Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Park Tower Knightsbridge: Corn-on-the-Cob


While at the Royal Geographical Society this week, I went for a stroll over to Knightsbridge and discovered another one of Richard Siefert’s buildings: The Park Tower (1973). Originally the Sheraton Park Tower (and previously the Skyline Park Tower Hotel) it is compared to Elmbank Gardens in Glasgow (according to Wikipedia), but how they could not compare it to One Kemble Street in Holborn is a serious oversight.


Park Tower was renovated in 2013 and the Hyde Park Penthouse Suite sells at £7,200/night in this brutalist hotel. You pay extra for your own butler. The cheapest room I could find was £319.
Centre Point is often considered to be Seifert’s most famous building, but it’s Tower 42 that’s actually my favourite London building. A few of his buildings have been demolished in recent times, Wembley Conference Centre, for instance.

On www.postwarbuildings.com it describes The Park Tower thus:
The building consists of a 15-storey rotunda housing 300 bedrooms, on a two-storey podium containing bars, a lobby and reception areas. The tower is formed of a reinforced-concrete service core, around which rooms are massed on a frame supported by pilotis at podium level. The most distinctive feature of the Park Tower is the façade treatment of the rotunda. Likened by Charles Jencks to corn-on-the-cob, each of the twenty rooms per floor, is articulated by a projecting bay window and clad in ochre mosaic. This gives the building an extremely tactile surface, while the rhythm of the windows goes some way to alleviating the bulk and emphasizing the vertical. This cellular façade treatment was a particularly Seifert architectural device and many of his buildings share this motif.

Relates blogs:
Negotiating Brutalist Space at the University of Leeds
Brutalist Access Points and Disappeared Stationers

Thursday, 14 August 2014

‘Lose Yourself in Melbourne’

The Psychogeography of Urban Architecture by David Prescott-Steed


I’ve recently read the above book by sound artist and urban explorer David Prescott-Steed (Academy of Design, Melbourne). It has the informal writing style of psychogeographical texts that originate from creative writing rather than academia, which I really liked.

I especially enjoyed the introduction, which is rather more a wander through Melbourne than an actual introduction to the book, but the better for it. I’m going to include one paragraph of the introduction which mentions an advert for the city of Melbourne and include the link to the film itself
Lose Yourself in Melbourne.

“While the endless movement of the city shows it to be a place of many motivations and meanings, the Lose Yourself in Melbourne advertisement asks the viewer forget about all of these familiar patterns with which they might experience the city, such as where they involve our engagement in shopping or working. It invites the viewer, you and me, to let down our guard; to loosen up by letting go of preconceived, city-based goals. It wants us to sweep aside all of these conceivably routine or boring things. It invites us, instead, to simply ‘make it all up’ as we go along. When I first saw this advertisement, it was if it was asking: ‘Why get so consumed in all of the routine? The city is your built environment, of course. But why not use it for playing in? Why not embrace your opportunity to improvise everyday life? Quite literally, this is a chance to think on your feet. Take the shops, offices and street, and turn them into your playground.’”

The book is published by BrownWalker Press (2013)

Related Links:
Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography
How We Used to Live – A Psychogeography of Your London

Saturday, 26 July 2014

How We Used To Live – A Psychogeography of Your London


I rarely come out of a film feeling uplifted, or think this is my best film of [insert year]. Some of my years don’t even have my-best-film-ofs attached to them, as the films I saw were all so unmemorable. However my favourite film of 2014 is How We Used to Live (2013), written by Paul Kelly and Travis Elborough. I saw it this week at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds.

I’ve never been a fan of Ian MacShane, but he was the narrator and his voice was marvellous. There was a spooky resemblance to John Hurt’s narration on the Art of Noise’s The Seduction of Claude Debussey (“imagine me saying the following”). The timbre of their voices is so similar. Interestingly, the music was not dissimilar to the Art of Noise, as St Etienne provided the soundtrack.

I should image that anyone who can remember the 60s, or who knows London from maybe at least the 80s, would find this film extremely nostalgic. From fashion, to music, to social history, we are taken through the decades from the late 50s. But this is not a stuffy overly sentimental historic trip. It is also amusing and includes strange little moments, like a young woman in a green dress being grabbed off the street and put into the back of a car. What happened to her? We don’t know. But the film is more because of these quirky moments.

The film uses British Film Institute archive footage and the film format reflects this history – no widescreen format for the postwar Brit. Also, the aesthetics of the titles, etc, is in keeping with the period:
“Whenever you go down the road, you travel not in three dimensions, but in four. The fourth dimension is the past.”
You can read a Channel 4 review here: Can You Spot the London You Know?

Related links:
For my favourite film of 2013: The Great Walk - A Film, a Mystery, a Cult. . .
Film overviews: Le Pont Du Nord and Urbanized

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Pas le Grand Départ Dérive (part 2)

The Pleasure of the Gerbil


This is the second part of the account of my not-the-grand-départ dérive (click here for part 1). These blogs have been written in the style of Patrick Keiller’s ‘Robinson’ films, but the protagonist is Sister Moonshine and the Robinson character myself. The blogs also use the theory of the semiologist Roland Barthes from his book Mythologies.

We crossed the Ring Road and headed for New Road Side, where the psychogeographer assured me there would be more bikeage. We spotted a cyclist on the Ring Road, although he wasn’t wearing yellow and appeared to be going in the wrong direction.


As we got to Horsforth’s other High Street, the psychogeographer approached the pet shop and, hoping it would be open in order to buy chewing paraphernalia for myself because “Chewing seems to be your raison d’etre”, she tried the door. It was shut. We both looked down the length of New Road Side. Not a yellow T-shirt, Union flag or handle-bar in sight.


She couldn’t hide her disappointment, having hoped to put up more posters of myself making, what she thought were, amusing comments in speech bubbles. I asked her what Barthes would say about the High Street. She said that despite him not being considered a psychogeographer, she could see much in his texts that referred to urban space and had just submitted a paper to a conference dedicated to Roland Barthes on this very subject.


As the psychogeographer drank a take-away coffee from one of those High Street coffee chains she criticises so much, I spotted these yellow markings on the road and asked if the council had painted them to match the yellow T-shirts. She spluttered an incoherent reply. Then I spotted this sign!


I hoped it wouldn’t start her off again, following the earlier response to the same sign we had seen nearer home. But she seemed happy to be able to reach the board this time and forgot her rant about how capital seemed to have an arrangement whereby it could bring all creative production within its sphere and successfully commodify it.


In the absence of any more signs of the Grand Départ, she started to photograph random objects, so I decided to distract her with further questions about Barthes: “What does Roly say about the aesthetics of place?” I said. She replied “In ‘From Work to Text’ he provides a beautiful example of someone walking in a dry valley and how all the available sensations – sounds, images, smells – make a plurality of meaning available to the stroller that are multi textual, displaying the heterogeneity of space that is very personal, taking into account the individual as much as it does the environment itself”. I asked her if this was anything like the assault course she makes on her bed for me. She gazed down the dual-carriageway and said in a considered way “We are all psychogeographers…”.


We set off for home past The Ringway public house and saw that it was now closed. I asked if this might also be connected to the decline of the grand narratives of Lyotard’s she had mentioned earlier. She said it quite possibly was, but rather more to do with cheap supermarket lager and how it was sold as a ‘loss leader’. I realised I had accidentally got her onto her favourite subject again – capitalism – and felt we had come full circle, not only on our walk, but also in our discussion.


The psychogeographer then began paraphrasing some guy called Lefebvre who, she said, had been a Situationist at one time. I managed to catch: “the space of capitalism is hegemonic and depends on consensus more than any space before it ever has”. I didn’t really understand this in relation to alcohol, thinking it was a bit of a leap, but I couldn’t face listening to a long explanation if I asked for clarification. Also, I was really looking forward to getting home, taking off my psychogeographer mantle, and just chillaxing in my coconut shell…

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Pas le Grand Départ Dérive (part 1)

Gerbil Lucida

I hadn’t had a proper conversation with the psychogeographer for a while because, as she said, “I have been deeply mired in the academic machinations of my viva”. But yesterday we discussed the pros and cons of the Grand Départ in Yorkshire. She apparently had reservations, the same as those she’d had over the London Olympics when she wrote ‘The Perturbed Psychogeographer: Contemplating Olympic Space, the Shard and Architectural Phalluses in General’. I asked her to summarise, for a laygerbil, what these reservations were. She explained she was torn between the community aspect it would hopefully encourage and the neoliberal co-opting of it by capital.

I suggested that we seek out, in our local area, contributions and acknowledgements to community spirit as it related to the Grand Départ and also look for signs of capital appropriation in Horsforth at the same time. She thought a semiology of the signs would be useful and advised we take a Barthesian view of the locale, entitling our blog by appropriating Roland Barthes' book titles.

We set off up Broadgate Lane where the only sign of the Grand Départ was the use of a yellow T-shirt on a letting agent’s sign, but the psychogeographer couldn’t reach it in order to put up her poster, so we moved on while she mumbled something about the preposterous connection between cycling livery and house rentals. By the time we had almost hit Town Street, 15 minutes into our walk, I suggested that maybe the Grand Départ had departed or perhaps had never even arrived in the first place. Then we saw out first piece of bikeage. This cycle was attached to the railings outside the Retirement Home:


In the High Street itself the best contribution was at the community café, where there were two decorated bikes.



In response to my witty remark about wanting ketchup with my Grand Départ, the psychogeographer collected her posters and blue tack and marched off down the road in search of more signs. I shouted after her “There appears to be some prejudice directed at gerbils here! Why are all the T-shirts only made for cats?”. When I caught up with her I asked: “In what cultural epoch can you situate this breakdown of community and why?”. She replied that in poststructural theory a French guy called Lyotard wrote The Postmodern Condition where he discusses the decline of grand narratives, which she believed was part of the glue that held people together, rightly or wrongly. I looked up postmodernism on my phone. A book called Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism appeared by someone called Jameson. I then understood her interest in postmodernism.


It wasn’t until we were getting towards the other end of the High Street that more signs appeared. In the toy shop window there were lots of mini yellow T-shirts, but apparently still none small enough for a gerbil. I asked the psychogeographer why she liked Barthes. She said that despite the fact that capitalism mobilises individuals through dominant signs, via anti-production and even through their very consciousness, she liked the way Barthes enabled meaning to be plural. She then started rambling about his Mythologies, quoting vast paragraphs. I managed to jot down: “But there always remains, around the final meaning, a halo of virtualities where other possible meanings are floating: the meaning can almost always be interpreted.”


The florists opposite had made an effort, but we had pretty much reached the end of the High Street by then. I asked the psychogeographer if we should go home and she suggested heading for Horsforth’s other High Street, across the Ring Road. So off we set, past the cycle shop, Holyspokes, and towards New Road Side as she continued to lecture me on the tensions between what she said were molar power structures and local, personal, rhizomatic molecular networks…


Please click here for part 2 of this Keilleresque blog: The Pleasure of the Gerbil

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Vernacular Mapping


Joe Gerlach’s article on vernacular mapping, ‘Lines, Contours and Legends: Coordinates for Vernacular Mapping’, looks at micropolitical actions in relation to cartography. He states: “Vernacular mapping inheres in the material co-production of cartographies by humans and non-humans alike whereby the underlying ethos remains intensely political, but in a tenor distinct from the representational politics allied traditionally to maps” (2013: 2). He summarises it as “the co-production of knowledges, materials and spaces” (2013: 10). Offering vernacular mapping as a model that integrates other mapping practices such as counter maps and indigenous mapping practices, Gerlach sees them as assemblages of enunciation and valid expressions of affective responses to space (2013: 11-13).

The assemblages of community that can be formed out of joined-up lines of flight, enable a cartography to appear that can become vernacular in its response: “these cartographic lines perform. Likewise, in their unfolding effects and affects, lines are performative” (Gerlach 2013: 5). The lines of flight are performative inasmuch as they are both transversal – taking untraditional routes – and execute actions. The schizocartography reflected in the map above highlights what Gerlach would describe as “cartographic articulations” and it is this that makes it performative (2013: 13). The map represents the culmination of a number of dérives carried out on the University of Leeds campus during the summer of 2009 which were carried out in conjunction with members from Leeds Psychogeography Group. Cartographic articulations operate against the grain, counter to the well-trodden urban path, while at the same time recognising the dominant structure for what it is, what it does and what it represents.

Please click here for an online article on Vernacular Mapping on Campus

Bibliography:
Gerlach, Joe. ‘Lines, Contours and Legends: Coordinates for Vernacular Mapping’, Progress in Human Geography, July (2013), 1-18.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Cognitive Mapping


While Fredric Jameson dedicates Postmodernism: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism to the cognitive map problem, he does not provide a definitive answer on how to proceed. However, he does offer his analysis on the concept of cognitive mapping as it appears within postmodern theory:
These are, then, not really theories, but rather themselves unconscious structures and so many afterimages and secondary effects of some properly postmodern cognitive mapping, whose indispensable media term now passes itself off as this or that philosophical reflection on language, communication, and the media, rather than the manipulation of its figure (2009: 417).
He highlights the problem at its most fundamental level: if the system itself does not change, then all we are able to do is contemplate it within its system of effects (and with the tools) it produces. This is not a new problem for theory – the inside/outside dichotomy of language – but, it does leave us with the perennial problem of where to go. The concepts highlighted above – such as the need for tools to navigate the environment, and the materiality of space and its system of effects – lend themselves to discussion within the field of psychogeography and under the umbrella of cognitive maps, also.

Roger M. Downs and David Stea’s Maps in Minds: Reflections on Cognitive Mapping (1977) is an extensive geo-psychological study of cognitive mapping, although it does not deal with mental and physical space in any political sense. It offers a concise study of psychogeographical cognitive effects and provides definitions of cognitive mapping: “Cognitive mapping is an abstraction covering those cognitive or mental abilities that enable us to collect, organize, store, recall and manipulate information about the spatial environment” (1977: 6). They explain that cognitive maps are not just visual images contained in our minds but are also connected to our other senses (1977: 23). While they acknowledge ‘the social’ as one part of what influences our cognitive maps, they do not deal with the complexities of postmodernity as it pertains to culture and/or capitalism. However, since their text was published in 1977, it may have been too early to take a retroactive position on postmodern space.

In his essay ‘Cognitive Mapping the Dispersed City’, Stephen Cairns cites Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City as his own influence. While Lynch provides an analysis by form – looking at various urban elements such as paths, landmarks and edges – he adopts a post-war narrative, the book being written in 1960. Cairns’s critique is in the way that Lynch’s cognitive mapping may be further used to decentre the subject in the form of how they appear as “‘the user’, ‘the community’ and ‘the people’” (2006: 193). This could be seen as both positive and negative, depending on differing perspectives attached to ‘where you stand’. Decentring is considered a common position for the individual to take up in the postmodern text (such as in deconstruction). When that text is the city landscape, this may enable an opening up of other views of the city, such as its edgelands. It encourages differing perspectives with regard to a sense of place. However, the concept of decentring may be considered as a devaluing of the citizen in the centre of public life (as it pertains to the city as civic centre).

Cairns is concerned with what is not representable in and of the city. Citing Harvey, Jameson, Baudrillard and Debord, he discusses the material reality of the city with its postmodern problems of wayfinding, while seeking out its ‘blind spots’ in an attempt to answer some questions about cognitive mapping. These “blind spots” appear on “a refined spectrum between social space and architectural space such that conventional representational logics simply cannot register them” (2006: 203).

Please click here for a free online article on Cognitively Mapping the Campus

Related Links:
GPS Trails on Campus
Blue Plaques on Campus

Bibliography:
Cairns, Stephen. 2006. ‘Cognitive Mapping the Dispersed City’, in Christoph Lindner (ed.), Urban Space and Cityscapes: Perspectives From Modern and Contemporary Culture (London and New York: Routledge), pp. 192-205.
Downs, Roger M. and David Stea. 1977. Maps in Minds: Reflections on Cognitive Mapping (London and New York: Harper and Row).
Jameson, Fredriç. 2009. Postmodernism or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London and New York: Verso).