Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Incomplete Architecture

It is possible today to buy readymade houses from catalogue, newly built and newly furnished, with stainless steel appliances throughout and a lawnmower in the shed. This is the real estate equivalent of the gesamtkunstwerk; the “total package” of a domestic lifestyle. From the moment of purchase, clients set their clocks to the ticking of mortgage payments, monthly instalments and the rate of interest. Time is regulated by capital, segregate from the passage of historical or biological evolution.

Celebration was established by the Walt Disney Company in the mid 1990s, and is located only a short distance from Walt Disney World. As one resident of the community recently proclaimed; “Even though we must pay for the privilege, it's wonderful to live so close to Disney World. When you're not in the parks, you can still hear the distant echo of the fireworks each evening.” Celebration markets itself as a “real pre-1940s American town” but life in the exorbitantly priced estate is like inhabiting a billboard: a corporate microcosm, ringed like a moat by the security of Walt Disney’s family friendly signature. It even has its own soundtrack – muzak is piped continuously along the palm-tree lined main street – and property laws are in place to ensure that home-owners are prohibited from marring the Disney name (no “junk” littering the yard, no parking excessive amounts of cars on the street, no short term rentals). Everything is to be used, and nothing is to be created.

But there are models of inhabitation that have developed in opposition to the readymade, and those that can alter the culture of its use. In the Mediterranean, and particularly in Italy, the countryside is dotted with examples of “incomplete architecture”: skeletons of buildings, scaffolding still visible, which are nonetheless still inhabited as residences. The permanent state of construction is maintained in order to take advantage of a peculiar tax-loop hole in the regulatory framework. In these areas, property tax is due only after the building’s completion: if you don’t finish building, you don’t have to pay.

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