Future Time and Past Time – The City

(Welcome!  This is the 7th post in the “Crafting Places” series, which began on October 4, 2010, with a “Preface”, accessible on-line at http://wp.me/pVUDj-np.  All published posts in the series can be accessed through the “Urban Design” sub-page “Crafting Places” of this “RenaissanceRules” site.)

Antecedents and Contemporary Studies

E.    Rossi’s “Memory Begins Where History Ends”

Aldo Rossi, in “The Architecture of the City” (MIT, Opposition Books, Cambridge, 1982) has catalyzed the “place” oriented sensibilities of many current urban planners and architects.  In his preface to Rossi’s book (page 11), Peter Eisenman focused on a most human aspect of this discussion.

“In his personal vision of time, the same dialectic applies as in the city: history provides the material for biography but memory provides the material for autobiography; as in the city, memory begins where history ends.”

“It encompasses both future time and past time: a project that has to be done and one that is already completed.”

This concept carries most elegantly into the design of any project, whether it be one that is visible within the fabric of the city, in a more “natural” setting, or concealed within a structure or buried down a narrow street.  It is clear that, when people first arrive at a place, what they first “see” is often what they believe to have always existed, as if there was no process, no change, no history before their arrival (R. Bosch, Integrated Urban Open Space Systems, UC Berkeley, 1969). 

The new observer too often does not recognize, cannot differentiate, a replication of a historical antecedent from a historical work.  The new observer brings their personal past experience and design oeuvre to bear in judging quality, appropriateness, “fit” of a work to the “new place”, then proceeds to mold it to a personal vision.  Allowable change is only what benefits them personally, even if only in their personal aesthetic sensitivities.

This is a most peculiarly American affectation. It heavily colors what urban planning and architecture has wrought during the past six decades.

If what was first perceived and what framed past personal experience comprise the total acceptable artifact from which to work on the design of “new creations”, of interventions within the existing fabric of the city, then the “new community” will either be “more of the same” or will become a physical denouncement of “what came before”, a vandalism of “place”.  Where true errors occurred in the past, whether through ineptitude, disaster or hubris, without “Recapitulation” before moving ahead with a new work there will be no identification of what was truly done in error to allow correction and a return to a rightful course for the place. 

That judgment is a very “tough call”!  When the Napoleonic regime demolished San Geminiano at the far end of Piazza San Marco from the Basilica in Venice to construct a new “wing” to house a suitable ballroom, did they excise an “error” or hubristically insert their “spore” into that great space?  Today, that intervention is seen as a “completion”, not an “error”!

Sadly, determination to ignore the critical analysis is firmly inculcated in the perception, vision, and brain of many who have dwelt or worked in a place for many years, or even for a lifetime.  Their “respect” and “sense of place” is often uninformed and only ego-driven.  They “make their mark” on a place like animals leave their “scent”, to claim it for themselves.  Is our judgment of the purpose and result when that occurs equally misinformed and ego-driven?   Are “design standards” imposed upon a place by a specific generation of leaders driven in the same manner?  Do they truly represent the “place”?

In any of these situations, “new” work will often lack existing “place-making” elements that were missed upon first perception, and “allowable” modifications will be solely to serve the benefit of the intervener, not the place and its culture. 

What Time is This Place?  (c)2007 Randy D. Bosch

What Time is This Place? (c)2007 Randy D. Bosch

History will begin with their “arrival” physically, artistically, economically or politically.  The basis for judgment of appropriateness of new designs will be changed by their proposals and their continued involvement. 

 We are “those people”, too, either paralyzed by an apparent conundrum or vitally involved in the continuing evolution of a “place”, a process that starts with its origin and continues until it returns to the dust.
How then, shall one proceed to “tinker” with the existing City, particularly with the existing public spaces?  First, resolve to approach all places as a learning center for new discovery, whether you have first arrived or have thought that you comprehended their “sense of place” for many years.  Then, do the homework!  Learn about a place’s origin, history, community, people and culture, their artifacts – buildings, public spaces, physical patterns, their use and their relationship to their surrounding environment.  Then, use that knowledge along with your education and past experience to deeply consider, before you deign to “design”.  Interventions are not “practice”, they continue the cycle and inform the next participants, they are a serious endeavor that changes the course of the place, since…

The City encompasses both Future Time and Past Time

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About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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