Observation, speculation, spectacle: visual culture(s) at the observation deck, 1968-2020

  • The project investigates how economic paradigm shifts that occur at the beginning of the 1970s (primarily the abandonment of the gold standard and the endlessly increasing pool of capital awaiting investment that succeeded it) led to the emergence of a unique building type: the high-altitude observation deck. Part investment vehicle, part iteration of an ongoing fascination with the view from above, the project presents the observation deck as the point where three distinct paradigms intersect: observation, speculation and spectacle. Tracing the emergence of the observation deck through a series of case studies (Top of the World atop the World Trade Center (NYC), One World Observatory (NYC), The Tulip (London) the project enriches its interdisciplinary approach with archival research and fieldwork. Re-telling the complicated collaboration between architect Warren Platner and graphic designer Milton Glaser at the end of the 1960s, the project lays out how the observation deck is conceived at a time when the perceived “crisis” of New York results in a rapidly accelerating neoliberalization of urban space. An avatar of this emerging ideology the observation deck is heavily invested in making the city visually comprehensible. Incorporating a sort of neoliberalist geometry, the deck transforms the city into a product to be consumed instead of a reality to live in and thus paves the way for other ventures of what has been called the “experience economy.” Thus, it signals the ongoing shift away from an architecture that possesses any use value, towards one that, as Barthes put it with regards to Eiffel Tower, is centered only on viewing and being viewed. A speculative machine, the observation deck renders the city into a product.

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Author:Philipp Röding
Referee:Florian Sprenger
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Date of Publication (online):2021/08/15
Date of first Publication:2021/08/15
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Granting Institution:Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität
Date of final exam:2021/03/04
Release Date:2021/09/22
Tag:Architecture; Financialization; Observation Deck; Spectacle; Speculation
Page Number:321
Institutes:Neuere Philologien
Dewey Decimal Classification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 30 Sozialwissenschaften, Soziologie / 300 Sozialwissenschaften
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht