Archive for December, 2007


Language Wall

December 12, 2007

greatapelanguage3.jpgBy substituting a visual scheme for an auditive one we can, as it were, lay our cards on the table, and see them, not merely as separate cards but as related members of the pack…the graph…permits one to organise and to bring out and relate items which seem otherwise scattered and insignificant.
– Lewis Mumford, essay ‘Graphics’ in letter to Geddes 26 July 1923 

This is a proposal for a ‘language wall’ visually representing all the languages spoke in Dundee and surrounding regions from the earliest known to the present day. It is based on an earlier project in the Edinburgh Room of the Outlook Tower. The ‘Edinburgh Room’ in the Outlook Tower contained over the years a plethora of teaching aids and tools for learning, from a relief map of the entire city and region of Edinburgh and Lothian to various globes and spheres to outline the geography of the neighbourhood be it local or celestial. 

The earlier language wall (circa 1906) was a wall-mural of the history of the languages of Scotland represented in a sweeping coloured-coded graph surrounding the entire walls, starting from pre-Pictish, Gaelic, Norse, Doric, Scots, French, Latin, and English amongst many others. It was a visual representation of cultural history.

The 21st C Language Wall would be the same but would doubtless explode into a celebration of the many languages spoken today, from Urdu to Polish as well as indigenous languages and others variously defined. Geddes is often accused of being a poor communicator (often derided as an impenetrable writer and a confused and rambling speaker), he was in fact a populist at heart, dedicated to ‘civic museums’, pageants, multi-media representation of ideas, murals, decorative arts, inspiring buildings and gardens and bringing life to his ideal of urban and social renewal. This populist urge is contrasted with his scathing account of academics (‘futilitarians’) and book-based learning which he dismisses as ‘death to ideas’.

 He argued that: “Large views in the abstract depend on large views in the concrete”, and this is the intention of the language wall project which should be manifested on a large scale (at least 100ft wide) and digitally back-projected. Mumford wrote that, for Geddes: “Thought does not imply divorce from activity or responsibility; into it has gone not merely the studies of the scholar and scientist, but the feelings of the lover, the husband, the father, the friend, and the experience of the artist, technician, planner.” 

The Language Wall project is  an expression of visual thinking and the ideal of promoting ‘large views in the concrete’ in this respect promoting both cultural history and contemporary multicultural awareness. It is both about an intervention into public space, as well as ongoing cultural renewal and internationalism.  

It’s envisaged that this project would draw in research from and interaction with geographers, historians, language experts, local community and minority cultural groups as well as working with visual artists and new media workers to create the end project. 

Mike Small, Beyond Text proposal December 2007

* the image shows signs used to train Apes in animal language research


Performance and recursivity: the desire line

December 12, 2007


We need to shift from formal accounts of the built environment to look at the question of how it is experienced. Hence subjectivity…

Lacan’s diagram of the drives traces what we might call a desire line. It alludes to the essential spatiality of desire. It might as well describe our affective relations to the city. Imagine tracing a line across your lover’s breast, and then repeating that on the city. Desire leaps the gap between the subjective world and objects. Our objects are not simply given to us, they are shaped by our signifiers, they are always symbolic objects. Look at the landscape of the body, how we differentiate it into objects. So too the city. [Otherwise a breast is a breast is a breast, a butcher’s cartography, no more no less.]

The drive is always a return journey, so says Lacan. The line circumvents the object (the ‘a’) and returns to the circle (the rim). My signifiers always circumvent what I desire, I am never in possession of it. [The lesson of Midas is that we never get what we desire or else we die; we go on desiring until we die.]

The rim is a place. It represents the site for my desire, even though my desire is always elsewhere. We make places by returning to them. I foray into the abyss in pursuit of my objects, and return safely to a place. Architecture is always involved in this dialogue between the foray out (abyss, danger), the return (safety, place). Spaces become places when we return to them. Hence the essentially recursive nature of place. It is a mistake to think that you might return without a ticket. Return engages all the mechanisms of remembering and reflecting and representing. Déjà vu (a new place that seems as if we have visited it before) and its twin sister derealisation (a place we visited before that seems as if it were new) are simply disruptions in the formation of place.

For Lacan’s diagram, cf. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis; for déjà vu cf. Freud, ‘The uncanny’; for derealisation cf. Freud, ‘A disturbance of memory on the Acropolis’.


Food/ Forethought

December 6, 2007

Case for support (1200words + 2 sides of A4 images) 7 headings


Fit to Beyond Text Programme (aims and 5 themes of BT agenda)

Aims & Objectives (specific targets and outcomes)

Research Questions (issues you explore)

Research Context (importance, other research in field, contribution to field, audience)

Research Methods (why this approach to research questions, innovations, roles of the players)

Outputs & Dissemination (examples of outputs, publications, audience, impact on policy)

Timetable (feasibility of project)


the post-geddesian world of fantasy destinations

December 5, 2007


Geddes’ valley section has a specificity that makes it seem quaintly out of place in our contemporary world. It continues to describe Dundee in its geographical location, but no longer seems to describe Dundee. It is not simply that the industries (miner shepherd fisher) illustrated in it have moved on; more importantly, they have been replaced by industries that are no longer linked to this – or any – place. Dundee the jute centre could only exist here, with its harbour and its watercourses, down the road from the linen industry in Edinburgh and England. Cardiff the coal port could only exist at the point where the mining valleys reach the sea. Dundee, the centre for digital gaming, medical research, and tourism, could be almost anywhere. The post-industrial European city that has had to trade heavy industry for service industry can be anywhere there is a high speed connection and most of them are now more economical to run in India. And consumer ‘industries’, aka retail, is the same in Dundee as in Dubai. It is not to say that geography is not longer important, indeed, one of Dundee’s salient features is its waterfront on the Tay estuary and one of the salient features of Dundee’s identity is the relation of its fabric to the waterfront. Nevertheless, there is a creeping locationlessness to the city that could almost be anywhere now that its raison d’etre lies no longer in the heavy industry that was necessarily linked to natural resources. This is one reason why the mall has the oneiric quality of Calvino’s Invisible Cities: they are everywhere and nowhere, each new city is the same city reiterated. We are committed to the importance and efficaciousness of place for a healthy body politic, indeed this research intends to look at the way we make places by inscribing them with identity (temporal and spatial markers, oral and visual artifacts), but we note the way places are beginning to get all floaty on us, we note the way a creeping locationlessness is putting pressure on places.

Of course, for Geddes this section inscribed the city not only in a location but in the historical development of civilisation from river head (its beginnings) to harbour (its industrial flourish). This section inscribes the city in its temporal as well as spatial coordinates. And in the same way that place is beginning to lose its spatial moorings, so too is it beginning to lose its temporal ones. The city will have a future in a defacto sort of way (lets not talk about environmental political social apocalypse, not just yet), but it is difficult for the inhabitants of the city to form any coherent pictures of the future because these pictures are so co-opted by the advertising, tourist, and governance industries. The future is not just a picture but also a direction: it is difficult to locate oneself on this line also, because our pictures of the past have been similarly co-opted, disrupted, corrupted, bankrupted.



The Estuary

December 4, 2007

Significance of the Tay


A non-sentimental view of Dundee’s objects…

December 3, 2007

How does the city communicate? (through non-textual means) What does the city communicate? (a history, a culture, an identity) To whom or to what does it communicate? (its inhabitants and its strangers). These are the fundamental research questions of this project. It is possible to subsume under these all the issues we have so far reviewed. The answers are, in a sense, quick and obvious; but elaborating them will help us to plan cities, to design them, to experience them, to make them platforms for collective thought.

The research aims and methodologies will be – in effect – the projects about Dundee which answer these questions. The context is the history of urbanism, a checklist of practitioners and books from the stoics (those philosophers of the marketplace) to the situationists to the new media practitioners who propose that digital space and technology are the new collective forums.

A non-sentimental view of one of Dundee’s objects…



Meeting minutes Thursday 29 November 07

December 3, 2007

These notes are simply a transcription of the large note pad plus a number of other salient points. They are necessarily quick, they are reference points, landmarks, not a complete surface.

5 AHRC Beyond Text themes:

  • Making & unmaking
  • Performance, improvisation, & embodied knowledge
  • Technology, innovation, & tradition
  • Mediations
  • Transmission & memory

These cut horizontally across a number of themes or areas of interest that reflect the concerns of the group. With a bit of luck, they will be the stuff of collaborative projects:

  • Boundaries and edges: between social groups, racial groups, between city and region, urban and rural, between neighbourhoods. (Anne: the mosque among the mills, the garden among the mills)
  • The waterfront: the waterfront is Dundee’s most salient feature. The waterfront development is part of a Scottish national initiative that encompasses the River Clyde on the west coast, and Edinburgh/Leith, Dundee, Aberdeen, up the east coast.
  • The north edge of Dundee (the wild west, the hinterland, (thanks Mike G)).
  • Languages and migration: the old and new Polish communities, the growth of a local language (Mike’s language wall).
  • Watercourses: the watercourses that are ‘internal’ to Dundee
  • The Tay Valley: the city and its regions needs to include not just the Dundee waterfront, but both sides of the Tay Valley.
  • The environment: the effects of Dundee upon its waterways and environment, the effects of environmental change on Dundee, its environment, its waterfront (Alison, the organic the inorganic the waste).
  • Green spaces: urban vs green space (the Botanic Gardens).
  • Futures, past futures, tradition or heritage in relation to projected futures
  • Dundee’s important objects and places (its salient buildings, landmarks, and skyline, which may or may not be the same as the list of historically significant buildings). How do the landmarks of Dundee define the identity of Dundee and Dundonians. How do they figure in the affective relationships that Dundonians have to their city. How do they define the narratives of love and loathing that seem to animate Dundonians’ relations to their city. Tayside House, loved or loathed, figures strongly in the mental map of Dundee. A project might look closely at a specific landmark or landmarks.
  • Areas of selected interest (for instance Hill Town, Roseangle): a project might look closely at a specific area.
  • Civility, civil behaviour, anti-social behaviour: how does the city encode ideas of civility and script behaviour?
  • The identity of Dundee: the identity of Dundee lies not in its particular buildings or style of buildings, but in the relationship of Dundee to its waterfront. This relation is formal and cultural, a question of fabric and street grid, and of history, heritage, expectation, folklore, etc. Identity for whom (the inhabitant, the migrant, the visitor)?
  • Archives: the Thompson Archives and the Dundee City Planning Archives are particularly rich in social and planning history, respectively. These and other archives are a source for defining past futures of the city. There were a number of proposals for projects involving the archives, either to use them to look at specific planning periods (Beth) or to look at how Dundee represents itself to itself and to others, in its archives (Lorens).

It should be clear that a number of these themes partially or wholly include each other. There is a density around boundaries and edges that includes waterfront and wild west, and includes languages and migration, and to which issues from environment, greenspace, and the identity of Dundee cohere. The archives projects could be used to examine any of the themes. These are narratives, all of them are narratives of Dundee, and we need to think about how we can weave them together.

I think that if we could do something with two poles, something around archives (identity, the past, past futures, planning, the waterfront, language) and something around planning/surveying/recording/intervening in the physical city (which did not really get mentioned at this meeting but got considerable airtime at the first meeting), we would be doing alright.