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A particular fascination

Author: • Nov 2nd, 2007 •

Category: architecture, Ballardosphere

John informs me of this slideshow over at the Guardian, to promote Simon Henley’s new book, The Architecture of Parking (Thames & Hudson, ¬£24.95). According to the Guardian, the book ‘casts an objective eye over car parks, one of the most important but most neglected building types of the modern era, and finds a strange and haunting beauty.’

Of course, car parks also feature prominently in Ballard’s work, mysterious signifier of the ‘oblique personalities’, mental confusion, sexual exhaustion, and stylised posture that accompanies your average urban fringe dweller …


Take a structure like a multi-storey car park, one of the most mysterious buildings ever built. Is it a model for some strange psychological state, some kind of vision glimpsed within its bizarre geometry? What effect does using these buildings have on us? Are the real myths of this century being written in terms of these huge unnoticed structures?

J.G. Ballard. ‘Crash!’ (short film; 1971).

Ballardian: Car Parks


    ABOVE: The Tricorn Centre, Portsmouth, designed by The Owen Luder Partnership. Photograph: Sue Barr/Thames & Hudson. Via the Guardian.


Usually accompanied by Leonora Carrington, he visited the Mullard radio-observatory near Cambridge and the huge complex of early warning radar installations on the Suffolk coast. For some reason, empty swimming pools and multi-storey car parks exerted a particular fascination. All these he seems to have approached as the constituents of a mental breakdown which he might choose to recruit at a later date.

J.G. Ballard. ‘Notes Towards A Mental Breakdown’ (1967).

Ballardian: Car Parks


    ABOVE: Debenhams, Welbeck Street, London, designed by Michael Blampied. Photograph: Sue Barr/Thames & Hudson. Via the Guardian.


From the window of his office, Dr Nathan watched Talbert standing on the roof of the multi-storey car park. The deserted deck was a favourite perch. The inclined floors seemed a model of Talbert’s oblique personality, forever meeting the events of time and space at an invisible angle.

J.G. Ballard. ‘The Great American Nude’ (1968).

Ballardian: Car Parks


    ABOVE: Marine Parade, Worthing. Photograph: Sue Barr/Thames & Hudson. Via the Guardian.


He remembered these pleasures: the conjunction of her exposed pubis with the polished contours of the bidet; the white cube of the bathroom quantifying her left breast as she bent over the handbasin; the mysterious eroticism of the multi-storey car park, a Krafft-Ebing of geometry and posture; her flattened thighs on the tiles of the swimming pool below; her right hand touching the finger-smeared panel of the elevator control.

J.G. Ballard. ‘The Summer Cannibals’ (1969).

Ballardian: Car Parks


    ABOVE: Takasaki Parking Building. Photograph courtesy of Kengo Kuma & Associates. Photograph: Thames & Hudson. Via the Guardian.


Too many car parks — always a sign of a troubled mind.

J.G. Ballard. Super-Cannes (2000).

Ballardian: Car Parks


    ABOVE: Parc des Celestins, Lyon, designed by Michael Targe, Jean-Michel Wilmotte, Daniel Buren. Photograph courtesy of Lyon Parc Auto. Via the Guardian.


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10 Responses »

  1. The bastards tore down the Tricorn Centre – just look at her, the great hulking beauty…

  2. Oh, that’s a shame. They also destroyed the car park used in Get Carter.

  3. The Gateshead carpark in ‘Get Carter’ was still there when I was up two months ago. Demolition is very much on the cards, though.

    The Tricorn was fantastic – one of my favourite bits of Portsmouth when I lived there. There was a good comic shop deep in its bowels as well.

  4. Oh good! There’s a chance we can still save the Gateshead. Start a petition, Tim.

  5. The Twentieth Century Society has been on the case in Gateshead for years now –

    But demolition’s due to start in the spring, according to Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_Centre_Multi-Storey_Car_Park

  6. Ominously, the wiki article suggests that ‘With the development of the MetroCentre, commercial interest in Gateshead town centre continued to decline in the 1980s’…

    Ballard fans will surely understand the significance of ‘the MetroCentre’ muscling in on the action.

  7. In Freudian terms, the car-park serves as the manifest content of the latent content of deep-structural changes within the human psyche. The car-park not only bespeaks of a post-human evolution in the psyche, but it also bespeaks of our modern alienation: the monadic cells of the individual car-stalls preventing authentic relations to Others. Confined with the techno-erotics of concrete and steel, sex leads not to regeneration but to death: mutilation and dismemberment.
    Or, conversely, perhaps the car-park leads to a higher level of social organization that we are in the midst of evolving towards. Intimations of fascism that we find it Ballard’s later works

  8. Eric, very interesting. I see Ballard’s interest as part joke and part ‘technoerotic’ posthumanism, along the lines of what you’re describing. Can you explain a bit more about what you mean by ‘intimations of fascism’?

  9. Simon: It seems that, for Ballard, our steel, concrete, and technological landscapes of post-industrial society have caused a fundamental alienation within the psyche. Not only do these external spaces become projections of the internal mutations in our collective psyche, but they also serve as causative forces that have precitipated the “death of affect.” To overcome this death of affect, Ballard has proposed two ways: either going through the looking glass in an orgasmic collision between flesh and steel as depicted in Crash. Or, as of late, Ballard has proposed fascist violence as an antidote to our posthuman malaise (e.g.,our loss of emotion) where only the most extreme forms of psychopathology can rouse within us affect. Hence the appearence of fascist violence in Ballard that becomes thematized in Super-Cannes. Even more recently, in Kingdom Come, Ballard treats Fascism as an evolutionary outgrowth of and form of resistance against consumer capitalism, a violence that restores a sense of meaning to an otherwise banal and affectless life organized around our addiction to consumption. Ultimately, then, the carpark becomes one more signifier (in a long line of symbols) that serves as a harbinger of our devolution towards a neo-barbarism that finds its most violent and apocalyptic expression in neo-fascism–fascism as both a dangerous symptom of our psychopathologies as well as a panacea for our alienation.

  10. Eric, again, interesting. You’re welcome to expand upon these thoughts in a guest post if you like… you’ve already made a good start! I’m not entirely convinced that the car park in Ballard’s work functions exactly as you say it does, but I’d be keen to hear more.

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