Violent Buildings

 

The issue of violence in Jamaican architecture plays a specific and tightly circumscribed role. There are three basic factors to be considered. The first is the violence which lies at the very core of the foundation of Jamaica. That violence is the consequence of the mechanisms of colonialism and slavery and the geometric configuration which such mechanisms force on the landscape.

 

The Second factor describes how the more recent cult of violence, carrying the weight of Jamaicaís past, affects the modulation and configuration of space and division in the buildings of modern Kingston. The third describes how the resulting architecture reciprocates and in turn does violence to society.

 

In this way I have identified a largely self-referential and downward spiral of urban deterioration from which it is impossible to break free without the fatigue of the icons and fears which keeps a city responding to its own problems in a certain way. In this process actual violence plays merely an iconic role, it is a principle of authority which most people receive only through harrowing images of the media. The cause of violence in Jamaica is manifold. It has been well researched in documents such as the World Bank report on Urban Violence and Poverty in Jamaica, a document I have relied on extensively. (3) One cause they identify is the necessarily narrow focus on survival as a consequence of economic conditions in the country. That is important. Another cause, not unrelated to the former, is historical and metaphysical. It is the result of a way of seeing that has grown over time. I am referring to the consequences of racial and social segregation which makes people from different backgrounds appear as different biological species. Racism and classism are the direct result of the habit of objectification; of man into a thing, of an individual into a generality. Such objectification creates a desultory and rebellious machine. I propose that the violence is partly the result of the simplification of a rigid existential taxonomy in racially complex societies. Man in these societies has become a victim of his own metaphysics, of his need to impose hardened categories of being on to his surroundings. He has stratified himself into a situation whereby he can all too easily be categorised as a racial, socio-economic symbol, allowing himself to be generalised upon and judged without reference to his humanity. Social stratas and racial identities appear too hardened in such an environment, too self-evident, too impenetrable and yet they are merely the result of cultural and aesthetic habit.

††††††††††† The project of modern society has been to undermine the justification of these stratas. The habit of racism is receding intellectually: as a result the categories have become increasingly unstable and arbitrary. Ironically this itself is a cause of crisis. Crisis is a word which describes a precarious moment of ambivalence and instability. The city of Kingston is in such a state of crisis; it may mobilise its forces to rebuild a city in love with itself. Alternatively it may consume itself completely in a degenerate act of delirious self-destruction.