Friday, 2 October 2009

The Urban Narrative as a Tool - Mapping Workshop


The mapping workshop down in Plymouth was structured roughly into four sections. The first three in the beginning were to explore the topic of urban stories and the fourth to actually invent an urbanNarrative.
The first part was about lost and found objects. The participants where asked to bring in an object they had found on the familiar commute between home and university. I had do be something small enough to bring to university and something that obviously did not belong to the surrounding it was found, an objet trouvé.
Everyone brought in something, wondering what we might do with this. Even though they did not know what I had in mind everyone had already formed some kind of relationship with the object. Already the fact that it was found on the familiar, individual commute created a sense of ownership supported by a curiosity.
We got together and put all the objects in the middle and I asked them to speak about the found object and explain where it was found, speculate about who might have lost it and what its value is. This quickly got out of hand. The stories became lively and very creative. They even started to interlink as people quickly realized that the area the objects were found in is rather small and invented characters could have met on another. There where stories about lost shopping baskets, lottery tickets, loafs of bread, bits of wood and many more.
Whit out intending we spent a good hour talking about Plymouth as a city and the everyday life. The main characteristics started to come through, such as the relationship to the water with the story of the lost lottery ticket combined with the sailor who was connected to the wooden plank. Or the aspect of university life and students in Plymouth as a love stories over a bracelet, alcohol and a brick wedged under a railing. But also the social problems involving different classes and characterizing areas played an important role around the Marks and Spencer bottle.


Image by urbanTick / selection of objet trouve.

We continued by drawing and sketching the commute, introducing mental maps. While discussing the sketches, again participants realized that they actually described similar section of the city and started comparing their personal perception with some one else’s description of the same space. Differences in time and mode of transport where identified.
After discussing Kevin Lynches Image of the City we quickly mapped Plymouth as a whole using Lynches five elements of path, node, edge, district and landmark.


Image / Mental map of skating between home and university

The third elements was directly aimed at the real body experience, to actually go to the city and physically experience it. The Plymouth After Life tour was perfect for this. I took the students on a walk through the car parks of the city centre.


Image by urbanTick for JLF-urbanresearch - Plymouth After Life tour

The design of the urban plan by Abercrombie is intended to welcome the visitors and residents with the big axis, either north south or east west. But in reality everyone sneaks in through a little back door from the car park inside a block into the shopping street. We walked up and down raw concrete staircases, across large decks of car parking and through long tunnels or bridges. Because these service spaces are normally not experienced in sequence it generated a strong impression. This divide between back and front of the “modern“ layout became apparent and discussion sparked among the way.

For the urban Narrative part of the afternoon the participants were sent of in groups to find the location of their story with the help of a GPS device. In a visualized short story they had to revile the location. The story was made up of the objects from the morning and the invented characters.

It was a great day and good fun. I was myself surprised by the power of stories once more. This playful approach to describing and mapping the spatial aspects of the environment proofed valuable in many ways. Not only in the aspect of character, body and location, but also in terms of time, atmosphere and sequence.

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