Top: William Eggleston, Untitled, 1965-68 and 1972-74, from Los Alamos, 2003
Bottom: Jongwon NA, Catskill Motel, Liberty, NY 12754
20 January 2015
Architectural Association, London
As the winner of the 2014 Global Architecture Graduate Awards (GAGA) at The Architecture Review, year-out student Jongwon NA writes about his award-winning project from the 2013-14 academic year in Intermediate Unit 1.
From the 1920s to the 1970s Grossinger’s Catskills Resort and Hotel was one of the most popular resorts in the Borscht Belt, as the strip of Jewish holiday resorts in upstate New York was called. Following the advent of cheap commercial airlines, vacations further afield led to the rapid decline of the Borscht Belt. Grossinger’s Resort finally closed in 1986 and soon fell into ruin. These decaying buildings sit above the Township of Liberty, New York, serving as a poignant reminder to the townspeople of the resort that once supported their town.
The people of Liberty chose to ignore the resort, pretending not to see – or be interested – in this rotting hulk. In support of this ‘willful ignorance’, my project relocates the entire township of Liberty into the abandoned buildings of Grossinger’s Resort. Inspired by the example of the French writer Guy de Maupassant, who dined inside the Eiffel Tower each day in order not to see the building, my project speculates on the architectural consequences of inhabiting the image. By inhabiting the image of Grossinger’s, the inhabitants of New Liberty are no longer haunted by the images of decline that the resort signifies. Instead, they are left to indulge in their fantasies.
‘There is a sort of miracle in the insipidity of artificial paradises, so long as they achieve the greatness of an entire (un)culture.’
–America(1989), Jean Baudrillard
The program of New Liberty is a scaled-down version of the original town of Liberty: housing, schools, farms, a diner, a bank, a casino, a baseball diamond, all the necessities for happiness. By dealing with the entire town, rather than a simple collection of architectures, the design for New Liberty envisages the reinvented town as a kind of paradise. Maybe a ‘bland and artificial paradise’, as the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard famously observed of the United States, ‘but a paradise nonetheless’. Exploring the rich history of the Catskills, the ruins of Grossinger’s Resort and the architectural possibilities of such paradises, my project provides New Liberty as a ‘utopia achieved’.
In addition to the great honour of winning the GAGA award, I enjoyed the time I spent working on this project immensely as it eventually provided a dim but somehow significant background of the study I want to continue to explore. I thank my heroes Mark Campbell and Stewart Dodd for their tough love.
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