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Big projects are "more"

04 of May '21

source: grand designs - A&B 05/2021

"Fitter, happier, more productive" is heard in the first words of a 1997 song by the band Radiohead, and "Harder, better, faster, stronger" is, in turn, the title of a 2001 song by the duo Daft Punk. Well, yes: in both cases they are critical, probably left-wing Europeans and, in addition, independent, what a hypocrisy, artists.

America and China, fortunately, do not doubt the power of capitalist incantations (even if China is ruled by the supposedly Communist Party), because the word "more" matters most. Only big matters, and to be big, one must plan for growth and constantly fight for it, because there are many who want to be bigger than us. The Blueprint for Greatness is a Real Commitment: you constantly have to do everything more and more, especially work and consume, because after all, that's what we're toiling like oxen for, whether we're CEOs or pizza deliverers. "The basis of greatness is setting more goals and strategically reaching them," almost any business coach will tell you (interestingly, the word "coach" means not only a coach, but also a fast horse-drawn carriage!). Thus, modern empires are being followed by others, even those whose size is only calculated in terms of a meaninglessly large territory and the wealth of a few oligarchs. In the race run both former colonial empires with sizable "portfolios" of assets and global influence, and full-time losers who, for reasons of historical complications and their own backwardness, failed to catch on in the subsequent industrial revolutions. Where there are great complexes, megalomania also flourishes. The Istanbul Canal? Go ahead! A cross-Vistula Spit and a Central Transportation Port? Let's cut down half the forests, like the brave Bolsonaro? Voilà!

It's no different for transnational corporations and ordinary companies: you either grow or you die. You can't be a mom and pop business, as the unappreciative Americans scornfully put it, residents of a country where a major architectural firm must have more than a hundred employees. These, in turn, as it were, must design the largest possible volumes, which, after all, must be built as efficiently as possible, preferably using tried-and-true methods, especially reinforced concrete structures, acres (to use the local measure) of glass and miles of aluminum, and somehow plumbed with electricity, water, plumbing, HVACs and other acres. And these grand projects (office buildings, condos, suburbs and shopping malls) will then be accessed via ever-widening highways by ever-larger proofs of happiness in the form of ever-more sizable SUVs andpickups carrying a rapturously self-satisfied driver who knows full well that he must trade in the 8-cylinder monster for a larger model just after the lease expires, because if he doesn't, both his neighbors and his own wife (who, as proof of fulfillment, has bigger lips and breasts every year) will recognize that he's not a model of success and is becoming a man of ever smaller stature.

Am tellin'ya! America provides a good model: anyone with a head on his shoulders, having returned from his studies or apprenticeship in Superman's country to his native Delhi, Beijing, Lagos, Mexico City or Pcim (although the greatest of Pcimians did not study at any American university), will want "the same", i.e. as described above.

I would not want the readers to get the impression that I am condemning the Great Ambitions of Humanity in damning terms! Large-scale thinking, sometimes larger-than-life (to use a term from across the Big Water again), was, is and will be necessary when dealing with actual and acute problems of superhuman magnitude. Build thousands of bearable quality housing units for people without a roof over their heads in post-war Europe. Plant a green barrier of millions of trees (and water and fertilize them) separating agricultural areas from the Gobi and Sahara deserts. Bring water and sanitation to every Indian village. Minimize greenhouse gas emissions. This I understand and applaud! But when we begin to marvel at the tallest skyscrapers being built in cities in the desert, assemblages of artificial islands arranged in the pattern of palm leaves (a fantasy of the same petrochemists, from elsewhere), or the oh-so-ambitious project of a global network of giant 3D printers that will print our homes, effectively putting millions of builders out of work, I then raise an eyebrow high, asking: "Are we sure this is pushing us forward?". Perhaps in terms of economic growth yes, but will faith in the paradigm of continuous growth save us from ultimate disaster? I don't think so.

For the record: the last thirty years of the era of unprecedented growth of global businesses of all sorts has led to the so-called sixth mass extinction, which means the disappearance of some 27,000 species of flora and fauna ANNUALLY! The following sectors in particular have helped in this work: textiles (bubbling colorful rivers in India), fashion ("buy a new T-shirt every week and the previous one will just disappear!"), construction (yes, that's us, dear architects!), agriculture (how to turn a living neighborhood into a desert), chemistry ("to whom any kind of cancer?"), transportation ("drive a car, legs are for suckers"), food production ("get three burgers instead of one"). On top of that, global biomass has halved in a few decades, climate change from greenhouse gas emissions is progressing, and islands of garbage the size of France are floating in the oceans. We seemingly all know this, but we still get fooled by marketing about T-shirts, cars and hamburgers, and not just those of us who think Donald Trump is a genius and the world is ruled from hiding by the Sages of Zion and the Reptilians. Do you want to talk more aboutGreat Projects? I have a suggestion!...

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