Adrian Chen writes:
There has long been a subculture of so-called “urban explorers” who have made a game of accessing off-limits places. But Deas and the other Instagrammers distinguish themselves from these mostly older, more cerebral trespassers. “They’ll go to the top of the bridge and touch it and be like, Wow, this architecture!,” Deas says, a little dismissively. Urban explorers take photos mainly to document that they’ve been there, while for Deas the image is the whole point. The outlaw Instagrammers have more in common with graffiti artists, another subculture of underground creatives who make their work in the cracks of the urban landscape. Many Instagrammers go by enigmatic handles that would look good scrawled on the side of a subway car, like Novess, Black_soap, Heavy Minds, and 13thwitness, aka Tim McGurr, an unofficial godfather of the scene. But the outlaw Instagrammers are better-positioned to thrive in post-Giuliani, post-Facebook New York than old-school graffiti writers: transgressive enough to be cool, but innocuous enough to amass a huge following without getting hunted down by the NYPD.
In a follow-up, New York magazine reports that Deas has been arrested.
From a 2011 BLDGBLOG interview with China Miéville:
. Novelists have an endless drive to aestheticize and to complicate. I know there’s a very strong tradition—a tradition in which I write, myself—about the decoding of the city. Thomas de Quincey, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Iain Sinclair—that type-thing. The idea that, if you draw the right lines across the city, you’ll find its Kabbalistic heart and so on.
The thing about that is that it’s intoxicating—but it’s also bullshit. It’s bullshit and it’s paranoia—and it’s paranoia in a kind of literal sense, in that it’s a totalizing project. As long as you’re constantly aware of that, at an aesthetic level, then it’s not necessarily a problem; you’re part of a process of urban mythologization, just like James Joyce was, I suppose. But the sense that this notion of uncovering—of taking a scalpel to the city and uncovering the dark truth—is actually real, or that it actually solves anything, and is anything other than an aesthetic sleight of hand, can be quite misleading, and possibly even worse than that. To the extent that those texts do solve anything, they only solve mysteries that they created in the first place, which they scrawled over the map of a mucky contingent mess of history called the city. They scrawled a big question mark over it and then they solved it.
Arthur Machen does this as well. All the great weird fiction city writers do it. Machen explicitly talks about the strength of London, as opposed to Paris, in that London is more chaotic. Although he doesn’t put it in these words, I think what partly draws him to London is this notion that, in the absence of a kind of unifying vision, like Haussmann’s Boulevards, and in a city that’s become much more syncretic and messy over time, you have more room to insert your own aestheticizing vision.
As I say, it’s not in and of itself a sin, but to think of this as a real thing—that it’s a lived political reality or a new historical understanding of the city—is, I think, a misprision.
BLDGBLOG: You can see this, as well, in the rise of psychogeography—or, at least, some popular version of it—as a tool of urban analysis in architecture today. This popularity often fails to recognize that, no matter how fun or poetic an experience it genuinely might be, randomly wandering around Boston with an iPhone, for instance, is not guaranteed to produce useful urban insights.
Miéville: Some really interesting stuff has been done with psychogeography—I’m not going to say it’s without uses other than for making pretty maps. I mean, re-experiencing lived urban reality in ways other than how one is more conventionally supposed to do so can shine a new light on things—but that’s an act of political assertion and will. If you like, it’s a kind of deliberate—and, in certain contexts, radical—misunderstanding. Great, you know—good on you! You’ve productively misunderstood the city. But I think that the bombast of these particular—what are we in now? fourth or fifth generation?—psychogeographers is problematic.
Sci-fi writer Tim Maughan on graffiti:
My own interest in graffiti dates back to my first teenage introduction to hip-hop culture in the mid-1980s, when the first images of New York subway art started to make their way over the pond in magazines and, much rarer, snippets of TV alongside those first rare glimpses of block parties, scratch DJs, rappers, and breakdancers. Apart from their raw visceral energy, both hip hop music and graffiti struck me as intensely science-fictional. Both are about the appropriation of technology to create something new?—?hip-hop taking samplers and turntables to generate new sounds they weren’t designed to make, and graf taking car repair paint and the very architecture of cities to create new visual spaces and canvases. They are, perhaps, the most literal expression of William Gibson’s famous cyberpunk-defining phrase ‘the street finds its own use for things’.
Gibson’s early works, and those of his many lesser imitators, would herald the hacker as the rebellious hero of the future; a trope that would immeasurably shape everything from political activism to venture capitalism in the decades to follow. Perhaps the stereotypical image of the hacker as lone digital warrior, skulking over keyboards in screen-glare lit rooms seems very far removed from the image of the spray can welding, shadow dwelling, trespassing graffiti writer, but the two subcultures share a startlingly similar set of goals, values, and approaches: both look to subvert existing infrastructures and systems, both value one-upmanship and bragging rights, and neither can resist the illegal thrill of breaking-and-entering?—?whether physical or virtual?—?even when the risk of being caught may well lead to ruthless, draconian punishment. Both also share, perhaps most importantly, an aesthetic obsession with the future?—?something apparent in the work of artist Leonard McGurr, better known as FUTURA 2000.
“Think of a City is a new storytelling project, where a number of artists from around the world build a city, page by page.” It’s like an exquisite corpse — each artist draws a page then hands it off to the next. The project was created by Alison Sampson and Ian MacEwan.
From Web Urbanist:
There are thousands of abandoned big box stores sitting empty all over America, including hundreds of former Walmart stores. With each store taking up enough space for 2.5 football fields, Walmart’s use of more than 698 million square feet of land in the U.S. is one of its biggest environmental impacts. But at least one of those buildings has been transformed into something arguably much more useful: the nation’s largest library.
Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle transformed an abandoned Walmart in McAllen, Texas, into a 124,500-square-foot public library, the largest single-floor public library in the United States.
I think this might be the Walmart that my family shopped at when I was a kid.
(via Ales Kot)
Simon Kuper on how even the upper middle class are being priced out of New York City, Paris, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong:
Corporate mergers and takeovers meant global headquarters got concentrated in fewer places. Crime declined, making cities less scary. And so great cities grew richer. Fancy architects put up lovely buildings. House prices rose.
First, the working classes and bohemians were priced out. Nowadays the only ribald proletarian banter you hear inside Paris is from the market sellers, who don’t live there anymore.
That was gentrification. Now comes plutocratisation: the middle classes and small companies are falling victim to class-cleansing. Global cities are becoming patrician ghettos. In 2009, says Sassen, the top 1 per cent of New York City’s earners got 44 per cent of the compensation paid to its workers. The “super-prime housing market” keeps rising even when the national economy collapses. After Manhattan, New York’s upper-middle classes are being priced out of Brooklyn. Sassen diagnoses “gradual destruction”.
Full Story: Financial Times: Priced out of Paris
San Francisco is well on its way in this regard as well.
Anthony Galluzzo writes:
Even as the New York Times and its ilk now use hipster-bashing to delegitimize the new political awareness among the same un- and underemployed twenty- and thirty-somethings — previously taken to task for their avoidance of politics — the same bashers employ this all-purpose dummy to ventriloquize their own refined and slightly ridiculous consumption habits.
And while Rupert Murdoch’s reactionary gazetteers at least acknowledge the ongoing, and (in the case of 13 Thames Street) partly political character of the evictions in which they delight, the enlightened New York Times will always opt for the “fucking hipster” show — the 21st century bourgeois liberal’s preferred flavor of minstrelsy — over any ‘hard times’ depiction of downward mobility among artists, anarchists and other riffraff.
That, after all, could depress today’s gentrifiers or tomorrow’s property values.
Above: generative cities and architecture by Aranda & Lasch
Futurist Chris Arkenberg outlines a possible scenario for urban planning and architecture:
As complex ecosystems, cities are confronting tremendous pressures to seek optimum efficiency with minimal impact in a resource-constrained world. While architecture, urban planning, and sustainability attempt to address the massive resource requirements and outflow of cities, there are signs that a deeper current of biology is working its way into the urban framework.
Innovations emerging across the disciplines of additive manufacturing, synthetic biology, swarm robotics, and architecture suggest a future scenario when buildings may be designed using libraries of biological templates and constructed with biosynthetic materials able to sense and adapt to their conditions. Construction itself may be handled by bacterial printers and swarms of mechanical assemblers.
This reminds me of the recent sci-fi short story “Crabapple by Lavie Tidhar:
Neighborhoods sprouted around Central Station like weeds. On the outskirts of the old neighborhood, along the Kibbutz Galuyot Road and Siren Road and Sderot Menachem Begin, the old abandoned highways of Tel Aviv, they grew, ringing the immense structure of the spaceport rising high into the sky. Houses sprouted like trees, blooming, adaptoplant weeds feeding on rain and sun, and digging roots into the sandy ground, breaking ancient asphalt. Adaptoplant neighborhoods, seasonal, unstable, sprouting walls and doors and windows, half-open sewers hanging in the air, exposed bamboo pipes, apartments growing over and into each other, growing without order or sense, creating pavements suspended in midair, houses at crazy angles, shacks and huts with half-formed doors, windows like eyes–
In autumn the neighborhoods shed, doors drying, windows shrinking slowly, pipes drooping. Houses fell like leaves to the ground below and the road cleaning machines murmured happily, eating up the shrunken leaves of former residencies. Above ground the tenants of those seasonal buoyant suburbs stepped cautiously, testing the ground with each step taken, to see if it would hold, migrating nervously across the skyline to other, fresher spurts of growth, new adaptoplant blooming delicately, windows opening like fruit–
For more of Arkenberg check out our interview with him. Want to learn to think like he does? Here’s his guest post listing his favorite books on systems thinking.
And for more big, mad ideas about architecture and cities check out: