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Solar Waste.                                                                     



With the arrival of the extractor as a fully foregrounded feature of urban life, a feature no longer disguised but turned into a virtue (the Pompidou Centre), architecture has again arrived at the reunion of waste and sacrality. This process was previously witnessed by the art history of the chimney. The halo of the sacrificial fire, the burden of significance assumed by burnt offerings, all these meanings exist again in the symbolism of the metaphors congealed around the object's content (and in actuality, heat and smoke also emerge). But these value-conferring meanings also return to life on the literal level in the cost of the form, the cost of the vessel, the conduit, the container in question and its 'wasteful' decoration. If the expenditure is clearly sacrificial, it only remains to ask; at the investiture of which gods is it that we are called to participate?


(Openings I). High caverns; caves carved high in cliff tops. Like ancient tombs in Turkey, empty eyes gazing down upon valleys or looking out over the sea. A meeting of the domains of the public and the dead, of this and the underworld, the overlap of eternity and the present, where the rooms of the next world are found to be already embedded in this one. A sacrilegious merging in all save the pharaoh, the body of the king, the shaman, or the regular pulse of prescribed ritual practice. Burial of the body: rebirth of the social. Chambers whose openings remind us of the blind eye of time, watching without seeing. Eternity: the central vortex of ritual watching over the city. Or like Peru, where high hidden caves harbour long concealed secrets, the newly discovered sites of human sacrifice.  By contrast it is only human labour time that is sacrificed here, in our post-modern architectural religion; some amount of profit set aside, deferred to prestige. The object of sacrifice, the building's identity, the collective identity of employers, owners, workers, the institution. The gods of building and company; Weber's rational monolith as Moloch, the sacrificial slab in the service of bureaucracy. A claim to be redeemed at the bank of identity, a statement of its contribution, its recognition as an act of recognition - its claim to fame. The part played in the illumination of a name. Consecration: to the name of a place, in the name of a community, to the rebirth of a city, to Manchester's renewal (the post-industrial Phoenix of the English North-west).


Chimneys/Extractors. If a common waste function does not always imply a common position on the building's surface, there remains, nevertheless, a common temptation to decorate, to make pleasant or make profound, more respecially ia reflecting a place on the solar portion of the building. The commandment of the upper reaches; the raising of the eye; to make sublime. The desire to create a sacred index: to employ a deixis that points elsewhere. Whether pointing 'upwards' (the chimney, single vented or in clusters) or 'inwards' (as with extractors) both directionalities show a strong figurative element that overcomes the literality of the places they 'point to' in everyday actuality. In both cases the methods of removal of unwanted air and heat participate in the potentiality of the part of the building usually given over to the sacred. (Or its absence, decoration or its absence, investment in signs or their absence, absence itself a sign - it is the mark of the attachment of symbolism to a place, even to a part of the visual field, that even absence continues to convey a meaning). All depends upon an individual building's symbol system and its place, in turn, within a general architectural or visual symbol system (the solar). Such pointers (and the opening too is a pointer augmented by the sublimity of the orifice) exploit further the lure of desire and the temptation to fantasy of the open door or window - particularly if out of reach. A distance which is often augmented (as in the case of the Institute of Science and Technology in the Parc de la La Villette, Paris) by the half-closed, half-open, nature of the grills which mask such openings, suggesting the meaning-enhancing effects of a veil, where seen and unseen pool their semiotic resources to maximise significance - technology as subliminal communication. The heavenly deixis of the chimney is underlined by the smoke that issues forth, riding up into the sky, mingling with the clouds, offering a man-made halo around the moon, drawing a veil of gauze over the stars. Extractors too take their place as openings onto the mysterious and the sublime (the sacred place from which burnt offerings rise to the heavens).


(Openings II). Before the open but impassible door to the inner sanctum (Kafka's gate of justice). Clue to the existence of a hidden sanctuary, holy-of-holies, as in the pagan temple of the Egypt, Classical Greece or Rome, also found in Judaism and in the Eastern Orthodox (Byzantine) 'gate of eternity', the iconostasis, where the veil of the sanctum is made from sacred portraiture. (The pagan form was general before Christianity -and then Isalm - turned religious architecture inside-out and placed everything within the communal space of the basilica form). Concealed within: the site of mysteries, focal point of cults, ritual initiations, profound revelations, the secrets of the world revealed - or their incomprehensibility (unspeakability) silently meditated upon in the sombre half-light. The vent gives away the presence of a hidden tomb, a modern Mastaba, funereal pyramid with an inner chamber buried deep below, from which unclean, fetid air can escape.


The enigmatic top portion of the office developments at 101, Barbirolli Square (opposite Manchester's remarkable new concert venue, Bridgewater Hall) have already achieved a kind of notoriety among Manchester's concert-goers and city flaneurs. Tilted circular discs sit on top of towers, the top part of which appear to be made from circular vents, like  sequence of horizontal bow slits on a medieval tower; that is, they look like a modern answer to the chimney. However, despite appearances, they are (or were) not open to the air, nor to any form of circulation with the exterior. The actual circulation takes place on the ground of signs. Communication not extraction is the target.  Despite appearances these vents do (or did) not breathe, but had to have actual (as opposed to illusionist) slits added later to help dissipate the heat and gases from the machinery installed within. The top or solar portion of the towers with their mysterious grills and vents are completely illusionistic and are not even remotely related to any waste or exhaust system (unless in the hidden machinery concealed within). The idea of the chimney and its development (as well as the connotations that such structures gather to themselves) is what we see, untainted by any related function. Pure decoration. Pure symbol. A pure sacrifice. (Hot or polluted air, especially in high rise buildings, is removed by air conditioning type structures serving every four or five floors, through outlets that are often concealed -  structures that in larger buildings may occupy entire floors. For the conduits to carry waste to the sky up thought the entire building would simply waste too much valuable space; a zone above the floors in question will suffice. And the upper part of any segment is always its decorated element - even if the decoration is abstract - is its solar portion). Pure drama. All the rest is suggestion; the gift of waste constructed upon the illusion of waste. Part of Manchester's solar revolution; a visible deixis, both performance and proclamation of its renewal and rebirth. (With thanks to Thomas Harvey.)


Manchester's skyline; a change of cut, of detail, investment, thought - and of feeling. Only the skyline itself is the true and complete solar, a collective entity, indicator of the health of a city, union of wealth and spirit. Changes in the city's skyline indicate a general move back to the performative declaration of waste as a sacred gesture. Rational choices are made to invest in irrational architectural effects; architectural affects are the intended result. An expenditure beyond the reason of simple return, this return happens elsewhere (a sacrifice to the identity of the City). The success of such reconstructions gives a clear 'no' to the functional, modern and 'unfinished' aspect of  urban building. Manchester is now a city -is now made of buildings- in which people can and want to live. No longer just some anonymous urban space into which they are dumped. The remnants of the 'old' modernism can still be seen along the skyline; 'unfinished' ends jutting up into the City's solar regions with its new utopic symbolism of glass pyramids and white towers, among which the broken-off ends, the protruding 'middles' of 'topless' buildings look cheap and unvalued - containing unvalued inhabitants. Solar waste yields a surplus value which is neither profit nor surplus to requirement, but which gives value to value itself, extending benediction and communion to the city - one of today's sources of identity and so in its own way a community of the blessed.





                                                            Copyright 2002 Peter Nesteruk