Experimental walking (and writing): Surrealists and Situationists

Brief notes kicked off by the chapter on experimental walking in The art of wandering: the writer as walker.

Francesco Careri (Walkscapes) has identified three moments in art history when an experience linked to walking represented a turning point:

  • the period of transition from Dada to Surrrealism (1921-24)
  • the emergence of the Situationist Movement from the Letterist International (1956-57)
  • the movement from Minimal Art to Land Art (1966-67) – Fluxus, non-object-based art as exemplified by Richard Wentworth, Janet Cardiff and Francis Alÿs; with the rise of performance art the act of walking itself has become art

Dadaist and surrealist walks

On 14 April 1921 in Paris, at three in the afternoon, in the rain, eleven Dadaists conducted a ‘lay pilgrimage’ to the church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, the first in a proposed series of urban excursions to the ‘banal places’ of the city (p183-4) – it was not a success, and remained the sole example.

In May 1924 the three founders of surrealism set off haphazardly on foot on a ten day stroll from Blois, a town picked at random from a map. Largely they “resolutely followed their lack of itinerary”, composing automatic texts during rest stops.

This and further déambulations, practised on the outskirts of Paris, found expression in three novels:

  • Louis Aragon’s Le Paysan de Paris (1926) – describes two places in Paris in great detail, providing a realistic backdrop for surrealist spectacles such as the transformation of a shop into a seascape
  • André Breton’s Nadja (1928) – “one of the iconic works of the French surrealist movement”
  • Philippe Soupault‘s Les Dernières Nuits de Paris (1928)
  • see also Readux’s A little guide to the 15th Arrondissement, “a playful piece of surrealist flâneurie and psychogeography” by Roger Caillois, translated by Ryan Ruby; see article

For the surrealists walking was about chance encounters and irrational meetings, an inspiration for their experimental writing (source).

The Lettrists and the Situationists

A generation later, after WW2, the act of walking shifted from aimless strolling to revolutionary subversion.

The Lettrist International (1952-7), the product of the earlier Lettrist Group (1948) and a forerunner of The Situationist International, identified the act of walking as a means of challenging the status quo, but like later movements such as CoBrA and the Imaginist Bauhaus was hampered both by a lack of direction (irony alert) and, more crucially, members.

Step forward the Situationist International (1957-72; SI Online | archives | Internationale Situationniste in English) under the firm/tyrannical grip of Guy Debord.

Debord coined the term psychogeography in his Introduction to a critique of urban geography (1955):

the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals

This replaced R/romantic notions of walking as an artistic practice with the concept of a scientific experiment, the results of which would be rigorously analysed and form the basis of a new cartography characterised by a disregard for traditional and habitual practices.

This experiment was, of course, the dérive, as outlined in The theory of the dérive (1956).

The dérive “has the potential to transform the everyday, to illuminate and challenge narratives of privatisation, commodification and securitisation of space, and navigate increasingly blurred boundaries between public/private”. The ideal outcome was that “pedestrians would become more aware of their overlooked urban surroundings and begin to see new possibilities of experiencing everyday life in the city” (source).

The purpose of a dérive is as much to derive or document the psychogeographical contours of an urban space as to uncover alternatives. This can be in the form of artistic maps, drawn not in Cartesian gridlines but according to a subjective navigation scheme, or through subversions of pre‐existing maps. Both kind of map exemplifies the détournement, a ‘diverting’ or ‘rerouting’ of pre‐existing elements, with an ultimate outcome such as the utopian city (source).

Debord’s Psychogeographic guide of Paris (1955)/The naked city (1957; same??) replaced the ‘official’ map of Paris with 19 cut-out sections rearranged and connected by red arrows indicating the flow of energy around certain ‘pivot points’ (source). Map users choose their own route by using a series of arrows that link parts of the city together.

Further tactics:

  • one city to the map of another – wander through one city following directions from a map of another city (I’ve never quite got how this would work in practice)
  • cities as historical landscapes – being aware of how your surroundings can draw you towards the past
  • here’s a reverse dérive – The naked city mapped onto a Google map of Paris

Hence strolling becomes drifting and detached observation becomes a critique of post-war urbanism (Elkin p18) – there was nothing aimless in Situationist drifts; they wanted to transform everyday life.

Debord became increasingly dogmatic in his insistence upon a rigorous examination of the Society of the Spectacle (1967; more), a society whose seductive surface belied the repressive realities of capitalist consumption. The essential emptiness of modern life is obscured behind an elaborate and spectacular array of commodities, leading to a world of rampant consumerism and regimented monotony. Shucks.

See The Situationists and the city for more.

Debord and Jorn

Denmark klaxon! In 1954 Debord met Asger Jorn (1914-73), a Danish polymath who had worked with Le Corbusier on the Pavillon des Temps Nouveaux for the 1937 Paris World Exposition. Jorn was a co-founder of CoBrA (1948-51) and involved in one of its offshoots, the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, which in 1957 fused with the Letterist International and the London Psychogeographical Association to form the Situationist International (SI). Enough already.

It’s not quite clear to what extent Jorn had a hand in The naked city, but their collaboration resulted in the production of two art books critiquing the Society of the Spectacle.

Created in 24 hours at the printing house Permild & Rosengreen after a single visit to a local news stall, Fin de Copenhague (1957) was composed using the technique of détournement. The book consists of fragments snatched from other books and magazines in a collage linked by colourful splashes. Intended as a critical engagement with urbanism along with advertising and consumerism, it “satirises gemütlich Europe in general, the author’s native Copenhagen in particular, and Le Corbusier in passing”:

Copenhagen is satirised not only as a seat of ancestral boredoms, and in other standard terms, but also for being a ‘well-planned city’, in the sense of making a pretty pattern of black and green in the planner’s report – only in this case the pretty pattern is produced by applying place-names to patches of mechanical tint superimposed on (apparently) and action-painting that has run.

a spread from Fin de Copenhague (1957)

More: Wikipedia | Situationist map of Denmark

Debord and Jorn’s second collaboration, Mémoires (1959; in English), also employed the latter’s situlogical technique, but is now perhaps best known for its sandpaper cover.

Mémoires (1959)

A founder member of the SI, Jorn resigned in April 1961 believing it had become ineffective, but remained in friendly contact.

In 1960 Jorn’s brother, Jørgen Nash, set up the Situationist Bauhaus, later the Second Situationist International, on Jorn’s farm in southern Sweden. Most famous among their actions was the decapitation of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid in 1964.

Other Scandi SI members included Peter Laugesen (article), friend of Dan Turèll; in his time attracted to the dérive, but expelled in 1963 for refusing to give up poetic practice.

For more on Scandinavian Situationists see the Situ-Research & Archive | Scandinavian Situationism | Cosmonauts of the Future.

Experimental walking today

In 2005 Lonely Planet published a Guide to experimental travel, conceived by Joël Henry (of Latourexsome examples):

Experimental tourism is a novel approach to tourism in which visitors do not visit the ordinary tourist attractions (or, at least not with the ordinary approach), but allow whim to guide them. It is an alternative form of tourism in which destinations are chosen not on their standard touristic merit but on the basis of an idea or experiment. It often involves elements of humor, serendipity, and chance. (Wikipedia)

Here the “imposition of arbitrary restrictions serves to heighten the tourist experience”. It can also heighten the local experience – see Counter-Tourism, A mis-guide to anywhere, Pattern walking, the Temporary Travel Office and Ways to wander, “54 intriguing ideas for different ways to take a walk” collected by Claire Hind and Clare Qualmann.

I have the Lonely Planet guide and stake my claim in that we have often travelled to the end of a metro line for the hell of it. A particularly memorable example was in Istanbul, a world away from the Blue Mosque. It took hours to get back. Sadly I can’t find the website of the group who travel to the end of metro lines in Moscow on the last Sunday in the month, otherwise I’d be there.

On the everyday level my walks more often than not make use of suggestion 15 from the LP guide: Dog’s Leg Travel:

If you don’t normally walk a dog, take one for a walk and be led by what interests the dog.

Ludic performances and tours which “subvert space in creative and exciting ways” abound in the experience economy, with the game often the key element. See Play the City Now or Never |

Meanwhile, is walking (or marching) as political dissent about to make a comeback? On 17 February Senate House Library and the Passage project held a one day conference on Radical walking (more), presenting the historical perspective.

Opening keynoter Katrina Navickas (interview) shook things up a bit on ‘the problem of the flâneur’ and critiquing literary studies’ ongoing obsession with walking:

walking – using the eyes of history to examine the traces and parallels in the past – is an activist practice, and one connected directly with politically activist histories

the flâneur seems to privilege the elite perspective of the landscape viewed from a distance

For me it’s the anonymity of the flâneur (of/in the crowd), the observations and perspectives of the outsider, which appeal (exclusive can also mean excluded) – it’s an explorative tool I use. See also under What gives? in my post on #walkingwomen. BTW Wikipedia on the flâneur is worth a look, not least for “how the same language can differ depending on the location” (source). It’s an intriguing combination of immersion and openness.

But I’m with her on the obsession with nature writing at least.

Next stop: more cultural geography, Doreen Massey.

#FLthecity: Re-enchanting the city (2)

Weeks 3 to 5 covered things architectural, green and technological, while the final week zoomed in our old friend, human scale. Weeks 1-2 here.

Architecture in the city

What role do architects play in the city? How do architects engage with the development process? Exploring the question of design diversity and the ‘starchitect’ phenomenon.

Diversity in architecture in the city means having different types of buildings designed for different activities and realised in different historical times with a diversity of materials…when you visit a European city like Venice, Rome, Paris, London, at first you see a uniform, old city with a few contemporary buildings standing out. But on a more in depth reading, you realise that the story is quite different.

Urban design encapsulates the process of designing the broad infrastructure for our cities, towns and villages, while architecture focuses on individual buildings. However, often architects act as urban designers, contributing to broader plans of city-making.

Key considerations of urban design:

  • understanding of topography, solar access, wind, transport, people and connectivity
  • floor space arrangement and massing
  • (the key) challenge of diversity and consistency (cohesion, shared purpose, embodied social values)

In looking at how we could transform the masterplan for Central Park we carefully studied the buildings that existed already, the buildings that were under construction, and we tried to see whether we can pull this sequence together in a different way, in a way that created more meaningful open space, that actually created a more generous interface with the adjacent community.

…making roads that could connect heritage items to give people a sense of memory so they could understand that it’s not all new. That as you turned a corner, you could see something old that you knew from before the site was developed. That idea of building in time is an important part of urban design processes.

Two examples of how heritage items were integrated at Central Park:

  • designing with heritage architecture – the Australian Hotel, a key listed building from 1938, created challenges for Foster+Partners (critique); heritage considerations were addressed through the idea of a city datum line, “expressed as a recess in the building that acknowledges and expresses the Australian Hotel’s original height”; the design process considered sensitivity to scale, a response to a sense of place, and influences of function and light for the facade (very reminiscent of that hotel in Rotterdam, where F+P were also involved – see the Gdn’s out of place city buildings feature and contributions)
  • adaptive reuse – the Irving Street Brewery (award citation) ties Central Park back to its early history, with the redevelopment influenced by the technology of the building and merging new, in the form of the trigeneration plant, with old; the trigeneration is expressed and designed into the building, including its distinctive roof

How do architects strike the balance between responding to context and pursuing the dream?

Starchitects are criticised for rolling out their habitual style on any site in any country without genuine response to the individual place, climate, or culture, and getting away with bigger (or higher, different use) buildings than governments would otherwise allow. Their buildings are frequently controversial. Do they have an unfair advantage, or is it a reward for fine design? See documentary.

Is the distinction between star and other architects spurious? The question of what is local, what is specific, what is regional is a very elusive thing…we work (increasingly) in a truly global context (critique).

Discourse from comments: “global design…befits Australia’s identity…inspirational…a fitting tribute to Australia’s multicultural identity”…

(St)architecture’s role in city creation is to engage with what exists while also taking people toward a future they cannot imagine. It does this both by fitting in and standing out, considering the nature of place from outside in, and from inside out. It must accommodate the individual and the larger group, pursuing beauty, economy, and structural integrity with architects, both servants and shapers of the planning system.

Diversity – except when it comes to buildings:

Many postmodern urban theorists have argued that the essence of the traditional city is uniformity, yet Australian cities, being relatively young and brash, are distinguished by their diversity, with terraced houses next to warehouses next to skyscrapers, and so on. Even in their oldest and most uniform parts, they’re still way more expressive than most.

The result is a sort of diversity within uniformity. At best, this could be very successful – more interesting than the rigid uniformity of say Georgian London, and more coherent than the random placement that modernism often encouraged.

How should a contemporary city precinct like Central Park replicate that balance? Should there be one design hand or many? If many, should they be briefed to fit in or to stand out? The design excellence requirements for Central Park specified visual diversity. This was to be achieved by using a variety of local and international architects and urban designers…The creative tension that resulted is one of the secrets of Central Park’s succes

Two Padlet exercises:

  • Different or popular? – take a closer look at the town or city in which you live and locate an example of diversity (range of different architectural styles in one location; you’ll be lucky) or starchitecture
  • Iconic architecture (disappointing directory) – a symbol of a city, a statement about its history, ambition or how it wants to be seen; what buildings are iconic in your city or town; what make it a signature building? (how many are new, how many heritage)

The weekly summary highlights:

  • a green grid as an additional layer to urban design representing the ecology of the city
  • modern vs post-modernist approaches to ornament for buildings
  • the relationship between residents and green space, including the balcony plantings.
  • sensitivity and respect to heritage – what represents successful integration of old and new
  • the value and drawbacks of starchitects

Being green

Focuses on significant sustainability initiatives, on sustainable urbanism and the inclusion of nature into the city. It examines design innovations in green technologies, and environmental building services.

Being green is:

  • about integrating nature into our cities and constructing our urban habitat in ways that mimic natural systems and remembering that human beings are just one of the species that lives in the cities – includes renaturing the city, bringing more plants and green landscape elements into urban areas
  • involves using green building materials and technologies for better water management, reducing temperatures associated with the urban heat island effect, and remaking post-industrial sites to create new urban precincts for living, working, and recreation
  • as residential neighbourhoods get more dense it will be increasingly important for people to have access to nature, outdoor green space for exercise and recreation, and even views into green areas that provide visual relief – designed urban landscapes are cultural products that reflect shared social values and attitudes

“Landscape architects work basically on the horizontal plane. And architects are working on the vertical plane. The outdoors not the indoors, materials that change over time not static, natural not cultural”. More trees, water features and quiet places, obvs, but see also the landscape architecture padlet – it doesn’t have to mimic ‘nature’ in a tamed way. I’m thinking  the High Line, Central Park’s vertical gardens; and from my own experience the gardens in the Walkie Talkie and Copenhagen Towers in Ørestad. Last but not least, the Green Walkway (architects) behind Rigsarkivet, at the moment CPH’s most enchanting place for me.

Some comments re the absence of the sustainability word. Back to resilience, which feels rather less agenda driven and more multi-dimensional. The Gdn’s recent article on Vejle (“the Manchester of Denmark”), with lots of references to Rotterdam, highlights issues around social resilience with some stonking comments.

The weekly summary was perhaps a little on the defensive, stressing that “many different approaches will be required to implement ‘green’ planning, designing, and building for cities of the future” – I couldn’t agree more. A number of comments centred round cultural differences and the need for a “‘both and’ not ‘either or’ approach to culture” – ditto.

Technology in the city

What role does technology play in creating an enchanting liveable built environment? We will explore this question via our case study, the Central Park development, and look through the lens of industrial design and its connection with other design and planning professions.

There’s a section on 3D printing, but nothing on smart cities. Padlet activity: Identify your favourite product or object that you love and cannot live without. The product should have been designed for a specific purpose. Tell us why this product or object is indispensable for you.

More interesting, a section on the poetry of technology and “the role of technology in making cities beautiful”, which at Central Park consists of a wind driven public artwork called Halo, living walls and the heliostat. Activity: Identify a vital technology in your environment. It could be visible or hidden. Discuss what ways it enhances your life.

Largely skipped. The comments are going to be centred around Central Park being technology driven, there’s not going to be a meeting of the minds. It’s an important theme though – tech ain’t going away and we can’t wind the clock back. See the sections on re-storying nature from #FLremaking.

The weekly summary took the “technology embraces a broad sweep of topics and concerns” line, with an interesting point around technical obsolescence.  In Central Park the overall site (landscape), buildings and technological elements (Heliostat, Trigen and green walls) will all experience differing lifespans, of which the tech’s “no doubt” will be the shortest.

The human scale: the relationship between the inside and the outside

“In Week 6, Inside Out, we zoom to the human scale and talk to the concepts of the interior room vs urban room (exterior).” I was so excited about this, implying as it does that not everything has to be human scale (that’s anthropocentric talk!) that I got stuck in a week early. Inevitably it was a bit of a disappointment.

Three themes are central to interior architecture:

  • interiority – all the pieces that shape an interior and the way that interior coherently and creatively is ‘place-making’ through its setting of interior; the way we operate and live in these places; encompasses all the facets that unite to form great interior environments
  • human scale – a relationship created of people to purpose to rooms, and the appropriateness of a scale to a purpose; public space versus private space, a town hall versus a lounge room; the scale of a private place is usually more related to human scale and people at a fine-grain level, the way people engage with a space through the level of touch, and at a relationship of hand scale; public space is a scale that relates to cities or urban proportions, a much larger grain, large meeting places for many people
  • circulation – the patterns that people move along in life, and specifically how these patterns are crucial to the success of interior spaces that we conceptualise and design; also relates to scale and how people circulate vertically and horizontally in an effective and poetic way in our interior spaces

A discussion of the One Central Park apartments, interior versus urban, presents a view of the nature of scale and how the room is defined from the scale of people to the scale of a city and how these relationships of scale to ideas are utilised by interior architects as underpinning qualities of these rooms:

The corridors of One Central Park are an example of the way poetry is being used in the conceptualisation of the design. They build a drama and an enchantment to the way that people would experience those corridors as they move through them. The theatrical nature of the corridors of One Central Park have been used as a design device to really amplify the difference between the public spaces and the private spaces.

Passing over the “the approach of raw, organic luxury” and “high speed luxury design approach influenced by sports cars and yachts” in the apartments brings us to a Padlet exercise: “Thinking about your own home or an interior you like, the materials and finishes, describe the character that it represents. Does this space correspond to a raw, organic luxury like Koichi’s design, or the contemporary and sophistication of William’s approach, or something very different?” That’ll be the last then.

Moving on, a discussion of interior and urban rooms:

Each type is defined by boundaries. However, the interior room is about shelter, order and comfort, the urban room is about civic activity.

Padlet exercise: “Drawing on what you have learned, select a building with which you feel a close connection, and share the experience of moving across the inside-out threshold. Do you sense a change of scale? Do the materials and lighting influence the experience? What emotions does the circulation pattern evoke?”

Finally, how do we make hyperdense cities of the future green, liveable and poetic? Can you identify the parts of your city that are green, liveable and poetic, as you now understand these considerations in light of this course? What if you had the power and influence to change things, what would you propose to make your city more green, liveable and poetic?

Enchanted?

The course glossary (see week 1) highlighted issues of discourse. The content and hence tone of the course was different and wider than prevailing sustainability dogmas, leading to some discontent. But just what is enchantment?

The course team may have taken their enchanting inspiration from Jane Jacobs, who got a nod in week 1, but the rest of it certainly didn’t feel classic Jane. Some participants’ expectations of enchantment were not met, and many criticised the emphasis on one, rather gentrifying, site. For me the course challenged Gehlite Danish discourse in a refreshing way, although the end result did not enchant.

Enchantment is a recurring theme in UK place and nature writing as well, kicked off perhaps by Towards re-enchantment: place and its meanings (2010; The Ecologist).

In his essay in the book, A counter-desecration phrasebook, Robert Macfarlane calls for “a vast glossary of Enchantment that would comprehend the whole earth, that would allow nature to talk back to us and would help us to listen” (source), while in Landmarks (2015) he expresses his anxiety for the way that technology “has bequeathed to us an inadequate and unsatisfying relationship with the natural world, and with ourselves too”. Read him on Generation Anthropocene, and see The Big Interview with Adam Scovell.

David Cooper took issue with some of this on the Poetic Places launch event, and convened an event on Digital re-enchantment (Eventbrite) on 11 June to explore whether digital technologies can, for writers and readers, facilitate a re-enchantment with the world, looking at how landscape writers have drawn upon digital technologies in their creative practices. Examples:

  • experimental use of Twitter as a literary space, viz: take a photo of where you are in the Peak District – sum it up in one word – tag with #enchantthepeak – tweet
  • creative use of digital technologies to reimagine the Peak District

See also Richly Evocative’s review of the Balham Literary Festival. And, in another approach, can ‘gamifying’ cities help improve them?

#FLthecity: Re-enchanting the city (1)

Time for another city MOOC…Re-enchanting the city: designing the human habitat from the UNSW Built Environment team kicked off on 2 May for six weeks. Over 5k registered.

Most people now live in cities. With populations growing, how do we make these dense future cities green, liveable and poetic?

The city is humanity’s most complex and extraordinary artefact. As the world population grows and becomes ever more urban, the making of future cities is no longer just about aesthetics or convenience. Questions of sustainability and culture are more and more crucial. In fact, it can be said that the future of the city is the future of the species.

Uses an interdisciplinary approach, exploring the interdependencies of assorted professions (aka urbanists) via an investigation of the development process behind Sydney’s Central Park, a “a cutting-edge, high-density urban infill project”, “zooming in and out from the human scale to the broader context of human activities”.

Of most interest for answers to the question of what it takes to make a great city, not least “how we keep our heritage while creating a green and sustainable future”. Perhaps less so for “how we engage local democracy to make urban density both sustainable and poetic” and (the “core question”): “how do we design our way into an ultra-green, ultra-urban future?”.

Defining terms (see the nine page glossary):

  • built environment – a spatial product of culture, history, technology and materials; all man-designed and man-made environments that provide a platform for human activities
  • built environment professions – about the public interest; their primary goal is to make more liveable and sustainable cities, well-designed, efficient, effective, enjoyable, beautiful – also serving everybody (if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, how can you serve everybody?)
  • enchantment –  captivation, fascination, intense attraction, with an element of surprise, something beautiful and of magical quality, together resulting in feelings of wonder and delight
  • gentrification – not in the glossary; “an often violent process by which a complex and diverse urban environment becomes more homogeneous and exclusionary. It does to neighborhoods and cities what climate change is doing to the earth” (Rebecca Solnit)
  • heritage – a building of great historical or artistic value that has official protection to prevent it from being changed or destroyed
  • liveability – in the context of dense cities refers to them being fit for people of all ages and levels of abilities, providing all the necessary amenities for a healthy and balanced lifestyle, including walkability and accessibility, attractive public places, affordability and effective transport systems (defining liveability | Liveable City)
  • living green – a sustainable way of life reducing our negative impact on the environment
  • poetic – what appeals to the imagination and something that has a sensitive, evocative style of expression that will speak to the human emotions
  • resililence – vs sustainability qv
  • suburban – not in glossary
  • urban – settlements are usually designated as urban once they have grown large enough to support industries which are not rural in nature
  • walkability – a measure of how accessible and easy an area is for walking; generally calculated as a composite of factors which includes at least net residential density, street connectivity and land use mix

I fear we are in trouble here, with Lisbon’s dancing traffic light manikin making an early appearance, plus music-making swings in Montreal. My enchanting cites at the moment: Ghent, Rotterdam and, always, Milton Keynes. Rowan Moore on Little Atoms was a reminder of the complete London, the truly global city.

Cue padlet exercise: “identify some part of your city or hometown that you find enchanting”, hmm. Post a pic/vid and write a 100-150 word justification, like and comment on three and then select the three most important elements of a city that contribute to enchantment from a Gehl-like list of nice things. In my current context it is diversity, variety of scale and the iconic (which may also be the historic) that mean the most.

Central Park Sydney (Twitter | YouTube), our case study, sits on the historic site of the former Carlton United Brewery, and includes Jean Nouvel’s Twin Tower, declared best tall building in the world by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in 2014, equipped with vertical gardens. (Lots on this, largely skipped.) It looks quite err…enchanting, as I commented:

On one level I like the look of Central Park. The mixed use element has a definite appeal and the reuse of heritage elements looks successful. The “dare to think big” approach appeals.

But it does all look rather shiny, and as mentioned by others below I’d like to know how much of it is quasi-public space, how affordable the housing is, etc.

Reminiscent of Finlayson in Tampere, but not really of what’s going on down at Carlsberg. And how about Rotterdam’s Timmerhuis? There is an issue however with eg the ‘curated’ (nashes teeth) Brewery Yard Markets, which don’t sound gentrified at all, honest: “a Sunday market in which stallholders offer produce, fashion, flora, wares and other products”).

Interesting binary observation:

Many of us have a love/hate relationship with our cities. On the one hand, cities can seem crowded, dirty, and noisy. On the other, they could be rich in history, vibrant, and energising. The upside– the magic– is often more apparent in older, historic cities, while modern cities can seem like a concrete jungle…we need to recreate that magic.

The beauty of historical cities usually derives from qualities like human scale, ornament, composition, and architectural articulation, from relationships between outside and inside, from the poetic use of technology, and the elegance of sustainable, or nature-sensitive design

Small is beautiful? Birthday girl Jane Jacobs got a shout-out for being “one of the first to recognise that good cities comprise not only the big, the fast and the shiny, but also the slow, the small, the old, the local, and the communal”, but at the moment it’s eggs: basket.

Hyperdensity, civic delight – and the suburbs

Hyperdensity seems to be the MOOC’s big thing. My civic delight is somewhat limited, but FWIW Vishaan Chakrabarti defines hyperdensity, ie density sufficient to support intensive public transportation systems, typically 75 dwelling units per hectare or 30 units per acre, as good urban design, contributing to the health, prosperity and sustainability of cities. The #FLthecity team goes further: “density can be positive for cities in terms of beauty, joy, public health, economy and the environment”. And if people don’t like it, they can be nudged into it *hackles raise* (is this MOOC designed as a nudge??).

Density is a measure of the number of dwellings or population size in a given land area, often visualised in terms of the building height/number of storeys in relation to the amount of open space – see the visualising density infographicUrban Density Simulator and Measuring density, plus Chakrabarti’s Building hyperdensity and civic delight and vid,

Some density figures from my collection (200+/km = urban):

  • 1800: 83/ha, 1945: 53/ha, 1988: 30/ha, 2010: 24/ha (dunno!)
  • London: relatively low density: 5K/km2 (lots of terraces; extremes); see London’s high life?, a London Society event on 5 April; a Gdn piece shows English city density ranging from 15% (Leicester) to 5.2% (Leeds, Bradford), with London at 13.3%
  • Barcelona: 103 road intersections per sq km, compared to Brasilia’s 41 or Shanghai’s Pudong area with only 17; Barcelona: 15,685 people per sq km, compared to London’s 5,491 or Copenhagen’s 1,850 (WTF?)
  • Ghent: 7703/km2 (centre), 1109/m2 (suburbs)
  • Paris: 21,500/km2

Whose density is it anyway? As reflected above, there are many ways to measure it. How can we increase the density of London’s West End? Here’s how Australian cities have grown over the last 30 years (good diagrams).

See Peter Rees on density: “The idea that to increase density you have to build high is, frankly, bollocks. To achieve high density, you build around the edges of a site, put a nice garden with trees in the middle, five to seven storeys tall. Cities from Helsinki to Naples have developed like that over 100s of years. When you build a high-rise block in the middle of a site, the open space is in the wrong place, it’s around the outside of the site where the traffic is. It doesn’t feel private. You don’t want to sit in your deck chair looking out on Vauxhall Cross.” Build up or move out? Let’s hear it for medium density.

But see also Joel Kotkin on urbanism for the rest of us (The Urbanist, 28 April | Urban Review | New America | New Geography), who argues for a dispersed and less homogeneous city: when asked, the vast majority of people want space when they reach their 30s and 40s. Not everyone wants to be hip and glamorous. Could density (tæthed) turn out to be the new concrete – public responses to several developments locally have been resistant to the number of houses being crammed in.

The density and other characteristics of the suburbs also popped up in Victor Enrich’s exhibition Stad van morgen: over de rand in Ghent’s STAM: “Cities are a mixture of various elements, and so are their suburbs…the distinct identity of suburbs is precisely what offers possibilities for the future and the standard of living in our cities”. His series of images aimed to demonstrate the “undiscovered potential of the suburbs as players of an important role in formulating valuable answers to some of the needs of the contemporary city”.

Centre or suburb? was the title of a Royal Academy event aimed at “locating the soul of 21st century London” and taking place on the day Tooting’s Sadiq Khan was elected Mayor of London. Exclusive hyperdense city centres are well and good in Monocle’s lifestyle cities, targeting hipsters (aspiring and otherwise) and to be consumed out of hours and by the city break crowd, but is it not the suburbs where we should be looking for solutions to the problems of the city?

Uses the end of week wrap-up model (which really ought to be mandatory or it’s all too easy to ignore the social – it needs proper curation!), posted on a Saturday. Key points from week 1:

  • Does enchantment fade over time? While examples like the dancing traffic light are fun and engaging the first time people see and interact with it, its captivation and magic may not be as significant after seeing it over an extended period. How do we maintain enchantment over an extended period? Ideas shared included:
    • When a story becomes embedded into the experience
    • When public places become platforms for inhabitants to share ideas
    • When an object/the environment responds in an ‘intelligent’ way to users
    • Is moving on an emotional level
    • Art integrated with participation
    • …which you might be tempted to call the ‘whimsical unfolding of civic life’ rather than the ‘living culture of a city’
  • Issues around hyperdensity:
    • affordability and cost of services
    • backyards and their value to families
    • busyness/crowding nature of high density, lack of areas for solitude
    • crime
    • economic constraints of some cities/countries
    • geographic issues
    • privacy
    • size of apartments – liveability on inside
    • social problems of isolation
    • plus applicability to eg developing countries

After all that week 2 was a bit meh, centred around the development process which led to Central Park, a pretty classic property development saga with a hyperdense layer. Long series of vids from stakeholders – the timeline is enough for me. Of most interest is the response from local residents, more akin to Hvidovre Bymidte than the picture painted elsewhere. Note also that the Valby Grønttorvet development was made less dense during the planning process. (But more often it’s a case of if you can’t get the residents you want, just decant ’em.)

We are invited to comment on a local controversial development, but of course DK doesn’t really do controversy. Ørestad? Papirøen? and to pen 150 words, Like three comments, etc, as a Central Park stakeholder.

Also to identify who ‘owns’ your city, ie “the extent to which individuals or groups influence and implement decisions around the design and workings of the city”, from a pick list, but heavens, I don’t know, is it meant to be an opinion or fact based? Like new followee Duncan Mackay I could not proceed. Government won, followed by community/local residents, built environment professionals, activitists and other. Still doesn’t make much sense to me.

Key points from the week were the role of women in the built environment, including the need to increase their presence and representation, the nature of healthy cities, the challenge between planners and planning authorities, and the affordability of housing with increasing density.

New post calls – see the #FLthecity tag.

Jan Christiansen’s Copenhagen

Updates: series in Information (paywall) on Fremtidens København by Sebastian Stryhn Kjeldtoft: Jeg har svært ved at pege på én vellykket ny bydel i KBH (with Jan Gehl) | KBHer ikke designet til kvinder og ældre | KBH bliver en by for de rige – sådan er det bare (with Jan C)…much of New Copenhagen has been underwritten by fonder (investment funds, philanthropic bent), some as “gifts” to the city, welcome or otherwise: in which connection its interesting to note SUPERFLEX’s Mærsk – The Opera (2012), a gift to celebrate a gift…

book cover

Cykelslangen, obv

Jan Christiansen was Copenhagen’s stadsarkitekt during the boom years of 2001-10, following the traumas of the 1990s when the city was declared bankrupt. His reminiscences, another of those too-big-to-handle style books where form beats function, were published in 2015 by Strandberg (300 odd pages, yours for ~£35; blurb | interview in Berlingske | Politiken review), with the support of Realdania and Dreyers Fond (I mention this because it seems to be the main economic model for Danish non-fiction). There’s lots of tasteful pics and a limited five page index, but no maps or owt. And, as ever, a tighter editor might have made for a more accessible product.

Jan was the functionary to Jens Kramer Mikkelsen’s overborgmester until 2004, when the latter resigned to become chief executive of Ørestadsselskabet (now By & Havn). Mikkelsen was replaced as mayor by billige boliger queen Ritt Bjerregaard (until 2009). Going down a level, Jan served under two sub-mayors with responsibility for things urban, Søren Pind (V) and Klaus Bondam (R; from 2006).

The library has obliged.

Introduction

The noughties saw an explosion of building and architecture in Copenhagen, a third modern gennembrud following the opening up of the city ramparts in the 1870s and the burst of funkis activity in the 1930s. Under Jan’s watch it was all about urban renewal, housebuilding and kulturhuse, plus the beginning of the process of transformation for the city’s former harbour and industrial areas, in particular Ørestad, Nordhavn and Sluseholmen.

This period also saw byens rum (public space), enter the picture, centred round the experience economy and the idea of a more recreational lifestyle, but by the end of Jan’s period of tenure tighter funds meant that a number of prestige projects were put on hold. Some, such as Koncerthuset, Operaen and Skuespilhuset, have come to fruition, while others have yet to see the light of day, and still others have been downscaled to suit the revised concept of the ‘storby’ we have today.

Jan reflects on the question as to whether he, and in particular the city’s politicians, were carried away by economic optimism generated by the boligboble (housing boom), in the process forgetting the solid and refined values of traditional Danish architecture. Were they too impressed by ideas and concepts, out of scale and even insensitive in the Danish context? Or were they successful in translating international ideas into that context?

Copenhagen’s egenart: scale

At the tail end of the 1990s the council sold off some pockets of land to developers at a knock down price, resulting in some projects commonly judged failures – Kalvebod Brygge and Fields usually get mentions in this connection. These projects were seen as going against Copenhagen’s egenart (let’s call it ‘essence’) which, often, comes down to scale.

It’s being small/er which is seen as CPH’s key quality – the historic buildings in the centre are one storey lower even than nearby Malmö (which might help explain why the latter has for me an immediate urban feel compared with CPH). Complementing the small scale is the flatness, oh the flatness, meaning no horizon and no layers.

Light and wind are also claimed to play key roles – the low sun for six months of the year means that buildings are designed to let the sun in, and the famous housing karréer developed as a way of shutting out the constant west wind. (Hmm…Edinburgh is on the same latitude as CPH and is known as the Windy City, but somehow it lacks the enervating qualities found on the other side of the North Sea.)  Copenhagen – making a virtue of the small and sustainable, rather than the more appealing (and perhaps diverse) resilient.

Buildings in Copenhagen have up to now, with a few exceptions, been kept deliberately low rise, in order to protect the city’s historic skyline of slender towers. In 2007 its politicians rejected Norman Foster’s proposed ‘luxury’ skyscraper at Tivoli as not Danish enough, leading Spanish architect Joan Busquets to comment that cities develop themselves over time and that skyscrapers are a sign of a dynamic modern city – resting on the laurels of the icons of the past is not enough.

Where skyscrapers did get an early seal of approval was in Ørestad City, in particular around the station. Nine were originally on the table, and a further 11 were pencilled for Amager East, with its views over the Øresund. Today a new højhuspolitik has opened the door for further clusters in the developing areas of the city, with the recognition that skyscrapers can help develop an identity, as well as create a critical mass of consumers for new facilities. Carlsberg’s højhuse are being placed in strategic points, with the highest a ‘point de vue’ from Søndermarken and other strategic points. New (supposedly) tall and slim towers of high architectural quality are being talked up as creating connections between the medieval city of towers, Denmark’s Golden Age, the industrial architecture of the recent past and the modern city.

All of which brings us to tæthed (density), seen as the essential for creating city life. Density levels in a parcelhusområde are 20-30%, in central CPH it’s 120-200%, but under the new tæt-høj model in parts of Ørestad, with tower blocks of 8-12 storeys, it’s up to 350% (where there are lots of tower blocks it can rise to up to 500%; at Teglgårdsstræde in inner CPH it’s up to 600%). Jan claims you can get away with increasing density without affecting quality of life when other essentials (shops, culture, transport, parks, byliv) are close at hand.

Finally, homes in CPH are small – the average size per person in Denmark as a whole is 60m2, while in CPH it’s 32m2.

New Copenhagen

There then follows a run-through of key projects masterminded by Jan, some familiar, some less so. Many are included in the Copenhagen X Gallery, another of Jan’s legacies. There’s lots on the minutiae of communal politics, plus ample room for Wikipedia fact listing.

Here are some titbits I picked up:

  • HC Andersens Boulevard – until 1954 known as Vester Boulevard, with a parkstrøg and haveanlæg; today a busy thoroughfare
  • the metro – seen as the solution to the traffic issues caused by CPH scale, so much so that a new area was built to finance it (although to save money the stretch along the Øresund to the airport was built over ground, or rather half buried behind screens)
  • the harbour, aka Den Blå Plan – what to do? it couldn’t just be a big park; issue re houseboats, seen as messy and making the harbour inaccessible, hence limited mainly to Sluseholmen; claimed these days as a success, in particular the improvements in water quality, but still lacks decent connections and a proper sense of its cultural heritage
  • Operaen on Dokøen – brickbats aplenty for not being bymæssig, and does rather loom seen from Amalienborg, but more unique than Skuespilhuset; maybe it’s just not CPH scale

Most interesting was the concept of Metropolzonen, a now unlikely sounding project coined in 2006 to transform the area around Rådhuspladsen, Tivoli and the central station (see Magasinet KBH’s map) into a bigger, higher and noisier byens foyer. Attention seems to have shifted away from this area of hotels, offices, restaurants and Tivoli, and it’s all the better for it. You can still wander round untroubled by much in yer face small scale CPHery, although there’s no denying it can feel rather empty – hordes of tourists dragging suitcases does not equal buzz. It remains to be seen what the opening of Axel Towers will bring, a project which has been on the go since 2012, but generally Denmark doesn’t scale up well, it lacks a bigger picture.

Hvad så, København?

So, what next? In the last couple of years there has been a particular stress on nature and landscape in the city, with projects to create cycle paths, rainwater solutions, pocket parks…but at the same time a lot of construction activity aimed at housing the estimated 1000 people moving to the city per month – although those figures are beginning to come under some scrutiny. Gentrification has entered the Danish vocabulary, and there has been a certain amount of muttering about the number of historical buildings being pulled down in Carlsberg.

The city is increasingly being pulled in two directions, and it will be interesting to see how long the current ‘happy CPH’ discourse can hold. Few dissenting voices are to be heard, but the point has recently been made in CityMetric:

The “cities are great but they could be nicer” band dominate everything…we are all being mocked when the case studies to forge 21st century urban policy are very modestly populated 15th century Italian towns like Pienza.

For more on New Copenhagen see the (undated) Linje C podride with Jan and the 2014 Sharing Copenhagen city walk with Tina Saaby, the current stadsarkitekt.

For more on Denmark’s special sense of scale, see Mastodonternes fremmarch, a recent article in Jyllands Posten, bemoaning the new architecture in Aarhus, and new find Nordic Design Review on scale and proportion, with showcasing inter alia Grundtvigs Kirke and Israels Plads.

See also an article by DF’s cultural spokesman critiquing contemporary architecture, plus responses from Arkitekektforeningen, KADK (calling both the National Bank and the SMK extension fejlplaceret/misplaced) and Politiken.

three towers

Carlsberg’s new skyline: Bohrs Tårn (completion date: 2017), Carlsberg Hovedkontor (1961/97). Kongens Bryghus (1957/97)

#artsaud15: New urban challenges

Update: still confused! #artsuad16 is taking place in Gothenburg, and doesn’t offer owt to excite

I’m planning on restarting my event reports series in 2016. #artsaud15 feels like a good place to start, ticking as it does the dansk, museums and urban boxes.

Arts and Audiences is a Nordic meeting point for cultural leaders, artists, artistic directors, curators, producers, learning managers, communication managers, cultural architects and strategists who want to find new ways to extend audience engagement. Arts and Audiences 2014-16 are produced by CKI (the Danish Centre for Arts and Interculture; Facebook) in collaboration with…other partners.

Thank goodness that’s sorted. I never quite worked it out in 2014 (p5), where an attempt at creating a digital audience experience fell rather flat. This year it’s in Copenhagen, from 2-3 December, with the theme of New urban challenges (programme | speakersFacebook | @artsaa) and a cover pic of people climbing ropes (it’s taking place at AFUK). Anything of interest?

Some interesting factoids to start:

  • the creative and experience industries are the second largest economic sector in Denmark with a turnover of more than DK 200 billion
  • more than 60 % of cultural turnover is generated in the CPH metropolitan area, home to a third of the population
  • every year the population of the metropolitan area increases with the equivalent of a medium sized Danish town
  • in the City of Copenhagen alone the population is growing by approx 1200 new citizens (sic) a month
  • nearly 2 million people live in the metropolitan area, of whom about 430,000 – between one in four and one in five – have their childhood and/or cultural background outside Denmark.
  • in urban Copenhagen the average age is now down to about 38 years against 54 in the rest of the country

Since 2007 Kulturstyrelsen has run a national user survey of museums in Denmark. Need to run this down.

Most of the speakers are in my demographic – there’s not much sign of the young or the ethnic, just sayin’. In the evening of Day 1 they decamped to Folehaven for Tina Enghoff’s 7 x DIALOGUES.

Day 2 didn’t yield much, and with a total of 70 tweets for the two days it’s clear amplification wasn’t part of the event strategy. Plus ça change. Coming along on 15 Dec in Kunsten.nu though, here’s a report.

The art of exploring: flâneurie in an age of mass tourism

Copious notes from Outbounding’s week long discussion (@outbounding) in May – mainly for distant reading, although qus 8 (identity) and 9 (exploration) are worth a closer revisit.

Particpants: Tina Richardson (@concretepost; see her on what people don’t like about psychogeography), John Rogers (@fugueur), Eddie Procter (@landscapism) and Bobby Seal (@bobbyseal1), facilitated by Amy Gigi Alexander (@amyggalexander), plus Linda Lappin (@LindaLappin1; forthcoming book on The soul of place (Amazon US); see Mapping the soul of placeworkshops), and SartreAndSartre (@SartreAndSartre; probably not pretentious at all in RL).

Q1: basic background, definitions

  • the connection between walking urban spaces and navigating the creative imagination – the Romantics used walking as an aid to composition; Coleridge found the pace and meter of steps an effective way of bringing back images sparked by sights on walks
  • the literary character of the Parisian flaneur, the casual wanderer of the streets, was created by Baudelaire in the 19th century, but the idea goes back further to Defoe, Blake, De Quincey and beyond
  • the Situationists, a mostly French political group of writers and artists from the 1950s to 1970s, are quoted as being the inventors of the term: a la ‘‘the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, whether consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals”
  • they were very practical and walked European cities, mostly Paris, creating maps based on their walks, or dérives, which had some loose rules attached; they could last for hours, even days, were meant to be playful, and based on chance routes taken that made the walkers look at space in a different way
  • the Situationist International had a number of strategies that helped them generate these routes, such as drawing the outline of one European city over another, and walking that route as much as one was able; the newly created superimpositions were then seen as a virtual city, a third city resulting from the overlap of the other two
  • the aim was to question the way the city appeared, however these often cut out swathes of the city that they did not approve of, eg representing areas they thought capital was encroaching on in a disturbing way
  • the Dadaists were an influence on getting people to look and look again, to notice and how to notice what you notice, which might have sparked the process common in Paris of daring to leap into the abyss and explore things in a different way
  • unique and profound images come from discovering an unusual angle or perspective on familiar places, eg going on a long trip then returning home, a repeated journey, revisiting at different times of the year, using a route that is usually used for something else, eg waterways or sewers, to trick the perception

Tina: On a fundamental level we are all psychogeographers, whether we realise it or not, as we all respond, in an aesthetic and psychological way, to urban space – even if we do not consciously acknowledge or recognise that. However, in practical terms a psychogeographical walk would have to have some qualities that are beyond a ‘Sunday stroll’ or a walk ‘down the High Street’ to be called ‘psychogeography’.

  • psychogeographical practice inhabits the territory of metaphysical exploration of the intersection between place, human activity (historical and modern), psychological reaction and the natural world; more specifically liminal spaces, often in an urban or edgeland context away from the familiar and the well-trodden; practitioners root out the places that are overlooked, neglected or invisible to the casual eye
  • psychogeography has generally been seen as urban in focus; in some ways almost anti-rural, certainly uninterested in the conventionally sublime or aesthetically pleasing aspects of the countryside
  • such an approach can be prey to easy caricature as the haunt of earnest devotees seeking out and eulogising the most desolate and God-forsaken urban spaces, however it provides a fresh way to read and interpret geographical space and bring together normally disparate subject matter
  • any spatial entity is equally ripe for psychogeographical enquiry – you can get lost or absorbed in a place or landscape anywhere, seemingly everyday places and spaces almost always have intriguing layers and depth to them, whether urban or rural
  • these place-connections can help us find the wonder in our own surroundings – whether historical, political, ecological or something more spiritual or spectral
  • cf ‘deep topography’, an inclusive and expansive way of describing the sorts of approaches to place we are discussing here, our human response to the places we encounter, often with a lot of personal disclosure (also seen in ‘new nature writing’); it could be argued that this element has become somewhat over-egged…
  • Debord noted the term had a ‘pleasing vagueness’, relating well to how a walk or derive can open up, a sense of looseness and following of unexpected turnings, rather than progressing along a planned route, following signs and the like, with a pleasing tension between a natural urge to know where you are, where you are going – to follow the map – and losing yourself in exploring the moment; a sense of wonder, engaging with the unexplained when least expected
  • writers let a place imprint itself on them rather than the other way around; certain elements can resurface in the mind after you have left a place; by not trying too hard you sometimes discover more, it is a different way of looking at a place; almost actively passive

Greil Marcus: To encounter the unknown facets of the known, astonishment on the terrain of boredom, and innocence in the face of experience.

what is psychogeography?

the short version, via the LRM

Q2: the art/practice of noticing

  • how is ‘noticing’ different from seeing? what are the skills one uses to notice? are there special terms or language used for this kind of experience?
  • looking and looking again – a process of walking through the street which you might know well but using the active process of noticing; transcending the everyday walk into something with an active structure, a deliberate exploration of the space and how it affects the creative mind; the key is adding a structure, so not just looking but looking at the process of how you look
  • various levels of ‘noticing’ – zooming in…on a detail others would drift by, zooming out…a sense of a bird’s eye view looking down on the space (your own internal GPS) to locate yourself in the larger view; then later at home you might realise or discover something else about the space – that is three levels of noticing to start with
  • the repeated journey – how the person connects with the place through which they are moving which brings ’emotional content’, sense data causing mini explosions on our inner map; walking meditation

I strongly dislike it when I have my compass withdrawn by being in a new place and do not having an immediate mapping inside. I am much happier when I know which way is ‘up’. Generally, orientation, for me, starts with an overlay of compass points, and then I need water and or hills and or stations and or monuments (tall buildings, trees, distinct geographical markers, which might be something I, personally, find salient, or might be a wider thing. Usually both, but I have no problem remembering, for example, when in Munich, I am near Max Weber Platz because I think it is AMAZING that an underground station should be named after a sociologist.

  • certain names give you an impression of a walk, for example when places are named after writers; estates and shops designed by the post-war modernists often had sculptures, giving access to art to those who might never visit a gallery, or buildings which could be viewed as sculptural shapes, looking at the everyday in a sculptural way
  • walks which follow the same route during different seasons of the year; collect artifacts and record impressions; the key is to ‘notice’ using numerous senses; the visual stimulants in a given season may not be as pronounced as smells or sounds, or weather
  • looking with a photographer’s eye (artist’s eye, the mindful eye), seeing things in a different light, at different times, means that the relationship with the space evolves,
  • noticing as multi-sense oriented, ie sense-walking, Victoria Henshaw‘s smell-walking
  • we don’t just see the things we’ve been conditioned to see, but make the effort to look and notice for ourselves in a creative way; to experience the city, to construct our own mental map of it, we have to walk its streets looking and exploring; wandering at random, letting the city impress itself upon you – it’s a two way street (pardon the pun) actively practising ‘noticing’ whilst being open to ‘letting’ the fresh imprint land on the mind to shape the mental map
  • memory palaces, dioramas and panoramas also spring to mind
  • the act of noticing is absent in most experiences of place as one is always trying ‘to get somewhere’ and so one’s mind is busy, eg ” I had driven by it every day, and never ‘seen’ it.” Later you mind find out more about what you have seen (the layers again – curation?)
  • but there’s a danger of consciously going out to ‘notice’ stuff rather than submit to the experience and find whatever passes over you – sometimes you might not realise what that experience has been till much later
  • a way to take the pressure off is to take photos and just snap away at anything that catches your eye – trying to make it as spontaneous as possible
  • if you are looking to ‘notice’ something specific for research then that is a different thing – more of a survey, eliminating the random and searching for a trace of a something in particular; targeted looking/noticing

The beauty of a practice that is basically walking and looking and using your imagination is that you can bring whatever it is that you *do* know about to it, and then when talking about it you use your terms of reference, and then in the conversation whoever you are talking to uses theirs, and in that way the conversation is a journey of its own, creating, perhaps, a new glossary as it goes along.

Q3: the flâneur

  • Baudelaire adapted the term flâneur, the male stroller of the city who took the position of a passive and detached observer of urban phenomena; the flâneur of 19th century Paris was usually considered to be bourgeois, or at least independently wealthy, and most likely a writer of sorts, often a dandy
  • the first flâneur appeared in Baudelaire’s 1863 text The painter of modern life, providing Walter Benjamin with material for The Arcades Project
  • today’s flâneur is as flexible and undefinableas today’s psychogeographer, eg the LRM’s Morag Rose calls herself an anarcho-flaneuse, carrying out a feminist flanerie in urban space, oriented in queer theory and challenging structures of power

John Rogers:  I think the flaneur is a bit of a detour. I see them as modernist poets flouncing around in the countryside slurping down absinthe. Aimless drifters. Whereas the Situationists were revolutionaries – there was nothing aimless in their drifts – they wanted to transform everyday life (so they said anyway). However having a wander around in the city gazing at the rooftops is a lovely pursuit in its own right.

Q4: recording psychogeographic journeys – travel writing and more

  • travel writing and psychogeography are not clearly delineated fields, although individuals tend to prefer one term over another; works can be filed in various places in bookshops; sort-of-travel books are usually shelved with actual travel books
  • the methods of recording walks are as broad as the term psychogeography; with social networking and blogging a whole new raft of psychogeographers have been brought to the fore who did not have a voice before; opensource software and GIS have enabled creative walkers to trace their walks and present them in new and exciting cartographic ways
  • is there really a need for a different class of writing? although the idea of a psychogeographic version of a Fodor’s guide is an intriguing one
  • there are certain principles in psychogeography which are absent in traditional travel writing narratives, which often have the goal of going from point a to b with planning and intention; the point here is to offer tools which deepen the travel writing narrative or allow it to come into fruition in new ways
  • a lot of travel writing does involve going from point a to b with planning and intention, but there is a lot of fine travel writing / writing about places which mainly has to do with ‘going with the flow’ or ‘hanging out’ in an interesting place
  • Perec talks about his bedroom and so on – our explorations, after all, are housed in our bodies and work their way out from our inhabited spaces before we ever set foot on a pavement

The best writers seem to be able to both allow themselves to experience a space with fresh eyes whilst also having a process where they can approach a place with a frame of mind which might enable them to capture something different, something others may not have picked up, almost like they are feeling the different layers of time in a place, some parts of which might only reveal themselves much later when writing about it.

  • Lawrence Durrell practised the art of ‘silent identification’ while sitting with his eyes closed and his senses open in the ruins of Delphi, which he describes in his essay The spirit of place; passage from Wordsworth’s Preface to the lyrical ballads, discussing the elaboration of common things and situations through a certain coloring of the imagination to freshen our experience of them, plus his idea about ‘spots of time’, those luminous moments of being which writers snatch out of the dark
  • when we sit down to write about a place, or about anything, we are often surprised to discover how much we do remember, how much we did pick up, and how many sensations and impressions of the atmosphere we have retained without our conscious knowledge; Italo Calvino’s unconscious and remembrance of place

In most modern psychogeographic writing two key features differ quite dramatically from the work produced by the average travel writer; a strong contrarian streak, an attitude that draws writers to ignore the obvious places that people write about and focus instead on the parts of our cities and other landscapes that are unloved and ignored, the margins, very often the places they walk to from their own front door; it’s as if they’re trying to find the extraordinary in the ordinary; the second is a mixing of forms, a blurring of boundaries, merging autobiography, topography, history, myth, fiction, natural history and travelogue.

  • travel writing has many forms, too, but since it is attached to consumption and commercial narratives and other such things, it (can) lack these qualities; the best so-called travel writing has also always adoped this polymath appproach, for instance the work of Patrick Leigh Fermor and Bruce Chatwin
  • quote from Benjamin’s essay: flaneurs prefer  “the scent of a single weathered threshold or the touch of a single tile – that which any old dog carries away” to princely palaces
  • the political angle underpinning writing and practice that might fall under the psychogeographical umbrella, eg issues of land ownership, the tensions between public and private space, trespass, gentrification, displacement of local populations and amenities by corporate or statist development, the list goes on…at a time when walking in certain places and photographing certain buildings can get one into trouble with the authorities, people who like to wander often get an up-close insight into state and corporate power
  • walking in Africa you switch gears and must think like an animal, be attuned to wildlife behavior; in very tangible ways you must resort to a primitive self, and you relate to this landscape as the place where humans began to walk upright
  • walking in Italy or New York I ponder the pentimento effect; this street was something else (a canal) hundreds of years ago, or the lawn was a pasture for sheep; in NYC I walk along streets where I used to live or dine and remember the shops or restaurants long gone, stroll around Grand Central and celebrate that it is no longer filthy; I also explored New York from the waterfront, sailing up and down the Hudson, cruising around Manhattan; it’s like flying; you get a completely different perspective
  • Tina: An Englishwoman in LA: “I was surprised at how different it was to the UK. I had to learn all the rules of being a pedestrian, which were very different to the UK. I think its unsympathetic pedestrian policies made it more exciting.”
  • psychogeography as the study of the many layered connections between  our environment and our psyche, as the deep inner maps we make of the places where we live and transit, in which real experiences mingle with ones imagined, desired, or dreamed
  • do we sometimes connect to a space in a different way once we know the reasoning behind a design? the initial pleasure Walter Benjamin experienced on wandering down a Paris boulevard took on a different perspective once he discovered that Baron Haussmann had designed them with the purpose of moving troops at speed and making it harder for dissenting residents to raise barricades; maybe that it why it is sometimes good to explore a place once without knowing the thinking behind the design and then revisit it with that in mind (layers; the issue with guided walks)
  • generally we inhabit our space without noticing its multiple effects on us; part of the pleasure of exploring places is bound up in learning to see, sense, and read them from many different perspectives
  • the old idea of the genius loci, or governing spirit of location – sites themselves have an indestructible, indwelling spirit or energy that produces certain patterns in life processes taking place there at all levels from the behavior of a single cell to a society; this energy works on most of us at the subliminal level, but it can be also be directed and manipulated for certain ends
  • cognitive or vernacular maps, desire maps, eg Mapping Manhattan
  • gardens as mini representations of the conquered world, displays of power; the ‘world as exhibition’, eg the Paris Exhibition and the World’s Fairs

Q5: mapping

  • maps drawn by hand after or during a walk can yield interesting results, particularly when annotated: what did they smell, feel, hear? people drawing maps can be further enriched by reflecting on their experience
  • Christian Nold’s bio mapping and emotional cartography are also interesting: what is your body saying during your experience? senses are key, see Wendy MacNaughton’s map of Dolores Park and video on drawing on psychogeography
  • maps represent ownership and power: those who control the maps we use exercise a great deal of power over the way we see the world; when we create our own maps we take back some of that power, important at a time when so much of our urban public space is being privatised
  • practical utility in an emotional map, eg for property sales, walkability, sense of a place etc
  • a visual picture of a journey can have more weight than just opening a commercial map or guidebook, see eg Katie Kowalski’s World mapped as pop art and Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will
  • combine approaches into a multi-layer map so you could see the cityscape, the bio readings, and the personal annotations, a different form of writing that slices through the various levels of experience in an accessible way
  • maps are the artifacts of a psychogeographic exploration as much as a guidebook for travel, a form of curation (ha!)

The Yerba Buena map – by using an old 1847 map and annotations, I can stand by the Transamerica Pyramid and realize that waves from the bay would be lapping at my feet, that there are only a dozen or so buildings on the hillside behind me. Then realize that within 7 years, the shoreline would have moved much closer to what it is today. Now I have a new perception of that place. I can never see it the same way again. That’s what mapping and other reporting can do, invite others to re-envision a place.

  • can the maps created by the Situationists as a consequence of doing dérives be used by a third party to trace the original experience? most are more of a philosophical statement than a means to relive their experience; a number of more recent efforts attempt it, and Rebecca Solnit’s INFINITE CITY falls somewhere in the middle
  • Tina: I would use the umbrella term ‘vernacular maps’ for the maps produced by psychogeographers, although the form they take is multiple; they can be emotional maps (Christian Nold), based on a Situationist model (cut-outs) or highly stylised and made in Photoshop; with the use of new technologies they can also involve GIS
  • does psychogeography apply to non-urban landscapes? the focus seems almost exclusively to be on cities, towns and other human developed spaces (ie nature writing not psychogeog); be guided purely by your senses and your internal GPS/emotions – there are ways to begin a psychogeographic journey which would apply to anywhere; there are plenty of opportunities to wander, as Robert MacFarlane does for example, across the countryside
  • Wikipedia: Psychogeography is an approach to geography that emphasizes playfulness and “drifting” around urban environments. This makes sense, as the Situationist movement is very much anti-consumerist, which is not very relevant outside of an urban landscape.
  • in terms of the flaneur being drawn in a direction or directed by the senses, that’s certainly possible anywhere, however it should be a concentrated effort of rediscovery, which also is possible in more remote places but more necessary and profound in a dense urban area
  • that said, we should always try to discover the new in the familiar, whether it’s a city street, a river valley, or a friend; many photographers photograph an area repeatedly, from a slightly different angle, different lighting, etc – finding the thing(s) hidden in plain sight is the payoff

Wild places are political, radical and storied, urban neighbourhoods drip with rich ecosystems, flora and fauna; we really need to get over any outdated binary divide between urban and rural; drift and get lost wherever your feet take you.

Q6: tools and apps:

  • if psychogeography is wandering, why would an app be useful? is wandering directed, if not, can it be both?
  • a false dichotomy – cf using a map of one city to navigate another city – that map is a tool. An app is a tool. Because of using a tool, it’s possible to meander with even less of a preconceived, or unknowingly hidden, agenda. Think of a metronome. A metronome is a tool for musicians to keep the rhythm. Now consider a metronome that purposely and continuously is out of step. Now consider a mobile app that does exactly that in relation to exploring an urban environment.
  • an app or a map is a way to keep time, keep track, or somehow set out a pattern; do apps give a way to plot points or craft a grid of some kind?
  • typically, m/apps streamline; Google Maps easily tells you the easiest route from A to B, but what if an app obstructs taking the obvious route and has you discover your surroundings as a consequence?
  • it’s not about the tool/app, it’s about how you use it – you could use an app/map to keep track of the routes you’ve already traveled and make sure you’re going somewhere new every time
  • what if, instead of the most direct route from A to B, you want to go the most fragrant route? or the quietest? alternate ways to navigate and experience a place, a navigational guide tailored to a variety of needs, desires, etc
  • a number of apps have popped up over the past few years that provide contextual information for given places as you walk, pulling you into certain areas because you’ve been alerted that there’s info about a particular spot; the danger is that you become so focused on the spots that you miss everything else
  • geocaching apps and challenges – having a guiding tool and a purpose doesn’t hurt the experience one bit, since they are still getting lost on directions that come from someone else; it’s a bit like the suggestion above of using the map of a different city, you’re allowing yourself to see the route through another’s eyes
  • techniques such as walking x blocks before turning then walking another x blocks, alternating when I turn left or right, starting on a street starting with “A” and going in alphabetical order as much as possible, using a bingo style card of things you need to spot: something yellow, a sculpture, a brick house, etc. then letting that guide when and where you vary the route (fortunately I seem to have an uncanny ability to get lost without any help)

Q7: photography and video

  • photography – the use of reflections, giving the viewer a conflated view of two or more places and altering the perspective, forcing the viewer to look at a given place in new ways
  • explore a place with all your senses and place no expectations on it – just let the place be without insisting that it deliver any certain type of experience – that’s when the place reveals its nuances and you can capture its essence in a way that a commercial effort usually can’t

Honor your desire to wander. The level of focus and appreciation you develop while genuinely exploring benefits the people in your life – you become more interested and maybe even a little bit more interesting. That level of focus also contributes to improving the quality of the work you do whatever your profession might be.  A flaneur may sometimes appear to be “wasting time” but in fact important inner work is taking place – savoring life.

  • Tina used a Microsfoft sensecam and a Lomography camera on a collaborative project on the British seaside, Reading the Arcades/Reading the Promenades, eg on a  cheeky little psychogeographic walk down the High Street of the coastal town of Hunstanton: Hello! From Hunstanton
  • psychogeography suggests the ‘found object’ of art making – I used to post a lot of pictures of stuff on the ground, or things that seemed to me to make a gallery of the street, whether intentional or ideally unintentional; see mixed in with documentations of actual street art my ‘finds’: citynoise.org/author/elaine

Q8: psychogeography and identity

  • psychogeography as an expression of identity – attached to political ideas; social or anti-social; identifying with certain movements such as feminism, expressing some kind of personal quest or liberation
  • did the practice change or expand the way you see yourself, or the way you relate to a group or idea; how did these connections come into being?
  • Debord saw psychogeography as an anti-consumerist movement – see The Society of the Spectacle
  • by avoiding the beaten path, you’re putting your focus not on the obvious subjects around you, such as typically consumerist symbols (big billboards, store fronts, etc; Danish things…); by doing a dérive you are anti-consumerist by design
  • Debord suggested that, through the derive and other practices, we can develop a way of experiencing the city that is not defined by consumerism or the commodification of our relationships, taking us to the point he called detournment, the turning round of our consciousness
  • writing the body person – I have become chronically ill and can’t ignore it; I’ve been blogging and taking photos in the city since I got ill, it made sense since I’ve always written diaries, and walked; see The Pleasure Bath

Q9: psychogeography and exploration

  • are psychogeographers acting as an explorer in some way? are the environments you find truly the last undiscovered territories? could psychogeography change the genre of travel writing by changing the object of exploration?
  • I am using the word “explorer” for lack of a better word, but it could also be “adventurer” although this doesn’t necessarily have the same connotations of “discovery”. I note “explorer” can be an antiquated term,  attached to certain misconceptions, but for others, it is positive term. 
  • Will Self called psychogeography “the great means we have to actually explore“; anyone could go to a remote indigenous community, but few people can really see the mouth of the Thames river
  • the idea that the world has been seen, discovered, explored almost to the maximum is particularly poignant to the travel writer, who is actively searching for that ‘exploration’ experience, as well as ways to stretch the limits of the genre
  • Tina: I have a slight problem with the term ‘explorer’ due to its colonial connotations – the same goes for some of UrbExing, a lot of which could be described as the domination of space ‘via the phallus’; aside from that, Sinclair talks about this idea of discovery in an article he wrote in the Guardian called ‘Secret Britain’: “These sites, come upon by accident, prick our imagination, provoke reverie” (2009)
  • remember ‘urban orienteering’? implies mapping but doesn’t have an imperialist slant
  • Gertrude Stein wrote after revisiting Oakland and discovering her childhood home was gone: “I find no there there in my hometown; there is no school, no grocery store, no gas station, main street is a ghost town, but for my memoirs I hope to reconstruct it. Researching the landscape has been a wonderful meander into features I did not appreciate when I was young.”
  • Debord’s famous Class War Games
  • geocaching can lead into the experiences to which psychogeography aspires; also Phil Cousineau’s approach of a pilgrimage to drive exploration or experience – you start out looking for one thing and find something else entirely; a true denouement

Finally…

I believe at its heart psychogeography (however you define it) is about
O sharing the hidden stories of our streets and the people who have lived and struggled here
O understanding the hidden power struggles that shape our lives
thinking about who controls space, who uses it and who doesn’t and why
O (re)mapping and (re)imaging where we wander
O respecting the many diverse communities who make our homes what they are
O starting conversations, having a good time and reclaiming the streets for more than shopping

The urban museum

Latest urban museum (April 2016): STAM in Ghent, with a modern building surrounding the 13th century Bijloke Abbey and a 17th century convent; making the most of the city’s golden days with six rooms on the history of Ghent and a room apiece on the Mystic Lamb and Charles V (and his chin), plus two excellent final rooms with temporary exhibitions on the changing city (when we there Victor Enrich’s Over de rand), but some jarring changes in style, and the people of Ghent were rather absent

Updates: in its summer 2015 series on museums Politiken has a piece on Køge Museum, reopened in a new guise, going all out for Danish design and iPads. Interesting, but not very social on any level. Will the Museum of Copenhagen go for a radical change in style? (Also in the series: Frilandsmuseet.) See also Hull History Centre.

In på dansk corner we have Kim Furdal (Museum Sønderjylland) on Livserfaringer og de sociale medier and Kirsten Egholk on placemaking in Greve, which deserves full attention IDC. Den lokale museumsopgave er i dag en helt anden end tidligere gives the view from Faaborg, while Charlotte SH Jensen looks at borgernaer kulturarv (citizen level/local heritage).

Following on from #flmuseums here’s a look at urban museums, curators of the history and narrative of place.

Urban museums I have known

The MOOC started out at the Museum of Liverpool, opened in a spanking new building in 2011 and clearly on trend. In contrast, the Museum of Copenhagen currently occupies a building dating from the 1780s. This historic setting very much sets the tone – salon rather than living room, and a rather hokey website. When I visited the exhibitions felt a bit thin, although the city walks are rather better. Of note is Væggen (The Wall), a collection of photos, both historic and current, uploaded by museum visitors and available online and as a 12m long touchscreen in various venues around the city. Deemed a success in terms of creating an audience-centred museum where the public shifts from visitor to participant, but not very usable as a photo collection.

The museum is moving to larger quarters (dating from the 1890s) and hence is closing in October, yikes, reopening in 2017, when it will be sammenlagt with the council’s other museums (Thorvaldsens Museum and Nikolaj Kunsthal) as well as the city archives (Københavns Stadsarkiv).

Even closer to home is Forstadsmuseet, the “museum of the suburbs”, created in 2000? by local ildsjæle and archivist Poul Sverrild (story), and currently under the steer of Anja Olsen while Poul polishes off his PhD. Not officially recognised as a museum, in part due to its lack of a clear research profile but also its small size, and hence not in a position to apply for funding (story). I’ve never actually been there, but I’ve been on a couple of its walks and made copious use of its online resources, not least Historie i gaden and 52 historier fra Hvidovre. They also cover the neighbouring kommune of Brøndby, where they act as a mobile museum, with weekly displays in two locations.

The museum doesn’t do #some and has no English – it’s aimed fair and square at the local resident. It also has no objects, showcases or custodians – the collection is made up of local places. In a paper, 15 years as an urban museum in the public space: learning, wondering, reflection, at this year’s Organisation of Danish Museum’s annual international meeting Poul Sverrild quoted a Danish mayor in the late 1990s who asked: What’s the point in having a museum when we don’t have a history? The response was a “novel key principle and outreach concept, turning a whole history-challenged area into a museum collection and literally placing the exhibition spaces in the public sphere”.

So much for my local museums – would I visit them if I wasn’t on my own particular quest? Of places I have lived, turns out that Huntly House in Edinburgh has been rebranded as the Museum of Edinburgh, like several other examples having evolved from history and local archive collections. Is this part of the much famed spatial turn? OTOH the Museum of London has been going since 1976, while Bristol, Newcastle, Manchester and Sheffield have skipped on the concept so far. Au contraireMartins Museumsblog has a review of the Newcastle Story (along with Helsinki and New York city museums), while Bristol’s M Shed “tells the story of the city and its unique place in the world”.

Less place oriented but still drawing on the local are ‘old school’ collections of random objects. I visited Coventry’s Herbert on a rainy day with a guest and it was pretty interesting, as was the Crawford in Cork, but these are a different animal from the ‘new’ museum of n, targeted at locals under the mantra of the museum as agent for social change, but in practice as much a magnet for idle tourists. From our last holiday compare and contrast Budapest’s rather dusty History Museum hidden in the castle with Vienna’s vibrant Wien Museum, based in a 1959 building on Karlsplatz with numerous exciting subsites. And it’s not like Budapest lacks excitement.

Urban history and the local museum

A recent ODM meeting included a dedicated stream on local museums, facilitated by Rainey Tisdale (@raineytisdale):

Municipalities expect local profiling and attraction of tourists. The state expects research at an international level and outreach as part of the museum’s social responsibility. At the same time the museum has to act in relation to other cultural institutions, event organizers and commercial players in the battle to offer experiences with cultural heritage content. Furthermore, the museum is also expected to have an opinion on current problematic issues. How can museums navigate in this and why are they relevant?

The session looked at different ways of being a museum in local society, exploring notions of place, rootedness, community and belonging. Sadly no coverage, but one paper asked whether the role of the local museum as an ‘identity marker’ for a community, rooting it in local history, is actually anachronistic in a globalised world, concluding though that focusing on what makes a community different can actually allow global perspectives to be expressed and explored in a local context, joining the debate and inviting dialogue on old and new stereotypes (see The Russian Current at the Perspektivet Museum in Tromsø, and also the Museum of Copenhagen’s At blive københavner/Becoming a Copenhagener).

A 2011 seminar in Aarhus’ Gamle By on urban history exhibited (vids) was even blogged! See Rainey Tisdale’s slides on trends in European city museums. Residents should be the primary audience and first priority of a city museum, whose primary concern should be curating contemporary experiences of the city for residents (but who is a resident? false dichtomy alert!). She explored apps comparing then and now, commissioned stories, residencies by eg chefs…activities should go beyond the museum and the city centre, with neighbourhood, hyperlocal and even one block projects. Forstadsmuseet on trend!

From the intro to the Journal of Museum Education 38(1) March 2013) on city museums and urban learning, with city museums defined as institutions that collect and interpret the history of their city and activities including:

  • collecting maps and street views
  • collecting objects and archival records documenting historical events, the city fathers, local industry, and major landmarks
  • mounting exhibitions about cities
  • providing lectures, walking tours, and school field trips
  • publishing educational materials
  • building modest but loyal constituencies

There is a clear area of crossover with local history societies. The expectations of audiences are rising with the inexorable growth of city life, the smart city, the green city, the global city, the comeback city, the creative city…while urban art museums tend to lead the field in collaborations with audiences and innovative programming, city museums need to broaden both their collections and interpretation to represent multiple socioeconomic groups and ethnicities.

History is no longer at the heart of what a city museum does. Rather it is a vehicle through which urban citizens actively engage with their city and connect with each other, exploring and reinforcing their individual identities through the musuem content, with room for memories and emotions as well.

The expanding toolbox: geotagging, pop-up projects, psychogeography, mobile apps, hyperlocal history…a multi-disciplinary approach centred round place based learning and a growing understanding of how people learn in free choice environments.

A different slant

But people no longer fit into nice, neat categories and have more complicated allegiances to place than before. Søren Bitsch Christensen (Dansk Center for Byhistorie; slides) asked whether city musuems really reflect what the city is today. The urban may be the central frame for modern life, but different conceptions of the city exist. We tend still to see a closed built-up area, think the tradition købstad (or Death Star Copenhagen?), when in reality today’s city is part of the networked society. The link between production and settlement is now less clear cut, the spatial less relevant (in 2011?). Today’s post-industrial urbanism, characterised by experience, the residential and architectural quality, all captured in a ‘snapshot’ paradigm of mobile and geotagging with the keywords of presence, belonging and identity, does not offer critical comment and lacks context. The personal and individual captured in stories, rather than collective. (Does this not ignore the fact that place may well be different for everyone?)

Paul van der Laar (Museum Rotterdam; slides) called for new heritage models and concepts (‘bonding’ rather than ‘nostalgic’ heritage), different urban storytelling methods and more imaginative strategies. City curators should expand their expertise beyond “classical driven collection based scholarship”. In the transnational (international?) city we need to avoid nostalgia (excludes those whose culture was not part of the story) and embrace different sorts of knowledge and dynamic interpretation, such as working memory, usable in the present day.

Again, the city as network, with a diverse population who do not necessarily feel a strong allegiance to a single country or place. The here and now, self realisation and representation are all of importance.

transnational city

cultural heritage

mental heritage

So, is there still an Us? Denmark/Danskere, with its homogenous self image and exclusive cultural values, has an issue here. Golden Days is going to be interesting…