All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking. Friedrich Nietzsche
While art practices often engage with links between bodily experience and space, this is rarely the case in landscape architecture and urban design. In part, this can be attributed to the dominance of the ‘Plan’ in design practice, a ‘God-like’ view, presenting a Cartesian rather than a phenomenological reading of space. As James Corner comments ‘the phenomenological qualities of landscape space, time and material present insurmountable difficulties for drawing and representation.”1
This paper presents three techniques of ‘walking’ conceived as practices for analysing and recording a bodily engagement with space. Derived from a review of walking practices from artists, writers and philosophers,2 these techniques form part of a student research project examining walking as an analytical practice.
Technique One - Subversive Routes
A major feature of artist Richard Long’s work consists of walking a route created by a geometric shape drawn on a map. This method uncovers realities of space either reduced to a sequence of symbols on the map or absent in the map’s privileging. Many artists inspired by Richard Long’s methods such as A Line Made by Walking,3 have explored the interpretation of space through walking, adopting the practice to read the space of encounter as well as to write on the space,4 inscribing the movement of the body onto the space.
This technique, a derivative of Long’s work, involves drawing a straight line on the map of the city and then maintaining this line as a walking route, deviating as little as possible. The strategy is both subversive and exploratory, revealing interstitial space, often concealed within the dominant city plan. Rejecting the “right” way of walking (for example within the public domain) creates a different sense of place. As Christopher Tilley stresses, ‘There is an art of moving in the landscape, a right way (socially constrained) to move around in it and approach places and monuments. Part of the sense of place is the action of approaching it from the “right” (socially prescribed) direction.’5
As well as subverting the navigation and use of urban space, this practice subverts the map. The act of ‘drawing’ an alternative, unrecognisable route on the map, challenges the status of the map as one of the most powerful of all human conceptual instruments.” 6 Walking in a predetermined shape is considered particularly engaging for the body. Abstract tourism,7 established by Italian artist and semiotician Laura Ruggerri, capitalises on this phenomena through her ‘tours’ of Berlin, where visitors choose a ‘shape’ to walk the city. One participant describes his experience as a re-emphasis on the tactile, on touching and wrestling’, becoming more aware of ‘bodies in relation to the force of constructed space’.8
After drawing an alternative on the map, the walker attempts to trace the line, which is then recorded as an ‘actual’ path. It is the tension between official, proposed and actual routes which provides an understanding of the myriad of connections between spaces, with a preconceived shape directing an engagement with these paths.
Technique Two - Emotive Mapping
The Situationists9 initially explored the ‘psychogeography of the city through the concept of dérive or the drift, where the walker will abandon ‘all their usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there’.10 Subsequent uses of this technique have drawn attention to the impossibility of a ‘pure dérive’, with any prior knowledge of a place influencing how the drift is determined. Social Fiction, a contemporary Dutch collective, developed the concept of walking algorithm based on a simple sequence of turning first right, second left, first left.11 Accompanying these instructions are codes of categories such as ‘Distinct, Open, Close and Lively’,12 with the walker assigning a category based on their initial perception of a space. The record of this technique forms a colour coded map, spatially locating emotion.
Continuously moving, and quickly noting simple codes, gave access to a subconscious way of ‘knowing’ space, recording emotions without over-analysing space from an ‘expert’ viewpoint. This analysis stresses participation rather than distanced observation. The later position of the detached viewer, denotes a static observer, prioritising the ‘view’ from a singular point, rather than the bodily experience of moving through space. Deborah Parsons equates the static observer with an authoritarian viewpoint, stating:
“In this detached form of observation…the distinctive element of flânerie movement is lost, and the observer becomes an immobile figure. The act of walking, as a body within the city, seems incompatible with the need to be a totalizing, panoramic, and authorative viewpoint, of being an eye observing it… Detachment, self-assertion, and bourgeois control are now made prominent, in comparison to the wandering, subversive, and marginal ambiguity of the Baudelarian flâneur.”13
Technique Three: One Walk, Two Cities
A further experimentation, again devised by the Situationists, adopts a map of one city to navigate another. In this technique, a collaborator based in Bangkok devised a walking route commencing at a ferry terminal, which was then translated into a set of instructions. Adopting these instructions, based on time and direction and a similar ferry terminal starting point, the route was then walked in Wellington. Both participants photographed the scene at eye-level each minute, forming a visual record of the spaces encountered. Attempting to fit the Bangkok route onto Wellington’s terrain was challenging, with the experience of moving through the urban environment sharing similarities with rock climbing or sailing, with the once familiar environment now a puzzle that must be solved through traversing it.
The outcomes from this technique are twofold. First the predetermined route, similar to the geometric strategy of Technique One, encourages participants to seek new connections. This technique focuses not on the boundary lines of ownership that break the land into pieces, but on the paths that function as a kind of circulatory system connecting the whole organism’,14 thus tying and interweaving the site back into the city. Secondly, the photographic record provides a visual comparison of place, with the juxtaposition of the experienced city against the unknown, defamiliarising the environment, thereby exposing the contrasts (and surprising similarities) in the design and use of space.
Consistent to these walking techniques is the questioning of space, with the body ‘recruited as a research tool for investigating urban space, as a ‘tool for measuring space and time’.15 Most importantly, these strategies allow for the representation of these discoveries, a necessary translation to inform design practice. The abstraction of walking divorced from destination de-privileges the static site and provides new opportunities for uncovering spatial attributes; qualities which, states Connelly, must be discovered and not presumed - constructed, intensified, connected and not traced, followed in a way that is experimental’.16
- James Corner, ‘Representation and landscape: Drawing and making in the landscape medium’, Word and Image, vol 8, no 3, 1992.↩
- Artists who have used walking in the main body of their work include Richard Long and Hamish Fulton. and those who have used this technique as part of their work include (among many) Vitto Acconci, Francis Allys, Sophie Calle, Janet Cardiff. Philosophers who have used walking to access other ways of thinking include Nietzsche, Thoreau, Rousseau and Kierkegaard.↩
- Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking, England, 1967.↩
- Francesco Carreri, Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice, (ed.) Gustavo Gili, (trans.) S. Piccolo and P. Hammond, Land&Scape Series, Barcelona, 2002, 26.↩
- Christopher Tilley, A Phenomenology of Landscape Places, Paths and Monuments, USA: Berg Publishers, 1994, 28.↩
- G King, Mapping Reality: An Exploration of Cultural Cartographies, New York: St Martin’s Press, 1996, 176.↩
- Laura Ruggeri, ‘Abstract Tours’, New Babylonians Architectural Designs, (eds.) lain Borden and Sandy McCreecy, vol 71, no 3, June 2001.R↩
- Retrieved 21 October 2005 from: http://www.spacing.org/writing_abstract.html↩
- The Situationists were a radical art movement of the 1950s and 1960s that explored the urban condition.↩
- Guy-Ernest Debord, Theory de la Dérive, Les Levres Nues, November 1956. Translated as ‘Theory of the derive,’ Situationist International Anthology (ed. and trans.) Ken Knabb, Berkley, California: Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981, 53.↩
- Retrieved 21 October 2005 from: <http://www.socialfiction.org/psychogeography/ psychogeogramprint.html>.↩
- Retrieved 21 October 2005 from: http://www.socialfiction.org/psychogeography/PML.html.↩
- Deborah L Parsons, Streetwalking: The Metropolis, Women, the City and Modernity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.↩
- Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust, New York: Penguin, 2000, 162.↩
- Ibid. 4. 148.↩
- Peter Connolly, ‘Embracing openness: Making landscape urbanism landscape architectural: Part 2’. The Mesh Book: Landscape/Infrastructure, (ed.) Julian Raxworthy and Jessica Blood, Melbourne: RMIT, 2004, 208.↩