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— urbantick

Tag "body"

With the days getting shorter and the temperature dropping we enjoy the last few autumn days. With this is is nice looking back to the beautifully warm summer days. Here is one of those heartbreakingly romantic summer day clips. Enjoy the ‘Love from Southend-on-Sea’ by Philip Bloom, shot with a Sony EX1 and Letus Ultimate. As Philip puts it; ” short film that captures the feel of a day at a typical British seaside town”. Music is by Charles Trenet “La Mer”.
THe beauty of this clip for me is in the way Philip picks up on the characters he spots in the scenes. Lovely arranged with a lot of respect for the individuals, he creates a portrait of them in the scene as a whole. I love it. Watch it in HD and full screen mode.

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The human body is inscribed into a number of cycles as we have seen in the broad field discussed above. Ultimately these patterns have a direct impact on any activities and social relations coming from the body, thereof also the shaping of the immediate environment. Furthermore this highlights the importance of looking at repetitive patterns as elements of the society in an overall sense.

Images taken from Wikipedia.

The relationship and interaction of body and city is the subject of direct investigation with the urbanDiary project. Through the GPS tracking of individuals in the city, the body movement is recorded on a city scale and visualises the extension of the interaction of the body with the urban morphology. Quite literally the record can be visualised as the body’s physical inscription onto the urban form. With the rhythmic constitution of the body in mind, this space ‘creation’ of the physical body is investigated.
In the more theoretical conceptualisation of the body, there is a great emphasis on issues of gender and sex. Although these are very important aspects, it would be too much to integrate it in detail.

If the body is read in connection to the city, the importance of these external issues is emphasised. The body shapes the city in a literal sense if the city is understood as a human artefact. They do actually stand in a two-way relationship, meaning that they directly influence one another resulting in the city shaping the body. Taken from the OED, the body is part of the Greek word ‘Polis’. A polis (πόλις, pronunciation [pól.is], [‘pɒl.ɪs] in English) — plural: poleis (πόλεις, pronunciation [pól.eːs], [‘pɒl.eɪz] in English) — is a city, a city-state and also citizenship and body of citizens. When used to describe Classical Athens and its contemporaries, polis is often translated as “city-state” (Wikipedia n.d.). As we can see, the human body played an important part in the early formation of the city through the ‘body of citizens’ as a metaphor.

In the current debate about the relationship between the body and the city, two main models can be identified. The first one is a cause and effect type of model. The body here is a dominating object over the city as a resulting structure, mainly derived from physical strength to actually build. In this sense, the body is projected onto the city. However as Grosz points out in Bodies-Cities (Grosz 1998), recently an inverted view on this relationship has emerged. The urban environment is labelled alienating and cities do not allow the body a “natural” context. It all fits in to a specific view on humanism. The human subject is characterised as an independent agent individually and collectively who is responsible for the creation of culture, socially and historically. Going as far as denying any contextual influence, in the case of cities this means humans make cities, and over all, in this sense, humans rule the world. In this light, the current debate around the overcrowded city artefacts, sheds new light. Much of the current debate in urban planning is directed by this understanding.

With the UN’s announcement in 2008 that now for the first time in the history of the earth, more people live in cities than in rural areas, a huge wave of debate has rolled over the professions working in related subjects, as reported for example in The Endless City (Burdett & Sudjic 2008). The above humanistic centred approach was applied to deal with rising predictions on city population. In a one-way relationship where the body is the cause and the city the effect the solution is simple. In this debate, it is presented as a question of cleverness to solve this “new” problem to regain dominance on a human creation. The concept city needs updating. Part of this problem is related to the disconnection of body and city. Our understanding has moved a long way from the meaning of ‘polis’ as introduced above. The relationship between the two terms shifted from a dependency to a rivalry. There are signs of the development of a new concept though. For example in ‘The City is You’ a book by Petra Kempf (2009), the title immediately suggests a dramatic change in understanding the city.

The second model is the direct modelling of the city on the state of the body. There are a number of concepts to transform the body, or use the body as an example in the attempt to model larger structures. Machines are amenable to such comparison, but also cities and even political systems have been subject to this sort of function / meaning transfer. The political model is mainly coined by Thomas Hobbes and developed in his book Leviathan (in Grosz 1998). He directly modelled his proposition of the ideal state on the human body, the head being the king, the nerves the law, the arms the military and so forth. A similar literal translation was undertaken by Francesco di Giorgio Martini in 1470 from the body to the urban form of cities. In his explanations accompanying the sketch ,he said: “One should shape the city, fortress, and castle in the form of a human body, that the head with the attached members have a proportioned correspondence and that the head be the rocca, the arms its recessed walls that, circling around, link the rest of the whole body, the vast city. And thus it should be considered that just as the body has all its members and parts in perfect measurements and proportions, in the composition of temples, cities, rocche, and castles the same principles should be observed” (Quoted in Nesbitt 1996, p.548). Similarly le Corbusier is reported to use similar references during a planning meeting for the city of Chandigarh, his only built city project. In Cities of Tomorrow, Peter Hall (1988) reports this monologue: “Corbusier held the crayon and was in his element.
“Voilà la gare” he said “et voici la rue commercial”, and he drew the first road on the new plan of Chandigarh. “Voici la tête”, he went on, indicating with a smudge the higher ground … ‘Et voilà l’estomac, le cité-centre”. Then he delineated the massive sectors measuring each half by three quarters of a mile and filling out the extent of the plain between the river valleys, with extension to the south. (Hall 1988, p.212)”

The relationship here, between the body and the city is a kind of parallelism. The two are understood as congruent counterparts with features and organisation mirrored in one another (Grosz 1998). The implication of such a relationship is not only the clear male dominance of the body over the city, but the resulting implied opposition between nature and culture. In addition, this is also based on a hierarchical structure, for both nature as well as culture.

References to be found HERE.

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I have been talking a lot recently about the creation of space as a synthesis of body and body movement. The idea is directly linked to observations or better visualisation method used for the UrbanDiary data.
The track log is simply points with a lat/long coordinate and a time stamp. However it can be assumes that around this location up to certain distance, depending on physical objects, the environment is experienced. Regarding the sequencing along the clock time information, these experience multiply and over time create a spatial corridor.
Purely by thinking of the body as a physical object moving you can imagine the same creation of ‘space’. This idea heavily draws on the use of memory, of the fading ‘space’ and the imagination of possible ‘spaces’.
To illustrate this idea of choreographed movement here is a series of dance moves that create the space along a clearly defined stepping sequence.
Image taken from chas.utoronto.ca – T’ai-chi footwork

The instruction to Thriller – taken from Nada Mas

For the Thriller instruction here is the original for more facial expression! check it out.

Thriller from Mauro Firmo on Vimeo.

If you have noting to do over the weekend here is the step by step youtube instruction.

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I will be giving my upgrade presentation today in the form of a CASA seminar. It is under the title: “UrbanDiary – The Spatial Narrative of Everyday Life or the construction of time and space in the city”.
The abstract: This PhD research project focuses on cycles and rhythms in the urban environment. Cycles such as day and night or the rush-hour – there are a number of repetitive patterns occurring in the city.
These patterns are the result of spatial and social organisation methods, but they are involved in the organisation of the city as a system.
The hypothesis is that these rhythms stand in a direct relationship to the urban morphology.
The presentation of posted here is now updated.

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The discussion around space is a complex topic and it seems that architects and planners are amongst the people having the biggest difficulties defining it. The reason might be lent two the fact that they have to deal with a unequal pair or space as in the construction of physical objects as well as the creation of space as a resulting void. This shall not be read as a final definition of the nature of space. It is only a attempt to collect some examples on the discussion around space.
I would like to start with the widely accepted idea of the figure ground representation of built form. I believe this technique is derived from the Nolli plan of Rome, invented by Giambattista Nolli and published in 1748. In essence it is the representation of physical form in black, leaving the void (space) in between white.

Image taken from the Nolli Map Engine 1.0 by James Tice and Eric Steiner

You guessed it, this is the ultimate claim of objectivity implemented in the plan. However, usually it is claimed o be in use only for visualisation and communication purposes. Nevertheless it also contains the implementation of truth and the establishment of power through the plan.
Bill Hillier describes space in his book ‘Space is the Machine’ 1996 as: “Space is, however, a more inherently difficult topic than physical form, for two reasons. First, space is vacancy rather than thing, so even its bodily nature is not obvious, and cannot be taken for granted in the way that we think we can take objects for granted” (Hillier 1996, p 26). He continues however with “Space is quite simply, what we use in buildings” (Hillier 1996, p 28). And finally he comes up with an astonishing example of a spatial description (and this is the reason it stands in this context to the Nolli plan).

Image by Hillier, taken from Space is the Machine, Fig 1.22 on page 30

For me this image represents two things. For one this is the statement of intent to follow the tradition of the Nolli figure-ground representation as the visualisation for space, and secondly it raises the question of what exists outside the black line. To some extend, I think, the question is answered with the implied assumption that space is taken in a Euclidean sense as a container, a box that you can put things in and arrange them – boxSpace.
In architecture many famous example of the employment of the Nolli Plan can be found. See for example Ado Rossi.
His take on architecture and the representation has largely influenced the Soglio study and the in this context developed representation techniques. The study on alpine architecture in the village of Soglio in Switzerland was conducted by the Institute of Architecture of the University of Applied Science Basel and lead by Michael Alder.

Image taken from ‘Soglio – Siedlungen und Bauten’ – Ground Floor whole settlement

This example takes the idea of figure-ground to the level of the settlement. It completely relies on the rule of accessibility as the guide for spatial representation. In this sense it is what Hillier is talking about in his example. Space is the vacancy between for the human body impenetrable material (I should say object here I guess). In this sense you could probably also call it an accessibility map or a walking guide.
This is then how Hillier introduces the space syntax concept of space description, as a sequence of, for the human body, accessible spaces.
He says: “…related space, almost by definition, cannot be seen all at once, but require movement from one to other to experience the whole” (Hillier 1996, p 26). Interesting here for me is that to some extend this raises some critique on the figure-ground idea of space, as it employees movement ‘to experience the whole’. But more of this in a following post.

As a physical manifestation of this concept here an example I recently came across on A Daily Dose of Architecture. In some sense this is the above space Box concept in built, including the fabrication and installation process.

Images by FNP – The project ‘S(ch)austall’ as published by DBZ-online

Alder, M. & Giovanoli, D., 1997. Soglio: Siedlungen und Bauten / Insediamenti e construzioni 2nd ed., Birkhäuser Basel.
Hillier, B., 1996. Space Is the Machine: A Configurational Theory of Architecture, New York: Cambridge University Press.

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To continue from the post on the origin of architecture, which I have to admit wrote in a haste, there is an interesting talk by Greg Lynn on his project ‘New City’. It continues the debate with a lot of critique on the contemporary state of the city, but especially critique on the way the city is thought of, not only if we take virtual representations as indicators of the general understanding of urban aspects.

Image by imaginary forces – Screenshot taken from NewCity clip – the New City toroids.

Earlier this year Greg Lynn has given a talk that was broadcasted in the Seed Design talks series with the title ‘New City’. He was talking about a recent project he had on exhibition at the MoMa. It was the idea of developing a virtual world from an architectural point of view. His analysis of existing spatial and especially architectural representation in virtual worlds is quit interesting. I do not really have virtual world experience, like Second Life or something, but this is to some extend down to the visual representation. To me the graphics are simply ridiculous, why should I use this to represent my virtual self if I cannot identify myself with it? I can however identify with the graphical language used by Lynn. But then I think, this represents a very specific social grouping thorough factors like, culture, education, background, financial situation, location and so on. Whether you choose one over the other is not an as free decision as we might like to think of it as.
However this might be a side line of the debate, in terms of the evolution it is obvious that Lynn very cleverly positions his work in this context. His introduction makes good use of and plays well with the expectations of the audience. He knows exactly what this social group is looking for.

The most interesting aspect Lynn is talking about in this presentation to me is his critique on the spatial configuration. He says: “The world is not…ah..its not a globe. I mean I do think… I, I, do think Google Earth is fabulous, but the idea that you go on the internet to see what the world looks like and you find this kind of 15th Century globe sitting there, that you spin around on it on an axis, is … is very strange to me. (at 05.50 in the seeds clip”
So what the come up with is a series of rings called toroids, that are interlocked to replace the globe. it is an interesting idea and has a logic to it as he is talking about it. However there is definitely critique in terms of space, distance, separation and so on. However the visualisations are pretty sexy and this is probably what it needs to be.
However what I am really not convinced by is the actual representation of architecture. This has a long way to go. It looks at the moment like space box renderings. They are following a gravity model to structure activities, but the dealing with the actual form of something needs to be developed.
Especially in the context of the concepts of space and time as social conventions. The current model of space and time could be described as being based on the idea of a market place as the definition of a location and a time. However this would also needed to be radically rethought in this proposal, especially as Lynn introduces this new city as “a new sort of encyclopedia”. This would move the framework from the trade focus towards a focus of knowledge and this might generate a space time construction based on the library as the location and the past as the time.
However have a look at the talk it is only 20 something minutes so a good clip for the lunch brake.

Seedmagazine.com Seed Design Series

Here is an interview with Greg Lynn where he discusses the propsal.

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I am currently very fascinated by everything machine. We’ll as you can guess or experience your self there is very little that would not fall into this category, in terms of conception. However this might also simply be a preconditioned view through the glasses of the ticking ticking ticking blog topic with the idea of cycles and rhythms.
What ever it is here is an update to an other post on the human machine, referring to concepts picturing the body as a machine. Famously Fritz Kahn stands for the most complete work of this idea.

Image by Anatomies by Fernando Vicente – Illustration in the style of Fritz Kahn

However there is a beautiful project by Henning Lederer to animate the drawings of Fritz Kahn and brings them to life. It was produced as an university Master project, details on HERE. Detailed project information can be downloaded as a PDF. Henning also writes a very fascinating blog on everything related to the topic of machines and animation with a string of beautiful examples.

Der Mensch als Industriepalast [Man as Industrial Palace] from Henning Lederer on Vimeo.

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The late 19th century was the time of the machines and the industrial revolution was in full swing. Machines where everything and adored by a great number of people, including scientist (guess they are still today), architects and artists. Le Corbusier was a big fan of the automobile and the ocean liner. The fascination was very strong and in many of his projects references to these machines can be fond. He even wrote: “A house is a machine for living in” (Times). The “Form follows function” coined by Louis Sullivan phrase could also be seen in this context. Others were looking at the city for example Antonio Sant’Elia the Italian artist with his machine dreams of the city. Several movies pick up this topic, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The idea of the city as a machine has replaced the image of a medieval city, that is dark, narrow, alive but out of control. The industrial city as a machine had an internal function and each piece was understood to be full filing a role, there is a very strong sense of control. To some extend this is still how the city is imagined, as a huge interlinked machine that someone is in charge of. Only in the very late century some new description of the city emerge linking it to organic structures.

Image by Antonio Sant’Elia, 1914 – La Città Nuova – taken from storiacontemporanea

During the machine period also the human body was subject to imagination as being a machine. It is the time where sport and sport competition became important and the training of the human, mostly male body, as a machine was convenient.
The artwork of Fritz Kahn falls into this period and illustrates the ideas beautifully. Metaphors have probably always been used to explain human body events. Phrases like “Butterflies in our stomach”, “eardrums”, “and eyeballs“, the heart is ”broken“ or our ”mind’s eye“. These mental visualizations can illustrate feelings to help make them better understandable for others, since they are very personal and experienced individually.
The time was all about efficiency and industrial production was reaching very high levels of production. In this context is easier to understand how people have tried to push the human body. Suddenly the in context of the machine the unpredictable aspects of the human body became a threat that medical science tried to overcome and probably still is.
But some other aspects of understanding of the body are important at the time. The industrial evolution also introduced the human body to new forms of movement. The train and the car meant that dramatically different speeds could be experienced and time and distance in relation to the body had to be newly defined. The very big change was the fact that flying was now possible. The human body was able, with the help of the machine, to fly in the air, just like birds.

Image by Fritz Kahn – taken from morbidanatomy and dreamanatomy

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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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To day we’ll be mapping Plymouth. Well Plymouth ha been mapped before, but I think it is a great location for this sort of exercise. It has such a complicated history with twists and beds and its identity is still strong. A large part of this identity is directly derived from its residents self image. Plymouth has always been a very strong-minded region and it still is. This has also something cheeky and irrationals, which results in, a weird place with lovely people.
It is the end of the world, though, geographically, also economically and fashionably. I have to stress that this is not only to be understood in a negative sense. There are some very beautiful aspects to it. Take the great 60ies, 70ies, and 80ies buildings. These ugly grey monsters in the identity-lacking city, it makes a great collection. Or take the hopeless reinvention of Plymouth with the Abercrombie Plan, a great piece of late modernist urban planning that was already dated, but has never really arrived at it’s location. Plymouth is still trying to implement it, although by now it has lost its head, its arms, its legs … But most of all you have to be there and feel for your self. The atmosphere is incredible, it is one of the places with the most spatial misunderstandings and the result is literally breath taking.
I am looking forward to the results.

Below the input slides to summarize the topics we will be working on.

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