Landscapes of Global Capital
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In the world of First Union Bank the planet is marked by the tattoo of global capitalism -- the sign of the dollar. In this kind of world where continents are shaped like dollar signs, it seems perfectly appropriate to end the ad by looking up, up, up at the shrine of the brokerage bank.

Here we are offered a vision of where the new kingdom of God now resides - look at that heavenly glow, bathed in the radiant light of a bright orb. Might this be heaven's gate?

How might we describe these images of the First Union Tower? - as monoliths? as an impenetrable fortress? as a phallus? as a religious shrine? as a citadel? as an abstraction that means to us 'dominating and commanding'? or, as all of the above?

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It seems strange to speak of these closeup shots as comprising landscapes. Even though we can see no ground, these scenes compose scapes, symbolically charged representations of society. These skyscrapers sealed off against the external world, appear insulated from the kinds of activities we associate with urban environments. Here capital presides over the rest of society, but is sealed off from the rest of society. Think about all that is absent and unseen in these images - the decay of slums and urban poverty, violence, traffic congestion, strip malls. In some ways, however, these imaginary images seem to offer an apt symbolic metaphor for capital - it is impersonal and imposing.

The other obvious features of these buildings are the symbolical markings - the dollar signs and upward pointing arrows (here male power and the power of capital seem to once again merge). This focal symbolism runs counter to the capitalist city that we have come to know over the past half century, a city whose buildings have been slowly but surely denuded of "symbolic embellishments." The modernist city tended to minimize symbolism in its outward appearance. The streamlining of corporate architecture reflected primarily its economic functions (Gottdiener, 1997: 26-27). We can certainly see this in the way in which the bank is reduced to the signifier of the dollar sign, and yet the way in which the bank now wears its signifier like a cap elevates the code of capital into a symbolic language about society. What symbolic presence do they project?

Abstraction and Deterritorialization
Cultural Geography
The Architecture of Capital

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© Copyright 1998-2003
Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey