City ground: constructed totality: Artistic and architectural preoccupations with asphalt in the US west coast 1952-1972

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Abstract / Description of output

Through close study of selected artistic and architectural preoccupations with city ground, and the asphalt ground of the modern US west coast city in the mid-twentieth century in particular, this paper explores the geographical idea of the city as a totality of construction, and how this has influenced and intersected subsequent architectural practices of study, research and design practice. The photographic content of key constructed works from 1952 until 1972: a short film by Charles and Ray Eames, Reyner Banham’s curated images by Ed Ruscha and others in his written and filmed publications on Los Angeles, and Venturi and Scott Brown’s much discussed work on Las Vegas; are argued here to be evidence of a conceiving of the city as both a totality of construction, and as a totality of experience, where the observer/author/designer/researcher becomes a participant. Interchanges and borrowings from geographical, anthropological and other modes of field/work practice, in particular the ‘as found’ art practices of the 1960s, are touched on, alongside the infatuation and experimentation with new techniques and technologies of film, photography, and airborne views which contributed to a fresh preoccupation with the ground as a continuous surface. Intertwining of geological and geographical with architectural and urban understanding and reading of the paradigmatic city of horizontal expansion has shifted methods of inquiry and evaluation of the city. There is more emphasis on empirical encounter, direct observation and documentation, and an understanding of city ground as a material groundscape, an automobile palimpsest and a figured ground as context for architectural attention and potential proposition.
The paradigmatic city of horizontal expansion
In his introduction to the reprinted edition of Los Angeles, Architecture of the Four Ecologies, Anthony Vidler positions Reyner Banham’s 1972 written and filmed urban documentaries as a new kind of work on the city. Banham was influenced by geographer, Anton Wagner, his idea of the city as a totality of construction, and “The idea of a city whose history is firmly rooted in its geology and geography...the idea of the architecture of the city as less important than the totality of its construction” and he draws attention to the dependency of geology and geography to the history of the cityi. The space-time science of geography and ground-time science of geology, and other spatial and material disciplines such as anthropology, ethnography, archaeology, material culture, have increasingly become a significant foundation for conceiving of and working with the city. With Vidler’s observation as a starting point, in this paper I examine the idea of the city as “a totality of construction”,
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Theoretical Currents II: Architecture & Its Geographic Horizons Conference
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2012
EventTheoretical Currents II: Architecture & Its Geographic Horizons - Lincoln, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Apr 20126 Apr 2012

Conference

ConferenceTheoretical Currents II: Architecture & Its Geographic Horizons
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CityLincoln
Period5/04/126/04/12

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