life in the margins

The social peripheries of urban life and the resultant connections and networks of individuals and groups through various cultural proximities suggests a complexity of spatio-temporal relationships woven through the urban fabric of cities. This notion formed the basis for the research paper ‘Living on the edge: cultural proximities, social peripheries and spatial margins’ presented by the authors at the recent Architectural Humanities Research Association Annual Conference 2011: Peripheries, held at Queen’s University, Belfast, 27-29 October.  The paper expanded on the use of films as mapping devices to provide legibility or disclosure of the contemporary urban landscape, complementary to the ‘imageability’ that Kevin Lynch sought to identify in his early research on understanding cities, by contributing to our knowledge of cultural proximities interwoven with the appropriation of residual urban space. Furthermore, films were positioned to have the capacity to render the city as a narrative in a reflexive relationship concerned with spatial sequence, editing, revelation and event. Of particular significance here was the value of films as diagnostic instruments that afford us the opportunity to describe and understand urban conditions and spatio-temporal relations through the experience of them. Indeed, the ability of the camera to move through space and place facilitates the articulation of these architectures, allowing us to perceive the lived experience of the films in a visually rich manner, compressing the complexity and density of information into an understandable sequence.

Gated communities, surveillance culture and spatial tensions, La Zona, Rodrigo Plá, 2007

Mapping Interstices

The authors were recently invited to present a special preview of material from their forthcoming book, ‘Urban Maps: instruments of narrative and interpretation in the city’ (Ashgate, 2011) at the inaugural Once Upon A Place: Haunted Houses & Imaginary Cities, 1st International Conference on Architecture and Fiction, in Lisbon, 12-14 October. The paper, ‘Mapping Interstices: understanding urban conditions through the lived experience of societal margins in contemporary film’, explores the friction between the city planned and the city as a living superorganism. Whilst contemporary cityscapes may often be presented from above, the spatial organization and fragments are actually consumed from below i.e. the lived experience of urban conditions. This contrast between the relatively static order of the system and the high degree of mobility and temporality of life on the streets reminds us of the duality of cities and their ability to shift between the objective and the subjective. It is here that we may identify the narrative nature of these conditions with particular reference to moving images that afford exploration and understanding of urban space and event as filmic mappings. In this context films are interpretative tools that are typically concerned with spatial sequence, editing and revelation within the city. They use allegory, narrative and structural patterns to unfold ideas and tell a story. Space can even be used as a character, acting independently within the narrative itself and as such films may map a version of the city that is manifest of networks, urban subtexts and occasional nodal collision. The contribution to our understanding of the physical and time-based characteristics of the urban landscape that films offer was discussed to further equip and enhance our strategies for responding to it.