Literary Dose #28

"Verb > You argue in your essay [on Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, in this issue of Verb] that architects have had little to say about Fresh Kills. Why do you think this has been the case?

May > ...little of substance to say, likely because the more you unpack a place like Fresh Kills, the more difficult it becomes to later repackage it in glossy optimism. No matter how sexy and natural it may appear in the various digital renderings, or how compelling its supposed rebirth may sound in the official statements, it is an absolutely horrible place, and it reveals horrible realities about our Modern American Lifestyles -- realities that are only growing more pronounced.

The fact of the matter is that these realities are not easily overlooked. It takes effort to ignore them. Unfortunately, all too often architects play a central role in this effort. Why do you think architectural competitions are held? Glance beneath nearly every major architectural competition and you will find a desire to recast the image of a particular place in the collective memory of a population. This is not to suggest that there is some sort of larger conspiracy at work, but rather that events such as the Fresh Kills competition are ultimately instruments for the extension of dominant moralities. Winning entries [PDF link] are always in total compliance with that morality. They ensure that the most powerful interests have the final say on the history of a particular location, and what lessons we may learn from those places."
- John May in "Technology, Ecology, and Ordinary Language; a Conversation with John May," in Verb Crisis, edited by Mario Ballesteros, Albert Ferre & Irene Hwang (Actar, 2008).