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Put us on the map, please: China’s smaller cities go wild for starchitecture

From mountain-shaped apartment blocks to the centre of braised chicken reinventing itself as Solar Valley, Chinas second (and third) tier cities are hiring big-name architects to get them noticed

From egg-shaped concert halls to skyscrapers reminiscent of big pairs of pants, Chinas top cities are famously full of curious monuments to architectural ambition. But as land prices in the main metropolises have shot into the stratosphere, developers have been scrambling to buy up plots in the countrys second and third-tier cities, spawning a new generation of delirious plans in the provinces. President Xi Jinping may have issued a directive last year outlawing oversized, xenocentric, weird buildings, but many of these schemes were already well under way; his diktat has proved to be no obstacle to mayoral hubris yet.

From Harbin City of Music to Dezhou Solar Valley, provincial capitals are branding themselves as themed enclaves of culture and industry to attract inward investment, and commissioning scores of bold buildings to match. Even where there is no demand, city bureaucrats are relentlessly selling off land for development, hawking plots as the primary form of income accounting for 80% of municipal revenues in some cases. In the last two months alone, 50 Chinese cities received a total of 453bn yuan (54bn) from land auctions , a 73% increase on last year, and its the provincial capitals that are leading the way.

At the same time, Xis national culture drive has seen countless museums, concert halls and opera houses spring up across the country, often used as sweeteners for land deals, conceived as the jewels at the centre of glistening mixed-used visions (that sometimes never arrive). Culture, said Xi, is the prerequisite of the great renaissance of the Chinese people, but it has also proved to be a powerful lubricant for ever more real estate speculation even if the production of content to fill these great halls cant quite keep up with the insatiable building boom.
From mountain-shaped apartment blocks to cavernous libraries, heres a glimpse of whats emerging in the regions.

Fake Hills, Beihai

A render of how the Fake Hills would look. Illustration: MAD architects

Forming an 800 metre-long cliff-face along the coast of the southern port city of Beihai, the Fake Hills housing block is the work of Ma Yansong, Chinas homegrown conjuror of sinuous, globular forms whose practice is appropriately named MAD. Having studied at Yale and worked with Zaha Hadid in London, where he nourished his penchant for blobs, Ma has spent the last decade dreaming up improbable mountain-shaped megastructures across the country.

Less scenic mountain and more lumpen collision of colossal cruise-liners The first phase of construction on Fake Hills has been completed. Photograph: MAD

As it rises and falls, the undulating roofline of Fake Hills forms terraces for badminton and tennis courts, as well as a garden and swimming pool. Sadly the overall effect is less scenic mountain range than a lumpen collision of colossal cruise-liners.

Greenland Tower, Chengdu

Greenland Tower, Chengdu. The building harks back to the crystalline dreams of early 20th-century German architect Bruno Taut. Illustration: Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture

A crystalline spire rising 468 metres above the 18 million-strong metropolis of Chengdu, the Greenland Tower will be the tallest building in southwestern China, standing as a sharply chiselled monument to the countrys (and by some counts the worlds) largest property developer, Greenland Holdings. It is designed by Chicago-based Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, architects of Dubais Burj Khalifa, who say the faceted shaft is a reference to the unique ice mountain topography of the region. It harks back to the crystalline dreams of early 20th-century German architect Bruno Taut, who imagined a dazzling glass city crown to celebrate socialism and agriculture; whether Sichuans farmers will be welcomed into the penthouse sky garden remains to be seen.

Sun-Moon mansion, Dezhou

A rival to Silicon Valley the Sun-Moon mansion of Solar Valley, Dezhou. Photograph: Alamy

Once known as a centre of braised chicken production, the city of Dezhou in the north-eastern province of Shandong now brands itself as Solar Valley, a renewable energy centre intended to rival Californias Silicon Valley. At its heart is the Sun-Moon mansion, a vast fan-shaped office building powered by an arc of solar panels on its roof. It is the brainchild of Huang Ming, aka Chinas sun king, an oil industry engineer turned solar energy tycoon who heads the Himin Solar Energy Group, the worlds biggest producer of solar water heaters as well as purveyor of sun-warmed toilet seats and solar-powered Tibetan prayer wheels.

Harbin Opera House

Harbin Opera House, with the St Petersburg of the east in the background. Photograph: View Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

Nicknamed the St Petersburg of the east, the far northern city of Harbin has long had a thriving cultural scene as a gateway to Russia and beyond. In the 1920s, fashions from Paris and Moscow arrived here before they reached Shanghai, and it was home to the countrys first symphony orchestra, made up of mostly Russian musicians.

Inside Harbin Opera House. Photograph: View Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

Declared city of music in 2010, Harbin has recently pumped millions into a gleaming new concert hall by Arata Isozaki, a gargantuan neo-classical conservatory and an 80,000 sq metre whipped meringue of an opera house by MAD. Shaped like a pair of snowy dunes, up which visitors can climb on snaking paths, the building contains a sinuous timber-lined auditorium designed as an eroded block of wood.

Tianjin Binhai library

Tianjin Binhai library. Illustration: MVRDV

Due to open this summer in the sprawling port city of Tianjin, this space-age library by Dutch architects MVRDV is imagined as a gaping cave of books, carved out from within an oblong glass block. The shelves form a terraced landscape of seating, wrapping around a giant mirrored sphere auditorium that nestles in the middle of the space like a pearl in an oyster.

Inside the space-age Tianjin Binhai library. Illustration: MVRDV

Along with a new theatre, congress centre and a science and technology museum by Bernard Tschumi, the building forms part of a new cultural quarter for the city, itself being swallowed into the planned Beijing-Tianjin mega-region population 130 million, thats more than Japan.

Huaguoyuan Towers, Guiyang

Arups twin towers are almost complete. Illustration: LWK & Partners

Nowhere in China is the disparity between economic reality and architectural ambition more stark than in Guiyang, capital of rural Guizhou, the poorest province in the country, which has the fifth most skyscraper plans of any Chinese city. The twin 335-metre towers of the Huaguoyuan development, by Arup, are now almost complete, standing as the centrepiece of a new mixed-use office, retail and entertainment complex, while SOM is busy conjuring the even higher Cultural Plaza Tower, a 521-metre glass spear that will soar above a new riverfront world of shopping malls and theatres. It has the glitz and gloss of any other Chinese citys new central business district, but as Knight Franks David Ji points out: It will be hard for a city like Guiyang to find quality tenants to fill the space.

Yubei agricultural park, Chongqing

Will Alsops Yubei agricultural park. Illustration: Will Alsop

Architectural funster Will Alsop may finally have found his calling in the supercharged furnace of Chinas second-tier cities booming leisure economy, crafting a number of fantastical dreamworlds from his new satellite studio in Chongqing where he is busy building a new cultural quarter around his own office, with a restaurant, bar and distillery. He is also plotting an enormous agricultural leisure park in Yubei, 20 miles north of the city, designed to cater to the new middle classes nascent appreciation of the countryside, a place hitherto associated with peasants and poverty. The rolling landscape will be dotted with cocoon-like treehouses, a flower-shaped hotel and a big lake covered by an LED-screen canopy, so visitors can enjoy projected blue skies despite the smog.

Zendai Himalayas centre, Nanjing

A limestone mountain range : Zendai Himalayas Centre, Nanjing. Illustration:

Erupting across six city blocks like a limestone mountain range, the Zendai Himalayas Centre will be Mas most literal interpretation yet of his philosophy of fusing architecture and nature. Taking inspiration from the traditional style of shanshui landscape brush painting (literally meaning mountain-water), the 560,000 sq metre complex is designed to look as if it has been eroded by millennia of wind and water, not thrown up overnight by an army of migrant labourers. Once again, Ma appears to be forgetting that elegant feathery brushstrokes dont often translate well into lumps of glass and steel. It is one of many such green-fingered schemes in Nanjing, including Stefano Boeris vertical forest towers and the Sifang art park, where Steven Holl, SANAA, David Adjaye and others have built pavilions in a rolling landscape as another decoy for a luxury real estate project.

Huawei campus, Dongguan

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Desert X: the arid exhibition that’s bringing land art to Coachella

The likes of Doug Aitken have decamped to the outskirts of Palm Springs to exhibit large-scale works that challenge the history of the western expansion and appear along the route to a certain music festival

Speeding down the Gene Autry Trail, a Palm Springs desert road named after the singing cowboy, there are mountains to the north and south, and billboards on each side. Somewhere between the ads for milkshakes and legal counsel, there are large-scale images of mountains, and from three exacting positions on the road, they suddenly snap into place; for a few brief moments, they perfectly align with the jagged scenery. And just as quickly, theyre behind you. Perhaps you had imagined it, or perhaps you didnt notice them at all.

This fleeting mirage is LA-based artist Jennifer Bolandes new work, Visible Distance/Second Sight, a site-specific homage to the landscape. She and 15 other artists have come to Palm Springs and the surrounding area as part of Desert X, a new exhibition of large-scale installations that stretches across 45 miles until 30 April. (Not coincidentally, theyre sited along the path leading from Los Angeles to behemoth music festival Coachella, which also takes place in April).

I live in New York, so I was interested in this sort of manifest destiny of the migration west, English-born artistic director Neville Wakefield explains, citing a 19th-century idea that divine sanction validated the United States merciless, violent westward expansion, regardless of who was already living there.

Yeah, no, it was awful, Wakefield concedes. But in terms of New York having evolved or devolved into a marketplace, I was a little bit disillusioned at having watched wealth evacuate art from the city center. It was interesting to do a show that recognized whats happening on this coast.

He invited the artists to search for their own sites in the desert, offering little in the way of curatorial direction in order to allow the place itself to become the curator. In the rich tradition of 1970s land art, it would be the myriad conditions unique to the desert the pristine daylight, the untouched expanses of land, the brutal climate that shaped the work.

After a bit of research, trial and error, Bahamian artist Tavares Strachan found himself an unused, 100,000 sq ft plot of land to use down a little dirt road in Rancho Mirage, a desert town where the population hovers around 18,000. He has carved an alternative landscape into the sand: 4ft deep craters and trenches in vaguely celestial shapes, lined with bars of cool yellow neon. From above, the lights spell out the simple proclamation, I Am, amid exploding shards of light, although youd only see that online via images captured by drones. Standing inside this work during an inky black desert night is like standing on a glowing planet.

With a set of wheels and a decent 4G connection, anyone can come visit these sites, which have been conveniently plotted as Dropped Pins on Google Maps courtesy of the Desert X website. The best work engages the viewer with a dialogue with the land, including Sherin Guirguiss One I Call, a clay bird refuge with glittery bits of gold in the open roof, nestled in the shadow of a steep cliff in the serene Whitewater Preserve. Theres also Lita Albuqerques hEARTH, a cobalt sculpture of a woman lying inside a circle of white sand, ear pressed to the earth as a low, looped reverberating chorus rhythmically repeats the question, Why did you come here?, which turns out to be an excellent question in the context of this show.

Jennifer Bolandes Visible Distance/Second Sight. Photograph: Jennifer Bolande’s Visible Distance/Second Sight 2017, photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy the artist and Desert X

Richard Princes Third Place is literally garbage an isolated cluster of small decaying buildings cluttered with beer cans, bags of dirty diapers, his work either plastered to the walls or weighed to the ground with rocks. Hes screenshotted and printed various naked women as Family Tweets, with typical Prince-repulsive captions to ponder: One more of Dana. Mothers [sic] sisters daughter. Smoking tits. No joke!

The rest amount to punchlines and nice roadside diversions, places to stop for a quick selfie on par with the giant dinosaurs next to the gas station on Interstate 10. Both Glenn Kaino and Will Boone riff on legends of underground bunkers and tunnels with different holes in the ground (locked, accessible with a code you pick up at the hip Ace Hotel and Swim Club in Palm Springs). Rob Pruitt the man who painted Barack Obama for every day of his presidency has also inexplicably slipped another iteration of his recurring flea market inside the Palm Springs Museum.

But, making maximal use of the desert is Doug Aitkens Mirage, a full-size single-family house that embodies typical Americana, save the fact that its completely clad in mirrors. Perched on the prime real estate of Chino Canyons unspoiled hillside, its surfaces become a collage of the surrounding environment: pristine reflections of sepia earth and bushes of marigolds, crystal-clear blues that disappear into the sky. At dusk, the house melts into gradients of purples and oranges, and inside, the picture windows frame the wind farms and city lights below. The mirrored walls and ceiling create an immersive, kaleidoscopic image of suburban sprawl, a marker of where civilization begins and ends.

Aitken describes the Desert X experiment as a vast sprawling parkour and puzzle of pieces that are all different within the land. I wanted to be here to see where suburbia ends and the landscape begins. This location was kind of perfect in a way. You have the seductive beauty, and then you have the wind farm, and suburbia.

Indeed, Desert X is a scavenger hunt for the ever-elusive unique experience, a rare thing in the Instagram age. Largely taking place on controlled private properties, however, it doesnt quite capture the wild west its billing. In Aitkens case, in the ongoing spirit of manifest destiny, the land surrounding his work is on its way to becoming Desert Palisades, a high-end residential community; the adjacent lot has already been sold, and in the distance, up the hill, a model home is decorated with expensive modernist furniture. The desert mythologies of self-actualization and adventure, according to Strachan, are all part of the romance.

The wildest piece in the show would be the one youll never see, Norma Jeanes brilliant Shybot. Its a solar-powered roving little vehicle thats currently on an aimless mission through the desert, periodically sending information on its whereabouts to the cloud. Like the artists who inhabit the lands outside the safety of Desert Xs radius, its really come here to be alone; when its heat sensors pick up the presence of a human, it knows to speed off in the opposite direction.

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Bay of punks: remembering when punk rock invaded San Francisco

The scene in the Bay Area was never chronicled in the same way as New York or Los Angeles. Now a new crop of photography books and projects are bringing San Franciscan punk into focus

In early 1979, photographer Jim Jocoy attended an auction at the Peoples Temple in San Francisco. More than 900 of its worshipers had died in a mass suicide-murder which came to be known as the Jonestown massacre, led to their deaths by activist-turned-doomsday cultist Jim Jones. When Jocoy saw some of the followers left-behind luggage, he saw a symbol of Jones hollow, empty promise, and took a picture. Jonestown, the assassinations they worked into the fabric of San Francisco, and unraveled its tapestry, Jocoy says. It was quite gloomy, that summer of hate, and punk was the soundtrack.

The image is in Order of Appearance, a new book of Jocoys photography from the San Francisco punk scene of the late-1970s. Its an intimate, diaristic view of an incipient youth subculture as Jocoys punk subjects primp and sneer while the city crumbles around them. Theres a yellow Volkswagen upturned in the street, freshly applied blue hair-dye, and allusions to the imminent outbreak of Aids.

Jim Jocoy, the photographer behind Order of Appearance. Photograph: Judith Bell/Image courtesy Casemore Kirkeby Gallery, San Francisco

Jocoys pictures show punk rock, not yet codified, rioting against what author David Talbot termed San Franciscos turbulent Season of the Witch. But at the time, Jocoys photographic practice compensated for a basically shy, introverted disposition, he says. A camera let me gather all these creatures of the night like some kind of entomologist; they were my exotic bug collection.

Fine-art photo book publisher TBW unveils Order of Appearance (which follows Jocoys 2002 book of more straightforward punk portraiture, Were Desperate) at the Los Angeles Art Book Fair which starts on 23 February. TBWs Paul Schiek culled the books images from hundreds of unseen color slides and selected Jocoys most emotionally suggestive captures. There were pictures of the Sex Pistols, the Clash I didnt want those, Schiek says Jocoys picture of Sid Vicious is arguably his most well-known work. I was interested in the quieter, softer moments.

Order of Appearance is one of many books and exhibitions in recent years to reveal how San Franciscos crisis-stricken late-1970s era colored and politicized its nascent punk scene, which is sometimes considered a mere footnote compared to its neighboring scenes. While early punk movements in Los Angeles and New York are lavishly chronicled, the contours and complexity of early San Francisco punk are only now coming into focus.

Ruby Rays 2013 book From the Edge of the World, which collects her photography for the scenes fanzine-of-record, Search & Destroy, foregrounds the cityscapes cyclical razing and reconstruction. Assemblage pieces exhibited in Bruce Conners career-spanning retrospective, Its All True, mourn integral musicians lost to drug addiction. While historian Michael Stewart Foleys 2015 book on figureheads the Dead Kennedys, argues that San Francisco featured the most explicitly political early punk scene in the country.

Fixtures such as Negative Trend and the Sleepers wrote plodding, downcast dirges, while the Avengers throttling propulsion underlined vocalist Penelope Houstons barbed liberation hymns. Crime satirized authority in cop drag, and the Nuns riffed on themes of sexual submission. The Dils, meanwhile, promoted class warfare with churlish glee and careful analysis only a San Francisco group would sing about property-tax reform.

Foleys book on the Dead Kennedys Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables situates San Francisco punk in a moment of conservative backlash: weeks after California voters narrowly rejected the virulently homophobic Briggs Initiative to ban gays from public schools in 1978, Dan White assassinated gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and progressive mayor George Moscone. Punks resented Dianne Feinstein, who replaced Moscone, for courting the police department and real-estate interests at the expense of the citys poor.

The scenes first and most important venue was the Mabuhay Gardens, a Filipino restaurant subjected to regular police raids. It was blocks from the International Hotel, where dozens of mostly elderly, low-income immigrant residents were violently evicted while thousands protested outside in 1977. Foley says that police harassment, coupled with the scenes proximity to embattled communities, helped inspire punks to make common cause with marginalized people.

The most vivid example of the scenes political engagement is perhaps Dead Kennedys vocalist Jello Biafras madcap run for mayor in 1979, when he garnered 4% of the vote with promises to implement neighborhood police elections and legalize squatting. A two-day festival at the Mabuhay in 1978, meanwhile, benefitted striking Kentucky coal-miners. There was an intellectual class to the scene, Foley says. It doesnt conform to the image most of the world has of punk being mindlessly nihilistic.

Punks participation in the White Night Riots, which erupted following Whites sham trial for the murder of Milk and Moscone, reflected solidarity with the gay community as much as it did underground musics own queerness. Members of Noh Mercy and Tuxedomoon, for instance, participated in the punk scene and queer theater troupe Angels of Light, while a stark picture of a burning squad car taken at the riot adorns the cover of the Dead Kennedys Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.

Unlike early punk in Los Angeles and New York, San Francisco had little music industry infrastructure to underwrite and promote recordings. Although that motivated a raft of independent labels to form and proliferate, the scene didnt yield a full-length album until the Dead Kennedys debut in 1980. And by then, the community had atomized into disparate cliques.

Rico giving Jonnie a haircut, 1977. Photograph: Jim Jocoy/Image courtesy Casemore Kirkeby Gallery, San Francisco

San Francisco is also so closely identified with 1960s counterculture that its just too complicated for people to imagine that it hosted another major subculture a decade later, says Foley. These things have conspired to make it difficult for the story to break through.

Also obscuring early San Francisco punks significance was the citys relative lack of local media, but that fostered an especially strong will to self-document: arresting, low-budget concert films and documentary shorts such as Louder Faster Shorter and Richard Gaikowskis Deaf/punk now live in major institutions such as the Pacific Film Archive, and historians such as Foley rely on fanzines including Search & Destroy.

My urge came from anger at how the hippie movement hadnt been documented the way I experienced it, says V Vale, who developed a probing interview style in the pages of Search & Destroy. Thats why I wanted to hear people in their own words I wanted to be an anthropologist, to question everyone and record every word accurately, without imposing values.

Indeed, San Francisco punks detected the need to preserve evidence of their scene for posterity and to do so themselves. In 1980, the weeklong, multi-venue Western Front Festival included a gig flyer exhibition at Valencia Tool and Die. The show inspired a book, which appeared the next year, Street Art: the Punk Poster in San Francisco 1977-1981. These posters were designed as trash, writes coauthor Marian Kester in a prescient introduction. The idea of throw-away art was great; it just didnt work out in practice.

Many of Jocoys peers, though, arent around to appreciate broader interest in their scene today. Since Id just missed Vietnam, I thought Id be part of this generation that wasnt traumatized by war, he recalls. But in fact, I lost so many people, I became a survivor.

The LA Book Fair runs from 24-26 February at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles; Jim Jocoys Order of Appearance is out now

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‘The building creaks and sways’: life in a skyscraper

From Chicago to Dubai, Manchester to Melbourne, our cities are climbing above the clouds. Whats it like to live on the 64th floor?

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Manhattans avenues stretch north like tracks through a forest, eventually disappearing into Harlem. Below me, Central Park is laid out like a picnic blanket, its largest trees rendered shrub-like. To the south, the Empire State Building pierces the citys canopy of stone and iron, and the blue glass of the new World Trade Center glints beyond it. Between them, the Statue of Liberty is almost lost in the haze.

This is the view from the worlds highest home, as enjoyed virtually, using Google Earth. Because to enjoy it in person would require knowing the unnamed owner of the 800 sq m penthouse at 432 Park Avenue or buying it for more than the $88m (71m) it sold for last year.

But there are alternatives for those with a head for heights and the money to match. Next year, the 426m Park Avenue tower will lose its title to 111 West 57th Street, rising two blocks to the west. Meanwhile in India, the 442m Mumbai World One will push higher still, its Armani-designed penthouses on level 117 offering airliner views of the Arabian Sea.

Once, only offices reached so high. In 2000, there were 215 office towers worldwide above 200m high (the first, the Metropolitan Life Tower in New York, was completed in 1909), but only three residential towers that high. Today, there are 255 residential towers above that height, with a further 184 under construction. Mixed-use towers, with apartments as well as offices and hotels, include the Burj Khalifa, still the worlds tallest building, at 828m. The Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, due to be completed in 2020, will be the first to break 1,000m. Its highest apartments will be on the 156th floor.

What is life like up there? For decades, tower blocks typically comprised social or affordable housing in crowded cities or on new estates. Hundreds were built in the postwar social housing boom, in cities across Europe. But today the highest residential towers are overwhelmingly luxury developments, and many remain empty, weeks after selling. If skyscrapers broke ground as barometers of corporate hubris, increasingly they now stand for personal excess, applying gravity to the wealth divide.

Britain, traditionally a low-rise country, is part of the boom. Skyscraper clusters are casting shadows across London. In Manchester, the first 200m building outside the capital is due for completion next year. Even in Bristol, where St Mary Redcliffe church has been unrivalled in its heavenwards reach for more than six centuries, there are plans for a 22-storey residential tower that would come close.

Jason Gabel, an urban planner at the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, which keeps a global skyscraper database, says advances in building technology partly explain the trend. Lifts can now travel at more than 40mph and climb for hundreds of metres, thanks to lightweight carbon fibre ropes. Sophisticated dampening systems at the tops of towers mean slender buildings can rise higher, on smaller urban plots, without toppling in a storm or swaying to the point of causing nausea.

For a growing number of city dwellers, day-to-day life can be a little different. The payoff for peace and endless views can be five-minute waits for the lift at rush hour and even sunburn. You could get tanned in winter if you sat right by the window: theres a bit of a greenhouse effect, the owner of a 64th-floor apartment above Chicago tells me. Vertigo can be another danger. At the top of a tower in east London, former taxi driver Sammy Dias rarely uses his balcony: I dont like heights, and if people go out and start messing about, I can get quite angry, he says from a safe distance inside.

I spoke to residents around the world, and many reported feeling uplifted by their elevated perspective, but there are hidden downsides: a Canadian study of heart attack victims showed survival rates dropped markedly on higher floors, because they were harder for paramedics to reach.

Skyscraping homes have always held an allure; a house with a view, a life in the sky. They frequently evoke dystopian imagery; Ern Goldfingers troubled Trellick Tower in west London, completed in 1972, is thought to have inspired JG Ballards dark thriller High-Rise. It was originally entirely owned by the Greater London Council, and rented out as council flats. Now social tenants of the Grade II*-listed building, and its sister, Balfron Tower in east London, are being displaced by upwards gentrification. Less desirable council towers are reaching the end of their habitable lives, facing decay, demolition or expensive repair.

Meanwhile, the upper floors of many new luxury skyscrapers serve as foreign cash stores: giant briefcases with views. The highest homes in Britain are the 10 luxury apartments between floors 53 and 65 of the Shard. They are among the most opulent in London, yet almost five years after their completion, none is occupied or even for sale or rent. The reason remains a mystery.

Stacking people on shelves is a very efficient method of human isolation, says Jan Gehl, a veteran Danish architect and renowned urban design consultant. A critic of residential towers even where they are fully occupied, Gehl likens them to gated mansions in the sky. Humans, he says, did not evolve to look up or down: We have seen, in the past 20 years, a withdrawal from society into the private sphere, and towers are an easy way to achieve that.

Is this the experience of those who live above our rising cities? Finding out isnt easy; even when or if they are home, residents of the most rarefied apartments in the world are hard to identify, much less reach. But all human life is there, way up on the 64th floor.

Mike Palumbo, 50, trader; Water Tower Place, Chicago

Mike and Veronica Palumbo on the 64th floor of Water Tower Place, Chicago: Oprah used to live a few floors down. Photograph: Alyssa Schukar for the Guardian

Chicago born and raised, Mike Palumbo is a Bulls fan who grew up on the edge of the city, the son of a truck parts salesman. From a corner near his house, he would gaze at the John Hancock tower, the matt-black, tapering monolith near the lakeshore, and dream big. When I hit 13, I went to high school downtown, Palumbo says. I would take the L train to within a block of the John Hancock. Back then, there was this guy called Spiderman whod climb up it with suction cups. I loved it. Id walk around and I was like, man, Id rather be in the city where all the action is. This is me.

Palumbo became a fund manager and in 2007 made $100m. For 18 years, he has lived in an eight-bedroom apartment on the 64th floor of Water Tower Place, an exclusive residence right across the street from his favourite skyscraper. Oprah Winfrey used to live a few floors down, Palumbo says as we look out, and down, on a forest of skyscrapers. David Axelrod, President Obamas chief strategist, remains a neighbour and chairs the pets committee on the buildings management board. Im a dog lover, but there are people who dont want them in the building, says Palumbo, who also sits on the board. You try to get along, but youve got a lot of very successful people arguing over minuscule things.

The Palumbos view of Chicagos John Hancock Center. Photograph: Alyssa Schukar for the Guardian

Half of Palumbos apartment is a man cave, with cigars in a jar on a bar next to a pool table. The other half is crammed with the accessories of parenthood: Palumbo and his second wife, Veronica, had twins last year, and their nanny lives with them. They add five minutes to any journey to allow time to get everything into the elevator. He has four grown-up children from his first marriage, who often visit.

As a young trader, Palumbo got job offers from Wall Street, but never wanted to leave Chicago. I just love this view, he says. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is open the blinds and let the sun come in. It doesnt get any better. Yet he is also scared of heights. Im OK with the windows, but if this was a ledge, Id be freaking out right now. He opens the window and a gust of wind slaps our faces. A spiders web somehow still clings to the frame. I never understand how these guys get all the way up here, he says.

Below us, I count more than a dozen rooftop swimming pools. The 423m Trump Tower dominates the skyline to the south. Later, a cleaning cradle winds past and the men with rags avoid looking through the glass. I would not want that job, Palumbo says.

Ian Simpson, 61, architect; Beetham Tower, Manchester

We want to intensify the city, not spread it out, says Ian Simpson, at his home on the 47th floor of the Manchester skyscraper he designed. Photograph: Fabio de Paola for the Guardian

Ian Simpson is from a family of demolition experts and grew up in a poor northern suburb of Manchester. I spent my youth climbing up mill chimneys and blowing them up, he says. But, somewhere along the way, I went from knocking things down to putting them back up again.

Simpson became one of Britains leading architects and has been instrumental in Manchesters regeneration, not least since an IRA bomb destroyed large parts of the city centre in 1996. He now occupies a unique position at the top of his own skyscraper, a steel-and-glass eyrie from which he surveys a city he has helped shape. At 47 floors, Beetham Tower cuts a lonely, slender figure above south Manchester, the tallest building in Britain outside London. Nobody thought it was going to stand alone, Simpson says in his vast, two-storey penthouse, which includes what may be Manchesters only olive grove. Other tall buildings had consent, but then we hit the recession.

For 10 years, Simpson and his partner have enjoyed uninterrupted views. The light here is spectacular, he says. It animates the space as it moves around; I find it very uplifting. Its like a little oasis right in the city. But the architect is happy that Manchester is on the rise again. There are plans for almost a dozen new towers above 30 storeys, chief among them the Owen Street development. Designed by Simpsons practice, which he leads with architect Rachel Haugh, it will include a 200m tower of 49 floors, a new high for the city.

Simpsons view of Manchester. Photograph: Fabio de Paolo for the Guardian

This is what Manchester needs, Simpson says. Historically, nobody lived in the city centre. If you had money, you lived in the leafy suburbs to the south; if you didnt, you lived to the north like me. Thats changing, and we need to have a critical mass to create the jobs and demand for everything else, whether its bars and restaurants or infrastructure.

I have a lovely painting in my office down there of the city in the 18th century. It was a city of towers but they were mill chimneys. When that changed, there were gaps, which generally became car parks. We want to fill those gaps and intensify the city, not spread it out. Like those chimneys, Simpson says, tall buildings provide not only a function, but also an image of confidence.

We move from the living area into the olive grove, which occupies a sort of penthouse conservatory, facing south. Thirty miles to the west, Liverpool is visible on a clear day. The trees, more than 30 of them, were shipped from Italy and lowered through the roof before the buildings crane came down. They love it up here, Simpson says. But theres no pollination: we dont get any bees this high, so there are no olives.

Farimah Moeini, 35, media sales manager; Ocean Heights, Dubai

Its a bubble: when I was 16, you heard Arabic music and saw local people, says Farimah Moeini of Dubai, where she lives on the 68th floor. Photograph: Siddharth Siva for the Guardian

As a teenager in Tehran, Farimah Moeini would often fly to Dubai with family and friends. She knew only the old town because that was all there was. Everything you can see here was sand, she says via video call from the Dubai apartment she shares with her British husband, Luke, and their baby, Liam. The Palm, Dubai Marina, all these towers: none of it existed. I remember going to the older malls. Wed have shawarmas and use fake IDs to try to get into bars and clubs. Then it started to grow and it hasnt stopped.

Moeini left Tehran, where her father owned a textiles factory, to go to college in the US. In 2009, she got a job with Yahoo and moved to Dubai at a time when rents were cheap following the global financial downturn. She met Luke, who works in real estate, the following year. They live in a one-bed apartment on the 68th floor of Ocean Heights, a residential block in the marina. Burj Khalifa, the worlds tallest building, looms 13 miles along the coast.

Moeinis view of Dubai. Photograph: Siddharth Siva for the Guardian

You do feel as if youre in a bubble, Moeini says. Sometimes I pinch myself, because a lot of the lifestyle is not really real. Its all so clean and neat and safe. Theres a cultural bubble, too. When I was 16, you would hear Arabic music and see local people everywhere; it was more authentic. I also miss nature. In Iran, we have four seasons, and its beautiful when they change. Here, years go by and you dont know where you are.

But its a nice bubble. Its fun and easy to meet people from all around the world. Its a happy place. I also love being up here its insane how calm you feel. Just waking up every sunrise and staring out to sea is so soothing. If I sit on my sofa and look out, I can only see sea and sky. And they are real.

Sammy Dias, 77, retired taxi driver; Petticoat Tower, London

I cant go out on the balcony. They call this one the haunted flat, says Sammy Dias of his home on the 21st floor of Londons Petticoat Tower. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

For more than 30 years, Sammy Dias has lived in Petticoat Tower, a 1970s council block owned by the City of London Corporation, and for most of them hes been on the 21st floor, two down from the roof. On a sunny January afternoon, he draws back the net curtain in his living room and looks east towards Stratford.

Look at that you see the Olympic Stadium there? he asks. The buildings zigzag roof supports come into view three miles away. Since the 2012 Games, it has become dwarfed by taller apartment buildings. Just look at the amount of flats that have gone up: its unbelievable. Its almost happened overnight.

The Gherkin and 110 Bishopsgate flank Petticoat Tower. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Dias drove a black cab in and around the Square Mile for 45 years, until he retired five years ago. From street level and above, he has watched London rise. The Gherkin, just 200m away, casts a shadow over his building. 110 Bishopsgate, with its rooftop sushi restaurant and exposed lifts, rears up just two streets to the west.

Dias turns his gaze down over Aldgate, a hodgepodge of housing and mushrooming hotels, and Petticoat Lane market, where clothing has been sold for centuries. I worked down there when I was an 11-year-old, pulling barrows out, he says. Every stall sells the same thing now. You see that brown building there? Thats where I was born: number one Herbert House.

Dias didnt plan to live high up, and never uses his tiny balcony. He hates heights. Im OK sitting here, but I cant go out there. They call this the haunted flat theres been a suicide from that balcony.

His first flat here was on the 11th floor, but he and his wife, Phyllis, a jewellers bookkeeper, moved up in 1994, when a two-bed flat became available. Soon after, she developed Alzheimers disease; she died in 2001.

It took a while to get used to living here alone, but I have a good routine now, Dias says, sitting in one of the rooms two armchairs. Photos of the couple stand on an old dresser. Sometimes I wake up early and lie there and reminisce, or I might read the paper. Then I get up, have a wash and the radio goes on. I listen to Radio X with Chris Moyles. I cant stand him, but I love the music. Later, Ill go out and meet the little old boy on the estate with the frame. We go to the Bell, where I had my first drink aged 16. Ill have two pints of lager, then two maximum three gin and lemonades, come back up here, have my grub, get relaxed and go to bed.

Dias plans to live out the rest of his days here. My mind is all there. I went to school up until age 11, and I could still tell you everyone who was in my class. Its the genes; Ive got a 90-year-old sister and we have a conversation on the phone. April the first I was born, I was married April 1st and, the way I feel sometimes, Im gonna snuff it on April 1st. Ill do the treble.

A City of London housing officer recently came to discuss a move into a one-bed flat. Dias had suggested it himself, but declined when it became clear that it would mean leaving the building. I said, Ive got friends here! This is my area. Ive got everything and Im happy. Do you know what I call it? I call it my castle.

Traci Ann Wolfe, 40, actor; 8 Spruce Street, New York

Art market faces uncertain 2017 after falling values and high-profile disputes

A drop in volume, court battles and authenticity issues dogged 2016 and no one is sure if the new presidency will be good or bad for business

Its been a strange, unsettling year in the art market and 2017 looks likely to be just as turbulent. What does a new president who can rattle the world with a tweet mean for an industry so dependent on the international rich? The answer is that no one knows, but it is a hot topic among gallery owners and auctioneers this new year.

In 2016, the art market received what it had purportedly wished for some of the speculative froth came off the top of the market, easing fears that a bubble would burst and hurt the industry. But it also received much of what it probably did not forecast or desire: a 30% drop in overall market volume, a series of high-profile disputes, court actions and authenticity issues that resulted in substantial payouts, and a fall-off in attendance at some art fairs that read to some as cultural cooling-off at the bling end of the contemporary art business.

The two major auction houses, privately held Christies and publicly listed Sothebys, have also undergone substantial changes to their business models whose reverberations are still being assessed.

A dwindling supply of top-quality work, costly seller-guarantee systems and the overheads required to secure lots for sale have proved unsustainable. Both houses saw drops in business, with Sothebys down from $6bn in 2015 to roughly $4.1bn in 2016.

The art market went down primarily because a small number of high-value objects did not trade hands as they had in 2015 and that reduced the overall market volume, says Art Market Monitors Marion Maneker.

Still, both Sothebys and Christies auction houses instigated shakeups of their tradition-bound methods of business.

Christies contemporary art chief, Brett Gorvy, quit after 23 years at the auction house to join Dominique Lvys gallery, which represents Frank Stella and the estate of Yves Klein among others. Sothebys too lost several longstanding department executives and announced plans to start offering management services to living artists as well as artists estates.

That development has galleries rattled. Managing artists has traditionally been a gallerys job not something done by secondary market auction houses. For an auction house to represent a living artist is like MGM representing Fred Astaire you cant tie up all the sides of a transaction, Pace Gallerys Arne Glimcher told the Wall Street Journal.

Warhol: missing from this years sales but is he Trumps muse? Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

At the same time, many of the younger artists whose work had been driven up in value over the past several years, saw their work unceremoniously dumped at auction, reflecting the speculative spirit in which it had been purchased.

Collector Niels Kantor told Bloomberg News he paid $100,000 for an abstract canvas by Hugh Scott-Douglas. Two years later, in September, he sold it at Phillips for $30,000. Id rather take a loss, Kantor told the market data service. Its like a stock that crashed.

Phillips estimated that half of the 204 lots in the same sale were below $10,000 an indicator that speculators were dumping work. Instead of new artists, art advisers indicate many collectors are now most interested in rediscovering historically important artists that have slipped past undervalued.

Two high-profile forgeries made headlines in 2016, forcing the business to take steps to reassure customers.

Jurors in the Knoedler Gallery fraud trial in New York, heard how more than a dozen abstract expressionist masters were forgeries, while forensic conservator James Martin concluded that an $8.4m Frans Hals painting sold to a US collector by Sothebys was fake. The auction house quickly moved to hire Martin to provide museum-quality expertise.

But the big unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable, question, is how the new political environment could affect the market.

The softness in the art market in 2016 could be seen in the low attendance at Art Basel in Miami Beach this year and mirrored in sales across most luxury market sectors, including real estate.

Yet the November auction sales proved unexpectedly robust following Donald Trumps election.

Sothebys CEO, Tad Smith, told CNBC that the result had helped boost optimism in the art market. I think theres been a fairly good feeling among the art collectors this week, Smith said in November. Theres just a lot of very wealthy people from all types of countries and they have a lot of capital to deploy.

Market observers have not been slow to note the similarities between Trumps approach to business and that of Andy Warhol, who set up his studio production and promotional publishing machine in ways that correspond to Trumps real estate and self-promotion machinery.

Artnet noted explicit similarities between Trumps business philosophy outlined in The Art of the Deal and Warhols The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art, Warhol said succinctly.

Trump meanwhile offered this: I dont do it for the money. Ive got enough, much more than Ill even need. Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. Thats how I get my kicks.

Many members of the incoming administrations cabinet, including the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, are art collectors. The art market boomed during the Reagan administration and through most of George W Bushs tenure.

Still, Maneker says its too soon to speculate on the art market under Trump.

You can draw two diametrically opposed scenarios based on the same behavior. If Trump raises tariffs and causes global panic, art could then become exceedingly valuable because its portable, easy to store and not a currency. But it could also become worthless. Nobody knows the right answer.

But as the year in art turns, at least there has been some good news for rocks elite in what has been in all other terms a dark year. In the weeks after September 11 2001, guitarist Eric Clapton acquired, in a single lot at Sothebys, three Gerhard Richter abstracts for $3.4m. He sold the last of the three, Abstraktes Bild (809-2), at Christies in November for $22.1m, bringing his total profit on all three works to $74.1m.

There was another winner, too, from the rock world. Christies outgoing head Gorvy revealed last week, he had sold a Jean-Michel Basquiat boxer painting from Christies private selling exhibition via his Instagram feed. The buyer was an unnamed American collector who paid $24m sight unseen. The seller? Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.

It is incredible for me to think that I have been personally involved in the sale of all top ten works by Jean-Michel Basquiat ever sold, culminating in the record in May for $57.3 million. I can’t say that for any other artist. But credit where credit’s due. Much of my formative understanding of Basquiat comes from my friendship with Lars Ulrich. Metallica fans would have immediately recognized a blurred Lars from this 2002 photo by photographer and director Anton Corbijn. Behind Lars is Basquiat’s “Profit I”, 1982, among Basquiat’s best paintings. I had been working with Lars as an unofficial advisor for a few years, and in 1997 he wanted a major Basquiat. Few knew that Lars was an avid collector, let alone that he is one of the most focused, studied and passionate buyers I have ever met. He had bought the Basquiat catalogue raisonn, and literally spent months studying every work in detail. Highly instinctive, yet methodically intelligent. Fascinating. In the late 1990s, the most expensive Basquiat was around $1 million and there were only five collectors at the top level. Lars was way ahead of the game. He had picked out ‘Profit I’ as his favorite work from the whole short career of Basquiat. It belonged to Bruno Bischofberger, legendary dealer who had discovered Basquiat in 1981 and had propelled him to stardom. It took almost four years of slow burn negotiations to persuade Bruno, an even more obsessive collector himself, to part with his best picture. It was an amazing adventure, that took us to St. Moritz where we painted at 3am in a studio made by Bruno for Basquiat. Meanwhile we got the greatest insight into the artist from Bruno and the close circle who had known Basquiat until his tragic death in 1988, as well as access to so many masterpieces up close and personal. Lars handpicked several other paintings and he made it our mission to source every one. Only collectors like Peter Brant and Philip Niarchos rivaled Lars’ Basquiat collection. Today Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘Profit I’ belongs to a Swiss corporation and would certainly exceed the record price for the artist if it ever came back on the market. #jeanmichelbasquiat #larsulrich

A photo posted by @brettgorvy on

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Out from the shadows: why cruising had a cultural moment in 2016

From an acclaimed novel to an immersive theater experience, the divisive sexual practice made a comeback in art amid heightened anxiety over sex and gender

On a Saturday afternoon shortly before Christmas, I found myself in the dungeon-like basement of a sex club in Manhattan to see a site-specific performance called Adonis Memories. It was an immersive theater experience based upon oral histories with patrons of the Adonis movie theater, the once opulent movie house-turned-gay porn theater located off Times Square in the 70s and 80s. In its day the Adonis epitomized hedonistic group viewing of pornography, the kind of place where gay, queer and straight men could watch hardcore films together. Meanwhile, just offscreen, it was anything goes between the men in the audience, especially in the theaters infamous balcony.

The performance, the brainchild of Alan Bounville, a theater artist and activist, makes the audience contend with the gay art of cruising: the practice of fleeting sex between men, usually anonymously and without exchanging names, often in semi-public indoor spaces (bathrooms, saunas) or outdoors (rest stops, forests). Audience members watched actors re-enact Adonis patrons cruising each other, and made them complicit by having them follow the action around the space, deciding what they watched and what they didnt.

Cruising has been having something a moment in art over the past year or so, though its not as if it hasnt been depicted in fiction and non-fiction for some time. The act has received heavy criticism for depicting gay life as deviant and inherently dangerous. The late George Michael was outed when he engaged in a lewd act in Beverly Hills in 1998, and Republican senator Larry Craig was lambasted in media in 2007 when he tapped his right foot, which an officer said was recognized as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct.

The shame was viscerally reinforced in the 1980 William Friedkin movie Cruising, in which Al Pacino must go undercover in the world of homosexual sadomasochistic sex he is assigned to infiltrate to investigate a string of murders. As Roger Ebert noted, the films controversial production did not just alarm conservatives but also the New York gay community [which] rose up in protest, worried the film would present a distorted view of gay life. It would imply the small subculture of S&M was more prevalent than it is, and that, if gays were into violence, attacks on them would somehow be justified. (James Franco was behind a less-seen riff on Friedkins film, Interior. Leather. Bar., in 2013.)

But the art of cruising is not simply about shame and self-hatred; it can also be a space of exploration and connection, as queer literature and art have reflected more recently. Its at the heart of Garth Greenwells much-lauded novel from earlier this year, What Belongs To You, in which an unnamed American narrator becomes obsessed with a sex worker named Mitko he meets in a bathroom in Bulgaria. Everything about their relationship is in the context of sex, and as Mitko and the narrator get to know one another, Greenwell presents gay male life through the prism of their complicated sex lives, moments of intimate partner violence, and the risk of sexuality transmitted disease.

That a book about cruising has been so welcomed by mainstream readers and critics, and featured on best of lists is pretty stunning. As Greenwell discussed in January, its been considered impolite to discuss not just in front of straight people, but also within gay circles until now.

Al Pacino stars in the 1980 film Cruising, directed by William Friedkin. Photograph: United Artists/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

Still, Greenwell contends that cruising spaces can be spaces of exploration and empathy, ripe for artistic and emotional study. And yet, due to its inherent corporeal hedonism that Greenwell and Bounville (and visual artists Prem Sahib and John Walter) have recently depicted, its largely been left untouched as a site of study within mainstream art or literature.

The reasons for this are many. One is that apps like Grindr and Scruff have made cruising possible on your smartphone. Another is that fear of HIV/Aids made the kind of free sexual exchange depicted in the Adonis play extremely dangerous, leading municipalities to shutter many theaters, bathhouses and saunas where cruising flourished. But as Samuel Delaney describes in his beautiful 1999 book Time Square Red, Times Square Blue, cruising was also a victim of gentrification. It was victim to the pressure from real estate developers which led cities like New York to dispatch the NYPD to clean up and crack down on any form of sexual assembly, so that places like Times Square could be rebranded as family-friendly and Disney-esque.

Mayors like Rudy Giuliani were as likely to clean up Times Square of what they saw as the filth of cruising as Republicans were to publicly decry depictions of queer sexuality in art. But what of the left? Why have they protested about such depictions, from Friedkins movie until now?

I think the marriage equality battle was important and its important that we won it, Greenwall said during an onstage interview in March. But he believes that it came at a really great cost. And that cost was a marketing campaign that took queer lives and translated them into values that could be appreciated by people who are disgusted by queer people.

So while Greenwell believes our current moment has allowed for a beautiful model of human life, and it should be available to queer people, he also worries about the effects.

I think it forecloses much of the kind of radical potential in queer life. And that radical potential, I think, inheres in spaces like cruising bathrooms and parks, where the categories by which we organize our lives, like race and class, get scrambled by desire, which is a reason why our culture is so terrified by desire, because it scrambles those things, he said.

Cruising inhabits a kind of sexuality that is about seeking fleeting pleasure, allowing for bodily expression to function as free-from commitment in the same vein that same-sex marriage is tethered to commitment. The multimedia artist John Walters addressed the disappearing act by mounting the exhibit Alien Sex Maze, a large-scale installation based on the shapes of cruise mazes, found in sex clubs and gay saunas, during 2015 Pride in London. Walters wanted to raise awareness about HIV and hosted testing onsite to decrease its stigma. He said: Im not actively facilitating sex, in his exhibits, I advertise my work on Grindr. If people want to have sex in the spaces I do my work, thats fine. It highlights the fact that you can repurpose any space for sex.

Then, last fall, British artist Prem Sahib had two shows in London which explictly dealt with cottaging, though the work is so clean and precise, a viewer might not know the reference unless they knew about underground gay culture. As Vice observed, the gay aspect of the work is thrilling and affirmative to anyone whos found themselves cruising in loos, losing themselves on a dance floor (preferably Berghain) or lounging listlessly in an odd sauna.

But one reason it is so surprising to see cruising being taken seriously in theater, gallery art and literature (domains which, no matter how much they may seem to foster the work of gay men, have their gates kept by straight people) is that a fear of possible cruising has been a driving force in American cultural politics. As the writer and scientist Joseph Osmundson wrote, This has been the year that cruising has reached the literary mainstream, but also the year that gay, queer, and especially trans bodies have been made criminal entities simply for existing in public bathrooms. All over the US, the threat of cruising has created a wave of transphobia, just as cruising is getting an airing in art from North Carolinas notorious HB2 bathroom bill to 11 states suing the federal government after the Obama administration directed US public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. As Osmundson writes, it is in bathrooms that these two trends integration into the mainstream literary canon and a rightwing backlash against gay and trans progress currently meet.

It is no surprise, then, that liberals and conservatives alike have been loth to discuss cruising, particularly as the most heralded (if tacitly secure) civil rights win for LGBT people same-sex marriage is only barely accepted on the condition of queer life being mythologically private and desexualized. Bathrooms have become such a source of sexual anxiety that, according to a large survey, a majority of transgender Americans avoid public restrooms altogether.

Good art, though, should walk us right into the mess of locations of conflict. Thats why it is so rewarding when Bounville, Greenwell, Walters and Sahib take us into these shadowy spaces, where so many gay connections have happened (and still happen). Cruising sites are spaces of gay censure and celebration alike, tense with the possibilities of danger and connection at the same time. They straddle the boundaries of the public and private, the respectable and the reviled. Cruising spaces may never be wholly resolved and thus they remain ripe for art.

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Trumpitecture: what we can expect from the billionaire cowboy builder

The tower with a combover, the 90-storey skyscraper with just 72 floors, the name in huge shiny letters Trump says his buildings are beautiful. But all they stand for is money, status and power

As the self-styled builder president, Donald Trump began his electoral campaign with a grand architectural promise. I will build a great wall, he said, standing in the lobby of his proudest creation, Trump Tower in New York, surrounded by 240 tonnes of pink Breccia Pernice marble. Nobody builds walls better than me, believe me. And Ill build them very inexpensively.

The billionaire real estate tycoon and president-elect has made a career out of building inexpensive walls and filling them with very expensive apartments. But this would be a wall of a different kind: an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall that would march along the Mexican border, to keep out the drugs, crime and rapists, punctuated with one big, beautiful door presumably so his Trump Tower taco bowls could still come in.

Like most of Trumps policies, the wall has always been big on bluster but light on detail. It mysteriously grew in height as his campaign snowballed, from 30 to 55ft, while budgets rose from $8bn to $12bn. Independent assessments suggest it would cost more like $25bn and require more than three times as much concrete as the Hoover Dam. Unperturbed, Trump insisted his wall would have beautiful everything and be just perfect. Maybe someday theyll call it the Trump Wall. So I have to make sure its beautiful, right? Since winning the election he has conceded that, in places, it might actually be a fence.

Tall storeys Trump Tower apartments start on floor 30 despite there being just 19 floors below them. Photograph: Don Emmert/AFP/ Getty

If its anything like the other edifices that bear his name, in 20ft high bronze letters, beauty might be stretching it. From the serrated flanks of his brooding Trump Tower to the gold lam attire of his Las Vegas hotel, his buildings glow with a surface sheen, like his own bronzed face, but it is a veneer of luxury that masks a prosaic product underneath.

As the former New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp put it, Trumps towers dont quite register as architecture but instead stand as signs of money, status, power like the diamonds, furs, yachts and other tokens of the deluxe life enjoyed in Marbella. What Muschamp found objectionable about Trumps taste was not the desire for attention, for the best, the most, the tallest, the most eye-catching but his failure to realise these desires creatively in the architectural medium. For the king of superlatives, nothing has ever turned out quite as tremendous as he promised.

His first Manhattan project, completed in 1980, set the tone, taking the ailing Commodore hotel, a handsome brick and limestone building from 1919, and entombing it inside a shell of mirrored glass. It spawned the Trump style of wrapping standard buildings in paper-thin party costumes of chrome, bronze or gold depending on the occasion, and adorning them with sparkly signifiers of glitz and glamour.

Just like his policies, Trumps real estate projects are often characterised by bold claims that dont quite stand up beginning with their height. He famously inflates the floor numbers of his buildings: the 90-storey Trump World has 72 floors, while apartments in Trump Tower begin at floor 30, despite there being just 19 commercial storeys below them. People are very happy, he has said, openly proud of his marketing ruse. They like to have apartments that have height, the psychology of it.

The Trump Tower in Chicago was planned to be the tallest building in the world when it was announced in 2001, but it was hurriedly scaled back following the 9/11 attacks despite Trumps rhetoric of not being cowed by terrorists. It now stands like a stunted Mini-Me version of Dubais Burj Khalifa (designed by the same architect), at less than half the height of its Arabian cousin.

Lacking the desired height, Trump tried to make up for it with the size of his sign, which spells out his name in back-lit stainless steel letters running the length of half an American football field across the 16th floor. Mayor Rahm Emanuel slammed the sign as tasteless and set about changing the citys regulations to prevent a repeat of such vulgarity. As ever, Trump hurried to Twitter to defend his creation: Before I bought the site, the Sun Times had the biggest, ugliest sign Chicago has ever seen, he thundered. Mine is magnificent and popular.

Taken down a billboard in Dubai, where Trump is building a golf course in the desert. Photograph: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty

But the popularity of the Trump brand a byword for Superior Quality, Detail and Perfection according to his website has suffered hammer blows as a result of his vitriolic presidential campaign. In Dubai, where he is building a golf course in the desert, a large billboard featuring the man himself swinging a club was taken down following the announcement of his plan to ban Muslims from entering the US, while sales of his home decor range were also suspended.

In Istanbul, where the conjoined tilting shafts of the Trump Towers loom 150 metres above the city, President Erdoan has declared that the ones who put that brand on their building should immediately remove it. Even before his comments, the $300m scheme had not provided the premium that investors were promised.

Prices slashed the Trump Ocean Club, Panama City. Photograph: Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty Images

Similar stories of inflated expectations, followed by legal wrangling, are repeated across the globe. The Trump Ocean Club in Panama was plagued by delays. By the time the yonic edifice was completed in 2011, there was a glut of high-end apartments, so prices were slashed and many buyers walked away. The condo owners association is trying to sack Trumps management company, claiming it exceeded budgets and used its fees to cover hotel costs. Trump, in turn, is now seeking $75m in damages.

The Trump Tower hotel in Toronto topped with a strange quiff like the man himself also opened late to find the market flooded with five-star hotels. It has been subject to a lawsuit by buyers who say they were misled by marketing materials, while the local developer is also trying to remove Trumps name from the project.

Topped with a strange quiff like the man himself the Trump Tower hotel in Toronto. Photograph: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket/ Getty

The story is repeated in New York, where Trump unusually settled a lawsuit brought by buyers of his $450m Trump SoHo development. They asserted that they had been defrauded by exaggerated claims. He admitted no wrongdoing however. According to the New York Times earlier this year, a separate lawsuit stated that the project was developed with the undisclosed involvement of convicted felons and financing from questionable sources in Russia and Kazakhstan.

Elsewhere, plans for further Trump towers, from Rio to Azerbaijan, have hit the buffers, while recent records show his controversial golf courses in Scotland have made losses of almost 26m. In sum, it all suggests that Trump might not be quite the star deal-maker he claims to be. So what is it like to be on the wrong side of his famous deals?

Architect Andrew Tesoro. Photograph: UPI/Barcroft Images

Architect Andrew Tesoro had first-hand experience of being on the receiving end of the Trump Organisations deal-making machine when he was commissioned to design the Trump National golf club in New York state, a process that left him on the verge of bankruptcy. Driven by Trumps infectious enthusiasm, the project quickly tripled in size along with the associated workload but the additional fees were not forthcoming.

By the time the building was completed, Tesoro had amassed unpaid invoices to the tune of $140,000. After endless requests and meetings with his associates, he finally got a face-to-face meeting with Trump, which proved to be a textbook lesson in Trumps trademark cocktail of charm and ruthlessness.

He told me that we built the most spectacular clubhouse in the world, Tesoro recalls. I was the finest architect hed ever met, he was going to make this project the best-known building of its type in the world, the next project was going to give me the opportunity to recoup any money that Id lost and, just because Im such a nice guy, he was going to offer me $25,000 to go away.

The Trump National golf club in New York state. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

At first Tesoro declined, so he was handed over to Trumps attorney. The attorney told me quite directly that, if I sued, I would probably get all the money I was owed, but that it was his job to make it take so long, and cost me so much, that it wouldnt be worth it.

It raises questions over how Trump plans to administer his $500bn infrastructure plan, a scheme that has already got the construction industry salivating at the thought of the tax-credit-driven contracts. We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals, Trump declared in his victory speech. Were going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none.

Tesoro featured in this Clinton campaign video

The American Institute of Architects was quick to pledge its unwavering support to the new administration, writing that its 89,000 members stand ready to work with Trump on his grand building plan. But it turns out that the AIA had neglected to consult its members, many of whom have pointed out that Trumps bigoted pronouncements dont quite chime with the institutes diversity and inclusion goals.

The Architects Newspaper, meanwhile, warned that architects who contributed to the proposed border wall or its attendant detention centres, federal and private prisons, and militarised infrastructure would be perpetuating inequality and the racist patriarchy of Trumps ideology.

As architect and critic Michael Sorkin writes in an open letter: Trumps well-documented history of racial discrimination, tenant harassment, stiffing creditors, evasive bankruptcies, predilection for projects of low social value such as casinos and his calculated evasion of the taxes that might support our common realm are of a piece with his larger nativist, sexist, and racist political project.

He concludes: We call upon the AIA to stand up for something beyond a place at the table where Trumps cannibal feast will be served. Let us not be complicit in building Trumps wall but band together to take it down!

The AIA has since issued a grovelling video apology, admitting their statement was tone deaf while no doubt rushing out to stock up on security fencing and gold glazing catalogues.

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Big Pink: Mexican architects imagine Trump’s wall as Luis Barragn homage

The Estudio 314 architectural practice has unveiled its pastel pink plans to realize the Republican candidates border proposal in all its gorgeous perversity

As an architectural brief it is pretty straightforward. The real estate developer turned Republican candidate Donald Trumps southern border wall will be, in the presidential hopefuls own words great, impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, and may perhaps also feature a big, beautiful door.

In the more measured terms of the Republican partys documents, the structure will cover the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

Trump has also declared that construction will begin on day one of his term in office, and that Mexico will pay for the thing. So, surely, engaging an architectural practice south of the border to oversee the project would be politic?

Thats the thinking behind the Mexican architectural practice Estudio 314s proposal, which offers a distinctly Latin take on the Republican wall. A team of seven interns working under 314s creative director, Leonardo Daz Borioli, reimagined the border proposal in the spirit of the great 20th-century Mexican architect Luis Barragn.

Barragn, who won the Pritzker prize in 1980 and died in 1988 at the age of 86, was known for combining simple, modernist designs with lyrical, spiritual flourishes, employing bright pinks, as well as other startling pastel shades, in his otherwise restrained works.

Estudio 314s rendering adopts a Barragn colour scheme with an equally faithful lack of ornament, though the studio has a little fun with other features in this imaginative, uncommissioned proposal. This wall also encloses a prison where 11 million undocumented people will be processed, classified, indoctrinated, and/or deported, the studio explains, making reference to Trumps immigration plans.

Interior view of the house and studio of the Mexican architect Luis Barragn. Photograph: HO/AFP/Getty Images

At other points, the wall could also accommodate a shopping mall, or even an observation terrace, where would-be migrants might look upon, but not touch, the Land of the Free.

Of course the architectural practice, which is based in Barragns birthplace of Guadalajara, does not sincerely believe its pink wall will break ground anytime soon. Instead, 314, which is more used to working on hospitality and public-park commissions, hopes its proposal will allow the public to imagine the policy proposal in all of its gorgeous perversity.

Because the wall has to be beautiful, it has been inspired by Luis Barragns pink walls that are emblematic of Mexico, says 314, adding: It also takes advantage of the tradition in architecture of megalomaniac wall building.

Well, quite. And while Barragn may have approved of the pigmentation and the clean lines, theres very little else likely to endear the scheme to the late Pritzker laureate, including the flamboyantly haired client north of the border and his swingeing terms of payment.

As the architecture critic Jonathan Glancey put it in a 2001 article, Barragn was a generous man. When he was asked to rebuild and extend a convent in Tlalpan not far from his own home, he paid for the extra work needed to give the resident nuns a special design far and above what they had expected. The result was a sensual, spiritual place influenced by the Court of the Myrtles at the Alhambra.

It seems unlikely that, in years to come, anyone will be choosing similar words to describe this wall or its chief commissioner, no matter what the colour.

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A ‘radical alternative’: how one man changed the perception of Los Angeles

In the 1960s, British architectural critic Reyner Banham declared his love for the city that his fellow intellectuals hated. What Banham wrote about Los Angeles redefined how the world perceived it but what would he think of LA today?

Now I know subjective opinions can vary, the journalist Adam Raphael wrote in the Guardian in 1968, but personally I reckon LA as the noisiest, the smelliest, the most uncomfortable and most uncivilised major city in the United States. In short, a stinking sewer …

Three years later, Raphaels words appeared in print again as an epigraph of Reyner Banhams Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies the most exuberantly pro-Los Angeles book ever written. Ever since publication, it has shown up on lists of great books about modern cities even those drawn up by people who consider Los Angeles anything but a great American city.

Somehow, this book that drew so much of its initial publicity with shock value (In Praise (!) of Los Angeles, sneered the New York Times reviews headline) has kept its relevance through the decades, such that newly arrived Angelenos still read it to orient themselves. But what can it teach us about the Los Angeles of today?

An architectural historian a decade into his career when he first visited, Banham knew full-well that his fellow intellectuals hated Los Angeles. How and why he himself came so avidly to appreciate it constitutes the core question of his work on the city, which culminated in this slim volume.

The many who were ready to cast doubt on the worth of the enterprise, he reflected in its final chapter, included a distinguished Italian architect and his wife who, on discovering that I was writing this book, doubted that anyone who cared for architecture could lower himself to such a project and walked away without a word further.

The project began when Banham brought his shaggy beard and wonky teeth to Los Angeles and declared that he loved the city with a passion, in the words of novelist and Bradford-born Los Angeles expat Richard Rayner. Teaching at the University of Southern California, who put him up in the Greene brothers architecturally worshipped Gamble House in Pasadena, Banham had a privileged base from which to explore. But what he went looking for, and the way he wrote about what he saw and felt, redefined the way the intellectual world and then the wider world perceived the city.

Reyner Banham with his shaggy beard and wonky teeth in 1968. Photograph: Peter Johns for the Guardian

Not that he declared his love right there on the tarmac at LAX. Banham initially found the city incomprehensible a response shared by many critics, wrote Nigel Whiteley in the study Reyner Banham: Historian of the Immediate Future.

Banham first attempted to publicly explain this cutting-edge metropolis, saturated across its enormous space with electronic devices, synthetic chemicals and televisions, in four 1968 BBC radio talks. He told of how he came to grips with LAs embodiment of the experimental: its experimental shape and infrastructure, the combinations of cultures it accommodated, and the experimental lifestyles to which it gave rise.

But even an appreciator like Banham had his qualms with the result. In Los Angeles you tend to go to a particular place to do a particular thing, to another to do another thing, and finally a long way back to your home, and youve done 100 miles in the day, he complained in the third talk. The distances and the reliance on mechanical transportation leave no room for accident even for happy accidents. You plan the day in advance, programme your activities, and forgo those random encounters with friends and strangers that are traditionally one of the rewards of city life.

Nevertheless, to Banham this un-city-like city held out a promise: The unique value of Los Angeles what excites, intrigues and sometimes repels me is that it offers radical alternatives to almost every urban concept in unquestioned currency.

In his subsequent landmark book, Banham enumerated Los Angeles departures from traditional urbanism, as well as from all the rules for civilised living as they have been understood by the pundits of modernity, with evident delight. It seemed to legitimise a model he had already, in a 1959 article, proposed to replace the old conception of a single dense core surrounded by a wall.

Civilised living in suburban LA. Photograph: University of Southern California/Corbis via Getty Images

Banham foresaw the city as scrambled egg, its shell broken open, its business yolk mixed with its domestic white, and everything spread across the landscape, its evenness disturbed only by occasional specialised sub-centres. A visitor to Los Angeles today might hear the city explained in just the same way: as a network of nodes, a constellation of urban villages, an exercise in postmodern polycentrism.

Banham put another finger in the eye of traditionalists who insisted that a city should have just one strong centre with his short chapter A Note on Downtown, which opens with the words, … because that is all downtown Los Angeles deserves.

From its fetishised structures such as the Bradbury Building and Cathedral of Saint Vibiana to its brand new office towers in their standard livery of dark glass and steel, Banham wrote that everything stands as an unintegrated fragment in a downtown scene that began to disintegrate long ago out of sheer irrelevance, as far as one can see.

The books contrarianism reflects the contrarianism of Los Angeles itself, which, insofar as it performs the functions of a great city, in terms of size, cosmopolitan style, creative energy, international influence, distinctive way of life, and corporate personality [proves that] all the most admired theorists of the present century, from the Futurists and Le Corbusier to Jane Jacobs and Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, have been wrong.

Filled with photographs and diagrams, Banhams book on Los Angeles divides its subject up into the four ecologies of its subtitle: the beaches and beach towns of Surfurbia; the Foothills with their ever more elaborate and expensive residences; the utilitarian Plains of Id (the only parts of Los Angeles flat enough and boring enough to compare with the cities of the Middle West) and the famous, then infamous, freeway system he dubbed Autopia: a single comprehensible place, a coherent state of mind in which Angelenos spend the two calmest and most rewarding hours of their daily lives.

The 1893 Bradbury Building in downtown LA was an unintegrated fragment in Banhams eyes. Photograph: Michele and Tom Grimm/Alamy

Between chapters on the citys ecologies, Banham examined the buildings found in them. Populist, stylistically promiscuous, tradition-agnostic and often deliberately impermanent, Los Angeles architecture has, of all the citys elements, drawn distain the longest. There is no reward for aesthetic virtue here, no punishment for aesthetic crime; nothing but a vast cosmic indifference, wrote the novelist James M. Cain in 1933.

More than 40 years later, Banham saw a stylistic bounty of Tacoburger Aztec to Wavy-line Moderne, from Cape Cod to unsupported Jaoul vaults, from Gourmet Mansardic to Polynesian Gabled and even in extremity Modern Architecture.

He discussed at length the LA building known as the dingbat a two-storey walk-up apartment-block … built of wood and stuccoed over, all identical at the back but cheaply, elaborately, decorated up-front, emblazoned with an aspirational name such as the Capri or the Starlet.

In defining dingbats as the true symptom of Los Angeles urban id, trying to cope with the unprecedented appearance of residential densities too high to be subsumed within the illusions of homestead living, Banham diagnosed the central and persistent tension, then as now, between wanting to grow outward and needing to grow upward.

Banham drew out the meaning of Los Angeles ostensibly disposable buildings not by venerating them, nor denigrating them, but simply by seeing them as they were. Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour would advocate the same approach in their own urban classic, Learning from Las Vegas, published the following year: Withholding judgment may be used as a tool to make later judgment more sensitive. This is a way of learning from everything.

Still, even appreciators of Los Angeles might take issue with this method when Banhams non-judgmental attitude at least toward the aesthetics of American commercial culture starts to look like advocacy for bad taste.

The self-absorbed and perfected Watts Towers. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Non-appreciators of Los Angeles certainly did. The painter and critic Peter Plagens, author of an 11,000-word excoriation in Artforum magazine entitled The Ecology of Evil, went so far as to label Banhams book dangerous: The hacks who do shopping centres, Hawaiian restaurants and savings-and-loans, the dried-up civil servants in the division of highways, and the legions of showbiz fringies will sleep a little easier and work a little harder now that their enterprises have been authenticated. In a more humane society where Banhams doctrines would be measured against the subdividers rape of the land and the lead particles in little kids lungs, the author might be stood up against a wall and shot.

Uncowed, Banham followed the book by starring in Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, a 1972 television documentary that followed him through one day in the city that makes nonsense of history and breaks all the rules, and inspired within him a passion that goes beyond sense or reason. Stops on the tour included Simon Rodias handmade Watts Towers (a totally self-absorbed and perfected monument) to Los Angeles characteristic fantasy of innocence (prominently marked on all the maps in his book); the overgrown sections of the old Pacific Electric Railways rusting rails that once tied the whole huge city together; the decrepit canals and beachside bodybuilding facilities of Venice; and a Sunset Boulevard drive-in burger joint.

There, Banham asked the painter Ed Ruscha, plainspoken and painstaking observer of American urban banality, what public buildings a visitor should see. Ruscha recommended gas stations.

Banham pre-empted objections to Los Angeles urban form by claiming the form matters very little, having already written that Los Angeles has no urban form at all in the commonly accepted sense. Yet whatever it does have, he argued, has produced a fascinating, and sometimes even efficient, set of emergent urban phenomena.

Come the day when the smog doom finally descends, he narrated over aerial shots of Wilshire Boulevards double row of towers and frame-filling neighbourhoods of detached houses, … when the traffic grinds to a halt and the private car is banned from the street, quite a lot of craftily placed citizens will be able to switch over to being pedestrians and feel no pain.

Cyclists on Venice Beach … though much of LA is not bike-friendly. Photograph: Alamy

The end of the car in Los Angeles? Bold words for the man who called Wilshire Boulevard one of the few great streets in the world where driving is a pleasure after having, like earlier generations of English intellectuals who taught themselves Italian in order to read Dante in the original, learned to drive in order to read Los Angeles in the original.

But just as the languages heard on the streets of Los Angeles have multiplied, the language of mobility has changed there, as has much else besides. How legible would Banham, who died in 1988, now find it?

The smog that supposed bane of the citys postwar decades which he always downplayed has all but vanished. The time of apparently unlimited space to gratify an obsession with single-family dwellings has given way to one of construction cranes sprouting to satisfy the new demand for high-density vertical living. They stand not just over a downtown risen miraculously from the dead, but the specialised sub-centres scattered all over greater Los Angeles.

Though the ban on private cars hasnt come yet, no recent development astonishes any Angeleno who was there in the 1970s more than the citys new rail transit network, which started to emerge almost 30 years after the end of the Pacific Electric. It ranks as such as a success of funding, planning and implementation (at least by the globally unimpressive American standard) that the rest of the country now looks to Los Angeles as an example of how to build public transportation and, increasingly, public space in general.

Readers might scoff at Banham calling the Los Angeles freeway network one of the greater works of man but he has demonstrated more of an ability to see beyond it than many current observers of Los Angeles. Even though it is vastly better than any other motorway system of my acquaintance, he wrote, it is inconceivable to Angelenos that it should not be replaced by an even better system nearer to the perfection they are always seeking.

Banham felt downtown Los Angeles only deserved a short chapter dedicated to it. Photograph: Alamy

Banham also foresaw the rise of the self-driving car, so often mooted these days as an alternative solution to Los Angeles traffic woes. But cars that drive themselves (as distinct from Baede-kar a then-fantastical voice navigation system dreamed up for Banhams TV doc, that bears an uncanny resemblance to those every American driver uses today) come with problems that Banham also predicted all those years ago. The marginal gains in efficiency through automation, he wrote, might be offset by the psychological deprivations caused by destroying the residual illusions of free decision and driving skill.

Under each outwardly celebratory page of Banhams book lies the notion of change as Los Angeles only constant: no matter how excitingly modern the car and the freeway, their day will come to an end; no matter how comfortably idyllic the detached house, it too must fall out of favour, or into impracticality, sooner or later.

Some of the elements that drew Banhams attention have, after their own periods of disrepute, turned fashionable again. Even the humble dingbat has found a place in the future of the city, becoming the object of critical study and architectural competition.

Banham also saw the future of Los Angeles in other unprepossessing buildings, especially one striking and elegantly simple stucco box on La Cienega Boulevard. Its architect? A certain Frank Gehry, then almost unknown but now one of the most powerful influencers of the built environment in not just Los Angeles (his current high-profile project involves re-making the citys famously dry, concrete-encased river), but other cities as well. The Toronto-born starchitect became his adopted hometowns architectural emissary just one of the myriad ways in which Los Angeles has influenced the rest of the urban world.

These days, the rest of the urban world also influences Los Angeles. No longer labouring under the delusions of total exceptionalism that prevailed in Banhams day, it has, with its towers, trains, parks and even bike-share systems, made strides toward the liveability so demanded by 21st-century urbanists. It now even resembles (if faintly) New York, Boston, London, and Paris those thoroughly planned, non-experimental cities where, Banham lamented, warring pressure groups cannot get out of one anothers hair because they are pressed together in a sacred labyrinth of cultural monuments and real estate values.

In its impressive bid to incorporate older metropolitan virtues and play by the rules of good urban design, modern Los Angeles ignores the possibility of becoming a similarly sacred labyrinth at its peril. Keeping Banhams Los Angeles: the Architecture of Four Ecologies on its syllabus will hopefully protect against the dire fate of losing its rule-breaking experimental urban spirit.

The engineering-trained author regarded Los Angeles as a kind of machine. Though it has come in for a badly needed overhaul of its interface in recent years, nobody has yet written a users manual more engaged in the city on its own terms as Banham did 45 years ago.

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The Trump Hut: hair-based protest hopes to wig out Republican convention

Inspired by the situationists, two ad men and a Mexican artist collaborated to make a luxury hut inspired by an extraordinary follicular arrangement

In May, the ad men and artists Douglas Cameron and Tommy Noonan brainstormed ways to protest the rise of Donald Trump. They wanted to build something memorable, something that would stand out in a national landscape thats saturated with anti-Trump protests.

To comment on the growing wealth inequality that they believe will flourish even more should Trump become president, they decided to create the Trump Hut, a small inhabitable structure crafted into the shape of Trumps hair.

The inside of the Trump Hut is a total luxury experience, Noonan says. There is an extravagant ornamental rug from Ikea, champagne buckets, stools and solar powered lights.

Cameron said the project drew inspiration from the Situationist International, a revolutionary Paris-based group that used avant garde artistic tradition to influence social change.

Using the history of groups like the Situationists, we wanted to give the Trump Hut a little absurdity, Cameron said. Once we get all the luxury inside, then suddenly that makes it pretty funny and interesting to all sides. I mean, youre inside of a real estate moguls hair.

The hut is constructed before it hits the streets. The hair is made from hula skirts. Photograph: Douglas Cameron

They plan to set up the Trump Hut outside the Republican National Convention at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, this month.

Protests generally work best as media spectacles, and we know there are going to be a lot of bored reporters sitting around the RNC, Cameron says. The Trump Hut will become a natural talking point.

Cameron and Noonan who serve as the founding partner and the executive creative director at DCX Growth Accelerator, respectively are not newbies to this field of pranksterism, which they define as artistic guerrilla marketing and disruptive cultural stunts.

In June 2015, when their neighborhood bodega in Brooklyn, Jesses Deli, was facing steep rent hikes, the duo created a campaign to highlight gentrifications effect on small businesses. Their campaign advertised the new gentrified prices at the deli for the Artisanal Landlord Rent Hike Sale. They were two and a half times higher than before, a house-made sustainable hoagie, for instance, going for $22.59.

For the Trump Hut, Cameron and Noonan wanted to create a spectacle with a similar level of ambiguity. With protests and commentary, you want to avoid further entrenching the other side, so oftentimes humor is a really good tool, Cameron says. Ive talked to a lot of my Republican friends who would generally roll their eyes at Trump rants on Facebook or at a typical protest, but who want to follow this project.

Inside the hut is a total luxury experience. Photograph: Douglas Cameron

To make the project come to life, the pair had to outsource the project to someone who could physically conceptualize and construct the Trump Hut. Enter the sculptor Roxana Casillas, chosen, Noonan says, because she works with found objects and different natural materials really well. I had a feeling she would really be able to sculpt that hair beautifully.

Beyond her artistic abilities, Casillas had further connections to the project: though she grew up in San Diego, the self-proclaimed huge Democrat was born in Mexico, which gave her involvement extra impetus. Trump, of course, has repeatedly called for the US to build a wall on the Mexican border.

My work focuses on the inner self, she says. A big part of being who we are is our political views they reflect our values.

Noonan and Cameron showed Casillas pictures of sculptures made with hay and told her they wanted that type of rustic look. Casillas set to work. She used raffia hula skirts and lightwood to create the external structure, shaped like Trumps infamous coiffure.

Its a protest piece on how the 1% lives versus the rest of us, she says. When President Hoover was in office, there were the Hooverville towns where everyone lived in tents, and if Trump wins were all going to wind up living in Trump Huts.

While shes passionate and serious about her protest, Casillas is also an advocate of the Trump Huts comic approach to dissent. Thats why it was made with hula skirts, so it resonates a little bit softer and not as aggressive as a lot of the other protesters, she says. You know, the other side are being aggressive, but protests can be peaceful and even humorous and have the same effect.

At Noonan and Camerons request, Casillas made the project easily transportable. It is easy to take down and rebuild, and it has already been displayed at the artist Rachel Owenss exhibit, Gut Rehab, in Brooklyn.

Cameron and Noonan have larger plans for the hut.

We plan to place the Trump Hut outside of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, and you can imagine the type of reaction that juxtaposition will get, Cameron says. Here is this impressive real estate tower with this Trump Hut out in front; what a standoff!

Theyre launching a Kickstarter to seek the funds to transport the Hut to places such as Trumps 20-acre Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, and along the US border with Mexico.

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