2013: Performative Assemblages _ Thesis Project Essay

This essay is the architectural discussion (a theoretical and contextual position) which accompanies my thesis design project, Performative Assemblages produced in the final year of the M.Arch. 

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Introduction _ Agenda and Approach

This discussion is the culmination of an enquiry over the past two years which has looked at metabolic systems within nature as precedents for developing a resilient approach to urbanism and architecture. The metabolic approach considers the relationships between actors as symbiotic and circular, such as the symbiosis between fish and plants in an closed aquaponics system (fig. 1), however unlike a closed system, the relatedness of actors and forces that occupy the world is not closed – in fact, it contracts and expands as actors move between territories and cultivate new relationships.

fig1

fig. 1. Scaled Metabolisms – inFiltrating the City
Building Proposition in Coxside, Plymouth.
O’Donovan, S. M.Arch Stage 1
Aquaponics, Constructed Wetlands, Hydrological System

This growing understanding of space as histories of inter-relatedness across scales has led to an enquiry which encounters the writings of Henri Lefebvre, Deleuze and Guattari, Doreen Massey, James Corner, Kim Dovey, Michel de Certeau, Pierre Bourdieu, Manuel DeLanda, Bruno Latour (to name but a few) as well as the agendas of Cradle to Cradle, Spatial Agency and Landscape Urbanism.  From initial context analysis, my understanding of space as layered, scaled and inter-related has been critical in supporting the development of an architectural proposal that allows for social, spatial and temporal multiplicity and simultaneity.

This accumulation of theory and practice is tested in the development of a strategic approach to architecture and urbanism. This project aims to offer a programme that is layered, scaled and indeterminate. One that bridges past, present and possible, bringing together disparate communities and identities in a space that through the contradictory act of extension, creates a centre. This discussion brings together the wide range of theoretical positions that have informed the development of this proposition.

Relational Space: Multiplicity and Simultaneity

Conceptualising space as multi-layered, historic and related inevitably leads to questions of scale and territory.  Relationships between social, economic, political and environmental actors and forces occur across an infinite number of scales (spatial and temporal) and thus the classic dichotomies of local/global, urban/rural, public/private and so on is overly simplified and dangerously reductive. Doreen Massey, recognising this, asks: “whether, in a relational and globalised spatiality, ‘groundedness’, and the search for a situated ethics, must remain tied to notions of the local.  If places pose, in highly variable form, the question of our living together in the sense of juxtaposition (throwntogetherness), there is also the question of the negotiation of those, equally varied, wider relations within which they are constituted.”1 

fig2a quote

Henri Lefebvre, throughout his work, has explored the notion of inbetween-ness and posited a theory of nested scales (fig. 2) – (private, mixed, global) or local, intermediate and global – whereby each scale is related to the others, and that all space is a simultaneity of temporal narratives which act to superimpose multiplicities of both spatial and temporal events.2  This simple theory has underpinned an analytic approach to understandling space whereby the agenda is to avoid reductionism.  Of course, it would be impossible for this approach to enable an analysis that includes everything that is and was, and could be – however, merely recognising that there are unseen factors and allowing for these is a start – a way towards an architecture of multiplicity, simultaneity and possibility.

fig. 1. Related Scales Lefebvre’s diagram of nested scales, where g = global, m = mixed, p = private

fig. 2. Related Scales
Lefebvre’s diagram of nested scales, where g = global, m = mixed, p = private

In fine art practices, concepts of simultaneity, and spatial and temporal dimensions have been explored, in particular, by cubists, surrealists, futurists.  Robert Delauney (1885-1941), in his windows series (fig. 3) explored how the process of seeing itself could be recorded.  In 1912, he wrote: “Without visual perception there is no light, no movement…. This movement is provided by relationships of uneven measures, by color contrasts, which constitute Reality.3  Colour, perceived through light which Delauney sees as dynamic, structuring, rhythmic and simultaneous, is the major focus of his work in the 20th Century.  This insight into a world of fluctuating, invisible yet structuring forces can also be seen in the work of the Italian futurist, Umberto Boccioni (1882 – 1916) who became the driving force in developing and publishing the agenda and manifesto of the futurist movement.  In 1914, he wrote, “While the impressionists make a table to give one particular moment and subordinate the life of the table to its resemblance to this moment, we synthesize every moment (time, place, form, color-tone) and thus build the table.”4  Boccioni recognised that everything, even inanimate objects, were in a process of being-becoming – a co-evolutionary process of perception, projections and experiences.

fig3a quote

Fig. 3: Robert Delaunay:  above: Simultaneous Windows on the City, 1912

Fig. 3: Robert Delaunay:
above: Simultaneous Windows on the City, 1912 Source: Wikipedia

It is significant that these art movements evolved in the early twentieth century when modernism, and the accompaniment technology that a quickening pace of life embraced, led to a more dynamic experience of life.  Both artists demanded that the tradition of depicting static objects be abandoned for an exploration of movement, rhythm, flux and simultaneity.  Boccioni coined the phrase “physical transcendentalism” as a way of explaining his approach5 – one that certainly attempted to find new ways of representation that reflected the modern world (fig. 4)

fig4a quote

Fig. 4 Umberto Boccioni, The City Rises, 1910 Source: Wikipedia

Fig. 4 Umberto Boccioni, The City Rises, 1910
Source: Wikipedia

However, representation in itself is static and merely visualises the dynamic forces in place up to and at that point.  The challenge for architecture, as an art-form which by its very nature and scale is experienced through inhabitation, is to allow for the possible and the unforeseen.  The practice of architecture and urbanism is at its most successful when it draws from the past and the present, but still facilitates the possible.  Stuart Brand cites Winston Churchill’s observation of the process of building and inhabiting, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us”6 – a sentiment furthered by both Martin Heidegger and Henri Lefebvre – the former in his discussion of dwelling and the domus7, the latter in his theory of the spatial triad which conceptualises space as a social construct – a reality that is continuously under construction through the participative acts of perception, conception and experience.8

If space is to be understood as under continuous construction, it is logical to then look at the relationships that underpin this construct. Lefebvre offers a way of reading and imagining space, and the relations within:

(i) by abstracting elements of space and society, within a particular scale, and allowing subjects, objects, relationships, activities, agendas to be differentiated;

(ii) through this abstraction, relationships across different dimensions and scales can be read and conceived;

(iii) through its core tenet of infinite relatedness, it prevents a totalisation of these abstractions – thus, the understanding of space and subsequent conceptions can never be presented or imagined as complete.9

As a basis for a methodology, Lefebvre’s concept of nested scales has the potential to transcend traditional concepts of territory, and to highlight the relatedness of different actors and interdependencies, thus reducing the likelihood of fragmentation and exclusion.  More importantly, it builds in open-endedness – a capacity and allowance for a multitude of possibilities – and even more importantly, understands its limitations.

In his book, Design with Nature, Ian McHarg proposed a methodology of mapping the intricate relationships that constitute a space by extracting physical, social, economic, historical, political, cultural, ecological ‘inventories’ (fig. 5) in order to build a composite picture of values (constraints) which would enable a development proposition that was sensitive to the existing, contextual situation.10  McHarg’s ‘relative system’ has been hugely influential in design and planning as a rational and visual means of extracting complex socio-economic, physical and ecological data from spatial realities and has played a large role in advancing the notion of the urban environment as an ecology – as a field of dynamic relationships11, however it has also been criticised for it’s “ecological and methodological fundamentalism”12 in that it continues to polarise the urban against nature and assumes that the parameters resulting from the methodology is the correct answer without need or room for any creative, or aesthetic manipulation.13

fig. 5. Relational Inventories Excerpts from Staten Island Study, Ian McHarg Source: McHarg, 1967/1992, p. 106-114

fig. 5. Relational Inventories
Excerpts from Staten Island Study, Ian McHarg
Source: McHarg, 1967/1992, p. 106-114

More recently, the emerging agenda of landscape urbanism considers the urban surface as a unitary field (ie. a ground-plane which includes buildings, roads, open space, habitats etc) that supplants architecture as the ordering mechanism of urbanism.14  Territories are porous, and the urban surface is read as a multiplicity of indeterminate relations.  This practice takes forward McHarg’s thesis however rejects his polarisation of nature and city, proposing instead a more integrated and hybridised approach.15  This integration of the social, the urban and the natural can be observed in Bernard Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette where a grid of red follies prioritise event and program over stylistic concern (fig. 6).  This ‘point-grid’ distributed “a non-finite number of elements in a space”16 where each folie could relate to other folies on the grid (a permeability), as much as it could be divisible and relate to its own parts.17  This layering of axes, points and surfaces was intended as a scaled multiplicity of relations and events – not as a territorialised park in the city, but rather as an extension of the cultural events and dynamics of the city in the park.

fig. 6. Indeterminate Programming Lines/Points/Surfaces,  Parc de la Villette, Paris - Bernard Tschumi Source: Tschumi, 1987

fig. 6. Indeterminate Programming
Lines/Points/Surfaces, Parc de la Villette, Paris – Bernard Tschumi
Source: Tschumi, 1987

In Ursus, this approach has been applied through an extended or exploded programme which aims to integrate spaces of production and consumption, through the identification of potential synergies that could highlight relationships and exploit existing material, energy and socio-economic flows.  The act of extending is an intangible and immaterial bridging element but also a means of inviting participation in the production of not only elements of theatre, but in the ongoing construction of Ursus’ identity.  In a contradictory way, through decentralising the programme and sharing its elements throughout the district, the effect is a centering – a convergence – an assemblage.  This assemblage is not intended to dilute and homogenise the varying constituent identities and components, but rather, through gathering and celebrating the diversity of Ursus, create a stronger centre.

The scaled programme (fig. 7), which finds its zone of intensity in the building proposal, draws inspiration from the indeterminate nature of the programming at Parc de la Villette. Performative Assemblages is a project that is strategic in nature – with clear ambitions of social inclusivity and participation – ambitions which by their very nature cannot be designed. The programme is merely a framework – one that taps into the richness of the context and invities opportunities for appropriation and chance.

fig. 7.Extended Programme Tapping into existing and potential synergies throughout the district

fig. 7.Extended Programme
Tapping into existing and potential synergies throughout the district

Habitus and Performativity

Pierre Bourdieu has conceptualised a theory of identity and belonging that prioritises the production of identity, reflected by lifestyle, as the systematic product of habitus which he defines as – “not only a structuring structure, which organises practices and the perception of practices, but also a structured structure”1  The system of habitus is territorialising and stablising – enforcing conformity to accepted cultural norms which establishes perception of identity and belonging both for subject and onlooker.  Possesion of levels of the various forms of symbolic capital (social, economic and cultural) endows the subject with status and membership of a certain class of society.  Dovey describes the habitus as a way of knowing the world, a way of understanding social practice and a way of knowing your place in that world – it is “both the condition for the possibility of social practice and the site of its reproduction.”2  However, habitus is not destiny – just as one can acquire additional capital, so can habitus be changed – upgraded, if one likes.  Bourdieu states: “the habitus, as the Latin indicates, is something non natural, a set of acquired characteristics which are the product of social conditions and which, for that reason, may be totally or partially common to people who have been the product of similar social conditions…[however]… it may be changed by history, that is by new experiences, education or training.”3

In a recent study conducted by the BBC and based on Bourdieu’s theory of habitus, the ‘Great British Class Survey(fig. 8) identified seven distinct social groups in the twenty-first century as opposed to the traditional three (upper, middle, working). This ‘reclassifcation’ considered the combination of the different capitals (social, economic and cultural) but recognised varying levels of perceived class and taste such as emerging cultures (gigs, gaming, indie) alongside established ‘highbrow’ culture (jazz, theatre, opera), ‘new’ affluence as well as inherited wealth and widening social circles.4  Technology and greater social mobility has enabled aspirational lifestyles that are within reach and this is reflected within our identity formation, and associated consumption activities.

fig. 8. The Great British Class Survey Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22000973

fig. 8. The Great British Class Survey
Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22000973

Whilst the habitus can be considered as the structuring system of society, the concept of performativity could be considered as the embodied practice of habitus.  Judith Butler conceives of the production of identity as a performance – “a stylised repetition of acts”5 and borrows the term, performativity, expanding it from the dictionary definition of expressive speech acts to a more generalised and embodied expression – speech, gestures, movements, acts – that communicate a cultural identity.  Performativity considers everyday practices as manifestations of “the culturally-scripted character of identity, which is generated by power through repeated norms and their transgression.”6  However, in discussing Butler’s work, Appadurai suggests that performativity is not simply a reiterated presence but also a projected aspirationary performance, “… it goes back to the idea of the projected, that is, to say these things are not only ideologies, not only histories that people automatically propel and enact, but are things that are more visions, utopias and otherwise.”7

To add further complexity to this discussion, it is worth including Leibniz’s theory of monadology which considers the construction of reality through a virtual system of the individual (the monad) which perceives and reflects that which is external to it. The monadology could be conceived as “something like a hologram which is reputed to contain the whole image within each fragment”8 – a virtuality that represents reality through perceptions and projections.  In other words, identity, as theorised by Butler and Bourdieu, and through the lens of Leibniz’s monadology, is a construct and a projection of ourselves and society in space and time – a projection which, through signs and symbols, reflects and simultaneously constructs the aspirations and expectations of both individual and society.

Poland has witnessed dramatic changes to its social, economic and political life in the past 30 years. After the fall of communism, the country was thrust into the free market with a dizzying array of freedom of choice for all. Its supply of ready, cheap labour, and central location made it a viable manufacturing base in Europe and rather rapidly, Poland began to westernise, commodify and consume.  Accession to EU membership in 2003 sealed Poland’s enthusiastic embrace of neo-liberal capitalism and subsequently heralded in a period of conspicuous consumption – understandable given the history of oppression and restriction.  Politicallly, the majority of Poles identify themselves as right-wing and with the strong influence of the Catholic Church thrown in, this points to a relatively conservative society, albeit an aspirational one and from observation, visibly conformative to the system of habitus as the structuring structure of contemporary Polish social life.

Spatially, this value system has been made manifest throughout Warsaw.  Speculative office and residential development as well as a reduction in publicly funded communal housing illustrate the move from the public (socialist) to privatisation (capitalist) – however, as with much neo-liberal development, this benefits only those who can afford it and a significant proportion of Warsaw’s poor and low-earners are being increasingly marginalised.  In Ursus, the proliferation of large single family homes with ubiquitous security (walls, dogs, cameras, patrolling security vans) juxtaposed with post-war communal housing blocks clearly demarcate the ‘haves’ from the ‘have-nots’ (fig. 10).  Private territories are fiercly defended, and there is a sense that this gated lifestyle is a desirable one rather than a necessary one. (for example, against crime)9  The street, once a social and communal territory, is diminished, now bounded by walls, electronic gates and barking dogs. Because of the heavy reliance on the car, there is little co-presencing in these neighbourhood streets enhancing the perception that one does not belong, that one is out of place.

fig. 10 - House in Ursus Aspirational Habitus and conspicuous security

fig. 10 – House in Ursus
Aspirational Habitus and conspicuous security. Photo: S. O’Donovan

However, this discussion isn’t necessarily about the nature of this habitus (whether it is one that has been imposed, inherited, purchased or chosen), rather what is being explored is that despite geographic proximity, political affiliation, or national compatriotism, through enactment of wildly differing habitus, made possible through acquisition of the various capitals, these neighbouring Ursus’ communities may as well be worlds apart (fig. 11). The tendancy of one neighbourhood to rely on the car as the primary mode of transport as opposed to the other which might get around on foot or public transport means that these communities are unlikely to mix. This, as well as the spatial barriers within the district10, are the key social and contextual issues in Ursus.  Dovey, referrering to Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of striated and smooth space, states: “Striated space is where identities and spatial practices have become stabilised in strictly bounded territories with choreographed spatial practices and socially controlled identities. Smooth space is identified with new movement and instability through which stable territories are erased and new identities and spatial practices become possible.”11  The territorial nature of Ursus’ character areas seems to correspond with the notion of striated space, with the danger being that this will further diminish any residual sense of community, as well as the quality of streets and public spaces.

fig. 11. Ursus Socio-Spatial Analysis produced as part of the URS.U.S Urban Synthesis Urban Strategy

fig. 11. Ursus Socio-Spatial Analysis
produced as part of the URS.U.S Urban Synthesis Urban Strategy

Exploration of the habitus and performativity as a way of theoretically understanding the structuring structure of contemporary social life provides a basis for an agenda which seeks not to socially engineer an alternative habitus but rather to simply identify, highlight and celebrate that there is difference and diversity.  The proposition is a bridging space – a ‘smooth space’ – one that facilitates exchange, movement, de-territorialisation and brings together, spatially and socially, diverse communities to a performative common ground. How this space is ultimately used (socially) remains in the realm of the space of possibility.

Strategies and Tactics

The initial approach to this project was affiliated with a Lefebvrian understanding of space as socially produced and lived across a multitude of spatial and temporal scales. Contextual analysis connected local issues with district scale needs (eg. entrepreneurial space requirements) as well as global/supra-state agendas (eg. EU waste, energy and water quality regulations). The urban strategy (URS.U.S Urban Synthesis) proposed a programme of layered meanwhile uses – buffering immediate socio-spatial benefits through a system of tactical hacks with a long term strategic view to how these hacks might work towards a local socio-economic alongside a global, environmental benefit.

Within much of Lefebvre’s work, concepts of space, state and territory are inextricably intertwined – each is related to the other – and implies the other.1  However, while the state and capital try to order and rationalise space into manageable territories, at the same time, diverse social forces undermine these strategies and simultaneously produce spaces of social and cultural relations. This brings to mind de Certeau’s ‘strategies and tactics’ as a conceptualisation of power relations – whereby, a strategy is the calculation of power relations by a subject with a panoptic view of things, while a tactic is the act of the weak who does not have this view of the whole in order to plan general strategies, thus is limited to isolated and fragmented actions.2

fig. 12. Masterplan Framework for Ursus Strategies and Tactics: Nodes, Synergies and Bridges

fig. 12. Masterplan Framework for Ursus
Strategies and Tactics: Nodes, Synergies and Bridges

Strategy: Nodes and Bridges

The performative assemblage aims to explore this dialogue of scaled tactics and strategies (fig. 12) through a heavily layered programme which is at once both local and global, which integrates production and consumption and through decentralising the programme, bridges Ursus’ distinct character areas.  Analysis of historic development and present day land-use reveal sites of opportunity.  At a strategic level, these are identified as social nodes and programmatically put aside for service use (eg. public, cultural, educational, religious, health) however without determination thus allowing for changing needs as Ursus’ population grows and evolves.  While leftover spaces are also left undetermined, in order for the strategic sites to be viable a residential population is required thus these inbetween spaces are earmarked as primarily residential. This strategy aims to put in place a situated, evolving framework that can adapt around needs, rather than a rigid, essentialist masterplan.  Inbetween spaces are initially inhabited by meanwhile uses (temporary living, farming, working) with a medium to long term view towards self build housing, self build workspaces as required. The proposition rejects speculative building for profits sake, supporting instead a more participative, inclusive and engaging process of building Ursus.

Fig. 13a Quinta Monroy / Elemental project as ‘completed’ by the architects,

Fig. 13a
Quinta Monroy / Elemental
project as ‘completed’ by the architects, Source: Arch Daily http://ad009cdnb.archdaily.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/835614545_qm-01-before-c2a9tadeuz-jalocha.jpg

Fig. 13b Quinta Monroy / Elemental project as being under ongoing completion by the occupants

Fig. 13b
Quinta Monroy / Elemental
project as being under ongoing completion by the occupants. Source: Arch Daily. http://ad009cdnb.archdaily.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/1711995108_qm-02-after-c2a9cristobal-palma.jpg

There are a number of precedents emerging for this type of approach. At the neighbourhood scale is a housing project for 100 families in Chile called Quinta Monroy by Elemental (Alejandro Aravena) which puts in place an unfinished housing framwork intended for completion by the occupying families who could appropriate and adapt the structure to their changing needs (fig. 13). The result is a rich bricolage that is representative of the values of the occupants but is unified through its more strategic framing and composition. At the city scale, is Almere in the Netherlands – currently under construction is Almere Poort whereby the city authorities have put in place infrastructure (roads, electricity, lights, sewage etc) and put in place design guidelines which limit building envelopes – then, they sell a plot to an individual who is completely free to build whatever they wish within that building envelope. The outcome is a very Dutch aesthetic which mixes quirkyness with conservative traditionalism (fig. 14). The city aims to expand the self build machine with MVRDV’s masterplan for Almere Oosterwold which they have termed DIY Urbanism – again, the idea is to implement an infrastructural framework and faciliate an evolving appropriation by end-users.

Fig. 14:   Almere Poort, Europe’s largest self-build project  Almere, Netherlands Photo: S. O'Donovan

Fig. 14:
Almere Poort, Europe’s largest self-build project
Almere, Netherlands
Photo: S. O’Donovan

Tactics: Hacking into Synergies

Programmatically, the proposal stems from a traditional producing theatre schedule (which typically includes material and artistic production, as well as the delivery of performances to audiences), building in additional community functions relating to food (landscape) and education (fig. 15). However, by zooming out to the entire district (and potentially to the city), key institutions and actors are identified for potential synergies with the proposal.  Rather than duplicating and competing with what is already there, the proposition instead hacks into existing infrastructures/institutions/flows. This hacking occurs on many levels – the use of an existing building, the restoration of abandoned transport infrastructure (rail), community food production, existing production facilities (eg. furniture, paint, cosmetics), spaces of potential audiences/participants (schools, libraries, retail centres) as well as left-over/abandoned/inbetween spaces that have been identified for their nodal and convergent potential.  As well as material synergies which feed into the process of the proposal, the programme feeds into existing socio-economic synergies throughout the district. On top of these, somewhat intangible flows, there is a more tangible and material bridging.  Elements of existing structure and cladding are dis-assembled and re-assembled in these nodes (fig. 16).  These are the ambassadors.  Their programme and purpose is to decentralise, to landmark, to remind – a hand extended in invitation for productive participation, interrupting, appropriating, de-territorialising… and centering.

fig. 15. Tactics - Synergetic Flows

fig. 15. Tactics – Synergetic Flows

The objective of the ambassadors links back to Lefebvre’s multi-scalar and historicised concept of space as a social construct of infinite relatedensss.  Each ambassador enacts (performs) different aspects of the programme (production (theatre/food), consumption, marketing, education, play…), extending (scaling) the more densely layered programme that takes place on site.  Their ‘pop-up’ nature (ie. they may be visualised as fields, or bridges but there is not a literal, physical connection) can be likened to Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of rhizomatic systems – a horizontal network which by its very horizontality is more resilient than a tree-like vertical organisation.3  A rhizome “has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities…”4 – multiplicities which are defined by relatedness to the outside and by their agency (‘lines of flight’) – with the potential to maintain an infinite number of relations and connections.  If one link is broken, another route can be found.5

fig. 16. Bridging Structural Ambassadors

fig. 16. Bridging
Structural Ambassadors

The rhizome is a tactic, a maneuver, an appropriation, a hack – not always visible, but as a process, or a system of relations, potentially mappable.  As Corner states, “.. projecting new urban and regional futures must derives less from a utopia of form and more from a utopia of process – how things work, interact and inter-relate in space and time. Thus, the emphasis shifts from static object-space to the space-time of relational systems”6  What the performative assemblages does, through the process of mapping, is to try to find patterns or logics within the relational systems and use these as a contextual basis for intervention.

 

Performative Place

James Corner, as one of the key proponents of the landscape urbanism manifesto, explores the concept of landscape as a scenic or performative field. “Landskip (landscape as contrivance, primarily visual and sometimes also iconic or significant) and landschaft (landscape as an occupied milieu, the effects and significance of which accrue through tactility, use, and engagement over time) … we might say that gardens are defined less by formal appearances that through the activities of gardening, just as agricultural fields derive their form from the logistics of farming, and cities from the flows, processes and forces of urbanisation. In the working landschaft, performance and event assumes conceptual precedence over appearance and sign” 1  In much the same way, the strategies proposed in URS.U.S. Urban Synthesis placed focus on a layering of events, appropriating residual space in order to perform a combination of social, economic, ecological and spatial programmes.  This approach to landscape as a performative, multiplicitious milieu engages with the embeddedness of cultural, social, political and economic systems within natural systems.2  Programmatic indeterminacy and layering seems almost an inevitable outcome from this approach – although, this ‘inevitability’, in a contradictory way, facilitates uncertainty, instability and possibility.

In the urban strategy that underpins the building proposition, the Arts as a Catalyst is one of these layers, however rather than the typical excessive, elitist arts-based regeneration which has seen the transformation of post-industrial sites into speculative high-end residential and mixed use ‘quarters’, in Ursus, the arts are proposed as, initially, a layer over the existing infrastructural and productive processes on site.  Performative Assemblages aims to push this a little further, building on from the discussion of habitus and performativity, through the integration of an indeterminate building/masterplan programme (fig. 17) within a wider urban landscape programme comprising event, infill, centering and bridging. The combination of strategic programming and tactical appropriation aims to destabilise traditional concepts of territories/zoning and invite participation.  The use of an existing historic building as the centering point of these ambassadorial components creates an intensity of activity and social encounter.  The choice of site close to the train station (already an active place) is a deliberate one and intended to strengthen the performance of this neighbourhood as the geographic, social, economic and symbolic centre of Ursus.

fig. 17. Performative Programmes site masterplan axomometric

fig. 17. Performative Programmes
site masterplan axomometric

The programme is an intensive, and extensive layering of productive and consumptive activities. Primary production processes relate to the production of theatre (sets, props, costume etc) which are resourced throughout the district, gathered, and assembled on site. This overlaps secondary production processes relating to energy (eg. food), waste and water within which a circular economy creates a symbiotic flow of resources and energy.  A further layer within the programme involves both on- and off-site consumption of produce (theatre, food, water).  And, integrated within all of this – inhabitation – a mix of permanent and temporary residential use, as well as guest accommodation and complementary enterprise units.

Performative Landscape

Underpinning the theatrical and material flows and processes is a landscape strategy that aims to instigate a field of performative commons – spaces of exchange, creativity and cultivation (fig. 18). Shane refers to Charles Waldheim’s view of landscape urbanism “as an interstitial discipline, operating in the spaces between buildings, infrastructural systems and natural ecologies”3 – in other words, a binding agent – acting to unify disparate environments and communities.  Ursus has many void spaces – remenants of its morphological restructuring in the latter years of communism, victims of recent speculative purchases and subsequent demolition (Celtic) as well as inbetween, leftover, forgotten spaces that have simply not yet been developed – remenants of pre-war agrarian Ursus.  Ignoring the potentially contentious issue of land ownerships and permissions, a wider landscape strategy proposes a programme ranging from short-term appropropriation (gardens, allotments, play-space) as well as ‘let’s see what happens’ interventions that envisage a programme of wildernessing – afforestation, wild-life, biodiversity that might naturally correct some of the damage done to the surface in the past 80 years, whilst providing some much needed leisure and play-space.  Long term propositions view larger tracts of land as supporting sustainable energy, waste and water systems in the district, in parrallel with the significant proporition of land in the district currently involved in food production.

fig. 18: Integrated  and Layered Landscape Site Aerial Perspective and Cross Section

fig. 18: Integrated and Layered Landscape
Site Aerial Perspective and Cross Section

fig. 19: Performative Landscape Ground Proposal, 1:500

fig. 19: Performative Landscape
Ground Proposal, 1:500

At the site scale, and stemming from the allotments and bioremediation propositions within the URS.U.S. Urban Synthesis Strategy, the land adjacent to the primary site is examined further for its potential to act as more than simply a place for growing food or healing the ground. Whilst these are productive  and performative processes within themselves, the proposition considers a way of integrating these external performances with the internal and social performances taking place internally (fig. 19).  And, like the agenda of the ambassadorial programme – a centering extension – this is a contradictory, uncertain and unstable landscape of exchange and movement, growing and extracting, destroying and healing, past and present – give and take.  Acts of building and extracting, underpinned by an overlaying of past and present (neighbourhood grids) create small nodes (opportunities) with inbetween spaces appropriated (hacked) for productive and social use.  The proposition is, in effect, a scaled down version of the masterplan scale strategies and tactics – putting in place a framework, inviting participation and then – see what happens.

Assemblages

“We are now in the intra-assemblage.  Its organisation is very rich and complex.  It includes not only the territorial assemblage but also assembled, territorialised functions.”1

This discussion has explored concepts of social space as a constructed milieu of relationships, histories, and desires lived within expanding and contracting territories of scaled space and time.  This space of relations is often a product of habitus – a structuring structure which acts to territorialise, and mark boundaries but without delimiting aspiration.  The building proposition is a strategic assemblage of synergies which aims to create potential sites for tactical deterritoralisationn – a rhizomatic assemblage layering scaled programmes of production and consumption – integrated into and interupting the everyday.  It is the concept of assemblages which theoretically and metaphorically aims to create a synthesis of sorts between the various theoretical discussions thus far.

fig. 20: Assemblage Concept Model of Overlaid Urban Morphologies

fig. 20: Assemblage
Concept Model of Overlaid Urban Morphologies

At this point of commencing a discussion on assemblages, it is important to reiterate that this project is not proposed as a synthesis – rather the use of the word ‘synthesis’ refers both to the concept of assemblage in general but more so to bringing these ideas together – a sort of concluding summary.  If we consider Lefebvre’s construction of space as a continual process of the conceived, perceived and experienced, or in other words – a process of being-becoming, then it is impossible to ever gain a totality of comprehension.  In The Right to the City, Lefebvre states, “Descriptions, analysis and attempts at synthesis can never be passed off as being exhaustive or definitive.”2  Furthering this discussion in The Production of Space, he proposes a unitary theory as a conceptualisation that “in no way aspires to the status of a completed ‘totality’, and even less to that of a ‘system’ or ‘synthesis’.”3  This concept of incompleteness resonates with the underlying message in Stuart Brand’s ‘How buildings learn’ which argued for the recognition that an architectural project is never complete. It is always under construction – even through its decay and deconstruction – it is never static, never fixed, never complete.4

Manuel DeLanda has taken Deleuze and Guattari’s introduction to the concept of assemblages in A Thousand Plateaus and moulded it into a more rounded theory of social complexity. 5  Just as Lefebvre’s theory of nested scales attempts to avoid reductionism through understanding an unlimited space of relatedness across scales and time, assemblage theory rejects the essentialist Hegelian notion of relations of interiority, – of parts and wholes whereby component parts are constituted by their relations to other parts within the whole.6  Assemblage Theory aligns itself to a theory of wholes characterised by relations of exteriority which allows for an infinite number of assemblages, across scales, across time and can be at once both material and expressive.  Assemblages may have varying levels of durability and longevity (eg. nation states, institutions, family, eco-system) or may be fleeting and ephemeral (eg. a conversation, a flavour, a smell, a theatrical performance).  Component parts have agency (unlike actors in Latour’s Actor Network Theory) and may act to stabilise (territorialise) or de-stabilise the assemblage through processes of deterritorialisation (eg. aspiration, evolution, revolution).7  Components may then be recombined, aggregated, mixed into new assemblages through processes of reterritorialisation.  Components may be members of an infinite number of assemblages that exist across scales and time.  The theory considers assemblages as co-evolutionary and places focus on the historic and contingent processes that produce them.8

merz

Picture of Spatial Growths - Picture with Two Small Dogs 1920-39 by Kurt Schwitters 1887-1948

fig. 21: Kurt Schwitters
Picture of Spatial Growths – Picture with Two Small Dogs Source: Tate.

The work of artist, Kurt Schwitters has explored the notion of assemblage through his theory and practice of Merz – a process of collecting and using everyday materials in collages, assemblages, sculptures and installations.  For example, in “Picture of Spatial Growths – Picture with Two Small Dogs(fig. 21), the assemblage of discarded rubbish and printed ephemera was begun in Germany in 1920.  In 1937, having fled Nazi Germany, he added layers of Norwegian material: theatre tickets, scraps of lace, a box with two china dogs etc.  This layering reflects the story of the artist’s journey into exile.9  Component parts were evaluated equally leading to non-hierarchical relationships between diverse ingredients such as rubbish, wood, tin, paint, paper and so on.  However, while his choice and proportionate use of materials might have been unbiased, his preference for an ordered and geometrical composition, and particular typographic phrases reveals an agency underlying the resultant arrangment of his Merz assemblages and collages.10  As with the earlier discussion of Delaunay and Boccioni, Schwitters work is fascinating in its capture of a simultaneous and layered process – a being-becoming – but, again it is limited in its capacity for the possible (other than the variable reading of the work by beholders).  In an architectural assemblage, there is a much more complex and uncertain set of relations that participate in the being-becoming – the nature of which cannot be foreseen – only understood as possible, and facilitated.

fig. 22  Multiplicity and Simultaneity Layered histories, geographies and urban morphologies

fig. 22 Multiplicity and Simultaneity
Layered histories, geographies and urban morphologies

In this project, the approach has been, through mapping, to try and understand the agency, fields, forces and influences that are component parts of Ursus – co-evolutionary components that have contributed to the assemblages that are in a constant state of being-becoming today.  This analysis is by no means conclusive however it has enabled a spatial agency that aims to make tangible the contributory social and spatial morphology (fig. 22).  The process of overlaying Ursus’ past, present, proposed and appropriated street patterns has revealed an assemblage of overlaid grids which, with the objective of softening the domination of the factory grid, revealed potential nodes and opportunities.  Programmatically, the building proposition literally assembles theatre components – gathered and resourced both on- and off-site.  The building itself is an assemblage – a hotch-potch of structures and styles, a narrative of industrial history and process – a story of multiple reterritorialisations to meet changing needs.  The performative aspect of all of these assemblages – producing, consuming, healing, cultivating, exchanging, bridging, centering, extending, grounding – is the essence of this project – Performative Assemblages.

____________________________________

NOTES

Relational Space: Multiplicity and Simultaneity Notes

  1. Massey, D. For Space, London: Sage, 2005, p. 187
  2. Lefebvre, H. The Production of Space, Oxford: Blackwell, 1974/1991;  Lefebvre, H. The Urban Revolution, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1970/2003;  Lefebvre, H. Writings on Cities, Oxford: Blackwell, 1996;  Massey, 2005;  Pollack, L. ‘Constructed Ground: Questions of Scale’, in Waldheim, C. The Landscape Urbanism Reader, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006;  Soja, E. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places, Oxford: Blackwell, 1996;  Stanek, L. Henri Lefebvre on Space, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011
  3. Delauney, R. (1912) cited in MOMA The Collection. Accessed at: http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A1479&page_number=3&template_id=1&sort_order=1. Dated Accessed: 17th April, 2013
  4. Boccioni, U. Pittura e scultura futuriste (dinamismo plastico), 1914 . Citation available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umberto_Boccioni. Dated Accessed: 17th April, 2013
  5. The Art Story.org. Umberto Boccioni. Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-boccioni-umberto.htm. Date Accessed: 17th April, 2013
  6. Brand, S. How Buildings Learn, New York: Penguin Books. 1994, p. 3
  7. Heidegger, M. ‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking,’ in Leach, N. (ed), Rethinking Architecture. Abingdon: Routledge, 1997 (1951), pp. 100-109
  8. Lefebvre, H. The Production of Space, Oxford: Blackwell, 1974/1991, pp. 26 – 53
  9. Lefebvre, 1991 (1974); Lefebvre, 1970/2003;  Lefebvre, 1996; Soja, 1996;  Stanek, 2011
  10. McHarg, I. Design with Nature, New York, John Wiley & Sons, 1967/1992
  11. Corner, J. ‘Terra Fluxus,’ in Waldheim, C. (ed) The Landscape Urbanism Reader, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, pp. 21-33
  12. Weller, R. ‘An Art of Instrumentality: Thinking through Landscape Urbanism’ in Waldheim, C. (ed) The Landscape Urbanism Reader, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, p. 76
  13. Corner, 2006, p.30;  Waldheim, C. ‘Landscape as urbanism’ in Waldheim, C. (ed) The Landscape Urbanism Reader, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, p.38;  Weller, 2006, pp.75-76
  14. Wall, A. ‘Programming the Urban Surface,’ in Corner, J. (ed) Recovering Landscape, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999, p.233
  15. Waldheim, 2006
  16. Derrida, J. ‘Point de Folie – Maintenant L’Architecture,’ in Leach, N. Rethinking Architecture. Abingdon: Routledge, 1986/1997, pp. 324-336;  Tschumi, B. Cinégramme Folie Le Parc de la Villette, Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 1987
  17. Derrida, 1986/1997, p. 325

Habitus and Performativity Notes

  1. Bourdieu, P. Distinction, London: Routledge, 1992 (1979), p. 170
  2. Dovey, K. Becoming Places: Urbanism/Architecture/Identity/Power, Abingdon: Routledge, 2010, p. 32
  3. Bourdieu, P. ‘Habitus’ in Hillier, J and Rooksby, E. (eds) Habitus: A Sense of Place. Aldershot: Ashgate. 2002, p. 29
  4. BBC. The Great British Class Survey. Available at: https://ssl.bbc.co.uk/labuk/experiments/class/. Date Accessed: 17 Apr, 13
  5. Butler, J, 1993 in Bell, V. ‘Mimesis as Cultural Survival: Judith Butler and Anti-Semitism’, in Bell, V. (ed) Performativity and Belonging. London: Sage. 1999, p. 133
  6. Boucher, G. “The Politics of Performativity: A Critique of Judith Butler” in Parrhesia, No. 1, 2006, p.113
  7. Bell, V. “Historical Memory, Global Movements and Violence: Paul Gilroy and Arjun Appadurai in Conversation”, in Bell, V. (ed) Performativity and Belonging. London: Sage. 1999, p 35
  8. Leibniz, GW, ‘Monadology’, in Leibniz, GW, Monadology and other Philosophical Essays, NY & Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1965, pp. 148-163; Uhlmann, A. “Expression and Affect in Kleist, Beckett and Deleuze” in Cull, L (ed) Deleuze and Performance. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009, p. 62
  9. Crime, however, is generally decreasing in Poland – statistics indicate a drop of 3% in 2011. Ursus holds the lowest crime rate in Warsaw. Source: University of Plymouth M.Arch. Ursus Briefing Document, unpublished, 2012, p. 23
  10. Refer to accompaniment document – Design Strategy – Site Analysis
  11. Dovey, 2010, p. 22

Strategies and Tactics Notes

  1. Brenner, N & Elden, S. ‘Henri Lefebvre on State, Space, Territory’ International Political Sociology, (2009) 3, p. 364
  2. de Certeau, M The Practice of Everyday Life, London: University of California Press, 1984, p. 35-37;  Massey, 2005, pp. 45-47, Lefebvre, 1996, pp. 147-159
  3. Deleuze, G and Guattari, F. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Continuum, 1987; Dovey, 2010, p. 20-22
  4. Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 23
  5. Deleuze and Guattari, op.cit.
  6. Corner, J. “The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention” in Cosgrove, D (ed) Mappings. London: Reaktion, 1999, p. 228

Performative Place Notes

  1. Corner, J. ‘Eidetic Operations and New Landscapes’ in Corner, J. Recovering Landscape, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999, p. 153-169
  2. Corner, 2006, p. 30-31
  3. Shane, G. “The Emergence of Landscape Urbanism” in Waldheim, C.  The Landscape Urbanism Reader, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, p. 59

Assemblages Notes

  1. Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 356
  2. Lefebvre, 1996, p. 153
  3. Lefebvre, 1974/1991, p. 413
  4. Brand, S. How Buildings Learn, New York: Penguin Books. 1994
  5. Deleuze and Guattari, 1987; DeLanda, M. A New Philosophy of Society. Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. London: Bloomsbury, 2006; Dovey, 2010
  6. DeLanda, 2006: 11
  7. DeLanda, 2006: 12
  8. Dovey, 2010:16
  9. Tate. Kurt SchwittersPicture of Spatial Growths – Picture with Two Small Dogs. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/schwitters-picture-of-spatial-growths-picture-with-two-small-dogs-t03863. Date Accessed 21st April, 2013
  10. Tate. Schwitters in Britain. Exhibition. Date Visited: 21st February, 2013

 ________________

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