JF Ptak Science Books Post 999
Even if the entire comparative oeuvre of architecture and city planning was crankily limited to only the work of Claes Oldenburg, this effort by Oscar Newman would still rise to the bottom. A terrifically bad idea, the AtomicCity would be the chunky bit floating in the smooth, evenly-distributed soup of Oldenburg’s Truly Bad Ideas.
On the other hand, Oldenburg’s work never seems to transcend its pointed badness—his nostril entrance as part of a large nose facade for a tunnel continues to remain simply goofy—and Newman’s work does. It goes all the way ‘round the badness issue and comes up nicely in the so-bad-its-good category, while Oldenburg’s star is firmly fixed in the “so bad it isn’t even bad/not even wrong (Wolfgang Paul for the latter) firmament.
Newman published this in 1969 after somehow latching onto the idea of clearing out massive underground caverns with nuclear explosions--in this case, the space would be hollowed out under Manhattan. The underground sphere would be a miniature version of whatever was above it--along the medial there would be a "topside" of a regular city with streets and high rise buildings, underneath which would exist an underground city for the underground city. In this honeycomb would exist the means of production and energy, segmented in multi-block-sized enclosures of no charm.
Why does this remind me of the Titanic?
(I should note here that this this is Manhattan, and that the Oldenburgian 1000-foot tall Q-Tips (registered trademark!) are air-gathers/filters for the city below.)
There's really just so much wrong with this idea there is only one place to begin.
There are "no views" underground.
In his description of the idea, Newman writes:
"Manhattan could have a half-dozen such atomic cities strung under the city proper...the real problem in an underground city would be the lack of views and fresh air, but its easy access to the surface and the fact that, even as things are, our air should be filtered and what most of us see from our window's is somebody else's wall."1
Aside from being very badly written, it is surprising (?!) that Mr. Newman writes about the no-view problem before that of air supply. Or anything else.
In this Oddnity2 of oddness one of the oddest things to me is that Mr. Newman would actually use only half of his sphere, preserving the top of the hemisphere for nothing at all. Except for "Cinerama"--the architect evidently intended to use the blank vault for image projection, which is not a half-bad idea. But why one would bother to build something like this even in the imagination and leave half of it to nothing is a mystery. (This is a slippery slope, picking out one bad thing and then another; there's really nothing but bad here.)
In leaving this pretty mess I'd just like to point out that Mr. Newman saw fit to include an enormous (projected?) advertisement for Coca Cola, hovering somewhere around underground mid-town.
[This post could fit into so many different categories for this blog, though I think it best nestled in a combination of "Bad Ideas" and "The History of Holes" resulting in the "Bad Ideas in the History of Holes" subcategory.]
1. Alison Sky and Michelle Stone. Unbuilt America. McGraw Hill, 1976, page 192. No home should be without this book.
2. "Oddnity". Just made up. A litany of oddnesses; a collection of oddities so large that the collection itself becomes one large oddity--an oddnity.".