Image courtesy Richard Ingersoll.
Image courtesy Richard Ingersoll.

The Dis[re]membered Body

 

Richard Ingersoll, Nomads in  Sprawltown

February 2, 2012

 

Like every lecture nowadays, the speaker begins hunched over a cinderblock media counter checking to see if his technology is compatible with the space. Wearing mostly black and bedecked in a small beret, the Montevarchi, Italy based architectural historian and professor Richard Ingersoll commands the attention of around 50 students and visitors who stare down at him from the blocky bare wood of the New Soft Room at the Architectural Association’s London office.

 

London’s milieu of human and small engine traffic makes the backdrop for Ingersoll’s new verbal afterword to Sprawltown, his 2004 book which treated sprawl as an opportunity for designers’ changing engagement with the landscape of metropolitan conurbation. Ingersoll is searching for the dignity of both the person and the place in the worked city space through the stencil of the nomad. This new frame, however, is slightly unclear. In the lecture, Ingersoll moves between three flows: sprawl, nomadic and refugee housing, and cultural tourism. From this, I understand his goal to be the reclamation of land and spaces that have been taken over for purely commercial, uncreative purposes.

 

In Sprawltown, Ingersoll described sprawl as a verbal explosion in five senses. The first is changing weather where sprawl is an unpredictable vane. The second is the dismembered body, the idea that sprawl is subjunctive and irregular from the ideal view of the centre city. Then, there is the postcard city, where he explains the strange sycophantic relationship between tourists and terrorists. I wish he would expound on this in detail as it presents a truly interesting possibility for urban studies. He is right to say in his fourth thesis that sprawl needs a city to exist. This last example plays off his final thesis of jumpcut urbanism, that power play of touristic work that is a long journey with a destination in mind. Jumpcut is a powerful avenue for this design debate and is a central, but unmentioned, focus of the rest of the presentation.

  

How does this equate to the experience of the nomad? Nomadism is about gestures to the land such as restoration and conscientious objection when circumstances appear or become too severe. Architecture for Humanity presents a point of strong reference for Ingersoll and he goes through several slides illustrating the nature of temporary housing, focusing on the systems designed by Shigeru Ban for displaced victims of the 1995 Kobe earthquake and the Shiyuan earthquake of 2008.

 

L: Haiti earthquake housing by David Sacca, image by Michel Redondo. R: Princezengarten, Berlin, image by John Ulmson.

 

Disaster architecture and nomadic living share the quality of being inherently open source and so highly communicable and low-cost. This is a model that scares most planners and it is interesting to see what place it will have in Sprawltown’s next edition. Housing standards are always a social construct and seem to develop into a contract that divides the local inhabitant from the habitus of the refugee or visitor.

 

Ingersoll launches into a languid and typically enchanting depiction of the challenge of tourism and cultural production in cities with historical foundations like Florence and Venice. I recall my 2004 visit to the town centres of San Guistino and Florence and feeling for the emptiness of the side streets. The character of the town centres’ holy tourism meant the local people had been put aside for primitive coin-operated lighting and vending machines for candles and matches. This religious architecture that in Italy, like in England, is a public-private commons has been appropriated in a way that Garrett Hardin would have understood as overexploitation.

 

Image courtesy Richard Ingersoll.

 

This vision is of course a fragmentary one. I found Florence to be hardly emotional about my experience. In 2004 the creative production of the city seemed to have narrowed itself to a bookbinder with an Adana press churning out flower-covered hardbound journals made of thick leaves of recycled brown paper. I was more taken with the slow sojourn of the itinerant labourers sprawled in the alleys. In the last days before the advent of cheap mobile internet, they had made the laziness of waiting into a science. I wonder what the internet has done for the heroin addicts at the railway station—the only ones who got any humour from the presence of tourists in Florence. 

 

The contemporary nomad is a curious construct. Illustrated by cartoonist-inventor Steven M. Johnson in the 1984 book What the World Needs Now, Mr. Johnson describes a new class of nomads as technological wunderkinds who move from city to city selling their computational and creative expertise as day labourers. Johnson, before many others, seized on the lack of filial piety in the modern nomadic experience, something Ingersoll could learn from.

  

If Ingersoll is advocating anything, he is seeking to put sprawl on its head and enable creative and cultural workers to move back into the cities he loves by taking advantage of the tourist and turning that visitor into a citizen—at least temporarily introducing production to spaces mainly dedicated to the commercialization of leisure.

 

Temporary environment under a Parisian underpass. Photo by Richard Ingersoll.

 

Ingersoll makes five new points for discussion that will no doubt feature in future urban design debate. In doing so he is trying to turn the tables on cultural policy and replace it with architecture for humanity. Redistributing the tourist gaze is by far the most exciting. The quality of new or redefined looking as an habitable cultural experience may be his best launching point for new dialog; second and third, create more democratic attractions and integrate tourism with daily life. I wonder if this means bringing more local school children into the Uffizi during the spring and summer months or getting tourists to use AirBnB when looking for bedrooms. 

 

Ingersoll’s other points require more collective action than what designers can muster on their own, and show why Ingersoll is deserving of a wider audience. Creating incentives for production is already being done and mostly badly, focusing on historical recreation rather than neighbour-led social production in old structures. Although English attempts at this can be successful, they tend to be commercial in the extreme.

 

Occupy Florence, November 2011. Photo by Richard Ingersoll.

 

Finally, demand responsibility from suppliers! The length that one can go in demand means it is certainly possible for this to take place. However, the illustration he gives of a World Wildlife Fund bird sanctuary in Tuscany (Oasis in Florence) is difficult to translate—it can be seen by request only and is privately managed. The supplier cycle needs to be continuously evaluated to make sure all types of industries are making social and resource investment in their community. I took Ingersoll’s example of the bird sanctuary as an example of what social activists could do, and later learned the inference to birds as the original nomads. I can appreciate both points.

 

At the end of the lecture, a question came from a Venetian about how one should go about repopulating her native city. Ingersoll had visited on the fact that tourists outnumber residents there 500 to one and the population had dropped to 60,000 today. The answer to the question of reasserting culture and finding uses beyond the tourist season is still a very open question. We still do not have the technology to successfully negotiate with many places.

 

Notes

Steven M. Johnson: http://www.patentdepending.com/Patent_Depending/Bio_and_Books.html

No Comments

> Submit

Select filter(s):
02_smaller

Ispirazione

In amber morning light I boarded a vaporetto and floated down Venice’s Grand Canal. Bit of a switch from Dallas.

 

> Read More

Opening_Night_HEADER

The Art of Assemblage

 

“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.”

 

-Richard P. Feynman

 

We enter a fabric womb, a cave-like space of soft stalactites that brush against us, shifting and pooling us into groups. We’ve stumbled into the world that is Give, an installation by artists Bird Feliciano and Juliana Raimondi.

> Read More

391957_10151098224905378_953405842_n

Contributor Profile: Arianne Gelardin and Jacob Palmer

 

Arianne Gelardin and Jacob Palmer are co-curators for StoreFrontLab‘s Season 2: City Making Series.

> Read More

InvUrb1

Invisible Urbanism

Ian Quate at the opening of the summit. (Photo: John Parman)

How do you make yourself at home in a cauldron filled with demons? I’m quoting the founder of Soto Zen, but the question was also posed at a recent San Francisco summit. > Read More

photo_leahnichols_formatted

Contributor Profile: Leah Nichols

 

Leah Nichols is a San Francisco-based urban designer and art activist. She currently works at SITELAB urban studio, implementing public realm possibilities within a range of scales, from 28-acre mixed use developments to chain-link fence installations.

IMG_5113_copy_sm_formatted

Urban Symposium No. 1

The first Urban Symposium event, as a part of StoreFrontLab Season 2, kicked off with a full room of people, each with a party hat on and margarita in hand. > Read More

al-gs-trace

TraceSF launches City Makers salon

This month TraceSF introduces City Makers, a new salon series at StoreFrontLabHosted by Amanda Loper of David Baker Architects and Emily Gosack of Jensen Architects, City Makers grew out of a desire to hear more from the women at the forefront of City Making. John Parman, a founding editor of TraceSF, spoke with Amanda and Emily about the series, which opens on October 28 with  Laura Crescimano, a principal of SITELAB urban studio.

> Read More

MWprofile

Contributor Profile: Michael Willis

Michael Willis is a well-known Bay Area architect.

Berlin architect Professor Michael Braum led off the first day's session. Photo: Michael Willis

Knowledge City: Rethinking Heidelberg

Berlin architect Professor Michael Braum led off the first day’s session. Photo: Michael Willis

Heidelberg, one of Europe’s oldest university towns, is looking at its future. Here’s a firsthand account of what’s ahead and what it might means for university towns here. > Read More

Carlo Scarpa, Berkeley, California, 1969”, photo courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

Carlo Scarpa In Person

“Carlo Scarpa, Berkeley, California, 1969,” photo courtesy of the University of California Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

 

When one turns the page of an architecture magazine and the work of Carlo Scarpa appears unexpectedly, a quiet inner thrill is felt. Since his passing in 1978, we seem increasingly moved by Scarpa’s caress of material, his strange but faultless sense of placement and proportion, the contemplative nature of his details. These appreciations are heightened by the knowledge that his output was relatively limited. > Read More

Max Levy Portrait for Trace SF_credit Rebecca Thaden Photography

Contributor Profile: Max Levy

 

A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley (1970), Dallas architect Max Levy, FAIA, established his studio in 1984. He is best known for designs that connect people with nature in both rural and urban settings. > Read More

IMG_Banner

Planned Growth or Unplanned Strife?

 

Will San Francisco follow through on its carefully laid plans to accommodate a growing population, or will it continue to fight the same battles time and time again?

> Read More

Hogan_headshop landscape

Contributor Profile: Mark Hogan

 

Mark Hogan AIA, LEED BD+C is a licensed architect in the states of New York and California. His primary interests lie in housing, sustainable urban design and in enhancing digital design workflows. > Read More

TPX_header

Urban Activation Device & TXP

Spanish art & architecture collective Todo Por La Praxis is seeking collaborators and participants for their experimental research on activating the urban void. > Read More

Child running home in the destroyed city of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina in the hot summer of 1995. Photo by Thom Hoffman.

When Cities Fall: Urban Histories and Political Memory

Destroyed city of Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995. Photo by Thom Hoffman.

Our experience of the present is shaped by our understanding of the past. By ignoring the urban narratives of  monuments, structures, city parks, memorials…what messages are we missing for the present?  > Read More

Figure 2_607x405

Save SLO County!

Heading into Paso Robles from the west, 2013

 

Will San Luis Obispo (SLO) County remain predominantly agricultural, or will it sink into the same morass of rural sprawl that took out Orange County? It could go either way, but there’s still hope if we act now. > Read More

Image courtesy of Southern Exposure

The Living Newspaper: Extra Extra

Image courtesy of Southern Exposure

Southern Exposure is launching a public art program, The Living Newspaper: Extra Extra, the first West Coast performance project by the artist Liz Magic Laser and her collaborators, the actors Audrey Crabtree and Michael Wiener. > Read More

Eyes on the River. Photo by Christopher Herring.

The Floods in Budapest

Eyes on the River. Photo by Christopher Herring.

The stone banks alongside the river contain the city. Despite them, here is the river, rising.  Silently, swiftly the waters swarm downstream; the swell of water does not much alter the river’s appearance.  You know there is more of it now only because benches, parks, and the bike road are being submerged.  It has not yet risen to the main city wall, about 20 feet higher; three more days of flooding expected.  

> Read More

Photo by Christopher Herring.

Contributor Profile: Elizabeth Snowden

Photo by Christopher Herring.

Elizabeth Snowden is a Berkeley-based writer and editor. A graduate of Bard College, she has edited catalogues raisonnés on Picasso and Gris for Wittenborn Art Books in San Francisco.

Joseph Kosuth reviewing plans for the art installations at the Dog House. Photo by pm cook.

Mr. Waka’s Dog House

Joseph Kosuth reviewing plans for the art installations at the Dog House. Photo by pm cook.

 

“Get out at the Sakuragaoka post office. Turn around and you’ll see a Lawson’s. Walk to it and then turn left. Walk up that street and you’ll see the Dog House on the right.” Typical Tokyo directions from the art impresario and entrepreneur Joni Waka. > Read More