L as in Landmark Architecture
Filmstill "La Maddalena"
They help cities to become skylines and increase the market value of the ground on which they were built. Their foundations are the pride of any place, travelers take pictures of their construction, which the souvenir industry minimizes and abstracts. Once a guide for wandering journeymen, today they stand for the conscious positioning of a city: Landmarks – built to attract attention. The pride of a place could once only have been what the population – the inhabitants of a city, of a community – had helped carry. In the age of landmark architecture, this statement appears less and less agreeable.
The island La Maddalena in the North of Sardinia is an example: “Obviously, this is a waste and misappropriation of public moneys,” says Stefano Boeri, an Italian architect and one of two protagonists in a film by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine called La Maddalena. The island La Maddalena and its congress center, which was especially built and conceived by Boeri, were supposed to be the hosts of the G8 Summit in July 2009. Barack Obama’s attendance could have made La Maddalena of maximal, global interest. An event that Boeri also saw as very promising: His building as the place, where the first black president of the United States of America was present. But then everything changed. The earthquake of the 6th of April, 2009, in Abruzzo, gave Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister at the time, reason to relocate the Summit where the mountains of rubble are the highest: to L’Aquila, the capitol of the destroyed region. After the Summit’s relocation, the newly built congress center was left to its own devices – financed and built for nothing. The film La Maddalena shows an architect and his work: a disappointed man, pacing around the façade that he planned, stepping into his building, stroking the facades and looking out of the high glass walls into the cloudy, bluish-green mood on the outside. The voice offstage: “It feels like a black hole in my professional life, as well as in my private life. (…) I have been planner of works that today are abandoned.”
The landmark turns into a symbol of ghostliness and therefore into a sign for the crisis of its location. Buildings currently in progress are, for example, the Elbe Philharmonic Hall in Hamburg or the new airport in Berlin. Although the unfinished, the unbuilt, the uninhabited and the impossible are sometimes central to the art context – in 2009, Hans Ulrich Obrist presented unfinished artworks by 107 artists under the title Unbuilt Roads – ruins of developing areas like those on La Maddalena show a conflict of objectives in (late-) modern architecture. Landmarks are a part of the landscape and should also be part of the mental landscape. Although the notion that they should have a use and make sense for the life of the city and of the community is cheerily maintained, the argument is steadily losing traction in the location-democracy. The fact that landmark designers like to soar to utopian heights (projects that win prestige-heavy contests), does not enforce the already wobbly legs of their projects – it only makes them more visible.