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World Centre September 30, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

Autumnal flu continues despite helpful advice from readers, a foot massage from Mrs B and neck-breaking kangaroo jumps from little Miss B. In this reduced, nay pitiful state, Beachcombing thought that he would celebrate a true forgotten kingdom: the World Centre of Communication. Its creators Henrik Christian Andersen and Ernest Hébrard were intent – in 1913/1914 no less! – on creating the perfect city where men and women from all over the world could come together in perfect communion. Here was the socialist utopian impulse, which had given birth to various garden cities, now rising to its magnificently unrealisable climax.

Naturally, the city never escaped the huge book in which its design was mapped out for dreamers to salivate over.

At the entrance of the city were two suspiciously Soviet-looking statues: an unsexed man and woman. Then at the centre of the metropolis, which stretched over miles of flat plain, was the Tower of Progress where reactionaries, conservatives, bishops and generals would presumably be thrown to their deaths. At least, at the beginning… If other human experiments in perfection are anything to go by the descendants of Andersen and Hébrard would soon have moved on to those with dandruff and glasses too.

There was a Temple of Religions, an International Court of Justice (for all the good that has done us), a Temple of Arts and an Olympic Stadium. The houses where the citizens dwelt – the best scientists, artists and thinkers in the world – were monumental and didn’t promise much in the way of ivy, birds’ nests or moss. Interestingly the World Centre was to be built next to the sea with that horrific din of seabirds. Was it forbidden to feed the gulls?

In its magnificent dirigiste sterility the project might stand as a critique of all supranational and international projects – the day this after a significant vote in Germany – which try to create peoples and communities with the stroke of the pen. The following comments by a contemporary reviewer Trystan Edwards is as good as an indictment as any

Messrs. Andersen and Hébrard would appear to have confused the universal with the particular, and to have imagined that their supermetropolis was a shrine which could house the very spirit of internationalism. But that spirit can only find expression in the different capitals of the nations of the world, each of which has its own separate characteristics. Englishmen could not tolerate London if they knew it was the only capital. We can appreciate the peculiar virtues of London, and can become resigned to the thought that there are virtues which it lacks, by dwelling upon the grandeur of Paris, Rome, Florence, Berlin, or other cities. That is the true internationalism. But if we tried to imbue London with all the virtues of all the other cities, many of which virtues are contradictory and incompatible, we should not only deprive our capital of such character as it has, but fail to endow it with any other character. Let it not be our ambition that London should have as many broad streets as has Berlin, for fairly narrow streets have a charm of their own. Let us keep its buildings low so that St. Paul’s may still dominate the city. But let New York be a symphony of skyscrapers. Every capital must jealously guard its own soul.

Any other cities of the imagination: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com?

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30/9/2011: Ricardo writes in about Urbicande a disconcerting project creating a new world on the internet. At least they can’t construct this with our taxes. The following comes from their English introduction: in all seriousness some intriguing stuff in there. ‘Issued of the collaboration between François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, the “Les Cités obscures” series is now up to twelve albums published in French by Casterman, and translated into most other European languages. Although references to our world abound, especially in regard to architecture, those various books relate in fact to a parallel universe; one whose coherence is constantly growing with time.’ Beach particularly enjoyed ‘references to our world abound, especially in regard to architecture…’ Thanks, as always, to Ricardo.

28/10/11: Invisible proves herself an expert in urban planning too. ‘With reference to cities of the imagination, we cannot possibly forget Francois Marie Charles Fourier, that daring Utopian Socialist, who wanted to build Phalansteres of 1620 people each – “grand hotels” where the rich had the upper floors and the poor the lower and where all noisy occupations were segregated into one isolated wing. In his new world order, cooperative living would bring order out of chaos, and when perfect harmony was achieved, the seas would turn to lemonade. Here’s the Wikipedia overview because I am lazy and it has  photo of a Phalanstere.   “Fairies” for the lovelorn! But here are some primary sources, which give the full flavor of the man and his ideas.  I particularly like the reference to giving all the dirty work to teenagers, who, Fourier believes, have a natural taste for filth. The Wikipedia reference to the North American Phalanx is interesting to me – in Ohio a number of visionary people were influenced by Fourier. A phalanx for more than a dozen families was built at the aptly named Utopia in Clermont County, on the Ohio River, about 30 miles from Cincinnati. The community worked hard, but went into debt in building a new phalanx building. Newer recruits were unhappy with the financial situation and in 1846, the property was sold to a spiritualist/free love advocate named John O. Wattles and his community of about 100 souls. In 1847 their hopes–and about 40 of their members–were washed away when their building collapsed in the flooded Ohio River. So, communities not completely in the imagination, but I don’t see any bottles of North Sea Lemonade at my grocer’s either. Obviously mankind has not yet achieved unity of action and harmonious collaboration.’ Thanks Invisible!