Friday, May 29, 2009

city as text

Hi Sarah. It's great to meet you (assuming I didn't bump into you in the crowd at SciBarCamp). As Mark said, I'm working on a WCC piece regarding how people re-mix urban spaces. I'm trying to think of the city as a text, rather than as a machine or a body. Toronto's recent brouhaha about bike lanes brought this home for me, because the lanes involve a literal re-writing of the street's surface, turning the road into a palimpsest of sorts. Am I way off-base in that reading of the city? And can you think of other examples of re-mixed spaces? Are there any other thinkers (besides Bruce Sterling) who think of built environments in this way? Thanks, Madeline
hi madeline this sounds like an interesting article! i think that the idea of city as text is a bit outdated in the field of architecture...the discourse at the moment is more direct: the city fabulous metaphor in itself and doesn't need an additional metaphor to describe it. there's a belief that the meaning of form in architecture is irrelevant, and that people will appropriate and use any space however they desire. rem koolhaas' "delirious new york" is the seminal text in this way of thinking. this has led architects to focus more on material research and innovation, rather than social experimentation (not me, of course). the idea of the palimpsest was very popular in architecture in the 80s and 90s. that was an era of architectural theory, based on deleuze and guattari's writings on literary theory, which was very focused on destabilizing the dominant regimes - social and political - through architectural form. this was appropriate at the time (before the fall of the berlin wall) but not at this present moment of globalization and economic instability. that being said, one of my favorite theorists, robert venturi, is from that era and uses semiotics to analyze architecture and urbanism. the difference, i think, is he looked for new ways architecture expressed meaning, rather than dismissing the idea that architecture can/should affect social change. look at "learning from las vegas" by robert venturi and denise scott-brown for a great analysis of the way commercial architecture "speaks" to the citzens of and visitors to las vegas. (one of the arguments in my thesis is that he developed a language that described the elements of an "emergent" system, the city, and that his methods should be used now as a basis for a new social/semiological language for architectural design which treats the group of users of an urban building as an adaptive emergent system) other architects/writers you may want to look at are jan gehl, who talks about "streets for people" (and is speaking at the design exchange next wednesday), and teddy cruz, who's work in with immigrant and low income populations in sandiego and tijuana is empowering and inspiring! there are increasingly urban "movements", which often inlcude architects, which simply appropriate space in the city: Banksy (a graffiti artist from the UK), guerrilla gardening (and bike lanes and park benches), the white/ghost bicycles (monuments of urban cyclist deaths), and knitta please (knitted "graffiti"). hope this helps s

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

updated drawings

some drawings (area and site) identifying public uses (retail, transportation, civic, religious):

Sunday, May 24, 2009

eating the city

two great projects on mapping free edible plants/fruit in urban areas food for free (fantastic!) fallen fruit (slightly annoying)

12 x 12: the city has arrived

the city came today to councillor pam wolf and a friend dropped by the site after hearing about 12 x 12 from my good friends at the grand cafe. i have been waiting for word of 12 x 12 to leak to the city ever since it started...i tried to keep a low profile for the first few weeks to keep the project from getting shut down. i suspect the city will be concerned with the recording of public space, and with the chalk "graffiti", and maybe even with the planting of food in public spaces. councillor wolf asked about the project and the motivations for it. she spoke about her role in the city, her invlovement in issues of housing and social programs within the city as well as her connections with the school of architecture (she lives next to elizabeth english and works with jeff lederer and rick haldenby on various committees, not to mention that the school is in her ward). she also spoke about several grassroots groups in cambridge interested in improving the community (eg. lovecambridge, and jeff's downtown reviltalization for midsize cities). let us see what this last week will bring... unfortunately, my camera is still offline, so photos and anecdotes will have to do for now.

Friday, May 22, 2009

a working wall

i've spent the day working on a wall of images...sometimes posting what i am working on helps me get out of a funk...the act of placing images on the wall helps me to think and see patterns and gaps in my work. 12x12 is still offline, though some participation is still occurring. i will do some videoing by hand tomorrow and sunday. i don't think my thesis is about emergence...maybe it is about amplification, or tuning a social space. maybe it is about a parking lot/square. maybe it is about gentrification. maybe it is just about seeing...participating... it is about a question of spatial determinism...about the relationship between space and behavior...the affordance of architectural elements... it is about language, signs, meaning it is about the group and the role of space in the formation of the group and in the wisdom of the group

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

technical difficulties

cranky hard drives have forced me to take a day off-line for hardware rehab...a window of opportunity for madness to erupt while my watchful eye is blind.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


i am at a bit of a loss as to what to do with 12x12... "greening the granite block" isn't what i had hoped for the site...nor has it garnered any participatory support from the community as of yet... what did i want? i was hoping for dances, speeches, crowds of people...unprecedented activity in a previously neglected corner of galt...perhaps a rage mirroring my own at the gall of the city: removing a bench in a public park(ette) because a business owner disapproved of how the bench was being used? ambitious, i know...optimistic, definitely...especially considering the minimal work i have done so far to promote the project... so what now? what next... what thesis?

greening the granite block

having reached the halfway mark of 12x12, i have been considering the effects of the interventions so far. after leaving the site alone for almost a week, the only piece left was the marigold and strawberry plants i planted in the disused drinking fountain way back on may 1. the three watering cans, solar powered lights, chalk, and glowsticks have all been removed while heavy rain has washed away all of the chalk drawings on the site. aside from some sinking after the first heavy rain (due to the spaces between the rubbish in the base of the water fountain) the plants are doing well and have apparently been accepted by the community. so on saturday, may 16, i started "greening the granite block": i made a couple of posters and put up copies at the farmer's market (next to the booths which sell bedding plants), melville cafe and grand cafe, and at baird's supermarket (my source for plants for the site). i also taped a poster to the drinking fountain planter - which is the first time i have advertised directly on the site. i planted again myself: some peppers, cherry tomatoes, and snapdragons...this time in the existing planters with the prickly bushes. total cost was around $20 for the watering can, the soil, the trowels and the plants. (sponsored by mom&dad!) interestingly (as i noted in my "cleaners II" post) this morning for the first time the cleaners have passed through the site and left it largely intact (the only object removed was a broken trowel). i think i am building up to making a bench, notice board, or some other piece of "infrastructure" to add permanently to the site... i have also been toying with the idea of working on the other "parkette" in the "square": an abandoned corner at the south-east of the parking lot, behind the crazy bill's building. then again, i still have a thesis to actually write...

thinking allowed - architecture is contingent

this is an interesting episode of a fantastic program on "how society works" from the BBC discussing the relationship between the abstraction the architect indulges in during design and the building as used post-construction.

Thinking Allowed

benchless - the site cleaner II

17.05.09 wateringcan IV et al. post-cleaners! this morning (while walking pogo) i ran into the cleaners again. they were having a smoke behind the TRIDENT corner store at around 7:40 am. "you're out early for a sunday" "mmhmm" "do you work for the city, or do you clean for the sake of it?" "we're outside contractors" "oh yeah?" "woof woof" pogo interrupts, and noticing their discomfort, i continue home "have a good day" "mmhmm" based on their accents, i wondered if the cleaners were portugese, so i asked the owner of baird's (portugese) supermarket about them. he said he sees them every sunday, but he didn't know anything else about them. i will try again next week...without pogo (sorry pogo!). baird's supermarket on ainslie street interestingly, the cleaners left the site intact today - the only thing they removed was the broken trowel. i have taped a "greening the granite block" poster to the water fountain, perhaps adding legitimacy to the project in the eyes of the cleaners? or perhaps my persistence has simply won them over (i am on wateringcan IV)... "greening the granite block" poster at benchless 16.05.09 a broken trowel (removed by the cleaners 17.05.09)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

benchless - the site cleaner

i have purchased four watering cans, so far, for 12x12. four watering cans, two solar powered lights, two 15-piece packages of sidewalk chalk, one set of gardening tools, one marigold plant, two strawberry plants, two white snap dragon plants, one "sweet 100" cherry tomato plant, one "habanero red" hot pepper plant and one "hot portugal" pepper plant. i have also rescued one redbox, covered in images of soft porn, one mystery hanging plant and three african violets from various piles of garbage. every couple of days, my "offerings" to benchless are gone. the red box is still sitting behind the garbage bin next to the parkette and the marigolds and strawberries are happily growing in the water fountain, but most of the rest has disappeared into the ether. where have they gone? last week, i discovered a clue: on the way home from a walk with pogo, i noticed a man walking down ainslie street towards me. he was dressed inconspicuously - a blue jacket, dark pants, a baseball cap - and he carried a broom and litterbag/dustpan which he used to sweep up a disintegrating piece of cardboard from an abandoned doorway. he was headed towards my site... i looked at him closely, but not noticeably (i hope), as we passed one another, and determined to hustle back and check benchless as soon as i had dropped pogo off at home. it was a quarter to eight - too early to catch him on tape, unless he lingered at benchless. i hurried a bewildered pogo home and turned back towards benchless. by the time i returned, the mystery man was gone, my chalk was gone, and the redbox was once again behind the garbage bin. it must have been him! the cleaner, as i now call him, didn't appear to work for the city, nor did he appear to be a resident or business owner from the granite block. my two initial theories were scuttled - who is this man who tends to benchless? could he be a local retiree, picking up litter to fill his time? a member of the legion, lions club, or kinsmen? a man serving community-service for some minor crime? perhaps he is unemployed, or under-employed, and one of the local aid agencies sends him out to tidy our streets in exchanged for groceries or a bit of cash. i need to find out! he feels some sort of ownership over benchless...he tends to it...edits it...who is he? a minor flu has tempered my enthusiasm for 12x12 this week. i mean to go out and wait for the cleaner at benchless every morning, but haven't quite had the strength or the spirit, so far. luckily, i have an eye watching the site even when my energy for observation wanes. yesterday, while trolling through my recordings for the past week i found him! while watching the night recording for may 8, i noticed the redbox had moved again. someone pulled it out from behind the bin and left it next to the parkinglot entrance. my interest piqued, i looked a little more closely at the recordings before and after that night recording, trying to catch the person moving it. while i had no luck finding the mystery box mover, on may 10, 2009, at 8:00 am i had recorded someone moving it back behind the garbage bin. there was the cleaner, with a friend, making their way across the site, tidying as they went. perhaps next week i will meet him in person, now that i know a little more about his schedule, and ask him about himself - and, of course, how he feels about benchless.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

reflections on benchless

i think of benchless as sketches for my thesis...i'm trying to do a few things (badly)... one is to draw a crowd to my site so that i get some more robust data on how people interact with the specific architectural elements of these buildings. i've succeeded in recording hourly since may 1 - i hooked up a laptop and a video camera through evocam, a mac-based video recording software. but, i haven't succeeded in drawing a crowd, yet, so the recordings are of mostly isolated interactions between a few individuals and a limited number of architectural elements. i'm also testing the ownership of this space in a grassroots sense...who participates, what is acceptable on the site, what is removed, by whom and for what purpose. what are the rules governing this space in this community? what does it take to change those rules? i'm intrigued by the responses so far...mostly chalk drawings using chalk i leave on the site. (the chalk is removed daily...i haven't figured out by whom, yet) some of these drawings are doodles...lines, personal marks...and some are messages - "flowers were watered may 3", "your move"...and some are plays on space - like the bird drawn on the shadows of the tree branches. the flowers and strawberries i planted have not been removed or damaged...but the watering can is removed every couple of days, as is the chalk. the red box i rescued from the garbage pile was removed quickest of all, along with the solar powered garden lights i put in last night. the box was in a new garbage pile. the lights were nowhere to be found. does someone have a small stash of chalk, watering cans, and solar powered garden lights? i imagine that they are lined up in someone's back garden...inventoried, watiting for their newly purchased compatriots, which will be left on site tonight at midnight, to be picked up sometime tomorrow morning. part of me wants to carry 30 buckets of water and leave them all on site. fill the garden with dozens of solar powered lights...slowly blinking in disharmony. part of me wants the city to track me down and fine me...for littering? for now i will continue to draw hesitant lines...light lines...layering and layering until the picture emerges

Monday, May 4, 2009

house tour - heritage cambridge

some ladies who had volunteered for the tour had lunch at lily ruth on saturday and left behind this complimentary map and ticket. cafe13 is on the tour and the blurb gave me a little more insight into my block - known as the granite block.
Built as part of the Granite Block, between 1851 and 1862, this composite stone building more than any othr led old Galt to once being dubbed the Granite City. Brothers William and Robert Webster erected this Georgian stone building to replace an earier block that was destryed by fire. It is not only considered a fine example of pre-Confederation architecture, but also symbolizes the spirit of cooperation in the community established by six independent merchants who built it. For many years the Imperial Bank occupied the building's main corner, where Cafe 13 Bar & Grill now resides.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

12 x 12: guerrilla gardener

12noon may1 2009 (1000%): guerrilla gardener part 1 guerrilla gardener part 2 guerrilla gardener part 3
before | after
the plants were purchased just around the corner at baird's supermarket the watering can is from up the hill at home hardware the potting soil is from rita's sponsored by: mom&dad

what is 12 x 12?

for the next month i will record the goings-on in this little parkette at 12noon and 12midnight everyday. these videos will be posted on this blog for everyone and anyone to see (tag: 12 x 12). i have made some flyers calling on performers, artists, protesters, and anyone else interested to claim this corner as their own some day in may at 12noon or 12midnight. to kick it off, today i planted strawberries and marigolds in the waterless drinking fountain and i left a watering can nearby. so...think of something to could be just you, or you and a bunch of friends, or you and a bunch of strangers could dance or sing or could have a tea party or a could build something, draw something, take something, leave could just go sit, or stand, or could scream or whisper or orate...feel free to make flyers and promote your event disclaimers: try to not get arrested or hurt...this is public space...i have no special authority or permission to use this space...


here is a new video sped up 1000%: 09.04.30 (from south side of parking lot) these are my favorite parts: the family the fence