Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Spirit of a City


St. Petersburg
Most cities I have been in feel like they have their own personality. There is a sort of  continuity, and they leave an overall impression. Edinburgh, Scotland feels homey, there is a warm coziness to the whole city, and you feel like people have been warm and cozy in it for centuries. St. Petersburg is majestic, there is a royal but cold feeling to the architecture, there are grand rivers and bridges throughout the city, and it feels like a page from a dark fairy tale. San Francisco feels like it’s ebbing and flowing, the city rolls up and down large hills, and the different economic levels throughout the city transition seamlessly into each other. You feel like each of these cities has a personality, and the architects that have the honor of building in them are inspired by their predecessors, and must eagerly anticipate building something to add to that city’s characteristic.

In my home town we have the University of Colorado. Each campus building is built with sandstone and is topped with red tile roofs. Each building’s architecture is unique and beautiful, but built with the same elements so that every building reflects the buildings built before it. If one of the buildings were to stand alone amongst dissimilar buildings, I don’t think I would ever even notice it, but as individual pieces in an overarching theme, I think it looks exquisite.

Tokyo is eclectic. It feels to me like the city that was built without any planners. Western style houses sit amongst Japanese style houses and scattered amongst those are apartment complexes that look like they are entirely built out of plastic. There is no continuity. Even the sky scrapers lack style. I feel like the city of Tokyo is the antithesis to the culture of Tokyo. Japanese people strive to be part of the whole. There is a big beautiful culture and each individual is a part of it. Every person is part of something so much bigger than them, and the individuals are elevated and motivated by being part of the whole.

Tokyo is a remarkable place, but because there is no overarching theme, no continuity, it feels to me like it has no spirit, no personality. In movies Tokyo is either portrayed as a city of neon lights, or as a very traditionally Asian city. It has both elements, but they might be found one right next to the other. Tokyo feels like many individual elements, all trying to be uniquely their own style, that are all smashed together into the same mass, and that mass is called Tokyo. 

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