Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Concrete Jungle

I don't know who first coined the phrase 'concrete jungle' but the phrase has been in my mind after re-reading Jonathan Potter's Death and Furniture. Abandon the idea that buildings are constructed using bricks and mortar and, of course, concrete; buildings are constructed with words.
Driving in Fife today we passed an billboard advert for '3-4 bedroom family homes'.  The implication in that advert is that 'the family' is something that requires more than one bedroom, that families are fertile hetrosexuals, and in consequence, families are constituted by children.  Now that would be a sign '3-4 bedroom houses to suit fertile and actively reproductive hetrosexuals'! No? Has anyone ever seen a one bedroom apartment advertised as a 'family apartment'?

To 'describe' a building is to constitute it, to place it in relation of difference to all others.  To say it is a 'domestic property' is to say it isn't a 'commercial property', to say it is Gothic is to say it isn't Modern or neo-classical, and to say it's a 'concrete jungle' is to say it isn't beautiful, loveable, habitable, rural, natural, village-like, and not traditional.

The OED defines 'concrete jungle as;

A wild, tangled mass. Also, a place of bewildering complexity or confusion; a place where the ‘law of the jungle’ prevails; a scene of ruthless competition, struggle, or exploitation; ..("jungle, n.". OED Online. March 2011. Oxford University Press. 23 March 2011 <>.)

Why 'jungle'?  Why not some other 'natural' term that conveyed a 'wild, tangled mass', like 'wood' or 'forest' or scrub'' or use a pejorative to emphasize its ugliness or unnaturalness 'nightmare' or 'wilderness' or 'splodge' or 'frenzy' or ... well, anything.   The idea that the inner city had become a place where 'the law of the jungle prevailed' conjures up images of "Heart of Darkness', and there's the rub.  'Concrete jungles' doesn't 'describe' the city centre, it evaluates it. But what is at the heart of this evaluation?  Concrete jungles in the UK didn't exist until after WWII and can, therefore, be associated with that social period. 'Concrete jungles' didn't exist until the period of Commonwealth immigration.  'Concrete jungles' didn't exist before scary "black" people came to live in the inner cities, and that's what the 'jungle' refers to.

'Concrete jungle' is a racist term designed to construct a reality of a pre-Modern white Britain.  A mythic island of white harmony, natural order, and vernacular architecture.