An imposing monument to ideology and power, it stood as a marker of urban division from its construction during the height of the Cold War until its fate was sealed in 1989. Featured in films from noir to arthouse, its austere aesthetics absorbed observers on the scene and around the world. With its grey, alienating appearance, it also attracted no shortage of denunciators. “Oppressive,” one urban design expert opined in retrospect, “does not begin to describe it.” It’s still remembered by history, even if most people now enjoy inhabiting or traversing the public space its absence affords with little thought to this once formidable fabrication.
I refer, of course, to San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway.
But this reference also recalls that structure’s infrastructural doppelgänger; Berlin’s infamous edifice was also built to control mobility and to shore up a system of unequally distributed power.
Standing as they did across the same temporal span, the Freeway and the Wall, despite their differences, invite comparison for the lessons they hold. Two of those lessons – that mobility is power, and that nothing lasts forever – might issue from the twentieth century, but they are particularly salient for thinking about the city of the twenty-first.Continue reading “Mobility and Mutability: Lessons from Two Infrastructural Icons”