An Eclectic Atlas of Urban Europe*Close
An Eclectic Atlas of Urban Europe*
* Ed. note: The lecture delivered in Vienna by Stefano Boeri with Francisca Insulza and
John Palmesino was based on issues developed in the following contribution, parts of which were previously published in Stefano Boeri's "Notes for a Research Program", in: Mutations. Rem Koolhaas Harvard Project on the City, Stefano Boeri Multiplicity, Sanford Kwinter, Nadia Tazi, Hans Ulrich Obrist. Barcelona: Editorial Actar. 2001, pp. 356-377.
1. USE: Uncertain States of Europe
The European territory is today an extraordinary field of study and experimentation: a palimpsest of heterogeneous environments, where the new urban condition operates as a powerful matrix, meeting less obstacles than elsewhere in spite of the innumerable preexisting structures with which it has to deal. It is a landscape at the mercy of uncontrolled and eccentric forces which have undermined many parts of it, but one that is also the cradle of experiences of urban life offering a glimpse of the future. Alongside the chaotic invasion of single-family residences, the geographic imperialism of the great commercial enterprises, and the standardization of historic cities to meet the demands of tourism, we can find highly advanced forms of ethnic cohabitation in some historic centers. In the diffuse European city, we encounter modes of living that have been freed from functional specialization and we discover panoramas of unconscious beauty in the random points of contact between historic locations and infrastructures.
It is an original model of the city, different from that of the United States as well as that of Asia, which at times can look disheartening, at others fertile, but always incredibly heterogeneous. Some months ago, arc en rêve, a major French architectural institution, asked us1 to represent our research on European urban conditions within the larger exhibition Mutations.2 We decided to present our Eclectic Atlases of European urban conditions in the exhibition as works-in-progress (a mise-en-scene of our methodology).
We chose to observe innovation in urban Europe. Or, better said, to focus on processes producing innovative phenomena in the physical urban European environment. When I say "innovation", I do not mean simply change or addition; innovation is something that establishes new relationships between space and society, between the physical environment and social behaviors. This immediately obliged us to carefully select our media of research and abandon magazines, books, and readings produced by the elite academic European architectural world. Working from these kinds of texts, we would have had little understanding of what was really happening in terms of innovation.
We had to disperse our efforts across a huge environment, recognizing that the most interesting innovations are often not to be found in the center. More often they are located at the periphery, in the marginal hidden areas beyond the perimeter of our gaze.
What we have observed is not simply change — at least, not architecturally recognizable change. Rather, we have seen processes of radical spontaneity able to produce genuinely new effects in the physical environment, which at the same time provoke a high degree of uncertainty.
We began collecting case studies. We reduced the earlier seventy case studies to the thirty-six that are in the exhibition catalogue — though we are still working on them. Then we settled on eleven case studies for the exhibition. We worked with photography, video, diagrams, and various other tools. For each of these eleven situations, we had very different types of representation.
2. Eleven Innovative Processes
The first case study (USE 10)3 is in Tyneside, an old industrial mining district near Newcastle, in northwest England, where old industries have been completely abandoned in recent years. It is interesting to see how these huge abandoned environments are now used as places for leisure, being continuously developed into an incredible series of playgrounds.
The second case study (USE 01)4 is in Belgrade. Traditional shopping markets that were destroyed during the war or by the embargo that followed have now been replaced by a multitude of small shopping stalls. These molecular shops have invaded the entire public space of the city, not just the squares and streets, but effectively replacing all ground-level shops.
The third case study (USE 05)5 is Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg). These last few years, there has been a marked intensification of movement across political borders. Many middle-class professional people choose to live near a border and work on the other side, availing themselves of the different social and economic conditions on both sides. The physical effect of this intensification of movement is to create a diffuse city that covers a vast area; it is a seemingly never-ending city with the same elements everywhere.
The fourth case study (USE 08)6 is about Pristina, the principle city in Kosovo that, in a certain sense, has become a new city in the last few months. We have a group of researchers here observing a very paradoxical situation. The first paradox is that a war that was intended to check mono-ethnicity has produced a monocultural situation. Before the war, Pristina was inhabited by 250,000 people, 20 percent of whom were Yugoslavian Serbs; since the war, Pristina has 500,000 inhabitants, of which only 0.2 percent are Serbian; other minorities have also been completely eliminated. The second paradox is that, despite this monocultural dimension, Pristina now has the largest number of foreign people of any city in Europe. Counting all the people from the United Nations and numerous nongovernmental organizations, we calculated that some 60,000 people from forty-five different countries currently live in Pristina. So we really have two cities here: one is a city of permanent citizens — the Kosovars and Albanians — whose public space has been completely destroyed and abandoned over the last ten years; then there is also a new city "floated" over the first city, composed of a number of islands or enclaves, each of which has no direct relation to the others nor to public space. Two parallel cities.
The fifth case study (USE 06)7 takes us to the former East Germany, where one major project to improve the infrastructure is simply to double the width of the main east-west highway. This is the A4 freeway that crosses Germany from Got-litz to Eisenach, a grand eight-lane highway which, arriving at the Polish border, becomes an eight-meter-wide street.
The sixth case study (USE 02)8 is in Paris, in the 13th Arrondissement. In 1972, a huge public housing block was built, the parts of the complex rigidly and vertically differentiated by function. All the towers were designated as apartments, with the ground floor for shopping and other public facilities, and several underground levels for parking. In 1974, immigrants from China and northern Asia began to occupy this housing block, not simply adapting what was there, but subverting the use of space. Now, after more than twenty years of reinhabitation, the tower has become a wildly heterogeneous space filled with different activities on different floors — art and craft workshops, religious centers — while on the ground floor different ethnic minorities hold fairs and festivals in shop spaces. And the underground car park has become a multilevel bazaar extending 25 meters underground.
The seventh case study (USE 07)9 is in Elche, a small city in Spain. Elche exists because of three very large textile companies. These last few years, there has been a sort of "explosion" of these companies, so now the entire urban tissue is occupied, industry even spreading through apartments.
The next case study (USE 04)10 involves the phenomenon of raves or techno parties, which has spread from northern to central to eastern Europe.Techno parties work like eruptions, very slowly building events: they start with a gradual dissemination of information about when and where the techno party will take place; the participants — rave or techno "tribes" coming from all over Europe — learn the location only a few hours before the start of the party. The venues are often abandoned industrial buildings or places not used by the local population. The event itself lasts six or seven hours during the night, then everything suddenly disappears and all the participants disperse back to their homes.
The ninth case study (USE 11)11 is in the tiny country of San Marino in central Italy, an old town perched on a rock close to the Adriatic Sea. It is an historic urban center, but nobody lives there. In recent years, it has become something of a theme park: it opens at 8:30 a.m. and closes at 8:30 p.m., inhabited only by vendors and visitors — a shopping mall in the true sense of the term. Visitors enter through enormous gates and must leave their car in a car park. The entire public space is monitored by security television.
The tenth case study is in Switzerland (USE 09).12 A new urban habitat is emerging around the Alps. A great number of small-sized, high-technology firms (micro mechanics, pharmaceutics, biotechnology, electronics) are increasingly framing portions of "in control" nature. Increasing access to innovative technologies, and the accelerated spread of know-how, accompany an accurate and orderly landscape construction. A Perfect Nature is staged: it is fenced in, all-panoramic, without residual parts, accurate in details, exact in its diversity: the wood, the green meadow, the roadside footpath, the wood-fenced farm, the chrome-fenced hi-tech firm. In the core of Europe, a new transnational zone is arising in which a suitably technicized landscape is an additional value asset for high-income firms and users.
Finally, the last case study (USE 03)13 is in southern Sicily, in a small city called Mazara with an important fishing industry, where the last fifteen years have seen a clandestine invasion of immigrants from North Africa. This has been a place of incredible exchange: part of the Tunisian population began to inhabit Mazara and part of the Sicilian population began to inhabit a district in Tunisia. Now we have these two satellite-cities on different sides of a sea that demarcates not only two political continents, but also two religions, two worlds. It is a "mirror border", because each of these two populations continually reflects the other side through an ongoing exchange of goods, foods, and marriages.
3. The European Spatial Device
Observing these case studies, we decided to develop the idea of Europe as a cultural entity rather than a geographical continent; an entity that has been built up through the inertia of certain "long-term" structures acting on the spatial environment of social relations — structures that only become manifest in the course of the territory's processes of change.14
Europe as a local dispositif for the mutation of material space, whose geographic scope appears through its continual shifts (Athens, Jerusalem, Rome, Constantinople, etc.). Europe as the field in which a highly particular and original dispositif for the modification of inhabited spaces operates, reproduces, and splits off from itself.
Indeed, if we turn toward the past, we might observe that the history of Europe is that of a continual invention of complex constructive entities, able to organize a multitude of individual fabrications into a system of clear and reproducible rules.15 The rural farm and the urban courtyard, but also the 19th-century cluster and the publicly planned residential district, are entities capable of establishing an internal principle of variation "on a theme", while at the same time guaranteeing themselves a clear physiognomy, distinct from the other parts of the surrounding territory. The European "sentence" is a fundamental element of urban syntax, because it articulates and organizes the conjugation of the minimal units of discourse, providing a recognizable code for a given set of individualities (the minimal elements of inhabitable space). The code — a set of spatial regulations establishing proportions and criteria of contiguity for the "urban facts" — offers each individuality the possibility to reinvent a space of its own, and thus to add something to the sentence itself each time.
On the one hand, each innovation, each individual invention, is absorbed by the intermediary level of the organization of space; on the other hand, each one acts as an adhesive, a "link" to the urban system taken as a whole.
It might then be possible to develop a genealogy of European space by observing this "median" dispositif of organization and change. For example, by observing its capacity to metabolize ancient and exotic cultures, to absorb and reinvent "other" forms and spatialities, by reinterpreting certain of their characteristics. The history of European architecture is not the evolutionary history of one or more constant "styles", but rather a succession of colonizations and external reinterpretations of monuments and cultures of inhabitation within a tolerant and "open" system of rules. Indeed, it is precisely in this repetition of the reinterpretive gesture, more than in its results, that we can recognize a constant, structuring element in European space.16
In the same way, one could observe the effects of this dispositif in its cumulative capacity.17 Fundamentally, European space is transformed by accumulation, addition, and superimposition, but rarely by outright replacement or elimination. The invention of new urban entities, new typologies of habitat, does not depend on a tabula rasa, as it may in other cultures of inhabitation; rather it demands the reuse and reconversion of the existing urban materials.
Metabolization and accumulation also explain a third structural characteristic of the European dispositif: the extraordinary density of the alternating phases of construction and reconstruction of the territory, which also occurs in its most densely urbanized parts. There is a very high density of typically urban relations — exchanges, itineraries, transnational flows of persons, good, and ideas — which go beyond the literally built density. The history of the European city is also that of the continual pursuit of urbs by civitas. 18
The contemporary European territory is the product of this spatial dispositif. A palimpsest of works and projects which still today displays a particular balance between the principles of variation and those of difference: between the rules which underlie the constitution of a part of the city, which govern the acceptable variation of its subsystems, and those which, to the contrary, lend it cohesion and identity by fixing the particular, or the different, within the urban context. An equilibrium which does not only produce an articulated system of changes, but tends to organize innovation and thus to create original spaces, often produced by the reinterpretation of exogenous traditions in their encounter with the local syntax of the territory.
The paradigm of European space as a local dispositif of innovation suggests a conception of identity which is not linked to a border project or to the recognition of an available context, but instead to a material phenomenology of the European territory, with all its adaptations, rough edges, idiosyncrasies; with all its heredities and its forms of openness to transformation.19 This paradigm does not demand an aggregate representation of the continental territory, it does not define its inner and outer limits, nor describe its territorial subsystems. Yet it can help us recognize a mode of spatial change which, although it manifests itself within an historical framework, can potentially act anywhere. In the same way that a discursive form — an exclamation, an exhortation, an imperative — can be adapted to any part of a discourse, so the European urban "sentence" is the cha acteristic form of an unlimited spatial dimension, extensible through the action of a local dispositif but nonetheless deeply rooted in and consubstantial to the experiences of European culture over time.
European space has extended in the past toward Asia, it has colonized parts of America, and it has more recently contracted with the phenomena of globalization: because the European territory is not a system of national states, nor the perimeter in which a tradition is perpetuated.20 It is a highly particular mode of change and innovation of European space.
4. Variation and Difference
In the contemporary European city, the interaction between global energies and local structural conformations has radically altered the relation between the principles of variation and difference.
Today the principle of difference no longer acts between contiguous and diachronic urban components (i.e., between the 19th-century city and the Renaissance city, between the modern suburb and the 19th-century grid, etc.), but rather between the single molecules of the urban organism's vast territorial sprawl21: between the family house and the contiguous shopping mall, between the shopping mall and the adjacent low-rise building, between the car wash and the industrial shed with the built-in house, etc. In the same way, the principle of variation does not have effect within the boundaries of vast or compact urban parts, but rather operates with the declination of a few families of urban forces that regulate the composition of the emerging city. This variation is thus reduced to infinite adaptations, conformations these elementary components can take on through surprising leaps and improvised solutions in varying territorial contexts.
The exploration of the new European territories marks the end of the syntactical dispositif of territorial organization and innovation which seemed to allow for a deeper identification of the distinctive features of European cultural identity. The dynamics appear chaotic, unpredictable in their trajectory, and therefore all the more powerfully charged with uncertainty.
The USE Project aims to rediscover, in the new territories of contemporary Europe, the field of action of the "sentence" that structured the older European city as well as its modern counterpart. To do so, it observes the forms of combination that cloak the various urban facts in the course of their evolution. It tries to show how forms of interaction and combinatory regularities persist in European space, organizing the evolution of the territory and reflecting certain levels of the self-organization of established society and its minorities. How, behind the apparent chaos, there is in fact an excess of organization, of regularity, an excess of evolutionary patterns.
The novelty of this with respect to the observations carried out on the historical territory of the classical and modern cities resides precisely in the fact that today these organizational dispositifs no longer tend to be imposed by a desire external to the protagonists of the modification. Instead they are largely controlled and managed by the protagonists themselves, ever) when they appear beneath the repetitive form of codified decision-making procedures.
Thus it is possible to trace a dividing line between the evolutionary patterns observed from this median viewpoint. On the one hand, they describe highly repetitious processes of modification that interject very little resistance into the great, global energies of the overall mutation. Processes that appear as simple and mechanical transpositions into the European space of forms of interaction and modes of change that find their source in the three major currents at work here, as in other geographic regions: the emergence of a mass individualism in the behaviors relative to consumption, habitat, leisure time, and travel; the local importance of systems of professional rationality, fundamentally closed and impermeable; the spread of transnational flows of persons, goods, and ideas.
On the other hand, a gaze that observes the mutations in real time, that samples portions of time and circumstances of transformation, can also encounter forms of autopoietic22 innovation of inhabited space. Places and territories that seem able to adapt in original terms to the great global energies; limits within which the local dispositif of innovation — and not simply change — begins to fully manifest its staying power and long duration. In the new territories of diffuse urbanization, all these forms of innovation in inhabited space encounter an initial friction that rearticulates them into a limited series of evolutionary assonances; a series of mechanisms that composes these individual acts within the major waves of change.23 These mechanisms can be described with the help of metaphors:
Linear attractors. First we recognize certain sequences of linear development, especially along major axes (commercial streets and corridors, industrial buildings near the ring roads, entertainment and sporting facilities near the major rivers). The logic that presides over these "urban events" depends on the presence of a linear attractor that establishes the orientation and constitutes the major reference point for a series of heterogeneous buildings: an urban street, a watercourse, or even a less materialized element like a bike path or an open space.
Bowling pins. A second principle of self-organization is the change brought about by the introduction of autonomous elements on the terrain. In recent years we have seen the construction of enormous "containers" at isolated places along the traffic routes that grid the urban areas: integrated shopping centers, sports and leisure complexes. Anonymous and stereotypical in appearance, they offer a variety of spaces and circulation patterns inside. The locations are frequently chosen as a function of ease of access and available parking space.
Islands. Another change is induced by the appearance of introverted "islands" within which similar objects and lifestyles are reproduced: protected residential zones, reception centers for immigrants from outside the EU, production zones, residential suburbs with guarded entryways, housing projects that repeat the same building with minimal variations on the facade, etc. These islands share five characteristic features: the repetition of similar-sized construction elements; the high degree of internal organization; the independence of the spaces; the homogeneity of the inhabitants and their behavior; and the fact that they result from a single design project.
Cloning zones. The spontaneous repetition of the same urban elements generates another transformation. Entire stretches of urban territory have been modified in recent years by the accumulation of separate development projects with similar characteristics. New urban zones have appeared — with the construction of "commercial containers", with the imitation country houses that spring up like mushrooms, with the detached houses built in concentric circles on hills around enlarged city centers or in ribbons along the crests. The repetition is spontaneous, rather than being codified within definite limits.
Grafts. Another mode of the alteration of the territory is "insertions" by the replacement of elements. In certain quarters, radical transformations appear in a very short time, but within a broad spatial context. There is a succession of precise, independent, small-scale alterations, profiting from the availability of spaces that are "empty" in both the physical and symbolic sense: for example, the replacement of one or more parts of an urban complex, but also factories or office buildings resembling isolated hangars in the middle of the countryside.
Zones of metamorphosis. Large parts of the city appear different by comparison to the very recent past, but without us being able to identify the speed or nature of the changes. Houses or apartments are transformed into offices, stores and studios appear in former workshops at the back of courtyards: examples among many others of a process of "internal transformation" rather than a "replacement" of individual components. When many of these restructurings appear in a single area and over a short time, in a repetitive but almost invisible series, the effect on the city can attain critical dimensions, capable of radically altering the symbolic but also the spatial identity of an area.
Finally, what we see is the repetition, inside and outside the compact city, of a limited number of compositional patterns for this multitude of isolated fragments: the suburban residential quarter, the well-defined industrial or artisanal zone, the tourist center, etc. These patterns reflect a limited number of dynamics of basic interaction at work in the construction of our territory through the self-organization of our society into subsystems, conducted by "minorities" which act as microcosms of autopoiesis (extended families, ethnic and professional clans, cultural communities, leisure or consumer associations). Even when they are superimposed upon each other, these dynamics rarely enter into osmosis: they reproduce without mutual contamination, and are simply laid down on a territory which is already laden with the traces and symbols of the disappearance of ancestral modes of inhabitation. In short, the "syntax" of the new cities consists in a few rules of organization for a multitude of words: it is an impoverished language making a repetitive use of only a few small fractions of a rich vocabulary.
In Europe, the contemporary urban territory brings together a multitude of individual, unsynchronized actions within a few very regular physical movements — distinct from each other by their rhythm, duration, and intensity. Each of these regular movements is reproduced in different, distant spaces, and reveals a specific self-organization of social relations and decision-making processes.
"Self-organization" in this context is not used to mean only spontaneity, informal, or noninstitutional processes of territorial change. Rather, self-organization — which often creates spaces of innovation — means above all that settlement rules (that give order to a certain set of individual tremors) are produced and shared by subjects that participate in the system itself. These are relational rules, designed and eventually readapted throughout time by the forces acting within the system; rules that often take on, together with the linguistic set appropriate to that system, a common and coded meaning.
In a certain sense, Europe is an urban society which continues to produce intermediate entities, where horizontal links prevail over hierarchical structures.24
7. European Upheavals
The often random repetition and assemblage of these combinatory regularities generates vast upheavals in the European territory, grand currents that move between physical space and society. These are dynamic energies, similar to the ones that produce the great telluric movements. They reshape large portions of space, but only take on visible configuration when they come into contact with the long-term "structures" of the European territory.
And like telluric movements, they also have a rhythm of change — those thousands of tiny quivers that suddenly culminate in a radical shift of the tectonic plates. Grafts, densifications, condensations, punctuations, these upheavals are radical in terms of physical geography, and often indifferent to political geography. They move across the territory and become visible in a few punctual sites, where they fully manifest their power and, in a certain sense, their ungovernability as well. Only in these places of emergence can they be observed.
The USE research has begun to analyze a few of these punctual places where the upheavals take on a dense, recognizable materiality. Although these are specific cases, they are emblematic of the mutations that traverse great expanses of the European territory.
Inundation. The invasion of public ground in Belgrade by informal, mobile forms of commerce (USE 01)25 is but an extreme and radical version of another form of mutation that colonizes entire stretches of open urban space in Europe. It is not simply the model of the bazaar. The most innovative aspect lies in the fact that this invasion everywhere generates a form of collective space which is at once hyper-fragmented and dense. A molecular space, parceled out by multiple gestures of appropriation, seems to be the inevitable outcome of every form of collective interaction in the open space of the European city.
Détournement. The case of the Parisian housing complex that lodges a small Chinese city (USE 02)26 leads us to reflect on the cumulative tendency of European space, on its resistance to replacement and its capacity to develop processes of metamorphosis which are invisible from the outside. There is an accumulation of small internal modifications which, in a critical situation, suddenly produces a catastrophe that modifies the content of the built entity. The signifier then survives the disappearance of the signified. These self-organized processes of symbolic subversion suggest how, in Europe, the most hierarchical and rigid entities are better able to resist the mutations than the generic, hybrid architecture inspired by the false rhetoric of "flexibility".
Osmosis. The case of Mazara in its relation to Tunis (USE 03)27 confirms the paradox of an openness to symbolic subversion in sectors of the European city which are less physically malleable than others. But above all, this exchange constitutes a play of mirrors between two shores which have much in common (even if they are separated by one of the most significant European frontiers). It represents the constitution of reciprocal spaces along the European borders, places where the continental divides slowly undergo a process of OSMOSIS.
Eruptions. The raves, great self-constructed events (USE 04),28 reveal an extreme version of another mutation of European space. Its principal feature is an apparently irreversible rupture between the characteristics of physical stasis and semantic stability, a rupture emerging in a great many new sites of social interaction. As though, in Europe, a mobile strategy of "fecundation" of the territory by discrete points were the sole resource that could be opposed to the immobile and rigid structure of the great commercial facilities. The new double geography of collective places seems to be born directly of the collapse of the multiple, open, and at the same time rooted nature of the local history that characterized the traditional public spaces. In the void left by this disappearance there are hyper-coded, static spaces on the one hand, and undercoded, itinerant spaces on the other.
Intensification. The intrication of spatio-temporal cycles of urban life in a vast transnational region like Benelux (USE 05)29 confirms the extension into European space of typically urban habitation behaviors. This extension is gradually transforming Europe into the sum of a small number of large, polycentric urbanized regions (the "Blue Banana", the Randstad, the Ile-de-France, the Adriatic corridor, etc.). Thus urban European society and its multiple, erratic minorities trace out a city without edges, but full of internal limits and thresholds of passage that measure and "mark" their movement. From these transitory lifestyles, issuing from a pendular motion, emerge individual projects of an "enlarged" citizenship, where differences of origin and destination fade away. What decides our identity are the itineraries we most frequently follow, the landscape sequences we create, the perceptual strips we memorize.
Expansion. The intermittent doubling of the A4 freeway in Germany (USE 06)30 leads us to reflect on the role of the great infrastructures as the ultimate visible and explicit form of public intervention on the European territory. A determinist form of mutation, which seeks to act simultaneously on the vast portions of the territory — a veritable counterpoint to the fragmentation and miniaturization of the processes of transformation. But the self-organization of the public bureaucracy often generates forms of autistic decision making. The paradox of the huge infrastructural projects, necessary but interrupted, or thrown into question after their completion — for instance, the exemplary cases of the Schipol and Malpensa airport centers — clearly reflects the risk of public intervention on the densely populated territories of contemporary Europe. Overwhelming yet also weak, these infrastructures are often the symbols of a modernization which is unable to adapt to the mutations currently underway.
Dissemination. The case of Elche (USE 07)31 leads to a reflection on the reciprocal contamination which is established in Europe between small (often family-run) firms and the private residence. The hybrid typology of the housefactory is conjugated infinitely, becoming the elementary cell of an urbanized and rarefied territory, encompassing in a single building the diverse functions that formerly divided the territory. The explosion of work at home as a selforganized form of participation in the production cycle now plays its role in the gradual shift of the European single-family home to the status of a "networked monad", where a maximum of isolation is materialized along with a maximum of connections. Networked capsules in an extended city: this is an infinitely repeated (more than infinitely varied) spatial model that translates the new genetic code of the European suburban territories.
Transplant. Pristina with its garrison clusters (USE 08)32 leads, on the contrary, to a reflection on the mutations by self-organized "grafts" that increasingly affect the central areas of many European cities, as the specialized niches develop. The circuits of the European community in Brussels — like the fashion world in Milan, the financial milieus in Frankfurt and London, the contemporary art world in Paris and Berlin, to name just a few other examples — have an even greater tendency to function as "networked enclaves": local nodes grafted onto a context with which they maintain only a limited exchange, while continually remaining in contact with a specialized world network. When it is not transformed into a theme park, the geometric center of many European cities becomes the shell for these globalizing niches, which often have no relation to each other.
Clearing. The huge theme park that is being built up around the Alps (USE 09)33 expresses the degree to which nature and history, in Europe, are not only simulacra to be recopied in a watered-down image, as in the great North American entertainment parks; they are also real environments that a multitude of parasites undertake to enclose and sell as rare resources. And often these self-organized theme parks represent a pivotal center for zones of active production, rooted in the economy of the territory.
Inertia. Playful incursions into the former mining regions of Tyneside (USE 10)34 let us glimpse the way the ruins and the voids left by industry could, in the absence of any unifying project, become a new "nature" able to host temporary practices. In Europe, the occupation of these areas still awaiting heavier investments represents the extreme version of a tendency to constitute intermittent collective places that use the discontinuous morphology and the inertia of the industrial terrain as a natural ground. Places as generous and "expansive" in their functional identity as these are unable to inscribe any durable traces on the European territory.
Pulsation. The case of San Marino (USE 11)35 is ultimately just a radically exaggerated version of a form of mutation that is common to many centers in Europe, which deliberately choose to make the urban environment into a museum and to exploit it as a tourist machine fed by the cyclical pulsations of the floods of visitors. These theme parks based on the counterfeiting of the authentic, and on a process of reciprocal imitation between historical centers and shopping malls, conform the tendency of European space to turn systematically back on itself and on the tokens of its past. History as a guaranteed income, nostalgia as a form of surplus value.
8. Toward a Nondeterministic Urbanism
These upheavals, among many others researched in the USE project, are often born of a network of horizontal, non-hierarchical relations, micro-powers that condense the multitude of individual vibrations into one stable configuration.36 Yet despite their power and widespread diffusion, most of these configurations have no relation with the world of architecture, which only participates on the scale of the micro-transformations, the tiny quivers that compose each upheaval.
The fact is that these upheavals, often innovative but sometimes also at the origin of perverse and regressive phenomena, are never carried out by a deterministic and readily identifiable project, located within a single institutional matrix. There are no authors, no great strategies to be celebrated. Their power actually confirms the marginality of architectural practices and urban planning in Europe. A marginality which is paradoxically repeated each time someone tries to "govern" these processes, with the illusion of being able to control them from inside (a belated version of the principles of participation in architecture) or from the heights of an exterior authority principle. Escaping this condition of powerlessness simply implies accepting the ungovernability of a great deal of the contemporary territory, at least in the sense of an irreducibility to any intentional and univocal predetermination. This means learning to act in a context directed by different, highly variable subjects. European space, which is a palimpsest of projects sedimented in time, is also today the field of action for an indeterminate and changing number of subjects, many of whom maintain a temporary relationship with the territory. A battle of codes and interpretations ceaselessly unfolds upon this field, which is continually being rewritten, where almost nothing is ever erased, where the long-term structures are often temporarily hidden by others which are less powerful and enduring, but currently more visible.
I believe that the new themes for architectural practice are all there: the capacity to intervene in mechanisms of individual variation, the care of new and temporary community spaces, the attempt to use the economic power of certain building processes to produce a symbolic added value that redeems them from their egotism.
But a new paradigm for interpretation of the emerging city is needed, one that can take the place of the model we inherited from the sixties.
9. Eclectic Atlases
The diffuse city and its scattered dynamics are not simply a new "part" of the European city. They represent the visible and emergent form of a new urban condition that transforms the nature and the very concept of the city, exerting its effects on the classical city as well. An urban condition which is born of a substantial transformation of the relation between individuals and urban space, and which, to be represented and appropriated, requires a different strategy of observation than the one that has formerly been employed for the classical European city.
It is an urban condition nourished by long-distance associations, new spatialities, but also new forms of citizenship. A condition impossible to decipher with the vocabulary and the interpretive categories constructed in the 1960s to analyze the old European city. That now-useless vocabulary continues to make the distinctions between "center" and "periphery", between "public space" and "private space", between "emergent areas" and "parts of the city". In the new European territories, these categories simply do not work, and merely slip over the surface of things.
But we need more than a new vocabulary. Symptoms of a more profound disease are apparent in our visual culture, in the ways we usually represent and think the urban dimension. If we take heed of these visual symptoms, usually overlooked, we will likely hear a more radical call: the call for a new paradigm in the conceptualization of urban phenomenon.
In certain parts of Europe, "eclectic atlases" are being created to propose new ways of studying the correlations between space and society.37 The documents are heterogeneous, but similar in their visual approach. They take the form of an "atlas" insofar as they seek new correlations between spatial elements, the words we use to name them, and the mental images we project upon them. And they are eclectic because the basic criteria of these correlations are often multidimensional, new, and experimental. For this kaleidoscopic family of studies and investigations, chaos is not the reflection of external phenomena, but only a way of conceiving the territory that has worn threadbare and must be replaced. The eclectic atlases offer various entries to the representations they construct. They observe the European territory in search of the individual, local, and multiple codes that link the observer to the phenomena observed: the physical city, its inhabitants, and the "inner city" of the observing person. They produce provisional maps in which the territory is not represented as a continuous mineral substrate, nor as a stable "state of things", but instead as an interlace of sinuous configurations which are reversible and never share the same temporal frame. These atlases most often observe the territory from several viewpoints at once: from above but also through the eyes of those who live in the space, or on the basis of new, impartial and experimental perspectives. By adroitly interlacing the viewpoints, the eclectic atlases propose a multiple visual thinking that abandons the utopia of a synoptic vision from an optimal angle of observation. Their most interesting characteristic is the way they seem to mesh with their field of observation: an eclectic gaze on an eclectic territory. They experiment unsystematically with "lateral" ways of seeing and representing the territory of the European city. The viewpoint used by this approach, which proposes an "abductive" logic for the conceptualization of space, is the one best able to grasp the characteristics of the new European urban condition.
This research paradigm offers a new "strategy" of vision, and suggests four major revisions of the techniques for the representation of the territory.
First, the new paradigm seeks to account for the mutations in real time, introducing a temporal element which is generally absent from the disciplines that study inhabited space.
Second, it proposes observations limited to certain samples of the territory, with an attitude of hunting for clues, testimony, and indicators that are often temporary and have been left behind in the space by new, as yet unstandardized behaviors.
Third, this logic of sampling supplements the zenith view through a system of coordinates and criteria which are used for the choice of the punctual places of research, and for the comparison of the results.
And fourth, the new paradigm inquires into the identity of those who inhabit the space and construct its representations. In other words, it seeks to enrich the notion of the "landscape" by research into the complex identity of its users, and into the forms of dynamic perception and memorization of inhabited territories.
The eclectic atlas is an attempt to introduce a new dimension into the research on European space. In sum, it can be said that the maps produced by interweaving these four "lateral" gazes are attempts to observe the territory while it changes. This means abandoning one's confidence in two-dimensional, aggregate cartography, which often includes a hypocritical effect of "distancing" that absolves the observer of any personal responsibility. It also means renouncing a naive form of representation of the landscape, reduced to a montage of statistical frames.
Convinced that the city is not only a stratification of "levels of realities" but also a collective mode of reflection on space, persuaded that each stage of the city's evolution implies and also requires a "leap" in the forms of its representation, this project can help us cast new light on the intermediary dimension of the evolution of inhabited European space.
While satellites incessantly send us two-dimensional images of the aesthetic chaos which reflects the cities of the 20th century, from some points of inhabited space we are receiving images that are less presumptuous but much richer in information. Registering what happens between space and society, they reveal a territory where a few recurring rules organize a multitude of bulky buildings, and these almost never constitute figures visible "from above". The kaleidoscope has become the best metaphor to represent a space shaped by a society organized through introverted, uncommunicating microcosms.
Though it may be true that the arrogant viewing angle of the impersonal zenithal paradigm has fixed the coordinates for the conception of 20th-century urban space, the contemporary city seems to demand that we learn to see it anew — and that we begin by learning to see ourselves in it, as individuals and as groups.
The USE project is born of a sampling of the places and processes of mutation, whereby European space and its intense, unlimited activity finally comes to light. And uncertainty transforms into innovation.
Stefano Boeri / Multiplicity. An Eclectic Atlas of Urban Europe*. In: Okwui Enwezor, Carlos Basualdo, Ute Meta Bauer, Susanne Ghez, Sarat Maharaj, Mark Nash, Octavio Zaya (ed.): Democracy Unrealized. Documenta11_Platform1. Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern-Ruit. 2002, pp. 209-229.