FRAGMENTED CITIES > BRACKETED SPACE > PASSIVE RELATIONSHIPS
Border conditions have become in a sense the given condition of human settlements, particularly the city. Urban space is a fragmented, kaleidoscopic collage of “images, signs, functions and activities that are nevertheless globally connected in myriad ways.”1 This mosaic of enclaved spaces functions like a point-cloud in which movement is understood on a point-to-point basis; “urban dwellers still travel through space, but they are increasingly less aware or less dependent on noticing its content. Today, it is often only the spectacular spaces, the places with images that mirror those in the electronic space of television, that remain in the mental maps of urban dwellers.”2 In most cities we indeed move from one bounded space to the next, from one image to another, in a closed circuit that assures users little to no interference.
This fragmented condition represents a global shift toward enclavation that has occurred over the last century, as well as a profound restructuring of virtually all aspects of daily life in the last twenty years. This paradigmatic shift, generally understood as the process of globalization, has been guided by a neo-liberal political agenda, motivated by technological development and consumption, and fueled by escapism.
Technological development has shrunk the world in terms of communications and travel, enabling specific points such as the home to become all-in-one operations bases networked to other such points in society. Thus functional and social relationships have been largely detached from local contexts, meaning that old socio-spatial relations have lost strategic significance as new connections operate in a coordinated and linked world economy. While these virtual connections make possible new encounters and types of spaces, they also allow dispersed singular entities and closed boundaries to proliferate unchecked in the physical environment.
Simultaneously, global markets have become intelligently sensitive to subtle consumer fluctuations and have conveniently learned to package and sell commodities in clear, easily identifiable images around the world. The “commodities” at stake are not only physical products but also environments and total experiences, the larger contexts in which the products are consumed. For instance, nature and community have long been packaged and sold as one product, the suburb, just as leisure has become packaged in the form of the resort.3 Public space too has become a product for consumption; real-estate developers and private interests have replaced the state and its planners in shaping the urban fabric by producing privatized public space.4 Shopping malls, restaurants, theme parks, and casinos now most often satisfy the demand for public space, despite the fact that as privately owned and run spaces, they are highly controlled, exclusive, and by no means democratic. In the name of public amenity, the private realm has made the city less public by favoring structures of exclusion over those of inclusion.
Underlining the forces of technology and consumption, and as such another powerful driver toward fragmentation, has been the cultural proclivity for escape. Particularly deep-seated in American culture, escapism and a global “ecology of fear” have consistently driven urban populations into increasingly segregated living conditions, prizing separation, protection, and security above the openness of democratic space.5 Whether escaping to the suburbs, a gated community, or an exclusive condo tower, the desire for sociability or physical connection to one’s urban context was long ago superseded by the desire for safety—and simultaneously the selling power of these escape habitats enhanced and fed that desire. The idea of public space did not compete with the image of the enclave, which successfully communicated nostalgic, conservative concepts of home and community. Socially, enclavation as a type of group, market-led “cocooning” offered more than anything the security of uniformity, “the visible affirmation of us all being the same, or at least of being together with others who are the same.”6 The “other” would always be safely elsewhere, outside the secure enclave.
Technology has consistently benefited from enclavation, attracting urbanites with its promise to further buffer them from real space.7 But moreover, private enterprise has taken advantage of escapism to restructure the fabric of the physical world. By empowering the global market, escape has undermined the virtues of productive confrontation in the city and the values of civic space. Suburban development and privatized public space have proliferated throughout American cities as the main components of urbanization, which as a result has become a totalizing force, rapidly growing with the expediency of market-driven concerns and with little to no support infrastructure for the non-interiorized public domain. For Davis this “apocalyptic urbanism” is the equivalent of grafting suburbia onto downtown, a “militarization of urban space” in which homogenized market-driven space dominates over civic space, creating segregation in the name of security and extinguishing the space of democratic mixing—the risks, grime, and odor.8 Motivated by escape and dominated by image, the urban population has thus facilitated the disappearance of civic space and the emergence of the fragmented and highly controlled point-cloud as the dominant understanding of the urban environment.
Las Vegas is an example of this condition manifested to an extreme, and as such positions the city as an exception yet at the same time, ironically, as the city most representative of America. All-inclusive city “imageability” and the packaging of a total experience has been the main priority of the city from its inception. Created essentially by and for private enterprise, escape was really the only motivating force driving development, and so enclaves grew here more definitively than even in other American suburban cities. “Urbanization” has taken the tabula rasa approach of either building tracks of custom homes on fresh ground or deleting built fabric by leveling it to the ground to make room for something new. It is easy to say that the city “encapsulates much that has gone wrong in American urban development.”9
The absolute sociological liminality of the “Fabulous Las Vegas” image fed geographical liminality, and even today Las Vegas faces the challenge of addressing the local societal segregation imposed by the Strip in addition to the widespread separations typical of contemporary urban environments. Las Vegas has sprawled in low-level development to the edges of its valley, with its growth primarily fueled by the powerful—and profitable—enclave of The Strip as a node in the global market of the gaming industry. It is a single-market-dominated, car-centric city, in which for most the visit to an enclosed mall or casino resort is the most “public” space that they will experience, not unlike so many other American cities.
Physical public domain obviously still exists (although the Strip has an underage curfew, plenty of streets and spaces in the city are not guarded or exclusive), but civic space has largely disappeared as the most prominent third places in the city are those in which space, experience, and interactions are bracketed. Public space may be mimicked in these spaces, but in reality they are all tightly controlled and mediated, and as such exist on a thin line between invitation and exclusion.
The tight borders of control both along the perimeters and within the interiors of these spaces firstly serve to remove connections to other realities, especially those involving the local context. The mall or casino strives to be a “weightless realm,” its only substance or meaning carried not in its environment in and of itself but in its commodities and packaged experience.10 They are for this reason able to purposefully conceal the limitations of space and time that define the rest of our physical world, “putting everything into the present time” by using the banality of their edges to constantly push consumers back into the “endless” field of consumption.11 This is true of the objects as well as of various programs embedded within the bracketed field; restaurants, theaters, and arenas embedded within casinos, for example, are completely absorbed and commodified by the bracketed space one must move through in order to access them and so are decisively separated from any local exterior realm.
Without concern for intrusion by local contexts or conditions, these environments can then objectify cultural meanings, artifacts, and places in order to create a strong, marketable image. By using already-known symbolic codes, simulations reproducing some affect of reality can draw associations between “images and places, resemblances and meaning,” the artificial and the authentic—thus reframing urban realities and taking the place of these realities in the spectator’s mind.12
The clarity of the image and its associated expectations, reinforced by the physical environment, induces a bracketed experience in which desire is automated and experience can be lived out as if according to script. The lived experience becomes another of many “undigested, unedited narratives,” the constituent elements of which are meaningful only in that they affirm a predicted image: that which was sold to the consumer before arriving. Image thus dominates experience to the point at which the experience itself becomes unidentifiable in memory; the individual is coerced into seeking nothing “unique” but only that which fulfills the promise of the image. Image, branding, and theming have changed how expectations are formed by manipulating the total subjective experience, by focusing on “you.”
Knowing this, the consumer has become willingly passive; aware of the set-up, the fakeness of the scenario and the role that one is play-acting, understanding that all of one’s possible interactions and engagement with context are carefully controlled, one does not see to engage. Rather than try to assert individuality or make unexpected observations, the subject in bracketed space is fine with being an “inattentive viewer” who is “just looking,” observing the spectacle in passing—essentially a tourist.13 Tourism and the concept of the visitor, who as a member of the urban population is motivated by escape and dominated by the image, have inspired many critical analyses of the impartial, permissive, safely unaccountable “tourist gaze” that has become commonplace for all transient inhabitants of environments through which we move ever faster.14 Such travelers—literal tourists but also simply the mobile subject—are perhaps more sensitive to sensory input when traveling, but also less likely to critically engage their contexts. In the superficial, visually acquisitive experience of the subject, attractions offer “pure visibility” and reassurance, the “promise not to burden the spectator with the seriousness of reality.”15 Spectacles are meant to be quickly scanned rather than analyzed, because “the pleasure of the view suspends critical judgment,” as the subject is given a permissiveness to get lost in an idealized image and to ignore completely existing contingencies. This emphasis on visibility allows the subject to be present as a consumer, yet disengaged from any presence in a different common reality—escaping from any experience outside the limits of the spectacle or between “featured” moments. This “tourist” perception transforms context, tradition and cultural significance into flat iconography without consequence.
The design of these spaces is not according to a plan or composition but rather according to a highly choreographed experience; it is not about programming but about creating a “mood.” Las Vegas was among the first tourist destinations to jump scales to the total choreography of leisure in its megaresorts, and the choreographers have it down to a science; they know everything you will “need” (code word for “desire”) and how much you will want of it.16 They know how to ensure that everyone is playing the role of the next big winner or the object of desire, willingly dressing the part in preparation for the anticipated packaged experience. In casinos subjects anxiously consume the feeling that they are part of some nefarious activity, getting away with something, maybe even getting something for nothing.
So in privatized public space, where everything experienced is pre-mediated and carefully bracketed, the house always wins. The market has determined a “final vocabulary” for all visitors to its space: a singular, predetermined way of understanding the re-presented world that does not allow the factoring in of contingency or multiplicity.17 Despite the appropriation of “artifacts” and evocations of “place” from various originals, no unexpected formations like those that could appear in the original referents will occur here; no surprises are possible when the perimeter and entire floor area are carefully surveilled.18 Within these spaces, like meets like and like interacts with like.
Therefore, in bracketed, image-dominated urban space, inflexible identity and predictable difference take the place of alterity; sociability becomes mutual accommodation through dissociation, the peace of mutual indifference, the free-pass of no engagement and no consequence. Put more aggressively, the Utopia of tourism is akin to that of totalitarianism, utilizing the same tools of mental vacuity and manipulating meaninglessness and meaning to gain the economic and political advantage.19
It seems that enclave-urbanization has become the “ultimate and inevitable fate of the contemporary city,” driven by the market rather than public-interest or even divergent partisan views.20 If bracketed space is becoming the authoritarian figure in the public domain, people are being withdrawn from conflict—from political public life. This seems contradictory to the pervasive idea of connectedness imbued in the idea of city-living and propagated throughout society by various information technologies. Yet as more people are more “hyperconnected,” rarely if ever experiencing true isolation, there seems to be a simultaneous detachment from societal involvement, a loss of belonging to the physical environment’s increasingly alienating “public” places. Additionally, the pervasiveness of the image fuels “a queasy sense of ourselves as liminal creatures with no boundaries, while conversely promoting privatized anxieties about increased isolation and personal insignificance in the urban spaces we inhabit.”21
Given my initial account of civic life and the coexistence it enables, alienation can be attributed to the loss of confrontation and loss of ownership, to the self-replicating networks of global connection in which encounters are strategic rather than spontaneous. In these networks confrontation with “otherness” is premeditated, mediated, and often romanticized, diminishing or trivializing the reality of political engagement. It is left to designers to find opportunity for civic space in the city to assert its value as site of coexistence, mutual attachment, the balance of centripetal and centrifugal forces.
1 Swyngedouw (2005), 125.
2 Lawrence A. Herzog, Return to the center: culture, public space, and city building in a global era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006), 5.
3 Margaret Crawford, “The world in a shopping mall,” Variations on a theme park (1992), 21.
4 Swyngedow (2005), 136.
5 Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (New York: Vintage Books, 1999).
6 NEXT Architects, “The Image of Metropolis,” Future City (2005), 280.
7 Herzog (2006), 5.
8 Mike Davis, “Fortress Los Angeles: the militarization of urban space,” Variations on a theme park (1992), 156.
9 Davis (2000), 97.
10 Crawford (1992), 17.
11 Marc Auge, “Contemporary Tourist Experience as Mise-en-scene,” Architourism: authentic, escapist, exotic, spectacular, ed. Joan Ockman and Salomon Frausto (Munich: Prestel, 2005), 88.
12 M. Christine Boyer, “Cities for sale: merchandising history at South Street Seaport,” Variations on a theme park (1992), 189.
13 Boyer (1992), 192.
14 Referring to Benjamin’s “optical consciousness,” Foucault’s “quasi-perceptions,” Evans “optic sensation” (vs haptic sensation), Herzog’s “ordinary perception” (vs simultaneous perception), etc.
15 Boyer (1992), 192.
16 Easterling (2005), 24.
17 Rorty (1989).
18 Lowenthal (2002), 11.
19 Easterling (2005), 26.
20 Aureli (2008), 104.
21 Marcus and Neumann (2007), 2.
SHARED TERRITORY > APPROPRIATING THE IN-BETWEEN > ACCESS
Since traditional roles for architecture have failed to produce new formations of civic space in Las Vegas thus far, architects must seek new ground for involvement. In looking for opportunity for architectural intervention, rather than trying to predict future living conditions or patterns, we should prioritize the present in order to find moments for capitalizing on existing multiple “realities,” with the knowledge that these realities are inevitably changing entities to which future adaptability is essential. In seeking opportunity for complex and productive interaction, we must consider the sites of confrontation, and thus of vulnerability, that do exist in the fragmented city: the moments in-between enclaves, in-between bracketed spaces, the negative spaces formed by their boundaries.
While the characteristics and operations of enclaves are fairly definable, in-between space is one area where “realities” emerge as the space is continuously in transition of use. Whereas the bracketed public space of the mall or casino may never be considered “territory” because there is no sense of ownership on another’s property, the not-private spaces in-between offer anyone in a sense the chance to stake a claim, to recognize the space as his or her “territory,” at least transiently.1 Such physical shared territories of the city have the ability to promote a system of random benefits and rewards that encourage sociability based on contact and collectivity based on need. In Las Vegas then—where ongoing change or process is constantly smothered by the perpetual, timeless image of the city—the sense of shared territory in the city has always been unclear, a dispersed, ambiguous idea, and so political coexistence (as confrontation of difference) is wholly dependent on the claiming of territory, which has become a critical act of collectivity in the city.
As it has always developed exclusively under the domination of tourism and private entities, Las Vegas is a spatialization of the market that has been infiltrated by a substantial residential population. In other words, people are inhabiting a city that was not built for them, but rather one that was “born dumb” to the requirements of sustaining an urban population.2 Throughout its past of changing imagery, the city has never focused on the image of healthy, long-term communities. The city lacks in large-scale public infrastructure, let alone large-scale conservation efforts, because the stable urban population was never of foremost concern. If “citizens” are typically those belong to the cultural substance and civic life of a city, and “non-citizens” are excluded as the functional side of a city, then Las Vegas residents have most typically been the non-citizens of the urban environment.3
Yet these residents are citizens of some urban sphere, even if it is not readily apparent, and the city seems poised to acknowledge them with its aforementioned calls to redefine the city through “urbanization.” The introduction of commendable art collections, for example, allocates “a portion of casino space as a refuge for culture junkies and art hipsters,” and it “demonstrates the desire of the new Vegas to redefine itself—reimagine itself for a new type of consumer.”4 However, because diverse social relations are still “restricted to particular areas of consumption” such as casinos, coffee shops, bars, and so forth, they still operate in the realm of bracketed.5
Civic collectives then must be formed through the appropriation of non-interiorized space. As described earlier, political protest activity can make itself heard most strongly in the physical fabric of the city, and so squares and parking lots become sites of collectivity. A different example specific to Las Vegas is Critical Mass, a group of young cyclists that arrange dates via digital communications to ride en masse in downtown and along the Strip, reclaiming streets from traffic and commerce in protest against the loss of public space resulting from commercialization and privatization. Even more broadly, teenagers are one example of such acts of collectivity. Liberated from fixed time and space engagements by the ability to spontaneously connect over cell phones and instant messaging, they can “float” through cities, aggregating opportunistically as need arises.
These are examples of spontaneous grouping, a coexistent cultural intelligence, that redefine collectiveness and thus shared territory. In contrast to “community,” which must be understood to presume a large number of shared relations, “collective” now implies a larger range of relationships through which people might connect more freely, that “emerge out of the dynamics of pluriform urban dwellers’ real life patterns and preferences.”6 Collectivity thus arises when use gives way to appropriation, where formal structuring of meeting gives way to more random encounters. More importantly, the physical public domain becomes “opportunistically assembled out of individual movements and experience…tied to immediate individual need rather than collective meaning.”7 Civic spaces, as sites of the collective, then are never static but rather constantly changing, with new meanings continuously generated according to changing contingencies. These in-between groundings of new collectivity and sociability present one set of opportunities for meaningful architectural intervention.
In addition to the need for interaction, collective human settlement has always been driven by the need for access. Even today, from the market standpoint, the aggregation of fragments in the form of a city is necessary in order to offer the commodity of accessibility.8 Distinct borders are essential to the survival of the enclaves, and because of this, accessibility becomes the most significant characteristic of a place, whatever its loaded image may be. So it is at the moments of access at the borders of these spaces that a critical confrontation occurs between the controlled, interior bracketed space and the less certain, exterior “other” space. These points are the moment at which the global market network that shapes bracketed space must make contact with locality, where the node in the point-cloud must be grounded in order to become spatial and to enable physical access.
It must be on the borders of bracketed spaces where opportunity lies for making civic urban spaces manifest. David Michalski calls these moments along the edges of the products of consumer culture “microborders,” as they are microcosms of “borders” that occur on national and global scales.9 In his analysis, these are not only acting as determinants of social behavior, but offer greater implications for moments of identity formation, power, and social relations precisely because they are moments of confrontation between disparate user groups. In bracketed space “service areas exist as islands within seas of customer areas,” so workers travel through customer spaces and customers see the signs of workspace. Of course, wherever possible these “islands” are connected to the exterior by dedicated employee access routes, masking the signs of work in the play area, but these overlaps nonetheless occur. Where they do, the visual language of these support pieces distinguishes and regulates structural relations among consumers as well as social relations and space. Their articulation, the boundary lines, are then simultaneously new places of escape, potential sites of independence for either user in between societal demands.
Moments of access on the edges of nodes or enclavic formations allow detection of new subjects and collectives from within. Likewise, the concentration of activity in and around certain nodal points in global networks, be they the home or corporate structures, offer opportunities for re-evaluation of their local contexts, so that those secured within increasingly bounded spaces are not limited either. Thus the access zones along the borders of the in-between, as heightened moments of potential confrontation, seem poised to maximize upon the confrontational nature of these collective potentials. If borders at various scales are the given condition, their moments of access are then moments for potentially reconfigured connections between bracketed and democratic space, moments in which the civic might take form—in as much as this reconfiguration could potentially spatialize the complex, diverse relationships that occur at multiple levels in zones of access. So doing could create a contemporary “heterotopia,” or the paradox of simultaneous sameness and otherness, real and unreal.10 This potentially translates to creating physical space with the power to enable “simultaneous perception,” taking in one’s surroundings and experiencing a place more completely by understanding its contingent relationships.
Access moreover offers an inroad to the image, to its malleable border so that deformations and transformations can occur. By enabling the spontaneous collective to focus reappropriation at sites of access, these areas become richly pregnant with anticipation of social developments, allowing transformations to take place as confrontation and sociability ensue. The city again becomes the ground for mediation between emancipation and (dis)empowerment where diverse populations, dissociated from the “other” by enclavic environments or by marginalization, can engage a shared territory.
1 The homeless for example will be removed from their “claimed territory” by the city. However, I am speaking now about space that is used transiently as third place, neither work nor home.
2 Davis (2000), 104.
3 John Friedmann, “Transnational Migration: Spaces of Incorporation,” The Prospect of Cities (2002), 39.
4 Cass (2004), 251.
5 Scott Burnham, “The VJ of the Everyday: Remixing the Urban Visual,” Visualizing the City (2007), 183.
6 NEXT Architects (2005), 281.
7 NEXT Architects (2005), 281.
8 Webber (1964), 86.
9 David Michalski, “Employee Entrances and Emergency Exists: Exposing the Invisible Imagery of Consumption,” Visualizing the City (2007), 198.
10 This concept of heterotopia began with Michel Foucault, and has been recast in a number of ways. For Foucault, whereas utopias are fundamentally unreal, “placeless places” (i.e. the image of bracketed space), heterotopias “have the curious property of being in relation with the other sites, but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect;” one is “at once absolutely real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point.” Foucault (1986), 24.
PASSIVE ARCHITECTURE > IMAGE-BITES
New ground for shared territory must be engaged at the scale of the individual building in addition to larger urban scales.
As discussed, architecture itself is largely responsible for social passivity. Unable to capture new modes of socio-spatial relationships, architecture has most often been “relegated to the construction of controlled environments that actively discourage social heterogeneity.”1 Without a clear direction for participating in new territorial formations, most architecture has continued to operate “automatically,” responding to global market conditions by prioritizing image-production over space-making. Image creates “architectural commodities that consumers need not interpret for themselves because ‘the mass culture of the consumer marketplace’ has already dictated their semiotic significance and cultural meaning.”2 The physical manifestations of bracketed public space, for example, are generic products of capitalism, as the architecture’s primary role is to reinforce the image. The modern city thus promotes the advancement of “skin architecture,” which gives surface variation to the global networks of shops selling the same commodities around the world and so gives a face to the standardization of public consumption.
At the same time, cities also tend to prize incredibly singular works of “Architecture,” the iconic centerpieces that can become featured attractions or souvenirs. When a building aims to be thus consumed by the tourist gaze as “the most iconic object of desire in the tourist installation,” it becomes another facet of economic enterprise.3 In this way architecture is frequently reduced to an “image-bite,” and general understanding of architecture becomes naturalized with image rather than the creation of space. Architectural authorship has become more often measured by the object rather than by the space it creates. Brands for example favor the creation of architectural objects, the identities of which are severed from the complexity of the social fabric, over more comprehensive urban interventions.
This obsessive focus on creating distinct outward appearances means that spatial relations become secondary and are often allowed to be market-driven into banal stereotypes. In order to free architecture from reproducing banality, it is vital that the subject, in terms of personal identity and personal growth, becomes even more crucial than form or function in the assessment of architecture’s value. Until the relative success of design is instead measured in the sensation derived from it, in growth and pleasure, then architects will remain unable to adequately engage the problem of bracketed spaces, which rely entirely upon effect and sensation. Bracketed spaces—in which meaning is carried not in the architecture but in the commodified objects, experiences and images offered for consumption—must be evaluated and critiqued for its failure to facilitate new encounters or understandings. The fragmented city, in its emphasis on image-based architecture, seems to be working against its own potential for progress. While this is by no means the singular condition of architecture’s relationship to the city, the emphasis on image and visual reception in architecture are pervasive issues that must be confronted, and we must critically engage conceptions of building exterior versus interior, as well as the fragmentation of the building envelope.
Traditionally, public spaces were engaged as abstract form, giving priority to the inner structure of experience itself as the factor that determined how visible things would be. By contrast, the visible forms of mediated spaces give priority to the visibility of things as a fundamental datum of experience. Learning from Las Vegas communicated an understanding of the issue of visual impact in terms of signage. At the time of that analysis “architecture” in the traditional sense still existed, though its power had been largely supplanted by signage. However, the power of signage itself has been supplanted by the power of image, which now necessitates a much more complex consideration. In Las Vegas and elsewhere, architecture is not merely forced to confront signage but has been fundamentally altered by image manipulation as the boundaries between image and built form have become increasingly obscure. The dichotomy between building and sign has ceased to exist and instead the language of architecture has been removed entirely from context, isolated so that it can be re-presented again as an architectural image. Klingmann’s terms for this contemporary shift are the “inverted shed” and the “inverted duck,” in which buildings have become three-dimensional carriers of information catering to audiences within as well as without. The building envelope “is no longer strictly explicit, but becomes a three-dimensional event space of visual signifiers that flows seamlessly from the exterior to the interior of the building.”4 Signs constitute their own material realities; the image does not dominate space but has become the space, is the “stage set.”
Image can defy cultural convention, inciting the desire for an experience even against cultural norms. But the true power of images lies in the fact that they can change and shift over time, largely because stories and masquerades must continually refresh in order to best serve a shifting market. Because image is not locked to a single referent, as simulations must be, image has the potential to be at once stronger than context yet at the same time responsive to changing conditions. Images do not have to be limited to packaging and commodification of real conditions, but rather affect experience and thus architecture can play a critical role as a catalyst to generate an authentic identity for people and places. It can make process visible and capture the psychological coercion that occurs when one is placed between sign and signifier. Thus, although imageability can contribute to the growing homogenization of people and places, it can also be a powerful strategy to craft a unique identity within the global economy, where it is vital that people and places differentiate themselves. Image may threaten the values of architectural space and tectonics, but at the same time might freshly empower architecture to redefine its role in society. The question becomes one of creating new images of empowerment rather than appropriating those of the past that serve only as filters, of creating place and connection in order to incite unity and ownership rather than nostalgia and consumption.
As vision is our most powerful sense, we trust images much more highly than any other data, despite our awareness of how easily they can be manipulated. Prioritizing architecture’s relationship to the subject, architecture could thus be politicized by reappropriating image and using its projective power to enhance civic spaces. Because image is generally used to communicate and sell a bounded entity, its emphasis is wholly on some exterior or interior border zone. If the “image-bite” critique is that architecture is failing to address the design problems of spatial and subjective relationships between and around buildings, the answer might be the manipulation of these borders to become in-between space as well, to address simultaneously that which is on either “side” of the border as image does. Jill Stoner questions whether we might make urban architecture that “contains its exterior inside itself;” more importantly, we could aim to make the interior outside itself in order to give visibility to that which is inside, ongoing.5 By this strategy we could re-connect that which has become bounded within bracketed space or any closed network to the “realities” of particular localities and contexts, enabling a simultaneity of connectedness and thus new possibilities of consciousness and empowerment for the subject.
The identity of architecture has shifted from the function of the object (performance/efficiency) and the object’s ability to incite symbolic meanings (projection/identity) to act as a catalyst (experience/transformation). The potential of architecture lies in its capacity as a medium to create an identity for people, communities, and places. In Las Vegas, the “indifferent” interactions that characterize most visible relationships to people and space are in fact “replete with both meaning and feeling;” what is needed “are translators and interpreters to help us make sense of them.”6 In this way architects have the opportunity to create civic spaces for the city that are not simulations but that offer the opportunity for richer experiences and interactions to emerge in the space itself. Architecture is then not about perfection of the object but the transformation of the subject, designing the human interactions (software) rather than the physical objects (hardware). Rather than mutual indifference, architects can seek specific strategies for designing built environments that foster the mutual attachments that beget productive societal interaction.
1 Klingmann (2007), 45.
2 Cass (2004), 246.
3 Easterling (2005), 26.
4 Klingmann (2007), 194.
5 Jill Stoner, “Rain in the City,” Visualizing the City (2007), 223.
6 Marcus and Neumann (2007), 3.