Psychogeographical Maps

Sadler, Simon. “Formulary for a New Urbanism: Rethinking the City.” In The Situationist City. 69-103. Cambridge, MA; London, England: MIT Press, 1999.


13 thoughts on “Psychogeographical Maps

  1. The situationists hoped that architecture would ”revolutionize everday life, release the ordinary citizen into world of experiment, anarchy and play”. The situationist city would release people from their routine by introducing variety, contrast and eclectism into their environment.

    In his lecture, Vikram Bhatt statet that the informal, spontaneous and improvised urbanism of the slums was one of the only ones that actually succeeded in providing appropriate low cost shelter. We saw how attempts to rationalize it in a Corbusier manner failed in Mumbai. This example is rather extreme because of the added complexity that come with working in the context of slums, but it still demonstrates that rationalizing an apparently chaotic system does not get rid of the its struggles. In Corbusier’s ”unité d’habitation”, there is no struggle, everything is rationally resolved, and that is why situationists were not satisfied with that scheme. They wanted an ”unité d’ambiance”, where soft and maleable elements of city would be mixed with hard architectural elements. It seems like situationists would be be pleased to see how ‘the picturesque’ creeped back into Mumbai’s developper’s concrete bunkers.

    ’Not planning’ does not fall into the scope of work of an architect; it is a non-action rather than an action. A designer’s role is to design, so what becomes his role of in a situationist’s world? Should we draw lessons out of that self-creating disorder, and then mimic it by piling up ill-assorted buildings in eclectic ways?

  2. The essay of Simon Sadler “Formulary for a New Urbanism: Rethinking the City” is the logical continuation of James Corner’s “The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention” that we discussed last week. After Corner’s brief discussion of the Situationists and the drift, Sadler provides a more detailed analysis of psychogeography. As its names suggests, psychogeography seeks a more personal and subjective approach towards geography. Led by Guy Debord, the Situationists were against the Corbusian vision of the urban environment and Le Corbusier’s definition of housing as a ‘machine for living.’ Against the rigidity of the unité d’habitation, they favoured the unité d’ambiance, a ‘softer’ and more fluid type of housing.

    Interestingly, the development of psychogeography coincides with the rising interest in the picturesque which, combined with the sublime, were considered as stimulants to reverie. Far from being rational, psychogeography is elusive, ephemeral and relative. It is not entirely subjective, however, the drift being the balance of chance and planning. In its inexactitude, the drift suggests a new way of surveying urban space through a fragmented, temporal and embodied experience of the city. Against cultural imperialism and homogeneization of capitalist space, Situationists argued for an incresingly personal relationship with the city that would take the drifter away from the ultravisible urban spectacle. Obscure routes, paths of resistance and fissures in the urban fabric were among the Situationists’ favourites.

    The Situationists’ promised revolution of daily urban experience through anarchy and play is gradually permeating the city. Alleyways and in-between spaces, usually avoided because of the dangers they evoke, are becoming increasingly important. Moreover, artistic interventions such as street art, yarn bombing and guerrilla gardening abound in the urban environment, transforming our most familiar trajectories into singular journeys.

    Camille Bédard

  3. Tanya Southcott

    Sadler describes the movement of the Situationists as a reaction to the ‘omnipotent, instantaneous, disembodied, all-possessing eye’ of traditional cartography practices. Using psycho-geography as its method, he frames the Situationists’ drift as a new way of surveying the landscape, a radical re-reading of the city and an alternate urban navigation system. Described as an ‘unconventional sociable activity’, the drift is built upon collaboration, a small group organization resistant to mass circulation, and sympathetic to the input of each individual. Relying on a combination of intention and automatism, spontaneity and chance, the group moves through the city, through ‘anti-spectacular’ spaces or streets typically neglected by pedestrians, looking for spatial and social experiences that bring together space and architecture, knowledge and social interaction through a sense of ‘emotive possession’ of their environment.

    Like the drift itself, the translation of this experience onto paper challenges traditional mapping methodologies. The Situationists instead document through collage, ‘chunks’ of maps linked together by arrows representing slopes that naturally link the ‘unites of ambiance’ and the ‘plaques tournantes’. Often illusive of fixed definitions, Sadler’s account describes a movement so radical it necessitates the invention of its own language to describe its world-view. The collective nature of both the drift and subsequent mapping exercises brings credibility to the process by pushing it beyond the singular vision of an individual.

    The drift of the Situationists brings to mind the more contemporary movement of the parkour and its actor the traceur, also originating in France and also originating in a form of military exercise. Although the physical demands and athletic agility required of the parkour are set it apart, like the Situationist, the traceur seeks to break free of mundane and predictable routines and interaction to find and expose new meaning beneath the surface of the city.

  4. Sadler’s essay on the situationsist movement describes in further detail, from James Corner’s Agency of Mapping, the concept of drift and mapping the city with new methods. As opposed to traditional factual mapping, the situationist’s vision goes beyond the aeriel view and reconstructs the city from a human perspective, forming a “terrestrial, fragemented, temporal and cultural” experience of a city. As an “artistic activity”, groups would move through the various realms of a city, experiencing all elements of both highly and less used spaces, finding the “sublime” within a city. These maps could become aids for planners, suggesting possible living spaces and uses for places.

    The idea of drift described by the situationists reminded me of the connections to how we have advanced with mapping techniques today, and would they consider something like google street view an accurate use of their ideas on drift. If ”its the sum of observations and ambiance that make the drifter from the city able to understand a space”, could you find the sublime of a city with google street view? The similarities begin in their descriptions, how we are at ground level, within the context of the city, and can click our cursor at random and move as desired throughout the city. With a further advancement of this technology, could it ever truly match the situationist vision of drifting through the city, and at what point would it be invasive to the everyday individual, bordering on surveillance? Or could we never recreate their vision of phsycogeography, to produce a social geography of the city, if it requires physical presence?

  5. Mylène Carrière:

    In his text “Formulary for a New Urbanism: Rethinking the city, Sadler is describing the drift, previously seen in Corner’s text. This concept of drifting was brought by the Situationist movement in reaction to functionalism of modernity. Stimulated by the reverie aspect of picturesque and sublime it was mainly valorizing the emotive aspect of the city as well as the importance of the individual in a society.

    First, looking at the emotive aspect of the drift, we understand that the drifter is guided through the city by diverse “unité d’ambiance” as well as “plaques tournantes” which provoke “alternations in emotional and ambient intensity”. This thus makes the drifter walking through the city trying to find hidden or undesirable spots in the city. The drifter then tries to map by memory the urban invisibles that he felt connected to.

    Then, the social aspect of the drift is highly important. The Situationists highly valorize this aspect because they strongly believe in class struggle, quest for equilibrium as well as the sovereign decision of the individual. The concept of the drift is part of psychogeography, which produces a social geography of the city; space as the product of society. Drifting gives a lot of importance to the street. In fact “ drifting [psychogeography] offered a sense of violent emotive possession over the streets.” By doing this it tries to give a voice to the “undesirables” of our society and therefore eliminates class struggle and looking for equilibrium between individuals.

    I guess with this type of mapping, we could question its validity since it is strongly emotionally driven…But fundamentally, is it wrong? Could it just be our modernist rationality speaking?

  6. This chapter on the Situationists International was a good follow up to Corner’s essay – embarking on his reimagination of the urban landscape and taking it to the extreme (although doing so at a time long before Corner). I like the approach of the Situationists because they suggest that the city is not static – that the city cannot necessarily be a frozen projection onto a 2 dimensional surface but that there are constant triggers and cues that pull or attract you. From browsing through some of their maps, however, I feel they seem to be lacking the sort of the information they were striving to reveal. I feel their notions of play and desires are achieved more successfully in the work of Constant Nieuwenhuys and his project New Babylon. I believe success from the Situationist maps are not revealed through the immediate information it serves to others, but how it reflects upon oneself and how it enables the drifter or le flaneur to think not only of their surroundings but of there own behavior and thought processes in connection with the city. In other words, the exercises Debord and others created, such as the Drift, are very subjective and therefore should be served as such.

  7. The article examines the development of mapping conventions under the influences of Situationists in the 1950s. Criticizing to the rational planning popularized by Le Corbusier’s CIAM movement, the situationists oppose the production of city to pure rationalist ideals, which led to the exploration of mapping as a media of experimentations and artistic endeavour.

    The avant garde visions of the situationists promote an alternative to the rationalistic approach. Situationists believe that architecture’s potential is limited by the various influences exercised upon it, which contributes to a biased interpretation of the city. When all predetermined factors are removed, one can fully enjoy any unexpected encounters during their exploration. Employing the observational approach of “drift” in cities, a participant would develop personal emotion and intimacy with the environment, thus render the cities become completely explorative and interpretive.

    The development of map has evolved much in the digital era. Services such as Google Maps attempts to document cities and promote cyber tourism. Since spaces could be experienced remotely, the physical presence becomes less relevant. The discovery aspect of drifting is altered as people now drift through the 2 dimensional cyberspace. Considering the rapid development of immersive systems and augmented reality, it is not hard to believe one day psychogeography can be completely transferred to the digital platform. Perhaps not exactly what Debord had envisioned, Debord’s “world of experiment, anarchy and play” is being realized in the digital dimension.

  8. Yousef Farasat

    In his essay, Formulary for a New Urbanism: Rethinking the City”, Sadler describes the ideas of the Situationists, who were based in Europe in the middle of the 20th century and whose Marxist vision promoted an experience of architecture alternative to the ones admitted by the capitalist system; an experience that as Sadler notes, would release “the ordinary citizen into a world of experiment, anarchy and play”.

    The Situationists explain their ideas using the notion of psychogeography, which can be described as the emotional effects of the geographical environment, or the social geography of the city. Central to psychogeography is the concept of the drift and a new way of representing the urban space (mapping). The notion of the drift, explained as a spontaneous exploration of the city, would allow to gain a “revolutionary perception of the city”, encountering the “city’s embarrassing contrast of material wealth and its clandestine glories of popular culture and history”. As a result, the drift allows for the reconstruction of a different cartography of the urban fabric, “ piercing together an experience of the space that was actually terrestrial”. The Situationists hoped to produced an urban condition where the human social life would take priority over the modern abstract postwar planning of the cities.

    What was interesting for me in reading the text was that eventhough the Situationists and Jane Jacobs approach their critique of modern space from differing philosophical points of view, their conclusions about the modern urban planning seem highly related. In both case, the strong criticism of the modernist urban planning seemingly stems from its failure to recognize the importance and complexity of human activity and to understand the complex layered social interactions, which are in both case the core element of a successful urban space.

  9. The ‘Drift’ attempted to re-humanize the experience of the citizen in the city. To establish that an individual is intrinsically connected to the urban environment and the society through experience. Psycogeography is an attempt to take experience, an otherwise completely subjective notion and give it a form a representation. it is an attempt to liberate the individual and offer them a new stance/perspective on their position in the city; to have society recognize that the ‘unity of ambiance’ is not only achieved through the architecture, but through participation of the individual and consequently the mass.

    “Drifters weren’t like tadpoles in a tank, ‘stripped…of intelligence, sociability and sexuality,’ but were people alert to ‘the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.’ capable as a group of agreeing upon distinct, spontaneous preferences for routes through the city.”

    I feel like we, as a society, are moving towards a similar vision to that of the situationists. We are implicitly becoming more aware of the strength we have as individuals in the city with massive advancements in communication technologies. Psycogeography, like the technology we posses currently, and certainly the technology we will have in the future, serve as tools for communication; a way to look at the situation under a new light. What is most enlightening however, is that with these communication tools, the architect need no longer imagine by himself, but have the community imagine and what is becoming evident, actively contribute to the vision of architecture.

  10. Psychogeography was “playful, cheap and populist,” designed to be carried out in the every day of the street. However, if this were to be useful in the collective rethinking of the city, any observations had to pertain to more than just the psyche of the individual. Debord agreed that for certain mappings, the personal meanings they held were incommunicable, and alluded to the drift’s romantic, automatist undercurrent. The non-stylistic search for “ugliness” in the city is merely an unconventional beauty, defined by contrasts and variety of architectural compositions. These aesthetic criteria for unités d’ambiance were coupled with social structures beneficial to vagrants, travelling for weeks at a time without homes. A complete denial of major circulation paths, tourist destinations or conventional attractions of a city rendered the drift an extremely exclusive event. The drift preferred small-group organization, opposing organized circulation, and required the input of every member. In opposing the “pompous and enclosed world of high culture,” the Situationists created a club of their own. Issues of subjectivity, spontaneity and chance in the drift were consistently recurrent, as Debord referred to a degree of “letting go”. It begs the question if such a derive would ever be possible in today’s world: where we are constantly tracked in a worldwide network, that invades far more of our lives than an hour or two allotted for banal tasks every day. It seems impossible that we would ever find the time to “never work.”

  11. In “Formulary for a New Urbanism: Rethinking the City”, Simon Sadler explains psychogeography, which he defines as a subjective and individual approach to geography. Using this notion of psychogeography, The Situationists anti Corbusier’s vision for the city and definition of housing as a ‘machine for living’, a homogeneous typology fit for all. Psychogeography allows for a more utopic approach, which carefully balances chance and planning, against capitalistic space embodying unique experiences of the city. The Situationists encourage impromptu uses of space and obscure routes, such to embed themselves in the unique cultural memory of the city. highlighting an anti-spectacular city.

    This outlook onto the city reminded me of growing up in a suburb. Early suburban planning encouraged meandering roads so that visitors were left with a sense of loss and confusion moving through the neighbourhoods. Residents, on the other hand, would identify the routes based on unique social and spatial experiences embedding the town into a cultural memory held only by the inhabitants.

    To represent these unique urban experiences, the Situationists challenged traditional mapping methodologies. Similar to James Corner who defined mapping as a means to make visible the invisible, The Situationists formed an otherwise indiscernible mapping of the city. They would reconstruct the city forming “fragmented, temporal, and cultural” experiences.

  12. The Situationist International was a group of revolutionaries advocating experiences of life alternative to those admitted by advanced capitalism. I believe it is fair to state that they were interested in the fulfillment of human desires. As the text describes, Situationists suggested and experimented with the notion of setting up environments favourable for the fulfillment of such desires. In essence, the Situationist movement experimented with a variety of mapping methods in effort to reconstruct the relationship and reading of city maps. They strived to find a more emotive reading of the city; they wished to move away from the functionalism of modernity. Their intention was to produce urban conditions which prioritized social interactions over rational grid-like planning. By prioritizing social interactions, the Situationists sought to underline their belief that the city was not composed solely of an architectural built environment, rather that the city was brought to life by the relationships defined within its built environment. The underlined idea here is: spaces as a product of society.

    To achieve this emotive reading of the city, the search for the sublime, the Situationists introduced the idea of the drift. As the text suggests, the individual exploring the city is to promenade, quite literally drift, from one “unite d’ambience” to the next. The drifter was to be guided by his/her intuition, by his/her spontaneous preference to choose one root over the other, all while meandering through the city. In this way, I believe that, the success of their mapping method is revealed through its subjectivity. The maps allow others to re-examine the city as it has been experienced by the mapper and, therefore, shines light upon issues that were previously ignored to the map user. By doing so, the map tries to give a voice to the otherwise unheard, unseen ‘undesirables.’

  13. Alexandre Hamel

    Guy Debord’s thoughts expressed in the society of spectacle and his interpretation of the capitalist mechanisms of consumption influenced greatly the ideology of the Situationist International movement. Debord argues that:

    “In societies in which the modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.

    Therefore, the Situationist perception of the city focused on a lived experience of the environment instead of a strictly representational one. As an alternative to traditional mapping techniques using a simple top view to describe the city’s organization, psychogeography aimed at explaining the atmospheric qualities of space through a personal and subjective experience of the environment. The ‘drift’ became a process through which the individual would meander in the city searching for distinct “unités d’ambiances”, choosing privileged experiential paths in areas somehow disconnected from capitalist spectacles. As a result, psychogeopraphical maps would be produced in an attempt to describe the city’s lived experience.

    As we now live in an increasingly digital world where we become more connected virtually, but simultaneously more isolated physically, Debord’s notions of social and lived experience of cities become extremely relevant.

    “From the automobile to television, all the goods selected by the spectacular system are also its weapon for a constant reinforcement of the conditions of isolation of “lonely crowds”.

    Technological development certainly offers a whole new range of possibility and ways to interact in our modern day society, but it is important to keep in mind that the lived experiences can never be fully reproduced. The tools that are now available to us are extremely powerful, nonetheless as we become more and more immersed in this virtual world one must question the implications of this new disconnection.

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