© 2013 Miro Roman

Delirious New York: a retroactive manifesto for Manhattan

Author: Rem Koolhaas
Publication date: 1978

Coney Island:
The Technology of the Fantastic

The glare is everywhere, and nowhere a shadow.
– Maxim Gorky, “Boredom”

“Now, where the waste was … rise to the sky a thousand glittering towers and minarets, graceful, stately and imposing. The morning sun looks down on these as it might upon the magically realized dream of a poet or painter.
“At night. the radiance of the millions of electric lights which glow at every point and line and curve of the great play city’s outlines lights up the sky and welcomes the home coming marmer thirty miles from the shore.”!
“With the advent of night a fantastic city of fire suddenly rises from the ocean into the sky.Thousands of ruddy sparks glimmer in the darkness, limning in fine, sensitive outline on the black background of the sky shapely towers of miraculous castles, palaces and temples.
“Golden gossamer threads tremble in the air. They intertwine in transparent flaming patterns, which flutter and melt away, in love with their own beauty mirrored in the waters.
~Fabulous beyond conceiving, ineffably beautiful, is this fiery scintillation.~
Coney Island around 1905: it is no coincidence that the countless “impressions of Coney Island” – products of a hopelessly obstinate desire to record and preserve a mirage – can all be substituted not only for each other but also for the flood of later descriptions of Manhattan. At the junction of the 19th and 20th centuries, Coney Island is the incubator for Manhattan’s incipient themes and infant mythology. The strategies and mechanisms that later shape Manhattan are tested in the laboratory of Coney Island before they finally leap toward the larger island.
Coney Island IS a fetal Manhattan.

Coney Island IS discovered one day before Manhattan – In 1609, by Hudson – a clitoral appendage at the mouth of New York’s natural harbor, a ~strip of ghstenlng sand, with the blue waves curhng over i ts outer edge and the marsh creeks lazily lying at its back, tufted m summer by green sedge grass, frosted in wmter by the pure white snow….~ The CanarSle Indians, the original inhabitants of the peninsula, have named it Namoch – “Place Without Shadows” – an early recognition that
It is to be a stage for certain unnatural phenomena.
In 1654 the Indian Guilaouch trades the peninsula, which he claims is his, for guns, gunpowder and beads in a scaled·down version of the “sale” of Manhattan. It then assumes a long sequence of names, none of which stick until it becomes famous for the unexplained density of konijnen (Dutch for “rabbits”).
Between 1600 and 1800 the actual physical shape of Coney Island changes under the combined impact of human use and shifting sands, turning it, as if by design. into a miniature Manhattan. In 1750 a canal cutting the peninsula loose from the mainland is “thelast touch in fashioning what is now Coney Island ….”

Similar adaptations follow at a constantly accelerating rate. The inordinate number of people assembling on the Inadequate acreage, ostensibly seeking confrontation with the reality of the elements (sun, wind, sand, water) demands the systematic conversion of nature into a technical service.
Since the total surface area of the beach and the total length of surf line are finite, It follows with mathematical certainty that the hundreds of thousands of VIsitors Will not each find a place to spread out on the sand, let alone reach the water, within a single day.
Toward 1890, the introduction of electricity makes it possible to create a second daytime. Bright lights are placed at regular Intervals along the surf line, so that now the sea can be enjoyed on a truly metropolitan shift-system, giVing those unable to reach the water in the daytime a
man-made, 12-hour extension.
What is unique in Coney Island-and thiS syndrome of the Irresistible Synthetic prefigures later events in Manhattan – is that this false daytime is not regarded as second·rate.
Its very artificiality becomes an attraction: “Electric Bathing.”

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