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Deviant Heterotopias: Exploring the Margin as Subversive Territory in the City

Jonathan Millard MArch Dissertation October 2010


/ Abstract It is in the authors’ view that we currently reside in an Apollonian society, beset with constrictive regulations and embedded norms that limit our creative occupation of space. In effect, public space is dead: everything is owned, constrained by agenda, controlled with purpose, made a-political for political means. However, marginal land, often overlooked or viewed with a pejorative mindset, contains a final vestige of freedom. Within lies the potential to critique the city, subverting its coded regulations as a heterotopia of deviance: a place for marginal and unwelcome communities; a dreamland for Urban Explorers; an experimental playground for new forms of inhabitation and urban ecology. This study reveals these activities and challenges the perception of the margin, exploring its subversive nature, instigating the reclamation of memory and identity whilst suggesting how these activities can cause a (re)evaluation of the contemporary urban realm. Jonathan Millard October 2010


With many thanks to Florian Kossak for his insight, Rachael Jones for proof reading, and all who have shown interest and support.


/ Contents 9

Introduction

17

One: Memory

20 26 27 34

37 40 42 48

55 58 60 76

----------One - Memory and Architecture ----------Two - Post Industrial Voids - Authenticity of Remembering ----------Three - Imagination and Involuntary Memory

Two: The City ----------Four - Sense and the City - Place in the City ----------Five - Spaces: ‘Other-Places’ ----------Six

Three: Encountering the Margin ----------Seven - Urbex: Seeking Places - Fantasy / Discovery ----------Eight - The Resident and the Tourist

81

Four: Conclusions

87

bibliography

91

- image credits


/ Introduction ‘The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life.’1

Georg Simmel (1903)

1. Georg Simmel, “Die Grosstadte und das Geiestesleben” (1903); translated as “the Metropolis and Mental Life,” in The Sociology of Georg Simmel, ed. Kurt H. Wolff (New York: Free Press, 1950). 409. quoted in Stephen Sartarelli, “Manfredo Tafuri: Towards a Critique of Architectural Ideology,” in Architecture Theory Since 1968, ed. Michael K Hays, 2-36 (London: The MIT Press, 1998). 2

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Over a century later, Simmel’s statement still strikes parallels with life in the city today. It is evident that we are currently residing in an increasingly Apollonian society, where a desire to order, organize and regulate everything, including urban space, is becoming a pervasive condition. Despite the obvious need for order and rational, it has been suggested that: 2. Tim Edensor, Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality (Paris: Berg Publishers, 2005). 17

3. Dylan Trigg, The Aesthetics of Decay: Nothingness, Nostalgia, and the Absence of Reason (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006). 22

4. Tim Edensor, Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality (Paris: Berg Publishers, 2005). 170

‘the disciplinary, performative, aestheticised urban praxis demanded by commercial and bureaucratic regimes which are refashioning cities into realms of surveillance, consumption and dwelling … is becoming too dominant’2 What impact does this control have? Dylan Trigg offers insight. He sets out how perception (and therefore, imagination) is intrinsically linked to memory, referring to the work of philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941). Trigg narrates: ‘in experiencing my context, I do so with orientation to the memories that have preceded me. Consequently, those aspects of my context that reveal themselves to me will do so in connection to the memories that have already formed my experience.’3 Therefore, we must be concerned with the diminishing level of sensory diversity and juxtaposed occupation of spaces that we experience daily in the city; that memory in the city might be placed under the constraints of commodification and mediatisation which stage ‘hegemonic inscriptions’ upon space.4 With the apparent decreasing level of sensuality afforded by the contemporary urban realm, this should facilitate a reassessment of the way in which architects and designers, view and construct places within the city. I believe there is therefore a requirement for spaces of resistance, perhaps even of subversion, in order to counter this pervasively controlled realm. This study aims to reveal that these spaces already exist, hidden by their general disregard but present throughout every city, being eminently engaging, progressive and suggestive of a reassessment of the current methods of urban design.

5. Kenny Cupers and Markus Miessen, Spaces of Uncertainty (Wuppertal: Muller and Busmann, 2002). 102-105

Cupers and Miessen introduce these spaces as the ‘margin’. Their use of this word comes from its somewhat contradictory and multiple meanings, suggesting both its use as creating structure and being the unstructured surround; an edge or limit; a functionless content.5 Margin is also suggestive of being cast aside, rendered unimportant or insignificant. All of these meanings resonate in architecture: the margins are the inbetween spaces, delineated by 11


architectural edge, those deemed unnecessary, unfunctional, uneconomical, undesirable. They are the white spaces on the figure-ground plan, the voids in the urban fabric. Many of these spaces we know as ‘urban wastelands’: a tag furthering the overarching pejorative mindset that disregards spaces of dereliction and abandonment as the territory of vagrants, rejects, criminals, places of illegal and illicit acts; an opinion perpetuated by the media and the political hegemony. However, Tim Edensor goes on to argue that such spaces (particularly the industrial ruin) can act as a method of critique. His focus is to ‘contest the notion that ruins are spaces of waste, that contain nothing, or nothing of value, and that they are places saturated with negativity as spaces of danger, delinquency, ugliness and disorder.’6 Instead, his intent is to reveal their potential as sites for transgressive and playful activities (beyond the ‘dystopian prognoses of bureaucrats and planners’7), surprise, tactile sensuality and encounters with space and materiality, in stark juxtaposition to the ‘produced’ landscapes evident in our cities. His understanding is that by embracing the possibility to step outside of societies heavily prescribed social norms, ruins allow the potential to critique the construction of our social and built environment, through ‘aesthetic divergence’ and ‘sensual disordering’ that is largely absent in the city.8 In many ways, we have all encountered the margin over our lifetime. Looking back, it was on marginal land where I learnt to ride a bike, where we played ‘bulldog’ behind the scout-hut, where friends met to smoke, drink, kiss girls and escape their parents; where many people first drive a car. Far from being un-functional, these are places that have afforded important experiences: in fact, we should understand that ‘… the margin fundamentally challenges the meaning of the word function. In the margin, functions become activities, practices and opportunities.’9 Excitingly, these experiences or encounters are increasingly sought and desired in marginal spaces. The Urban Exploration movement has grown exponentially over the last decade, suggesting a subconscious movement that rejects the order, homogenization, strict controls and continual commercial bombardment that pervades the modern city and seeks out discovery, narrative, autonomy, retreat and risk.

12

6. Tim Edensor, Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality (Paris: Berg Publishers, 2005). 7

7. Ibid. 166

8. Ibid. 169

9. Kenny Cupers and Markus Miessen, Spaces of Uncertainty (Wuppertal: Muller and Busmann, 2002). 122


The impact of these issues on architecture has been limited: either through a lack of awareness, or a feeling of irrelevance. Through an investigation of marginal spaces, this study aims to explore the creative occupational uses we find in these spaces and suggests how this subversion is indicative of fundamental elements to life that the city declines to support. This study therefore challenges the perception of the margin, exploring its subversive nature, instigating the reclamation of memory and identity whilst suggesting how these activities can cause a (re)evaluation of the contemporary urban realm. This work draws on writers who focus upon derelict spaces, particularly that of Tim Edensor and Gill Doron, as well as the Urbex subculture; all of who promote and accentuate the possibilities in such ruinous spaces. The study is split into two discrete narratives: the first, a literary based investigation into marginal and ruinous places and their place in the city, with particular regard to memory and the senses, which I identify as threatened modes in the modern city. The second is a personal dialect of thoughts, feelings and experiences that punctuate the discourse: an ethnological account in words and photographs that adds an alternative layer of argument. The intent is for more personal understanding of these spaces and the practices within. The primary narrative is therefore structured in the following fashion: Part One covers memory in relation to architecture. Here, the margin is explored in relation to its memory and history, with particular arguments made for the necessity of imagination and involuntary memory as a tool to counter-act the authority placed over memory from the hegemony. It is in marginal spaces that this control can be subverted, where a lack of regulation and where sensual experiences engender alternative memories and experiences. Part Two particularly focuses on the city, exploring its relationship with the senses and place (excluding them) before expanding upon marginal places within the city. It is suggested that the margins contain the possibility for realms that subvert the coded norms of the city, allowing for multiple, creative occupations and uses that critique contemporary public realms. Part Three explores those who engage with marginal

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spaces, particularly studying the growing practice of Urban Exploration. Investigating the experiences of this particular group of ‘tourists’, their intent highlights the lack of possibility in the contemporary urban realm and how marginal spaces can fulfill these desires. The limitations of valorizing these activities are also studied, along with looking at how ‘residents’ of these places create alternative living and working situations. Part Four concludes the study, summarizing how these subversive realms can question the city and the modes employed by the architect, both revealing their present and suggesting their future.

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1.Memory ‘I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades’ curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know that this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past … As this wave of memories flows in, the city soaks it up and expands like a sponge. A description of Zaira today should contain all Ziara’s past. The city however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the grating of the windows, the banisters of the steps…’10

Italo Calvino

10. Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, New, trans. William Weaver (London: Vintage, 1997). 10

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----------One…

I’m researching a potential site for my studio project. I know the area already, having lived in the city for years: the Don Valley, former lifeblood of the city, center of the cities famous steel production. I’ve seen the historical maps, sprawling factories, arterial train lines fanning out, densely packed streets and city blocks. The maps tell a different story now, of destruction and emptiness. New pockets of ‘regeneration’ puncture the fast fading figure ground of industry. There must be a better future than this. Various masterplans for the area tell their own story, of only partial success in wiping away the failure of industry. Yet, the shadow the city tries to hide still remains; ghosts of a bygone era of working and living. I want to investigate these spaces, to understand their intricacies; to even catch a moment of that experience that defined so many people lives. Perhaps a visit to Magna11 will do the job, but I’ve been before and I already know this won’t suffice. Stories seem to lurk in the shadows, never quite surfacing more than to snatch a breath…

11. Magna is a ‘Science adventure Centre’ primarily based around the ‘history’ of steel production, inhabiting a vast, former steel works with new pavilions and exhibitions.

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Memory and Architecture Memory and architecture have long been Memory and architecture have long been intertwined, built form an expression of memorial and commemoration. However, recent discourse has focused on how memory and architecture can be interrelated in the perception of all built works, unintentional or otherwise. Adrian Forty sets out the issues in ‘Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture’ where he notes the irresistibility to link memory and architecture as one of a kind.12 Forty’s overview covers its evolution in meaning in relation to architecture, from its 18th century valorization, giving aesthetic freedom from the hegemonic rules of order, proportion and ornament by allowing imaginary contemplation13; Ruskin’s conception of architecture embodying memory in the mental and physical creation of buildings; and its current inception in what he deems a ‘new orthodoxy’ as the bearer of cultural and historic values.14 Whether memory and architecture are truly ‘one of a kind’ is debatable. Forty points out that Michel De Certeau was aware of the difference between memory and architecture; apparent when de Certeau states that ‘the particular force of memory comes from its very capacity to be altered – unmoored, mobile, lacking a fixed position … memory is in decay when it is no longer capable of this alteration.’15 Therefore memory cannot be encased in a building, as if the very concrete has absorbed the lives and stories of those who walked its floors. Yet, it is the ability of spaces and buildings to trigger memories and engender narratives or stories, imaginative memory, that is powerful enough to suggest the importance in linking the two subjects. What pleasure is found in the spectacle of the city is certainly based in this link. Christine Boyer in ‘The City of Collective Memory’ speaks of an ‘experience of diversity’ as different layers of historical time are superimposed and layered, producing an elusive quality and state of existence that offers the spectator pleasure. She suggests that this pleasure may be found ‘because these fragments reawaken forgotten memories that have long been dormant, or because their original function and purpose has been erased, allowing the viewer to substitute invented traditions and imaginary narrations.’16 Whilst highly alluring, it could be argued that the possibility for this experience is diminishing rapidly in the increasingly global city, as our desire for 20

12. Adrian Forty, Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture, Illustrated Edition (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004). 206 13. Forty notes that this conception of memory was principally to undermine the authority of traditional rules, and that once this was achieved, this seemingly defective concept had no further value and could be largely disregarded. Adrian Forty, Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture, Illustrated Edition (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004). 207-211 14. Adrian Forty, Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture, Illustrated Edition (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004). 218 15. Michel De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 1st Edition, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). 86-87

16. Christine Boyer, The City of Collective Memory: Its Historical Imagery and Architectural Entertainments (London: The MIT Press, 1994). 19


order and timeless ‘newness’ abolishes all in its path. This is partially the basis for this study. What then does this notion hold in the contemptuous fragments of derelict space that surrounds our cities? How are they linked to the future of memory and imagination?

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----------Two…

I cycle down through the valley – this is not the place for bikes. Traffic surrounds me, rivers flowing at 3040mph – or 20mph at this time of day; keeping up isn’t a problem. Unnoticed, the Don flows out of sight, like a retired worker, calmly idling down its canalized path. This was once the life of the valley, the source of power and transportation, but no longer. The plots are large here, many derelict; all quiet. New sheds stand marooned in car parks and traffic lanes for distribution centers, perhaps now the main occupier of this connected zone. Off the main arteries, there is hardly a soul in sight. I imagine how this might have been, a place for thousands of workers, living and socializing here. Now what factories remain hum with mechanized efficiency, or else lie dormant..

22


Industrial Typology: Erased.

The River Don: Superseded

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Wild nature finds refuge amongst the ruins, 50m from Meadowhall

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Meadowhall17 buzzes with life – or at least the car park looks quite full; there is no way of telling what’s going on inside. Next-door, massive decaying sheds lie derelict in huge swaves of land. Traces of concrete denote where other factories previously stood, whilst weeds and grasses enjoy the lack of disturbance.

17. Meadowhall: the now ubiquitous out of town shopping centre, opened in 1993 on the site of a former steel works. Its creation was one of the prime regeneration moves instigated by the SDC.

I can only imagine what lies inside those ruins, a forgotten place away from the terror of shopping. As sections of the wall appear to crumble, and corrugated steel flaps in the breeze, I ponder how different this place might have been. Has it been like this for ten years, twenty? The factory lies there, suggestive and alluring. I turn around, transfixed, yet uncomfortable that I have lingered in a place where nobody stops.

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Post Industrial Voids As cities have grown, industry has increasingly pushed towards the periphery due to mass manufacturing methods that require large amounts of land, this being possible by the advent of rail and therefore the capacity to occupy the cheaper peripheral land whilst retaining the potential to connect with the markets. This is still the case today, although our understanding of the periphery can be expanded ever further due to improved and ever cheaper connectivity. What we would deem to now be post-industrial cities are of course still heavily reliant on industry; yet their industrial periphery is expanded by market values and globalization beyond the scale of the city or even their countries. Whilst many cities in the UK were born through their industrial power, market forces have shifted industrial focus away from many of these centers – what Gill Doron terms as ‘constructive destruction.’18 Abandoned and derelict buildings, the physical remnants of this time, remain as wounds of this paradigm shift away from industry based economies and are evident throughout the largely post-industrial Western world the proliferation and impact of which has been recently highlighted by the EU funded ‘Shrinking Cities’ Project.19 Industrial dereliction and ruination is a particular condition, politically portrayed, and received, as blight upon their context; places ‘saturated with negativity as spaces of danger, delinquency, ugliness and disorder.’20 Post-industrial cities, particularly Sheffield, whose identity was and is (over stereotypically) defined by its steel production, have strived to distance themselves from these negative connotations. In Sheffield, the Sheffield Development Corporation (SDC) was set up in 1988 to oversee the development of the land in the Lower Don Valley. Its affect was the effective destruction of much of the industrial landscape that formally defined the area, but became stigmatic of the loss of 75,000 manufacturing jobs amid the massive deindustrialization following the economic downturn of the 1970’s.21 In short, politically, dereliction is seen as an affliction on the image of economic strength and stability, the idea that we are continually progressive. These spaces resound with a ‘message of failure.’22 Doron notes the number of terms used in describing these derelict spaces by architects, planners and theoreticians, commenting on the multiplicity and 26

18. Gil Doron, “‘. . . those marvellous empty zones at the edge of cities’: Heterotopia and the ‘dead zone’,” in Heterotopia and the City: Public space in a postcivil society, ed. Michiel Dehaene and Lieven De Cauter, 203-214 (London: Routledge, 2008). 208 19. Shrinking Cities: http://www. shrinkingcities.com 20. Tim Edensor, Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality (Paris: Berg Publishers, 2005). 7

21. Urban Strategies Incorporated, “Lower Don Valley Masterplan Study,” Masterplan (Sheffield, 2004). 75,000 manufacturing jobs lost between 1971 and 1988, leaving 400ha of derelict and abandoned land in the Don Valley region of Sheffield, its manufacturing heartland. 22. Helen Armstrong, “Time, Derelcition and Beauty: an Argument for ‘Landscapes of Contempt’.,” The Landscape Architect, IFLA Conference Papers, May 2006: 116-127. 117


23. Gil Doron, “‘. . . those marvellous empty zones at the edge of cities’: Heterotopia and the ‘dead zone’,” in Heterotopia and the City: Public space in a postcivil society, ed. Michiel Dehaene and Lieven De Cauter, 203-214 (London: Routledge, 2008). 203

fig.1.1: The hidden wasteland

number of meanings proving the difficulty in defining these places. Terms include his own, ‘dead zone’ plus: ‘wasteland, derelict area, terrain vague, conceptual Nevada, urban desert, space of uncertainty, free space, nameless space, white area, blank space, temporary autonomous zone, ellipsis space, space of indeterminacy, brown fields, liminal space, no man’s land and urban void.’23(fig.1.1) This supports the mindset that these places have failed, and contain nothing of worth. Yet despite this, Doron argues that these places are full of interest; their decay and abandonment engender contemplation about their life, and the lives of those who lived in those spaces, stories which we may never hear. This is a notion of indefinability in a world where we seek to constantly define, order and compartmentalize everything. It is the indefinability in these places that draws me to investigate these spaces, to look deeper into their past and speculate on their future: important due to the number of shrinking cities throughout Western Europe and the proliferation of marginal spaces. Here, perhaps, memory is also less defined, less scripted and more open to interpretation.

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Authenticity in Remembering Retaining a sense of place has become a design criterion for areas such as Kelham Island24, Victorian era industrial architecture which current fashion dictates to be palatable to public taste. Retaining the ‘character’ of these places, reclaiming them as historic districts and reappropriating them into alternative uses, is a common approach lauded by planners, conservationists and architects alike. These places have however undergone public revalorization; trendy flats, shops and bars now often-occupy these former marginal spaces; mills and factories once seen as dirty, grimy and undesirable. This is without doubt due to successful marketing and fashion, yet it may also indicate a desire for people to engage with a sense of place. However, this ‘place’ may merely be ‘memory as commodity’, created by the Heritage Industry to attract the affluent ‘Creative Class.’25 If Kelham Island hasn’t yet achieved this status, then the Castlefield district in Manchester proves a good example, transformed from industrial hub into city quarter, complete with creative businesses, bars and upmarket city centre living.26 Certainly, these compositions of place can be thought of as implicit in creating and selling values and lifestyles.27 The validity of such restoration demands questioning. Marc Augé reiterates that: ‘the relationship with history that haunts our landscapes is being aestheticized, and at the same time desocialized and artificialized. […] our towns have been turning into museums (restored, exposed, floodlit monuments, listed areas, pedestrian precincts) while at the same time bypasses, motorways, high-speed trains and one-way systems have made it unnecessary for us to linger in them.’ 28 Christine Boyer and Edensor also concur, Edensor suggesting that memory is imprinted upon these produced spaces29 and that they are stripped of all traces of the heterogeneity of their past in order to present themselves coherently, whilst Boyer warns when ‘certain parts of the city have been preserved intact or redesigned intentionally as narrative …[this] series of narrative representations necessarily implies that “history” will be rewritten and realigned for specific concerns.’30

28

24. Kelham Island is a former industrial area of Sheffield, centered on the River Don. Steelworks were sited there until the industrial decline in the 1970’s. 25. Helen Armstrong, “Time, Derelcition and Beauty: an Argument for ‘Landscapes of Contempt’.,” The Landscape Architect, IFLA Conference Papers, May 2006: 116-127. 116 26. Castlefield is a former industrial area in the South East of Manchester City Centre. Canals and massive railway viaducts that lead into Manchester’s former central station heavily characterize the site. From a place rife with dereliction in the late 1970’s, the area has been transformed by the re-birth of city centre living into a hub for living, working and leisure, with an emphasis on heritage. 27. Christine Boyer, The City of Collective Memory: Its Historical Imagery and Architectural Entertainments (London: The MIT Press, 1994). 420 It is also worth noting the incredible success of firms such as ‘Urban Splash’ who have profited from the redevelopment of industrial areas and buildings coupled with aggressive and fashionable marketing strategies. 28. Marc Augé, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, 2nd Edition (New York: Verso, 2009). 73 29. Tim Edensor, “The ghosts of industrial ruins: ordering and disordering memory in excessive space,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23, no. 6 (2005): 829-849. 830 30. Christine Boyer, The City of Collective Memory: Its Historical Imagery and Architectural Entertainments (London: The MIT Press, 1994). 377


31. Sébastien Marot, Sub-Urbanism and the Art of Memory, illustrated edition, ed. Pamela Johnston, trans. Brian Holmes (London: AA Publications, 2003). 32 32. Tim Edensor, “The ghosts of industrial ruins: ordering and disordering memory in excessive space,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 23, no. 6 (2005): 829-849. 831

33. Ibid.

34. Nikos Papastergiadis, “Traces Left in Cities,” in Poetics in Architecture, ed. Leon van Schaik, 45-51 (London: Wiley-Academy). 50 citing the work of Michel de Certeau, ‘Ghosts in the City’, The Practice of Everyday Life: Vol 2: Living and Cooking, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998) 35. Ibid.

This bastardisation of what we could consider ‘memory’ through consumer driven redevelopment can be said to ‘to hold memory captive, through a pristine image of the past that advertises itself as such.’31 This realization confirms the dichotomy of authenticity in the revitalization of many of these areas – retaining street ‘character’ (façade, artifacts, period street furniture) with the loss of genuine experiential character (sensory stimulation). Worryingly, this redevelopment is said to ‘remember’ for a specific market, Edensor arguing that it raises ‘wider questions about which fragments and spaces of memory are incinerated, dumped, or buried and which pass into social and institutional memory.’32 Edensor is quick to point out that this is not just apparent in the restoration of places, but generally in museums and heritage spaces where clear artefacts and ‘potted stories’ are presented to ‘seamlessly banish ambiguity and the multiplicity of the past’ in order to create a cohesive experience that limits the interpretive scope of the visitors.33 Restoration therefore appears to be a vehicle for the hegemonic control over memory whilst projecting the retention of those places. Nikos Papastergiadis challenges this nevertheless, noting de Certeau’s argument that despite the inevitable homogenization in these reclamations, the process opens ‘the potential for countermemory and heterodoxy.’34 De Certeau’s assertion that ‘meaning is … constituted in the stories that consciously or subconsciously unfold in the practices of the inhabitants’35 leads us to believe that ‘memory’ cannot be codified and reformed to the whim of the developer, but that it will persist, like a ‘ghostly haunting’ of the place. Whilst hidden, these layers of memories potentially lurk around all areas of the city, waiting to be discovered, uncovered and interpreted in a multitude of differing ways. Marginal spaces, particularly derelict buildings, stand in juxtaposition to these restored places: they engender the potential for the individual to reclaim a personal authority over the memories and interpretation of that place through its lack of function, programme and ownership. It is likely that many contemporary industrial ruins will not undergo this revalorization, having been created cheaply and situated in peripheral sites. In most cases, their building quality is insufficient for them to survive, supplementing their dereliction. Doron believes the pejorative view surrounding them to be the work of the hegemony in keeping such spaces 29


indefinite for ‘political, social and economic ends’, citing the ‘fickle definition’ of derelict spaces the National Land Use Database (NULD) as ambiguous, helping to foster their poor perception and disregard.36 Instead, Doron, like many of the authors cited, is quick to point to the potential in these spaces, not for redevelopment or to create particular sites of remembrance, but perhaps a notion of what Hakim Bey termed ‘Temporary Autonomous Zones’ – a socio-political tactic of creating temporary, unstructured territories eluding formal structures of control, giving rise to the chance for time, creativity and ‘freedom’.37 In these spaces’ vacuity of function and meaning, the door is opened for this freedom and opportunity – in memory as well as occupation.

36. Gil Doron, “‘. . . those marvellous empty zones at the edge of cities’: Heterotopia and the ‘dead zone’,” in Heterotopia and the City: Public space in a postcivil society, ed. Michiel Dehaene and Lieven De Cauter, 203-214 (London: Routledge, 2008). 204. Also see Gill Doron, “…badlands, blank space, border vacuums, brown fields, conceptual Nevada, Dead Zones ...,” Field: 1, no. 1 (2007): 10-23. 12-15 This ambiguity in definition is also suggested in Civic Trust. Urban Wasteland Now. (London: Civic Trust. 1988). 5 37. Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism, Second Revised Edition (Orig. 1991) (New York: Autonomedia, 2003).

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----------Three…

A quick scavenge online and I find my building. A fast, voyeuristic ‘click’ through pages of an online forum shows other people have been interested too, enough to have entered and experienced this space. Lots of others; one poster calls it ‘Sheffield’s premier tourist attraction’! But, sat at home, I experience this space too. I can ‘feel’ the breeze entering through holes in the roof, the cold, damp touch of the lichen on the walls, the pungent smell of oil, or grease, or something that I know nothing about but feel the presence of. I have never been here, but my mind conjures up these feelings: everything is in the image is consumed, relayed to my experience and enjoyed in my mind.

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The Internet also provides a brief historical CV, just enough highlights to wet the appetite before something else catches my attention. Yet this is somewhat an empty experience. I am back behind the comfort of my computer screen: only my imagination lives this place. Who are these explorers? I’m jealous and I’m left wanting more. I’ve decided: I want to go there

The Virtual Explorer

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Imagination and Involuntary Memory ‘The ruin is a shadow realm of slowness in which things are revealed at a less frantic pace. Within this relative stillness, bypassed by the urban tumult, the intrusions from the past which penetrate the everyday life of the city are able to make themselves felt more keenly.’38 Tim Edensor Marot refers to the garden as place of freedom, for time, imagination and play: its ‘potential to carve out a space … a hollow where all the epochs of the city are virtually and simultaneously present.’39 The ruin can be understood in the same sense, giving the spatial slack within the city, outside the constrictive norms and regulations of society to allow an imaginative and performative enacting of diverse, indefinable, indeterminate forms of memory. These unfixed and i nterpretive engendered memories spring from the anti-aesthetic and disordered nature of the spaces, demanding investigation and interrogation, rather than unconscious absorption. In this manner, ruins are ‘already material allegories of the imperfect ways in which the past is remembered, replete with loss and confusion’40 contrasting with official, concise, uncontested versions of history. This slack or freedom is instigated by the lack of authoritative prescription on these places. As Doron writes; ‘they are perceived to be with no history … and no future … they seem to live in a temporal break, a hiatus, and exist in the continuous present – ie. outside of time.’41 Here therefore, unhindered by this historical authority, the place becomes open to an alternative interpretation. This naturally subverts the ‘History’ of the modern city. Here, often-former places of production and recent decline that are still fundamentally connected to our everyday lives trigger evaluation and contemplation. The memories evoked are often involuntary and somewhat imagined: for the visitor has probably never experienced these places. However, these ‘memories’ are formed through the collation and collision of previously separated experiential memories. The quiet and solitude suggests places formerly of noise and production: silence particularly, a rare attribute in the city, is powerful in that it can be understood as the repercussion of non-silence and therefore a memorial to a forgotten action.42

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38. Tim Edensor, Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality (Paris: Berg Publishers, 2005). 126

39. Sébastien Marot, Sub-Urbanism and the Art of Memory, illustrated edition, ed. Pamela Johnston, trans. Brian Holmes (London: AA Publications, 2003). 32

40. Tim Edensor, Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality (Paris: Berg Publishers, 2005). 170

41. Gill Doron, “…badlands, blank space, border vacuums, brown fields, conceptual Nevada, Dead Zones ...,” Field: 1, no. 1 (2007): 1023. 17

42. Dylan Trigg, The Aesthetics of Decay: Nothingness, Nostalgia, and the Absence of Reason (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006). 12


Similarly, smells can suggest former uses and temperature (usually the cold) highlights the decay of the shell in shielding the environment. All of these sensual phenomena are collected through experience: it is upon this that involuntary memory is based. If experience is believed to be so fundamental to imagination and contemplation, then this is problematic, seeing that places that elicit this type of response are becoming increasingly rare. As Helen Armstrong writes: 43. Helen Armstrong, “Time, Derelcition and Beauty: an Argument for ‘Landscapes of Contempt’.,” The Landscape Architect, IFLA Conference Papers, May 2006: 116-127. 119

‘…where we glide over the surface of over-designed urban places which, in the main, are limited to pleasure and spectacle, we are easily seduced into forgetting about the recent past. The landscapes of our cities are so pervasively programmed that there are few places where one can withdraw to linger and reflect.’43

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2.The City ‘We are bored in the city… …Darkness and obscurity are banished by artificial lighting, and the seasons by air conditioning; night and summer are losing their charm and the dawn is disappearing.’44

Ivan Chtcheglov (1953)

44. Ivan Chtcheglov, “Formulary for a New Urbanism,” in Situationist International Anthology, ed. Ken Knabb, trans. Ken Knabb, 1-4 (Berkley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981). 2

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----------Four‌

I wander through the city. Everything competes for my vision, but little takes it. Signs direct me, prohibit me, warn me of ‘fines for littering’. Not that it would matter; the street cleaning force patrol up and down incesently. Nothing can linger here for more than five minutes.

38


Same shops, same people, same experience.

39


Sense and the City Increasingly, it is apparent that urban space is created for consumption; product of an economy that is ‘characterized by a cancerous growth of vision, measuring everything by its ability to show or be shown.’45 Equally obsessed with defining the social practices of those who use or inhabit the space, coded, regulated, aestheticized and ordered, the social norms and behaviours that are acceptable in these spaces are dwindling, reducing the user to a generic, homogenous being. This should not be surprising; the civilizing and ordering of man has come about by the ‘progressive controlling of animal instincts,’46 or by a reduction in the significance extended to all our senses, barring that of vision. Cultural ‘norms’ have dictated a repression of emotions, (or a compartmentalization of the cognitive and the sensatory) diminishing sensatory importance: research notes the regulation of tactility, olfactory and sound in assisting the production of single purpose spaces that act to valorize certain sensual experiences and create performative conventions.47 Furthermore, the modern movements (especially Bauhaus and De Stijl) increasingly intellectualized built form through the idea of image and machine, abstracted and removed from sensual experience. Globalization over the last century has further polarized the importance in our senses, image becoming allimportant, transferable and purchasable. This is problematic as our understanding of place is sensory; perception is built through the collection of sensory data, and as such, architecture and urbanism is fundamentally interconnected to sensory experience. Place may therefore be described as ‘a location of experience’48 and experience is that which ‘evokes and organizes memories, images, feelings, sentiments, meanings and the work of imagination.’49 It is therefore not surprising that the amount of discourse surrounding these topics is significant, with Koolhaas’ essay ‘the Generic City’ (1994) spurning multiple narrations on the future and importance of places. As the multiplicity of sensations and experiences is essential to the possibility for diverse views and interpretations within the city, therefore allowing critique, there should be fundamental concern with Koolhaas’ statement that places are becoming beset with ‘few and far between emotions’.50 Additionally, other authors echo that there is generally a ’widespread 40

45. Michel De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 1st Edition, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). xxi

46. Elizabeth D Harvey, Sensible Flesh (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003). 9

47. Tim Edensor, “Sensing the Ruin,” Sense and Society 2, no. 2 (2007): 217-232.

48. Eugene Walter, Placeways: A Theory of Human Environment. (London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988). 215 49. Joy Malner, and Frank Vodvarka, F. ‘Sensory Design’. (University of Minnesota Press,2004). xi.

50. Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, S M L XL: Second Edition, 2nd Edition (New York: Monacelli Press, 1997). 1250


51. Ellen Dunham-Jones, Re: Generic city, OASE; 54 (Nijmegen : SUN).

52. Tim Edensor, “Sensing the ruin,” Sense and Society 2, no. 2 (2007): 217-232. 218. Paraphrasing the work of Georg Simmel, ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’. 413

concern that digitally enabled globalization is universalizing cultures and erasing difference.’51 Somewhat paradoxically, another view is that the city has become a product of sensory overload rather than sensory deprivation. German philosopher Georg Simmel coined the term ‘neurasthenia’, describing a condition where, in Edensor’s words, ‘the rapidity of moving bodies and vehicles, the constant cacophony, insistent visual onslaught and tactile buffetings’ we can only cope with ‘by the development of a blasé attitude to shield the individual from this overwhelming assault.’52 In either respect, whether our cities are becoming territories devoid of sensual material or whether we are desensualising ourselves in order to cope with the city, there is a prevailing sense of repetition and predictability, or that the city and its occupiers are becoming generic.

41


Place in the City ‘The memorable is that which can be dreamed about in a place’53 Michel de Certeau The increasingly generic city is accompanied by a decreasing level of character, with only a fragile skin of identity afforded by ‘landmark’, image conscious (marketable) modern architecture that covers or represses (or attempts to create a fiction of ) the true cultural and anthropological richness of a place. Our understanding of character is important, as ‘… associated with a particular place, the term character indicates its specificity; at the same it does not refer to an exclusively visual condition, but embraces all the various sensory experiences that one can have in a place.’54 To understand this, Forty writes that currently, the use of the word ‘character’ is how ‘meaning is to be understood as the outcome of the occupation of a particular physical place by an active human subject’55 or fundamentally, that it involves personal identity and experiential relationships; that it is a place. Our current understanding of character is therefore heavily linked to phenomenology, perception and our senses. Character is also linked to history; its introduction into architectural vocabulary by Germain Boffrand in 1745 used it to describe how buildings should be constructed in ways akin to their function.56 For theorists, such as in Koolhaas, there is opportunity in the generic for fantasy and freedom outside of these constrictive habits and nostalgias, where the ‘presence of history hinders performativity.’57 In this case, the generic is seen as liberator, a chance for reinvention from controlling historical ideologies. However, this idea of ‘generic’ has been widely criticized, with the concept of ‘place’ and ‘placemaking’ still prevalent issues today. Indeed it can be argued that Koolhaas is writing with ignorant disregard, perhaps intentionally, that the generic is an exertion of over-control and generates a reduction in interactive and engaging sensory perception; that which engages the person with their surroundings. Evidence to a decline in place in the city comes through the work of Marc Augé, terming ‘supermodernity’ as 42

53. Michel De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 1st Edition, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). 109

54. Mirko Zardini, “Toward a Sensorial Urbanism,” in Sense of the City: An Alternative Approach to Urbanism, ed. Mirko Zardini, 17-25 (Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture and Lars Muller Publishers, 2005). 23 55. Adrian Forty, Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture, Illustrated Edition (London: Thames & Hudson, 2004). 120

56. Ibid. 121-122

57. Lieven De Cauter, “The Rise of the Generic City: or Rem Koolhaas’s Flight Forward (1998),” in The Capsular Civilization, 10-27 (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2004). 14


a way of understanding a proliferation in both the generic and the amount of space given to places with little significance; or ‘non-places.’ His definition of nonplace also helps to define what is understood by the term ‘place’, as it exists as an opposite. 58. Marc Augé, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, 2nd Edition (New York: Verso, 2009). 77

59. Ibid. 103 60. Michel De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, 1st Edition, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). xvii

61. Michel Foucault coined the term, given in a radio broadcast titled ‘Les Hétérotopies’ in December 1966, but solidified conceptually (to some degree – it is often cited as ambiguous and unfinished) in a lecture titled ‘Des espaces autres’ in March 1967. This lecture, although unpublished until 1984 became the basis of the concept. A noted copy can be found in Heterotopia and the City: Public space in a postcivil society, ed. Michiel Dehaene and Lieven De Cauter, 13-29 (London: Routledge, 2008) 62. Ibid. 5 63. Ibid.

‘If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place.’58 Anthropological place, which is loaded with cultural, social or historic values, therefore fundamentally involves relationships. Non-places by their very environment create personal anonymity and shared identities: to become a passenger, submissive to the possessive forces of the space, which Augé describes as creating ‘neither singular identity nor relations, only solitude and similitude.59 De Certeau deems this as personal ‘marginality [which] is becoming universal … a silent majority.’60 These notions relate to Koolhaas’ theory, highlighting speed and transitory spaces (such as airports) to introduce the notion of an interconnected web of comsumable and disposable spaces. Here, Augé is describing spaces without experience, spaces upon which we cannot inscribe any mark of being or interaction. In addition to this exponential increase in transitory ‘non-places’, we are also witnessing an increase in what Michel Foucault termed ‘heterotopias’.61 The exact definition of these ‘other-places’ and what they constitute is famously confusing, but they could be seen as the opposite to Augé’s non-place: ‘heterotopia, from theme park to festival market, realizes ‘places to be’ in the non-place urban realm.’62 In one sense, these are spaces of exclusion: privately owned and heavily regulated, they enforce a common sense of place and lack the openness to allow the potential for cultural and social polysemy, which is removed for the benefit of their clarity. Although schools, hospitals, old peoples homes and other, very closed typologies were cited as heterotopias, malls and museums and perhaps even city squares can also fall into this category, suggesting that ‘heterotopia is everywhere.’63 This banishment of true public space through heavy regulation and a lack of freedom is the cause of concern. Whilst Augé insists that the nonplaces only exist to transverse between the places that make up our lives, if these places are now the hyper43


places of heterotopias, defined, closed and regulated, then the capacity for engagement and a social, relational freedom is extinguished. This relates to Richard Sennett’s work ‘The Fall of Public Man’ where he sees the privatization of the individual causing the abandon of public life, this equally being concomitant in the strength of social controls.64 Sennett notes how ‘public space has become a derivative of movement’65; this coupled with personal selfconsciousness and anxiety leads to people becoming spectators (consumers) over actors (participants). Here, there is a lack of belonging - a sense of relation to or with another person that is widely understood to be key in our mental health and wellbeing. It can be suggested that anthropological place, ie. humanity in a space that is relational, historical and has identity, is the essence of belonging.66 The argument here is that to re-kindle this experience, people are requiring to step outside of the regulated realm of the city into, somewhat paradoxically, spaces we might also regard as heterotopias: literally ‘other-places.’

44

64. Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977). 65. Ibid. 14

66. Samuel Collins, ““Head out on the Highway”: Anthropological Encounters with the Supermodern,” Postmodern Culture 7, no. 1 (1996).


----------Five…

The recent Urbex book, ‘Beauty in Decay’, includes a number of short thoughts or micro-essays. Their titles belay the imaginative qualities of this practice, and encapsulate many of themes of this study:

-----history -----contemplation -----risk -----beauty -----curiosity -----challenge.

46


Try to understand these words in the context of the contemporary urban realm. I suggest they might be:

-----History (capital ‘H’) -----consume -----security -----image -----apathy -----conform.

47


Leftover Spaces: ‘Other-Places’ There are many disregarded spaces in the city, although these areas are not exclusively disregarded: in many ways, they are only disregarded by the hegemony, as Doron uncovered earlier.67 Other disregarded spaces or margins include plots of land segregated by infrastructure, such as spaces around rail lines and under raised roads and spaces for access and servicing of buildings. Recently, a RIBA ideas competition on ‘Forgotten Spaces’ highlighted the potential for finding occupational use of such areas.68 Architects normally see only benefits in the infilling of these spaces with productive use – it is in the architects mindset to design out ambiguity and irrelevance, seeking to see these places restored in new networks or flows of people, purpose and activity. Put more poignantly: ‘architects have always stood on the front line of modern society’s warfare against the existing.’69 This is not inappropriate, but there must be awareness that this mindset to constantly renew potentially neglects the potential for the qualities (social as well as spatial) that may be inherent in these places. The margins can engender numerous experiential qualities that are increasingly disregarded in the city. These are territories removed from the bombardment of everyday life, allowing time for contemplation and reflection as well as creativity and imagination – the importance of which was covered in Part One. This calm and quiet also assists in raising our awareness and dependence on our senses. The senses they stimulate are often rich and diverse: a far cry from the regulated and heavily scopic realm of the city. Here, aesthetic disorder is complicit in breaking the normative ordering of space. This disordering is suggestive, as we attempt to reconstruct spaces and order to try and glimpse a previous existence. The Grand Tours often involved sites of ruination in Rome or Sicily, then considerably more disordered and less presented, necessitating exploration and contemplation. These ‘tourists’ often sketched these sites or commissioned paintings and upon returning were influential in instigating the 18th Century trend of constructing follies and ruins in landscape gardening. This romance and aesthetic was further valorized by the Capriccio art genre; paintings bearing an assemblage of imagined and real images. These works of fiction and 48

67. See section ‘Authenticity of Remembering’ 68. RIBA ideas competition launched Jan 2010. See http:// www.architecture.com/ RegionsAndInternational/ UKNationsAndRegions/England/ RIBALondon/EventsAndProjects/ ForgottenSpaces.aspx - Accessed 17th September 2010

69. Kenny Cupers and Markus Miessen, Spaces of Uncertainty (Wuppertal: Muller and Busmann, 2002). 176


fantasy prove the allure in imagining such spaces.

70. Tim Edensor, “Sensing the Ruin,” Sense and Society 2, no. 2 (2007): 217-232. 222-223

71. Nikos Papastergiadis, “Traces Left in Cities,” in Poetics in Architecture, ed. Leon van Schaik, 45-51 (London: Wiley-Academy). 45

72. Kenny Cupers and Markus Miessen, Spaces of Uncertainty (Wuppertal: Muller and Busmann, 2002). 106

73. Iain Borden, Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body (New York: Berg, 2001). 173

74. Gill Doron, “…badlands, blank space, border vacuums, brown fields, conceptual Nevada, Dead Zones ...,” Field: 1, no. 1 (2007): 1023. 17

The industrial ruin however supplements these feelings further: ‘like other abandoned sites, the ruin continually changes as it decays and falls apart and so it is continually productive of changing sensual effects.’70 Here, we are shaken out of subconscious ‘neurasthenia’ by an encounter with unintentional spaces, sometimes incomprehensible, and often saturated with unusual and overpowering smells, tastes and sensations. In occupation, urban wastelands and ruins display other traits that distinguish them from the city. Nikos Papastergiadis proposes the term ‘parafunctional spaces’ to describe ‘zones in which creative, informal and unintended uses overtake the officially designated functions.’71 This term may be added to the list of terms Doron cites towards such spaces (listed earlier) but it aptly highlights two crucial elements; firstly, that these spaces are anything but ‘dead zones’, although Doron uses that term to cite the pejorative mindset and perception portrayed by hierarchies, and that they differ vastly from the increasingly ‘monofunctional’ designed spaces that exist in the city. The city is beset with sleeper suburbs; amusement and entertainment complexes; business districts: all ‘separated and discrete experiences’ protected from outside influences in order to increase functional efficiency.72 It can be argued that any space could be parafunctional, but it usually involves the subversion of the coded norms and regulations enmeshed into the consumer of the city and enforced by that spatial configuration. Skateboarding could be considered subversive, practitioners creatively finding new uses and pleasure in previously monofunctional objects and spaces. Iain Borden covers this extensively in his book ‘Skateboarding, Space and the City’ believing that this action ‘implicitly yet continuously critiques contemporary cities.’73 Yet, real potential for urban critique is often found in derelict spaces, where former function can be totally subverted at ease (due to a lack of policing), and where multiple and diverse occupation and inhabitation occurs due to a lack of program that causes them, as Doron puts it, to ‘trigger and embody limitless choice and desires.’74 Here, the space is like a palimpsest, continuously re-layered and re-imagined with the detritus of alternative, temporary occupiers. The opportunities for creative use expand: from the canvas 49


of a graffiti artist; the fort of a child’s games (fig.2.1); the shelter for the homeless; home for a variety of wildlife; a garden; the host of raves and parties; the art and dreamland of an Urban Explorer. In this sense they are heterotopias of deviance: places of subversion and otherness that exist within the city, yet outside the glorified and recognized networks dominated by commodification. This is, perhaps illogically, their strength and parallel weakness: the element that dictates the very freedom to which we aspire is the ultimate barrier to an incorporation of their ideals and possibilities.

fig.2.1: Children find adventure among dereliction

50


52


----------Six…

As I dream of these ruins, my mind returns to a previous experience. I recall travelling around the ruined temples of South East Asia, particularly the temple cities of Angkor, Cambodia trying to make sense of the decay; places significantly altered by time.75 Here, there is significantly more freedom than I had ever experienced to wander around the ruins, up onto walls and fallen boulders – to explore. Only the most sensitive and dangerous areas of sites were blocked off. However, there were no ‘explorers’ present, only hundreds of consumers, transfixed to their cameras, obsessed with replicating the pictures from guidebooks to showcase to their piers. Patience extended only so far as to get the desired image: the ruins, alone, without people, framing out any trace of modern existence, as if discovered upon for the first time. All the while behind, the queue of vultures grows ever longer, waiting for their opportunity, checking for enough space on their memory cards….

75. Angkor, Cambodia is the former seat of the Khmer Empire (c. C9th – C13th) and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – visited in March 2009

Valorized Ruins

53


3.Encountering the Margin

‘In the shadows of the city waits an invisible frontier – a wilderness, thriving in the deep places, woven through dead storm drains and live subway tunnels, coursing over third rails. This frontier lies in the walls of abandoned tenements, it hides on the rooftops, and it infiltrates the bridge’s steel. It’s a nomans land, fenced off with razor wire, marked by warning signs, persisting in shadow, hidden everywhere as a parallel dimension. Crowds hurry through the bright streets, insulated by the pavement, never reflecting that beneath their feet lies a universe.’76 L.B. Deyo

76. L.B. Deyo, Invisible Frontier: Exploring the Tunnels, Ruins, and Rooftops of Hidden New York., 1st edition (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003). 3

55


----------Seven‌ I’ve spent hours thinking and dreaming about this moment. I have gorged on the advice of online forums, always staying distant and unspecific: that, seemingly, is the code. There is no way of infiltrating this online community further without participating: it is protected; a members only club; admission by report (online photographic jury standing by).

Exclusion = Invitation


I’m looking for an excuse to retreat, my ears pricking up at the sound of a horn nearby. A remaining live steelworks hums and clangs behind me. Security is high with rolls of razor wire cutting across potential entry points, demarcating the warzone. But round the corner on the wall, there’s a gap in the wire. The traffic dies down: a break, an opportunity – my chance. Its time: my entry point into another realm: my wardrobe into Narnia.

[War]zone? ‘Security’ battles against the explorer.


Urbex: Seeking Places ‘I suggest Urban Exploration as a method of subversion; a state of delirious & obsessive play.’77 Bradley L. Garrett. Urban Exploration, UE, or Urbex (the term I will adopt here) is the infiltration of these derelict, abandoned, or off-grid buildings. Expanding hugely in popularity, with a growing collection of practitioners and curious voyeurs, its ethical ambiguity is masked by a vow of ‘take only pictures, leave only footprints’78 delineating this practice from many of the alternative occupiers of these spaces. Whilst forms of Urbex have almost certainly taken place forever, the practice as it is now understood is largely a byproduct of the incredible proliferation of the creation and destruction (or more accurately, abandonment) of built environment. This intense desire to experience the alluring melancholy of ‘other-places’ is apparent by taking a voyage through the insular labyrinth of message boards, blogs and forums that have become the method of sharing often very individual, personal experiences. This world is an online heterotopia in itself: full of its own exclusions, norms and values79, although within it is apparent that this practice entices people in different ways. For most it is undertaken purely for the pleasure of it; the pursuit a self gratifying rush for a certain photo, site, story; ideally a virgin find80 or access into previously believed inaccessible sites (and other less philosophical or political motives). For some, it is a political statement: a revolutionary strategy to subvert contemporary urban space.81 However, for all I would argue there is a desire to seek out the indefinable, the subliminal, to enjoy the pleasures of disordered aesthetics that clash with the everyday, to imagine the previous life of the space; and for all it involves gaining access to ‘inaccessible’ places, a tactic of subversion. This counters contemporary urban practices, whether unwittingly or otherwise, and this is the fuel required to suggest a need for new forms of practice. Already, the exposure of Urbex may be trivializing the inherent potential in this practice. Grimy yet glamorous photography, by its very nature, immediately subverts the disorder of these spaces. Subjects are given preference through focus and framing that not only valorizes but also creates certain views, stories and 58

77. Bradley L Garrett, Place Hacking: Explore Everything, n.d., http://placehacking.co.uk/ (accessed September 23, 2010). 78. This moral code originates from walkers groups such as the National Trust in the UK relating to how people should treat the natural environment, and has been taken up as an ideal as it succinctly guides against any criminal acts. Forcibly breaking into buildings not only put the explorer at legal risk, but opens up the buildings to other peoples, who may use it for illegal acts such as fly tipping, drug dealing / use, and prostitution. This threatens the species of the explorer to a clamping down in security, as well as instigating dangerous occupiers who could harm future explorers. In this fashion, posting information or photos on entry points into sites is a serious taboo. 79. The regulations for posting on popular UK Urbex site 28dayslater highlight the level of control and exclusion on these sites. For example: “This is not a free speech utopia. If your post doesn’t fit, it will be deleted.” See ‘Posting Rules’ on FAQ page: http://www.28dayslater. co.uk/forums/faq.php?faq=brief_ guide#faq_posting (accessed September 23, 2010) 80. ie. being the first person to explore (or importantly, document the exploration) of a place of interest. 81. This difference in approach is apparent on many Urbex forums and blogs – see online references. Additionally see Beauty in Decay: The Art of Urban Exploration. Ed. RomanyWG (Durham: Carpet Bombing Culture, 2010).


histories of that place: immediately damaging their polysemy. However, this documentation forms a guerilla history or archive of otherwise disregarded and ignored spaces. It is subversive in that it often showcases these places at the peak of their decline: void of people, stripped of all assets, open to the elements and full of scattered artefacts suggesting former occupation and use, as well as its decline.

82. For further examples, see Bernd and Hilla Becher, Industrial Landscapes. (London: MIT Press, 2002).

83. L.B. Deyo, Invisible Frontier: Exploring the Tunnels, Ruins, and Rooftops of Hidden New York., 1st edition (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003). 101

The popularity of Urbex websites is notable for its voyeurism. Photography here is like the spaces themselves, lauded not for its ability to categorize or explain but to suggest and provoke. Compare the seminal work of the Bechers’, whose documentation of industrial sites and landscapes is largely objective and encompassing82 to that of the explorer, whose predominant interest lie in instances, moments and deeply subjective and narrative-based desires. (for example, see fig. 3.1 and 3.2) It is the ability to imagine the experience that proves so alluring. This is why direct experience, a real ethnological interaction with both space and place that is difficult to capture or define proves so rewarding: it is the fulfillment of imagination. ‘ … the only weapon we have in our exploration is the discipline of empiricism. Our picture of the world is mere speculation, rumor, until grounded in direct observation. We’ll test my lurid imaginings, dreamed of on hermetic commuter trains. It’s time to leave the capsule, if I dare.’83

fig. 3.1: Becher prioritises detail and understanding

fig. 3.2: Urbex prioritises atmosphere

59


Fantasy / Discovery ‘ … I hoped that by exploring one of these ghost houses, I, an outsider, might discover some of the essence of this neighborhood. Harlem waited there, strange as the surface of Mars, close as the outside of the windowpane.’84 L.B. Deyo

84. L.B. Deyo, Invisible Frontier: Exploring the Tunnels, Ruins, and Rooftops of Hidden New York., 1st edition (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003). 98

Experience does not begin on the crossing of threshold. Essentially, the experience begins before the explorer has entered the building, left to travel there, or even decided upon going there. The contemplation of the adventure to come is an essential component in the total experience. Consequently, for most explorers the act is the outcome of an interest in a place passed on the daily commute, scouted out in areas of potential, or a place previously explored and reported upon on message boards that has caught the imagination, rather than a spontaneous divergence. As covered, these places are often ‘experienced’ through imagination before being visited, which only heightens the experience of actual practice. This curiosity is fulfilled, surpassed, or heightened further, opening subsequent doors into new realms of imagination. Potter explains the essential nature of this preliminary experience: ‘It is the way of entering a space that makes that space what it is to you … the contractor who enters the derelict building to survey it for his client clearly does not have the same experience as the urban explorer. They are in the same place, but not the same space.’85 Reflecting on earlier work in this study, I think this statement could be subtly rearranged: they are in the same space, but not the same place: In fact, this statement could apply in either configuration, being that the explorer seeks both a spatially unusual experience, deviating through pieces of former machinery, up onto ceilings, roofs, pipes and mounds of collapsed debris – defiantly off-plan, whilst also seeking a different place; recalling and imagining past memories, investigating meaning in abandoned artifacts and delighting in the obsolete. Perhaps this is why Bradley Garrett calls Urbex ‘Place Hacking’86, intensely suggestive of this desire to create a connection to that place and its memories. This type of exploration draws parallels with dérive, the situationist practice of drifting, allowing the 60

85. Patrick Potter in Beauty in Decay: The Art of Urban Exploration. Ed. RomanyWG (Durham: Carpet Bombing Culture, 2010

86. Bradley L Garrett, Place Hacking: Explore Everything, n.d., http:// placehacking.co.uk/ (accessed September 23, 2010).


87. Guy Debord, “Theory of the Derive,” in Situationist International Anthology, ed. Ken Knabb, trans. Ken Knabb, 50-54 (Berkley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981).

88. Simon Sadler, The Situationist City (London: The MIT Press, 1998). 77-78

attraction of surrounding terrains to playfully draw you through a series of spatial encounters.87 Additionally, the flâneur (literally meaning to stroll, walk or wander and heavily associated with Walter Benjamin’s work) also involves a connected passivity to space, exploring psychogeographies and fundamentally becoming a tool to observe, engage and spatially analyse the totality of everyday life. The dérive is however an attentive experience, with groups capable of agreeing upon ‘distinct, spontaneous preferences’88 rather than purely a contemplative flâneur: it involves action and reaction, decisions and desires. In much the same way as those undertaking a dérive, these explorers are drawn to places. There is playfulness in both Urbex and the dérive, constituted by following desires and subverting inhibitions. Concurrently, situationists saw dérive as a tactic to break the mundane consumption of their surroundings and expose its underlying ideologies. In relation to the modern urban explorer, I suggest the dérive proves a good theoretical source, even though the explorer has a somewhat alternative agenda. Clearly though, the explorer must be an active and engaging participant in engendering his or her own contemplation and critique on the city.

89. Patrick Potter in Beauty in Decay: The Art of Urban Exploration. Ed. RomanyWG (Durham: Carpet Bombing Culture, 2010) ‘History’

90. Ibid. 91. Dylan Trigg, The Aesthetics of Decay: Nothingness, Nostalgia, and the Absence of Reason (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2006). 23

Elemental to this critique is the impact many of these marginal spaces have as byproducts of our current ways of life. This is especially evident in industrial ruins of relative modernity; spaces of production that reflect our current dependences, already in decay. Alternatively put: ‘…they are not dead fragments of a previous way of life; they are glimpses of our current way of life as if it were already gone.’89 Subsequently this challenges the very nature of our current modes of living, suggesting alternative futures and revealing different pasts. The personable aspect of exploring these disordered spaces reveals alternatives to single line descriptions of ‘history’: a potential Potter labels a ‘folk history (the history of folk – not of power)’90 In contemplation, there is the possibility to form imaginative, mental connections to former occupants and workers, spontaneous recollections91, empowering the reclamation of history.

61


----------Eight‌

A playground of alternative history...

62


63


...the building’s skin crumbling

64


65


pealing

66


... falling

defaced

broken ...

67


68


... the skeleton rusting, creaking...

69


70


...the wind rushing through

nature reclaiming

71


who left this here?

72


73


something or nothing...

74


The Resident and the Tourist It is important to understand the relationship of the explorer to the marginal spaces they explore. One parallel is that they are akin to a tourist, experiencing and enjoying a place for relatively brief periods of time. Their subsequent relationship with the place is based in that temporary nature and, as already touched upon, the manner in which they approach and engage in that space. Like the tourist approaches a city break, picking out particularities and experiential individualities of a place that it advertises or that appeal, factors that may go unnoticed by residents, the Urban Explorer seeks a particular experience. Already, online Urbex forums are becoming the new guidebooks. Reports alert members to the latest discoveries: newly derelict or accessible factories, asylums and military installations become the fantasies of the forum dweller over resorts and other heterotopian, regulated ‘holidays’. Threads divulge essential what-to-take items: the camera obviously goes without saying, photography seemingly being the increasingly prime reason to transgress into these places. Therefore, whilst comparable to the dérive in that it is undertaken with purpose, the Urban Explorer often seeks out a particular set of experiences: for many, those glorified through the community, rather than a contingent, open-ended journey. In reality there are very few true residents of these spaces but a multitude of ‘tourists’, many repeated visitors indulging in the temporality, indeterminacy and openness of the place. Their impact on the place is temporal and consistently shifting due to this multiple, layered and interlaced occupation. All leave their own mark according to their agenda, whether prominently (the graffiti artist) or inadvertently (the exposure of place from the Urban Explorer). Whilst not necessarily true ‘public’ space, its occupiers claim and inhabit these places, if only intermittently, rendering them places for different people and communities to meet and express themselves, if somewhat distinctly from each other. This mindset and desire creates a notion of Hakim Bey’s TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone), a place of temporary autonomy: a moment ‘snatched without permission, lived and then left behind.’92 This autonomy stems from the culmination of the topics discussed in this study: alternative and suggestive sensual 76

92. Partrick Potter in Beauty in Decay: The Art of Urban Exploration. Ed. RomanyWG (Durham: Carpet Bombing Culture, 2010).


experience, a lack of programme and policing, as well as a mindset desiring alternative experience. Bey offers important insight into the importance he affords to these experiences: 93. Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism, Second Revised Edition (Orig. 1991) (New York: Autonomedia, 2003). xi

94. Stalker website: http://www. osservatorionomade.net/

fig. 3.3: Stalker instigated group lunch at Campo Boario

95. For more information on Campo Boario, see Stalker Website (as above) plus Francesco Careri and Lorenzo Romito, “Stalker and the big game of Campo Boario,” in Architecture & Participation, ed. Peter Blundell Jones, Doina Petrescu and Jeremy Till, trans. Barbara Galassi, 227-234 (London: Spon Press, 2005).

‘…the TAZ must exist in geographical odorous tactile tasty physical space … otherwise it’s no more than a blueprint or a dream. Utopian dreams have value as critical tools and heuristic devices, but there’s no substitute for lived life, real presence, adventure, risk, love.’93 Alternatively, residents of marginal spaces, often travelling communities or the homeless, give diverse insight into their potential. Groups such as the Italian activist group Stalker experiment with strategies and micro-tactics for intervention, promoting userled initiatives and co-operation.94 Whilst some of their explorations are of a defiantly tourist nature, the ‘Campo Boario’ site near Rome offers a vision of how marginal ‘residents’ can form autonomous regulations, relationships and inhabit marginal spaces with contingent creativity. Here, the Stalker entity has begun to interact with the diverse community in more structured ways, observing and listening in order to increasingly assume responsibility for the transformation of these spaces. Lessons can be learnt from their actions, as this spatial responsibility is not administered in an authoritative fashion; the collective being fully aware of the importance of the indeterminacy and self-governence of the place. Stalker alternatively researches a set of ‘tools’ in order to retain the spontaneity of these transformations, often through big collective ‘games’ that give a voice to the communities.95 (fig.3.3) Equally, Detroit, now famous for its massive depopulation and proliferation of marginal territories is witness to a number of tactics from residents that challenge marginal use. For example, guerilla gardening allows the poorest opportunities to be self-reliant and earn a living in a jobless city. These examples might be viewed as an exception; Campo Boario perhaps a significantly obvious ‘heterotopia of deviance’. However, it is apparent that these activities are available everywhere. Hudson and Shaw, using a case study in Salford, Manchester, describe how the actions of both what have been regarded to here as ‘tourists’ and ‘residents’ highlight the margin as a place of subversive critique, full of alternative practices that can be learnt from: ‘These informal zones provide rich opportunities for 77


the transgression of normalised sociospatial forms and practices as they are (re)appropriated, exposing dominant notions of appropriateness .. they represent a missed opportunity as policy makers and city officials fail to learn from the transgressive acts that demonstrate individual and creative ways to re-imagine these spaces.’96

96. Joanne Hudson and Pamela Shaw, “As Found: Contested uses within the ‘left-over’ spaces of the city.,” in As Found (Copenhagen, 2010).

It is here that Urbex proves to be limited in its possibilities. It can be suggested that the more interesting possibilities for the future of these spaces, and the city itself, comes from other subversive practitioners; particularly those who reside and utilize marginal spaces in groups, forming autonomous relationships, understandings and ‘regulations’. Whilst the explorer is a ‘tourist’, the resident is an active participant in altering and creating spatial forms and practices. The explorer is often aware of this, as Deyo poignantly divulges the disappointments in this practice. Just like Sennett’s contemporary city dweller, the explorer experiences this environment in a selfimposed anonymity, without relationship. ‘…what has our empiricism uncovered? Nothing. The cracks in the masonry held no residue of Harlem’s glory, no trace of what it means. Our row house was dead, empty and silent. We’ve learnt nothing about the neighborhood because a neighborhood is not made of concrete and glass but of people. This is the weakness of Urban Exploration. Our only interaction with people is in avoiding them. We slip in and out like thieves, we cling to shadows and avert our eyes, and so we study a city of buildings, a city of bridges and tunnels, but not a city of human beings. Millions live and work here, but the New York we explore is as empty as this building. We ourselves are the ghosts.’97

78

97. L.B. Deyo, Invisible Frontier: Exploring the Tunnels, Ruins, and Rooftops of Hidden New York., 1st edition (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003). 105


4.Conclusions

81


98. Joanne Hudson and Pamela Shaw, “As Found: Contested uses within the ‘left-over’ spaces of the city.,” in As Found (Copenhagen, 2010).

Throughout this study, I have argued that these spaces of independence, resistance, or perhaps even subversion already exist: in the margin. With relief, the city can never be a wholly Apollonian realm, being that it is constantly regenerating itself in a constant strive for newness. The side effect of this is that some places once of this realm, controlled and regulated, become increasingly marginalized, slipping through less onerous ownerships to become the places that this study investigates. The power that springs from this temporary and evolving nature is consequently the barrier to margins definition and incorporation into the public realm. However, it can be argued that these spaces, ‘heterotopias of deviance’ with their own set of social exclusions, currently ‘function’ autonomously without need for intervention. They are already home to a multitude of activities, practices and experiences, undertaken by ‘tourists’ and ‘residents’ alike. Moreover, far beyond these places being just ‘used’, they are enjoyed and delighted in for their subliminal qualities. Whilst these activities and occupation of land is predominantly viewed as transgressive, Hudson and Shaw argue that ‘they are seen as transgressive in relation to the limited scope of contemporary politics, social policy and the practices of architecture, planning and urban design in general.’98 In the city, space is cast in an a-political, a-social light, becoming an inert ‘thing’ to inhabit. Consequently, our occupation of such space is equally inert: we consume or shield ourselves with a blasé attitude, negating interaction and experience. The ‘deviant heterotopia’ however releases what has been repeatedly referred to as the grasp of the hegemony. Within, desires can be enacted, forming a re-politicized interaction with space. It is claimed by the explorer / squatter / graffiti artist / child / gardener / entrepreneur / nature temporarily for their own means without becoming preciously or constrictively guarded. For the lone explorer, it allows creative, dreamlike fulfillment: an engagement with the sensory, imagination and desire. For others, this engagement forms new social, economical, political and cultural modes that might point to alternative futures; the work of Stalker in Campo Boario being one example. This example shows that whilst it can be envisioned that these places of little value can become open test-beds for new forms of urban ecology, sociology and inhabitation, to some degree they already are. In this manner, these will always be places of resistance: 83


an alternative. However, as Marot writes, it is important that the mental health of our cities and territories no doubt depends on the degree to which this elasticity or depth … is available to be experienced everywhere.’99 How this is approached is unclear. To (re)define and elevate particular places as vestiges of freedom would engender their commodification and place them under control, causing the destruction of their temporality, contingency and polysemy. Definition would therefore be their death. It is the risk, disorder, indeterminacy and un-designed nature that gives these spaces power, and at any rate, ‘‘the accidental state of ruins is not something that can be legislated for.’ 100 Recognition of these places potential is therefore paramount: De Sola-Morales, among many of the authors cited here, called for this recognition by exalting the virtues of this emptiness and its impact on the city. 101 However, it can be suggested that the architect can go further by playing a more active role in bringing about this change. If the architect is to work within such contingent frameworks, their role must also be mutable in a similar fashion. Jeremy Till cites Lefebvre’s implication that architects are implicit in enforcing systems of power and control, arguing that ‘the perpetuation of physical space as an architectural paradigm is about the denial, and subsequent ridding, of those dependencies and presences that lie outside of the direct control of the architect’ 102 countering uncertainty. Till therefore proposes ‘slack-space’ as an alternative practice, suggesting that there must be space for ‘difference and ambiguity to flourish within a shared background’103 : potentially, a shift towards programmatic flexibility, contingency and ambiguity over time. Within this work, there is potential for the space of the city to become (re)socialized and (re) politicized as the authority is returned to the user to take decisions, exert influence, and interact with others. This potential methodology can therefore destroy the notions of all encompassing exclusionary heterotopias, returning space to the public. However, until the desperate desire and requirement for deviant heterotopias can be diminished, the fragile opportunities to learn and experiment within these realms must be enjoyed whilst temporarily present. Just like the explorer who spots a gap in the wire, here is an opportunity to be taken.

84

99. Sébastien Marot, Sub-Urbanism and the Art of Memory, illustrated edition, ed. Pamela Johnston, trans. Brian Holmes (London: AA Publications, 2003). 32

100. Tim Edensor, Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics and Materiality (Paris: Berg Publishers, 2005). 171172 101. Ignasi De Sola Morales, “‘Terrain Vague’,” in AnyPlace, ed. Cynthia Davidson, 118-123 (London: MIT Press, 1995).

102. Jeremy Till, Architecture Depends (London: The MIT Press, 2009). 122 103. Ibid. 133


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Online References

Walter, E.V. (1988) Placeways: A Theory of Human Environment. London: The University of North Carolina Press.

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Zardini, M. (2005). Toward a Sensorial Urbanism. In M. Zardini (Ed.), Sense of the City: An Alternative Approach to Urbanism (pp. 17-25). Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture and Lars Muller Publishers.

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Garrett, B.L. (n.d.). Place Hacking: Explore Everything. http://placehacking.co.uk/ [Accessed 23rd September 2010] InfraRed http://www.infrared.fr/?lang=en

NOCTURN: Infiltrations of the urban landscape by cover of darkness. http://www.nocturn.es/ Sick Britain http://www.sickbritain.co.uk/ Talk Urbex http://www.talkurbex.com/

Tender.is/the.night http://tender.is/the.night/index.html Urban-Ex http://www.urban-ex.co.cc/

Urbex Forums: Exploring the Unexplored and the Unknown http://www.urbexforums.co.uk/ Urbex UK http://www.simoncornwell.com/urbex/ Vanishing Days http://www.vanishingdaysphotography. com/#/welcome/4537208504 The Winchester: Urban Travel and Photography http://www.thewinch.net/ 89


Other Sites: Edensor, T. (2002) British Industrial Ruins [online] http://www.sci-eng.mmu.ac.uk/british_ industrial_ruins/ [Accessed 12th May 2010]

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Stalker (n.d.) Stalker: Osservatorio Nomade http://www.osservatorionomade.net Trigg, D. (Nov 2009) Dylan Trigg http://www.dylantrigg.com/

Trigg, D. (n.d.) Side Effects http://side-effects.blogspot.com/

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/ Image Credits Cover:

Images in Narratives:

Sign in Firth-Vickers Steelworks, Sheffield. Authors own, Sep. 2010

Two: ---22-23: The author, Oct. 2010 ---23: The author, Dec. 2009 Three: ---32-33: The author, Oct. 2010 Four: ---38-39: Copyright Roy Manterfield, sourced from http://mumblingnerd. wordpress.com/2009/11/22/ exceptional-nottingham/ (Accessed 4th Oct, 2010) Five: ---46: Copyright ‘Dive’ by AN ‘X-it’ Demory in RomanyWG. (2010). Beauty in Decay: The Art of Urban Exploration. Durham: Carpet Bombing Culture ---47: The author, May. 2009 Six: ---52-53: The author, Mar. 2009 Seven: ---56: The author, Sep. 2010 ---57: The author, Sep. 2010 Eight: ---62-63: The author, Sep. 2010 ---64: The author, Sep. 2010 ---65: Both the author, Sep. 2010 ---66-67: Copyright David Pogson ---68: The author, Sep. 2010 ---68-69: The author, Sep. 2010 ---70: Both the author, May & Dec. 2009 ---71: The author, Sep. 2010 ---72: The author, Dec. 2009 ---73: Copyright Adrian Rowland’ in Civic Trust. (1988). Urban Wasteland Now. London: Civic Trust. 25 ---74: Copyright Hannah O’Boyle

Images in Discourse: 1.1: Copyright Adrian Rowland in Civic Trust. (1988). Urban Wasteland Now. London: Civic Trust. 5 2.1: Copyright Adrian Rowland in Civic Trust. (1988). Urban Wasteland Now. London: Civic Trust. 12 3.1: Photo ‘70’ from Becher, B and Becher, H. (2002). Industrial Landscapes. London: MIT Press

3.2: ‘Bethlehem Steel II’ by Tony ‘Avateva’ Alves in RomanyWG. (2010). Beauty in Decay: The Art of Urban Exploration. Durham: Carpet Bombing Culture 3.3: ‘Pranzo Boario’ in Careri, F., & Romito, L. (2005). Stalker and the big game of Campo Boario. In P. Blundell Jones, D. Petrescu, & J. Till (Eds.), Architecture & Participation (B. Galassi, Trans. pp. 227-234). London: Spon Press. 229

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Deviant Heterotopias  

It is in the authors’ view that we currently reside in an Apollonian society, beset with constrictive regulations and embedded norms that li...

Deviant Heterotopias  

It is in the authors’ view that we currently reside in an Apollonian society, beset with constrictive regulations and embedded norms that li...

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