Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Book - Improvisation and Urban Practice - ReplayCity

Space in the city is subject to transformation on different time scales. It is being built and rebuilt constantly and not only by diggers and cranes, but also though the decisions and makings of individuals programming the space.

Theories and practice on this have been neglected for some time and it has been deemed old fashioned to pick up on them. However, more and more the discussion around the production of space and the making capacity of individuals also regarding the conception of space, has gained momentum. A number of aspects probably have lead to this, including the availability of new technologies which requires more dynamic and more subjective conceptions of space.

Fun Palace
Image taken from SLCL.CA / Cedric Price 'Fun Palace' diagram. "Automation is coming. More and more, machines do our work for us. There is going to be yet more time left over, yet more human energy unconsumed. The problem which faces us is far more than that of the ‘increased leisure’ to which our politicians and educators so innocently refer. This is to underestimate the future. The fact is that as machines take over more of the drudgery, work and leisure are increasingly irrelevant concepts. The distinction between them breaks down. We need, and we have a right, to enjoy the totality of our lives. We must start discovering now how to do so." – Cedric Price (From Agit-prop to Free Space: The Architecture of Cedric Price).

In his new book 'ReplayCity - Improvisation als urbane Praxis' Christopher Dell brings together an refreshed view on these practices and conceptions. The book is published by Jovis and is only available in German at the moment. The book is organised in three parts, the first one on the city and urban practice, the second on e on improvisation and space and the third part on music and space.

Dell is arguing that the cities have become more complex also because of size and number of people living together, but also has identified a shift in the questioning of the city. He points out that the question no longer is 'What is the meaning of city?' but now would be ' What produces the city?'

One of the topics for example that is discussed in the book as part of the improvisation and everyday negotiations in space is the aspect of the politics of space.Here it is the discussion around the use of order as structure, form and function of space as defined by individuals, groups or organisation. This does to some extend tie in with Hagerstrands three basic conceptions of space and time where he focuses on restrictions and constraints. This is a much more negative definition Hagerstrand proposes and its great to have it reformulated here by Dell.

The book sources the great thinkers of the past ranging from Kant, to Lefebvre, to the Situationists with Guy Debord and de Certeau. It however also features Peter And Alison Smithson with CIAM or Cedric Price and other great names of the architecture scene of the mid twenties century, very much related for examples to the publication 'Radical Games'.

Image taken from metronature / John Cage's A Dip in the Lake is the exploration of a city by means of a 'random' soundmap that leads performers, listeners, or participants to places they may never have been before. The score identifies up of 427 locations within a city. The 'locations' are either very specific (such as the intersection of two streets), or more general (such as 'a park' or 'Lake Ontario'). Recordings are made at each of these locations, and divided into 10 groups of 2 (quicksteps), 61 groups of 3 (waltzes) and 56 groups of 4 (marches). These groups of recordings are then mixed live by the performers.

The discussion is cleverly organised and the improvisation terms as well as practice is used to discuss the wider questions of space and city ranging all the way to the design of cities. The book puts forward a very clear theoretical base and argues without loosing sight of the goal consequently along the activities and actions of citizens as the driving element of spacial production. Dell manages to bring the reader to think about the city as a dynamic pice that is constantly shaped and reshaped. This is not a new idea at all, but it has not been presented in such a consequent and updated form for the past thirty years. Dell would not put it this way but essentially what he talks about is the congruence of form and activity as Carl Stinitz put it in the Hypothesis to his article in 1968 'Meaning and the congruence of urban form and activity': "There is a high overall level of congruence between form and activity. Congruence is defined as consistency between the physical form characteristics of an environment and the attributes of its activities". And this is definitely an upcoming topic that will, as a concept, be extremely useful especially in connection with the available technology of distributed mobile computing and sensing.

Image taken from / ReplayCity book cover.

Dell, C., 2011. Replaycity: Improvisation als urbane Praxis, Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

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