Day M242: Gotham City

Sat 26.05.12:

Gangsters. I hate them. I hate their pathetic lust for money, their shocking insensitivity to the misery of others, their child-like desire for trinkets and weaponry. But I especially hate their taste – yes I may sound like a rambling old lord bemoaning the trashy habits of the nouveau riche, but sod it: these people are not just morally bankrupt, but creatively bankrupt as well. The kind of goons who would erect a tasteless golden statue of themselves as though it’s not going to be melted down the minute they shuffle off this mortal coil they’ve done so much to ruin for others. The kind of goons that buy cars that look like glorified roller-skates, spend more on sound-systems than looking after their kids, hang out with women more plastic than Barbie and wear shirts louder than Krakatau.

One of the reasons I want drugs legalised is to strangle the main income stream of these lowdown lowbrow lowlifes, but in some cases the damage has already been done. Las Vegas, that trashy Blackpoolzilla of the desert, founded by gangsters who had their goodtastebuds removed at birth, with its shitty bastardised versions of some of the greatest buildings in the world, the air-conned epitome of what the daily exploitation of human greed and a shoddy grasp of statistics can buy. If Las Vegas’ effect on the world was restricted to that wretched hell-on-Earth where dithery old fogeys go to waste the money they’ve wasted a lifetime working for, I honestly wouldn’t give a fat flying crap. But unfortunately for humanity, Las Vegas, the world epicentre of gold-plated kitsch and a lifestyle that only cretins could possibly find aspirational, has spread its pernicious tendrils from Macau to Melbourne to Manila.

Yes I know that Las Vegas is now run by Disney and Halliburton (probably), but the form of modern casinos originates in the grotesque pipe-dreams of gangsters. Look at Tony Montana’s gay nightclub of a house, the gold chains and cheap shell suits of Tony Soprano’s goons or the hang-glider-like collars of Fredo Corleone. What these (admittedly fictional, but art does imitate life) people think is attractive, beautiful or necessary should never, NEVER, be allowed to sully the landscape of Hoggart’s Farm, never mind the skyline of a great city like Singapore.

I WISH this was Photoshop. But it's not. It's real.

Yup. It’s a Sands Casino/Hotel/THING.

Three ugly-as-f— domino-shaped towers. With a surfboard plonked on top of them that’s supposed – get this – to look like a SHIP. Oh my giddy aunt. Is this a joke? Because, seriously, if it is, it’s about as amusing as cancer.

But should I be surprised that some moron thought this was a good idea? Should I be gobsmacked that some spawn-of-Satan architect designed it? Should I be shocked that the morons in the government gave it the green light? Should I be bewildered that men toiled for thousands of man-hours with a budget that could have pulled an African country out of the shite to build something akin to a fanciful folly of a fat spoiled rich kid, what happens when Homer’s brother puts him in charge of design, the architectural equivalent of an episode of that nightmarish MTV show My Super Sweet 16?

Dear God, MAKE IT GO AWAY

FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, IT’S THREE TOWERS WITH A SURFBOARD DUMPED ON TOP!! LORD, GIMME STRENGTH.

No. No, I’m not surprised. And I’m sure there are people willing to sacrifice all dignity, any shred of perceived integrity, manners or decency by saying ‘well I think it looks nice’. If that’s your opinion, you seriously don’t deserve opinions. Or, for that matter, oxygen. Put the crayon down and please stop designing buildings or I’ll have to put you on the naughty step.

It’s crass, it’s tacky, it’s pathetic, it’s moronic, but most of all… it’s just f—ing ugly.

Ugly like a British soap opera. Ugly like a civil war. Ugly like a car accident. Ugly like a divorce. Ugly like a heroin overdose. Ugly like the lecture hall of a 60s polytechnic. Ugly like disease. Ugly like a the mind of a gangster.

But is this a huge shock to me? That in the 21st century people are still willing to build such monumental crap? No. No it’s not.

I’ll tell you what was a shock to me. THIS:

Ahh... That's better

Often in my travels, often to defenders of modern architecture, concrete and “clean straight lines”, I have thrown down The Graham Hughes Modern Architecture Challenge. It is simply this: name me one building, anywhere in the world, built (not restored) in the last fifty years that is beautiful?

And nobody, NOBODY has ever come up with an answer. A single one! ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD!! Seriously! A single building built by any of the 7,000,000,000 souls on the good ship Earth. NOT ONE!

Well butter my balls and call me Bongo. It’s taken three and a half years, 197 countries, 18 territories and 250,000 miles but I think I may have found it.

I give you ParkView Square, Singapore:

YES.

What’s this? Well-wrought statues adorning the courtyard? Dali, Beethoven and Churchill immortalised in bronze? Why the hell not eh?

Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo

Chinese motifs on the façade? Awesome. Let’s go inside.

My friends observe! This is what beautiful looks like.

Oh sweet bliss. Hand-made brass frescos, art-deco styling, the highest wine-rack in the world – one that comes with ‘wine angels’, barmaids who don a harness and bungee and float up like fairies to get your bottle of plonk?

And this is an OFFICE BUILDING? Are you kidding? No?!

Atlas Shoved.

Okay, okay, Graham – we get it, it’s a very nice building, but why are you so excited about all this?

Because ParkView Square, known affectionately as ‘Gotham City’ by the locals, was built FROM SCRATCH less than ten years ago.

You see, I don’t care that the internal structure of ParkView Square is made of concrete in the same way I don’t care that Scarlett Johansson’s internal structure is made of blood and guts. The Liverpool Liver Building and the Liverpool Gothic Cathedral also have concrete rattling around in their bones, but you’d never know unless you cut them open – and that’s the point.

Of course, mealy-mouthed modern architects will talk this place down in the same way that literary critics will dismiss Lord of the Rings (the third best selling book ON THE PLANET – fact!), but that’s to be expected isn’t it? However, from where I’m standing, all I can see is a building that inspires joy and wonder, a soaring monument to human endeavour and ingenuity.

I walked through this building every day on the way from the Bugis train station to Kuni’s place, and each time I noticed something new; a detail I had missed, a facet I had overlooked, something that put a smile on my face. Like a what the chaps at Weta did for the Roxy cinema in Wellington but on a truly epic scale, the Chinese owners and New York architects (who, I feel, are in desperate need of some serious high-fivin’) of ParkView Square deserve nothing but respect for showing the world what I’ve been banging on about in all of my many rants about modern architecture: THERE IS NO GOOD REASON THAT MODERN BUILDINGS HAVE TO LOOK UGLY.

Beetham Tower, Manchester: Europe's Tallest Eyesore
THERE IS NO REASON FOR THIS.
Holyrood, Edinburgh: Europe's Ugliest Building
THERE IS NO REASON FOR THIS.
Federation Square, Melbourne: Ugliest Building in the Southern Hemisphere
THERE IS NO REASON FOR THIS.
Mirador Building, Madrid. Now seriously, WHAT THE FUCK??
THERE IS NO REASON FOR THIS.

We have to put up with ugliness every day of our lives: bombs going off, child murders, internecine strife, car accidents, war, famine, disease, EastEnders… must we ALSO live in a world whose buildings are dictated by the obscene fetishes and peccadilloes of architects and politicians? Gibbering morons happy to dress like this:

Politicians. I Hate Them.
Yeah, see what you've done there, going for the 'serial killer in the rain' look, right?

This is the world of gangsters, bling, marketing, lies, and cocaine. This is what happens when people with no taste or decency are permitted to build things. These are the diseased brainspunk of our parent’s generation and it’s high time we ripped down this garbage and built something beautiful in its place. Give me the neo-Gothic, give me the Baroque, the Romanic, the Spanish Mission, the Country Cottage, the Florentine, the Art-Nouveau, the Tudor villa, give me Gotham City… just, for heaven’s sake, give me something that looks BEAUTIFUL!!

One damn fine Scottish sexpot
That'll do.

Today, Kuni, Christoph and I went for a mooch around town. At the end of a long hot day, Christoph and I ended up in the famous Long Bar of The Inimitable Raffles Hotel. Peanut shells cover the floor and automatic fans waft cool air gently down onto the patrons. It’s a whopping $26 (£13) for a Singapore Sling, but when in Rome…

Graham Hughes vs Singapore Sling
WHERE Else Should One Partake Of The Singapore Sling But At The Raffles Hotel

Author: Graham

Adventurer, filmmaker, blogger, double Guinness World Record Holder. The first person to visit every country in the world without flying. I currently live on a private island in The Caribbean that I won in a competition.

4 thoughts on “Day M242: Gotham City”

  1. Much easier challenge this time – just one building in the past 50 years.
    I posted before on the great works of Frank Gehry (Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao), and the buildings of Santiago Calatrava (Milwaukee Museum of Art, and so great bridges), but these do not seem to be to your taste.

    So another 2 for your consideration:

    Beijing’s new (2007) National Theatre – a titanium egg, floating on water, with just a suggestion of yin/yang about it (Paul Andreu), or in more traditional manner, the church of Hallgrimur, completed in Reyjavik in 1986 (Guðjón Samuelssondesign), after 50 years in construction. Brilliant, stark and reflective of the harsh land and faith of it’s builders.

    Of course, it is easy to find crap bulidings today – so many nore of them are being built. Sturgeon’s Law is fully in evidence (90% of everything is crap).

    So age of structures tends to filter out the crap – the ugly monstrosities get replaced by something less crapulous (sometimes!). Believe it or not, Melbourne’s Federation Square replaces some spectacularly dull office buildings of the 60s! It is actually an improvement (and I have a lot of time for the undulating pavement). Whilst in Melbourne, the ANZ Gothic tower, which stands above it’s magnificent 19th Century banking Chamber is not so bad for a skyscraper.

    Cheers Graham, I’ll just miss bumping into you for the 4th time – missed you in China by days, in Korea by days, too lazy in Melbourne and now we are off to Madagascar, inspired by your tales of dancing lemurs and hatted locals. We aren’t going anywhere near Nosy Be.

    Good luck on the rest of the adventure. I look forward to the book. By the way, despite high rotation on the evil pay television networks, your TV series is yet to make its way onto Free to air TV here in Oz.

    1. I have to admit, it’s not monstrously ugly, and I can see why you say it’s awesome, as in impressive. But beautiful?? Nah, it’s more Kate Hepburn than Audrey Hepburn.

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