The Metropolis is Complete

infinite one wilshires

Just as One Wilshire was recycled into a citadel for immaterial culture, all we can do is recycle old things in phases to make them newly desirable commodities again. Supply and demand emerge out of what is already lying around. The metropolis is complete. Only our relationship to the elements of the world around us is freed of permanence and keeps moving.

Although nothing has a universal meaning or a lasting value, objects still convey provisional meanings and attain temporary values created on the fly, often for very short durations. For a month a Beanie Baby is worth $1,000. The next month it is worth $3 again. This doesn’t mean that anything goes. Objects can still only function within a system. Like tech stocks, the empty promise of objects is precisely what allows them to remain vital. There is no longer a fixed natural state of identity or being. All that is left is desire and the craving for its impossible satisfaction.

Value is now a commodity in and of itself, regularly sought out and consumed. All objects and all people are members of a giant stock exchange, not investors on the floor, but rather flickering numbers running across a banner, some rising, some falling, always moving up and down. Individuals long to become virtual and escape into Ether. It is through this physical apparatus that Hollywood stars, celebrities, and criminals obtain another body, a media life. Neither sacred nor living, this media life is pure image, more consistent and dependable than physical life itself. It is the dream we all share: that we might become objects, or better yet, lose our corporeality to become pure images.

Few objects demonstrate the drive to become media as does the 12” single “Blue Monday.” The New Wave band New Order began as Joy Division, a British Punk group that starkly embodied the post-industrial alienation of late 1970s Manchester and whose history culminated in the suicide of its lead singer Ian Curtis on the eve of their first North American tour. Rising from the ashes of Joy Division, New Order embraced synthesizer technology (generally considered soulless by the Punks) and rejected the clamor of Punk for the beat of the dance floor. In “Blue Monday,” the band achieved phenomenal media success, creating the most popular single of all time. But in their desire to become more digital—and hence more immaterial—than actually possible at the time, New Order retained graphic designer Neville Brody to make a die cut cover that would resemble the sleeve of a large floppy disk. The unique look won critical acclaim, but according to legend the most popular 12” of all time cost the band 20 cents for every copy sold, ruining them financially but assuring their place in the regime of media.

Media life promises eternal existence, cleansed of unscripted character flaws and accidents—a guaranteed legacy that defies aging and death by already appearing dead on arrival. The idols of millions via magazines, film, and television are disembodied, lifeless forms without content or meaning. But the terrifying truth is that, although a media image may last forever, like Michael Jackson, its host is prone to destruction and degradation. Data itself is not free of physicality. When it is reduplicated or backed up to file and stored via a remote host it suffers the same limitations as the physical world. It can be erased, lost, and compromised. The constant frustration of CDs, DVDs, and hard drives is that they disintegrate. Up to 20% of the information carefully collected on Jet Propulsion Laboratory computers during NASA’s 1976 Viking mission to Mars has been lost. The average web page lasts only a hundred days, the typical life span of a flea on a dog. Even if data isn’t lost, the ability to read it soon disappears. Photos of the Amazon Basin taken by satellites in the 1970s are critical to understanding long-term trends in deforestation but are trapped forever on indecipherable magnetic tapes. This resistance by the physical aspect of virtuality to its immaterial perfection, is what keeps us plugged in. It is the crash of data, like an earthquake or tsunami force that reminds us of the implications of our own limitations and momentarily returns purpose and value to our lives.

That the dot-com and telecom busts occurred in the first year of the new millennium is no accident. Those who participated and invested in these busts did not do so without reason. Like the followers of the Heaven’s Gate cult and those who hoped that the year 2000, or better yet, a Kubrick-esque 2001, would mark the end of all things, they were just desperate to believe that the end was near. The process of investing in was a matter of giving oneself up. Borrowing on margin to invest not only the entirety of one’s pension in Akamai or Worldcom but to generate a life-crushing debt as a byproduct as well is voluntary slavery.

The pundits were mistaken: it was not that we all hoped to take our profits and get out of the boom before it failed, it was that we wanted to be part of its failure and to feel its destruction. Like the Bomb, the greatest disappointment of the dot-com crash of 2000 was its failure to bring about its greatest promise: the end of all things.

Today members of the architectural post-avant-garde maintain that architecture should do nothing more than embody the flows of capital. Instead of enslaving itself to capital, as it does now, and instead of fulfilling the master-slave dialectic to become capital’s master, as it always wished to be under modernism, architecture now decides to end the game and achieve oneness with capital.

But if achieving a state of oneness with capital is architecture’s fantasy, what better place for this to happen than at One Wilshire? To become capital, architecture must first become Ether. Architecture, like all other objects, will lose its intrinsic value and enter into a pure system of exchange. Through symbol libraries and the magic of the .dxf import command, it has become possible for architectural plans to reproduce at will. The restrooms from Frank Gehry’s signature building, the Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao, can be copied onto a flash drive by an intern to endlessly re-appear in schools of architecture worldwide, their first role in life irrelevant and forgotten. In this light, the prevalence of the computation-intensive blob in the academy is revealed as the product of fear, a desperate attempt to reintroduce the hand and slow down architectural production just at the moment that as it threatens to proliferate wildly, becoming pure Ether.

One Wilshire has no such fear. Created before the dawn of computer- aided design, it transcends architecture as pure diagram and pure Idea. Endlessly repeatable, there is no limit to its potent reach. It is the architectural realization of Hegel’s Spirit itself. One Wilshire is an architecture of pure self-negation, simultaneously real and virtual, visible and unseen. One Wilshire is an unimportant building without any physical presence or ability to signify its function. Yet it is crucial. One Wilshire is the unreal exposing and making real of the unreal. One Wilshire is the palace for the empire of Ether.