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DARK CITY


London is different. Ed Koch, mayor of New York was advised on some issue to compare notes with his counterpart in London. His reply was "You can't call London". This was, I presume, after the dissolution of the GLC. (Now, as I write we finally have a mayor; not the one I want; but I feel it right that there be someone, albeit Livingstone.) The arch-provincial Margaret Thatcher was not against the GLC for political reasons alone. Her abolition of this body could be connected with her statement that there is no such thing as society. Clearly the idea of a city, the abstract idea was anathema to Thatcher; anathema in its abstractness, in that conceptualising required to make a thing an idea. Thatcher can see the city only as an agglomeration of building. She, and, alas, too many people in England, can never see the city as an idea.

But London is not the only city that has problems with its self-identity. Tokyo has in one sense only recently been knit together conceptually as a single city; and not necessarily to the liking of its inhabitants.

I am in the massive Lobby of architect Kenzo Tange's City Hall in Shinjuku, Tokyo (or more prosaically Tokyo Metropolitan Government Offices). By sheer force of will, by a process of sheer ideation this building has attempted to bind up the disparateness of the Tokyo region (twice the size of the Greater London in area) into a single city. Tange's building is considered by architects and others to be alien to Japanese culture. The Japan Times of the 10th April called it "a crude western style power display". It is also alien to the transitory and ad hoc nature of this city in constant threat of destruction by earthquake: "I feel uncomfortable about this building" says one Japanese architect "because in Tokyo everything floats…chaotic things happen in a complex space. City Hall doesn't fit in with the fact that everything is moving" . City Hall is alien to the provisional character of so much building in Japan. Venerable shrines are repeatedly demolished and reconstructed. As we saw earlier in Tokyo itself 25% of the city has been destroyed and rebuilt in the last five years.

   
 

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