“Hot on the Heels of Love: Sensational Speculations” opens at Jai & Jai Gallery on November 5. The exhibition and installation by architect John Southern of Urban Operations tells five polemical stories about the modernist skyscraper. The LA Forum spoke to Southern, who is also a contributor to our online auction, about the continued cultural impact of the high rise.
Why did you name the show “Hot on the Heels of Love: Sensational Speculations”?
The music buffs might recognize Hot on the Heels of Love as a song by Throbbing Gristle, an experimental music and visual arts group that was founded in England in the 1970s. I thought the title appropriate to the exhibition because the skyscraper—a topic I’ve explored over the past ten years—is a subject that, when one removes “design” from the discursive equation, is ephemeral and always just out of reach, but also highly seductive.
How has the cultural impact of the skyscraper evolved?
In the exhibition description I bring up Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier because for me they represent the distillation of skyscraper theory, not only on an aesthetic level, but on an urban and political plane as well. Both architects were confronting the Nineteenth Century urban fabric in a reactionary way. Their proposals were a break with American skyscraper culture, which has always been about technical muscle and real estate speculation. Unfortunately, it currently appears that, with a few exceptions, the American model has become the norm across the globe. While there has been an exhaustive obsession with skyscrapers formal and aesthetic properties, the tower still has potential to be transformed into a space that simultaneously supports the idea of democratic civic space, while also satisfying the desires of the real estate market.
What do you see as being the future of the skyscraper?
My hope is that designers will stop worrying so much about what the towers of tomorrow are going to look like on a postcard or social media, and start putting more effort into how they perform on an urban level—programmatically, spatially and most importantly, socially. That, to me, is the only way we as a global culture can save the space of the city for everyone, and not just the 1% who have the liquidity to remake the urban fabric as an image to consume or as a place to park their financial assets.