Do you ever walk in a city and you’re just filled with inexplicable sadness. It is not sadness per se, rather a feeling of boredom, loneliness and detachment. These moments aren’t out of the ordinary. We feel them when we walk in endless circles in the mall, or when we stand waiting in the train station. Its the feeling of emptiness one experiences while walking under an umbrella along the winding roads lit up by yellow city lights. We feel it when we aimlessly drive on the highway at 5 am. The strange feeling of longing. Urban sadness.
So why does this happen?
A study conducted about urbanism explains everything. Due to capitalism and the modern societal structure, cities are designed in a way to provide a specific purpose. At the same time, places do not have a unique identity any longer.
Think about it, how are the malls in America any different than the malls in India or Australia? The malls are identical and detached from reality. Same for the cities. Cities hold lines of houses in haphazard clusters with winding streets running in between. These buildings don’t interact cohesively with their environment around them either. The structure of these cities would look indistinguishable whether they were built on the river bank or a hill. They aren’t places that are meant to be lived in, they’re simply places that need to be passed. Notice how rarely commercial centres and main cities have actual benches and seats for people?
Because of this lack of identity in buildings, people are unable to forge emotional relationships with these urban landscapes. I reminisce about my grandparent’s house. Each crack and stain on the blue walls brings comfort to me. I can recollect with perfect clarity the patterns of the tiles at my elementary school, and I remember this with nostalgia. But these urban cities will never give that happiness to anyone.
These places act simply as capitalistic enterprises, shelling out products for their customers. They are generic ‘products’ churned out of factories.
Today we look at old palaces and cities and revere them as architectural masterpieces. We study the art, the colours, the materials used and use it to understand the nuances of cultural understanding thousands of years ago. We know that domes were used for Islamic buildings because of its symbolic representation of heaven and we know that Indian architecture is largely influenced by beliefs of energy systems. The same way we can instantly recognize Japanese architecture due to its distinctive colours and style, which couples geographical information with cultural elements.
In comparison, compare the architecture of today, how much of it is memorable?
This is because the purpose of architecture has shifted. Buildings are no longer build as community hubs, artistic displays, function providers as well as creations of grandeur. They are simple blocks of concrete built to maximise profits. There is no art, no community and no emotional attachment. This is the beginning of a process that witnesses profit-loss mindsets take away the beauty from simple things.
And until anything changes, we will continue to walk on wet gravel paths illuminated by the hues of streetlights under the mass of commercial advertisements and banners and dwell on the inexplicable feeling of losing something you never had.