Sunday, December 6, 2009

Essay Proposal for UW Arch Journal, Column 5

The theme of this issue is Mind the Gap.

From Visual Consumption to Social Production

With regard to the built environment, the gap between the former use of a space and its future use is normally physically manifest as an empty space itself: a gap in the urban fabric. However, in the current economic situation, where formerly vibrant (or even formerly empty) spaces have been left as vacant lots, partially-demolished buildings, or open excavations, a new sort of vacant space has been created, a space in limbo between what it was and what it will (or might) be, at some indefinite point in the future. This space exists in the present – that perennial gap between the past and future – and the architect’s renderings for its destiny no longer represent a future project, but a formerly future, now uncertain project. Those confronted with such spaces daily – whether or not they previously used the spaces – read them in one way, while the owners, architects, and engineers likely see them differently. Lefebvre has given us the tools to interpret these spaces from both perspectives with his conceptions of lived and conceived space.

In response to these directly experienced gaps in the landscape, a number of groups have devoted themselves to reactivation campaigns. In Seattle, groups like the Free Sheep Foundation, SuttonBeresCuller, and the organizers of the Burien Interim Art Space (B /IAS) specialize in temporary art installations; a loose-knit group that I started (People’s Parking Lot) has also organized both a community garage sale and a day-long temporary art installation (Park(ing) Day) in one such space on Capitol Hill. Other groups, such as Rebar and raumlaborberlin, specialize in bringing unique social interaction to vacant, disused, and privately-owned public spaces. In my essay, I will investigate such spaces, introduce and apply Lefebvre’s conceptions to them, and present some unique cases where “bottom-up” activism has transformed the consumers of visual space (I’m borrowing here from the philosopher Edward Casey’s concept of visual acquisition) into producers of social space.

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