isolative urbanism: an ecology of control

Image by Will Riley exploring notion of BAE Systems as local authority

Friday 9th October 2009 saw the official book launch of Isolative Urbanism: an ecology of control, co-edited by Richard Brook and Nick Dunn. The book is the first published research output from the [Re_Map] unit and the essays collected together are concerned with the relationship between urban conditions and space, public and private. In particular, the book has a primary focus on how the ownership of space is demarcated, enclosed, implied and enforced. This situation is heightened and accentuated in the context of a town with a singular economic force, particularly when said force is the manufacturer of military hardware. As the essays establish a general view of their focus, they also make explicit the manner in which their area of study may be considered in the context of Barrow in Furness.

Increasingly the design of (public) space is concerned with the control of that space, its visual permeability, its surveillance and the capacity for crowd control. It is the proximity of digital and real space that is testing these realities and challenging the convention of behavioural patterns. The question of what constitutes community, networked and residual space is of concern here as are devices of appropriation, enclosure, severance, fragmentation, and cultural identification of space. With this in mind, the essays gathered here seek to address the various mechanisms of control within contemporary urban conditions in relation to three key areas of discourse: Policy, Utopia and Globalisation.

Reactive policy development, that attempts to define spatial configurations and legislate for functions within designated systems, is instrumental in the negotiation of boundaries between physical and socio-economic territories. The first section of this book therefore concerns itself with the future development of policy, typically establishing a framework within which the extremities of political governance can be tested in relation to various scenarios. The question of what may constitute the future of urbanism is often inseparable from the concept of utopia, against which the radical reorganisations of extant conditions are investigated and evaluated. This builds upon a basis of policy and as such the second section of this book relates to research wherein the focus is to apply idealised regulatory systems to analyse emergent or enhanced strategies for urban space. Beyond these immediate contextual relationships are the connections to a wider environment whether physical, economic or social. It is the identification of potentially lucrative integration with a globalised market, and the corresponding repositioning of Barrow-in-Furness in relation to this, that underpins the third and final section of the book. The generation and adaptation of new and existing industries that may assure the future of the town is developed through a range of research methods and synthesised to address the problems of isolative urbanism.

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.