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Why Every City Feels the Same Now

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Why Every City Feels the Same Now

Glass-and-steel monoliths replaced local architecture. It’s not too late to go back.

The Atlantic,

5 min read
4 take-aways
Audio & text

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The world is in dire need of an antidote to placelessness.

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If you travel for business, you may have noticed that, other than the local language on signs, one modern city often looks like the next…and the next, and the next. While the uniformity of today’s urban centers might feel comforting on some level, Irish writer Darran Anderson suggests that a return to locally-relevant architecture and buiding methods could lead to something more compelling: greater environmental harmony and community-building.


Anthropologist Marc Augé coined the term “non-place” to describe the monotonous uniformity of modern international cities.

Cities across the world are beginning to look more alike than different. The erasure of urban spaces’ unique heritage make them into what anthropologist Marc Augé calls a “non-place.” Like an airport or a shopping mall, non-places obscure the “deep, layered and idiosyncratic” elements of a place, dissolving the “history, identity and human relation” that make the place unique. 

In non-places, international brands like McDonald’s, Starbucks and Subway predominate. The architecture, decor and furniture, likewise, lacks any connection to the place’s roots, “stories” or environment. This one-size-fits-all approach breeds a sense of detachment in the humans occupying non-place spaces. 

“Hegemonic architecture” emerges when an occupying power subverts local designs.

Military conflict, occupations and insurgent uprisings are, perhaps, the most obvious risks to local architecture. Palmyra was destroyed by the Islamic State, and Northern Ireland, Bahrain...

About the Author

Darran Anderson is an Irish writer who covers culture, urbanism, politics and technology. His books include Imaginary Cities, A Hubristic Flea, 33 1/3 study of Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson, and Tesla’s Ghost.

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