julia foulkes

From Coney Island to Lincoln Center, From Strangeness to Fantasy

Cornell University Architecture Workshop (2010)

Architects know that the built environment can evoke fantasies. But what happens to those fantasies over time?

In the case of Coney Island, strangers at the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries sought belonging in an escape to the beach, outside of the dense overbearing industrial landscape of Manhattan. There they found white castles, whirring rides, log chutes, and steeplechases. The fantastical world of such amusements heightened fears of a city – acrophobia, claustrophobia – in an attempt to ameliorate them. Its decay throughout the 20th century may be an indication of the changes in our fears – and the fantasies we need to confront them. What phobia could restore the need for Coney Island now?

Lincoln Center developed in the mid-20th century city amidst another period of fear of the city, less about density and industrial glut and more about the familiarity of strangers. Urban renewal sought to “revive” certain areas of the city – and control interactions of diverse groups of people. Lincoln Center supplanted a neighborhood of Latino, African American, and white tenement residents with a modernist fantasy of high art. Lincoln Center is a place to be seen, a place to go – and leave. Is it a fantasy of the city for those who live in the suburbs? Its current reinvention speaks to our current need to embrace the vitality diversity creates, to make Lincoln Center a play to go and stay. Its success may be judged by its ability to create that belonging in ways that are evocative – edgy – but safe.

Lincoln Center’s fantasy has remained more vibrant than that of Coney Island’s. Is it because Lincoln Center is not so strange? Is it because its encounters with strangeness take intellectual rather than bodily form?

Coney Island Boardwalk, circa 2005. (Photo by Julia Foulkes)

Coney Island Boardwalk (photo by Julia Foulkes)