Westworld Has Become West Side World

Like so many dreamers before them, WestworldThe synthetic flesh and circuit creations of have finally arrived in Manhattan. Perhaps it was inevitable that even the AI-powered soul-mining androids who erupted from their fantastical desert resort in the first season would be drawn to this incredibly irrational town – to fix it. , possess it, remake it in their image . The chief algorithmic creature, Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), becomes a New York-based goddess in season four because she moves here — to New Jersey, actually; more on that later – puts an entire population within earshot of a single super-tall transmission tower that deafens everyone into total obedience. If you can make people do anything there, you can make people do anything everywhere. There are 8 million stories in the Westworld town, and I gave up following any of them. I lost track of who is human and who is synthetic, or who was one before moving on to the other. I can’t remember who is legitimately alive, how many times they died, who (or what) they killed, or why. However, I gradually integrated the main philosophical principle of the series: this world of ours is not real. Or some of it is, and some of it isn’t, but you can never tell which.

New York is where human-built and AI-designed worlds come together. Production designer Jon Carlos’ challenge was to adapt an actual city to a world in which 3D-printed overlords pursue their own limited agendas. “Hale has a stunted version of human growth,” he told me. “Under her control, the city is frozen in a moment. She doesn’t need to keep advancing their [human] Culture.” That’s convenient conceit; it means Carlos and his team didn’t have to create a future city from scratch. The city-state of Hale lags so far behind future times that the line of d horizon is bristling with very tall towers from the beginning of the 21st century imported from half a dozen other great capitals (I thought I had glimpsed the Shanghai World Financial Center transplanted to downtown). There is no need to imagine what AI-powered architects would come up with. We already know: furry, flaky structures draped in greenery and wispy weavesdesigns that look too warm and whimsical – too human – for Westworlddark vision. And so Carlos did what sci-fi creators have always done: confusing the fantastic with the existing. This is how the most elegant new architecture of the year 2182 turns out to be… Hudson Yards. Its muted cloud color palette and clean asymmetries, its mix of angular and bulbous, obviously resonate with the contrived urban planners of centuries past. There can be no better metaphor for a world of soulless parahumans unable to distinguish between life and performance.

How is it to live in this projected version of the present? Appalling. It’s a city populated by slender 35-year-old men in structured outfits of gray, silver, pewter and charcoal. They have less and less to worry about than us. Muggers, rapists and lawless bikers have been removed. The streets are miraculously free of sidewalk vendors, scaffolding, traffic, public transportation, the elderly, children and the homeless. On the other hand, the brain of every deceived individual is the plaything of a robot.

WestworldNew York, like ours, is a megalomaniac magnet. Hale’s non-human superpowers grant her a malevolent divinity which she unleashes upon the elegant innocents of Crosby Street in Soho. A wink from her, and passers-by all freeze in place. Another, and they start waltzing to the tune she commands from a blood-fingered busker. One word, and three women with the grace of ballet dancers fall back on a human throne for her.

At the end of the 21st century Westworld, New Yorkers still frequent the High Line…

…and an imaginary West Village.

While the mind control transmission tower does not exist in our New York. (Still.)

Photographs: HBO

This notion – a city full of eccentric individuals turns into a hive of drones – is an eternal nightmare. The extras’ costumes are unisex updates to the gray flannel suit worn by the organization man, a phrase coined by sociologist-urban planner William Holly Whyte in 1956.”Man exists as a unit of society. Of itself, it is isolated, meaningless; it is only by collaborating with others that it becomes valid, because by sublimating itself in the group, it contributes to producing a whole greater than the sum of its parts,Whyte wrote, summarizing the culture of compliance. Hale could almost have delivered that speech herself. In the 1970s, and in his 1980 book-movie combo, The social life of small urban spacesWhyte analyzed almost mechanically how city dwellers behave in public and found that most of us, believing we make individual decisions about where to sit, how long to linger, or where to carry on a conversation on the sidewalk, actually behave with the predictability of ants. If the Crosby Street dance scene seems both surreal and deeply plausible, that’s because it takes the reality Whyte observed for a slightly surreal twist.

And yet, even in a regimented future, there will always be at least one or two New Yorkers with the stubbornness or misfortune to perceive the workings of the system in ways that the rest of us cannot. A Ratso Rizzo. A Travis Bickle. Westworld has a High Line mumbler who sees an invisible tower but never transforms into a character. And then there’s Dolores, the unkillable host who changes shape and evolves from sweet little thing to mass harvester. Now she’s gotten a new identity as Christina (Evan Rachel Wood), a full-time writer at a game design company, complete with professional outfits, a Lucite cubicle, a smiling boss, and a perks package that includes four sick days per year. . It’s like Bonnie and Clyde took office jobs at Dunder Mifflin. Except his office is on a high floor of the KPF-designed tower at 55 Hudson Yards, menacingly adorned in bronze steel. In this future New York, the subway still doesn’t have elevators and even full-time writers can’t work from home. (In the 200 years between our time and hers, the city appears to have developed under the same pre-pandemic market projections for columnless office buildings that are currently used to justify zoning the area around Penn Station.)

Christina’s world is constrained. Every day, she wakes up in her tiny apartment bedroom and presses a button to put away the Murphy bed (which, since it’s the future, flips up with a metallic swoosh). She lives in a low-rise apartment building in what could be Tribeca or the West Village (but actually only exists on the Warner Bros. back lot), the kind of walkable paradise real-life activists constantly dream of. . Instead of traffic, parking, and trash, there are flood-absorbing strips of grass, motion-activated streetlights every twelve feet, cafe tables, street trees, swales, and greenery in planters covered with wood that also serve as benches. This is how humans want to live, the set suggests, so maybe Christina came to their side. And now she’s the chosen one: the otherwise ordinary one who pierces the canvas to see where the power really lies.

Its route is short but, if you pay attention, convoluted. She walks up the stairs to the High Line at 30th streetbrisk walk to downtown the irresistibly sci-fi swoopy 528 West 28th Street, designed by Zaha Hadid. She apparently reverses direction between cuts, as we then see her heading downtown from West 13th Street with Jeanne Gang’s 40 Tenth Avenue glittering on his shoulder, its concave facade with dark glass facets like a curtain encrusted with black diamonds. In this context, these real buildings seem fictional – just like the birds lying concussed on the sidewalk in front of his office building, a well-documented problem.

What Christina finally wakes up to is the presence of an unseen host city in the harbor, an archipelago of floating white cubes accessible via a long causeway. In real life, the recently renovated Pier 34 begins at the west end of Canal Street and pulls towards the Holland Tunnel ventilation building and the Jersey City skyline beyond. In the show, it leads to the animators HQ, digitally airlifted from Cabo San Lucas: the Viceroy’s Resort, designed by Mexican architect Miguel Angel Aragonés in 2016. Although it was built as a pleasure zone for pampered humans, the stack of white boxes floating on the water makes a compelling substitute for an icy urban habitat . Carlos even has an explanation for the vault of braided branches which (in Cabo and Host City) rests on one of its austere plazas: the organic, bivouac-like structure reminds the hosts that their world is also woven into which their bodies are woven of synthetic muscle and tendon, their wishes communicated through a network of audio cables. (Their storylines are also tangled beyond the rescue, but that could be an unintended use of the same metaphor.) The “nest,” as Carlos calls it, is the robots’ Rosebud, the key to their primary memories. Above rises the Kane-style seat of power: the sky-splitter so huge and fearsome, so unimaginably advanced that it looks almost exactly… Montjuïc TV Tower in Barcelona designed 30 years ago by Santiago Calatrava. Which begs the question: if in 2182 New York is stitched together by whatever type of cable comes after that comes after fiber optics, why are they still using an overgrown broadcast antenna?

In episode seven, a new urban character makes its appearance: Times Square. Hosts, being self-sufficient and seemingly without acquisition desires, have no use for advertising or entertainment. They defeated capitalism, which makes me wonder why New York still exists and who erected all those towers. And so, instead of a forest of garish comedy, the billboards of Times Square became a forest of trees. Greenery sways over every jumbotron and curtain wall, to a soundtrack of digital chirps. (The effect is eerily reminiscent of today’s Rainforest Café.) The facsimile of wilderness isn’t soothing, however; rather, it reinforces the atmosphere of mind-numbing tranquility. Nature is the opium of the masses.

Want more stories like this? Subscribe now to support our journalism and gain unlimited access to our coverage. If you prefer to read in print, you can also find this article in the August 15, 2022 issue of New York Magazine.

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