There has been little time to reflect, but I have decided to document my experience of being a student again. I have especially been craving a more intellectual, experimental environment. A space to explore and uncover and with the Urban Design programme being a mere year long graduate degree, I realised that this will be the best platform to keep a recored of my experiences and other thoughts, musings and inspirations.
To kick off the first week we were handed our first assignment: to create a visual representation of the notions of structure, form, space and temporality, as attributes of the built environment as one would see it embodied in the description of one of the 55 cities in Calvino, from the book Invisible Cities. The parameters were to only use rectangles and squares to represent the city, in a maximum of 3 shades.
The author, Italo Calvino (October 15, 1923–September 19, 1985) was born in Cuba and grew up in Italy. His novel is a series of descriptions, really conversations, told by the fictitious Marco Polo to Kublai Khan.
“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”
As Marco travels round the world on the Emperor’s business, his job is not to bring back treasure or trade, but to barter in stories – the accumulated wealth of his imagination. I chose to represent the Trading City 2, Chloe:
“In Chloe, a great city, the people who move through the streets are all strangers. At each encounter, they imagine a thousand things about one another; meetings which could take place between them, conversations, surprises, caresses, bites. But no one greets anyone; eyes lock for a second, then dart away, seeking other eyes, never stopping.
A girl comes along, twirling a parasol on her shoulder, and twirling slightly also her rounded hips. A woman in black comes along, showing her full age, her eyes restless beneath her veil, her lips trembling. At tattooed giant comes along; a young man with white hair; a female dwarf; two girls, twins, dressed in coral. Something runs among them, an exchange of glances link lines that connect one figure with another and draws arrows, stars, triangles, until all combinations are used up in a moment, and other characters come on to the scene: a blind man with a cheetah on a leash, a courtesan with an ostrich-plume fan, an ephebe, a Fat Woman. And thus, when some people happen to find themselves together, taking shelter from the rain under an arcade, or crowding beneath an awning of the bazaar, or stopping to listen to the band in the square, meetings, seductions, copulations, orgies are consummated among them without a word exchanged, without a finger touching anything, almost without an eye raised.
A voluptuous vibration constantly stirs Chloe, the most chaste of cities. If men and women began to live their ephemeral dreams, every phantom would become a person with whom to begin a story of pursuits, pretences, misunderstandings, clashes, oppressions, and the carousel of fantasies would stop.”
As many invisible lines pass throughout cities as visible ones. When strangers pass one another in the streets of Chloe, an invisible line of connectivity runs between them; it symbolises the potential connection with another person that is instantly felt but not yet made real. Despite all these possibilities of interaction, it is rare that any interaction actually occurs. So while there is an intense desire for connection that pervades Chloe, it is in reality “the most chaste cities”, a city of silent people with curious minds. Experience is artificial, an illusion, where connection exists on another dimension; a virtual reality.
The book describes all the cities ever dreamed of; thin cities, cities and desire, cities and the dead, cities and memory, continuous cites, cities and signs. And yet all of them are part descriptions of one city: Venice. I realised the evocative quality of Calvino’s writing lies in his ability to write lightly:
My working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language… I have come to consider lightness a value rather than a defect.
Italo Calvino Portrait
Assignment 1.1. Invisible City: Chloe