Mapping Territories

Carefully concealing a digital video camera in the cuff of his sleeve, Marc Boutin steps out of his apartment building in Trastevere, and begins his research. He walks through the streets and piazzas of Rome for several hours, letting the city guide him, recording as he goes. The following day, watching his video, he sees an abstract collection of periodic glimpses (a fountain, a lamppost, white jeans on a Vespa) and he hears the continuous babble, laughter, flirting, and fighting of an entire urban population bringing the city to life–all at 1:14 a.m. on a Tuesday.

The research, theories, and design proposals embedded within Texture City, an interactive installation, grew out of the experiences of being continuously in the city and engaging in a kind of primary study into the efficacy and liveability of urban form. Texture City is the physical culmination of research conducted by Boutin, a recipient of the 2002 Prix de Rome. This installation, which includes models, drawings, photographs, and video/audio recordings, has been on display in various public spaces in Rome as well as galleries and universities across Canada. Recently, the installation has travelled to the Van Alen Institute in New York City.

Fundamental to the work presented in Texture City is a deep suspicion of formal mechanisms that advocate a finite definition of the public realm. Through a series of mapping exercises, Rome is revealed as a web of interconnected public spaces to be used, appropriated, adapted, and changed. As such, the city is in a continuous state of evolution, perpetually redefined by the daily lives of those who navigate and live within its complex infrastructures. In this regard, Texture City has its roots in the work of the Smithsons and Team X, who argued that it is time “…to think of architecture urbanistically and urbanism architecturally”, and Cedric Price’s notion of “inbuilt flexibility” expressed in projects such as Fun Palace, Stratford East London (1961-1965).

Influenced by the tracing of public space morphology in Rome and recordings of navigation within the contemporary public realm, the design proposals of Texture City are grounded in the belief that the city should sponsor a dynamic and inclusive public life. The proposed anticipatory infrastructures and performative surfaces empower the citizen, promoting him/her from passive observer to active participant in the unfolding of the city’s narrative. The resulting “negotiable space” is structured not through traditional means of spatial containment (private/public, interior/exterior, served/ service), but through the provision of an amenityscape that is adaptable and provides a varied amount of usable surfaces. The resulting urban texture is fluid, dense, and inclusive.

While the North American City continues to fracture itself with spaces dedicated to private interests and the individual (mega-malls, suburbs, corporate towers and automobiles), the design strategies proposed in Texture City present an alternative. They are fundamentally social in their intent, and are absorbed in notions of citizenship, both individual and collective. The surfaces of this emergent public territory engage the city dweller, sponsoring public involvement and expression. The city is given over to the people; it is they that define it, give it meaning, and grow through it.

Matthew Stanley lives and works in Calgary.