Sharon Zukin: The Cultures of Cities (1995)

Take note of the way in which Zukin’s work plays with the (much) earlier title by Lewis Mumford’s 1938 text.

In the preface, Zukin writes that hers are “very different concerns from those that animated Lewis Mumford’s classic work The Culture of Cities, whose title inspired mine. Though his book and mine are both concerned with urban design, democracy, and the market economy, for me the very concept of culture has become more explicit and problematic.”

The two books share many commonalities–as Zukin points out, even if only at a general level–but also differ fundamentally. This is true in terms of both content and perhaps more importantly, method. The content of Mumford’s book harkens back tot he medieval city as a way of gradually approaching more contemporary problems–namely, the way in which capitalist industrialization scarred the nineteenth-century city. And he is right to point out that the legacy of this formative role of industrialization on city planning has been disastrous. But Zukin focuses on more contemporary realities (museums, restaurants, theme parks, public spaces, etc.) and on a pluralist and more problematic notion of culture, asking “How do we connect what we experience in public space with ideologies and rhetorics of public culture?”

In the end, if culture for Mumford is a generalized reflection of the state of humanity’s civilization/barbarity, for Zukin, it is some else–something intimately connected to issues of power. Culture–while a “powerful means of controlling cities,” a “source of images and memories,” a “set of architectural themes,” the “unique competitive edge of cities” and the fuel for “the city’s symbolic economy”–is also a “dialogue” (heterogeneous and fluid), involving “material inequalities” and necessarily rooted in place.

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The Contemporary City and Occupied Real Estate

This post is copied from Not An Alternative’s page http://notanalternative.org.
Not An Alternative is pleased to participate in Collective/Performative, the final exhibition of Exit Art’s influential 30 years as a non-profit gallery and cultural center. Please join us May 8th -12th for Occupied Real Estate, an installation and series of workshops.
Occupied Real Estate
Tuesday May 8 – Saturday May 12
@ Exit Art
475 10th Avenue
New York, New York
* Installation: 10am – 6pm daily
* Workshops: 2pm – 6pm daily
Production hours with Occupied Real Estate agents
* Presentations: 12pm – 2pm Saturday
With artist John Hawke and Occupy Town Square organizer Daniel Latorre
OCCUPIED REAL ESTATE Continue reading

Lebbeus Woods: Architect of Spaces in Crisis

I first saw Lebbeus Woods’ science fiction inspired architectural drawings at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, PA. I was immediately drawn to his dystopian cityscapes overcome by buildings resembling machines and monsters. According to Woods, the spaces he designs are intentionally uncomfortable and aimed at disrupting bourgeoisie practices, “You can’t bring your old habits here. If you want to participate, you will have to reinvent yourself” (qtd in Ouroussoff, Nicolai. New York Times, August 2th, 2008). Primarily seen as an architect who is revolutionary but who ultimately designs the impossible, he theorizes places in crisis, re-designing buildings and structures such as the site of the former Berlin wall, war zones in Bosnia, and the Korean De-militarized zone. Described on his faculty webpage at The European Graduate School, Woods “holds the position that architecture and war are in a certain sense identical, and that architecture is inherently political. An explicitly political goal of his highly conceptual work is the instantiation of the conflict between past and future in shared spaces” (For his bio, click here).

It will be exciting to see one of Woods’ buildings leave the purely visual and be completed in real space. Set for completion in 2013 in Chengdu, China,  the structure that Woods, in collaboration with Christoph a. Kumpusch, designed is “a riot of angled steel beams housed in polycarbonate sleeves containing LEDs” (Fred Bernstein, Architectural Record. March 26, 2012). I love the disjunction of the word “riot” to describe what Woods envisioned as a sanctuary among the urban sprawl. Surely, its effect on the space and the experience of space will be interesting to follow. For more info click here.

Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space in New York City

A new, exciting museum is being planned to keep alive the rich history of reclaimed urban space in New York City. The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, MoRUS, will be located in the storefront of the historic East Village building C-Squat and will house artifacts like videos, photographs, fliers, posters and communiqués by grassroots community members who have squatted abandoned buildings, championed community gardens, and protested the restrictions placed on public space. MoRUS has the potential to strengthen transversal relays between activists and academics, and establish the environment and setting for new social creativity. However, it is not yet open to the public because it still needs additional funding. If you are interested, you can donate here: http://www.crowdrise.com/helpusstartanewhisto.