The most fitting symbols are often accidents. When flames engulfed the Mandarin Oriental Hotel inside the titanium CCTV tower design by Rem Koolhaas in Beijing last February, it felt like a comeuppance borrowed from a Tom Wolfe novel. The fire occurred in the thick of the financial crisis, a time when celebrity architects like Koolhaas appeared headed for a mighty tumble.
Another case of accidental symbolism occurred at the art biennale underway in Venice, where a suburban home built as a floating sculpture capsized in a canal. Artist Mike Bouchet, is known for sardonic takes on middle-class American life, built a full-scale replica of a two-story suburban home that he intended to float in a canal beside the biennale for six-months. Bouchet rode on an upstairs balcony as the house was towed on a barge through the harbor to the heart of Venice. After the house was unloaded from the barge a pontoon failed and the house tilted like the Titanic and sank.
Was it a disaster, or an unplanned performance that captures the subprime era? There has been some speculation that the long suburban experiment may come to an end as easy loans dry up and energy costs make oversized homes and long commutes prohibitive. So what better artwork for the post-boom era than a foundering McMansion?