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The Subversive wanderer

A aimless walk through the city subverts the way it is conventionally used today- in a
hurried and supperficial way. These are the premisis for both Benjamin’s flâneurism
(2) as well as Debord’s dérive (2), the latter being inspired by the former. Both
terms are important in understanding the pedestrian use oft he city as a
underminig act, and will be expored here in further detail:

the flâneur
The famous German literary critic and philosopher, Walter Benjamin, became the first
to formulate the concept of the flâneur, drawing on the writing of Charles Baudelaire,
and it was after Benjamin made it an object of scholarly interest in the 20th century
through his writing, that it came to symbolise the aesthetic observer of the urban
experience. [2] Honoré de Balzac described flânerie as "the gastronomy of the
eye"[3], describing the way that the the flaneur is a participant in the crowd that
floods the streets, and physically takes part in the text that he observes while
remaining autonomous and aloof, studying the constantly changing "spectacle" of the
environment before him.
Like the reader, the pedestrian- Benjamin calls him the flaneur- is also
someone who knows how to read the city magically. [4] His gaze is at the same time
analytical and critical. He is able to notice the details in the environment that are
mostly passed by others in the furry oft he modern lifestyle.

Guy Debord and the Situationist International, which was founded in 1957, wanted to
reconquer public space. The circle of artist surrounding Deboard and the splitter
group COBRA surrounding Asger Jorn saw themselves as an international
movement aimed at liberating art from capitalist relation sod production and
integrating it into everyday life practices. For the Situationists, interventions and the
construction of situations meant social change and revolution. They introduced
specific practice outside of the art context in order to disrupt the dominance of
commodity consumption. The city, public urban space, became the appropriate site
for these interventions. Experimental forms of behaviour and practices in public
space, the dérive (drifting), and the psychogeography were meant to turn space into
a realm of experience rather than something one simply passed through.

The Flâneur is a concept that derives its name from the French noun flâneur,
meaning "stroller" or "loafer", while Flânerie is the verb, and refers to the acts of
strolling. [1]

In the scenario of the Flaneur, he is the audience, and the city becomes the stage-
that which is being played out and exposed. Benjamin uses the figure of the
flaneur to fashion the city as interior. Moments of sharpened awareness
transform it into distinctive, topographic places, who’s furnishing and fittings
become ’staged’ memory. [5]

The Emotional aspect of the Townscape

’’For a city is a dramatic event in the environment.’’
In the context of modern-day architecture and urban planning, designing for flâneurs
is one way to approach issues

of the psychological aspects of the built environment.
Gordon Cullen describes in his book, The Concise Townscape, how the city’s spaces
are viscerally strung together by a traveller’s specific experience oft hem as they
unfold around him/her. The city then becomes a continuous chain of dramatic
moments leading from one view tot he next. Each new view that progressively comes
into sight elicits another emotional event that brings a new layer to he previously
established ones provided by the city and experienced by the traveller. Gordon
Cullen refers to this as "drama", an enlivening gestalt that makes the city both
interesting and enriching. [7]

’’In fact there is an art of relationship just as there is an art of architecture. Its purpose
is to take all the elements that go to create the environment: buildings, trees, nature,
water, traffic, advertisements and so on, and to weave them together in such a way
that drama is released. For a city is a dramatic event in the environment.’’- Gordon
Cullen, The Concise Townscape

In order to create a system within which such a context can be analysed, Cullen
proposes 3 main ‘gateways’, or layers which together work to create the emotional
perception :
1.position/ serial vision
The significance of all this is that although the pedestrian walks through the town at a
uniform speed, the scenery of towns is often revealed in a series of jerks or
revelations. This we call SERIAL VISION.

Pg. 10
2.motion/ place
Since it is an instinctive and continuous habit of the body to relate itself to the
environment, this sense of position cannot be ignored; it becomes a factor in the
design of the environment
…I would go further and say that it should be exploited.

Pg 9
Within a commonly accepted framework-one that produces lucidity and not anarchy-
we can manipulate the nuances of scale and style, of texture and colour and of
character and individuality, juxtaposing them in order to create collective benefits. In
fact the environment thus re- solves itself into not conformity but the interplay of This
and That.
Pg 12

These three layers can serve as a tool to better comprehend the way our
environment currently impacts our perception of it, as well as the ways we could
perceive a potential environmental scenario.
In order to Illustrate this, Curden uses the example of the Well Hall Estete in Eltham,
built by the government in 1915 for Woolwich Arsenal workers by architect Sir Frank
Baines. Cullen praises the articulation of the street by elements such as the
projection and repetition oft he gables, as well as the change of level, but condemns
it for not showing more signs of social life.
He goes on to describe in detail a number of elements (some more formal some less,
belonging to different ‘layers’.) which can be used as a reference when observing the
urban environment.

’’Townscape is seen here not as decoration, not as a style or a device for filling up
empty spaces with cobbles : it is seen as the art of using raw materials-houses, trees
and roads-to create a lively and human scene’’

The Glorious cities of Congestion;
The extreme of Manhattan

’’However overcrowded, dingy, insanitary and airless the old towns may be most of
them retain this quality, which is the essential quality without which a town is no town,
with which lack of air is merely a minor nuisance- let us call it towniness.
pg. 135

Curden maintains that which was familiar amongst the modernist- that densely
inhabited places are congested with people, traffic, buildings and fumes. But this is
precisely what makes them worth living in and visiting. This is taken to its extremes in
the heavily populated metropolises of today- places like New York and Tokyo, which
have populations that exceed 20 million inhabitants, find density at the very center of
their identity. Heavily urbanised, these cities become icons for what contemporary
urban spaces are perceived as.
This heavy urbanisation inevitably goes hand in hand with the growth of trade and
commerce. New York City, is known for its congested, dense nature- one that
nurtures a heavy commercial flow.

But New York, in addition to being a lot of other things, is a Venice in the making, and all
the ugly paraphernalia by means of which this making is slowly going forward, all the
unlovely processes, physical and chemical, structural and commercial, must be recognized
and expressed and by the light of poetic vision be made a part of its beauty and romance.
- J. Monroe Hewlett, President, Architectural League of New York, New York: The
Nation's Metropolis
pg 120

Each Skyscraper, reflected in the roofs of an endless flow of black limousmes, is an
island of the "yery modernized Venice" -a system of 2,028 solitudes. The Culture of
Congestion is the culture of the 20th century.
Rem Koolhaas
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Koolhaas revels in the concept, as well as the reality of what Manhattan is and at the
same time represents- a conglomerate of diversity, of difference tightly packed in one
meter squared. Both maximum congestion, and maximum light and space, both
and beautiful as possible and as commercially viable as possible. [7] paradox,
pg 176

He goes on to describe how the Rockefeller Center is the very epitome of
urban conflicts, and how it is in the nature of this space for these conflicts
never to be resolved.

The extreme of Berlin

Outdoor promotion and publicity
‘Search as you may through the perspectives of the new towns-to be, and you will be
hard put to find an advertisement. And yet of all things, this is the most characterise,
and potentially, the most valuable, contribution of the twentieth century to the urban
scenery. ’’

Pg 151

Instead of denying advertisings role in the urban environment, Cullen not only
accepts it as an integral part, but even bestows it the role of an greatly important
contemporary contribution to the cityscape. While still remaining critical to its
potential to overpower the architectural landscape, which he describes as vulgar in
its extremity, he accepts promotion as an element of urban that helps to define it.

Informal exhibition spaces of the cityscape;
Narrating in the urban environment.

Through the comprehension of the city space as a scenographic space, one in which
the modern ‘flaneur’ is free to roam and discover, we come to understand the
importance of the composition of the city on a large scale (neighbourhoods, parts of
the city), as well as on a smaller scale ( small gathering spaces, public ‘back yards’),
the first of which falls more towards the responsibility of the urban planner, the
second that belongs more to the realm of the architect. We can zoom in even further
in scale and come down to the point of the content of these spaces- the advertisings,
the coffee shop signs, the navigational maps and symbols- the realms of the
designer. But we should consider that all are intrinsically connected, and inevitably
contribute to the perception of the city environment. Sometimes they even reference
each other (like the map or the street sign), sometimes they do not, but they are in
any case connected through their spatial proximity, and formulate ensemble the way
an observer perceives their environment.
This ‘wholesome’ or integrated approach is that which views all these things as
equally valuable in establishing an understanding of the way urban space is
perceived. With this in mind, we could proceed to either analyze different urban
scenarios, and, in comparing these, try to discover the withstanding and most
relevant observations that could bring upon a pattern or specific ‘approach’ for
different places.
Ultimately, this approach or ‘method’ could be developed to be used as a future
ideation tool for city developers/architects/planners in order to observe their
intervention in relation to different scales and aspects of the perceived urban space.