Take a look at the friendly Novarka structure – designed as an enormous magician’s cape to make the burdensome Chernobyl Reactor disappear.
Purported to be large enough to fit London’s St. Pauls Chathedral inside it, this arched, mute monolith will be built perfectly aligned to the reactor plant, and then, like that show on TV that makes Z-grade celebrities stand on a narrow platform in elbow guards and metallic spandex bodysuits, as huge styrofoam cutouts of silhouettes engaged in stiff-jointed coitus barrel along a track towards them and they scramble rather less hilariously than imagined to make that shape and squeeze through the opening – lest they come a-cropper and get knocked in the water only to find their careers more washed up than their spandex, Novarka will slide over the Chernobyl reactor. Chernobyl Reactor = hand, Novarka = glove, etc. The silhouette of the Reactor demarcates an opening in the yawning elevation of Novarka and like the most dumb literal metaphor of coupling you can imagine, it slides over the Reactor, engorging it whole. Once this tupperware container of a building is sealed around the Reactor it should create a safe environment for its demolition and removal, ie. it eats it. Chernobyl Reactor = male praying mantis, Novarka = hungry, horny female praying mantis.
Novarka is (suitably) grey, drab, impersonal, overbearing, sublime, formally dull, boring, inhuman – like a post-hoc and fitting memorial to the Soviet state that bore it. But it needs to be all of these things if it is to fulfill its architectural responsibility and give form to the – up to now – invisible radioactive aura the meltdown and explosion created. I think this is worth talking about.
The Chernobyl reactor is like that annoying white-red dot you get from looking right into a camera when the flash goes off, making you temporarily unable to perceive the very things you are trying to look at, indeed rendering you unable to see anything but the form of the flash – the flash made flesh as it were – but here, it was a nightmarishly energetic one, one you wouldn’t want to smile at. If our eyes were Geiger counters (if only…) and we could be made immune to gamma rays, and we took a trip to the Reactor, we would perceive the entire edifice in an architectural sense, ie. we would experience it. We could walk around it, observing its texture, tones of light and shadow etc. It would be an architecture the materials of which, rather than reflecting the light of the sun, it emitted its own. We would also be able to pick up the light and hold it and throw at each other with glee like some fucking brilliant snowball fight, darting behind the detritus as an unsuspecting passer-by cops a face-full of light-emitting uranium crud. Anyway, it would be like the Reactor were that camera-flash and rather than fading away in seconds, it had a half-life of hundreds of years and allowed us plenty of time to observe it from all angles, and to worry. But back in reality, rather than the Reactor being a nuisance when you’re trying to look in the little preview window, the radioactive glow means no one goes near it for fear of contracting a party trick involving their thyroid. In fact, the Chernobyl Reactor has a repellent effect; a kind of anti-architectural structure (rather fitting, considering all the atomic decay going on), a building where the ‘Bilbao-effect’ slider has been shoved into reverse. Which is why it’s best that something is done about it: which is where Novarka, the architecture cannibal comes in.
Novarka is a device with which to, as it were, wipe this radioactive architecture from the face of the earth by consuming it whole. Obviously Chernobyl cannot serve society as a repository of meaning, as a site of pilgrimage and reflection like some of the sombre and silent reminders of the twentieth century’s carnage, because of its very volatility and physical threat, ie unable to be seen. But, once the reactor is dismantled, shrink-wrapped and buried down the bottom of some bleedin’ big hole, and once the earth is made safe again (well, safe enough say, for your average American tourist to spoil the experience of you doing a tour of it) only Novarka will remain, and even that will be radioactive and consigned to the same burial.
Which is a shame because, like some ungodly curry washed down with pints of the devil’s own, were Novarka to eat up and shit out Chernobyl, and go on without being Chernobyl-specific, if the Reactor weren’t enough to satisfy it, if it were only enough to whet its appetite for architecture, and it were cut free like some incestuous Godzilla, and if Novarka were put in the right hands (who, me?), one could sit poised atop it and like some glorious Corbusier meets Hausmann wet dream, lay waste to whole swathes of shit buildings in a wild ego-fuelled orgy of destruction and mania. Each doomed building enchanted by its own likeness carved out on a Novarka elevation bearing down on it like a cross between Narcissus’ reflection and an aircraft hanger.
But we all know it won’t come to that. The EU will complain about the cost projections on cleaning up the steaming pile of someone else’s problem. The Chernobyl Reactor won’t be dismantled any time soon and Novarka will become a permanent fixture, choked to death like a greedy python on the Chernobyl rabbit. And it will be inevitable that in time a structure that monstrous and threating will start to mellow out. It will settle and the joints and members will creak; stresses will appear – all the while it is soaking up that radioactive goodness. And then we’ll need an even bigger Novarka to come along. And so, finally, Chernobyl will find its iconic monument: a slow roast bird in a bird in a bird.