The Monstrous Angels of Franken-Ingolstadt

 

 

Using the tragic forecast of Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' story and The Fantasy Method of Urban Design, the Frankencities Project details the worst-case scenarios of the futures of real world cities worldwide. This month, we highlight the future of the German city of Ingolstadt.

 

The monster in Frankenstein was ripped, stretched, sewn, and stitched into being by Dr. Viktor Frankenstein at a university in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt after he’d spent years experimenting with dead bodies and with various chemicals and energies.

 Ingolstadt University in the early 19th Century

 

We are led to believe by Mary Shelley that Dr. Frankenstein was so aggrieved by the idea of death rampaging with cruel consistency over humanity -- and that he was so obsessed with staking out a name for himself in the world of science -- that he countenanced no shame for his criminal and sacrilegious dealings with human corpses.

 

Dismissing any qualms, Dr. Frankenstein sought to create a scientific marvel. But he’d gotten it very wrong. At the very moment when the monster flickers into the life, Frankenstein suddenly realizes the monstrous nature of his experiments and the monstrous nature of his newly-made creature. He flees from his creation, from his laboratory, and seemingly from science and technology, altogether. He then has a nervous breakdown and is nursed back to health over many months by his best friend, Henry, in an Ingolstadt apartment.

 

Nowadays, Ingolstadt is a city of nearly 200,000 people on the banks of the Danube in southern Germany. Funnily enough, it’s evolved into a city with technology at its base; filled with a multitude of technical institutions. The largest single industry in Ingolstadt is the Audi car company, which has its slogan ‘Advance Through Technology’ glowing brightly on its Headquarters for all the city to see.

 

Audi prides itself, much like Dr. Frankenstein did, on pushing the boundaries of technology. Audi was the first carmaker to use aluminum chassis and it also pushed forward the development of water-cooled engines.

 

Audi’s most notable technological achievement in recent years, though, has been the invention of ‘cheat software’ to run riot around the emissions laws in Europe and North America. In 2015, when the emissions scandal came out into the open, Audi admitted that over two million of its cars had been sold with cheat software installed. Audi’s cars then went on to spew nitrogen oxide into the air well beyond healthy limits.

 

Though Audi promised to quickly find a technical solution and to upgrade their cars, their Head of Research was fired for his part in the scandal. Like a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein, Audi’s technical guile trumped its ethical reflection. (Maybe, however, this comparison is unfair since Dr. Frankenstein’s monstrous invention killed but three or four people whilst the illegal software of Audi, and their parent company Volkswagen, has been estimated to have killed hundreds or thousands).

 

According to an oft-told story in Ingolstadt’s industrial history, the name Audi is a translation into Latin of the surname of the founding engineer of the company; August Horch. When he was hosting a dinner party for investors in 1910 to mark the launch of a new car company, he and his guests were digging around for a suitable name. They couldn’t use his own name ‘Horch’ as it was already trademarked to a previous car company which he had just resigned from.

 

From the backdrop of the party, August Horch’s young son, who was doing his Latin homework, spoke up to suggest ‘Audi’ since it is a rough Latin form of Horch, both of which mean ‘to listen’ or ‘to hear’ in their respective languages. Well, at least this is the story told by the Audi company.

 

Surrounding the city of Ingolstadt is a lovely riverside forest. After Dr. Frankenstein fled his laboratory, his abandoned monster eventually got to its feet and made an ungainly tour of the city’s streets. The folk of Ingolstadt who came across it would either yelp or yell or bash it or throw rocks. The sturdy creature could come to no harm from sticks and stones but nevertheless it couldn’t endure the constant social rejections of the townspeople. Therefore, the creature dismissed the city for the riverside forest.

 

Here, with only a few small village communities, the river, plus an expansive woodland, the monster makes a home -- hiding out in a tiny run-down storehouse next to a small cottage. The cottage’s tenants are not Bavarians but a French family. They, themselves are alienated from their own society, living in Bavaria as exiles from the tumultuous French Revolution.

 

During these months, the monster carefully and clandestinely studied the French family for whom it grew an affection. Through keen observation, and with no face-to-face interaction, the monster manages to learn the French language. By year’s end, the monster becomes so good a reader that it eagerly scrutinizes the array of books left in the cottage when the family were out working.

 

We learn, also, that the creature has grown adept at transforming its feelings and emotions into eloquent passages, like the following involution upon springtime in the forest:

 

The pleasant showers and genial warmth of spring greatly altered the aspect of the Earth. Men, who before this change seemed to have been hid in caves, dispersed themselves, and were employed in various arts of cultivation. The birds sang in more cheerful notes, and the leaves began to bud forth on trees. Happy, happy Earth! Fit habitation for gods, which, so short a time before, was bleak, damp, and unwholesome. My spirits were elevated by the enchanting appearance of Nature; the past was blotted from my memory, the present was tranquil, and the future gilded by bright rays of hope and anticipations of joy.

 

What we see – here in the river forest nearby Ingolstadt -- is that the monster made by Dr. Frankenstein is not entirely monstrous. It can appreciate the arts, admire Nature, and is capable of affection and good will to fellow villagers.

 

The monster also acts to collect firewood and harvest crops in the dead of night for the cottage family; laying the wood and the harvest neatly outside their cottage. The family awakes each morning knowing not who helps them: maybe ‘forest angels’ they conjecture.

 

As a ‘forest angel’, the monster is briefly lifted above humanity and in celebration of this fleeting moment, we arrive at the following scenario: Franken-Ingolstadt. Here, inspirited by the creatures of the forest, the engineers of the city take responsibility for the pollution of their machines as they design and construct a bat-faced highway noise barrier.

 

 Franken-Ingolstadt by Alan Marshall and Nanthawan Kaenkaew

 

In some places, German roads authorities have sometimes erected thin concrete barriers to limit automobile noise pollution and they’ve also studied the efficacy of vegetation to cut down the sound levels. The scenario presented here goes a few steps further. The bat-face noise barrier draws inspiration from those monstrous-looking bat species whose ornate facial organs, adorned with multi-lobed ears and fluffy whiskers, have been fashioned by evolution to disseminate and collect sound waves via bio-sonar. In Franken-Ingolstadt, the bat-faces are scaled-up in size, sculpted into 3D relief, and then mounted on the inside of an earthen barrier. From the outside, amongst the surrounding forest and villages, the auto traffic is hardly audible. But on the inside the obnoxious rumbling traffic noise is reflected straight back upon the automobiles that produce the noise.

 

For those drivers who may regard the bat-faces as monstrous, they also serve as a symbolic visual reflection of the grotesque noise their cars throw out onto the environment. If Audi means ‘to listen’, then let those who drive these polluting machines hear every decibel of their thundering cacophony.

 

 

  

 

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