Sunday, 29 December 2013

Becoming Gerbil: Part 3 - Becoming-furry

This is the last blog in the Becoming-Gerbil series. Please click here for the previous parts of this blog:
Part 1 – Becoming-Genome
Part 2 – Becoming-Small

Becoming-furry, while connected to becoming-small, is really about communication and therefore is ultimately about becoming-gerbil at its most fundamental level. Deleuze and Guattari discuss the becoming of the child and woman as being partly about integrating the voice with its surroundings. They also provide the example of how insects make molecular vibrations through their “chirring, rustling, buzzing, clicking, scratching, and scraping” (2007: 340). Sister M does not chirr or buzz in any way that I can hear, although the frequency she communicates on is audible to other gerbils. Most of the sounds that I can hear are pretty much all a side-effect of her burrowing practices.

On the night she moved in she squeaked a bit in a way I could hear, which I am sure was probably because she was scared to be in a new space – perfectly understandable. I can sometimes hear her when she is in her burrows chewing her bedding. It is a very quiet sound, but when I hear it I know what she is doing. The loudest sounds she makes is when she is chewing pieces of wood or the cardboard tubes I put in as ‘boredom breakers’ (this is what the pet industry call these types of pet products).

I talk to Sister M like probably most people talk to their animal-beings, in a gentle, soft, encouraging voice like one you might use for a child or baby. This is what the prevailing advice seems to be, but it also feels like an automatic thing for a human to do. She has got used to my voice, and hearing it tells her that the giant shape coming towards her house is myself, and I am no threat. I would love to talk to her in gerbil, but in the absence of any Gerbil for Dummies book, I just try and educate myself on the bodily displays she makes: sitting up on hind legs, tail wagging, leg thumping, distraction activities, etc. I’ve tried to reflect some of her displays back to her, which one website recommended as a way of communicating, like the blinking she does when she is enjoying something she is eating, but I don’t know if it means anything to her. I look nothing like a gerbil and does she see my eyes as being like gerbil's eyes? Does she even remember what a gerbil looks like when they are enjoying their food?

In a way the communicative signs I make are relatively simple and are translated into the lower levels of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: physiological and safety needs (see below). In all actuality it is a testament to Sister M’s ability to adapt to my attempts at communicating, as I am sure she does a better job than I do in understanding her. Becoming-furry, then, is about an appreciation of the barriers between human and gerbil consciousness (psychic space) and the struggles to communicate in shared space (concrete space).

Related Links:
God Admits He Never Created Gerbils

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. 2007. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. by Brian Massumi (London and New York: Continuum).

Monday, 9 December 2013

Becoming Gerbil: Part 2 - Becoming-Small

Please click here for:  Part 1: Becoming-Genome

I feel there is some degree of prejudice directed at small animals (wild and domestic) as opposed to larger, more popular, 'pets' like cats and dogs. I would describe it as a hierarchical value system that involves not only size, but also such qualities as ‘cuteness’, possibly also furriness. This is apparently the reason that animal charities promote larger furry animals in order to gain donations. Despite the fact that there are many ‘less attractive’ animals in greater need than some of those that are shown in the adverts for animal charities, people just don’t donate money to animals that are considered culturally not so cute, such as reptiles. I also believe that some people could understand perfectly well why you might mourn the death of a family pet like a cat or dog, but might think there was something wrong with someone who mourned the death of their gerbil. Is it less worthy of mourning (based on it being a rodent? based on its size?)?

This blog looks at the becoming-small of the human. While not exactly the becoming-imperceptible of Deleuze and Guattari, it does have qualities in common with that. Becoming small is about changing one’s spatial perspective and accessing the space of the other such that you become inseparable from your environment and are better able to communicate (the issue of communication appears in the next blog). This is what Deleuze and Guattari say about becoming-imperceptible: “To go unnoticed is by no means easy. […] This requires much asceticism, much sobriety, much creative involution.” (2007: 308).

I am a giant next to Sister M, not that she actually sees my body as a contiguous object: she sees my head, hands/arms and legs as all separate phenomena. For instance, when I am sitting on the bed, she will run over my legs as if they are part of the bed/terrain. I have had the same experience with squirrels. While she is used to the separate parts of me, for instance, my gerbil-sized hands in her cage giving her food and my gigantic head looming over her to land a kiss on her tiny body (neither of which seem to intimidate her at all), my body moving around her space can disturb her if it is unexpected. If I suddenly appear, or if I accidentally loom up from below her cage (like prey) or if I raise my arms (like a bird), she gets scared and disappears into her burrow. So, she is used to me on one level (close up where she can smell me and check out the signs that, to her, make up my body), but not if I behave in any way like potential prey. Even though she has probably never seen any potential prey in her short life, she is hard-wired to react in this way.

While I cannot technically become smaller. I can address my behavior so as to fit into her environment in such a way where I appear less perceptible to her in any threatening way. This comes through experience from living with her, educating myself about her and altering my behaviour where necessary. Becoming-small enables me to move into her space and creates a conducive environment for her to move into mine, so that we can have a more symbiotic relationship. We both become changed – hopefully for the better of us both - through my becoming-small.

Please click here for: Part 3: Becoming-furry

Here’s a short clip of Jacques Derrida talking about violence and the human/animal dichotomy:
Jacques Derrida And The Question Of ‘The Animal’

And there’s a book about deconstruction and animals that you may find interesting:
The Animal Question in Deconstruction

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. 2007. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. by Brian Massumi (London and New York: Continuum).

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Becoming-Gerbil: Part 1 - Becoming-Genome

In 1980 Deleuze and Guattari published a book called A Thousand Plateaus which included a chapter entitled ‘1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible’.

In 2013 Richardson adopted Sister Moonshine.

This is a Deleuzo-Guattarian response to the experience of having a gerbil housemate!

Introduction to Series

There is so much that can be said about being-a-human-caring-for-a-gerbil that comes under the umbrella of Oedipal reterritorialization as it is for Deleuze and Guattari. For instance: there are no males - gerbil or human - who live in the house with Sister Moonshine and myself. Nevertheless, while there is a traditional classical hierarchy - human over animal - that is arguably going on, I attempt as much as possible to not impose my will/rules/power over her. But this is a fine balance, since there are some things I have to do in regards to her care which she doesn’t like much, for instance cleaning her cage out. But, our house/gerbilarium is not a patriarchy. We are sisters in fur/skin together, although Sister M is totally unaware of this. We also enter each other’s spaces: I enter her cage (well my hand does) and she comes out for a run on my bed. We have, somewhat, appropriated each other’s homes/territories.

This relationship is a damage limitation exercise based on the fact that someone put Sister M in a cage and she can no longer go back to her homeland, the Mongolian desert (not that she has ever seen the desert, neither have any of her recent ancestors). Unfortunately she cannot live in my house as a free being: she could disappear into the wall cavities forever or I could get out of bed one morning and accidentally stand on her. Nor can I move into her cage with her. So, Sister Moonshine and I are separated by bars. This becoming-gerbil series of blogs is about those bars of her cage and my attempt to overcome them by adapting myself, as much as possible, to her gerbil nature. In a way the bars are like the rail tracks discussed by Jacque Lacan in Ecrits (the ones that actualise the bar in his signifying model). Sister M looks at the bars and I look at the bars, but we are looking at the bars from a totally different space. (For a Lacanian analysis which discusses this further, please click here: Once Upon a Time) The qualities of becoming-gerbil which I would like to introduce over the next few blogs are: becoming-genome, becoming-small and becoming-furry.

1 - Becoming-Genome: Change, Compensation and Care

Sister Moonshine and myself were related about 80 million years ago. At that historically significant evolutionary point the rodent and primate lineage diverged and I took the primate path. However, this means that Sister M and I have a lot in common. Humans share a lot of DNA with rodents (hence why scientists use rodents in vivisection), even if a lot of that DNA is not ‘switched on’. What is significant about this in relation to becoming-genome is the concept of surface appearance or resemblance. For instance, at some point following this rodent/primate split, on the rodent line there followed a rat/mouse split. What becoming-gerbil is about is difference and relationships. It is about becoming as it is relates to adaptation, morphing and transforming.

When discussing becoming-animal Deleuze and Guattari state: “The becoming-animal of the human being is real, even if the animal the human becomes is not; and the becoming-other of the animal is real, even if that something other it becomes is not.” (2007: 260) They go on to say that becoming “concerns alliance” and “it is in the domain of symbioses that bring into play beings of totally different scales and kingdoms” (2007:263).

What this means for becoming-gerbil, and in particular becoming-genome, is the seeking out of a place where the gerbil can express her gerbilness as much as possible in the confines that the site and situation allow. Becoming-genome is about expressions of care. As the human care-giver of the gerbil, one places the needs of the gerbil as a high priority in order to attempt to compensate for the freedom that was taken away from her and her relatives when they were turned into pets in the 1960s (and prior to that used as laboratory animals because of their ‘placid’ nature). While it is impossible to redress the abuses inflicted upon Sister Moonshine’s ancestors, becoming-genome refers to the changes in the caregiver through nurturing her and educating the care-giver to be the best gerbil ‘parent’ possible. This involves adapting to Sister M, rather than expecting her to adapt to me, although that is no doubt occurring too.

Becoming Gerbil: Part 2 - Becoming-Small

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. 2007. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. by Brian Massumi (London and New York: Continuum).
Lacan, Jacques. 2002. Ecrits: A Selection, trans. by Bruce Fink (New York and London: W. W. Norton and Co.).

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Power, Planning and Pathways

Figure 1 – This map/plan shows the colour-coded routes proposed for the new campus.

In Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault makes it clear that the power/knowledge process does not fix docile bodies in space, but actually puts them in circulation in relation to power. Rather than demonstrate this through the more obvious discussion of surveillance, which appears as one of the primary modes of power in postmodern urban space, I should like to look at how the planning of the University of Leeds campus provides a much more subtle and less obvious way of controlling bodies, than does surveillance through CCTV.

Foucault explains that the modern factories of the 18th century were organised in terms of “disciplinary space”. (1991: 143) The space of the factory was designed so that individuals were kept in their own physical space and movement was controlled in order to prevent groups of people collecting together: “Its aim was to establish presences and absences, to know where and how to locate individuals, to set up useful communications, to interrupt others, to be able at each moment to supervise the conduct of each individual”. (Ibid.) In his discussion on a new approach to education in the classical period, Foucault describes how the model that is applied to the factory is also applied to the school. Space is organised in such a way to make processes as efficient as possible: “The disciplines, which analyse space, break up and rearrange activities, must also be understood as machinery for adding up and capitalizing time.” (1991: 157)

Figure 2 – This sketch is a vision of the new university.

This efficiency, in terms of organising space, is apparent when viewing the development plans of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon for the University of Leeds in the early 1960s. One of the maps in the plan shows the proposed pathways for pedestrians on the campus (figure 1). These new routes also included covered walkways that helped students move from one teaching building to another, while protecting them from the elements (figure 2). While it seems that the intention of the architects was to encourage students to ‘commune’ rather than to isolate them (isolation was the intention of the authorities during the classical period discussed by Foucault, however), nevertheless, and despite how altruistic it might have been, this is how the movement of individuals through space can be subtly controlled; as Foucault says: “Stones can make people docile and knowable.” (1991: 172) By creating pathways through space – and not just the clearly defined ones that are formed from paths, but also those that appear as spaces between buildings – individuals are encouraged to take particular routes and discouraged from taking other ones.

Although this might appear to be just a side-effect of urban planning, it is actually built into the very fabric of urban space. The pedestrian is made to feel they are taking a ‘natural’ path from A to B. Fran Tonkiss, a sociologist specialisation in urban space, explains how this works from the perspective of the users of space: “The divisions that people draw between things and places harden into objective facts which in their turn organise social meanings and social actions.” (2005: 30) After a time, and with repeated use, the path taken becomes subconsciously ingrained and it then becomes difficult to alter one’s route. This originates from the discourse of campus planning and development, but in practice it becomes the anatomy of the socio-spatial arena. The subject becomes knowable through their predictability, but also their individual social relationships become spatially ordered around communal hubs that play out in space.

Foucault, Michel. 1991. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. by Alan Sheridan (London: Penguin Books).
Tonkiss, Fran. 2005. Space, the City and Social Theory: Social Relations and Urban Forms (Cambridge: Polity Press).

Related Links:
The Parkinson Temple
Louis Althusser, Ideology and the Practices of the Institution

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Le Pont du Nord and Urbanized

I’ve recently watched two psychogeography/urban space films that I really enjoyed. They are Le Pont du Nord, recommended to me by Geoff Nicholson, and Urbanized which I found online while looking for films about postmodern architecture. I’d like to tell you a little about the films, and also provide you with further information.

Le Pont du Nord (1981) by Jacques Rivette

This rather quirky, post-French New Wave film starts of a bit slowly but because of its peculiarity you feel compelled to continue, which is well worth doing, especially if you are interested in the city or are a psychogeographer. Starring a mother and daughter (Bulle and Pascale Ogier) we see their characters form a strange relationship in the cityscape around the playing out of an urban game and clandestine chance meetings with strange characters in abandoned spaces. And…the film has the mandatory psychogeographers’ rucksack in it, too!

The special edition includes a super booklet with lots of information about the film and also some interviews. This is what Serge Daney says about the film:
Le Pont du Nord is also in fact a political thriller with a hunt for a woman and an urban setting, a documentary on the state of Paris in 1981, an old modernist film composed out of an incomplete and undecidable tale . . . One should see it like one slides a finger (nervously) along a dial in order to tune in to free-radio stations. Free, that’s what the film is – Rivette is the needle, and we are the dial.
I didn’t know the actresses, so looked them up online. Tragically Pascale Ogier died of a drug overdose a few years after making this film. It seems she was a talented actress and at the beginning of a promising career.

Urbanized (2011) by Gary Hustwit

It’s nice to see a documentary film about urban space and architecture which doesn’t feel Anglo-centric (I mean this more in relation to the style of the film, rather than the places discussed). By the independent filmmaker Gary Hustwitt, it takes a rounded look at urban space, housing and planning. I guess on some level it is about people, but I suppose films about urban space always are, since we are the colonizers of macro space. One of the speakers says “Urban design is really the language of the city”, which reminded me of Roland Barthes’ essay ‘Semiology and Urbanism’: “The city is a discourse and this discourse is truly a language: the city speaks to its inhabitants, we speak our city, the city where we are, simply by living in it, by wandering through it, by looking at it.” (2004: 168).

This is what Hustwit says about his film:
Before I started with urbanized I spoke with architects, city planners, academics, and developers. I went to conferences about urban issues, and soaked up as much information as I could about the state of cities today. For two and a half years, I filmed conversations with people who I thought were doing compelling work, and tried to document their creative processes.
You can click here to go to the website that includes information about all the films in the trilogy: Helvetica/Objectified/Urbanized

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Deconstructing the Redbrick: Spatial Ordering, Ideology and Campus Aesthetics

If any human/cultural geography, urban planning, cultural studies departments are interested in employing me to do a guest lecture for their students and/or colleagues, please feel free to contact me via this blog or on A CV is also available here: Tina Richardson's CV

Thanks in anticipation!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Psychogeography of Academia or…

...Negotiating Your Way Around the Hellish Academic City Centre Loop!

I got an email from the Staff and Departmental Development Unit at the University of Leeds this week, announcing a new programme of training for researchers at the university. This is the graphic that accompanies their new programme. It had an interesting effect on me, being both a psychogeographer but also a (pre)academic who is about to launch oneself into the academic market. The aesthetics of the image is intriguing and I wish I had the time to do a proper deconstruction of it, like I have with a number of university images, however I’ll just stick to my initial reactions, which were:
1 – What an interesting ‘logo’ to choose. The bold primary colours make it jump out at you. The image is well thought out, funny and pertinent. ‘Who came up with the idea?’ I thought. And, of course, because I am a psychogeographer, I found it quite delightful.
2 – But then I saw ‘No Idea City Centre Loop’ opposite ‘Dream Job’ and my heart sank. Not least because of the terrible market for higher education jobs, but also because of the university lecturers’ strike this week. How disheartening!
Recently I subscribed to Times Higher Education, which is the most depressing magazine for a pre-academic to read. And, it is not like some magazines where you only get one a month. It is weekly. So once a week I sink into an existential crisis, just pulling myself out of it before the next week’s edition arrives. Only a masochist postdoc would enjoy putting themselves through that weekly.

While it is a really well-written/edited interesting magazine, it does contain a lot of articles like:

‘Failure is an option as US enrolment stagnates’
‘Politicians, don’t bury your heads in the sand, cautions Andy Westwood: the fees issue will have to be revisited eventually’
‘Use genuine all-rounders to eradicate zero-hours contracts, Philip Roddis advises the academy’

...I do appreciate this just reflects the market, but it nevertheless requires endless bootstrapping to keep one’s self-esteem up, especially after 9 years of academic training and the relinquishing of all financial security – something I am beginning to think was extremely foolhardy for a middle-aged new academic to do.

Historically I have been inventive in job-hunting and some of my best positions I actually got by myself and were not even advertised jobs. In one, after having a bad day at work, I walked in off the street to a company’s head office and asked them for a job, and they gave me one there and then. In another job – my best paid and most enjoyable job to date – the company created a position for me after receiving my letter in the post. Academia does not work like this though. Since it is the ‘public’ sector there are processes that have to be adhered to. My ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ does not seem to apply in a system of tick boxes, key performance indicator-like structures and over-worked lecturers who can barely keep on top of their work, let alone respond to my speculative letters (although some of them have – a 25% return so far, pretty good). Not that I am job-hunting in earnest yet, having not quite submitted my thesis, but I am doing job-hunting research, one could say...

The most worrying thing, I am finding, is the demise of the very subject that got me interested in becoming an academic in the first place – Cultural Studies. I fell in love with it on my ACCESS course (A-Levels for mature students). You can’t even study Cultural Studies at A-Level in school, but you can at a Further Education college if you do an ACCESS course. Within 5 weeks of the course I knew that this was what I wanted to study for my BA. It was as if someone had created Cultural Studies just for me. I wanted to become a Cultural Studies lecturer. But the subject – especially as a ‘pure’ subject – has dwindled during that time. That, and the lack of undergraduates wanting to take the degree since the course fee rises, means that the subject is being abandoned around the country, being paired up with other subjects, or is awaiting a rebranding exercise of some sort (if anyone wants a Programme Director to rebrand their Cultural Studies degree, I’m your woman).

So, I am on that roundabout above, going around in circles, trying to avoid ‘No Idea City Centre Loop’ and hoping I will eventually get off at ‘Dream Job’! As the psychogeographer said: Watch this space!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Of Revolutionary Dogs and £1 Billion Surpluses

Today (31st October 2013) was the Halloween University Strike across the UK, with a joint strike in Leeds with Unite, UCU and Unison. We met on the Parkinson Steps at the University of Leeds (see above). There was sun, striking lecturers/tutors (and some students) and a revolutionary dog (see below).

Along with leafleting from the main unions involved, there was also a student leafleting in support of our strike and asking students to understand the implications in higher education of historic cuts in pensions and a lack of pay rises, despite the £1.1 billion surplus of money in higher education pockets! This is what the leaflet said:
But this dispute doesn’t affect me.
It definitely does. Even if you don’t work here, it is your tutors and support staff on strike today and they need your support. Moreover, it’s a labour market. Bad wages and conditions become an excuse to attack the living standards of all workers.
Well said! Here is the leaflet, so you can read it in full:

One comment on an article in The RippleUOL Staff to Strike on Halloween’, posted by Brian, says “Lecturers already have a rather lazy and easy job, so striking must come easy for them.” and a comment in response to it says “Well you obviously didn’t read the article if you think it’s just lecturers. Tit.” LOL

Related Links:
J30: The City is on Strike
Public Sector Strikes: The Situation at the University
J30, N30 ?30 Go!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Radical Spaces and Not So Radical Spaces in Stratford

Last weekend I went to the Radical Space Conference at the University of East London (UEL). The conference was held at the new building in the centre of Stratford that UEL share with Birkbeck based in University Square (see above), located right near the Theatre Royal. When booking my hotel online - the Ibis - I noticed it had a similar address to a building I used to work in in Stratford in the late 1980s. This was Solar House, 1-9 Romford Road and the Ibis is 1a Romford Road. So I really didn’t know what to expect when I got there.

When I arrived at my hotel, I found it had been stuck on the end just before Solar House (see above), hence the 1a extra number. Solar House used to be at the very beginning of Romford Rd, even as far back as 2000 when I used to power-walk down there, from Leytonstone. So, it appears that they’ve made a bit of extra space out of the one-way system and stuck on it the Ibis, Nandos, etc. Although, once you’ve seen the new space, it’s really hard to remember exactly what it looked like before.

I walked around the outside of my old office block, Solar House. It hasn’t fared too well and looks old and scruffy, although I’m pretty sure they have built that extra glass-fronted section recently, which improves it somewhat. It’s being rented for £16/square foot and according to a commercial rental site it is currently being refurbished. Wikimapia shows a good aerial shot of the two buildings next to each other. It was a little spooky revisiting a place I worked over 20 years ago, although I was only there for 10 months before being relocated to Wallington in Surrey, miles away from where I lived at the time, in Edmonton.

I didn’t get a chance to inspect the Olympic Park or the new shopping centre at Stratford (Westfield), which you can see from the train station and which dominates the area. I thought it had a quirky retro font and I wondered why the branding team chose it…

Saturday, 12 October 2013

University as City

In his book The University in Ruins Bill Reading’s provides an eloquent analogy of the Italian Renaissance city by way of a suggesting how we might go about negotiating the posthistoric university we occupy today:
Like the inhabitants of some Italian city, we can seek neither to rebuild the Renaissance city-state nor to destroy its remnants and install rationally planned tower-blocks; we can seek only to put its angularities and winding passages to new uses, learning from and enjoying the cognitive dissonances that enclosed piazzas and non-signifying campanile induce. (Readings 1999: 129)
He later goes on to explain that we actually never leave the city, it is where we continually reside, even if some of its elements are from the past: “Even if the University is legible to us only as the remains of the idea of culture, that does not mean that we have left its precincts, that we view it from the outside.” (1999: 172) It is apparent from Readings’s spatial reference to the university as city, that this is potentially useful as a modus for a critique of today’s university (indeed, this is what my thesis is on).

Clark Kerr also uses the concept of the city to describe the model of the contemporary university, what he calls the “multiversity”:
The ‘Idea of the University’ was a village with its priests. The ‘Idea of a Modern University’ was a town - a one-industry town - with its intellectual oligarchy. ‘The Idea of a Multiversity’ is a city of infinite variety. Some get lost in the city; some rise to the top within it; most fashion their lives within one of its many subcultures. There is less sense of community than in the village but also less sense of confinement. There is less sense of purpose than within the town but there are more ways to excel. There are also more refugees of anonymity - both for the creative process and the drifter. (2001: 31)
Kerr’s city analogy offers the positive and negative qualities of the contemporary university, also providing the model of the drifter as an individual who can move about university space and yet also blend into the landscape (the French for drift is dérive which was a method of exploring the city employed by the group of activists the Situationist International in their urban walking projects).

Related blogs:
Organ Pipe-clad Concrete and Lost Students
Negotiating Brutalist Space at the University of Leeds

Kerr, Clark. 2001. The Uses of the University (Harvard: Harvard University Press).
Readings, Bill. 1999. The University in Ruins (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press).

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Finding the Antiuniversity: A Walk Through the Graffiti of Rivington Street

On 12 February 1968 a group of artists, writers and intellectuals started the Antiuniversity of London. The free university was led by people such as the ‘anti-psychiatrist’ R. D. Laing, the academic Stuart Hall and the Situationist Alexander Trocchi. Run at 49 Rivington Street in Shoreditch, London EC2, the group advertised education in the area of “Music, Art, Poetry, Black Power, Madness, Revolution”. The aim of the university was to open up education to more people in an effort to desinstitutionalise it (hence R. D. Laing’s involvement, since he was attempting to do something similar in the institution of psychiatry). Teachers at the Antiuniversity included Herbert Marcuse and Gregory Bateson. It was to be “a meeting ground for discussion, discovery, rediscovery and revelation. It [was] intended as an on-going experiment in the development of consciousness and [was] related to other revolutionary experiments in universities”. Unfortunately, even at the opening, there were arguments between the committee, students and teachers about press coverage. The Antiuniversity did not last long.

The above image of the building where the Antiuniversity was located was taken by Peter Műnder and dates from around that period. This blog takes you from the entrance to Rivington Street, from the Old Street end, via the graffiti and street art I spotted on the way. At the end you will see the building as it is today.

Today the building is the retail shoe outlet Fiorentini + Baker. It looks very different from its time as the Antiuniversity. This part of Shoreditch has been smartened up so much since I first moved to London in the late 1980s. It’s now a trendy, artsy, boho area. Although, thankfully, there is still something gritty about it in its scruffiness, especially when entering from Old Street.

Mayday Rooms on The Antiuniversity of London
Negotiating Brutalist Space at the University of Leeds

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

One Kemble Street: The Sixties Space House

When in London last week, I turned off the Aldwych into Kingsway and caught a glimpse of this familiar building. I knew it from the nineties, when I was attending an evening class in the area at CityLit.

Completed in 1966 One Kemble Street used to be called the Space House and was designed by Richard Seifert, whose buildings included hotels, railways stations and office blocks. He was known for his 1960s and 1970s designs and for having been a big influence on London architecture during that period. According to Seifert “originally designed the building to be a proper tower almost twice as high that would have served as a luxury hotel, but objections from Camden Council saw it reduced in height to what has been built today.” I actually like its stubbiness and don’t think doubling its height would have added anything to its aesthetic.

While Seifert is most famous for Centrepoint (which I also like), and the Natwest Tower, now called Tower 42 (my favourite London building), there is something about the smallness of the Space House that makes it more subtle and less ‘grand’ than the other two buildings. It’s like the difference between a sinewy Greyhound and a stocky Corgi. Both are lovely, and you wouldn’t reject the Corgi simply because it is small.

Relates blogs:
The Sound of the Sixties: Brutalist Architecture

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Negotiating Brutalist Space at the University of Leeds (part 2)

Inside, Outside, Upside, Upshot

This is part 2 of a psychogeographical blog on the E C Stoner Building at the University of Leeds. For part 1, please click here: Stoner, Stoned, Stonest

The room numbering on each floor are all categorised by type (see the third image below). For example, Level 8 has “Teaching Rooms” and “Teaching Laboratories” amongst other types of rooms. Within these categories the main room use is listed, alongside the number of that room, which is the floor number followed by a full-stop, then the number of the room itself, for instance 8.51 is “Physics and Astronomy Enquiries”. Each room then has an arrow next to it pointing in the direction it is. However, one might ask why there are some rooms on Level 8 that begin with the prefix ‘9’, which denotes a Level 9 room. It then becomes apparent, that the up arrow next to these ‘9’ prefixed numbers means upstairs to the next level (I am not convinced that without knowing the logic of the prefix number, as a visitor would not, that I would understand that I need to go up a level).

If you are already familiar with the way that the different geographical land height was dealt with by the architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon (CPB) then a lift that only goes from floors 7 to 11 might not be too much of a surprise (see the first image above). However, what does make this idea complicated is that as a user of the campus, one is never exactly sure what level one is on, because the actual ground level is different in different parts of the campus. Therefore, while the entrance level in E C Stoner is level 7, the actual ground level is level 6, because on each of the entrances to the building you take stairs up before you enter it (I took this photo at a part of the building where level 6 was not accessible by that particular lift). However, in, say, the Edward Boyle Library, ground level (and entrance level) is level 9, because it is on higher ground. While this may have seemed like a logical approach by CPB, especially because of the use of walkways linking all these spaces together and making them appear seamless, it does require an explanation from someone ‘in the know’ to actually understand the complex logic.

This plan shows the colours that reflect the height of the ground, the steepest moving toward the North-West edge of the campus. The colours were translated into storey levels and used to help students and staff navigate the campus. This is an image from the Development Plan by the architects.

CPB also attached colours to each level in the buildings (see above). This colour-coding system was used in the Development Plans and also extended to the signs around the campus which appeared on signposts, corridor floors and on the outside of buildings as small coloured square plaques (Occasionally these small plaques can be seen around campus today, although most of them are gone). A large section of the 1963 plan covers this use of colour-coding by level. CPB explain that there was a “difference of 216 feet in elevation between the highest level within existing buildings on Woodhouse Lane […] and the ground level near the convergence of Clarendon Road and the Ring Road” (1963) They are referring to the difference in height between the Northern and Southern borders of the university and go on to explain in details the benefit of applying colour-coding to an area with the equivalent of eighteen storeys, summarising by saying “In a nutshell, the colour identification is intended as an aid to understanding the position of places in three dimensions instead of two” (ibid.).

Nevertheless, I would argue that people moving about the campus generally see that space as being three-dimensional rather than two, and it is only when space is collapsed into a representation in the form of a map or plan, that two-dimension becomes the ‘normal’ view of space. While I think the motive behind the colour-coding and unintuitive level numbering was probably one of being considerate to the user of that space, I am not convinced that the complex spatial ordering of the minds of the architects translated very well into to the use of campus space for those concerned, in this regard at least.

It is at times like these that urban planners and architects could do well to employ psychogeographers!

Other University of Leeds architecture-related blogs:
The Psychogeography of Other Spaces
Emotionally Mapping the Campus

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Negotiating Brutalist Space at the University of Leeds (part 1)

Stone, Stoner, Stonest

The E C Stoner Building at the University of Leeds was named after Edmund Clifton Stoner (1899-1968) who was a theoretical physicist and taught at the University. The building holds a blue plaque which is dedicated to him. An archive of his paperwork is held in the university library. Stoner left the university in 1963.

Surprisingly, the 1960 and 1963 campus Development Plans of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon do not include a section solely dedicated to this largest teaching block on the campus, even though there are provisions for it in the 1960 plan. Built in 1962, at that time the E C Stoner Building had the longest corridor in Europe (as part of what the university calls the Red Route), at over a fifth of a mile long. It became known as ‘Physics/Admin’ in the 1960s, but now tends to be called ‘E C Stoner’ or just ‘Stoner’. The building received Grade II listed status in 2010 and still houses the Physics Department and administrative facilities, alongside Computing and some offices for other departments.

Above is a section of a photograph of the architect’s model of the campus. The E. C. Stoner Building is the long narrow building that can be seen extending from the far left of the image.

Like many of the glass and concrete Brutalist buildings, the E C Stoner Building tends to polarise people. Appearing in the 1960 plan as one of many low-rise long buildings, in actual space it appears much longer than it looks on the plan above. Described by Owen Hatherley as “the aesthetics of hell” he places Brutalism within a long history going back to 18C urban Britain based on how industrialisation subjected workers bodies to the factories and foundries that hired them. (2008: 19-20) Citing the Barbican of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon (CPB), and also the architects the Smithsons who apparently coined the term ‘brutalist’ (and also designed other educational spaces), Hatherley describes the paradox of Brutalism as “the everyday style for the use of the proletariat […] and at the same time creat[ing] avant garde shock images” (2008: 31).

E C Stoner has multiple entrances and an underpass which allows vehicles to move about the space uninterrupted. The two main entrances are from either a large set of steps on the South or a gradual ramp on the North. On the South side is a large open gravelled space with trees and bike stands. This open area has the potential to be used as a piazza, rather than a short-cut to the sports centre. It might be the surface area that discourages congregation - a mixture of sand and gravel which is very dusty and not pleasant underfoot.

To appreciate its length and size the building is best viewed from one end (see above). Horizontal lines of concrete separate the lines of glassed windows, which are unbroken in the absence of any vertical lines at all. The building extends into the horizon of one’s view, disappearing into the surrounding cityscape. This is the outward face of the E C Stoner which overlooks the new university sports centre, the hospital and Leeds city itself. Reyner Banham describes both the visual and functional aspect of Brutalist architecture as requiring “that the building should be an immediately apprehensible visual entity; and that the form grasped by the eye should be confirmed by experience of the building in use.” (1955: 358) Outside of any surrounding campus space, the building would look like an office block, not untypical of many built in Britain around the same period, especially in the public sector. The architecture designed at the University of Liverpool by Edwin Maxwell Fry between 1955 and 1960 also has a similar Functionalist office block style aesthetic, even though his buildings there are not Brutalist but Formalist, and use brick rather more than concrete. This Formalist style was considered to reflect some kind of nostalgia for factories and workshops.

The other side of the E C Stoner building is much more utilitarian-looking, with a car park attached to it with more teaching/office space atop the car park. On this side the huge length is lost by the breaking up of the building with the perpendicular car park/office extension, attached by a small glass covered walkway. One, however, does not get the true sense of how the building functions until one enters it. Appearing as a straight-forward and simple structure on the outside, once inside the corridors of the interior you feel closed-in and disoriented, especially once away from any sight of the outside. There are no large open foyers in the very Functionalist interior of the E C Stoner Building, like there are in the Lanchester and Lodge period buildings on the University of Leeds campus, such as the Houldsworth Building which houses engineering, a Beaux-Arts classicist design.

This blog continues with Part 2: Inside, Outside, Upside, Upshot

Other University of Leeds architecture-related blogs:
Deconstructing the Ziff
Space-Age or Quasi-Totalitarianism
The Sound of the Sixties

Banham, Reyner. 'The New Brutalism', Architectural Review, (1955), 354-361.
Hatherley, Owen. 2008. Militant Modernism (Ropley: Zero Books).

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Concrete, Cocktails and Citizens: The Hub, Milton Keynes

The Hub in Milton Keynes is a postmodern – well everything is modern/postmodern in MK – piazza surrounded by tall buildings, hotels, apartments, restaurants and bars. It is about a 5 minute walk from the railway station and is managed by Broadoak Management Ltd, a Bedfordshire based firm who do residential and mixed-use property management. The square even has its own website which includes an events page and a directory of outlets. The strapline is “Vibrant restaurant, hotel, café, hotel, business and retail quarter in the heart of the city. A lifestyle choice…”

Outside of all the commercial bullshit on the website, and the slightly jaded look of some of the surrounding buildings, I think the Hub works pretty well, certainly on a summer’s day. I was there for a couple of days in July, actually staying in the Hub itself in the Ramada Encore. When I was there, little kiddywinkies were playing in the water fountains and whooping with delight as the summer sun was baking the concrete all around us. There were plenty of outside places to sit, even seating that seemed to be an integral part of the square itself. It was also a lively place at night: you could move from one bar to another making the most of happy hour and have a bit of nosh later.

Glenn Howells was the architectural firm who designed the apartments in the Hub. They were completed in 2004 but look much older. My brother said he thought it was the lack of reflective glass that makes the buildings look old, and I think he’s right. Also, the open windows tend to create a textured look and detract from a smooth seamless façade. I zoomed in as much as I could with my camera from the bar in my hotel to the apartments opposite and this is the shot I got of the windows facing me. It looks like a scene from Koyaanisqatsi. But this is no failed modernist housing project circa 1950/60s, it’s a postmodern building that isn’t even 10 years old yet.

Nevertheless, I don’t want to criticise the Hub too much, as I really enjoyed it. It was great on a summer's day and definitely met the aims of the Italian renaissance piazza or plaza, where local people are supposed to commune with each other in a lovely (lively) continental-cosmopolitan atmosphere. So I’ll finish with this quote from Italy Magazine:
When I enter a piazza for the first time, I feel a delicious frisson as if being both the spectator and the one being observed, like a teenager at a dance. For me a town is not judged by its museums and masterpieces, but by its piazza. At its best it is an island of tranquillity, a convenient place to meet, a market place, concert venue and playground…

For the whole article, which is worth reading, click here: An Italian Institution – The Piazza

Saturday, 13 July 2013

The Great Walk – A Film, a Mystery, a Cult…

The Great Walk (2013) Directed by Clive Austin.

I watched this film the other day, which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in walking, psychogeography, or those who just like a good old mystery.

This is what the director, Clive Austin, says about the film:
Anton Vagus is a legend, of this we are not in doubt. A product of the sixties walking revival he has inspired a generation to take to their feet in search of the world and of themselves. This is the story of nine of them. Unconventional walkers who, through circumstance and design, became his walking companions. From their discovery of a hidden city beneath Venice to the tragic incident at Berry Head that finally tore them apart, The Great Walk treads a curious path exploring the world that they crafted out of their remarkable experiences. As the layers peel steadily away the mystery that lies at the heart of the group is bought closer into the light, until it becomes clear that, as the last person to see him alive, it is Anton Vagus to whom we must look for our answers. The only question is, how does one find one of the most elusive people on the planet?

This is not just a psychogeographical film, it’s also about group dynamics, the dangers of cliff edges, flirting on aeroplanes, and Don’t Look Now-esque appearances and disappearances. Here are some extracts from the online reviews:

“I never knew walking could be so exciting. I’m setting up a Ramblers splinter group right away!” Alfred in Affpuddle, Dorchester

“I’m sure I saw Anton Vagus in the chip shop with Elvis the other day.” Charlie from Crapstone, nr. Plymouth

“I’m joining a walking group tomorrow if it means I can get off with handsome men on planes.” Melanie in Melbury Bubb, Yeovil

The Great Walk on IMBD
The Great Walk on Facebook

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Turkey, Tea and Towers

I’m just back from a long weekend in Istanbul which, even though it was a holiday, I did manage to sneak a few psychogeography-related photos in as well. We particularly liked this giraffe graffiti, without understanding the significance of it. There was actually a fair bit of graffiti in this area, between the Galata Bridge and Tower.

Below is a postmodern building that I particularly liked. I’ve been unable to find out anything about the building. When I’ve searched it on google images I get a Canadian building, 1000 de La Gauchetière, which, weirdly, isn’t totally unlike this one in the business district of Istanbul. If anyone knows what it’s called, please let me know:

Below is a dilapidated roof which I shot from the terrace bar at our hotel. There were quite a few ruined buildings around. I don’t mean historical buildings, just old houses that had been left to fall down, sometimes in quite wealthy areas.

This last image was taken after just crossing the Galata Bridge on the North side. It’s a typical Istanbul urban space photo, with buildings behind a small market area.

To conclude the blog I did a search on google for ‘Istanbul psychogeography’ and interestingly, Will Self’s book Psychogeography came up, which I own, but I confess I hadn’t remembered he’d written about Turkey. The column discusses a tea pedlar. Here Self is referring to his friend, the artist of the illustrations in his book, Ralph Steadman:
Which takes us back to Turkey – Istanbul, to be precise – where Ralph was pursued by this tea pedlar with a samavor [tea urn] strapped to his back. Either that’s what it is, or it’s a prototype, steam-powered jet pack. I too have taken to going about the place with tea-making equipment to hand: a camping gas stove, a small kettle, bag, cups and milk.” (page 193)