Here is a fascinating lecture by the sociologist Richard Sennett about identity and the city. He explains the difference between boundaries and borders in cities. The former is inert (think security fences, gated communities) the latter is a liminal space, a threshold where people interact. He argues that most 20th century architecture (and urban design) has sought to create boundaries rather than borders. What urban planners need to do, he says, is to create the opposite: “rather than attempt to strengthen communities … what we want to do is strengthen the capacity to experience many different kinds of identities” to create “living edges” to cities rather than inert shells.
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Here he talks with Laurie Lee (and Iain Sinclair and Sophie Watson of the OU) about cites and how they relate to the past. Gingerly in Berlin, brazenly in New York.
Here he speaks more generally about cities, with Will Self and Doreen Massey.
Desert cities, for a generation raised on dreams of Tatooine anyway, are far from a new idea, George Lucas’s sand planet drifted in on a dust clouds left behind by Frank Herbert’s Dune. Before that, authors such as Ray Bradbury and Kim Stanley Robinson mined the sands of Mars to create early environmental allegories that predicted Earth’s demise.
Lately, moreover, the fears of science fiction writers have given way to massive commercial enterprises on a scale that retains the capacity to dazzle. Desert cities from Dubai to Nevada continue to capture the imagination, perhaps because they appeal to both the something-out-of-nothing pioneer spirit and those with a desire to build eco-oasis for after the flood. Only today China announces its China-Vegas a 100 sq km “New World Resort City” in Inner Mongolia, although one presupposes that it will be the former model that will be constructed.
The picture above (via bldg) is from an exhibition entitled Out of Water | innovative technologies in arid climates at the University of Toronto and designed by Matsys, a design studio in San Francisco. Its founder, Andrew Kudless, regards the desert city as a new urban prototype. Here’s why:
“Although this science fiction novel sounded alien in 1965, the concept of a water-poor world is quickly becoming a reality, especially in the American Southwest. Lured by cheap land and the promise of endless water via the powerful Colorado River, millions have made this area their home. However, the Colorado River has been desiccated by both heavy agricultural use and global warming to the point that it now ends in an intermittent trickle in Baja California. Towns that once relied on the river for water have increasingly begun to create underground water banks for use in emergency drought conditions. However, as droughts are becoming more frequent and severe, these water banks will become more than simply emergency precautions.”
Sietch Nevada projects waterbanking as the fundamental factor in future urban infrastructure in the American Southwest. Sietch Nevada is an urban prototype that makes the storage, use, and collection of water essential to the form and performance of urban life. Inverting the stereotypical Southwest urban patterns of dispersed programs open to the sky, the Sietch is a dense, underground community. A network of storage canals is covered with undulating residential and commercial structures. These canals connect the city with vast aquifers deep underground and provide transportation as well as agricultural irrigation. The caverns brim with dense, urban life: an underground Venice. Cellular in form, these structures constitute a new neighborhood typology that mediates between the subterranean urban network and the surface level activities of water harvesting, energy generation, and urban agriculture and aquaculture. However, the Sietch is also a bunker-like fortress preparing for the inevitable wars over water in the region.
I am impressed with MapTube’s map of the credit crunch. Thanks to some clever wizardry courtesy of Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL, visitors to its website can help build a map of Britain which attempts to show inwhich parts of the country various economic headaches are being most accutely felt.
Here is a map I created of Brighton (my local area) and its geographical surrounds. Portslade (here in Green) – where the rent is cheap – is where the people worry most about their food bills; in Hove (Red) people worry more about their rent or mortgage payments. I live around here and I am actually looking to downsize my rent.
In Brighton (Yellow) – where the jobs are – unemployment is the prime cause for concern. Most surprising: in the east of the city, out towards more affluent areas, like Rottingdean and Kemp Town, most respondents are saying that they are thus far unaffected by the downturn- perhaps the pink pound is yet to feel the pinch.
We must remember, this is self-selecting list: a clever straw poll, and one restricted to the kind of internet users who can be bothered with this kind of application in the first place. Of those people, though, I would hazard an educated guess: this is probably an uncannily accurate representation of their woes.
We will see more of this kind of cartography of grievance. The colour-coded psycho-geography of the recession rendered simply in Google Map, such as this, because they tell both national and local stories with shrewd economy. Click as fuel prices gave way to job insecurity. Marvel for a moment at the areas not yet mithered. But most of all: wonder if you are worse off living where you are.
Subversive architecture: the growing practice of taking over public spaces in order to make political points. The name is derived from the Office for Subversive Architecture, a small practice in Berlin. Among their many projects is a recently installed “viewing platform” designed to help you look over the wall onto the site of the London Olympics (Flickr photoset here).
Also in London is the work of Bruno Taylor (left), who recently installed a swing in a bus stop (video here) at Exmouth Market in Clerkenwell. Behind the visual gags of both projects is a serious attempt to improve the life, no mater how temporarily, of city dwellers. Also working to similar ends is the Polish artist-known-only-as “Truth” who adorns (often abandoned) buildings with a three-dimensional graffiti made from blocks of polystyrene. Like the movement of Guerrilla Gardeners before them, these artists seek to offer a wry commentary on city life by deploying the tactics of the graffti artist and a political theory clearly influenced bt Situationist International of the late 1950s.
Jonathan Glancey’s recent thoughts on the new Turner gallery in Margate (Margate should resist the Bilbao effect) reminded me of an excellent article I read a few years ago in the New York Times Magazine examining the rise in futuristic architecture projects around the world. Glancey’s article also got me thinking. Where outside Bilbao has a single building been able to transform a whole city, in the way that the Guggenheim transformed Bilbao? The best answer I could come up with was Newcastle and the regenerative effects of the Baltic. But Newcastle was already booming before they rebuilt the Baltic and turned it into a very good art gallery.
Anyway, here’s the quote:
“Like any big-stakes, winning gamble, Bilbao’s good fortune has inspired other cities and institutions to take the plunge … This development is encapsulated by a remark that the director for the National Center for Contemporary Arts in Rome made a few years ago to Koolhaas, who had entered the competition (which Zara Hadid eventually won) to design its new museum. ”We need a building that does for Rome what the Guggenheim did for Bilbao,” Koolhaas was told.”
As the architect later remarked to me, ”That is a staggering statement, because Rome doesn’t need to be put on the map.”
Just come across Sightseeing in Liberty City an excellent photoset on Flickr that compares views from Grand Theft Auto’s simulated city with real New York. If you can’t immediately tell the difference – and it’s getting increasingly difficult – the real city is the one on the right. Here you can compare for yourself the opposing Manhattan Bridges; Empire State Building and the now infamous shot of the Statue of Liberty replete with styrofoam cup. Only Central Park disappoints.