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Sensing "La Sèptima" - A haptic to urban practices in Bogotà's public spaces

Paula Mendez Romero

Sensing "La Sèptima" - A haptic to urban practices in Bogotà's public spaces.

Rel. Francesca Governa. Politecnico di Torino, Corso di laurea magistrale in Architettura Costruzione Città, 2014


This research project has its first and profoundest origin on the personal experience of having lived more than 22 years in a city of strong socio-economical segregation. A city where rich, but also poor ones, live mostly in guarded buildings, condominiums or gated communities because of a collective construction of culture based on inequality, insecurity problems, violence and distrust. A city where sharing spaces with the others implies an evident sensation of discomfort, shame and denial; a city where the meaning of public is automatically associated with corruption, dirtiness, disorder and opacity. A city where high class inhabitants use to get embarrassed by popular practices, poverty and informality.

A subsequent origin, equally important and only secondary because of having been an intellectual necessity developed in the last 6 years of architecture studies, is the sense of responsibility about including in the On creative process of architecture and urban design the social dynamics and problems that get constantly expressed in and through urban space. This sense of duty towards my cultural roots pervades constantly my craft-the so-called ability of dreaming and imagining spaces and materializing them into the real world - and my actual situation as a young architect who is about to confront the reality of the city but feels totally impotent and unprepared regarding the vast plurality of the social relations in the urban phenomenon, its infinite polymorphic, intangible and multidimensional possibilities and the evident inter-scalar connections (Ward, 2009; Jessop, Brenner, & Jones, 2008) of every single living creature with dynamics invisible to the simple eyes of an architect. This intellectual and personal necessity implies, for me, the development of an alternative creative process based on a critical and conscious view - actually sensing - of what the city is or can be1 and what its public spaces mean for society. A breaking of the dichotomy of theorizing and doing architecture and urban design is needed.

Posing an alternative design process implies, from my point of view, a self-deconstruction of the architect as a presumed creative genius capable of foreseeing, controlling and defining the socio spatial relations through its representations and urban projects. The self-dissection of the proceedings learnt during my academic journey becomes necessary, with the purpose of assuming that the chore of architects does not begin when the first black line is drawn on a blank page and does not end when the project is constructed. On the contrary, it begins with the acceptation of the immeasurable complexity of the city, of the fragmentary juxtaposition of infinite physical and non physical layers and the attempt to comprehend them and include them in the architectural project. In fact, the creative process never concludes: it extends endlessly in time and space through the unpredictable appropriation and use given by humans and other actors to the constructed spaces.

Generating spaces of heterogeneity becomes, as far as I’m concerned, a key point in this kind of creative process. Nevertheless, heterogeneity not only refers to the socio-economical layers of culture, but furthermore to the multiplicity and mixture existing in both individual and collective sensory and sensual experience. I truly believe that diversity in the perceptual experience of places contributes to the comprehension and creation of a more inclusive and sensitive city, whose places are living -rather than lived - spaces (Amin & Thrift, 2002) capable of generating sensorial impact and evoke memories, emotions and imageries. In order to fulfill this need of diversity in sensory experience, I propose to honor, through the development of an alternative way of representation and creation of the city, the great net that conforms the identity of a person; the net of memories, identification and appropriation constituted by the hybrid relations of individuals and space only possible through the body and the senses. The appropriation and urban practices of the public spaces of “La Carrera Séptima”, the most important pedestrianized Street of the city centre of my hometown - Bogotá- becomes the central issue of this tribute.

The first part of this investigation - Sensing the City - consists in the development of a more coherent approach to the complexity of urban space through the theoretical and practical deconstruction of several dichotomies. The first one is underpinned by the origins of this research: my personal (private) and intellectual (public) experiences. The second one is the dichotomy of the physical and the non-physical. Yes, architects are constantly dealing with designs, with the materialization of an habitat, with the solution of constructive details and the dimensions of sidewalk tiles. But are not the materials and physical facts chosen by us those that embrace the urban life in general terms? Is not that asphaltic material the one that licks the soles of persons that are simultaneously touching, hearing, smelling, tasting and seeing a reality constructed by an infinity of other things? Are not these persons city actors who behave accordingly to emotional, psychological, sensorial and precognitive dimensions (Pile, 2009)? On the same line, an additional dichotomy becomes broken: the insider-outsider figures historically present in the practical studies of urban phenomenon.

It is relevant to note that this breaking of dichotomies and the self-deconstruction as an ocularcentric architect leads to the choice of confronting urban space through a qualitative research method and a haptic geography unfolded in public space.

Firstly, the definition of a fieldwork program based on participatory tasting, smelling, listening, touching, and not only observing urban practices, becomes a key point previous to the actual confrontation with real public space and the inapprehensible entanglements of quotidian life in Bogotá. Sensing the urban practices and being conscious about their sensorial dimensions is the essential core in the realization of a geography of “what happens” in public space. Moreover, the urban metaphors of the flâneur, the rythmanalyse and urban footprints and namings, critically interpreted by human geographers Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift (2005), turn out to be a fundamental part of the conceptual conciliation between the insider and outsider figures present in the conscious sensing of the social dynamics in 'La Séptima'.

Secondly, deciding to include into the architectonical creative process the understanding of urban spaces as endlessly open and mutable, presupposes the use of equally polymorphic and dynamic representation tools. A ‘Non-representational theory’, where more attention is given to the quotidian interactions, the affective performances of urban actors and the pre-cognitive aspects of embodied life (Pile, 2009; Simpson, 2011),is the theoretical background sustaining my choice of specific and diverse representation techniques and especially the effort about presenting, rather than representing, public space and the performance of quotidian life and urban practices (Latham, 2003b).

The second part of this investigation - More than a sensory (Re) presentation - consists, in fact, in the presentation of “La Séptima” a presentation constructed after my physical, sensorial and emotional immersion during one month of intense fieldwork; a juxtaposition of the multiple overlapping of sensorial experiences, of embodied affections, of memories, of the aesthetic phenomena induced bya unimaginable diversity and mixture of textures, smells, flavors, sounds and images; a collage of smellscapes, soundscapes, touchscapes, tastescapes and landscapes (re) presented through different tools capable of evoking simultaneously the experience of diverse sensory domains; a fragmented storytelling of “what happened” and of what really provoked sensory and emotional impact in my body.

Nevertheless, this presentation does not remain as a pseudo-artistic collage of impressions; it appears permeated by a critical interpretation, a rereading of the problems and questions constantly vibrating in my body during the fieldwork period, an exploration of the meaning of public space in a context of social inequality, a re-elaboration of the emotional impacts received while walking and sensing "La Séptima” and their translation into the language of a culturally and socially critical point of view. This critical interpretation has its origins only on what was directly lived, registered, experienced and captured on the field, because the purpose of this haptic work is to define the public space through a 'geography of what happens' and embrace the simultaneity and chaos of diverse socio spatial relations. Consequently, even if the research field program was firstly declared as the conscious sensing of the urban practices, this (re)presentation is grounded on diverse and disjoint stories where the juxtaposition of the endless social dynamics, the spaces and particular events is evident. The impossibility of separating and cataloguing the urban practices became imperative after some failed attempts of giving order to the fascinating and chaotic phenomenon of socio spatial relations.

Relators: Francesca Governa
Publication type: Printed
Subjects: A Architettura > AO Design
U Urbanistica > UK Pianificazione urbana
Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea magistrale in Architettura Costruzione Città
Classe di laurea: UNSPECIFIED
Aziende collaboratrici: UNSPECIFIED
URI: http://webthesis.biblio.polito.it/id/eprint/3812


1 The eyes, ears, skin, nose and tongue of an architect

1.1 Qualitative research methods for architects and urban designers

1.1.1 Fluid intentions but solid procedures

1.1.2 Melancholic sidewalks and petrified pedestrians

1.1.3 Participant sensing: melting with public spaces

1.1.4 The haptic revolution of the architect

1.2 Sensing the urban practices: Ageography of “what happens”

1.2.1 Performative public spaces and urban practices

1.2.2 Points of Sensing

1.2.3 The Rythmanalyst, Flâneur and Space-Time Identifier

2 (Re)presenting the City

2.1 (Re)presentation techniques: texts, soundscapes, video, photography and 2D-3D drawing

3 Sensing and capturing “La Séptima”: A fieldwork program



4 “La Séptima”

4.1 Imágenes de siempre

4.2 The sense of collective culture and the image of the city



5.2 Bogotá: The City of the Rich -The City of the Poor

5.3 Un homenaje húmedo

5.4 The otherness: Social inequality expressed in public space

5.5 Limpiar y comer

5.6 The unfulfilled right to the city

6 Invaders?Sensory invasion of “La Séptima”

6.1 Formal vs. Informal

6.2 Multisensory and creative city: the spaces of popular cultures

6.3 Mango Marioneta Pandereta

6.4 Economic resilience and public space

6.5 Comer y rodar

7 Everyday life and public spaces

7.1 La mercancía

7.2 Movements, novelty and encounters

7.3 Carro y perro

7.4 More than Human Actors

7.5 El ataque de las palomas

8 What is Public Space?

8.1 Public space and Public Sphere

8.2 Primero de Mayo

8.3 Democracy and urban practices : Claiming for the Right to the City

8.4 La caída del sol





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