The Wire and Baltimore’s Architecture

“The Wire is the opposite of escapism. It gives you the measure of an entire city, a real city – one that can trace many of its problems back to its architecture, or rather the failure of its architecture.” That quote comes from The Guardian’s architecture-centric review of HBO’s The Wire, a series often hailed as “the best television show ever in the history of television shows.” A series that, despite my well-documented love of the medium, I’ve never seen. But as The Wire seems to be gaining popularity-or at least notoriety- in its final season, I may have to finally give in and rent the dvds. So who out there has seen it? Is the above pessimistic account of the city’s architectural environment accurate? Is the show as much about the failure of architecture as the failure of government?
&#183 Great town for a shootout [Guardian]
&#183 The Spirit of a Mythic Metropolis [Life Without Buildings]

5 replies on “<em>The Wire</em> and Baltimore’s Architecture”

I guess you could say that. Other than that the different seasons deal with the failings of stuff like the school system, trade unions and newspaper journalism, all in very complex and sensitive ways. It really is the best show on TV.

Another show that links architecture and crime very well is classic british TV crime series Prime Suspect, the last epiosde of which at least is set in a series of glorious, but slummed-out Brutalist housing estates.

The Wire is about architecture if you use architecture to mean “anything that happens in the city,” which seems be be what Steve Rose at the Guardian thinks. The show is about city: its people, institutions, crime, buildings, economy, and character. Perhaps the writer is a bit taken by the fact that there is architecture in the show: everyday, boring buildings, but buildings nonetheless, rather than sets, which is what most of TV gives us.

Anyway, the Wire is well worth watching. Now that it’s all over, you can view it all in a satisfying month-long binge, then go back and watch it again slowly.

It is more instructive to think of the show as ‘speaking through buildings’ than being ‘about architecture’. (If you want to look at American urban history it is more instructive to think of ‘buildings and food’ as the Talking heads sung about, than architecture, planning, or the failures of urbanism and utopianism.) Following on the trail left by ‘Homicide – Life on the Street” the Wire documented the descent of perfectly fine neighborhoods into burned out landscapes of shooting galleries (in which there was usually a few protagonists struggling to either escape or transcend the despair). Sometimes it was more subtle than Bubbles’ redemption in the last season.

The struggle between moving up and getting caught in the tide pulling you down was one of the Wire’s great themes. For me, the year focussed on the schools showed this best, but that’s certainly debatable. I drove through the worst of this a few years ago while going to the “Great Blacks in Wax” museum, which in many ways represented the forces of pride and resistance.

I suppose I need to read the original Guardian comment now, but it certainly wasn’t architecture that failed in Baltimore.

We are up to series three down here, and I would say that by series two, it becomes apparent that the show is about the strategic inner workings of a city as much as it is a cops and robber story.

Yes – various urban environments play critical roles in the unfolding of each case, but it is the political manoeuvrings of each of the characters that successfully renders a complete, working city.

Comments are closed.