Imagine driving across the United States, from San José to New York City, without speaking to anyone. Sounds difficult, right? Credit card swipe machines, internet check-ins, and automated food ordering allowed Andrew Wood to accomplish this feat with only uttering four words, all in the first day of his cross country drive. The journey, among the stories in his seventh book, City Ubiquitous: Place, Communication, and the Rise of Omnitopia, portrays our social landscape as generic and provides the foundation for his thesis: our world “has become condensed into an enclosure of the same place.”
Difference is dying, perhaps already dead. While Wood does not state this, it is heavily implied and argued that difference is now eclipsed by standardization; by the banal spaces characteristically found in places like airports, hotels, and shopping malls. He refers to these generic architectural typologies as interiorized enclaves and believes “that we should study the rise of an enclavic sensibility that attempts to control, encapsulate, and finally eliminate the possibility of an ‘outside world.’”
Wood argues enclaves, such as the Galleria or Downtown Tunnel System, create a ubiquitous environment that deprives its occupants of the feeling of being tied to a specific location. When inside ”the enclavic mall,” it is difficult to know which city one is in, since, he contends, malls [as well as numerous other building types] lack a sense of specific identity and are placeless places–a city ubiquitous.
While Wood is an academic using an analytical approach, he also spends a great deal of time re-counting his experiences traveling through airports in Tokyo, malls in Alberta, casinos in Las Vegas, and hotels in Atlanta. These stories, ranging from quiet walks through the world’s largest mall at 4:30 a.m. to being herded like cattle through the Tokyo Narita airport, provide a glimpse of the world through his eyes. He couples these stories with intellectual examination, such as his assessment of the Las Vegas casinos as “the post-tourist flâneur [that] employs the well-practiced gaze of the mall shopper and the amusement park patron.” The oscillation between analytical discourse and narrative provides a good balance to the text. The book reads like something between a textbook and a novel.
I strongly recommend City Ubiquitous: Place, Communication, and the Rise of Omnitopia to anyone who lives amidst the enclaves about which Wood writes so passionately. He argues that spaces similar to Houston’s Galleria “offer a uniquely modern enclave of endless interiors and forgotten boundaries” and that non-places, such as the Hyatt Hotel, have perfected “the art of building tiny worlds to serve as surrogates for the real one.” The book offers the reader a fresh perspective on generic spaces Houstonian’s interface with daily. By providing a greater self-awareness of the social and architectural impact of the ubiquitous enclave, the reader will never experience places like the Downtown Tunnel System in the same way again.
City Ubiquitous: Place, Communication, and the Rise of Omnitopia
By Andrew Wood, Professor of Communication Studies at San Jose State University
Non-fiction, 215 pages
Benson Bright Gillespie is a graduate student at Rice University’s Graduate School of Architecture