Amid its countless kinds of cultural racket, it seems that human society has lost the formula for stopping. At the same time, the wilderness, as a metaphor for a cultural and mental void, has paradoxically taken over the heart of our metropolises, what Jean Baudrillard in Americarefers to as social desertification or enucleation: the cold in the heart of the never-ending feverish urban activity where individuals become progressively lonelier so that the tribal gatherings of the past around shared activities, not necessarily related to consumption, are rapidly disappearing. The metropolis, controlled entirely by human action, becomes an addictive machine, as Rem Koolhaas claims in Delirious New York, with mythical power as mighty as the forces of nature. Its congestion generates excess distractions and pointless products, leading inevitably to environmental and mental filth. The city becomes a closed cosmos in which inhuman amounts of background noises, which only grow stronger in this era of the digital revolution, multi-corporate globalization, computer screens replacing every human activity, and reality under constant surveillance. The social desertification, the paucity of interpersonal communication foreseen by Baudrillard, has become a troubling reality. Therefore I see fit to commemorate in our collective memory the basic, primeval need for coming together around a core of silence, of being together in an unmediated way, before the passage of years and generations, before we forget that once we were a society that gathered not only in front of a screen. Hence, the city needs a stop!
This idea needs a monument! Especially because we have stopped building monuments. A monument as a reminder, as a signpost in the spatial and historical time, as a positive type of Tower of Babel without electronic or digital distractions. It must be a whole universe unto itself, capable of severing its visitors from the city’s physical and mental congestion, offering a means for pausing, taking a break, reflecting, resting and finding a refuge from the wild and hectic metropolises that have forgotten to stop and breathe.
This is, therefore, an invitation to think differently about the void as a beneficial quality. Because the great ideals that were the foundation for enlightened worldviews are slowly rusting; the buildings being built nowadays do not attend to the welfare of the individual subject; instead, they fill the urban spaces with grandiose structures that leave the human subject dizzy and breathless. They are esthetic unto themselves, but lack any human value around which it is possible to congregate other than showing off wealth – a means that has become an end. They are monumental but aren’t monuments.
I’m proposing a monument free of interests or specific function. It will place humans in the center and will allow them, for a moment, to take a break from the urban congestion. The monument will create a journey that offers a gradual withdrawal from the city that will provide a behavioral change and the desired cessation; While passing through the spaces, distractions will fade away until absolute tranquility will be reached.
The building is positioned in Rishon Lezion, a typical Israeli city – full of urban congestion. Although this building was designed with a specific site in mind the values and principles suggested are generic in a way that a monument for stopping could, and should, be constructed in every metropolis.
The building is composed of a collection of spaces that offer people the opportunity to behave freely and differently than how they’re used to within the city today. In order to create a variety of spaces, qualities of influential experiences are extracted to their essence and projected in space through different parameters such as topography, height, envelope, humidity, temperature, sound, etc. Each floor stimulates the visitors’ senses in a unique manner, but all of them share a white identity in order to neutralize any sense of overload. In addition, cellular signals are jammed to prevent distractions.
Personal transparent elevators are spread throughout the building allowing visitors’ to experience it privately and clear all distractions. The building also offers a few tracks to choose from – moderate, challenging, hard and random; Visitors can explore the route which suits their needs at the given moment by accessing the matching elevator, with the help of a series of maps that guide through the structure.
What prompted the project?
The transformation that monuments have gone through was the catalyst for the project; in the past, monuments were important landmarks, bearing witness to historical events and heroic acts, serving as collective memory and bringing society together around symbolic content. Today, monuments have turned into a modern Golden Calf. While visitors come to be awed by their technology, sophistication, wealth, and ostentation, there lacks a humanistic value behind them. The economy and free market impose giant structures competing with one another in demonstrating economic and technological might.
The project strives to examine such changes and offer a monument for the human needs of the 21st century.
How did you develop the design of the void monument? What defined its vertical form and shape?
Hectic life in urban metropolises drove me to the conclusion that a cessation of this dynamic must be built and seen; our cities have become a closed cosmos in which inhuman amounts of background noise, both obvious and veiled, are growing stronger and louder still. In this era of digital revolution, multi-corporate globalization, the takeover of computer screens on human activity, and a reality of diminished privacy, there is a need to emphasize the inherent human forces that once moved us.
The city needs a pause. There are already many physical stops and voids in our cities, but most of them are saturated with interests. I believe we deserve a monument free of interests or specific function, one which places humans in the center and allows them, if for a brief moment, to take a respite from urban congestion. I wanted it to be a noticeable break within the constructed city space, providing a proportional contrast between the sought-after void and the desired fullness. The function-free collection of spaces allows visitors to break away from their normal routine and, while passing through them, distractions fade, making way for a greater sense of tranquility in an otherwise hectic scene.
You talk about a monument of void for every metropolis? Do you envision a potential network of voids? How would this work? Would these all operate in the same way or should each one be site specific?
Yes, I think that the need to stop exists in every metropolis in this era, so this kind of monument would be beneficial globally. This need isn’t a new notion. Georg Zimel wrote in the 19th century about the emotional filters that we create in order to deal with urban distractions which make us apathetic to our surroundings. Later on, Jean Baudrillard described in Americathe outcome of such urban congestion as driving social desertification and enucleation. As we’ve moved through the decades, a need for new urban respites has grown stronger and stronger still.
The proposed structure is one implementation for a monument of void which certainly holds relevance to other metropolises as well, with modifications applied to meet the diversified needs of different metropolises, including scale, relation to surroundings, and site selection.
What is our relationship to past monuments – what role do these hold within cities? How has their role changed since their conception?
Past monuments still hold a big place in our lives, although their role has drastically changed since their conception. In The Modern Cult of Monuments, Alois Riegl proposes there are three classes of past monuments: Historical, Intentional, and Age-Value. I think many of our past monuments are considered monuments today primarily thanks to their age-value, even if the original intention was not to create them as monuments; we owe them respect, they convey to us history, culture, construction techniques, etc. However, as I see it, while the buildings we construct today are certainly monumental – they are not monuments. I believe they will not be held as age-value monuments in the future in large part because they are overloaded with interests and severely lacking in cultural or humanistic values.
Is the term monument still appropriate?
I think so. Although monuments and their role in the city changed over time, the term monument still represents the same aspiration and concept. I believe we still need monuments in our cities and therefore should come to understand, accept and embrace the changes our society has gone through to enable the planning of future monuments in tune with such changes.
How important were the models in the development of the project?
The models actually drove the design process since they were found to be the most valuable method to examine different design variations and iterate on those.
Each floor aims to stimulate visitors’ senses in a unique manner combining a variety of elements, and the 3D models allowed me to fine-tune them to a high degree of detail.
What drew you to making through CNC? How important was it to achieve this kind of scale with the model?
For this project, I actually started off using 3D printing but only later decided to use CNC milling. CNC milling is efficient, accurate, relatively quick and can be used with a wide range of materials. These characteristics allowed me to create dozens of prototypes, in a relatively short amount of time, major factors driving the development of the design.
The large model, 1.5-meters tall, was also produced by a CNC machine, but unlike the prototypes that were created in a desktop-sized machine, this model was produced by a 7-axis robotic arm which allowed me to achieve all of the articulation and detail, and most importantly, the scale – which I felt was necessary to convey key elements of the proposed monument.
How important are the plans? What led you to choose a ‘map’ aesthetic?
In addition to the usual roles 2D plans have in every architectural element, here they are also a part of the visitor’s experience. The plans guide visitors through the spaces, allowing them to choose and control their individual journeys. They were therefore designed in a way that communicates their functional role in a familiar form.
Lilach Borenstein holds a Bachelor of Architecture with honors from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem, Israel, and currently resides in New York.