All photos: Heike Mutter & Ulrich Gent
In contrast to the fervored Futurist writings at the start of the last century (nearly 100 years ago!) proclaiming the virtues of speed, Deleuze wrote that "slowness belongs to the same world as the [sic] extreme speed." That's a difficult proposition to reconcile with architecture, which, as far as I know, has never propelled itself to, at least, fluid movement by its own accord--it goes without saying that architecture, whether through its physicality or its lengthy means of construction, exceeds in the opposite category. As meager compensation for these unfulfilled dreams, wherein buildings may inhabit both realms, we get sleek stylized forms which, as in the work of Zaha Hadid and others, exclusively visually approximate qualities of locomotion. The merits of this work notwithstanding, they tend to be entirely serious, in complete love with and utterly committed to their own theoretical claims (i.e. justifications). That's part of what makes this roller coaster-cum-pedestrian walkway, the Tiger & Turtle-Magic Mountain by Heike Mutter & Ulrich Gent, so fun and surprising. It manages to be irreverent and critical, playful and serious all at once.
The project, which opened last week in Duisburg Wanheim, Germany, sits on a large hill overlooking a sleepy suburban town. The steel forms visually allude to the nearby decommissioned factory structures looming over the small town stretched out before it. At 45 meters (147 feet) tall, the sculpture is the largest in the country and is easily visible from every angle. From afar, and especially when lit at night, the spiraling structure evokes the speed and rush we associate with theme park rides, only without the familiar whoosh that accompanies the whir of accelerating roller coasters.
When moving towards the object, however, it becomes apparent that the ride isn't fitted with tracks to accommodate moving cars, but with stairways on which visitors leisurely stroll about. This perceptual play is key to the project's success, whereby, as the designers note, "the roller coaster stands for acceleration and high speed of a tiger but the visitor has to explore it step by step like a turtle." Interesting is that the spirit and formal gymnastics of the former aren't compromised for the latter's sake. Visitors are confronted with impossibly looping stairways, rendered impassible given the body's fixed relationship to the ground.
The work is a commentary on the region's struggles with shifting identities and restructuralization. Where the factories once boomed with production, they now sit idly by. Speed and growth are unified and permanently dislodged by the sculpture's absurd vortices. The resultant scenario has required the locals to come to terms with a post-industrial future, where innovations and progress, possibly, come in the form of the nonlinear twists and abrupt turns of a roller coaster.