Mental Metropolis

In this particular lesson we explored the experience of the modern city from the early 20th century to now the present day. We started by first discussing ways in which the sensory overload of the ‘urban life’ has shaped our interactions with each other but also the built environment.

We first started by discussing the term ‘pleasure architecture’ – this is fixed with history of urbanism and modernity. Which then led to the discussion of the particular rise in amusement parks and the supposed thrill rides in the early 20th century but also landscapes which seem to be a replica of the conditions of ‘modern city life’, which initially at that time put comments in a position whereby they were confused as to why people would want to pay to visit places that offered them a supposed intense version of the stresses and strains of city life (the whole large crowds, noise machinery etc.).

We then focused on how people in the early 20th century have experienced and are used to life in the modern city, and how new ideas but also how the work of ‘pioneering sociologists’ about the impact of living in big cities help to explain the huge success of amusement parks around the world. 3 main sectors we explored –

  • Thrill city
  • Experiencing the Modern City
  • Mental life

Thrill City 

We explored different locations that would be or are classified as ‘thrill cities’. Out of the few we looked at these are the 3 that were most fascinating in my point of view.

London Eye 


As we all know London has literally become a ‘thrill city’ due to its major landmarks and the public spaces that are being transformed by an increasing appetite for new and thrilling ways to consume the urban environment. As seen the London eye is a 135 metre revolving observation wheel on the Southbank which offers an amazing panoramic view to nearly 4 million passengers each year.

 Loop the Loop – Coney Island 

Coney Island is a late Victorian pleasure resort in Brooklyn – which became world famous as the supposed birth place of amusement parks and the fascinating technology of electric lights, mechanical rides and intriguing ‘other-worlds’. Coney Island provided a release for the urban crowd form the everyday city life but it is argued that these amusement parks invented experiences that have become part of a urbanism.

Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit 


At the Olympic Park, the looping red tower of ‘Anish Kapoor ’s ArcelorMittal Orbit’ blurs the line between sculpture and thrill ride. The growth of urban novelties on other cities around the world and in London gives a suggestion of a new desire from a more symbolised experience of the modern city – for supposed “technological multi sensory” which offer release and emotional reconnections.

Experiencing the Modern City / Mental Life 

The rise of ‘thrill cities’ is closely linked with the new type of sensory experience that were evolving in modern cities. For those who live in towns or cities across Britain, riding a rollercoaster or a big wheel were ways that were classified as ‘being modern’ and became a defining counterpart to life in the metropolis. The industrial revolution was a huge urban growth, the industrial transformation began in Britain in the 18th century which then spread across to the rest of the world

Visitors to amusement parks were overwhelmingly urban, they were all built in or within easy reach of cities over public transport. The everyday lives of amusement park contributors was therefore defined by new technologies, noise and huge volumes of people. In the 19th century in London with the increasing population of up to 7 million people – became wide streets filled with buses and taxi’s, the underground and huge warehouse and factories, which then lead to ‘space time compression’ as new communications such as newspapers, the telegraph and the invention of the telephone (form 1876) which was marked as a permeant acceleration in the pace of commercial and everyday life.

The modern city presented its inhabitants, following its challenges which we may struggled to comprehend. Filmakers, artists and writers attempted to make sense of this new condition of urbanism but some really interesting representations of ‘city life’ at this time developed reoccurring themes – such as technology out of control, speed in terms of space and time, sensory stimulation, fast flowing and anonymous crowds.

At the same time all this city life, urbanism etc. can be all fascinating but it does get to a point whereby it can make one feel very overwhelmed, a recent study showed the brain of those who live in the city operate very different to those who live in rural areas and this can be very understanding – the who zones in the brain which supposedly regulate anxiety and emotion tend to become more overactive for those that live in the city and this may suggest the higher levels of mental health problems in urban areas.


These ideas have proven to be very influential in determining how we understand the imapct of urbanism today.



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