On Saturday, February 27, Ava Roy, Artistic Director of the We Players site-integrated theater group led students in a workshop at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge to learn methods of using movement and bodily awareness to investigate public spaces. For a complete description of the workshop, which was sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative, and other experiments in dance and architecture, see this blogpost.
REAWAKENING THE SENSORY NETWORK
by Jason Prado, Master in Landscape Architecture candidate
My recent fascination with Lawrence Halprin's design process and the development of my studio design is what brought me to Ava Roy's workshop. In studio, I have become increasingly interested in how landscape design can not only benefit places ecologically, but also how it can create a theatrical stage for people in civic spaces to perform at all scales, from concerts and protests to the stand alone street performers. It seemed like a perfect match!
However, I was still uncertain of what to expect, as I am new to the field of making spaces and even newer to the world of performing arts. In any case, the workshop did give me a great excuse to visit Fort Point, which is an incredible site. From the beginning, I felt at ease with Ava. She did not start with lecturing us or even giving us context.
She began with awakening our senses by asking us to close our eyes for just a few minutes and allow the other senses to take hold. What do we hear in the distance? What do we hear at our feet? How does that make you feel? I almost immediately entered a calming, meditative state. It reminded me of practicing yoga, which helps to relieve the stresses of my day and ground me in my senses, which are often blurred with all the other noise of the day. The exercises continued throughout the workshop and helped with bringing the group together and bringing meaning to the place. It was an effective tool to shut out the outside world and bring yourself to be with the space and notice things that would otherwise be hidden at first glance.
That is what I found so powerful about the workshop. This kind of approach to the space allowed Ava to be successful in her production. She diligently studied the space in a manner that soon revealed to her where, when, and how to set up her performance and this led me to think, “How can I bring this to my design?”
Jason Prado at Fort Point
Image courtesy of Hien Nguyen
It is often that we find ourselves glaring at our phones, listening to our headphones, browsing social media, or performing other daily rituals that allow us to be unaware of our surroundings. And thinking in terms of design, it presents a major problem because it is very difficult to make people stop and take notice. However, the series of exercises I just underwent revealed the space in a way that I would not have captured otherwise.
Can I use these exercises in my site analysis? It seemed clear that they can be another set of tools to make sense of the current state of the site. This kind of practice can reveal the awful noise of a site but it can also shed light on the uniqueness or beauty of a site. This is where one can harness, for example, a faint pleasant noise and bring it to the surface to contribute to a more complete design.
by Susan Moffat, Project Director, Global Urban Humanities Initiative
How do bodies construct and inhabit public space?
In the past week I had the opportunity to participate in three transformative workshops—two sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative--that used dance, movement, and mindfulness to explore public space.
Teatro Campesino in Wurster Hall, the Central Valley and Mexico City 2/25/2016
In a narrow, high-sided concrete courtyard hidden in an outdoor corner of the Brutalist Wurster Hall, Kinan Valdez of Teatro Campesino asked students and faculty to growl and shout; to walk, crawl, and leap; and to engage with props such as ropes and lampshades to reconsider the uses of discarded objects. The “Theater of the Sphere” practice of Teatro Campesino grows out of the company’s roots in Cesar Chavez’ United Farmworkers Union. In the 1960s, Teatro Campesino performed and engaged with workers on flatbed trucks and in union halls, and the company continues to create innovative theater today.
Assistant Professor Angela Marino (Theater, Dance & Performance Studies) had invited Valdez to help prepare students for a research studio trip to Mexico City, where they will investigate issues of materiality, performance and power in a fast-changing megacity. During the workshop, we were struck by how our individual and collaborative motion in the confined gray courtyard transformed a prison-like space of raw concrete into an almost cozy enclave, a home for shared experiments in how bodies relate to architectural space.
In March, the students will travel to Mexico City to pursue research projects ranging from the ethnographic to the artistic, led by Marino, Assoc. Prof. C. Greig Crysler (Architecture), and Prof. Maria Moreno Carranco of the Universidad Autónoma Metoropolitana-Cuajimalpa. As with all Global Urban Humanities courses, the group is interdisciplinary and includes students from disciplines including architecture, art practice, film, geography, literature and performance studies.
Shakespeare, Sound, and Memory at Fort Point 2/27/2016
Another group of students explored a very different space two days later. The vast, windy courtyard of the Civil War-era Fort Point was the setting for a workshop led by Ava Roy, artistic director of We Players. Roy has presented large-scale, site-integrated theater including Hamlet at Alcatraz, The Odyssey at Angel Island, The Tempest at the Albany Bulb, and several different stagings of Macbeth at Fort Point. Located at the southern base of the Golden Gate bridge, the massive brick fort encloses a concrete courtyard with three stories of arched galleries that once held huge cannon pointed out at potential intruders into San Francisco Bay.
Roy asked the students to explore the space with eyes closed and open. The rumbling of cars overhead on the bridge, the wind, and the crashing waves outside made for an acoustically unsettling, even threatening environment. As students tried to distinguish softer sounds, and ones closer and farther away, they discovered aspects of the space they had not considered. Roy explained how in her stagings of Macbeth she experimented with moving the audience and actors through the galleries, the courtyard, and the roof, employing musicians as pied pipers. She served real food at an enormously long table in the banquet scene to rejuvenate the audience on their strenuous journey up and down the stone staircases—and arranged for them to find their repast interrupted by Banquo’s ghost.
Image courtesy of Hien Nguyen
Participants said they were struck by the craftsmanship and complexity of the brickwork in the vaulted galleries of the fort, by the accidents of light, and by the surprising current uses of the space. Despite the frigid and foreboding atmosphere of the Fort, on this day it was filled with professional photographers shooting smiling clients in evening attire or high-fashion maternity wear, using the steel undergirdings of the bridge and the carceral military architecture to frame family celebrations.
The architects and city planners participating in the workshop said that Roy’s instructions in ways to maintain a soft gaze, to de-privilege the sense of sight by sharpening hearing, touch, and smell, and to be mindful of bodily sensations were a useful alternative to their usual analytical tools for considering public space. Landscape Architecture student Jason Prado reflected on what he learned here.
Anna Halprin and the Tradition of Dance as Research 2/28/2016
Anna and Lawrence Halprin were pioneers in the 1960s in combining dance and environmental design to understand and build spaces both public and private. Halprin was one of the most influential American landscape architects of the last century, responsible for both Sea Ranch and Sproul Plaza, among many works. He passed away in 2009, but at age 95, his wife, choreographer Anna Halprin still teaches dance and movement at places including the iconic deck of their home in Marin County.
On Sunday, she led a workshop in the wide-open Crane Forum of the new BAM/PFA museum in downtown Berkeley in association with the Architecture of Life exhibition. While her collaborator Dohee Lee provided rhythmic sounds breathed into a microphone, (fascinating small children who happened to be passing by) Halprin worked with participants to build a “score”—a set of broad instructions for directing movement, developed in an iterative conversation among Halprin and the participants.
The giant wooden steps of the Forum and the airy spaces of the museum provided a far gentler space than either the Wurster Hall hidden courtyard or the cold massiveness of Fort Point. But like those spaces, it provided an acoustic, visual, and haptic container for people’s investigations of the relationship of their bodies to space, to other people, and to the memories embodied in architecture designed for pedagogy, surveillance, or the display of art. The experiments of the Halprins in are chronicled in a current exhibition at the California Historical Society, which documents the development of their RSVP Cycles method of creative collaboration.
The Architecture of Life is also a course taught this semester by Global Urban Humanities Initiative faculty members Prof. Shannon Jackson and Assoc. Prof. Nicholas de Monchaux, which features public lectures. As a springboard for the Chancellor's new Arts+Design Initiative, which is headed by Jackson, the exhibition and course explore interdisciplinary approaches to cities and space that dovetail with Global Urban Humanities experiments.
Movement and Bodies as Essential Tools for Design
Building on traditions like those pioneered by the Halprins, for the past several years, the Global Urban Humanities Initiative has been harnessing dance and movement as a way to investigate space and inform the design of buildings, parks, and public spaces In Spring 2015 urban designer Ghigo di Tommaso and choreographer Erika Chong Shuch taught an interdisciplinary course called Public Space: Placemaking and Performance that explored theories of public space through physical experiments including interventions such as inviting Costco shoppers to participate in listening to the concrete floors of the store or setting up cardboard “people” for passersby to engage with in downtown Berkeley.
The nature of these bodily experiments tends to be iterative and cumulative rather than conclusive. Their value will need to be measured in the ongoing work of the designers and scholars who are developing new cross-disciplinary tools for interrogating space and place.
“Before you can synch up languages, they have to bump up against each other. You get friction and heat, and that’s good.”
That’s what choreographer Erika Chong Shuch is saying in this picture as her co-teacher, urban designer Ghigo DiTommaso, leans in to listen. The two instructors from disciplines with different habits, words, and tools of the trade are already doing a lot of listening—and debating—in order to learn each other’s languages and figure out how to study and intervene in public space with both bodies and design.
“With my artist colleagues, we can be recycling our language, talking among ourselves, but Ghigo stops me, says ‘Wait—what do you mean? What is that?’—it’s great,” Chong Shuch told the class, punctuating her words with the physical gestures of a dancer.
The first meeting of the new Global Urban Humanities course called Public Space: Placemaking and Performance was a packed house of students from departments ranging from performance studies to archaeology to landscape architecture. During introductions, some students broke into song or dance, while others admitted that even talking in a seminar gave them stage fright.
“This is not about virtuosity,” said Chong Shuch. “This is not about pleasing people.” She promised to provide tools of performance for those to whom this was new. Similarly, DiTommaso said that he hoped to reintroduce the notion of “low-stakes failure” as a tool for experimentation in architecture, and to provide handles to the theoretical readings in the course for people “who are learning a trade”—whether as landscape architects or performers.
“We are both practitioners, first and foremost,” said DiTommaso, "and that is what shapes the way we look at theory." He said that fifty percent of the class would take place “in the street,” including theory sessions, "so you can look right out and test what we're talking about."
The course will start with readings in urban theory and performance theory, and proceed to the creation of student-led interventions in public spaces around the Bay Area.
“I’m not sure I even know what ‘public space’ is,” said Chong Shuch.
“We know where we’re starting in this class, but we don’t know where we’ll end up,” said DiTommaso.
The progress of the course over the semester can be followed at the course website at placemakingandperformance.wordpress.com.
Public Space: Placemaking and Performance/Theories of Practice, Practice of Theories is listed as Landscape Architecture 254 and Theater, Dance & Performance Studies 266. More information on the course is available here. This course is one of three new interdisciplinary, team-taught courses exploring cities that are created each academic year as part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative.
As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities, we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures. On September 4, 2014, Darin Jensen invited listeners to consider the narrative and spatial aspects of two experiential mapping projects he created with his students: Mission Possible: A Neighborhood Atlas about San Francisco's Mission District, and Intranational International Boulevard about Oakland. Jensen is staff cartographer and lecturer in the UC Berkeley Department of Geography.
By Scott Elder
While not explicitly framed as such, it’s great to see the possibilities of Psychogeography dusted off and road-tested in the Bay Area. Under the leadership of Darin Jensen, UC Berkeley’s Cartography and GIS Education Lab (CAGE) digs in to explore the complex intersections of the physical and observational worlds. The resulting collection of mappings shows spontaneity and graphic savvy, but looking into the territories chosen for exploration provides us more questions than answers.
One project, already complete, zeros in on San Francisco’s complex Mission District CAGE Lab teams up with Mission Local, a district-based news site, to create a 22-map “Atlas” and illuminating a variety of slightly absurd but suggestive juxtapositions. Each map tells a story through cartographic creativity, rather than text. Mapped gourmet coffee prices vs. depleting Latino neighborhoods, cupcake bakeries vs. reported gang activities, households with children vs. house-pet infrastructure (shops, kennels, parks)…these all provide suggestions of the frictions at work in the district, and often by comparing retail trends to demographics. An upcoming CAGE Lab project will focus similar scrutiny on a linear territory, Oakland’s International Boulevard, in advance of sweeping changes about to emerge from the planning pipeline. In both SF and Oakland projects, the underlying “story” often flirts with themes of gentrification. It’s important to note, though, that these map-based examinations are being requested and performed as gentrification-related dynamics swell, not plateau or recede. This raises the question of whether the creation and distribution of these map/stories constitutes just an observation, or whether they in fact abate or propagate the territorial shiftings identified.
A question from the audience suggested that the factors chosen for mapping on International Boulevard seemed to lean towards the “institutional," rather than perhaps looking at more mobile and elusive district factors such as prostitution. This insinuates that such mapping might have a bias toward the more fixed and permanent components of life. The subtle possibilities of what this bias might catalyze, however subtly, is worth considering and, given the exploratory nature of CAGE Lab, fully open to question.
Another question from the audience raised the topic of mapping data derived from charge card usage or cell phone use/location. This rich and emerging source might of course yield new avenues of cartographic creativity, especially relevant here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Scott Elder is a PhD candidate in the UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning.
As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities, we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures. On August 28, 2014, Prof. Margaret Crawford (Architecture) gave a presentation on her continuing research on urban villages in the Pearl River Delta—independent jurisdictions that are being swallowed up physically and administratively by large cities. Along with Asst. Prof. Winnie Wong (Rhetoric), she will be teaching a studio course on the Pearl River Delta in Spring 2015.
By Siying Wang
As an exchange student from Chinese majoring in urban planning, I was attracted by Margaret Crawford’s presentation at the first sight of the poster announcing the lecture. It was especially interesting to me when Margaret talked about the urban villages in Guangzhou, my hometown. Here, I would like to share some thoughts with you from my point of view as a Cantonese person.
Urban villages occur in almost every fast-developing city in China. “Village” has a particular meaning compared to the term in other countries due to some unique principles and regulations that apply only to places designated as “villages” in China. In my eyes, urban villages have a poor and backward image. I had never associated urban villages with art. As Margaret showed us in her slides, urban villages are full of ‘shaking-hands buildings’ (built so close together that people on the upper stories can shake hands with each other out of their windows) and ‘under-construction areas.' In recent years, people in Guangzhou, including me, avoided getting too close to urban villages. Buildings there were dangerous and seemed quite ready to collapse. Most inhabitants were either farmers or the poor.
I wondered, “How could urban villages do anything with the arts? In what way can they be able to connect with and influence each other?” I now think the old and out-of-date opinion towards urban villages should be rethought, considering the developments that have happened in the recent years. Take Zhujiang New Town, for example, which is also an urban village in Guangzhou. It has now developed as the new central business district of Guangzhou: the old images are now replaced by skyscrapers and modern facilities. This progress is enhanced by the force of cooperation between government and villages’ residents and, of course, even the whole society.
Art exists in many ways and forms during the development of urban villages. Arts in Zhujiang New Town are developing in the normal way: old buildings were replaced by new ones directly. Brand new green projects cover the formerly desolate area. Arts in Xiaozhou Village develop in another way: many old buildings remain as art galleries or other aesthetically creative spaces for artists.
‘Shaking-hands buildings’ might represent the typical image of most urban villages in Guangdong. However we should look at the bigger picture of this developing topic, by knowing that arts exist in both the modern way and traditional way in urban villages.
Siying Wang is a visiting student at UC Berkeley.
As part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative Colloquium called Reading Cities, Sensing Cities, we have asked students and visitors to write responses to each of the weekly guest lectures. On August 28, Prof. Margaret Crawford (Architecture) gave a presentation on her continuing research on urban villages in the Pearl River Delta--independent jurisdictions that are being swallowed up physically and administratively by large cities. Along with Asst. Prof. Winnie Wong (Rhetoric), she will be teaching a studio course on the Pearl River Delta in Spring 2015.
By Evan Brooks
Margaret Crawford and Winnie Wong’s work on the Pearl River Delta introduces a unique dichotomy between the rapidly urbanizing city and its encroaching pressure on the autonomous urban villages that they surround. The issue of land seizures has become a ubiquitous cause of social unrest. This has been demonstrated in Crawford’s example of the three day protest in the villages of Wukan in Guandong province between 2011-2012.
In the midst of this social unrest, Crawford and Wong have uncovered a specific population that has the potential to speak out against the degradation of life and culture that this land-grabbing implies. That is the arts village of Dafen. The production of art has become an economic engine for this urban village, exporting artwork to commercial offices and hotels all over the world. Only a taste of art as social protest was showcased in Crawford’s lecture in the construction of an artist’s colony and gallery space underneath a nearby overpass
Given the density of talented artists in this region one might ask if there is more potential for resistance. Is it possible for these artists to speak out against the razing of urban villages? Is it beneficial for them to stay autonomous or is there a population of villagers that might embrace the urbanization? As an outside observer it is hard to speculate on the everyday implications that this situation may have on the citizens of Dafen and the Pearl River Delta? Perhaps those who have ethnographic experience in this region could help to provide some insight?
Evan Brooks is a student in the Master of Architecture program at UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design.
By Susan Moffat
What does the first year of an experiment in the emerging field of urban humanities look like on the campuses of two major public universities? At a recent Los Angeles symposium, it was described by participants as diverse, exciting, and surprisingly unsettling. Over the past year, in parallel experiments at UCLA and UC Berkeley, graduate students explored Tokyo, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area using methods from film theory, anthropology, architecture, urban planning, history, art practice and other fields. Both faculty and students came from a wide variety of humanistic and design disciplines and wrestled with the creative and epistemological tensions inherent in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary work.
On June 11, 2014, participants in the UC Berkeley Global Humanities Initiative and the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative gathered at UCLA’s Perloff Hall to review student projects and reflect on teaching and learning experiences at a symposium called “Anxieties of Interdisciplinarity: Projects in the Urban Humanities.” These are two among of a growing number of initiatives funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in its Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities program, and the UCLA-UC Berkeley teams are meeting for joint symposia about twice a year to share notes and exchange ideas.
For notes on the student projects and a summary of discussions, click here.
Susan Moffat is Project Director of the UC Berkeley Global Urban Humanities Initiative.
Photo credit: markystar.wordpress.com
By Michael Dear
The Association of American Geographers (AAG), in cooperation with Routledge publishers, is sponsoring the launch of a new academic journal entitled GEOHUMANITIES. This exciting development is obviously of great interest to the Mellon-funded Global Urban Humanities Initiative, and will likely be a major catalyst for growth of work in the broader transdisciplinary realm.
The AAG requests applications from individuals interested in becoming one of two co-editors of the journal. Very importantly, the Association plans to appoint one co-editor from Geography, and one from the Humanities (broadly understood). The announcement with complete information on the editorship can be viewed here.
As someone who has long been involved in the AAG's Geohumanities initiative, I strongly encourage Humanities colleagues to lend their support to this promising development. Past work of the Geohumanities Initiative includes the publications of the essay collections Geohumanities: Art, History, and Text at the Edge of Place and Envisioning Landscapes, Making Worlds.
Michael Dear, Professor of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley, is a member of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative (GloUH) Steering Committee. In spring 2014 he co-taught with Assistant Professor Weihong Bao a GloUH-sponsored course on urban theory and media theory called The City and Its Moving Images. In February 2014, Professor Dear organized an interdisciplinary symposium focused on geohumanities associated with that course.
By Margaret Crawford, Professor of Architecture
On May 2nd I attended a conference at the Radcliffe Institute in Cambridge, MA. Convened to discuss both Mellon-funded and other examples of the Urban Humanities, it brought together academics from Harvard, Princeton, MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, UCLA, Boston College and USC. After a long day of presentations, Mariet Westermann, Vice-president of the Mellon Foundation and one of the initiators of the Urban Humanities Initiative, summed up her views of its development so far. First of all, after some initial skepticism, she now believes that urban humanities is a genuine emergent field, not just a mash-up of different methods and disciplines.
Based on what she has seen, Westermann went on to outline the new field’s strengths and possibilities:
-The comparative impulse. Current projects, by using “trope cities” suggest that the study of one city can illuminate other cities. This may be a useful way to rethink existing fields such as “area studies.”
-Viewing contemporary cities as visible palimpsests, layered and historical. This can help humanities scholars to see cities as living artifacts, rather than just objects for historical study.
-The experimental impulse. The “Urban Lab” concept uses pedagogy as research and research as pedagogy.
-The recognition that Urbanism=Migration. The projects demonstrate that this means not just the flow of people, but also the moments of crystalization when migration becomes particularly visible.
- Putting humans back into the study of cities, not only through their words but through their physiognomy and gestures
-Humanities urbanism operates at a small scale and doesn’t attempt to be universalist or generalizing.
Finally, she posed some questions for us to consider:
- How can digital data help? Can humanities urbanism move beyond “big data” to look at other digital formats such as social networking apps. How can new phenomena like “selfies” be harnessed to illuminate urban conditions?
-Is cinema the ultimate medium for describing cities? Its ability to zoom from far -away to close up can be a powerful tool.
-Where are architects and architecture in these urban stories?
I left the conference hoping that Westermann’s encouraging words would not only support but also help shape our ongoing work in Urban Humanities.
This past semester, as part of the UC Berkeley Global Urban Humanities Initiative, Margaret Crawford co-taught with Anne Walsh a research studio course on Los Angeles called "No Cruising: Mobile Identities and Urban Life." In spring 2015 she will co-teach with Winnie Wong a studio course on art and urban villages in the Pearl River Delta of China.
By Oscar Sosa
On February 21st the Global Urban Humanities Initiative (GloUH) hosted a group of local and visiting faculty from the social sciences and the humanities who met for a few hours to discuss the advantages and challenges of engaging in truly transdisciplinary research. In a nod to the funder of GloUH and its goal of mixing things up, Professor Michael Dear (Department of City and Regional Planning) dubbed the gathering the “Mellon Mashup.” The event began with CED Dean Jennifer Wolch engaging with professors Dear and Jim Ketchum (American Association of Geographers), Sarah Luria (Holy Cross) and Doug Richardson (AAG), who shared their experience working on Geohumanities: Art, History, Text at the Edge of Place, a book project that brought together scholars, artists and practitioners from geography, architecture, humanities and the arts. Panel members talked about key moments in the production of the book where the question of mutual understandings, commonalities and learning from other disciplines became central to the project.
The presenters were joined by UC Berkeley professors Charisma Acey (DCRP). Louise Mozingo (Landscape and Environmental Planning), Alison Post (Political Science), Mark Sandberg (Film) and graduate students from the GloUH spring 2014 course “The City and its Moving Images,” co-taught by Michael Dear and Weihong Bao. The second session focused on viewpoints from UC Berkeley faculty Janaki Bakhle (History), Dan Chatman (DCRP), Nils Gilman (Social Science Matrix), Jonathan Simon (Law) and Weihong Bao (Film, Chinese Studies). The panel touched on important issues related to collaborating across disciplines as well as the challenges intrinsic to transdisciplinary work. The panel engaged in conversation with other faculty and students attending, covering topics and concerns that ranged from methodological and epistemological issues to day-to-day collaboration and institutional challenges to transdisciplinarity.
While the attendees agreed on the importance of transdisciplinarity, there were also diverse opinions on how to better engage in this kind of work. When is a project transdisciplinary? Are some disciplines inherently transdisciplinary?--or, to put it on Dan Chatman’s terms –indisciplinary? Nils Gilman summarized the spirit of the conversation with a call to come down from the hills and onto the plains of disciplines. He spoke of the importance of bringing transdisciplinary work away from the edges and into the core of a discipline’s research and publishing concerns.