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

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interstice and residue

The C20 art and social theory concerning ‘the everyday’ precedes and overtly informs the architectural fascination with space now defined as ‘interstitial’ or ‘residual’. Lefebvre, Lyotard, Ruscha, Smithson and Baldessari all played their part in exposing the mundane and banal and subsequently the specifics of the spatial orders of capitalism.

Niche space, leftover space and blurred territory are all by-products of urban policy and processes; motorway junctions are particularly explicit providers of well defined residue, space without programme. Below is a copy of an article from CTRL_ALT_DELETE, a small fanzine out of Sheffield, by the author of Autotoxicity. The piece, M1 – part one (Hostile Environments) is about living in the space carved out by the motorway junction where the A1(M) meets the M18.

Business, science and office parks at the periphery have their own brand of broad delineating fields of thorny soft landscape gently interspersed by mesh fencing, vast tracts of this boundary condition consume our edge cities as a mediator between security and greenspace policy.

Recently, Gordon Matta-Clark’s Fake Estates project has been brought to the authors’ attention from a host of different sources. He bought up 15 plots that were remnants of land deals, the carving up of larger sites or slicing through sites with pieces of municipal infrastructure. These were usually pieces of land that would be considered useless in development terms, but clearly the process of their creation fascinated Matta-Clark. The City of New York auctioned them for apporximately $35.00 each. GM-C only had the opportunity to document the sites through assembly of the title deeds and a physical and photogrpahic survey, before moving on to alternative projects. This is said to be symptomatic of the man who lived out his art, acting as quickly as he was thinking and sometimes thinking and acting before he had concluded his thoughts! The work was uncovered by GM-C’s wife after his death and caused something of a stir amongst those who had already selectively categorised and packaged the artist as “the chap who cuts holes in buildings”. This work challenges the notion of the grid as organising device, indeed almost celebrates its ambivalence, it usurps the architectural ideal of the grid as a rationalisation of space and presents its irrationality upon its confluence with policy. Pamela Lee discusses this work, with others, in Chapter 2 of Object to be Destroyed. The work was re-investigated in 2003 by the Odd Lots project shown at the Queens Museum of Art and White Colmuns.

Video stills from a 1975 video by Jaime Davidovick with Gordon Matta-Clark shot on site during the project.