Tag Archives: Post-modernism

Spatializing the Post-Modern City: Los Angeles

Edward Soja provides a spatial analysis of the post-modern city.  In this video, Soja analyzes the “spatiality” of the Bonaventure Hotel located in Los Angeles, CA.[1]

The city is a key instrument for capitalist development. After the Civil War, this development took the form of mass migration. This migration was central to the Industrial Revolution. The city grew both in urban population and in size causing it to expand its boundaries outward. While the source of surplus value shifted from owning labor to renting labor, the source for capitalist development shifted from the ownership of land to the ownership of factories and machinery. However, since capitalism requires exponential yearly growth, its crises find resolve in the creation of new markets where none previously existed. Public education, for instance, became the target of this expansion in the 1980s, as did other areas for economic growth that had previously been secured by the state. As privatization subsumed what had been public, the city transformed into a post-modern space of unrealized resistance as individuals became lost within and throughout its architectural structure. Edward Soja’s spatial analysis of Los Angeles as a post-modern city shines a light on the particularities of its internal structure. I have transcribed his spatial analysis, which can be read below.

by Edward Soja

If you follow the freeway to the downtown financial district, the enormous recent development of Los Angeles is on visual display. Amidst the towering financial spires are five tubes of circular steel and glass that constitute the Bonaventure Hotel. It’s a building which is featured prominently in the debates about Los Angeles.

One of the participants in those debates is professor Edward Soja of the University of California at Los Angeles. We asked him to be one of our guides around Los Angeles and around the issues that it raises.

One important issue is about the spatial organization of the post-modern city, and how we’re led to submit to its controls as well as to its charms. A castle city in which bodies of people are controlled.

The Bonaventure Hotel reflects the very nature of the post-modern experience. Both literately and figuratively. The outside of the building reflects the enormous growth of a post-modern downtown. A kind of casserole city, a city of international capital and of corporate capital within the United States as well, of local capital and global capital.

A new city, a new downtown, Los Angeles has not had a well developed downtown over the years throughout its 200 years of growth. And as I say, it also reflects the post-modern experience internally as well.

The Bonaventure has become a focal point for the debate on post-modernism, ever since its discovery as a post-modern hyper-space by Fred Jameson some years ago. It began with Fred Jameson’s own personal experience in the Bonaventure Hotel in a professional meeting where most of the people going to attend the conferences and sessions found themselves getting lost within the interior space of the Bonaventure Hotel.

The only way you can understand the nature of the argument that Jameson and others have developed over the years is to actually move in and move through the Bonaventure Hotel. It’s a landscape that’s highly fragmented. It’s a space that de-centers you, makes you feel lost. And in this feeling of being lost, dislocated, you feel that your only recourse is to submit to authority. You’re helpless. You’re made helpless. You’re peripheralized. You’re lost in these spaces. And the way you accommodate yourself to them and the way you survive in them is essentially to submit to forms of overseeing, social control, authority, often invisible by the way, because part of being lost is that even when you are willing to submit to authority you can’t find it.

The post-modernity of the Bonaventure, thus, is not in its shell. Its shell stylistically, the architects would insist, is not post-modern in style, but is instead late modern or modernist in some form.

It’s difficult to find the main entrance. There’s a pedestrian entrance, but the pedestrian entrance hidden in a concrete bunker that makes one feel as if this couldn’t possibly be the entrance to a major hotel. Most of the entrances are flyover and walkways in the sky connected to other parts of the post-modern downtown of Los Angeles, where one gets equally lost trying to move around.

One enters the building and one sees a kind of bastille like fortress that it consists of a series of columns. Amidst the columns are these funny little gondolas. The external elevators going up and down, presumably showing that the outside is inside and the inside is outside—the very metaphor, by the way, of the post-modern city itself. The outside becoming inside. The periphery becoming central, as in Orange county and elsewhere in the region, and the center becoming peripheral as in downtown—becoming lost, becoming de-centered from one’s conventional and familiar understandings of behavior in a city.

The lifts themselves are, oh, excuse me, the elevators themselves are indicators. The first indicator is the outside visual indicators of the strange spaces one is going to find in maneuvering and transversing the inside of the hotel. There are shops that received no customers largely because the customers can’t find them. There are constant pictures of people walking around, hotel guests walking around with their suitcases, totally lost, not knowing how to get out or get back into the hotel rooms that, presumably, are their refuge from the confusion.

You walk into one entrance that seems like a major entrance and to get to anywhere else you find you’re blocked. You’re blocked by elevator shafts. You’re blocked by wonderful sitting spaces. Great concrete chairs that encourage you to sit down and enjoy the space, but the spaces of those chairs are always empty, because no one can possibly feel particularly relaxed in this internal space. The feeling that you have is this feeling of dislocation. An argument that was central to Jameson’s response to this post-modern space. And that is the argument that we must develop a new way of understanding what I call “spatiality”, the spatiality of post-modernism, if we’re going to be able to resist its very attractive lures.

Post-modernity is not the construction of simple Disney worlds of fantasy, but it’s the production of hyperrealty that is more real than reality itself. And it’s a reality that has tremendous attractions to it. There are lots of things even inside this microcosm of the Bonaventure Hotel that are attractive, enjoyable, super-modern, ultra clean and, indeed, sometimes ultra enganging. You see this, as I said, inside the Bonaventure and outside, a kind of complex mirror reflection of the very nature of post-modern society and post-modern experience.

Read: Fredric Jameson’s The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism


[1] This video excerpt was broadcast on BBC (as “Los Angeles: City of the Future?”) in 1991.