I found the Kevin Lynch book Image of the City on Google (well parts of it at least). He suggests that the mental image we have of our home towns depends on if the place offers a richly-detailed and well-defined experience. My latest idea for a thesis project is based on pattern recognition in our surroundings. I’d like to create a symbol archive for recognizable forms, patterns and interactions in a city (based on Lynch’s work). A water tower could be labelled “hope” and other patterns could represent other feelings and ideas. We remember patterns in the abstract and can identify different places based on this mental map, or internal photograph we take of a place. The mental map idea is fascinating to me.
Similar to Lynch, my project is inspired by the need for an antidote to the separateness and disjointedness of the city. By exploring the line relationships, patterns, textures, sounds and shape interactions of one section of the street we can begin to create order and find meaning in our surroundings. Humans instinctively seek patterns in our environment, for this is a way of establishing order in the midst of chaos. I am imposing my own order through the lens of the camera but also through line drawings and analyzing shape abstractions/interactions.
I have a basic understanding of the New Urbanism and it’s roots in the writings of Jane Jacobs. Modernism was such an idealistic approach, to reduce all complex phenomena to a few general abstractions. In planning however it rejected the real needs of human beings living in a community and created isolated, unnatural urban spaces. In architecture, modernism created clean, simple (some might argue boring) structures with the intention of transparency and being true to the materials.
I’m interested in looking at modern architecture’s effect on our sense of place. The tradition of architectural ornament is sadly missing today, and these details show the human touch and contribute to a rich and meaningful experience of the street.
Possible studies: overall shapes (b/w and color), color study, texture study, middle shapes (windows, doors, lampposts), detail shapes (bricks, street art) ***shape abstraction at a basic level may tell a story similar to the overall shapes, audio (see below), system of points of reference (symbol archive of abstractions), also abstract paintings to visualize a memory map or meaning of place.
The layers of history and the interaction of architectural structure and human interference is really interesting and related to my original interest in conservation of a neighborhood. The Lower East side is the point that immigrants have historically passed through and is currently in the process of severe gentrification. This image is the door of a 1903 synagogue on Rivington street. The curving graffiti is such an interesting addition layered on top of the odd shapes of the door.
Another example of the juxtaposition of old and new. The door seems like it has seen so much history and has such an interesting story itself, but placed next to the new (terrible) signage of Kuta it’s telling an entirely new tale of what happens when the layers of history are collapsed on top of one another.
Related to my previous rants, corporations have the opportunity to integrate into this pattern to fit the buildings needs and maintain the atmosphere of the neighborhood, but it’s also interesting to look at the lengths that businesses go to “create” authenticity. I’ve mentioned stores that fully integrate into the architecture and community that surrounds them, but retail stores like Earnest Sewn began less than 10 years ago and have adopted this antique look and feel with painted signage on the windows. They are catering to a customer who appreciates this antique feel and catering to a trend, and it’s interesting to learn why some people are more comfortable shopping in that kind of environment. It’s not authentic but does faux authenticity accomplish the same objective?
I need to look at the work of Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, Robert Venturi’s Learning from Las Vegas, the MOMA architecture exhibition and also check out the Norman Foster gallery on the Bowery.
Also I’m looking at urban form now in Visual Language class, and it will probably tie in nicely with my thesis. I’ve started looking into urban planning history for this project and am mainly interested in the layout of different cities based on different patterns (grid, radial, chaos, geometric).
I’ve decided that for my final project in tech studio I’m focusing on the audio aspect of the street. I can use the wavelength of an audio clip from the ambient experience of the street, then map that with visual information or doing a light or color analysis with audio. There are sound processing freewares that can do this. I’m interested in the alternate ways of experiencing an environment.
My next project for thesis, after doing the studies listed above will be setting up a camera on a tripod to record the time-lapse experience of the street. It will be a mini investigation of time, space and community by showing different communities at different times of the day, and also how shadows transform the experience of the street. I can choose a segment of time, maybe one hour or 24 hours. Then splice the time-lapse photos into different compositions, or cut different objects out of the photo and examine how that changes the experience.
The bottom line is that my thesis is about telling a better story about a place.