“The city expresses, concretely, the prevailing organisation of everyday life. The nightmare of the contemporary metropolis – space and time engineered to isolate, exhaust and abstract us – has driven the lesson home to everybody and its very pitilessness has begun to engender a new utopian consciousness.” – Situationist International
> Revolutionary Urban Transformation
The Situationist International, formed in 1957, developed criticisms of contemporary urbanism and postulated upon possible urban futures. They viewed the city as the principal location for the creation and maintenance of social interactions of domination, as spaces of alienation and control. But, they also viewed the city with hope – recognising the inherent potential of the city as a place of liberty where people could live and satisfy their personal needs and desires free from oppressive urbanism. It was the S.I.’s coupling of urban critique within a wider revolutionary political agenda that separated them from other movements seeking urban transformation at that time. For the S.I., the city was a highly contested territory, both politically and socially. They attempted to investigate the city via radical forms of geographical action and research, in an effort to instigate urban transformation. Terms such as “construction of situations”, “Psychogeography”, and “Unitary Urbanism” were employed to convey their investigations and explorations to the population at large, in the hope of igniting social and spatial revolution.
> Participation vs. Spectacle
“Unitary Urbanism” was not postulated as an urban doctrine, but rather as an urban critique, with its utopianism laying in its vision towards achieving a “Terrain of experience for the social space of the cities of the future.” The S.I. also advocated the city in a permanent state of flux, and was opposed to the notion of urban permanence in both temporal and spatial terms. “Unitary Urbanism” was to be dynamic and evolutionary, preoccupied with the generation of situations, and the outcomes of people’s actions and desires – an urbanism of participation rather than spectacle.
> Unspectacular Spectacular Society
According to Debord, the spectacle was the dominant feature within society and urban space, simultaneously homogenising and fracturing the city and society. Urban participation was being marginalised via the exodus of people and street life from urban centres due to the domineering interests of the state. The S.I. viewed the city as a tool for asserting political oppression and control, and it worked towards the revolutionary aim of realigning urban spectacular society towards a participatory society. The S.I. rejected the remaking of post-war cities by interest groups and “ideal” urban planning schemes [such as by Le Corbusier]. Instead they promoted a new utopianism based upon street activity and everyday life.
|+ Visions of the City - the participatory 'urban flaneur' [CTW 2009]|
> Social + Spatial Synchronisation
The maps by Debord counter rigidly functional urban plans by suggesting alternate routes and passages through a fluid city. Derives were seen as more significant than the destination, and were seen as an alternative method to immerse oneself in the city and comprehend and synchronise oneself with its flows and rhythms. Debord’s maps “embody a subversive attitude towards representations of the city”. They question notions of temporal and spatial orientation in their quest for future urban potentials. The maps were intended to form the basis for future social utopian spaces within the city, and lead to a revolution in social and spatial interactions.