to live in the structure), he thinks that the mismatches between the behaviour of his structures and the needs of the population are essentially their fault, not his.

In a sense, the whole film is about the main characters' revolt against the injustice of an unsympathetic and externally-imposed architecture created by a remote ansd socially-detached planner.
Eric Baird
09.05.10 at 05:32



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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Keith Eggener is the Marion Dean Ross Distinguished Professor of Architectural History at the University of Oregon, and a contributing editor of Places. 
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