meIn 1908, Henry Ford introduced his legendary Model T to the United States. This not only changed the possibilities of mobility, but also changed the infrastructure and aesthetics of cities. Many places were so perfectly adapted to the car that by the 1940s and 50s you could drive straight to many buildings, including cinemas, restaurants, and banks. The journey by car was affordable, and thanks to sophisticated advertising campaigns, it was considered a romantic alternative to the train journey. Side effects: In 1925, about 60 percent of all deaths in cities of more than 25,000 were caused by cars. One third of the dead were children.
To make it clear that the fault does not lie with the cars, nor their owners, the term “jaywalker”, which is still used today, quickly spread. This is a careless pedestrian crossing the street at an unmarked location. The word “jay” means something like “fool”. Faced with a relentless car lobby, organizations like the Good Road Movement, founded in the late 1870s, could do little. What started as a cyclist movement was quickly hijacked by traffic clubs like the American Automobile Association. Since about 1903, the association’s Good Roads Magazine has been less concerned with bicycles and more about things like highway maintenance.
Pragmatism and flexibility are the most important virtues
Of all transportation, the automobile has had the greatest impact on American society, but horses, trains, and planes should not be underestimated either. Architect Daniel Caven explains in his new book how the landscapes and cityscapes of the American West had to adapt to a variety of transportation options. He blends text, artwork, maps, advertisements, and photographs by photographers such as Edward Curtis or Dorothea Lange into an educational and aesthetically stunning collage. If he displays the Roman Pantheon next to a supermarket in his hometown of Albuquerque, where there is only a caravan in the parking lot (Breaking Bad says hello), it becomes clear what he means when he talks about the “consolidation of the finished product”, which is “a service for a stage Our Modern Life in America”.
The grief of so many buildings in the United States, their theme park-like nature and always the same order, all this is revealed to anyone who spends a few days driving in the West. Interstate highway, exit, parking lots, fast food restaurants, shopping malls, residential communities: you can count on this sequence. It is a sign of a culture in which pragmatism and flexibility are among the most important virtues – and one that seems bleak and familiar to us.
From landscape to inhospitable possession
For example, shopping malls, in whose design Austrian city planner Viktor Groen played a major role, are now a normal thing in Germany as well. The self-confessed car hater had European arcades in mind as a model; They’ve been around since 1956, when his first mall opened in Edina, Minnesota, but the air-conditioned comfort areas that Frank Lloyd Wright described as “desolate” and “devoid of charm.”
According to Caven, the United States has done better than any other country in turning the landscape into inhospitable possessions in the shortest possible time. There are reasons for this: 24,000 people lived in California in 1800, about 1.4 million in 1900, and then more than 37 million in 2010. If you want to understand what these numbers mean – for example for indigenous peoples, animals and the environment – look at Infographics. While some of them are often printed and widely distributed, the selection offered by Kavin is consistently impressive. Busy Sunset Boulevard, photographed by H.
Daniel Caffin: “Ordinary Architecture.” The colonization of the American landscape. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel 2022. 456 pages, illustrations, hardcover, €62.
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