Strange Harvest
Architecture / Design / Art
StrangeHarvest is written and collated by Sam Jacob.


Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp



detroit_fender.jpg

I'm more a road man myself: tarmac, verges, signs, road markings, bridges, roundabouts, and the timeless joy of the Little Chef on the lonely highway - all that kind of stuff. But cars never really got me. From Toad of Toad Hall to Clarkson (and endless architects who will bore you with classic car enthusiasms somehow justified as legitimate interest by a mis-reading of Corb), evidence indicates that an interest in fast cars compensates for a slowness of thought.

Of course, I appreciate that they are the most significant product that human endeavour has produced. A massive industry fuelled by the liberating dream of escape, of individual freedom, of man-machine-motion. Cars are the most significant organising principle since the mid twentieth century, structuring land, stock markets, employment patterns, and environment. But the things themselves? I'm happy behind the wheel of my wife's Vauxhall Corsa.

So I'm on a business class flight to Detroit looking suspiciously at a cabin full of men reading car magazines. Me? I'm reading a piece on the AOC in the Saturday FT. I'm hoping that somehow I'll be able to glimpse the heart of the military industrial complex amongst the shiny bodywork, gleaming chrome grills and jewel like lights.

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A car show is, of course, about cars, but it's also about the dream of the industry and culture that creates them. The cars perfect sheen is hallucinatory as a mirage - and it's meticulously preserved by teams of polishers who remove the publics greasy fingerprints as though wiping down a weapon. This year, despite the ultra confident, self-assured corporate visions lurks the possibility that their dream might vanish. The show takes place against a backdrop of local and international crisis. Motor City has lost thousands of jobs and the brands that defined US car culture are in decline. Globally, the dream is becoming obscured by the clouds of recession, the dust of oil field conflict and looming environmental catastrophe.

The response? Like a dieter tucking into low-fat eclairs, car design is pushing the limit of bigness, fastness, and luxuriousness while simultaneously claiming sustainability as a kind of mantra of self-preservation. Even bull-bar bearing American trucks now come in biofuel flavours - though they are so macho that probably means a tank full of fried food and beer. The new Dodge pick up - launched in cod wild west frenzy with cowboys and a cattle run along Washington Street - makes its own contribution to a sustainable future: 5% better fuel efficiency. Hummers - those extreme mechanical fantasies - response is to make a slightly smaller model which only exaggerated its similarity to a kids mechano-military toy. According to press releases, sustainability can also be a feeling or an aesthetic.

The car show revolves around what's termed 'the reveal': the moment of accelerated strip-tease when the silky drape that hugs a cars contours like the dresses on the girls on the Italian car stands is whipped off to reveal the new model. Once exposed, cameras zoom in pornographically on chrome orifices, folds of steel and the sheen on its buffed skin. These events are carefully scripted and choreographed.

At Land Rover, the build up is so monumental and portentous it sounds like an Imperial Star Ship with Jean Michel Jarre on board with a PA announcement by the same guy who voiced the Nuclear War warnings. Man, it's significant.

It's here that you'll hear phrases like "A diesel powered Super Sports Car!" over a heavy rock sound bed, or a German accent shouting "The Power! The Tradition!" They are as much ideological rallies as they are a way of promoting a particular product.

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There are the events too, most of which are baffling. During the introduction of the new Audi TT, Bryan Adams wanders onto the stage for a bemusing acoustic version of 'The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me'. Over at BMW a troupe of satin jump-suited street dancers throw robotic shapes to euphoric trance in a space portal of rings. It's like a ritual dance from the future - lit in the kind of ultra-violet that makes you feel as though you are in geostationary orbit. Quite possibly it's a modern dance interpretation of the stands uber-Tutonic strapline: "More Efficiency".

detroit_hummer.jpg

Each stand sets a scene for the brand and its models. Mini is shiny black and neon, like a 80's nightclub, complete with resident DJ and juice bar. Audi have a stage set version of a high Modernist villa; Dodge have a massive backlit ramshorn logo and moving message sign like a hyped up sports arena; Jeep creates a rocky outcrop with a skeletal Rocky Mountain lodge. Ford is super-brite, lit with a hint of ultraviolet and completely bland. If the Aztecs had had car dealerships, they'd have looked like the Infinity stand (The Temple of Vroom?)

The concentration of brand identity is so saturated that the patchwork of floor materials could be an essay in contemporary corporate aspirations. As it changes from stone flags, to mirrored metallic to deep pile carpet to pseudo grass, via Hessian weave you feel the aspirations and values encoded into floor finish. You can feel this concentrated message encoded beneath your heel.

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The activities on the stands are just a brand-centric. Bentley have a craftsman wearing an apron who looks like he came out of the 1950's involved in some intricate work involving hardwoods and leather. Lexus have set up a spa where you can be massaged amongst silver birch trees and executive cars. At Land Rover, an executive club style lounge is filled with piles of culture books: Andy Goldsworthy, Chanel, one of those '100 architect' books, Art Forum, Wallpaper and Monocle and people drinking Guinness.

detroit_girls.jpg

In a thoroughly un-reconstructed display that only the Italians of Mazzerati, Ferrari and Lamborghini could possibly put on without a hint of irony, girls pout and pose, leaning suggestively across the bonnets of over-powered, ridiculously sculpted cars. It seems like a moment out of time - like pulling a 1970s ready meal out of a freezer.

In an annex, past a security guard, down a staicase and behind a curtain, something else is happening. It's here you'll find the solar powered cars, cars from emerging manufactures, and a selection of pimped-up cars presented by Dub magazine which parody the obsessions with power, presence, technology and luxury.

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In a stand that looked like it should be selling strawberries in a lay-by there is a line up of cars produced by Li Shi Guang Ming Automobile Design Co that might well have popped out of a cartoon: Postman Pats van with a Yellow Submarine makeover. They have the most beautiful names: 'A Piece of Cloud', 'The Book of Songs', and the amphibious 'Detroit Fish - which carried the satirical marketing suggestion that it might suit "renowned environmentalist President Bush, ordering this car for his Texas Ranch".

detroit_yellow2.jpg

Along with the $2,500 Tata Nan recently announced by Indian manufacturer Tata it is possible that future of cars might deviate from the extreme Anglo Saxon obsessions that have characterised the industry since its origins: an alternative to the mantra of Harder, Faster, Stronger, Better.

Cars in their current form are not inevitable conclusions; they are extreme conclusions of one strand of thought. There may well be other ways to perform the most important role of cars: devices that interpret the cultural idea of journey, that engage with the romance of the open road, and which become the physical manifestation of individual freedom in the landscape.

detroit_yellow1.jpg



Posted by anothersam at February 24, 2008 3:32 PM.

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Contents:

More Scenes In Cartoon Deserta

Eiffel X-Rays

Beyond: Values and Symptoms

Sub Plan

Shenzhen: Window of the World

White Power

Generic Powerpoint Template: Delivering Bad News

Duplicate Array

The Best New Building In London

Book Review: The Infrastructural City

A Balloon in the Pantheon

Letters From The Pantheon

Henry Moore in Motion

On My Steel Horse I Ride

The Michael Jackson Monument Design Competition

Now Showing: John Baldessari Sings Sol LeWitt

Obscure Design Typologies: Life Guard Chairs

Osama bin Laden Cigarette Lighter: Novelty Products as Congealed Culture

Absurd Car Crashes: A Eulogy for J.G. Ballard

Candy Pistol

Now Showing: Dan Grahams 'Rock My Religion'

This Concrete 'O': On Serotonin, the M25, and the Motorik Picturesque

Church of the Literal Narrative

Philadelphias Floating Architecture

Now Viewing: Married To The Eiffel Tower

Le Corbusiers Image Hoard: Poeme Electronique

Giant American Signs: Original Learning from Las Vegas Footage

Giant Soviet Signs Cut Into Forests

Bricks Melted Into Icicles: Napalm Decorative

C-Labs 'Unfriendly Skies' & 'Bootleg' Volume

2 The Lighthouse: Self Storage & Architectural Hallucinations

Ceci N'Est Pas Une Pipe: Infrastructure as Architectural Subconcious.

Viva Sectional Cinematography!

Now Showing: The Installation of an Irreversible Axis on a Dynamic Timeline

Plug: Junk Jet

Sim Seasons Greetings! The Rise of Neo-Winter

Geography in Bad, Festive Drag.

The Ruins of the Future

High Tech As Steampunk ...

On The Retro Infrastructural

Simulations of Industry: High Tech Architecture and Thatcherism

David Greene: The Big Nothing

From The Factory to the Allotment: Tony Wilson, Urbanist

Koolhaas HouseLife / Gan Eden: The Revenge of Architectural Media

Ruburb-ric: The Ecologies of the Farnsworth House

The Architecture of Divorce

Flagrant Delit: The Movie

Landscape as Clothing

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham Redux

Acts of Un-Building: Timelapse Demolitions

Yard Filth: Next Years Hot Look

Stonehenge: A Black Hole At The Heart Of British Architecture

The Popemobile: Mechanised Robes & Motorised Architecture

Tarmac Adam, Tarmac Eden

The Secret Language of Surface

Some Housekeeping

Information Fields: Agriculture as Media

My Bloody Valentine: Sound as Substance

A Cubist Copse: Gehrys Serpentine Pavilion

Olympic Model Protest

Spouting Off: Some Thoughts On The Fountainhead

Form Follows Dysfunction: Bad Construction & The Morality of Detail

Floating Homes

Vintage Tradeshow Surrealism: International Grune Woche

Moving Houses: Buildings In Motion

Desktop Study: The Strange World of Sports Studio Design

Married to the Eiffel Tower: More Objectum Sexuals

60 Years of The Crazy Horse Memorial

Married to the Berlin Wall: "The Best and Sexiest Wall Ever Existed!"

Inflatable Icebergs: Sublimated Guilt Has Never Been So Fun

The Cinderella Effect: Phantom Architectures of Illumination

Two Deaths and a Retirement: The Strange Shape of British Architecture

If London Were Like New York: Antique Schizo-Manhattanism

If London Were Like Venice: Antique Geo-Poetic Speculations and Hydro-Fantasy

41 Hours in an Elevator: The Movie

NASA: Mapping the Moon with Sport

Lemon Squeezy: Design Tendencies after the Juicy Salif

Stadium Seat Mosaics

The Nihilistic Beauty of Weapons Arranged in Patterns

Light Vessel Automata

Dogs: Britains Greatest Design Obsession

Madison Avenue Modern

Detroit Sucks: The Motor Shows Last Gasp

Mies' Grave: Cut Out Model

All You Can Eat

Valentine Machine

The Tools of Re-Geography

Floating in a New Town Sky

Authentic Replicas: Football and the Franchising of Place

Folk Football: Landscape, Space and Abstraction

Haystack House

A Wishing Well with a Fat Up Pipe

The Camoufluers and the Day-Glo Battleship

Pseudoccino: Instant Coffee Foam

Yesterdays Technology, Today

Blown Up: More Inflatable Military Stuff

On Christmas Trees, Folk Forests and Staples Office Supplies

Hampton Courts Shrouded Sculptures

Named Fabric: 20 Sponsored Pieces of Architecture at the New Museum

Form Follows Felony: The Secret Home of the Un-Dead Canoeist.

Architectural Magazines: Paranoid Beliefs, Public Autotheraphy - More on Clip/Stamp/Fold

Little Magazines Seen Today

James Bond Lives Next Door: Suburban Imagery as Industry

The Ghost of Christmas Futurism

Petrified War Machine

Military Deceptions

Chapters for an Imaginary Book About Architecture

Shrouded Plinth - Urban Striptease

In the Night Garden - Surreal Landscape of Nostalgia

Kim Jong II, The Great Architect

Pill Box Picturesque

Un Clear Monument

Place Faking: Instant Heritage for the Thames Gateway

The Marc Bolan Memorial Crash Barrier.

Warped Domesticity

The Nuclear Heritage Coast

Enjoy The Silence: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones

The Story of O (2)

Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham

X100: A Design Exercise

How to Plan A New Town

Carpet Bomber

In Search of Britains Vehicular History

Scenes in Cartoon Deserta

Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

Re-Make Re-Model

I Like Your Manifesto, Lets Put it to the Test-o

How to Become a Famous Architect

Northampton - Sci-fi Pop Planning Promotion

Advertising Central Milton Keynes

Baltic Exchanged

Festival of Nostalgia

The Clapham Trainwash

Airports as Music

Test Card Dummies

The Velvet Underground at the Glass House

Duplikate: Kate Moss on the Production Line of Individuality

The Museum that Ate Itself

Hollow Inside: Starbucks Foam and the Rise of Ambiguous Materials

Revisions to the Architecture of Hell

Crufts: Dogs, Design and Aesthetic Genetics

Eos Airlines: Executive Bubbles over the Atlantic

London's Ugliest Buildings

1.51 Miles Of String

Google Earths Vertiginous Mapping

Church of the Ascension and Descension

Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles

Replica Bombs

The Invisible Bungalow

House / Boat

Reading Lines: Skateboarding and Public Space

Mountain Sculpting

Sint Lucas in BD

Bat House Competition

Old Walton Bridge

Kiruna: The Town That Moved

Spray On Magnetic Defense

Chris Cornish: Prototyping History

The Jubilee Gestalt Vase

The Most Visited Location in the UK

Anything to Feel Weightless Again: The Cargo Lifter and the Tropical Island Resort

'Its beauty will know no season'

2000 Years of Non Stop Nostalgia. Or How Half Timbering Made Me Whole Again.

Inside-out Aldwych

Backpeddling into the Future: The Historical-Futurism of British Architecture

Miss Selfridges' Feeling for Fake Snow. The Oxford St. Lights and Why We Need Artificial Winter

Nelsons Cavern

Foam Gargoyle

New Tory Logo: A Hazy Shade of Politics

Jeff Koons, Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine

Souvenir Empire

Celebrity Scents: The Bittersweet Smell of Success

Imperfect Pitch - Football, Space and Landscape

Product Placement: Making the Impossible Possible

Suburban Growth: Matthew Moores Field of Dreams

Perfect Sound Forever: The Secret Function of High End Stereos

Picture of the Week 1

A Little Light Product Placement

Some Advice To A Young Designer

London and on and on

In the Gallery of Ice Creams

Useless Proclamations for a Beautiful City

Mini Mies Chair

Topsy Turvy VSBA: Inverted Heros of an Upside Down Avant Guard

Harvest III: Buried Things

The Harvest II

The Harvest I

Estuary Urbanism

The Royal Families Trees

Everything Flows: ideological cartography

How Geostationary Was My Valley?

The Psychotic Utopia of the Suburbs and the Suburbanisation of War.

LegoLand London Cluster

In a Lonely Place - Under Construction

Design Will Eat Itself

Mach 3 Nitro Gel - Design that's foaming at the mouth.

Marchitecture. Architectural things to do in London this March

Metallic Jet Powered Cloud

"When we got married I had no idea he would do something like this, he just said he was going to do some decorating."

The Electric Cenotaph

Russian Rok

Commitment ...

Dinner in the Iguanadon

Trace

What happens when you cross a pen with a car?

Leg Table Leg

Florentine Building Sites

Good Morning Britain

Football Pitch: Best of British

The Sad Photographer

The First Cut is the Cheapest - Blenheim Palace: pop architecture that goes for the jugular

Book Now For Christmas

Requiem for a Toilet Seat

Architecture that Destroys

TomTom Mobile 5 / GO 700

Winning Design

Another Croydon

Holiday Snap II : Giant Glowing French Balls

Holiday Snap: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy, France

Pecha Kucha London

Anatomy of an Architectural News Story

Big Bens

First Cut - Case Closed

The Texas Tower

Its All About the Big Benjamins

G8 Security Tower

White Cubed Blues

Poundbury, unexpectedly, in the rain

The Exploding Concrete Inevitable. Lou Reed and the Casa da Musica

Swingball

Untitled (Plastic Sack and Timber)

Berlin 1945 - The Obscene Picturesque

Pizza Planet

Goal Sculptures

Interview: Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane

Previewing Cedric Price

The Mardas Touch

Building a Lionel Richie Head

Ornament is Grime 2

An Incredible Smell of Roasting Coffee

Flatpack Frenzy at New IKEA

Langlands & Bell - The House of Osama Bin Laden

Labour is kind of working

Happy Death Men

Build to Let

Architectural Criticism gets Sharp

Niagara Falls

Ornament is Grime

FA(ke) Cup

Q&A: Wouter Vanstiphout

X-treme urinals

Unigate Cowscape

Spray-on Snow

From the Baffler ...

One in a Taxi

The Queen Machine

The Knork

Venturi, Scott Brown and my love that dare not speak its name.

Polictical Placards

The Ketchup Conumdrum

Douglas Coupland: Design and Fiction

It's a Small World

Images de Parfums

Soft Carcass

Christopher Dresser at the V&A

Blow up Pub

Municipal Mummification

The Matt and Ron Show

Semi - detached

Half Timbered Van

Feltham Future

Favorite Things

Fugitives and Refugees' - Chuck Palahniuk

The Pop Vernacular

Design by Chefs

Just What is it That Makes Yesterdays Homes So Different, So Appealing?

Archigrams Pastoral Futurism

Sorry Mies

The Flaming Lips - Live.

Everything Counts - The Sound of Geography Collapsing.

Carlton Terrace Extension

Other:

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