MONUMENTS: Water Follies

Moisei Reiser's water tower for Ekaterinburg, Richard Pare photoThinking more about the Monuments to the Failed Future (see pst of November 14, 2012).  It may take several more posts to unravel the many tangled thoughts about the series.  There is no historical sequence, no hierarchy of themes, dreams and disillusions run through all the disparate thoughts (and fun with words), starting with ideas around water and folly.

Above, The Water Tower: a ferro-concrete structure raised on pilotis, by Richard Pare (1999).  Built for a Socialist city of workers from a production facility in Ekaterinburg, Russia, it remains an important symbol of the early promise of the soviet dream: mass production for mass well-being.  One of the first structures to use ferro-concrete, it was designed by Moisei Reisher in 1929.

The brutalism of the Socialist agenda made concrete, a watch tower holding one of the necessities for life… an abandoned failure, a Socialist ruin, a folly to oppression.

Inspector's House at the Source of the Loue, Chaux project, engraving 1773-79Ledoux, Inspector’s House at the Source of the Loue, engraving after Ledoux by Van Maëlle and Maillet, Chaux project, 1773-79.

“In 1767, Ledoux happened to visit the saltworks in Lorraine and Franche-Comté.  This industrial center was among the most important of the period, and included housing and facilities for the working people.  But Ledoux deplored what he saw.  To him, they were ‘buildings put up haphazardly and stingily,’ and he lamented, ‘if the growth had been foreseen and studied, and if construction had been well-planned, an important town could have resulted.”  Visionary Architects: Boullée, Ledoux, Lequeu, Dominique de Ménil, University of St. Thomas, 1968.

Reisher’s brutalist tower falls on its side, water spilling out.  Virile and passionate, freudian sublimation stripped to its bare essentials.  Ledoux’s project for Chaux was never realized but fully imagined: a wet dream.

vintage postcard of Yellowstone fallsIn 1872, President Ulysses Grant made Yellowstone the first National Park in the world.  After the Civil War, westward expansion continued to be rationalized by the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, as well as a combination of American exceptionalism and Romantic nationalism. “From 1800 to 1900, the United States tripled in size, the population shifted from about seven percent living in the West to roughly sixty percent.” (Guillaume Vandenbroucke, “The U.S. Westward Expansion,” International Economic Review, vol. 49, no. 1, February 2008)  While destroying, containing, and driving out the native people, the growth in the white population, new technologies (cotton gin, steam engine), and cheaper transportation led to massive environmental destruction and the depletion of resources continuing today.

The natural dreamscapes, the national monuments of the American West, had to be protected from these energetic individualists consuming land and resources with little social constraint or government regulation.

Population growth and technological development drive many social movements, in turn creating massive environmental destruction.  A grotesque failure machine driven by our own success.











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