‘Home and Homelessness: An Introduction’ by Kim Dovey is a short book chapter, yet appears here at length — such great length, you have to be as excited as I am to read this and honestly, you’re definitely better off just reading the chapter, this is my most selfish need-to-write-to-digest post yet.
Why? Because I loved it that much in how it tries to grapple with the meaning of home and what it means to be without — a deeper understanding of homelessness, but perhaps a more true one that shouldn’t be ignored in the quest to ensure everyone has at least a roof over their head.
Like everything I am thinking about at the moment, this is looking at home not as discrete object but as a connection, as a relationship (and a dialectical one at that):
Although a house is an object, a part of the environment, home is best conceived of as a kind of relationship between people and their environment. It is an emotionally based and meaningful relationship between dwellers and their dwelling places. Concomitant with this distinction is the assumption that the concept of the “housing problem” is not identical to that of “homelessness.” Indeed, the housing problem can be, and often is, solved in a manner that creates homelessness.
I love that last sentence — building a house does not create a home, and in a nutshell this presents many of the problems of social housing or emergency housing. The point being not to get rid of either or to argue they are unnecessary, but to fundamentally change how we think about housing provision. The question becomes how?
It’s not rocket science is really my new favourite phrase, because none of this is. It is hard work though, and not profitable.
What better first step than a better understanding of what home means to us, how our relationship with it works. Like Bachelard, Dove’s approach is phenomenological, drawing on philosophy, geography, ethnography and literature.
The theoretical approach in this essay is phenomenological. Such an approach is suggested by the intangible nature of the concept in question. … My aim, however, is not to produce specific cause-effect relationships or explanations; it is rather to deepen our understanding of an intrinsically intangible phenomenon. My sources are several. First, I draw heavily on the literature of phenomenological philosophy and geography. Second, the cross-cultural studies of anthropological fieldwork offer an insight into the forms and experiences of home in the traditional world. Third, the world of literature reveals important and clear explications of the experience of home and the processes of its emergence.
I still hate Heidegger. I don’t think you can separate his philosophy from his actions, or from that Heidegger who dressed up in his Nazi uniform to go eat a feast. I don’t know what to do with that really.
Dovey looks at the spatial and temporal aspects of home as order, identity, connectedness and then the dialectics of home (bring on the dialectics), before moving on to look at homelessness and its causes in a way I particularly love.
The first of these properties is order, by which is meant simply “patterning” in environmental experience and behavior. Being at home is a mode of being whereby we are oriented within a spatial, temporal, and sociocultural order that we understand.
What is more important that understanding how we fit, where we stand?
One of the most important contributions of the phenomenological approach to environmental experience has been a thorough reinterpretation of the concept of space that parallels the distinction between house and home. At the heart of this reinterpretation is an important distinction between conceptual space and lived space (Bollnow, 1967). Conceptual space is abstract, geometric, and objectively measured, a kind of context or ether within which places, people, and things exist. Lived space, by contrast, is the pre-conceptual and meaningful spatial experience of what phenomenologists call “being-in-the-world” (Heidegger, 1962).
Lefebvre writes about this too of course, maybe a good way of not citing Heidegger.
Home is a sacred place (Eliade, 1959), a secure place (Rainwater, 1966), a place of certainty and of stability. It is a principle by which we order our existence in space (Dovey, 1978).
Home as order is not only spatial orientation but also temporal orientation. Home is a kind of origin, we go “back” home even when our arrival is in the future. The home environment is one thoroughly imbued with the familiarity of past experience. It is the environment we inhabit day after day until it becomes taken for granted and is unselfconscious. This sense of familiarity is rooted in bodily routines…
I love the jolt this gives that familiar phrase, ‘to go back home’. It does make it temporal, does mean it’s the place you are from, the place you left and return to, it is a cyclical movement not a forwardly linear one.
Our sense of it is based on our past, structured by how we grew up, incredibly specific to time and places and all of their associated privileges or injustices.
Home as temporal order is not dependent on aesthetic attraction; it may be more accurate to say that the homes of our past set the ground for our very perceptions of attractiveness and ugliness.
At it’s best, it connects us to the environment more widely —
In yet another way, home as temporal order can extend to a familiarity with the past processes through which the forms of the environment have come into being. The experience of wood for instance connects with our experiences of climbing trees, sawing, chopping, nailing, and carving.
and it is perhaps a failing of modern society that it is ever more rare to have this rooted sense of materiality, and true cost to the planet of where we live.
This discussion of home as spatiotemporal order has thus far largely omitted any mention of environmental form. This is because the forms in which this order becomes manifest are primarily sociocultural.
It’s different for everyone! Whew, unlike Bachelard there is no assumption of European houses with basements and attics, no hut fantasies. But acknowledgment that ‘home’ is intimately linked with culture… even when that culture is simply one of consumption.
The notion of home as social order is at once extremely flexible and yet conservative. It is flexible inasmuch as it is embodied not in a house or building but in the patterning of experience and behavior. It is a way of relating to the environment that may be transposed from place to place, and in this way the meanings of home may be re-evoked if the patterns are recreated.
I think of new life brought to neighbourhoods by migrants, my small attempts at color and warmth here in Manchester. It is a reminder of connections, history, culture — and a timely reminder that this is not always a positive thing.
Through being deeply rooted in the past, home also carries with it considerable inertia to change. Social hierarchy, injustice, and outmoded sex roles are difficult to question when they are embodied in, and evoked by, the taken-for- granted world of spatial patterning.
There is an integrity, a connectedness between the dweller and dwelling. Home as order and as identity are strongly interrelated; yet whereas order is concerned with “where” we are at home, identity broaches the questions of “who” we are, as expressed in the home, and “how” we are at home.
This can be identity as in the western world of consumption — status and class and etc.
The social perspective tends to interpret the home as a “statement” of identity expressed through a shared symbolic language (Appleyard, 1979b; Goffman, 1971).
But home can be so much more than that.
My view is that the personal and the social are inextricably interwoven; that representation of identity in the home stems from both social structure and our quest for personal identification within it. The home is both a “statement” and a “mirror,” developing both socially and individually, reflecting both collective ideology and authentic personal experience… Individual interpretations often argue for a deeper connection between the home and the human spirit. Jung has argued that self-expression in built form is one way in which the self-archetype becomes manifest. He has described the construction of his own house as a “concretization of the individuation process” (Jung, 1967, p. 252), an approach that has been developed by Cooper (1974) and others.
Where it further from consumption, more closely tied to other forms of culture and self-expression, it is a bottom-up, rooted phenomenon in the natural environment. I think of a permaculture home, or hogans or adobes or constructions perfectly suited to their place.
The sense of identity embodied in the phenomenon of home has an important component of autochthony. Another way to describe this is as “indigenous,” the etymology of which means “to be born within.” Home in this sense is something that grows in a place rather than being imposed from without. It grows both from the particular personal and social circumstances of the dwellers but also from the environmental context of the place itself, its genius loci. Thus home has a key element of uniqueness, it is place based.
Not that this needs be unchanging. We are a connected world — I think of all the wondrous architectural and social hybrids that could flourish through travel, sharing, learning, improving our relationship to and reducing our impact on the land we live on. Why haven’t we done it that way?
Home is a place where our identity is continually evoked through connections with the past. Although temporal order is primarily concerned with familiarity, temporal identity is a means of establishing who we are by where we have come from. The role of the physical environment in this regard is that of a kind of mnemonic anchor.
All that is lost to the migrant. A tremendous, implacable loss.
You know I love this:
The themes of home as order and identity that I have presented thus far are summarized in Figure 1. Home is a schema of relationships that brings order, integrity, and meaning to experience in place—a series of connections between person and, world:
Connectedness with people: both through the patterns of sociocultural order and through the role of the home place in the symbolization and representation of identity
Connectedness with the place: first, through being oriented in it; and second, through the ways in which we put down roots and draw an indigenous sense of identity from each unique place
Connectedness with the past: through having memory anchored in the forms of the home place and from the experience of familiarity and continuity that this engenders
Connectedness with the future: when power and autonomy permit directly and hopes to inform environmental change
Hell yes to all of this.
Home then is an integrative schema that is at once a bonding of person and place and, a set of connections between the experience of dwelling and the wider spatial, temporal, and sociocultural context within which it emerges. Home orients us and connects us with the past, the future, the physical environment, and our social world.
Too static you say? Not enough process, movement, change over time? Dovey agrees.
The picture of the phenomenon of home presented here has one critical weakness—it is too static. It does not convey an understanding of the dynamic processes through which the order, identity, and connectedness of home come into being. These processes are fundamentally dialectical.
Yet the dialectics of home involve more than inside versus outside. Home is a place of security within an insecure world, a place of certainty within doubt, a familiar place in it strange world, a sacred place in a profane world (Dovey, 1978). It is a place of autonomy and power in an increasingly heteronomous world where others make the rules. These oppositions can be subsumed under the rubric of order and chaos. Home certainly has the properties of order as argued earlier; yet it is only through the dialectical interaction that its meaning develops. Home as mere order and identity can well become a prison, a hermetically sealed world devoid of chance.
it participates in the negotiation and representation of identity through the oppositions of self/other, identity/community, and private/public.
Dialectics of Appropriation
This is particularly important in thinking about power — what power you have to shape your home and your environment, the extraordinary lengths to which we go to try and take hold of that power. What happens when we lose that battle. and the impact that has on us.
This is a very difficult yet fundamentally important notion—because “it goes to the heart of the concept of home as a mode of being-in-the-world. I use the term appropriation in the general sense of its etymological root, the Latin appropriare, “to make one’s own.” … It involves both a “caring” for a place and a “taking” of that place into our own being (Relph, 1981).
Dovey turns to literature to look at this, those brilliant passages from Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and the transformation of the Palace Flophouse — I remember that this is precisely one of the reasons why this is one of my favourite Steinbeck novels. Margaret Mead’s autobiography is the second example used to evoke that sense of what he calls ‘becoming-at-home’.
I quite love that phrase. Need to read Relph.
So finally the properties of homelessness — not the status of being without a house, but what strips our possibilities of becoming-at-home.
Rationalism and Technology
The immediately obvious advantages of technological change, in this case improved efficiency and cleanliness, can serve initially to mask the loss of intangible meanings.
These meanings are lost as priority is given to ‘the abstract conceptual modes of “space” as opposed to the meaning-centered mode of “lived space.”‘
The belief on the part of both producers and consumers that the home is the house trivializes the concept of home and treats it as an object to be instantly consumed.
If I could underline this whole section ten times I would, I think commoditization is at the heart of all of this. But I like the other sections as well.
Commoditization has its main eroding effect not in the quality of house form but in the quality of the relationship of the dweller with the dwelling. The house as a piece of property implies a legal relationship between the owner and the place, a relationship embodying certain legal freedoms. Home as appropriation, on the other hand, implies a relationship that is rooted in the experiences of everyday life over a long period of time. It requires adaptability, control, freedom, and security of tenure. A contradiction emerges here under conditions of absentee ownership or rental.
Whereas home is the kind of order that flows upward from the opportunities and problems of each unique place and context, bureaucratic order flows downward. A centralized order is imposed across diverse particular cases according to typical situations and contexts (Crozier, 1964, pp. 183-184). Likewise, bureaucratic organization has its own identity that, in the case of housing programs, becomes stamped upon the landscape at the expense of the diverse identifications of the dwellers. Housing becomes symbolic of the organization that produces it, spatially regular and temporally regulated places that may not be easily adapted to the uniqueness of each situation or to changes that occur over time. The complexities of the experience of home and the role of the dweller in achieving it are beyond the capabilities of bureaucratic structures to deal with.
Scale and Speed
The scale at which environmental and housing problems are framed and tackled and the speed at which environmental change is implemented are two properties that are closely linked to those outlined previously, and they contribute to the erosion of the experience of home. Bureaucratic organization, for instance, develops to ensure the remote control necessary to implement largescale programs. Big problems would seem to demand big solutions. Housing, however, is not so much a big problem as it is a large collection of small ones—many people with a desire for shelter, roots, security, and identity, yet with a multitude of dreams, forms, and social patterns within which this might be realized.
The Erosion of Communal Space
The public realm has become a place where it is difficult if not impossible to enact personal or collective appropriations. It is a place where “they” are responsible for control and maintenance of a rule-bound status quo. At the personal level, this loss of a shared common place as a context of the home brings a subtle yet profound erosion of the dialectics of home/journey and private/public. The home becomes the sole area of personal control and security; its boundary hardens, semiprivate edge areas disappear, informal appropriation and surveillance across the interface weaken, and crime proliferates (Newman, 1972). … As the communally shared realm has been eroded, so the private realm has expanded to fill the void, leading to an inordinate demand on the home to fulfill all of one’s needs. Herein lies a dilemma—without the broader sense of home extending into community life, the experience of home contracts and loses meaning; yet at the same time increased demands are placed upon this depleted experience of home.
Strong forces within the architectural profession mitigate against the emergence of a sense of home. … A home cannot be someone else’s work of art.
Thus we have mass housing that hasn’t worked, urban renewal that transformed landscapes, destroyed networks, house seen as technological fixes never becoming homes.
Do I have anything further to add to this list a whole three decades further? Maybe a little more about financialisation and globalisation of capital, but fundamentally, I don’t think so.
Implications for future research?
I like this list too:
And to finish, maybe a bit cheesy but true — English is a terrible language for speaking about deeper meanings in:
Finally, a change in attitude and understanding is required of designers. This involves an enhanced understanding and a celebration of the experience of home and the processes of becoming-at-home that exist in every place and every community. The goal here is not only to create a sense of home, but rather to recognize and preserve it in its myriad of processes and forms. Its processes are seldom visible, and its forms are not always beautiful; yet beneath them lie the seeds of a deeper sense of home, struggling to flower.
[Dovey, Kimberly (1985) ‘Home and Homelessness: Introduction’, in Altman, Irwin and Carol M. Werner eds. Home Environments. Human Behavior and Environment: Advances in Theory and Research. Vol 8. New York: Plenum Press, 1985.]
Ken Adam designed the iconic sets for Dr Strangelove, which we were at the Arnolfini to see, and it was very cool to see the original drawings of the war room. Kubrick cut the sho of the whole from the film to maintain its claustrophobic feel, but it was pretty awesome:
Not only that, but Adam drew it as a second attempt to please Kubrick who was staring down over his shoulder.
I learned too that the war room table was covered with green baize, to instill the feel of a poker game, amongst the actors at least.
But of course Ken Adam also designed a a multitude of Bond films in the 1960s and 1970s, and Addam’s Family Values, winning two Academy Awards for best art direction. There were some other fascinating facts in the talk by Christopher Frayling at the Arnolfini, I hadn’t even known that Ken Adam’s family had fled Berlin in the 1930s:
It made me wonder to myself why it is I love architecture and cities, and yet never paid much attention to set design, and what that might tell us about the emotional affect and signification of space and building.
And of course, films are highly influential in their turn. I’ve heard this about Metropolis, about Blade Runner. But of course some of Ken Adam’s incredible and evocative sets influenced modern corporate architecture, the villains of today.
I’ve loved this building since before I knew who Margaret Macdonald (1864-1933) and Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) even were. Glasgow Boys and Whistler inside. Almost as great as heading to dinner with my brother and sister-in-law and on to the pub with the incredible Mitch Miller and getting my own copy of Nothing is Lost. To be discussed further, but the coolest thing I’ve seen in forever. You could own it too.
I love my mom’s neighbourhood, despite the lack of sidewalks and streetlights. It’s not until you wander around (despite the fact that everything works to discourage you from wandering around on foot) that you realise that what looks fairly nondescript is actually full of interest. That each house is unique, probably hand-built by the one-time owner though probably with one of those early kits. They sit in various places on large plots of land, some left as desert, some filled with dead grass, gravel, attempts at landscaping that range from the most basic to the most elaborate.
Christmas just makes it all the more exciting.
The bull in front of Molina’s has always been well-endowed, but the painting of a snowman was a bit unexpected.
A pissing fountain dressed in Christmas regalia, though I’m loving the black Santa
The new fashion for inflatable christmas cheer in unexpectd forms, like a reindeer in a tub with a naked santa mechanically scrubbing his own back
Or Santa on a tractor:
An Armageddon of Christmas cheer now wilted, a collapsed Santa:
Santa slamming into a door:
Oddments collected on a rooftop, but no Santa at all.
A few other curiosities of the non-Christmasy kind, like this celebratory remnant
One of my favourite churches
The unconscious ironies of developers
The ubiquitous belief in the coolness of big things, and flames.
Valletta’s architecture is unified in its building material — as is all of Malta it seems, but here it is most striking how this unifies the old and the new. Renzo Piano’s fabulous new city gate rises up as you enter, it’s massive square forms work beautifully in this space, as modern as they are. I wish I had taken more pictures.
Just as I wish I had more pictures of the opera house beyond (the columns visible just beyond), where they chose not to rebuild the massive building left in ruins by WWII bombs, but to leave its foundations and columns to embrace an outdoor performance space, which I also quite loved. Similar pictures of the ruins were shown several time through the Cities as Community Spaces conference, a symbol of the city’s resilience.
I’ll come back to those because they are fascinating, but still what most captivated me were the narrow streets in this Renaissance city, originally named the most humble city of Valletta, after the Master of the Knights of Malta, Jean de Vallette, who had successfully led the defense of the island against the Ottoman Turks in 1565. This city on the isthmus was to solidify defenses — and you can tell. Built in 40 years by Italian architect Francesco Laparelli, student of Michelangelo, and finished by the Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar, I am curious to explore how it connects to other city planning from this time. Their auberges — grand renaissance building with a municipal feel that housed the langues and now house museums and government offices — are familiar, the churches also:
These wonderful grand colonnaded spaces
But the streets laid out in a perfect (then almost revolutionary) grid with these wonderful balconies — these are like nothing I had ever seen.
It is a city where the whole is beautiful to look upon, but the details are as well…
And just look at these balconies, the individuality they bring to each building front, and the craftsmanship of them, they all seem to have their individual touches amplified by the passing of time and the histories of their owners:
Interesting, though, that so many of them are enclosed and hardly large enough to be used as extended living spaces. They seem used for laundry and plants. You could not squeeze a table and chairs outside as we saw so often in Paris, you cannot easily connect and talk to your neighbour next door or across the way, even with the windows wide open as they are above. It seems an opportunity missed, a reflection of a more enclosed society or perhaps an aspect of the city that helps create one. Nor are there stoops or enough space to extend living into the doorways and streets the way families do in say New York. Much of this seems concentrated in the squares, but still, I wonder at the impact on the everyday life and conviviality.
These streets contain atmosphere, and the surprise lost through the absence of twists and turns is found instead in the variegated building surfaces and the faded palimpsests painted onto stone, the flaking remnants of the past .
I don’t have a picture of the old grafittied pictures of ships that was pointed out to me by someone from Valletta as we walked back from a panel through the streets — her friend had uncovered it as he was cleaning the stone. There is no telling how old it is, a deep ochre red and it looked like pictures of the galleys so prevalent in the Mediterranean I have seen in books. She told me too the use of statues of saints at the street corners instead of street signs — St Christopher easily recognisable embodied in stone for those unable to read the letters of his name. We laughed that no longer are we literate in that way. I had a thought to catalogue them, but it fell away, saints are not my favourite things, and these are many of them grand, not the humble saints dressed in hand-sewn clothing I am more used to. But I do love shrines.
This on the other hand…on the grand masters palace on the edge of George’s Square. Perhaps this was explained on one of the tours or if I could hit upon the right search terms, I usually love grotesques but this man in European dress riding what seems to be a naked African woman? Telling, if rather horrible.
I only really noticed it my last day, because always your eyes are drawn to the life in the square — though early on a Sunday as I headed to the airport is was more quiet than I ever saw it:
There are fountains here which must be wonderful in summer, it was always full of children, including two little girls swanning through delightedly on scooters. Tourists and townfolk and migrants alike make use of the many places to sit that ring the square, as did I the night I wandered here alone. It is a lovely space, especially at night when the cafes overflow and there is lively talk and the clink of glasses and the smell of food…
Funny that it almost never smells of the sea here. Yet the sea surrounds it, on the other side of these enormous fortifications. This is looking towards Sliema:
Finding these fields tucked away made me so happy though, I can’t image football in this kind of setting! I was glad too, as many of the conference speakers mentioned the way they had played football in the streets as children — streets now very full of cars, and it’s true no children play there now.
More views, this of Fort Manoel with the massive luxury build in Sliema behind it:
Back over Valletta itself — in the foreground graffiti. Float like a butterfly sting like a bee, I was happy to find Mohammed Ali quoted here.
Valletta at night — it is magical, I confess I wrote reams, though nothing coalesced quite into a story. My thoughts circled around Caravaggio for some reason, swaggering through the streets. It struck me that sober he wanted to be like the knights who were lords of all this, and that drunk he wanted to destroy them. It is easy to imagine him wandering through streets such as these, unlike England the modern almost never intrudes to break the atmosphere. Maybe the story will come, tinged with the recent car bombings, the old man wandering down the street with a bird in a tiny cage held reverently between his hands, chirping as he went. The undercurrents you can feel here, though I am ignorant of their precise nature.
Looking across from the other side of Valletta, towards the Forti Sant’ Anġl
There are spaces underneath as well — I was lucky enough to visit the air raid shelter beneath the Crypt of St Augustine where the conference dinners were hosted. The crypt itself is a beautiful vaulted space where many lived during WWII, escaping down rickety stairs at the sirens. Boards covered the puddles of water at the bottom, we half-drunkenly explored the long passages and rooms and it was wonderful.
I had to leave too soon. But luck brought me a window seat, and it is from the air that you can best appreciate how small Valletta is, and the position it holds within this much larger urban conglomeration. I loved the fields as well, these are small plots that can never become too mechanised or monocultured.
I think this was Gozo in fact, but you can see the stark lines of the towns and the terracing of the hillsides, even if you can’t quite see the wonderful blues of the sea itself.
A wonderful place, I am so thankful for the luck and generosity of those I love that allowed me come here.
I just finished Georges Perec, Species of Space and Other Pieces, it is wonderful. What struck me most forcibly was this list he gives of the uninhabitable, as it has struck so many. It is one of the most moving things I have ever read, without quite being able to put my finger on why. It captures somehow capital’s destruction of the earth, its destruction of urban spaces and housing, its carceral geographies. The madness of this world we have somehow created for ourselves. It invokes the misshapen forms that inhabiting the uninhabitable has produced, but in their absence. All this in a list.
I have thus set it apart. To read. To re-read. To return to.
The uninhabitable: Seas used as a dump, coastlines bristling with barbed wire, earth bare of vegetation, mass graves, piles of carcasses, boggy rivers, towns that smell bad
The uninhabitable: The architecture of contempt or display, the vainglorious mediocrity of tower blocks, thousands of rabbit hutches piled one above the other, the cutprice ostentation of company headquarters
The uninhabitable: the skimped, the airless, the small, the mean, the shrunken, the very precisely calculated
The uninhabitable: the confined, the out-of-bounds, the encaged, the bolted, walls jagged with broken glass, judas windows, reinforced doors
The uninhabitable: shanty towns, townships
The hostile, the grey, the anonymous, the ugly, the corridors of the Metro, public baths, hangars, car parks, marshalling yards, ticket windows, hotel bedrooms
factories, barracks, prisons, asylums, old people’s homes, lycees, law courts, school playgrounds
Looking at cities can give a special pleasure, however commonplace the sight may be. Like a piece of architecture, the city is a construction in space, but one of vast scale, a thing perceived only in the course of long spans of time. City design is therefore a temporal art… At every instant, there is more than the eye can see, more than the ear can hear, a setting or a view waiting to be explored. Nothing is experienced by itself, but always in relation to its surrounding, the sequences of events leading up to it, the memory of past experiences. (1)
I love this nod to the overwhelming — and mostly pleasurable — nature of the city, the ways it works in both space and time, and like Lofland, Whyte, Cullen, Gehl and others, he is clearly writing as someone with an appreciation for city life. It is a life that is in many ways collectively constructed:
Not only is the city an object which is perceived (and perhaps enjoyed) by millions of people of widely diverse class and character, but it is the product of many builders who are consonantly modifying the structure for reasons of their own… No wonder, then, that the art of shaping cities is an art quite separate from architecture or music or literature. (2)
In The Image of the City, Lynch’s focus is primarily looking at what he calls the ‘legibility’ of the cityscape — how we read cities and how understanding that can help us (re)build better cities. Why is legibility key?
A good environmental image gives its possessor an important sense of emotional security. He can establish an harmonious relationships between himself and the outside world…(4)
I love this quote even more…
a distinctive and legible environment not only offers security but also heightens the potential depth and intensity of human experience. Although life is far from impossible in the visual chaos of the modern city, the same daily action could take on new meaning if carried out in a more vivid setting. (5)
This is not to go against the many authors who write about the unknown, Lynch emphasises that this not to deny the value of labyrinth or surprise, but under two larger conditions — where there is no danger of losing basic
orientation, of never coming out. The surprise must occur in an over-all framework; the confusions must be small regions in a visible whole…. Complete chaos without hint of connection is never pleasurable. (6)
Another important qualification, the power of human beings to shape the urban environment:
The observer himself should play an active role in perceiving the world and have a creative part in developing his image. He should have the power to change that image to fit changing needs… what we seek is not a final but an open-ended order, capable of continuous further development. (6)
So to understand how this all works, he book tries to get at the ways people understand and read cities, the
‘public images,’ the common mental pictures carried around by large numbers of a city’s inhabitants… (7)
I love maps, and so found this a fascinating way to examine people’s relationships to the urban form, splitting it into useful divisions to be examined:
The mental maps that are shared of streets and landmarks. These are analyzed in terms of identity (its recognition as a separable entity), structure (the spatial or pattern relation of the object to the observer and other objects) and meaning (for the observer, whether practical or emotional). (8)
Above all in understanding legibility is this:
imageability: that quality in a physical object which gives it a high probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer. It is that shape, color, or arrangement which facilitates the making of vividly identified, powerfully structured, highly useful mental images of the environment. (9)
A highly imageable (apparent, legible, or visible) city in this peculiar sense would seem well formed, distinct, remarkable; it would invite the eye and the ear to greater attention and participation. The sensuous grasp upon such surroundings would not merely be simplified, but also extended and deepened. Such a city would be one that could be apprehended over time as a pattern of high continuity with many distinctive parts clearly interconnected. The perceptive and familiar observer could absorb new sensuous impacts without disruption in his basic image, and each new impact would touch upon many previous elements. He would be well oriented, and he could move easily. He would be highly aware of his environment. The city of Venice might be an example of such a highly imageable environment. (10)
Venice again, but I think this is definitely how a city works best, and this imageablity is the center of his study of Boston, LA and Jersey City. What follows is a really interesting way of mapping out perceptions of the city through surveys and interviews. The maps are brilliant:
Particularly interesting is the look at problems, as in the ‘Problems of the Boston image’ (p 24 — though you won’t be surprised to find that Boston has fewer problems than the other two):
This marks what Kevin Lynch describes as the
confusions, floating points, weak boundaries, isolations, breaks in continuity, ambiguities, branchings, lacks of character or differentiation. (25)
Of course it beats both Jersey City and Los Angeles hands down as a memorable, enjoyably walkable and legible city. I do myself have a great soft spot for Boston. I thought I’d go into more detail on LA in a second post, as it is my own city after all. It also highlights Lynch’s limitations, but there is much to be mined from the book.
First, what development has done to the US city centre:
There is the same piling-up of blank office structures, the same ubiquity of traffic ways and parking lots (34).
This has made them almost indistinguishable from one another, Lynch notes Jersey City as the least distinguishable of all — funny that what people most loved about it was the view of New York’s skyline on their horizon.
Common themes between the cities:
…people adjust to their surroundings and extract structure and identity out of the material at hand. The types of elements used in the city image, and the qualities that make them strong or weak, seem quite comparable between the three…
In terms of broad themes, the key favourite aspects of all cities were space and views:
Among other things, the tests made clear the significance of space and breadth of view (43) … there was an emotional delight arising from a broad view, which was referred to many times. …
The landscape features of the city: the vegetation or the water, were often noted with care and pleasure. (44)
Also a deep sense of the spatialities of class (race is not discussed at all, except in an oblique way, a truly blindingly un-scholarly way which the post on LA will deal with more)
Quite as apparent is the constant reference to socio-economic class: the avoidance of “lower class” Broadway in Los Angeles, the recognition of the “upper class” Bergen Section in Jersey City, or the unmistakable division of Boston’s Beacon Hill into two distinct sides.
Space and time:
… the way in which the physical scene symbolizes the passage of time… (45)
So in broad strokes, there is a lot to think about here… the next post gets into the nitty gritty of design elements and physical space.
[Lynch, Kevin (1960) The Image of the City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press]
More on building social spaces…
and even more…
Camillo Sitte’s The Art of Building Cities is one of the acknowledged cornerstones of the whole edifice of books I really love about architecture and public space. This translation is from 1945, but the book itself was originally published in Vienna in 1889. Fin de siecle Vienna in the middle of its drive towards modernity, this is a curiously ambivalent book that looks to the past in order to reimagine an urban future. But it does try to look forward, and though not everyone reads it that way, this is from Eliel Saarinen prefatory note:
Simultaneously with this understanding of such organic town pattern, and subsequently to a great extent as a logical consequence of it … there became laid an equally strong groundwork for such an understanding of architecture that even the architectural style-form must express contemporary conditions, and no other conditions. (iii)
This is essentially a look at what works about older cities, and it connects patterns in architecture and planning with patterns of social life. So it has half the equation I think is needed. The other half is how architecture and planning in turn shapes social life in the dialectic that Henri Lefebvre would explore among others. Sitte argues that the changes in the city reflect the changes in social life — in medieval times much of life led on the street, because interiors cold, damp, uncomfortable. From the introduction by Ralph Walker:
The growing number of comforts within the modern shelter had, one by one, eliminated the desire for pageantry in the space outside. The underlying idea of the forum and the plaza, through out the ages the focal points of classical and medieval cities, took on less social and political meaning. (vii)
The science of the technician will not suffice to accomplish this. We need, in addition, the talent of the artist. (1)
From his words you would know the world has already entered the time of professional planners, architects, what Sitte calls hygienists. He doesn’t argue that they are not needed, but rather that they need to rethink their approach and incorporate, as he says, the artist.
Perhaps this study will permit us to find the means of satisfying the three principal requirements of practical city building: to rid the modern systems of blocks and regularly aligned houses; to save as much as possible of that which remains from ancient cities; and in our creation to approach more closely the ideal of the ancient models. (2)
Difference between then and now, I wish, as I say he had thought through more of the corollary.
Public squares, or plazas, were then of prime necessity, for they were theaters for the principal scenes of public life, which today take place in closed halls. (2)
But I like playing with this very different understanding of space that he sees existing in past and present:
In brief, the place of the forum in cities corresponds to that of the principal room of a house. It is to the city, so to speak, the principal hall… (5)
This is just lovely.
The interior temples and monuments are the stone myths of the greek people. The highest poetry and thought are embodied in them. (7)
The bulk of the book, however, focuses on the details of public spaces, groupings of building and streets that work. In many ways the chapter headings summarise very nicely Sitte’s arguments.
This highlights again the importance of the public square in community life, and contrasts the squares that work well from the past with those that don’t from his present:
The fundamental difference between the procedures of former times and those of today rests in the fact that we constantly seek the largest space for each little statue. Thus we diminish the effect … instead of augmenting it … (11-12)
This explores the many examples of monuments and fountains that sit not at the centre of the square, or in way of its foot traffic, but off to one side. This also applies to churches — which I confess I find quite odd as I am so used to them sitting in open space in the US and UK. Like Gordon Cullen, though not nearly as explicitly, he is always thinking how people move through space, how they encounter buildings and the public places that surround them. He looks at both stone and emptiness and the way one relates to the other.
Buildings built in this way ‘acquire a double worth’. even without being surrounding by a void they offer up different views and compositions. (18)
Being written in 1889, this already feels as though it is part of the past, but this is the period when our present is forming — this critique is all too familiar:
This rage for isolating everything is truly a modern sickness. R. Baumeister in his manual on city building even raises this to the status of a working principle. He writes, ‘Old buildings ought to be preserved, but we must, so to speak, peel them and preserve them.” The object of this, then, is that by the transformation of surroundings the old buildings should be led to the midst of public places and in the axes of streets. This procedure is used everywhere and with special satisfaction in treating ancient city portals. it is indeed a fine thing to have an isolated city gateway around which we may stroll instead of passing under its arches! (19)
Peel them and preserve them — no better way to describe what has been done to too much architecture that should instead be living and peacefully subsiding.
Such a simple rule, one so ignored so often in modern building.
‘The old plazas produce a collective harmonious effect because they are uniformly enclosed…In fact, the public square owes its name to this characteristic in an expanse at the center if a city. (20)
He looks at how it is enclosed, how street enter into it:
Careful study shows that there are many advantages to an arrangement of street openings in the form of turbine arms. (21)
It looks clear in the drawing, I think of the great wonderful squares of Prague or Krakow and agree with him on avoiding busy cross sections at each corner.
He looks at two forms of square — those that are deep and those wide. They set off different building types, deep plazas are better facing a church of slender form, city halls require broader, more expansive ones.
… The height of the principal building, measured from the ground to the cornice, should be in proportion to the dimension of the public square measured perpendicularly in the direction of the principal facade. (27)
I love this, can’t wait to wander some of the cities he describes in this way:
It is truly a delight for the sensitive observer to analyze such a plan and to find the explanation for its wonderful effect, Like all true works of art it continually reveals new beauties and further reason for admiring the methods and resourcefulness of the ancient city builders. (26)
The opposite to today’s grids, but Sitte hardly needs to point that out, nor that this is due to their gradual historical development, but this is an important point:
Everyone knows from personal experience that these disruptions in symmetry are not unsightly. On the contrary, they arouse our interest as much as they appear natural, and preserve a picturesque character. Few people, however, understand why irregularity can avoid giving an unpleasant appearance. We must study a map to understand it. (30)
Always we turn to Italy — Padua, Verona, Florence, Palermo. To give you a taste of the many maps that fill the book:
The groupings of squares! To an American this is a wonderful extravagance indeed, also wonderful to move from one enclosed, irregular square to another as my European wanderings can attest.
There is such an expanse of beauty here that no painter has ever conceived an architectural background more perfect than its setting. No theater ever created a more sublime tableau than the spectacle to be enjoyed at Venice. It is truly the seat of a great power, a power of spirit, of art, and of industry which has gathered the treasures of the world upon its vessels… (37)
The difference he notes, which I had noted already, was that in Northern Europe churches tend to sit more separately — usually because they have been surrounded by graveyards. (Where was everyone buried in this Italian cities of stone I wonder?) Yet these small churches that form the fabric of the city or town are still generally not fully centered in a square, rather they often set to one side. There is, however, often a large plaza in front to set off the facade. Still, they are approached in various ways that creates interest, surprise, wonder.
Sitte doesn’t simply look to the ancient, he likes too the Baroque arrangement of squares, the way that
… art came to control vistas of the great three-sided plazas, churches, palaces, formal gardens, sumptuous approaches to important buildings, as well as nature’s masterpieces. (50)
This would include the Plaza of the Palazzo Pitti at Florence, that of the Capitol at Rome. Thus:
The development of Baroque style differs from the history of earlier styles in that it did not evolve gradually. On the contrary, like modern styles, it came full panoplied from the drawing board as an invention. We cannot, therefore, attribute the banality of modern planning to the fact that it has precisely the same kind of origin. We insist, simply, that the straight line and geometrical patterns should not be made the aims of our planning. (51)
The Baroque is the idea of a theatre-type perspective…he gives the example of Würzburg Residence:
Every modern university or group of public buildings laid out around large and small open spaces generally follows some variant of the Würzburg Residence plan — a large court or yard at the center with smaller courts at either side. (51)
Looking at the picture I though god damn, it’s so true.
Open space that should serve everyone actually belongs to the engineer and hygienist. All of the art forms in town building have disappeared one by one so that we have scarcely a memory of them left. (53)
Ah, the grid. He writes here at the beginning of the grid. It’s funny looking back, that actually it got much worse than the grid, comparing New York for example, to the suburbs.
These systems accomplish nothing except a standardization of street patterns. They are purely mechanical in conception. They reduce the street system to a mere traffic utility, never serving the purposes of art. They make no appeal to the sense of perception, for we can see their features only on a map. (59)
He looks at street patterns and traffic — traffic! Ah, 1889, this was just the beginning, but this kind of diagram is also very familiar.
What I like most is that actually this is not just a nostalgic looking backwards, though I wouldn’t fault that too much given the delight that these old city spaces bring and the importance of thinking through just why. Sitte writes:
Many of the old structural forms are simply out of the question for modern builders. While that may disturb the sentimental, it should not plunge them into a sterile nostalgia. Decorative construction without vital function is but temporary and of questionable value. Time makes inexorable changes in community life, and these changes alter the original significance of architectural forms. (69)
But now more and more, we see how architectural forms result from community life…
Great population increases in our modern capitals, more than anything else, have shattered the old forms. With the growth of a city its streets widen and its buildings grow taller and bulkier.
Written before the first skyscraper mind.
Intense human concentration has meant intense increase in land value, and neither the individual nor the city government can escape the consequences. Subdivision and street opening have proceeded apace, Street after street has been cut through old districts, giving birth to more and more city blocks. (69)
This economic understanding of development was unexpected, I’m not sure why though. Still, it is almost uncanny to see the way that Sitte foresaw the architectural and planning future.
High land costs encourage greater intensity of land use, and this, in turn, supports certain structural forms. Modern lot plotting tends to exalt the cube motif in architecture. (70)
So looking to his future, our present which is one Sitte did his best to prevent and I appreciate that, he writes:
Our study has already indicated the obvious need for innovations to overcome the effects of the ill-famed rectangular system. (74)
I’m almost glad he didn’t know there would be worse. He didn’t see bureaucratic and state planning as the answer — though private planning wasn’t the answer either.
Personal ambition, artistic individuality, and enthusiasm for work of one’s own responsibility are factors that do not fit into public administration. In fact, they are incompatible with official discipline. (82)
Sitte foresaw the great wind corridors of our modern times as well:
While it is possible for a pedestrian to stroll without discomfort in the old inner city, he is immediately enveloped in clouds of dust when he steps into a modern part of the City. Open plazas, where street openings draw in wind from every direction (like the new City Hall Plaza of Vienna) feature beautiful wind spirals throughout the year… (87)
I haven’t yet been to Budapest and Vienna, but Sitte upholds the first, describing Budapest:
where stand the finest and most greatly admired urban areas along the Danube, where the river is made a magnificent feature of the City itself. Sooner or later, the Danube can have an equally fine effect on Vienna. … Should, then, a gradual slum development be permitted in the meantime? Should not the senseless and immensely costly rectangular system be abandoned? (85)
He really hates rectangles.
Again Vienna, always back to Vienna, it was his city after all. But there is much to think on for all cities.
More on building social spaces…
and even more…