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)

LitLong Edinburgh: exploring the literary city

Edinburgh has just celebrated its 10th anniversary as UNESCO city of literature (Facebook | Twitter). The original city of literature, here’s Edinburgh’s literary story and details of tours and trails (guided | self guided | virtual – a bit lacking in the maps department, mind). Edinburgh is also home to the Scottish Poetry Library (Facebook | Twitter), the world’s first purpose built institution of its kind, it says here, and the Scottish Storytelling Centre (Facebook | Twitter), ditto, adjacent to John Knox House. Not forgetting the Book Festival (Facebook | Twitter), the “largest festival of its kind in the world“. 

The UK has one other city of literature, Norwich (see City of stories), and further literary cities include Dublin (great writers museum), and, pleasingly, Dunedin (about). Update: Nottingham has a bid in! If But I know this city! (tweets | David Belbin | report) is anything to go by, it should be successful. And there’s even Literary Dundee (@literarydundee).

I suspect not entirely coincidentally, 30 March saw the launch of LitLong (@litlong), the latest output from the AHRC funded Palimpsest project (@LitPalimpsest) at the University of Edinburgh (see Nicola Osborne’s liveblog and #litlonglaunch, esp @sixfootdestiny). An “interactive resource of Edinburgh literature” currently based around a website with an app to come launched for iOS, LitLong grew out of the prototype Palimpsest app developed three years ago, taking a multidisciplinary team 15 months to build – geolocating the literature around a city is no trivial matter! See about LitLong for some of the issues.

550 works set in Edinburgh have been mined for placenames from the Edinburgh Gazetteer, with snippets selected for “interestingness” and added to the database, resulting in more than 47,000 mentions of over 1,600 different places. The data can be searched by keyword, location or author, opening up lots of possibilities, such as why is Irvine Welsh’s Embra further north than Walter Scott’s Edinburgh? Do memoir writers focus on different areas than crime writers? See too Mapping the Canongate.

Part of the point of Palimpsest is to allow us to explore and compare the cityscapes of individual writers, as well as the way in which literary works cultivate the personality of the city as a whole.

On the down side, while there is a handful of contemporary writers in the mix, the majority of the content necessarily comes from copyright free material available in a digitised corpus, ie old stuff they made you read at school. Plus search results can be rather overwhelming (339 hits for the Grassmarket) – filters for genre, time period, might be an idea. However the data is to be made available enabling interested parties to play around as they wish, with open source code and data resources on GitHub.

I’ve had a look at the data around Muriel Spark, who would surely be delighted to be considered contemporary. The prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) has a section set in Cramond, near where I grew up. Drilling down using the location visualiser quickly brings us to:

“I shouldn’t have thought there was much to explore at Cramond,” said Mr. Lloyd, smiling at her with his golden forelock falling into his eye.

Searching the database brings up three pages of Cramond results to explore, including 17 Brodie snippets. Note that here you can filter by decade or source.

A search for Cammo, even closer to home, brought up a quote from Irvine Welsh’s Skagboys, although the map shown was different depending on which tool I used:

Edinburgh is a city of trees and woods; from the magnificence of the natural woodlands at Corstorphine Hill or Cammo, to the huge variety of splendid specimens in our parks and streets, Alexander argued, a pleasing flourish to his rhetoric. — Trees and woodlands have an inherent biodiversity value, whilst providing opportunities for recreation and environmental education.

location visualiser map - quill not in park

location visualiser map – quill in back gardens rather than the “natural woodlands” #picky

database search map - not Cammo!

database search map – not Cammo!

At the other end of the scale a search for ‘Bobby’ brings up 72 snippets from Eleanor Atkinson’s book, that’s a lot to handle…TBH I don’t really want them, I want a nice map of locations mentioned in the book, or at least a list, to create my own Greyfriars Bobby trail. At the moment it’s not possible to switch between the text and the map from the location visualiser, although you can do this snippet by snippet from the database search.

As things stand LitLong feels like an academic project rather than a user friendly tool – some use cases might be an idea.Hopefully the same approach will be applied to other cities in due course.

Updates coming thick and fast…the Toronto Poetry Map and, also from Toronto but rather broader, Places of poems and poets based on Representative Poetry Online; from Stanford Literary Lab, Mapping emotions in Victorian London, maps 167 places named in 4,363 literary passages in 1,402 books by 741 authors (background | paper); uses Historypin and Amazon Mechanical Turk

Translating architecture

Spotting that eCPD Webinars (@eCPDWebinars) were offering a series on translating architecture I signed up for the first session on architexts. The series was led by Pierre Fuentes (@ArcTranslations | Proz), a qualified architect living in Edinburgh.

The webinar used GoToWebinar, and took place at 15:30 CET, closing at 16:50. Now I’ve attended any number of webinars for free, and my issues with the format are well documented – see in particular Video video, The webinar experience and In class. I’ve also participated in any number of MOOCs. Clearly as a priced product eCPD’s webinars have a different economic model, and not least need to be rather more closed than a MOOC, however I do wonder if more interactivity could be built around the sessions, particularly as in this case they took the form of a series. While there were opportunities to interact at the start and beginning in the form of polls, it was not a social event – there was no chat during the session and no invitation to take things forward afterwards.

The session took the form of a lecture, with much of the time spent on the presentation of slides with bulleted lists of (fairly basic) information, lacking pace and drive. (As they say on R4’s Just a minute: “he’s listing again!”) These could have been sent to participants beforehand, allowing more of the session to be spent on substantive issues actually related to translation and the skills required in this particular field, or even to go into more depth on some aspects of the information – it’s a waste of a webinar to use it mainly for knowledge transmission (what rather than why), and the end result is not very engaging. I switched to surfing with half an ear mode after about 15 minutes.

Post webinar I received an email with the slides and a four page list of resources to cover the whole series, mainly relating to French, with two pages taken up by a list of texts about architecture from Plato’s Republic onwards. Hrmph. In total I received six emails relating to the webinar, from four different email addresses.

Following an email exchange with eCPD Webinars I decided not to attend the rest of the series, which didn’t seem to be what I was looking for, suggesting that a flipped webinar might have been more substantial. I will however be giving the webinar on editing non-native English next week a go – stand by!

Below is an overview of the #archiseries gleaned from the website and Twitter.

Architexts

Building on translation studies theory, we will look at who ‘writes’ architecture and what text types they produce. Some particular genres, which occur more regularly in the workload of translators, will be looked at in more detail.

Translation is “about guiding the intended co-operation over cultural barriers enabling functionally oriented communication”. This quote from guru Jeremy Munday’s Introducing translation studies (2001/13) from Holz-Mänttäri (1984:8) is useful, as it encapsulates an issue around both translation and non-native English – cultural differences may get in the way of what you are trying to say.

Different types of texts (or genres) are shaped by three functional characteristics, ie the purpose of the text:

  • informative – content focus
  • expressive – aesthetic focus
  • operative – reader focus, reactive

All three may be present, but one will predominate. See diagram presenting how different text types relate to this classification:

diagram

See also Katharina Reiss’ ‘Type, kind and individuality of text: decision making in translation’, in L Venuti, The translation studies reader, London: Routledge, 2000.

The webinar was informative, where it could have been more operative : D To offer more meat Pierre could have started with the diagram and then moved on to how different linguistic devices relate to the process of translation.

Translating graphic communication is an issue – this uses tight and particular language aka jargon and specialised terminology, with lots of acronyms and abbreviations.  One to one literal translations will often not do. It may be presented as a PDF, which is a pain, or worse! as a drawing, requiring special software. (No hints offered on what to do about this.)

Architechnics

What is this ‘technicality’ that translators are all talking about? What does this term imply for texts related to architecture? We will identify the links between architecture and technical fields such as engineering, design, law, property, sustainability, etc – from fancy pedantry to essential jargon. A picture being worth a thousands words, we will also discuss how to translate drawings (or not).

The mother art

Architecture and translation are both about design, but there is a fine line between skills and style. Using architects’ favourite figure of speech, the analogy, this presentation will look at recurrent stylistic problems and how to approach them.

From proportion to moderation: a brief history of architecture

Architecture is older than literature. It has shaped human life as soon as the human soul sought means to protect its cell, the body. It has shaped the dimensions of the chairs we sit on as well as the borders between some of our countries, sometimes more radically than nature itself. Through a brief history of western architectural theory, this final presentation will define what architecture has meant, means and might mean to people.

More useful was an article on terminology found on @sandersonkim’s website:

  • source text (ST): a 1911 German dissertation on Le Corbusier’s writings on German urban planning sources for a client in New Zealand – so that’s how and where requests may come from!
  • how far should your target text (TT) be country specific, in particular if you don’t know the jargon aka canon of specialist vocabulary in that country? and bear in mind the time the text was written in – in this case the TT should not sound too modern
  • have the texts referred to been translated before? usage may be established in this way
  • what to call the discipline itself? In French ‘urbanisme’, in German ‘Städtebau’, while in English there is a choice between town/city/urban, planning/design – again, what is/are the convention/s?
  • ditto re ‘ville’ or ‘Stadt’ – UK English tends to favour ‘town’ and US English ‘city’ planning, while ‘urban’ covers both
  • do ‘rues’/’Straßen’ translate as streets or roads? do the two English terms cover different ranges of meaning? checking usage in architectural texts can help
  • ingenuity and lateral thinking may be more important than deep subject knowledge and technical expertise – architects tend to creative use of language, making architrans where ‘art’ meets ‘technical’ translation

The city as translation zone

2017 update: polylingualism in Berlin as reflected in the Stadtsprechen festival, celebrating Berlin-based authors who write in languages other than German, followed up by the Parataxe events series…see also @exberlinermag

2016 update: the TLANG project (blog | @TLANGProject | Academia.edu) aims to “to understand how people communicate multi-lingually across diverse languages and cultures”, in particular in translation zones. It is investigating language practices in public and private settings in four different research sites in Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds, and London. Lots of outputs. On 13 May the conference Communication in the superdiverse city (report) focused on focus on communication in changing urban communities around two themes: Language, business and the city and Everyday encounters with heritage.

See also the Free Word Centre’s multilingual creativity series (website). In a different approach entirely, Denmark’s national gallery employs internationals to help them into the Danish labour market (SMK ansætter udlændinge i integrationsprojekt).

Cities have the potential to make us more complex human beings. A city is a place where people can learn to live with strangers, to enter into the experiences and interests of unfamiliar lives. Sameness stultifies the mind; diversity stimulates and expands it.

Richard Sennett in A flexible city of strangers, quoted at the start of the introduction of the special edition of Translation Studies on The city as translation zone. Also cited is Aristotle, who “contended in his Politics that similar people could not bring a city into existence. The city could only be the creation of different kinds of people who come together to found a community where they can live in common”, and Judt’s Edge people:”I prefer the edge: the place where countries, communities, allegiances, affinities, and roots bump uncomfortably up against one another – where cosmopolitanism is not so much an identity as the normal condition of life”.

Below are my notes from the introduction by Michael Cronin, author of Translation in the digital age, and Sherry Simon, author of Cities in translation looking at four linguistically divided cities (Calcutta, Trieste, Barcelona, and Montreal) and Translating Montreal, written from the “perspective of a walker moving through a fluid landscape of neighbourhoods and eras”. It relates to my thoughts about the developing international literary community in Copenhagen, as well as to other themes I am exploring in my writing.

Much is written about the visual character of today’s cites, but rather less about their auditory aspects. To what extent is language a “vehicle of urban cultural memory and identity, a key in the creation of meaningful spaces of contact and civic participation”? While multilingualism may evoke a “space of plurality and diversity” translation proposes an “active, directional and interactional model of language relations”.

Four elements through which translation can be considered a key to understanding urban life:

  • the sensory landscape – to refer to the city or street by its former name/s projects a different historical view; “City streets are renamed as old heroes are disqualified, as new icons are glorified. Sometimes entire cities are covered over in a new language, as though the decor were being changed.” -> Trieste, Piran; also seen with changing ideologies
  • translation zones – an analogy with Pratt’s (1992) “contact zone”, social spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash, and
    grapple with each other, developed by Apter (2006): a “broad intellectual topography, a zone of critical engagement” that is not restricted by the boundary of the nation -> international literary scenes may consist of mixed and polyglot communities, places of interaction and exchange across divides, a hybrid ‘intercultural’ network where diverse cultures and languages overlap; not so much source and target…
  • cultural mediators – quoting Certeau (1983): “intermediaries, shifters, connecting agents, translators and dispatchers are the ‘anonymous heroes’ of communication, making “social space more habitable”
  • digital connectivity – the uses of translation in digital contexts is various and growing in the ‘smart’ city, creating a new translational order; whereas previously living overseas involved an often decisive break with the language, culture and society of the place that was being left behind today staying in touch is simple, although there may still be pressure to “translate oneself into the dominant language of the host community” and there may be a disconnect between the public, physical spaces of the city and the privatised, digital spaces of communication

The introduction also includes an overview of the changing nature of the university within the city plus summaries of the five cities covered in the issue (Antwerp, Lviv, Istanbul, Tampere and New Orleans), focusing in particular on their translation histories as a lens for investigating their social and cultural histories. It concludes thus: “the multicultural and multilingual nature of large cities becomes the unacceptable face of a modernity that threatens unitary narratives of nation and community…the city becomes a central part of the
narrative of national decline as espoused by identitarian populists” as reflected in language tests for entry or citizenship.

Translation zones are the hub of a resilient society, the clearing house of possibility:

As any one culture will only provide a subset of all the possible responses to a situation and generally these responses are tailored to meet situations that have already been encountered, societies that are beholden to the monocultural have immense difficulty in dealing with the unforeseen or the unexpected. What constitutes resilience for societies in the liquid modernity of the contemporary world is precisely the availability of a large repertoire of cultural responses and different world views that feeds into a creativity of imagination and an inventiveness of action.

Postscript: from an interview with Sherry Simon:

  • civic plurilingualism can be a powerful creative driver, affecting the flow of new ideas across the city
  • all cities are multilingual; in translational cities there is directionality
  • translators can influence this – explore spatial aspects, eg where do they live, what are they doing, do they have a ‘cultural project’, what are their relationships
  • language relationships change over time:
    • ‘distancing’ – where communities develop their distinct independent identities – > tolerance, cf multi-culturalism and a limited form of belonging
    • ‘furthering’, the cultural encounters that are a pervasive force in modernity -> (terms of ) engagement
  • can translational practice shape the literatures of cities? what are its creative dynamics?
  • the practice and the consequences of reading one language, writing in another, ie using one language to introduce new ideas to another
  • the role that self-translation can play in the development of an author’s voice as well as the contestation of their legacy
  • using one city (your ‘home’ city) to describe another; you are prescribed by your home city

In a feature about Paul Celan in Politiken (1 Feb) Uffe Hansen (KU; retired) is interviewed about Galicia. He praises the “cosmopolitan community” of the Hapsburg Empire, where all nationalities and languages had the same rights, allowing a rich cultural climate to blossom. “A homogenous population does not create culture”. Asked whether the cultures were blended or lived parallel to each other, he definitely goes for the latter: “no one demanded integration, and definitely not assimilation…there were many disagreements, but the groups had respect for each other. They practised diversity without enforcing common denominators (fællesnævner), thus making each cultural tradition stronger.”