Memory as Public Domain Catalyst
Jon Johannsen Chairman Lane Cove ALIVE Director AJA + AURA
Dynamic Cities 2013 ICTC Conference â€“ Mandurah WA 16-18 October 2013
Memory as Public Domain Catalyst Whether we like it or not memory is a fundamental influence on how we live.
Memories are primal drivers of human behaviour, and we all have recollections of places we enjoyed from a variety of experiences - some good, some bad. These are the focus of Memory as a Public Domain Catalyst â€“ in which I take the meaning of catalyst as the vehicle by which behavior, social connections and sense of community can be affected in our experience of places in the public domain. Creating memorable experiences in the public domain is fundamental part of successful place making, and memorable character or events can be the catalyst for bringing people back based on enjoyment or appreciation of previous experience - so the question is what initiates good memories? - and how to build on these for existing and new environments? Memory of place can be a conduit to stories that can inform - via subtle ephemeral art works, interpretative gestures or built form - narrative that links events, places, passage, and our senses - tapping our subconscious appreciation with subtle impressions - or more obvious ones. Was there shade or weather protection that made a walk more pleasant, did you stroll in a daydream or was there stimulation that provoked enquiry, raised expectation, created uncertainty - memory of a pleasant passage that will draw us down that route again? So in design thinking I believe its important to envisage what memory will result, will it tap a past memory or create a new one to be savoured or passed on as reference for others to enjoy.
As many of us know memory can be a fickle thing, especially for those of us heading for, or already in the seniors category. Memories can be lost, fading or warped, but layers of recollection and reminiscence are key parts of our culture, our heritage and our traditions.
The concept of ‘traditional’ has been overtaken today by ever quickening cycles, where memory of the ‘old days’ has moved from decades ago to just a few years, along with the concept of ‘normal’. Traditional used to refer to what our greatgrandparents used to do but now means what our parents used to do – or in China today, what life was like in most places a decade or so ago. This can lead to loss of perspective, of place in relation to its origins. So to focus on what can makes successful places in the public domain, its memories or relics of the collective past that can inform the place of tomorrow need to be found, translated and interpreted or demonstrated by Living-in-Place. http://theconversation.com/a-new-view-of-an-old-emotion-or-how-science-is-saving-nostalgia-16658
In 1970’s Peter Berg suggested the term ‘re-inhabitation’ to describe how people should learn to ‘live-in-place’: ‘….an age-old way of existence, disrupted in some parts of the world a few millenia ago by the rise of exploitative civilization, and more generally during the past two centuries by the spread of industrial civilization. It is not, however, to be thought of as antagonistic to civilization, in the more humane sense of that word, but may be the only way in which a truly civilized existence can be maintained.’
Day to day routines and pleasures of everyday life that were part of the association with a place became a platform from which future change could be measured. But the connection to those origins has been increasingly lost in many first world environments as urbanization has changed the landscape and terms of reference. Dr Who has his TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) to transport him and his able assistant – but temporal jumps in our real world need an actual or imagined past - stories that link via a deeper sense of place to a shared past with cultural and social meaning - probably now sourced via Google or Wikipedia instead of the traditional library,
To find this deeper sense of place it is necessary to understand the pre-existing nature of a city, recovering memories that can relate past to future, via a present that can mediate between old and new, connecting the past to the future – while catering for those who seek a place for solitude or company. Urban development, via architecture and urban design, is about manipulating buildings and places in the natural environment or existing settlements to support human life. Understanding how changes have happened in the past can help in preparing for the future, and give us skills to be proactive in prediction and reaction to change. To help transform existing urban areas, or create new ones, there are relics and traces that can help adapt or mitigate by working out what may still have relevance as a connection between past and future, but can also be enjoyed in the present. Where pre-industrial age changes were slow - over centuries in medieval times communities could adapt to changing environments without losing their sense of belonging or being part of a place. With technological advances and accelerating transition over the past 200 years in first world countries, and now in most developing countries, our senses and awareness of place have become more detached – often with some clues still evident, but in many cases lost altogether – creating what Glenn Albrecht, an ‘Environmental’ philosopher, recently termed as ‘solastalgia’ - a “new type of sadness”. http://theconversation.com/the-age-of-solastalgia-8337
“In a world that’s quickly heating up and drying up, you can’t go home again — even if you never leave.– defining it as “the pain or sickness caused by the loss or lack of solace and the sense of desolation connected to the present state of one’s home and territory. It is the ‘lived experience’ of negative environmental change. It is the homesickness you have when you are still at home.” (Albrecht 2008). It is likely that such a state will become more common for more of the increasing urban populations given the rapidity of climate change and densification impacts in cities, creating a sense of vulnerability to evolutionary impact beyond the control of the individual. Albrecht aptly stated it can be “an emplaced or existential melancholia experienced with the negative transformation (desolation) of a loved home environment - that feeling you have when your sense of place is under attack.” Solastalgia may be a result of places in transition, but a contrary issue is what fisheries scientist, Daniel Pauly has been defined as the ‘Shifting Baseline Syndrome’, in reference to the manner in which the circumstances of one’s childhood tend to be considered the norm. This is a distortion of reality that results in any contemporary difficulty or adverse condition such as climate change being taken as an abnormality because it is seen against a shortened horizon. Yesterday upon the stair I met a man who wasn’t there He wasn’t there again today Oh, how I wish he’d go away
— William Hughes Mearns 1922
This well known poetic quip was the intro to a recent article by Paul Downton on Form, Function, and Cultural Memory: Recalling the Nature of Cities in which he stated that ‘Old ways may have been forgotten but memory is the essential substrate of culture’ http://www.thenatureofcities.com/2013/08/21/form-function-and-cultural-memory-recalling-the-nature-of-cities/
Referring to memory of paths made by the Iroquois Indians that were worn deep in the terrain now occupied by the bitumen streets of New York, Downton detailed a range of information transfer systems from one generation to the next - something like their predecessors did with reminiscences and story-telling, and just as the Australian aborigines did with their song lines across this vast country – and in places like Hollywood, LA they do things their way. Urban settlements have evolved over time via influences people have found to be functional and memorable – but without recollection there can be voids in the fabric. Like a person with dementia, a culture that loses contact with its origins, may struggle to orientate or live competently in the present without the benefit of the legacy of accumulated knowledge and experience. Some of our newest cities and urban spaces have been delivered without appreciation of connected places and emotional needs. Modernist experiments like Brasilia, and Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse exemplify the kind of alienated thinking that shaped and reshaped many cities since the early 20th century, ignoring softer intuitive evolution and understanding of place in exchange for an abstract set of rules based on the more hardline modernist doctrines.
Downton purported Modernism as a discipline aligned with ‘new’, with ‘freedom’ and ‘progress’, confounding attempts to conserve the ‘old’ by portraying it as a reactionary, corrupting influence. Modernism saw a tabula rasa, a place like a blank sheet of paper, without definition or limits, so that the practice of design was restrained only by the limitless bounds of a designer’s ego, whilst the facts of life and the natural limits of place are willfully ignored.
So how can we promote a deeper sense of past to inform the place making of the present? Memory of Place - Locus genii 1 The evocation of a sense of place can come from small, specific memories - for those who knew a site before it was redeveloped, they can offer a trigger for the past from which can cascade stories about the place. For those who never knew what was there before, they can provide the basis for asking questions about what preceded and its history. With more recent growth of interest in public domain renewal in existing urban and suburban centres, and in new cities or towns, there is a chance to find alternatives to so many misdirected ways of the past - engaging community in research, interpretation, making, installing, appreciating, interacting with places that have more meaning, creating links to common heritage of physical or social roots - getting people interested in using local routes and places with more meaning, to generate sense of ownership - transparency - lineage - pride - active frontages. These are ways to engage memory as a catalyst for the public domain. Memory of places can be inspired by travels to foreign countries and experience other of cultures, cuisines and iconic structures â€“ arteries that attract people like the Ramblas in Barcelona or outdoor rooms like the Rockefeller Centre forecourt in New York -
Memory of Place - Locus genii 2 Marketplaces like Covent Garden in London, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, a fish market in Rhodes or street vendors in Paris, with produce to tempt our senses, the places where daily or seasonal offerings create places that attract local people and tourists.
Memory of place is a strong determinant of whether we will seek that place out again – atmosphere, character or vibe - will linger. The reason why so many of these places from popular tourist destinations are so popular is collective memories of place. Memory of Place - transplanted But so often attempts to extract and replant the essence of such places becomes a sad repro or ‘naff’ interpretation of memories taken out of context or transplanted in a manner that is questionable – such as the Forum in Leichhardt attempting to simulate a shrunken Piazza del Campo from Sienna.
Piazza del Campo, Sienna
The Forum, Leichhardt Lake Tahoe
The evidence that people want to hold on to the past remains strong. Sadly, that evidence is often in the form of debased replicas of old things and places, or the memories of words and meanings applied to things that bear little of no relation to their origin. Whereas specific memories can evoke a particular sense of place, generic ‘pseudo-memories’ of place can corrupt its very essence. In the USA, places like Las Vegas or Lake Tahoe show ultimate expression of poorly transplanted memory of place - closely followed by places like Dubai and numerous cities in China - but the outcomes are inevitably lacking the glue or authenticity of the original in its context. Memory of Place – in local translation Translation of local memory - social, heritage, events or people – is another way of finding clues to places that can add life and capital to their public domain which, when done well, can generate successful places with enhanced life to encourage return visits based on enjoyable memories.
Memory of Place – elements and form The memory of previous life, activity or edifice can be bizarre as a transferred character – as in LA Tudor - or celebrated through interpretation of physical structure as in Robert Venturi’s skeletal outline of Benjamin Franklin’s house in Philadelphia that shows how successful storytelling can be static, dynamic, ephemeral, as well as place and time specific. 8|P age
Los Angeles, USA
Memory – elements by design The Stables at Jacksons Landing in Pyrmont that we designed has 4 three level loft style units created within the heritage listed shell of a building that was originally the feed store for the horses that pulled wagons for CSR – the memory of the stable wings is signified in structures that identify the new entries either side.
Memory – elements by reference For a group of townhouses AJA designed in Redfern - inner city Sydney, attached brick piers of a heritage warehouse are referenced in the expression of blade walls between the new dwellings, maintaining a rhythm of the street from its earlier life.
Nearby in Alexandria the original roof trusses from demolished railway sheds were incorporated as a sculptural place marker by architects TZG in their adaptive reuse of the adjacent heritage buildings to create Carriageworks – a multipurpose cultural and community centre. 9|P age
Memory - experience of passage As noted before, memory of a pathway or sequence of places that we enjoy walking to the shops in our local village or heading to a meeting in the city can encourage the repeat of that experience another time.
Linger for coffee?
….or keep moving?
The reasons for a good 'flaneur' experience can be many: - smell or taste of good coffee - visual stimulation of shop fronts and their offerings - recognition of familiar faces or the chance for friendly banter - sounds of music, live or recorded
Memory - via artistic inspiration With the often adverse effects of dense city environments, memory references via artistic input can also provide the “soft infrastructure” to help optimise regeneration of disused or redeveloped sites within the city. “Public art does something that neither a public space without art nor even a museum with all its art can do: it can capture the eye and mind of someone passing through our public spaces. It can make us pay attention to our civic environment; it can encourage us to question what’s around us. Much of our newly built environment lacks the resonance of history or reflection of civic ownership, which makes residents proud of where they live. Carefully conceived public art installations and environments, rich with connections to our history, the natural world or the ephemeral quality of life, help make places of meaning within a community. Art can celebrate the qualities that make one place different from another. The best of public art can challenge, delight, educate and illuminate. Most of all, public art creates a sense of civic vitality in the cities, towns and communities we inhabit and visit.” (Source: Americans for the Arts. Public Art Network Council Green Paper) 10 | P a g e
Michael Thomas Hill's Forgotten Songs in Angel Place, Sydney is an almost subliminal memory of past sound-scapes, with names of bird species engraved on the pavement in reference to a colony of cages above from which the gentle notes of birdsong emanate. ''It's quite wonderful because you can stand there and listen to the songs that Europeans would have heard when they first arrived in Sydney,'' Sydney Mayor Clover Moore has said. ''So it's got that wonderful history about it, and it's a nicer sort of birdcage, too, because all the doors are open.''
Memory - via urban design + installation In the Martin Place refurbishment for the Sydney Olympics, a project we worked on for CoS back in late 90s, the impression of original footpaths from when it operated as a cross city street formed part of a ground plane overlay pattern. This aesthetic also incorporated a spatial grid in which the blocks were intended to have cross reference to the earlier cultural and social life of this precinct of the city, of its buildings, businesses, events etc. but was dropped due to time and budget constraints. Initiatives like this could easily be done today via GIS and I-phone apps â€“ using sources such as the Dictionary of Sydney for reference.
Working with artist Lynne Roberts-Goodwin, the route of the Tank Stream below Martin Place was mapped with glazed markers lit with LED lighting as a memory of this original water supply to the first settlement, and the Cenotaph was given special commemorative significance as the venue for annual Anzac Day ceremonies. At the top of Martin Place, we also assisted Anne Bond with her ephemeral mist installation â€˜Passage â€˜ that delineates the outline of a Colonial house that originally occupied this site.
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Memory - via urban intervention Art can interpret memory as a destination intervention or statement in its own right – such as the Memorial to Murdered Jews in Berlin by Eisenmann, or smaller scale elements as part of local stories of social or cultural significance eg. various installation pieces in and around Fremantle.
Memory - of activity + events The public domain has become the place for many community activities that have origins in earlier civic life - social glue in community networks is enhanced by the recent resurgence of markets, with farmers or organic produce, and art and crafts direct from source to buyer, without the middlemen, transport or franchisees in between. Outdoor venues can provide for cultural or seasonal events and ethnic celebrations that are carried from former homelands.
Memory - of characters In front of Lane Cove Library are memory markers that commemorate locals who have made significant contributions to the cultural life of this area. A hero of the Rocks anti-development lobby in the ‘70s, Jack Mundey – then leader of the BWIU – is remembered in a layered graphic image that is a potent symbol at the heart of this now thriving tourist precinct on the edge of Sydney’s CBD – and in the past month the Australian Theatre for Young People in conjunction with Sydney Living Museums have brought the history of The Rocks to life through Quay to the City performances that shed a totally new light on this old part of the city.
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Memory – of linkages By connecting the dots, linkages are the spatial webs that can tie all these memories into a sequential experience. The fine urban grain that Aldo Rossi advocated in The Architecture of the City was based on connections and markers that could be enduring, considering a city as something created over time - with reference to its past (our ‘collective memory’) in ways that can give structure to its public domain and provide its inhabitants linkages between spaces and buildings, and identity to precincts.
Champs Elysees, Paris
Portobello Rd, Nottinghill
Memory - of engagement in place The era of the auto dominated public domain has jettisoned so much rich public domain in so many urban environments around the world, but many of these have in recent years been returned to a previous state or one based on transported memory. Barcelona’s Gracia precinct or the widened pavements of Champs Elysees, many recent pop-up spaces created by urban guerrillas and revitalised laneways of Melbourne and Sydney have created places where its citizens can meet, have coffee or just stroll in a manner that fosters a memory of pleasant engagement likely to encourage repeated visits.
As we continue into the digital age, the recording, retention and translation for communication of memories and information is changing fast. Mobile phone Apps are now available for many mundane tasks, as well as more sophisticated ones like determining a route between point A and point B, with maps giving us a choice in mode – foot, bike, car or public transport – and alternative routes. 13 | P a g e
Memory of Place – by communication So inclusion of ground level interest and access to memory is now part of the ‘App service’ with cafes, restaurants, hotels and landmarks or iconic places identified – connecting these memorable features into our journeys to amplify public domain interest via Google streetview on Google glasses may soon be possible! – providing a moving commentary to the flaneur, and the capacity to read information on particular buildings or places with historical or cultural overlays adding to memory of place.
Satander, an old port city on Spain’s Bay of Biscay, is one of 4 European cities being tested with a system of high tech sensors. 12,000 have been installed under streets, on lamps and buses that have capacity to act as a memory exchange – to send and collect information about traffic, garbage, surf conditions and even survey vehicle and pedestrian movement to dim lights when no one is around. Digital display panels can advise of parking availability, a service that is also being used in Lane Cove – and also times the vehicle stay so rangers can be more efficient in parking fine delivery! These sensors are also capable of being linked to our smartphones, providing real time information on public transport, local events, and even pollen counts – and can be connected to iPhone Apps such as the Lane Cove ALIVE App that also acts as a memory conduit for parking spaces, business and retails links, and local council services.
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Memory of Place â€“ in future past An excerpt from Lane Cove memories... The Cameraygal elders were the custodians of the traditions and stories taught to the next generation through an oral tradition which preserved knowledge across the centuries. Today many of those stories are forgotten or no longer told because the Cameraygal society was so fragmented by the arrival of Europeans in their land. Yet the memory of those stories remains in the landscape where the outlines of animals and beings are found engraved into the surfaces of the rock or painted onto the walls of rock shelters alongside the handprint signatures of the authors.
In this digital and virtual world such enduring memories may be more fragile, where games like Sim City or MineCraft (which our kids seem addicted to) and other on-line games now provide a platform for living more in virtual memory â€“
but this can never fully replace a colourful public realm in which community life is lived by the senses rather than just experienced, where the past can be more than fodder for the archives, where reflections of the past can help us engage with the present and envision a collective future â€“
with memory as a catalyst for the public domain
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