The Dark Knight Rises and Gotham’s Buildings Fall

The Dark Knight Rises Poster

To celebrate this week’s release of The Dark Knight Rises, I thought I’d take the opportunity to repost an excerpt from one of the most popular articles ever published on Life Without Buildings, the story of Batman, Gotham City, and an overzealous architecture historian with a working knowledge of explosives (also discussed: Hugh Ferriss, Tim Burton, and Woody Allen). A related post that may be of interest is my recent view of Chip Kidd’s first graphic novel Batman: Death By Design, in which The Dark Knight lobbies for the demolition of Penn Station.

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[Looking west from across the Gotham River, by Anton Furst]

New York, Dubai, Tokyo, Moscow, Gotham. Every city in every atlas—real and fictional— has a unique character shaped by history and geography. More than a mere sense of place derived from architecture and planning, cities have a feeling that pervades the consciousness of those who live there until they they themselves become a a piece of the urban fabric, a fractional embodiment of the city itself. Perhaps more than any other person—real or fictional—Batman is integrally linked to his city, the city he has sworn to protect. In every sense of the word, he is a true avatar of Gotham. And Gotham City itself is an avatar, not only of the dreams of its fictional architects, but of our collective urban paranoia.

One of my favorite plots in the history of Batman comics was a storyline titled “Destroyer” published in 1992. Written by Alan Grant, the premise is sure to please any disgruntled architect or uncompromising disciple of Howard Roark: an overzealous architecture historian/Navy SEAL (because, of course) bombs abandoned and derelict “soulless concrete” buildings that obscure the Neo-gothic architecture of the city’s original architect, and the subject of the Mad Bomber’s thesis, Cyrus Pinkney. While carefully planting explosives, our antagonist’s inner monologue is rampant with polemics decrying the conformity induced by the contemporary architecture of Gotham. “Live in a box, shop in a box, die in a box. Robots, that’s what they want. Not people. Robots that consume. Straight lines – sharp angles – square boxes. No wonder the city’s gone mad.” If there was ever a better critique of Modernism, I haven’t heard it.

[Panel from LOTDK #27]

As the world’s greatest detective begins to uncover the motives for the seemingly random guerilla demolitions, he discovers another Gotham, “an older city, of improbable curves and angles – a city forgotten, that had been overshadowed and buried, suffocated by the towers of the 20th century.” Suddenly, in the type of realization that can only be expressed with thought bubbles, the Dark Knight understands the bomber’s motive. “He’s doing it…for art! [continue reading]

see also:
&#183 Batman Demolishes Penn Station in Chip Kidd’s Death by Design [LWB]
&#183 The Gotham City Map Archive [Gotham Archive]
&#183 Batman and Gotham: A Dysfunctional Love Story [Atlantic Cities]