10/14/2010

Book - Small Scale - from an Ecology of Space

A book review post for the second Ecological Urbanism discussion hosted by Annick Labeca, Taneha Bacchin, DPR-Barcelona and urbanTick.


The expectations on performance of urban spaces is rising. From a purely transitional space it currently is transforming into a multi functional object, serving and delivering on multiple levels. 
The city as it is, crowded, noisy, polluted, littered, congested, in repare or abandoned, is no longer just accepted. Citizens are demanding for their space to perform better and satisfy more divers arising needs. On one hand this is surely due to a rising awareness of these issue, but is on the other hand possibly also down to a very old and very urban laziness and egocentric city view.
The city is perceived as an independent entity and the desire to disconnect it from any place and context is gaining momentum again. The omnipresent news of the growth of cities and the migration of a majority of the population towards the cities of this world is fueling this very same understanding. A certain citizens pride swings in the discussions around the raising problems in urban areas, justifying and reasoning partially the struggle. 
The dependancies of the city on the supporting countryside and the wider context are actively denied, putting the focus on an intercity network. As for example visualised in the recent virgin ads for intercity train connections between London and Manchester. The best way to beat the zombies of the countryside.
Don't go Zombie… Go Virgin Trains, 2010

However there is a rising bottom up initiative to brake up this tendency from within the urban fabric. One could argue it is simply beautification of the available urban space, but for this it is going too deep, expressing a clear direction and a rootedness in the interconnected reading of spaces. 
The city is invaded by nature inspired actions, some simple statements, others as more permanent changes and installations. 
A such a performance was for examples the fox project by artist in the National Gallery in London, as discussed here. The artist let a fox roaming around in the rooms of the Gallery over night. The wild animal can be followed via the CCTV camera system and is seen wandering from room to room, in this rather symbolic performance. 

In a new book published this week by Princeton Architectural Press, this rising practice of small scale spatial interventions is documented with examples from across the globe, providing a good overview of state of the art. It covers a wide range of projects set in very divers contexts and on first sight they seem to be purely spatial performance enhancing interventions, but on further reading a overarching intention to reinterpret the urban space becomes visible. 
The subtitle in this sense is for such a reading of the intentions of the documented projects not very helpful 'Small Scale - Creative Solutions for Better City Living'. It is an understatement we hope. 
The most prestigious of these projects might be the 'High Line' in New York, by James Corner, Field Operations and Dillier Scofidio+Renfro, with an artificial nature very literally growing back through the city and made accessible for the public.
High Line, New York, James Corner/Operations Fields in collaboration with Diller & Scofidio + Renfro, 2009 (© Archland)

Beside these high profile projects the collection contains very beautiful gems perfoming in a very similar sense on smaller scale. Often the intervention is based on the integration of citizens as for example in the project 'Parasol and Light Rooms' in Boston, Massachusetts by DesignLab, or the 'White Limousine Yatai' by Atelier Bow-Wow.
The vision to bring people together and offer numerous possibilities to take over the produced spaces is one of the driving aspects of this 'new' breed of interventions. 
As also for example shown in the project 'Greeting Wall' by Bunch Design in Los Angeles, US. The intention is to highlight overlooked aspects of the urban environment employing short term changes to surprise and interact. 
White Limousine, Atelier Bow Wow, 2003 (© Atelier Bow Wow/Echigo Tsumaari Art Triennale)

Occasionally the interaction is pure motivation as for example in 'White Noise White Light' by Hoeweler + Yoon Architecture installed in Athens, Greece. Pedestrians could walk through a field of fiber-optic stalks with the stalks responding to the presence of people by glowing. 

A step further in spatial interaction and spatial history moves for examples the project 'Making Time Visible' by Schneider Studio as installed in Boston, or 'In Pursuit of Freedom' by Local Projects realised in Brooklyn. Both let the citizen get in touch with the distant past, bost spatially and as narratives. 
Making Time Visible, Schneider Studio, 2002 (© Schneider Studio. Illustration firstly published at Design Boston)

The publication 'Small Scale' is a great collection of urban interventions that propose a very different reading and interpreting of existing urban spaces. These interventions do camouflage themselves as playful offers, but actually are fundamentally revolting against the established performance oriented, established city planning routines. 

The beauty of the publication is that is covers mainly realised projects and not pure proposal dreams, this especially gives hope to it being read as an emerging but lasting trend, hopefully.

Bibliography

Moskow, K., (2010), Small Scale: Creative Solutions for Better City Living, Princeton Architectural Press

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