The multiplicity of I-like centers which occurs in nature is also visible to some extent in certain early industrial landscapes. […]
The fact that the early great industrial places had enormous life was recognized by many, including Le Corbusier. Since we can be nearly certain that these places were not created y conscious religious intent, and only by practical business-like intensity, we need to ask what process created these things, successfully making I-like centers in them, that nevertheless fails so often today when building modern warehouses, airports and so on, and fails when architects self-consciously try to use an “industrial aesthetic”. This is the core of the intellectual problem I have addressed in Book 2. The industrial process of the early 20th century was an unfolding process in its straighforward directness. But the post-industrial processes of the late 20th century have been contaminated by images, and no longer have the directness of real-world creation and unfolding needed to make life.
Although nostalgia may be partly responsible for this retrospective appreciation of the early industrial period, I believe that our appreciation of these 19th- and early 20th-century engineering structures mainly comes from the fact that they are actually visible as having the multiplicity of I-like living centers — hence real life — in them. Even the simplest stanchion, railing, barrel of oil, smokestack, steel plate, bolt or rivet — as shown in these photographs from the early 20th century — makes us feel related to it.
A computer casing, a freeway bridge, or a packaged machine of our own era rarely has the same depth of feeling, and is less related to the I because what few centers it does have are not I-like to the same degree.
What is certain is that these machines, made by builders and engineers, were made for practical ends. It is their practicality we see made flesh in the structure of living centers. The manifold living centers we see in them arise because of their practical nature. That is what caused and sustained their practical effectiveness.