Yes. After taking a break, during which I tried to reposition myself and my work in the world, it is time to reset “Streetscape Territories”. Not only because my insights have changed; more importantly, simply because the world has changed in the meantime.
I started Streetscape Territories in 2010 in New York and Barcelona just after I finished my PhD on “Depth Configurations. Proximity, Permeability and Territorial Boundaries in Urban Projects.” (ETSAB UPC/La Salle URL, Barcelona, Dir. de Solà-Morales & Ferrer). As a post-doc research project, I wanted to further develop a series of concepts and projects to explore the territorial understanding of the urban landscape. Considering streetscapes the main subject of study, I wondered: who has access to which kind of property, building or infrastructure? How is this access monitored, tested or controlled and how is all this configured in space and time? How do inhabitants understand and use these spaces and how can we achieve higher levels of collectivity as a result of emergent processes of appropriation?
During more then ten years, always within the Streetscape Territories framework, I happily conducted a wide range of research projects, from New York to Addis Abeba, from small scale research to large scale approaches, from theory to practice. At the same time I supervised several doctoral research projects, ran linked design studios and elective courses and taught theoretical courses. Let’s say I was never really bored.
Now, and after this two-year break, the world is a different place: we live differently. The mere representation of reality seems to have taken over reality itself (yes, Beaudrillard was right), social distancing became the new normal while remote work and social life defines the daily life of millions of people, leaving the physical world in a rather abandoned and fragile state. Many people, especially the ones with the means, start moving to suburbs or rural areas, while their travel and leisure habits changed drastically. Any physical encounter suddenly became a challenge. Isolation, exclusivity and privacy gained value in the making of the world…
So yes, it is necessary to rethink the main principles beyond Streetscape Territories. During the last decade, I made a list of these principles that matter, that make a difference when looking at how contemporary landscapes are made and used. I tried to list these attention point here:
- celebrating the multi scalar landscape, looking at sequences from domicile to open urban landscapes
- studying depth configurations
- exploring proximity, considering sets of relative distances in the urban landscape
- looking carefully at territorial delimitations, how and when borders and boundaries appear and are read by people
- suggesting collective space, identifying or proposing pockets of collectivity
- looking for unexpected adjacencies
- detecting and understanding complexity, listening to overload of senses
- comparing implicit as well as explicit ways of organizing space
- focusing on spatial qualities, relying less on functional determination
- trying to understand ways of sharing space, pretend it’s a city (yes, from netflix)
- trying to understand ways of dividing space, monitoring and understanding buffer zones
- prioritizing ordinary life, value daily movements and rituals
These principles are still valid, maybe more than ever. Nevertheless, I have the feeling it is necessary to approach these same principles from a different angle, from a less “purely academic” point of view and develop them from a rather artistic and explorative perspective, not strictly relying on “scientific proof” or “academic references” to make my case.
Also, these principles have little meaning if not related to the actual world we live in, to what I will call “situations”, where time and space interact, where magic happens, where Streetscape Territories manifest themselves before our eyes, and in the most fantastic way.
I decided to look exclusively at New York, where I lived and worked when Streetscape Territories took off so many years ago, and consider this city as a real/fictional set of fantastic streetscapes. I always considered this city a laboratory where these streetscapes presented themselves to me, in real life, in movies or in novels, and especially, where I had the feeling I could learn from them. Maybe now there are some that we would need to fight for, to keep them as part of our daily world.
For the next months, I will explore a series of “situations” in New York that in a way embody the mentioned principles. These can be based on real personal visits or encounters, or relate to scenes of movies or passages in novels that touched me in some way.
The objective is to revisit, to disentangle the complexity and multiplicity of each of these situations, these places in New York and interact with you about my findings.
I will keep you updated on the whole process and look forward to your feedback. To be continued!