Article 15: Sacred Condo Boom Building Game

Stacks of cash baby, stacks of cash! Condo towers look like big stacks of cash. Together they make the city skyline a stock market chart that rises and falls, we can see the relative fortune of a place by the number and height of its towers. For each building think of how there are holes in the earth where it all came from. Look around, small town boys, and feast on air, rock, iron, coal, all the world’s riches, burning, glistening. And think of the big burly men who build them and whistle at girls. Everywhere in the city is the trace of anonymous people, many of whom are dead. Maybe they whistled at your grandma. Not a brick was placed without someone who had to think of that brick. They thought of that brick, while in their heart and unconscious they were thinking of so much more at the same time. A building and a city is millions of thoughts and efforts made into one. At the very tip of the CN Tower antenna, before they put it up a whole bunch of workers put their signatures inside it. I talked to this guy who’s grandfather's name is in there. Every time I see the CN Tower now, I imagine the littleness of that signature in that huge thing.

There's a poem where the poet puts the CN Tower into his ass, along with the intersection of Bathurst and Queen. I know of a bank tower where on the top floor in the mens bathroom the urinals are hung in front of the windows, giving the male executives the feeling of pissing on the city. 'Suck my building!' screams the finance bro. The city and its buildings can be used as singular, personal, erotic, and egotistical things. A city, E.B. White noted, can help some people make up for a deficiency of spirit, and play a bigger role determining their life than their own actions. And buildings certainly transmit an idea of the soul's transcendence, an aspiration towards freedom, a rising above. Duchamp claimed the Woolworth Building as a ready-made sculpture, authored solely him. Who, when they look at a tower sparkling at night, has not for a moment been in the thrall of that building? As big as it is maybe you are the only person looking at it at that moment. Who hasn't imagined being some villain or tycoon with a tower lair? (The New Yorker ran a story called "The Psychological Insights of Trump Tower".) Looking at the city is the urban luxury par excellence; the buildings give to each city slicker a feeling of human power and brilliance, thousands of lights and windows, human stars to compare to the heavenly stars of the small town night. In it's simplest definition a city is a place where we build so that we can fit more people together. And filled with people, each of these towers is a sort of Babel. “What is the sacred?” asks Goethe. And he immediately replies: “What links souls together."

And yet, these buildings, are often hideous and I hate them. It is hard to walk certain locales without mostly losing consciousness. Approaching a condo tower I scanned it for any thought or image to hold onto. This neighborhood is used for torture! I have become accustomed to bursting into laughter at these funeral rites which serve me for a landscape. Why is it that everywhere -- people all over the world -- are living in boxes? Tall boxes, small boxes, off the ground, on the ground, boxes boxes boxes? Some are so ugly and so boring that I grab them and crumble them into balls as I walk by. With many I tilt a cornice, extrude a flourish, widen a window, add some colour. Tall grey glass rectangles, as lazy as a stack of cash.

There are so many buildings and you have to deal with them and see them so continually that it sometimes feels necessary to play games with them, to try to find something about their brute hulks that can be silly and playful. I can easily see a plate spinning on the top of the CN Tower. Many have noted how City Hall looks like a clam shell or how OCAD is held up by crayons. There's a house I used to pass everyday where everything about it, from its roof to its little black door, made it look like Adolf Hitler. I like the fact that in 1967, 75,000 Yippie protesters converged on the Pentagon to levitate the building. They even got a permit beforehand: the authorities agreed to allow the Pentagon to be elevated three feet in the air, but not the 300 feet the organizers requested. A priest I know is mandated to cross herself each time she passes through the center line of the church. I’ve read about a homeless shelter funded by a philanthropist after he read a certain book on poverty. He was so stirred by this book that he made sure that the book itself was thrown into the concrete foundation of the building. I wish every building had a quirky story like that. I only know a few. A friend lives in an apartment building on Spadina whose common areas are inexplicably filled with Weegee photographs; the front lobby has a photograph of two cross-dressers. Other friends used to live in an old coffin factory and were routinely spooked at night by eerie noises. And I used to have an office in One Spadina, which at that time held the discombobulated eyeballs of the Ontario Eye Bank, stacks of cages for an animal testing biotech company in the basement, old autopsy lockers, and an unsolved stabbing murder and a death by misadventure when a girl on a first date fell through the ventilation shaft. Some buildings are clearly psycho; they have been abandoned or mistreated, abused or forgotten, ill-considered, poorly designed, or just have odd energies. It's fun to notice a building that tilts comically, or is terminally rundown. It's fun to see abandoned buildings, buildings of genius, and buildings in storms. It's fun to look at a city and just see the buildings and nothing else. One day I guess I was waiting for someone and zoned out of the human hustle and bustle on the street; suddenly I noticed the distinct shape of every building. I felt and identified with them. I felt the shadow under a cold wall. I felt the afternoon sun change the colour of the buildings from pink, to yellow, to the colour of apricots, to dusk brown. Perhaps one day, when the whole world lives in the clouds, people will descend to see ancient skyscrappers that stand leaning to one side.

--David Stokes