focus on problems

Stefano Boeri (
Thu, 03 Jul 1997 14:00:18 -0400

By piling aggregate representations of the territory one on top of the
other, as though they were flat, specialized layers, we will never
attain any grasp of the essence of contemporary inhabited space: the
vertical, mobile energies and the physical and psychological landscapes
snaking through them. We will have thematic "maps" crammed with useless
and highly ordered information, but incapable of conveying the
multidimensional, dynamic nature of urban phenomena.

Busily seeking invisible, underlying structures capable of lending order
to the visible phenomena on the surface of the territory, we neglect any
reflection on the fact that the contemporary territory is shaped by
multidimensional tensions that take form *between* space and society,
and do not bother to express themselves within the code of zenithal
morphology--configurations that are often exactly what they appear to
be, and do not claim to be anything different from their appearance.

In short, to explain chaos, a paradigm that is powerful in visual means
yet poor in interpretive codes is not sufficient. For we cannot ask it
to resolve the very problem that it has created.

Fortunately, the last few years have seen the emergence of a skeptical,
minority attitude, moving in the wake of the great visual power of the
structural or zenith paradigm. Convinced that the city is not only a
stratification of "levels of reality," but also a collective mode of
conceiving space, persuaded that every stage of the city's evolution
implies and demands a new "leap" in its representation, this minority
attitude seeks to infiltrate the ranks of the enemy paradigm with small
acts of sabotage. Standing on the shoulders of a giant, it continually
casts pebbles in the giant's eyes.

In some parts of Europe this attitude is producing "eclectic atlases"
which propose new ways of examining the correspondences between space
and society. The texts are heterogeneous (reports, photographic
surveys, geographic and literary descriptions, classifications, research
reports, qualitative investigations, essays and articles, anthologies
and monographs, collections of plans or projects), but they are similar
in their visual approach. They tend toward the form of the "atlas"
because they seek new logical correspondences between the *things* of
space, the *words* we use to name them, and the *mental images* we
project upon them. And they tend to be "eclectic" because the criteria
upon which these correspondences are based are often multidimensional,
spurious and experimental.

This variegated family of studies and inquiries does not believe that
chaos is the reflection of external phenomena, but rather that it is the
effect of worn-out ways of conceiving the territory.

The eclectic atlases usually try to construct representations with
"multiple entries" and to play in counterpoint to the dominant
paradigm. They attack laterally, moving at once toward physical space
and toward mental space, because they believe in the existence of
profound connections between the forms of vision and the forms of things
seen. They look at the inhabited territories of Europe in search of the
individual, local, multiple codes that link the observer, each time, to
the phenomena observed; the physical city, its inhabitants, and the
"inner city" of the person observing.

Perplexed by the linear progression of history, they prefer to use more
"forms" to represent the flow of time in the territory. They produce
provisional and inconsequential maps in which the territory is not
represented as a continuous mineral substrate or as a layering of stable
"states of things," but as the interweaving of sinuous and multiple
configurations, which are reversible and which never share the same time

In skeptical confrontation with an impersonal and synoptic gaze, these
atlases most often use several simultaneous angles of view to look at
the territory: from above, but also from the eyes of those who live
within the space, or from new, unprejudiced, experimental perspectives.

Stefano Boeri