Marianna Charitonidou

The City Represented: The View from the Car as a New Perceptual Regime



052-0828-21 S Seminar History and Theory of Urban Design: The City Represented - The View from the Car

Spring semester 2021
Thursday 16:00-18:00, Weekly
Dates of the seminar: 25.02.; 04.03.; 11.03.; 18.03.; 01.04.; 15.04.; 22.04.; 29.04.; 06.05.; 20.05.

Image from: Robert Venturi, Denise Scott-Brown, “Der Parkplatz von Atlantic & Pacific Oder: Was Lehrt Und Las Vegas?”, in Das Werk: Architektur Und Kunst 56 (1969), 212.

Abstract
The automobile has reshaped our conceptions of space and our modes of accessing and penetrating the urban and non-urban territory, revolutionizing how architects perceive the city and contributing significantly to the transformation of the relationship between architecture and urban space. The seminar examines architects’ automobile vision.

Objectives of the seminar
The main objective of the seminar is to help students understand how the automobile influenced architects’ perception of the environment and how its generalized use provoked the emergence of new theoretical concepts and eventually led to new design perspectives. It aims to untie the specificity of car travel as a new episteme of the urban landscape. One of the main learning objectives will be to help students understand that the emergence of the generalised use of the car is related not only to a new epistemological regime, but also to a new representational regime. The latter, which relies upon photography, film, new modes of visual mapping and particular diagrams, serves to capture this new epistemological regime. The seminar will make students aware that there is an agency and an intentionality behind this new representational regime. The themes addressed will be grouped per means of visualization including three sections: “Drawing and the View from the Car”, “Photography and the View from the Car”, and “Film and the View from the Car”. A fourth section will concern “Cross-Fertilization between the View from the Car and Design Strategies”. The structure of the seminar is organized in clusters of architects that were interested in similar questions related to the emergence of the new perceptual regime due to the generalized use of the car.

This seminar will help students understand the difference between capturing and interpreting reality when one films or photographs during a car trip. It will help students realize that each of these modes of representation is based on a different way of retrieving an experience later on. By the end of the course, the students will be able to argue why, when we decide to represent an experience of the city and more specifically a trajectory which is based on the sequential experience of landscape in a specific way, we make choices about what we extract from reality. These choices are based on what we consider to be the most important features of an urban landscape and depends on our own values and methods regarding not only the interpretation of architecture but also the strategies of intervention on a given site. By the end of the seminar, the students will acquire the skill of achieving the best possible alignment between what they consider to be the most important characteristics and the means for representing them.

In parallel, by the end of the teaching process, the students will be able to explain why the choice of specific fragments of reality and the ways in which we relate them goes hand in hand with the taxonomies we wish to build while narrating an experience of driving through a landscape. They will also be expected to understand that there is a tension between stimulation and documentation and that the quick change of views while driving though a landscape promotes a ‘snapshot aesthetics’ and connects to memory in a different way based on the superimposition and juxtaposition of visual impressions. The objective is to help students realise that even if we intend to focus on the same features of reality each mode of representation is characterised by a capacity to focus on certain aspects of reality. Focusing of the analysis of the different modes of representation, the seminar will help students become aware that when one chooses a means of representation over another, one is setting priorities.

Content of the seminar
An important component of the course will be the exploration of the interconnection between theory and architectural design practice. In parallel, the analysis of the connections between epistemological regimes and representational regimes will help them become aware of the intentionality characterizing the use of specific modes of representation. The seminar will also aim to help students understand how to choose the mode of representation that most efficiently promotes their architectural and urban design objectives. Special attention will be paid to the improvement of their skills in elaborating concepts coming from the history and theory of architecture and urban design for self-analysing their design processes, and to the enhancement of interactive learning through the organisation of several sessions of peer feedback on the texts, drawings and photographs produced by the students.

Telling regarding the understanding of car travel as a new episteme is Reyner Banham’s following remark, in Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies: “like earlier generations of English intellectuals who taught themselves Italian in order to read Dante in the original, [Banham had to learn] […] to drive in order to read Los Angeles in the original”. During the second half of the 20th century, architects became increasingly aware of the impact of the car. Particular emphasis will be placed on the fact that the new perceptual regime related to its generalised use became more apparent within the American context. Some seminal books in which this becomes evident are Donald Appleyard, Kevin Lynch, and John Myer’s The View from the Road (1964), Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971), and Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour’s Learning from Las Vegas (1972). For instance, in the latter, it becomes evident that one cannot make sense of Las Vegas by walking. Special attention will be paid to the analysis of cases that demonstrate that the view from the car as a new perceptual regime, instead of functioning simply as a tool serving to document visual impressions during travel, plays an important role in shaping the architects’ own architectural and urban design strategies.

Throughout the seminar the students will work collaboratively in order to contribute to the production of an exhibition entitled “The View from the Car: Autopia as a New Perceptual Regime”, which will be displayed at the gta exhibitions foyer space. An ensemble of exercises that will be held every two sessions will help students get familiarized with the theoretical concepts and the modes of representation analysed in the seminar. A booklet published at the end of the seminar will bring together the outcomes of these different exercises. The final presentation of the seminar will take place within the exhibition space and will be accompanied by the feedback of a jury consisting of different professors from the school.

Structure of the seminar
1. Drawing and the view from the car
1.1. Kevin Lynch, Donald Appleyard and John Myer’s Mapping Strategies: Cognitive Maps, 25.02.2021
1.2. Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour’s Diagrams: The Specificity of the American Urban and the View from the Car, 04.03.2021
1.3. Ian Nairn and Gordon Cullen’s “serial vision”, Outrage and subtopia, 11.03.2021
2. Photography and the view from the car
2.1. John Lautner’s residences as equivalents of cameras: The "autophotographic grasp",18.03.2021
2.2. The “as found” and the act of capturing very materiality of the artefacts through street photography, 01.04.2021
2.3. Aldo Rossi’s act of taking photographs from the car: Shaping mental maps of the cities, 15.04.2021
3. Film and the view from the car
3.1. Kevin Lynch’s movie “View from The Road”, 22.04.2021
3.2. Reyner Banham’s movie “Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles”, 29.04.2021
3.3. Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s “Deadpan” film, 06.05.2021
4. The cross-fertilization between the view from the car and the design strategies, 20.05.2021

Lecture notes
A printed syllabus and a handout including the visual and textual material to be investigated during the seminar will be provided in the first seminar class. Weekly assigned readings will be provided in digital form. Additional readings will be put on reserve in the library.

Representative bibliography
Appleyard, Donald, Kevin Lynch, John Myer, The View from the Road (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1964).

Banham, Reyner, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971), introduction by Anthony Vidler (Berkeley, California; London: University of California Press, c2000).

Brown, Denise Scott, Steven Izenour, Robert Venturi, Learning from Las Vegas (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1972).

Cullen, Gordon, The Concise Townscape (London: Architectural Press, 1961).

Hess, Alan. Googie Redux: Ultramodern Roadside Architecture (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2004).

Nairn, Ian, Outrage (London, Architectural Press, 1955); the book combined articles published in Architectural Review, 117, no. 702 (1955): 364-460.

Nairn, Ian, The American Landscape: A Critical View (New York, Random House, 1965).

Stadler, Hilar, Martino Stierli, Peter Fischli, Las Vegas Studio: Bilder aus dem Archiv von Robert Venturi und Denise Scott Brown (Zürich: Scheidegger & Spiess, 2008).

Stierli, Martino, Las Vegas in the Rearview Mirror: The City in Theory, Photography, and Film (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2013).

_ _ _ _. “In Sequence: Cinematic Perception in Learning from Las Vegas”, in Hunch 12 (2009): 76-85.

Venturi, Robert, Denise Scott Brown, "Significance for A&P Parking Lots, or Learning from Las Vegas", in Architectural Forum (1968): 37-43.

Yoder, Joh, “Vision and Crime: The Cinematic Architecture of John Lautner”, in D. Medina Lasansky, ed., Archi.Pop: Mediating Architecture in Popular Culture (London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), 45-58.

This course is offered mainly for master’s students and is limited to 18 participants.

Assessment
Active participation in class discussions 10%
Exercises during the semester 10% each (3 exercises in total). These exercises will be also displayed in the exhibition "The View from the Car: Autopia as a New Perceptual Regime" and will be published in a booklet that will be produced. Therefore, the students will have the opportunity to communicate their visual and textual outcomes.
Final paper and presentation 30%

Contact: Dr. ir. Marianna Charitonidou