June 23, 2012 – June 25, 2012

Expressive Urbanism

This conference was partly a culmination of a series of workshops that began in April 2012 on themes such as ‘sound’, ‘light’ and ‘movement’, and equally a chance to expand the Global Street, Trading Perceptions, and other future projects of Theatrum Mundi. The meetings both introduced the themes to the larger network for continued conversation and discussed the plans for Theatrum Mundi’s next steps.

Over the past three months, six workshops on four distinct themes have been held in the cities of London, Frankfurt and New York:

‘Social Movement’ brings together choreographers, street activists, academics and architects to think about the politics of movement in cities. The first workshop focused on how the ballet of the streets acquires political meaning. Within a discussion of choreography in society and art, we explored how people move their bodies in political protests, on city streets, and on the stage. The second ‘Social Movement’ workshop expanded upon this discussion by adding the design of public spaces in cities to the conversation, as we considered a re-design proposal for the National Mall in Washington, DC. The focus was on how we create formal spaces for successful informal gatherings, as well as what movement in these spaces should look like. Interesting notes about designing spaces for politics that are also politically acceptable – and what the nuances/contradictions of this situation can be like began to emerge.

‘The Architecture of Sound’ brings together acoustic engineers, musicians, academics and theatre architects to discuss ambient sound, and the relationship of noise to music in the design of public spaces for culture. The first workshop developed a conversation about the inside and outside – both in terms of the architecture of spaces for listening, but also in terms of the formation of a listening subject from the seventeenth century to the present, and the transformation of public and private listening. The conversation invoked a consideration of generic music and generic architecture, of ambient sound and ambient space, and the critical importance of understanding how sound works in spaces of public engagement to mediate different users and different programmes at the same time. The second workshop met at an acoustic engineering studio and took the discussion to the realm of built projects, theatres, public spaces, and urban environments. The discussion established continuity with the previous workshop through a concern with the inside and outside, and drew on notions of silence in theatres, concert halls and urban spaces more generally to develop questions surrounding the possibility of designing for the urban sociability of sound.

‘Light and the City’ brings together lighting designers, industry leaders, urban planners and light artists to compare the lighting of the stage to the lighting of streets. This workshop began by asking, are we happy with the way cities are lit? The question was broken down through conversations about who the ‘we’ is – professionals or public users, and within which cultural contexts? – and about what cities in the world we are addressing? The conversation developed around identifying cultural differences in the use and relationship to lighting type, and therefore how could light negotiate difference in increasingly diverse and multicultural cities. Broader questions emerged around the relationship of light to its technology – could light be appropriated in a similar way to space? Could the metaphor of the prototype used to develop lighting technologies be adopted in the consideration of plans for public spaces? The discussion ended with a consideration of the relationship between light and information, light and safety in the city.

‘Trading Perceptions’ began its work on the theme of ‘Trading Style – The Global Street’, which identifies trade as a central factor of urban space and with it both the physical, static location of built environments intended as cultural centres of exchange, and the dynamic, fluid creolisation of aesthetic practices that characterises the necessity for transfer and adaptability within today’s cities. This workshop investigates the interconnections between trading and making whereby the city is recast as a workshop or studio-space in which perceptions are crafted, appropriated, distributed and adapted both within a physical, corporeal context and with regard to an immaterial, digital and global market place. The first experimental labour involves ethnographic collections and emerging fashion designers.