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THE NEW MONUMENTS OF EUROPE

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January 18th, 2013

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The skylines of the historic centers of Europe were defined not by the skyscrapers of capitalism as today’s modern cities are, but rather by bell and clock towers, pinnacles of cathedrals, and medieval defenses. The raging debate in Europe between those calling for density and vertical expansion to address the demands of today’s cities and those determined to protect the character of the historic centers has caused much of the new dense and modern construction to be clustered into “high-rise ghettos” at the edges of European cities. While the towers, spires, and monuments of the past represented a public and cultural function, our modern tall buildings contain none of this cultural or symbolic meaning, but rather represent the demands of an evolving and growing urban population or the prominence of capitalism and corporations in our global economy.

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Our concept proposes a reorientation of this trend with a temporary and transient cluster of new monuments that celebrate and draw attention to the neighborhoods and communities that largely exist in the shadows of Europe’s historic cities. The new modern face of Europe’s historic cities, which has been developing since the end of the Second World War, is largely made up of homogeneous housing developments (whether that be social or private). Many of these are almost entirely made up of low-income, elderly, single-parent households, as well as a large percentage of minorities and immigrants who often have a difficult time overcoming discrimination and high unemployment. These new landmarks are monuments not to Europe’s august history but rather are projective of a more unified and multicultural history that is still yet to come.

Simultaneously these new monuments acknowledge the emerging urban geography that has been developing at the edges of many of Europe’s historic centers and suggest the need for new landmarks that acknowledge the presence of these communities while provoking a reconsideration of their significance in the future. The strangeness of their presence in these quotidian contexts only highlights how abnormal it would be for these cities to celebrate and highlight such an environment!

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The faceted form of our proposal is at once reminiscent of the historic towers, campaniles, spires, and obelisks that defined the European skylines for centuries, while simultaneously appearing as an uncanny and foreign object causing visitors and residents alike to take notice and explore the new de-centered life in the modern European city. The monuments are balloons that hover above the city and are tied into place by cables. These cables are attached to lorries that contain transient amenities and services such as reading rooms, community meeting spaces, classrooms, civic services, or simply vendors for food or local products. The skin of each monument is made of stretched mylar that produces a mirrored surface that allows visitors to look up and see the reflection of their city from an entirely new perspective. Inside is a light aluminum frame with a dual skinned balloon containing hydrogen to provide the buoyancy to lift the structure. These new monuments will become transient landmarks, orienting people in the city and symbolizing the importance of these largely marginalized communities, while engendering a condition for residents and visitor to meet, interact, and explore these routinely overlooked neighborhoods.

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