Formulary for a New Urbanism

Ivan Chtcheglov

SIRE, I AM FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY

We are bored in the city, there is no longer any Temple of the Sun. Between the legs of the women walking by, the dadaists imagined a monkey wrench and the surrealists a crystal cup. Thatís lost. We know how to read every promise in faces - the latest stage of morphology. The poetry of the billboards lasted twenty years. We are bored in the city, we really have to strain to still discover mysteries of the sidewalk billboards, the latest state of humour and poetry:

Shower-Bath of the Patriarchs
Meat Cutting Machines
Notre-Dame Zoo
Sports Pharmacy
Martyrs Provisions
Translucent Concrete
Golden Touch Sawmill
Centre for Functional Recuperation
Saint Anne Ambulance
Cafe Fifth Avenue
Prolonged Volunteers Street
Family Boarding House in the Garden
Hotel of Strangers
Wild Street

And the swimming pool on the Street of Little Girls. And the police station on Rendezvous Street. The medical-surgical clinic and the free placement centre on the Quai des Orfevres. The artificial flowers on Sun Street. The Castle Cellars Hotel, the Ocean Bar and the Coming and Going Cafe. The Hotel of the Epoch.

And the strange statue of Dr. Philippe Pinel, benefactor of the insane, in the last evenings of summer. To explore Paris.

And you, forgotten, your memories ravaged by all the consternations of the mappimundi, stranded in the Red Cellars of Pali-Kao, without music and without geography, no longer setting out for the hacienda where the roots think of the child and where the wine is downed with fables from an old almanac. Now thatís finished. Youíll never see the hacienda. It doesnít exist.

The hacienda must be built.

All towns are geological; you cannot take three steps without encountering ghosts bearing all the prestige of their legends. We move within a closed landscape whose landmarks constantly draw us toward the past. Certain shifting angles, certain receding perspectives, allow us to glimpse original conceptions of space, but this vision remains fragmentary. It must be sought in the magical locales of fairy tales and surrealist writings: castles, endless walls, little forgotten bars, mammoth caverns, casino mirrors.

These dated images retain a small catalysing power, but it is almost impossible to use them in a symbolic urbanism without rejuvenating them by giving them a new meaning. Our imaginations, haunted by the old archetypes, have remained far behind the perfected machines. The various attempts to integrate modern science into new myths remain inadequate. Meanwhile abstraction has invaded all the arts, contemporary architecture in particular. The eye is soothed and refrozen by the plastic fact, shorn of all accidentals but nevertheless inanimate. Elsewhere other fragmentary beauties can be found - while the promised land of syntheses continually recedes into the distance. Everyone wavers between the emotionally still-alive past and the already dead future.

We will not work to prolong the mechanical civilisations and frigid architecture that ultimately lead to boring leisure.


We propose to invent new, changeable decors.

Darkness and obscurity are banished by artificial lighting, and the seasons by air conditioning; night and summer are losing their charm and dawn is disappearing. The man of the cities thinks he has escaped from cosmic reality, but there is no corresponding expansion of his dream life. The reason is clear: dreams spring from reality and are realised in it.

The latest technological developments would make possible the individualís unbroken contact with cosmic reality while eliminating its disagreeable aspects. Stars and rain can be seen through glass ceilings. The mobile house turns with the sun, its sliding walls enable vegetation to invade life. Mounted on tracks, it can go down to the sea in the morning and return to the forest in the evening.

Architecture is the simplest means of articulating time and space, of modulating reality, of engendering dreams. It is a matter not only of plastic articulation and modulation expressing an ephemeral beauty, but of a modulation producing influences in accordance with the eternal spectrum of human desires and the progress in realising them.

The architecture of tomorrow will be a means of modifying present conceptions of time and space. It will be a means of knowledge and a means of action.

The architectural complex will be modifiable. Its aspect will change totally or partially in accordance with the will of its inhabitants....

Past collectives offered the masses an absolute truth and incontrovertible mythical exemplars. The appearance of the notion of relativity in the modern mind allows one to surmise the EXPERIMENTAL aspect of the next civilisation (although Iím not satisfied with that word; say, more supple, more "fun"). On the bases of this mobile civilisation, architecture will, at least initially, be a means of experimenting with a thousand ways of modifying life, with a view to a mythic synthesis.

A mental disease has swept the planet: banalisation.

Everyone is hypnotised by production and conveniences sewage system, elevator, bathroom, washing machine.

This state of affairs, arising out of a struggle against poverty, has overshot its ultimate goal - the liberation of man from material cares - and become an obsessive image hanging over the present. Presented with the alternative of love or a garbage disposal unit, young people of all countries have chosen the garbage disposal unit. It has become essential to bring about a complete spiritual transformation by bringing to light forgotten desires and by creating entirely new ones, And by carrying out an intensive propaganda in favour of these desires.

We have already pointed out the need of constructing situations as being one of the fundamental desires on which the next civilisation will be founded. This need for absolute creation has always been intimately associated with the need to play with architecture, time and space....

Chirico remains one of the most remarkable architectural precursors. He was grappling with the problems of absences and presences in time and space.

We know that an object that is not consciously noticed at the time of a first visit can, by its absence during subsequent visits, provoke an indefinable impression: as a result of this sighting backward in time, the absence of the object becomes a presence one can feel. More precisely: although the quality of the impression generally remains indefinite, it nevertheless varies with the nature of the removed object and the importance accorded it by the visitor, ranging from serene joy to terror. (It is of no particular significance that in this specific case memory is the vehicle of these feelings; I only selected this example for its convenience.)

In Chiricoís paintings (during his Arcade period) an empty space creates a full-filled time, it is easy to imagine the fantastic future possibilities of such architecture and its influence on the masses. Today we can have nothing but contempt for a century that relegates such blueprints to its so-called museums.

This new vision of time and space, which will be the theoretical basis of future constructions, is still imprecise and will remain so until experimentation with patterns of behaviour has taken place in cities specifically established for this purpose, cities assembling - in addition to the facilities necessary for a minimum of comfort and security - buildings charged with evocative power, symbolic edifices representing desires, forces, events past, present and to come. A rational extension of the old religious systems, of old tales, and above all of psychoanalysis, into architectural expression becomes more and more urgent as all the reasons for becoming impassioned disappear.

Everyone will live in his own personal "cathedral", so to speak. There will be rooms more conducive to dreams than any drug, and houses where one cannot help but love. Others will be irresistibly alluring to travellers...

This project could be compared with the Chinese and Japanese gardens of illusory perspectives - with the difference that those gardens are not designed to be lived in all the time - or with the ridiculous labyrinth in the Jardin des Plantes, at the entry to which is written (height of absurdity, Ariadne unemployed): Games are forbidden in the labyrinth.

This city could he envisaged in the form of an arbitrary assemblage of castles, grottoes, lakes, etc. It would be the baroque stage of urbanism considered as a means of knowledge. But this theoretical phase is already outdated, We know that a modern building could be constructed which would have no resemblance to a medieval castle but which could preserve and enhance the Castle poetic power (by the conservation of a strict minimum of lines, the transposition of certain others, the positioning of openings, the topographical location, etc.).

The districts of this city could correspond to the whole spectrum of diverse feelings that one encounters by chance in everyday life.

Bizarre Quarter - Happy Quarter (specially reserved for habitation) - Noble and Tragic Quarter (for good children) - Historical Quarter (museums, schools) - Useful Quarter (hospital, tool shops) Sinister Quarter, etc. And an Astrolaire which would group plant species in accordance with the relations they manifest with the stellar rhythm, a planetary garden comparable to that which the astronomer Thomas wants to establish at Laaer Berg in Vienna. Indispensable for giving the inhabitants a consciousness of the cosmic. Perhaps also a Death Quarter, not for dying in but so as to have somewhere to live in peace, and I think here of Mexico and of a principle of cruelty in innocence that appeals more to me every day.

The Sinister Quarter, for example, would be a good replacement for those hellholes that many peoples once possessed in their capitals: they symbolised all the evil forces of life. The Sinister Quarter would have no need to harbour real dangers, such as traps, dungeons or mines. It would be difficult to get into, with a hideous decor (piercing whistles, alarm bells, sirens wailing intermittently, grotesque sculptures, power-driven mobiles, called Auto-Mobiles), and as poorly lit at night as it is blindingly lit during the day by an intensive use of reflection. At the centre, the "Square of the Appalling Mobile." Saturation of the market with a product causes the productís market value to fall: thus, as they explored the Sinister Quarter, the child and the adult would learn not to fear the anguishing occasions of life, but to be amused by them.

The principal activity of the inhabitants will be the Continuous Dérive. The changing of landscapes from one hour to the next will result in complete disorientation....

Later, as the gestures inevitably grow stale, this derive will partially leave the realm of direct experience for that of representationÖ

The economic obstacles are only apparent. We know that the more a place is set apart for free play, the more it influences peopleís behaviour and the greater is its force of attraction. This is demonstrated by the immense prestige of Monaco and Las Vegas - and Reno, that caricature of free love - although they are mere gambling places. Our first experimental city would live largely off tolerated and controlled tourism, Future avant-garde activities and productions would naturally tend to gravitate there. In a few years it would become the intellectual capital of the world and would be universally recognised as such.

Report by Ivan Chtcheglov (alias Gilles Ivain), adopted by the Lettrist International, October 1953.

This version is combines translations circulated by the London Psychogeographical Association and Ken Knabb (ed. Situationist International Anthology)

psychogeography:
The study of the specific effects of geography on the geographical environment, consciously organised or nor, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.

psychogeographical:
Relating to psychogeography. That which manifests the geographical environments direct emotional effects

psychogeographer:
One who explores and reports on psychogeographical phenomena.

dérive:
A mode of experimental behaviour linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of transient passage through varied ambiances. Also used to designate a specific period of continuos dériving.

unitary urbanism:
The theory of the combined use of the arts and techniques for the integral construction of a milieu in dynamic relation with experiments in behaviour.

from: Situationist International Journal 11

 

 

 

 

"In 1953 Ivan Chtcheglov, then aged 19 and using the pseudonym Gilles Ivain, wrote a short manifesto called Formula for a New City. The text was a badly needed shot in the arm for French Surrealism - increasingly bogged down in virtually conventional art and cultural rehabilitation since the end of the twenties. Chtcheglovís central theme was that the city was itself a total work of art, the total work of real life so long sought for. Need for a total creation has always been inseparable from the need to play with architecture, to play with time and space. Only in the possibilities offered by the real distribution of time and space can all dreams become true and become one. This manifesto seems one of the most brilliant single pieces of writing produced since the heyday of modern art just after the First World War. Unfortunately his own visions were to prove too much for Chtcheglov; he ended up in the lunatic asylum a few years later."

Christopher Cray - Essays from Leaving the 20th Century (reprinted in 'What is Situationism? A Reader' - Stewart Home (ed.) AK Press)

 

 


back