Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Voluptuous spaces

Spent several hours at the Barbican with Jack today. It was the first time I have been there, and it really is amazing. First of all, it is much more beautiful, and finely crafted, than I expected. It fills me with sheer joy when I think of such a wondrous space being created as council flats / social housing - even if it is now largely inhabited by the well-off. But mostly I noticed that it is a place of soft boundaries and unstable scale - two forces that lend it a peculiar quality in terms of embodied experience.

I plan to go back on Wednesday to do some quick-and-dirty mapping and interviews for him because he wants to better understand how people find their way around. (The area may be one of the most disorienting and confusing spaces in which I have ever been!)

I started looking through the resident discussion boards to see what people have to say about the place and its signage, but my quick perusal only turned up a few complaints that workmen have a hard time finding apartments, and yet people seem to be very much against obvious or intrusive signage (especially advertising) on the estate. I also see a bit of desire to revitalise some of the open space but there are plenty of complaints about inappropriate use of the public spaces, including skateboarding noise (and the police response of "You're all in your own little world in the Barbican" and "Skateboarders... that's all they care about in the Barbican"). It also seems that London traceurs have been exploring the potential for parkour around the estate architecture. Ha!

Now I find myself still thinking about the body in the Barbican - and the related tensions between the virtual and the actual, the local and the global in that space - but I will write more about that after my next visit.

Later I found myself back at Foyles (how does that keep happening?!) browsing books and enjoying coffee while listening to great jazz. I bought what will be this trip's last two books (I must resist my urges!) - Theatre/Archaeology, which looks at ways of understanding landscape and cityscape through notions of physicality, encounter, site and context, and Lost Architectures, which looks at unrealised (or imaginary) architectures of the last decade. The author, Neil Spiller, describes the collected projects as examples of New Romanticism: "a romanticism that is sometimes caught up with middle-class slumming, interest in the found object, the spaces of events, and patina and decay." He describes his own architecture as concerned with the "grotesque, ornamental, schizophrenic, vitalist, mythic and highly strung." Rejecting minimalism, he uses appropriately excessive language to describe his project:

Ours will be an architecture of ecological wefts, technological distortions and here and there digital necromancy. The spell is back, mixing together disparate things; spatial embroidery is where my architecture is going. It is a world populated by vascillating objects, Dalian exuberances, smooth but jagged objects and Baroque ecstasies. Objects will flit across a variety of spatial terrains simultaneously, some seen, some not. These ideas demolish the notion of the privileged site plan because the objects in some sense become ubiquitous, doppleganged and paranoid.

These words make me wonder how the Barbican is a voluptuous space.

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