Thursday, October 18, 2007

Outside the Atrium

This is part three of a four-part series of photos from my recent visit to San Francisco-area atrium hotels, researching my almost-complete book on omnitopia. My images seek to gently subvert the design of these places by walking around their perimeters. "Some subversion," chuckles the critical reader. But these sites are not built for exterior traverse. One is meant to enter them through a flow of interstate or shuttle, being deposited through lobby into the vast interior. The banality of the purely functional exterior is not meant for touristic consumption. Naturally, that's where I want to go.

The outer facade of the SFO-Hyatt resembles a fortress against the traffic noise of highway 101. A fence, a stagnant creek, a thin line of trees, and some orange netting guard the perimeter. Near the walls, equipment, storage containers, and doors that open only outward ensure a tight seal. A place ostensibly open to the walker out for a stroll, this environment calls forth an almost militarized sense of security.

Reflecting on an afternoon wandering the borders of the Hyatt, seeking the ways in which public and private life leak back and forth across their thresholds, I recall one of my favorite books, John Stilgoe's Outside Lies Magic. An advocate for mindful wandering, Stilgoe inspires me to cut across designated pathways, to search for the hidden flows of commerce and history that connect seemingly disparate structures. Encountering the urban scene this way, I read signs as an outsider.

Tomorrow I will share one last image from my tour through the San Francisco Hyatts, a humorous look at the ways in which safety and fear merge at an alarming rate.

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