- While preparing for Precedents in Critical Practice, I was sidetracked from the mandated reading by Delirious New York. I was mainly drawn in by the author’s name as well as the title, a.k.a. judging a book by its cover.
After living in New York for 5 years, why didn’t I know more about the city’s architectural history? Yes, New York certainly made me feel delirious at many points and the city emits a constant frenetic energy, but what was this “delirious” city Koolhaas saw? I went to Harvard Bookstore and bought the book.
The section on Coney Island alone was worth the purchase. To pique your interest, and to share some fun facts about Coney Island, here’s an abbreviated (there’s so much more!) list of things that actually existed in Brooklyn once upon a time:
1. Barrels of Love, two staircases lead any given man and woman into a machine that shakes about making it impossible to stand and forcing the man and woman to fall onto each other. Koolhaus names this the “anti-alienation apparatus.” Perhaps the 1900s version of a blind date?
2. The Incubator Building, a full, modern hospital where premature babies were placed on view in incubators and nursed back to health. To ease the potentially morbid nature of the exhibit, the building was made to look like a German farmhouse and was adorned with a stork looking out for some cherubs.
3. Fighting the Flames, a regular show during which a fake city block was lit on fire and viewers experienced firefighters rushing to the block, putting out the fire, and saving trapped guests from the top floors. There was even an explosion part way through the performance.
One quickly gets a sense of the spectacular qualities of Coney Island and while these examples are outlandish, the history of Coney Island demonstrates people’s growing need for escapist pleasure in the urban environment. Solutions to these needs were eventually met across the bridge in “The City,” Manhattan.