Applied Urban Aesthetics

University of Art and Design Helsinki (now Aalto University), MA Program in Environmental Art, 2005-06.

innercity graphic2

In this course we design and build a fictional city.  The material constraints of this task will serve as supports for a thorough thinking-through of the city as a human (physical,mental,social) environment, and of urbanism as a practical (material, political, economic) aesthetics.

We consider basic notions in urban aesthetics from the 18th to the 21st century, investigate Helsinki as our current surroundings, and study radical architectural experiments that call on the procedures of poetic thought to design effective, life-furthering cities.  At the same time we propose critical and imaginative alternatives to the cities and neighborhoods we know, and present them in the form of hand-crafted models.

This is not a certified course in urban planning, but a workshop in getting into it as artists and amateurs.  We will improvise with ideas and materials as we find them, in the name of evolving a vernacular craft knowledge for intervening constructively in the shaping of environment.

Module for a Reversible Destiny urbanism – Arakawa and Gins

Class sessions are Wednesdays from 10 – 3 (Starting Sept 21st) and consist of a weekly background lecture, exercises, discussion of readings and group working time.

The work required for this course includes weekly readings, research and visualization tasks, short group-projects, and the final built model with its presentation.  No prior knowledge is required.  Any media may be used in the research and construction of this project, and mediality in general will be an important practical and theoretical consideration.

Exhibition: Hidden City

Results of this year’s efforts were exhibited in a dedicated spring show at the Museum of Finnish Architecture, “Hidden City”

April-May, 2006

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Exhibition Text:

These projects are the result of artists thinking the city. Not the city as backdrop or outdoor gallery for fi ne objects, not the city just as material to inspire a site-specifi c creation for its own sake, but the city as the site and structure of human life, as the artwork that has the greatest impact on human life, and over which artists, let alone people in general, have traditionally had the least control.

These projects take sides with the human and experiential dimension of built environments. They apply fantasy or irony or abstraction not as aesthetic liberties, but as tools to uncover the hidden and excluded, bright dreams or dark dreams obscured by the glass façades of our ongoing modernism.

A priority shared by many of these works is the desire to connect – to imagine an architecture and urbanism that act against separation, the separation of people from their environment, the separation of people from people. Le Corbusier, at the dawn of functionalism, and of urban planning as we know it, assured us that the job of urbanism was to bring joy. If misery persists, acute or diffuse,
this proves less that the task is beyond what urbanism can hope to accomplish, than that the project of happiness has still never really been attempted.

What separates art from architecture, or environmental art from urbanism, is not the professionalism of their representations (drafting and statistics are crafts an artist can master), but the quality of vision applied in seeking solutions. What separates them is not art’s freedom to overlook the hard facts and material constraints of construction; artists can build anything. What separates them is the false belief that art is not constructive and that architecture and urbanism are not arts, not free to reimagine life, not free to speak for the human.

Here are some gestures towards a reconciliation. Here are some maps towards a city that is only hidden because of a failure to connect.
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Hidden City exhibition, Museum of Finnish Architecture, Main Hall
Hidden City exhibition, Museum of Finnish Architecture, Main Hall (Photo Andrea Theis)

Hidden CityHidden City Hidden City

Sample student works:

“Limbo”, Cathérine Kuebel
“Thread Analysis”, Gaelle Gillet
Puzzled  Julie Bagger 2
“Puzzled”, Julie Bagger