City Thinking: Layers of the City."Doors, Keys, Dreams, Cities"

This was written in 2012 when I was studying for a Masters at Goldsmiths University of London, in Design Critical Practice. I got a gig job working on exhibitions and my studies had a habit of making me see anything I was doing at that time through a certain lens.

On Business

Arriving at the Gare Du Nord, I hear the announcement over the Tannoy. I am here on a business trip. In the past I would have romantisced the act of travel itself, but now I am more concerned with how I see things, rather than where I am. I want to know what catches my attention and directs me so I can gain an understanding of how a place opens up to me in a particular way.

I had a dream in which I was searching for a key to open a door. At the end of a strange corridor that seemed to close in after me, I found the key. The key was a metaphor for how new worlds can be opened up which extend reality into new territory. Not literal physical spaces but possibilities in the mind that constitute reality.

A Deeper Understanding

I have been thinking about this in relation to the city. The city is a place where the longer you stay, the more you find these metaphorical keys that open doors and allow you to go deeper into the place. Although I was seeing the same places, tourists, people and behaviours in my everyday life, I had had gained a deeper understanding and additional layers of the city were revealed.

If you stay in a place for a while, you learn to see it from different points of view, and the landscape and narratives take on new forms. The landscape begins to speak in new ways - its symbolisation changes and therefore the way I imagine the city to exist and unfold starts to evolve.

Different Rhythms in the City

Take a political ‘protest’ or demonstration. Attending a protest disrupts the usual flow of the city space and introduces new elements -signboards, masks, banners, concerned people, road blocks, and a different atmosphere. The police take a different role from usual as a force to intervene when the situation is not in keeping with the ‘proper’.

Experienced as a detached onlooker, a protest manifests itself as a strange emotional awareness that something in reality isn’t as normal which brings a new awareness which can be chosen to be ignored or acknowledged and explored.

Peeling Away the Physical Layers of the City

Another example of deeper layers of meaning in the city space is its material fabric. I perceive the city as a set of buildings made out of concrete and other materials but as soon as a I begin to describe the place in detail it is clear how little I know about its materiality. A material investigation of the city is powerful because it widens the scope from a purely human narrative.

The grey buildings are no longer grey on closer inspection - they show signs of erosion, moss, marks from pollution, insects living there (like the opening scene of the David Lynch film Blue Velvet). A material realisation is an awareness of history. The city is a place of change but it is designed as if time doesn’t exist. It needs to be endlessly cleaned, demolished, renovated, and reconstituted.

The experience of individual people is unimaginably different from your own. This difference is a space for learning and for new possibilities to emerge. The examples I give here my keys but what are your keys?

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