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The City; Temporality Through Urbanism Andrew Healey

ARCO13

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Temporality In Plymouth’s Urban Environment : by Andrew Healey


The City; Temporality Through Urbanism Andrew Healey Temporality “tem·po·ral·i·ty” /,temp’ralitē/ Noun The state of existing within or having some relationship with time. 1 This observation of temporality was discovered through my own design work within the city of Plymouth, and the idea of a temporality defining site in the city centre. A finding which caused extensive movement mapping across the city; an analysis built from the ‘user group’ - cyclists. A collective which constitutes part of the larger demographic of transient city inhabitants. “The everyday establishes itself, creating hourly demands, systems of transport, in short, its repetitive organisation. Things matter little...” 2 Borrowing heavily from lefebvrian theory, I used the text Rhythmanalysis alongside this analysis to focus my research towards urbanism and its relationship with the notion of temporality. This essay is primarily an analytical observation of the urban context; considering the temporal underpinnings of (urbanism) modernity. Suggesting a theory of homogeneous temporality which may be bound socially, spatially or within the act of consumption. Whilst raising the notion of a transient city, the essay also begins to question the effect of potential stimulus and catalysts on urbanism within the suggestion of temporality. Effects which may involve romanticising the ‘new’, production of pseudo ideals or rhythmic consumption.3 What then, does this mean for urbanism?

1  Definition of temporality allows a clear anchoring of time within the context of this essay. Bringing together its effects (along with other stimulus’) on the city. 2  Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis; Space, time and everyday life, (London: Continuum 2004) p.7. 3  Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis; Space, time and everyday life, (London: Continuum 2004). 3


Introduction Within modernity the city currently dominates peoples lives; the context for consumption and production on a mass scale. This essay aims to analyse the city as a whole, concerned with its transient and temporal character (as a space and also the ideology of the inhabitants). Following this, the effect of temporality on consumption and the nature/appropriation of space within the urban context. The city will be analysed in the framework of three notions; the idea of consumption, speed/ time/space and appropriation of the urban. These notions are all homogeneous when considering the idea of urban temporality, so will only be used as catalysts for an analysis, rather than rigid thresholds.

Consumption Considering the city; a space(s) built of commerce and efficiency, the context itself becomes a centre for exchange. Where consumption and production of space, products, ideals and identity takes place. ‘The urban becomes what is always was: place of desire, permanent disequilibrium’1 But within this space, what determines the idea of consumption? What are the effects of consumption on the people of these spaces, Transience? De-valuing of worth? De-valuing of life or self? It is appropriate to initially consider technology; alongside the mass consumption/production which takes place in the city (or any mass population for that matter), the advent of technological advancement is likely to occur. In recent years, this has led to the introduction of globalization among western cultures through technologies such as the Internet, telephone and television. For centuries, progress in communications and information has unquestionably favoured central power and central political control; this forms part of the lowering of creative capacity.2 On an economic level this control allowed for rapid growth across the world; however socially, this impact caused a great shift within cities and the western population. One of the primary causes for this could be considered the globalization of the ‘advert’. Where in almost all city spaces one occupies, the experience of that space is tightly controlled or restricted in an attempt to sell the population a ‘product’. This product, be it a better/alternative space, physical item, idea or life is fed directly to the people of the city. “Exchange has conquered the world; or rather, shaped it”3 This notion, alongside the act of 1  Henri Lefebvre, Writings On Cities, (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000) p.129 2  Henri Lefebvre, Critique of everyday life; From modernity to modernism – Volume 3, (London: Verso, 2008) p.55-56. 3  Henri Lefebvre, Critique of everyday life; From modernity to modernism – Volume 3, (London: Verso, 2008) THE CITY; TEMPORALITY THROUGH URBANISM: Andrew Healey


influence has over time, come to alter the ideals of city inhabitants and the way in which city space is perceived. Firstly, on the idea of a new perception of the city, the technological act of the globalizing economy will always mean spaces in the city will continuously give reference to another place. (Place in this context used loosely) to convey an idea that is not only spatial, but also product based, or ideologically based. We “are acted” rather than act ourselves.4 This promotion of the constant alternative or ‘better’ creates an underlying sense of temporality or transiency within western cities through the reference of another place5. This idea of transiency implies a lack of belonging (or roots) within the cityspace and it has been suggested that these roots are required for creating ones own moral, intellectual and spiritual way of life. This idea is homogeneous with that of altered ideals being created by the influencing acts of a globalized city on its population. The production of such pseudoideals is especially evident when not only a lack of roots are produced, but the economic aspects of the city (in the form of physical retail space and advert/technological space) constantly try to force upon its inhabitants an idea of what one desires, enjoys, needs, or should engage with. The forced ideas behind consumption and economies in cities, exudes temporality in a cyclic rhythm of attraction-consumption-waste. It is suggested that this cycle of repetition is only somewhat engaging or stimulative on an emotional level. The worst banality covers itself in this publicity label: ‘Here is the exceptional’.6 This lack of an involvement with ‘product’ be it space or literal item, may suggest a reason for repetitive consumption in order to gain satisfaction in the city context. It has been suggested that the notion of this ‘depthless’ consumption is fundamentally encompassed in the development of West Edmonton Shopping Mall (Canada)7 A produced space; which has become a temple of consumerism, acting as a catalyst to the very idea of a shallow depletion of resources and also promoting this action. This idea suggests that urbanism, or in a wider context; modernity comprises of a repetitive and temporal consumption, which is often unsatisfactory on a physical or psychological level. “The fraud of satisfaction exposes itself by being replaced, by following the change of products and of the general conditions of production.”8 Here, Guy Debord points to the constant repetition of a cyclic rhythm comprising of attraction-consumption-waste. This cyclic repetition is in order for inhabitants to gain satisfaction, due to the initial act of ‘consumption’ giving only a shallow satisfaction to the user.

p.150. 4  Henri Bergson, Time and Free will – An essay on the immediate data of consciousness, (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1971) p.231 5  A ‘better’ product for consumption suggests a notion of flux (and with it, transiency) within consumption itself. 6  Henri Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis; Space, time and everyday life, (London: Continuum 2004) p.50 7  John Urry, Consuming Places, (London: Routledge, 1995) p.123 8  Guy Debord, Society of the spectacle, (Detroit: Black & Red, 2010) p.70. 5


The production of pseudo ideals can result in a shallow, repetitive cyclic consumption. Which only initially satisfies and is becoming evident within urbanism:.by Andrew Healey

Illustrating a literal reference to the ‘alternative’ (space) within the city of Plymouth. This spatial reference begins to alter the perception of its context (The urban): by Andrew Healey


This repetition of consumption further grounds the idea of transiency and temporality in consumption of (space/object/time) in cities. A useful reference to physically anchor this idea in urbanism is the wrist watch; an item which makes time a substance that can be divided up, and in turn makes time an object for consumption.9 Suggesting a notion of consuming based upon repetition. The very idea of temporality and consumption both hint to a pause in a cyclic rhythm or ‘end’ of a cycle. However, economic suppliers of consumed urban products; have more recently started to include a planned or built obsolescence into production. This act in itself can de-value the meaning or respect for what is consumed (be it space or material goods within the city) and in turn accelerates the whole process of consumerism in cities. This can be a major concern as it leads to the consumer romanticizing the ‘new’ In itself, rather than what the ‘new’ will bring to the consumer through the act of use. “As soon as it is no longer topical, as soon as the brief, orgasmic instant during which it disguises boredom is over, it too enters the realm of the boring”10 Here, Lefebvre considers the suggestion of brief desire during consumption. These two elements (planned obsolescence and romanticizing the new) together, serve as catalysts to temporality of the city and urbanism.

Speed - Time - Space Analysing and understanding rhythms or transiency within the city, must be undertaken within a regard to time and speed. These two elements provide a reference point from which a comparison (between the static and temporary) can be made. Allowing for a clearer understanding of rhythmic temporality in the urban context. It is important to remember however, that speed, time and space are homogeneous. So it would be unwise to completely separate the three for an analysis of urbanism. The city in a broad sense was built around industrialization, economy and efficiency. Commonly located around transport links as a place of trade or commerce to maximize the speed of goods exchange. So considering the definition of ‘city’ it has always been in a state of flux, and over time the space and speed of the urban environment have increased to a much larger scale. The effect of this on its on inhabitants is that of transiency, which has undoubtedly always been present (considering the city as a space of exchange) however this temporality has grown into almost all elements of urbanism. Thus, changing what the city means to occupants. A reason for urbanism being contaminated by the idea of temporality could be found by paraphrasing Jeremy Till; suggesting that architecture itself rarely directly acknowledges

9  Jean Baudrillard, The System Of Objects – Translated by James Benedict, (London: Verso, 1996) p.94 10  Henri Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity – Translated by John Moore, (London: Verso, 1995) p.260. 7


time. 11 If this is true, what does that make built space in relation to the temporality of urban inhabitation? Does it mean built space becomes merely a point of reference in time for the temporal inhabitants of the city? If the production of built space in cities is generally devoid of references to time this could be the case, where many structures become locus for the journey of city dwellers. If the city is considered as a collection of spaces without reference to time; the effect of advancing technology then causes these spaces to become diverse and temporal.12 Remembering the constant onslaught of time on people, this raises the issue of temporality in the city further; not only is the city spatially temporal, but people are also spending less time in the city and the time they do inhabit these spaces is of less value. The issue of de-valued urban inhabitation is amplified by the perception of city inhabitants that they do not have the ‘time’ to spend anymore. It is suggested that one cause of the absence of time, is the introduction of the clock; measuring and segmenting time. This becomes an issue when ‘world time’ (the time wherein entities within-the-world are encountered) can be, and is so closely restricted and controlled.13 Which in essence, could be considered a cause of de-valued inhabitation (and therefore temporality) within the city. Thus, bringing the focus back to the advent of technological advancements. More specifically; how the introduction of the telephone, Internet and T.V have also helped to make the city a non-place or given it the nature of placelessness. A spatial character that is a further stimulus to the idea of degraded urban inhabitation. Non-place that is produced by the strict governing and measurement of time itself. This production is evident because the place of commerce and trade is no longer that of the high street or city space alone, it is also the intangible cyberspace. Where exchange still happens, however not in a traditional physical transition. This, alongside the consumers strive for more time (or lack of time) resulted in the massive popularity growth of ‘intangible trade’. Where a large proportion of the populations first port of call when purchasing/ consuming, is now digitally (potentially the Internet) not the high street. Simply due to a desire to ‘save time’. Together with the simplified interaction with the (city) space, this implies that inhabitants attachment to the city is limited14 and also that the city has started to become consumed in a different manner in recent years. From this, the notion of the ‘city’ has started to drastically shift, from that of a physical space, to the intangible trade space. Where the motives of urbanism may have taken a step 11  Jeremy Till, Architecture Depends, (Massachusetts: MIT press, 2009) p.79-80. 12  “As a unity of place without any unity of time, the City has disappeared into the heterogeneity of that regime comprised of the temporality of advanced technologies.” Paul Virilio, The Overexposed City – Edited by Neil Leach, Rethinking Architecture: A reader in cultural theory, (London: Routledge, 1997) p.383 13  Martin Heidegger, Being and time – Translated by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001) p.471-472 14  Edward Relph, Place and placelessness, (London: Pion,2008) p.38 THE CITY; TEMPORALITY THROUGH URBANISM: Andrew Healey


The constant assault of time on urban inhabitation; the resulting level of engagement becomes merely superficial in the urban context : by Andrew Healey

The advent of a placeless/digital exchange in the city. Inhabitants choose digital exchange where spatial and social interactions are reduced to a minimum : by Andrew Healey

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away from solely consuming and exchange. As these actions now begin to take place in technological space, such as that of the Internet or T.V screen.

Appropriation If the city (considered here as a centre for commerce, production and consumption) is In a constant state of transiency or flux that in its most literal sense suggests that as a space, the city is constantly evolving; growing or shrinking. However, with so many economic, social, political and environmental factors constituting the scale and spatial organisation the city; what happens to the space ‘in-between’? With the physical growth of built space, connecting/waste spaces in cities are commonly forgotten. This then produces leftover spaces, often poorly considered in terms of spatial experience; if at all taken into consideration. The lack of clear meaning given to these urban in-between spaces or thought behind their production means urbanites either appropriate these leftover spaces in their own manner or simply do not inhabit them at all. This issue is especially evident with large city spaces. Where more recently, architectural space has come to be that of individual buildings conceived in isolation15, with no regard for the inbetween. Whether the way in which these spaces are used is fruitful (in any sense - spatially, socially, economically etc..) or not, is not the current concern. What is more relevant at this stage however, is how any form of large-scale production of space (be it natural growth of the city or town planning) imposes a set appropriation, consumption or ideals upon its inhabitants. In this respect, what then is urbanism? Paraphrasing Guy Debord could be helpful at this point; who suggests that urbanism is capitalism’s controlling grasp of the natural human environment.16 This leads to a power that can completely regulate the city, of course with which; many issues arise. One of which, regards the appropriation of space and consumption within the urban environment. If the economy and politics have such an influence over urbanism this could lead to an implied organization of consumption, especially considering the globalized power of many economic authorities in modernity. This especially anchors the idea of transiency within the urban context; what is more temporal than the economy or potentially even the ideology discussed in politics? Focusing on the economic influences on the urban environment may be currently more suitable due to considering temporality of consumption and appropriation in the city. Through capitalism and globalization the city has developed primarily into a centre for consumption. Where the idea of a cyclical repetition of urbanism (attraction-consumptionwaste) is clearly ground in everyday life.

15  Edward Relph, Place and placelessness, (London: Pion,2008) p.23 16  Guy Debord, Society of the spectacle, (Detroit: Black & Red, 2010) p.169. THE CITY; TEMPORALITY THROUGH URBANISM: Andrew Healey


As a point of departure, it is appropriate to consider the song (Note 1) written by Josh Garrels (Zion & Babylon). “By what I claim I need, and what I want to waste, I take no account for nothing, If it’s not mine” Here, Garrels refers to the cyclic process of consumption, acknowledging the production of waste and the suggestion of an influenced need or desire. Using the word ‘claim’ in this context also hints towards an imaginary requirement of consumption (pseudo ideals). Analysing this with regards to the city; it suggests the advent of an influencing factor on urban consumption. So, if the city becomes merely a space of consuming (where varied mechanisms suggest these ideals/products) on inhabitants of the city; have the spaces themselves within the urban environment become commercialized? Where a constant barrage of the city selling the notion of consumption (and with it temporality) is experienced. Amongst this, even space itself (within or external to the city) becomes de-valued and sold to the consumer. This relates back to the production of pseudo ideals, when an intangible product, such as the place of a better life is sold to the consumer. “ The gap between the lived and the narrated, between what has been experienced and what has been learned, is growing.”17 Here, Lefebvre speaks of youth’s indifference to the past. This however can be considered as a result of the pursuit of a ‘pure beginning’ or in essence ‘pseudo ideals’ created from the mass media. Epitomizing exactly how the nature of the city is strongly anchored in a sense of transiency and rhythmical consumption (Linear – transport links/food and cyclic – consuming objects of desire). Alongside the production of pseudo ideals, globalization has an influence on consumption and the notion of transiency in the city. This is due to the fact that through the economic power of mass consumption, spaces are produced on a much larger scale; primarily over the western world. Take for example, the effect an establishment such as Mc Donalds on the notion of urban space and consumption. It is one of the few spaces that is without fail, exactly the same whichever part of the world your experience falls in. “Separated from his product, man himself produces all the details of his world, with ever increasing power, and thus finds himself ever more separated from his world. The more his life is now his product, the more he is separated from his life.”18 When a product or space is replicated to such a degree and forced (without regard) upon such varied contexts, Mc Donalds truly separates man from product. With this, space and product became void of any true meaning or value, a product of placeless value; a non-place. A trait, which has become commonplace among many cities due to the advent of advanced technologies, making worldwide trade an ease. 17  18 

Henri Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity – Translated by John Moore, (London: Verso, 1995) p.161-162. Guy Debord, Society Of The Spectacle, (Detroit: Black & Red, 2010) p.33 11


19  John Urry, Consuming Places,(London: Routledge, 1995) p. 121

Although leftover spaces are still transient, their character juxtaposes that of other city space. (Due to little imposed spatial appropriation) by Andrew Healey Mannequins: Representing the imposed commercialization onto inhabitants of the city: by Andrew Healey

With this global economy, there has thus been a greatly heightened awareness of the ‘simultaneity’ of events and experiences occurring in geographically distant locations.19 So if these non-places are imposed across the world and have no true meaning, does this suggest that due to reference of ‘another’ even the places or locations (for want of a better word) in cities begin to become transient? Not only the spaces in-between. Considering this alongside the consciousness of simultaneity there is a clear suggestion that globalization has a strong underlying transient effect on urbanism.


Conclusion After analysing the modern city in the context of the three concepts, it is clear that temporality is a fundamental feature within what establishes the very notion of a city. Consequently from this analysis, it has become apparent how the ideology of what may define a city has filtered into everyday life; such as the consumer culture of modernity. A culture which is based upon the shallow cyclic rhythm of (attraction-consumption-waste) underlying urbanism’s transient effect on the built world. The idea of temporality throughout the city however, may not be necessarily appropriate to critique in modernity. Considering that the fundamentals of temporality and transiency are based solely upon time; maybe it is more suitable to accept or begin to define what a city is with the notion temporality, as apposed to assessing the existence of temporality itself in the city. If the city (as a concept) is essentially built from the idea of exchange, it is clear that through history, there has always been a strong idea of transiency homogeneous with the idea of ‘city’. Martin Heidegger suggests the notion of ‘public time’, which is defined as “the kind of time in which the ready-to-hand and the present-at-hand within-the-world are encountered.”20 Considering this statement and the commodity one may find in the city, it may be more suitable to build a definition of the temporal city with the concept of public time, and consequently rhythmanalysis in mind. In this context, rhythmanalysis refers to the idea of ‘encounter’ within the city. Suggesting the idea of consumption and the notions of rhythm that come with it.

20  Martin Heidegger, Being And Time – Translated by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001) p.465 13


Note 1: Zion & Babylon - Josh Garrels (2008; Jacaranda) Oh great mammon of form and function Careless consumerist consumption Dangerous dysfunction Described as expensive taste I’m a people disgraced By what I claim I need And what I want to waste I take no account for nothing If it’s not mine It’s a misappropriation of funds Protect my ninety percent with my guns Whose side am I on? Well who’s winning? My kingdom’s built with the blood of slaves Orphans, widows, and homeless graves I sold their souls just to build my private mansion Some people say that my time is coming Kingdom come is the justice running Down, down, down on me I’m a poor child, I’m a lost son I refuse to give my love to anyone, Fight for the truth, Or help the weaker ones Because I love my Babylon I am a slave, I was never free I betrayed you for blood money Oh I bought the world, all is vanity Oh my Lord I’m your enemy Come to me, and find your life Children sing, Zion’s in sight

THE CITY; TEMPORALITY THROUGH URBANISM: Andrew Healey


Note 2: Photographic Study Of Plymouth - Contact Sheet 01

Note 2: 15


Bibliography: Books: Baudrillard, Jean, The System Of Objects – Translated by James Benedict, London, Verso, 1996. Bergson, Henri, Time and Free will – An Essay On The Immediate Data Of Consciousness, London, George Allen & Unwin, 1971. Debord, Guy, Society Of The Spectacle, Detroit, Black & Red, 2010. De Graaf, John & Wann, David & Naylor, Thomas H, Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic, San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2005. Gibian, Peter, Mass Culture And Everyday Life, London, Routledge, 1997. Heidegger, Martin, Being and time – Translated by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson, Oxford: Blackwell, 2001. Leach, Neil, Rethinking Architecture: A Reader In Cultural Theory, London, Routledge, 1997. Lefebvre, Henri, Critique Of Everyday Life; From modernity to modernism – Volume 3, London, Verso, 2008. Lefebvre, Henri, Introduction To Modernity - Translated by John Moore, London, Verso, 1995. Lefebvre, Henri, Rhythmanalysis; Space, time and everyday life, London, Continuum 2004. Lefebvre, Henri, The Production Of Space, Oxford, Blackwell, 1991. Lefebvre, Henri, Writings On Cities, Oxford, Blackwell, 2000 Relph, Edward, Place And Placelessness, London, Pion, 2008. Soja, Edward W, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places, Oxford, Wiley, 1996 Till, Jeremy, Architecture depends, Massachusetts, MIT press, 2009. Urry, John, Consuming Places, London, Routledge, 1995.

THE CITY; TEMPORALITY THROUGH URBANISM: Andrew Healey


Music: Josh Garrels, Zion & Babylon; album Jacaranda, 2008.

Images: All Images taken by author using Cannon 500n/35mm Fuji colour negative film.

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For general enquiries about the School please contact us directly: School of Architecture, Design and Environment Faculty of Arts University of Plymouth Drake Circus Plymouth PL4 8AA Telephone: email:

+44(0)1752 585150 l.c.saunders@plymouth.ac.uk

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ARCO13 Andrew Healey  

This observation of temporality was discovered through my own design work within the city of Plymouth, and the idea of a temporality definin...

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