the city of abuja is not imaginary, but it has been imagined. it is a city that is a fulfillment of a bold urban prophecy, and one that endeavors to rescue nigeria from its own virulent identity. the members of the panel that gathered in the late 70's to re-imagine and re-configure the nigerian state intended to create a new capital that was, in effect, a direct response and direct solution to lagos. while this sounds like an oversimplification it remains an idea that is central to my reading of the city; abuja is a contemporary representation of staged power. the architecture of the city and composition of its components is overflowing with gratuitous symbolism, so much in fact that i'm actually willing to consider letting this serve as the guiding principle for the rest of the semester.
the masterplan and the accompanying images and models are artifacts that illustrate the grandiloquence of both the governmental panel and kenzo tange.
i want to understand how the strength of the state can be manifest not through that which man has built. however, the images of the city are conspicuously devoid of human life and activity. similar to some of the paintings by giorgio de chirico, the built landscape is so overwhelming that there is no longer room for man to exist. what's more, these images are simply images. they are not representative of any adjustments to governmental policy or law. instead, they are intended to serve as an instrument of inspiration, as though the city might one day live up to these grand expectations of a nigerian global city can be.
it's also completely fascinating how centrality plays such a significant role in establishing power. i have been studying the panopticon, which is a concept created by jeremy bentham and further analyzed by foucault. the basic principle is that centrality and power are inextricably linked. this is especially effective when used in prisons, where the periphery (the soldiers) are under constant watch by the guard at the center ... or are they? the idea is that the prisoners could presumably adjust their behavior, not because they are being watched but because there is the possibility that they are under surveillance. the nigerian capital being moved from lagos in the south to the "neutral" territory (it's actually not that neutral) of the central plains is a gesture too closely related to be ignored. more on this later.
these images of the city play a role in myth-making. they are intended to serve as unifying devices, and to fulfill the notion that post-civil war nigeria wants to be rest of solid ground, to be unified, and to be a stable nation that is appealing to global markets.
what i also find interesting is nigeria's inability to escape the principles imposed by the original british colonists. while lagos is a wasteland of density, chaos, and filth, abuja used traditional principles of the british picturesque as guidelines for how it could rest side-by-side with the landscape. in other words, the city planners (either willfully or unintentionally, who really knows) utilized the principles that were generously bequeathed (forced upon?) to them hundreds of years ago. what's more, this brings of many questions about whether nigeria is actually in a post-colonial state or it is simply recycling the ideas of the past.
the objective now is to figure out what to do with what i've found. it seems both vague and precise, aimless and direct, superficial and meaningful, all simultaneously. more experiments are necessary, and i suspect i need to spend a significant amount of time accumulating more information of what is occurring on the ground. is there more precise information about the infrastructure that could serve as an inspirational device? is there something very specific about the way information is disseminated by the people that resist the heavy hand of the state?
i feel as though i have almost no clue what the city is actually like. in other words, all of these images of the city seem to be synthetic, fraudulent, and topheavy. the obvious question is, what is abuja really like? are the images dreamt up by tange and the rest of the team the real abuja, or is abuja actually the spontaneous peripheral settlements that the state has gone to great lengths to regulate and sometimes even demolish? i suspect the strangeness will continue to present itself as i continue to dig.
more on other classes later. for now, i must get some needed rest.