The Everyday Lived Reality of our Post-Apartheid Neighbourhoods

In a recent interview that appeared on Archdaily, Rodrigo Alonso discusses with Jan Gehl how in the last 50 years architects have forgotten what good human scale is. Rodrigo asks Jan what the following phrase from his book Cities for People means to him:

“First we shape cities and then they shape us.”

Continue reading The Everyday Lived Reality of our Post-Apartheid Neighbourhoods

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A Capital in Bloom

 

Oh Academia! The demands of working and studying part time is threatening to break my resolve. The fact is that my life right now is dictated by deadlines. I mean the origins of the word deadline is enough to send me to the grave!  Well according to Robert Charles Lee, via Quora, deadline was a military term, meaning a line of weapons fire aimed at killing anything moving, regardless of enemy or friendly troops present. It was also a prison term, meaning a line drawn around a prison and prisoners crossing it will be shot!

So in an attempt to ward off the impending doom, I hope to use this space as a place of reflection and dialogue. To use  every ‘hand-in’ as an opportunity for growth and refinement.

Below is abstract that I recently submitted for a course titled Aspects of City Design, where each student was asked to select a country or city in Sub-Saharan Africa to study and unpack an urban theory related to its formation.


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Addis Ababa is a city that developed autochthonous, as compared to other African cities, with the exception of a brief occupation by the Italians in the second half of the 1930’s. The capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, represents the growing phenomena of exponential urban growth experienced by African cities. With a growing population composed of 78 ethnic groups, Addis Ababa is the undisputed metropolis of the country, where it hosts the seat of the Government of Ethiopia, the seat of Government for the Oromia Region, including home to other international organizations, namely the headquarters of the African Union (AU). The city’s position on the international stage is secure as Addis Ababa prides itself as the diplomatic capital /heart of Africa, and it has become one of the fastest transforming urban environments on the globe.

Due to its brief colonial history, Addis Ababa offers a unique opportunity to link postcolonial development with the modernization efforts of the precolonial and colonial past. In this essay, the distinct socio-political eras will be discussed in relation to its transnational exchange which contributed to the shaping of Addis Ababa: from wandering capitals to city (1886– 1935), the Italian East Africa (1936-1941), Imperial modernity (1950-1960’s), the Socialist regime (1974–1987) and the current federal democracy that has been in practice since 1991 and the effects on the urban development of the city. My argument follows the provocative and complementary propositions made by philosopher Olúfémi Táíwò and historian J. F. Ade Ajayi. Táíwò who argues that Africa was already becoming modern before European colonialism, and Ade Ajayi contends that colonialism should be treated as an episode rather than as the determining factor in African history.


Featured Diagram: Addis Ababa major road network and urban developed area. Author’s own.

VISUALISING AN INVISIBLE CITY

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.”

VGHSAS001 - Invisible City Representation-01

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