2017 Inception Award | Informality


a design approach for the urban interior

This research is about an awareness of dichotomies.
The informal/formal,
the urban/interior,
the public/private
exploring the effects of the macro/micro on the object/subject by connecting these polar conditions through a relation of addition rather than of opposition or favouring one or the other.
The two approaches represent the attempt to forge relations between these dichotomies. One from top down and the other from bottom up – one draws from the static and conventional view of the city and the other from the temporal and lived experience – there is no suggestion that one approach is better than the other but that they both produce different yet useful sets of information in addressing the common aim in which was to identify informality in the city and how it displays potential in utilising space – the combination of findings has the potential to enrich our understanding of these urban spaces as also ‘interior spaces’.
This research investigates how the shared landscape of the city serves as the backdrop to the informal processes that house the ever-changing movements and events of daily urban life; activating the notion of interior space through the interaction and engagement of bodies in space, in situation and in event.

Part one of this research project explores urban informality as a spatial phenomenon via experiences of visually drifting through the city’s ‘urban text’ as a progression of disciplinary scales; a technique inspired by the ‘Powers of Ten’ by Charles and Ray Eames. The purpose is to investigate the relative sizes and significance of things when scale is either magnified or reduced.

Acknowledging that the built environment is a field of continuity and change, this research is developed on the belief that macro conditions influence the microcosms of human experience and vice-versa. The aim is to observe how the planning of our cities influences informal phenomena, and then extract a framework of how existing socio-cultural narratives are spatialised so as to enhance the micro-cultures of the everyday through the sensibilities of Interior Architecture.

Part two explores the same scales in reverse with antithetical methods: a psychogeographic lens, the figure of the flaneur, and the act of walking as a subversive and informal tool. These provided a more human experience in contrast to the disembodied view of the map.

Thus, instead of mapping the city, I walked the city;
instead of analysing objects and forms in their figure ground, I noted my experiences of being on the ground; the visual drift vs. the experiential drift;
top-down vs. bottom-up.

Psychogeographical encounters with the urban landscape revealed a pattern invisible through the top-down approach: a prevalence in the informal concept of ‘grey spaces’ leftover by formality. The observations within spaces can be read as events or situations that propose different readings of spatial function, constructed and activated by the informal interactions between various ‘bodies.’ Firstly, the actual space that borrows existing forms to imply a framing of the situation. Secondly, the objects utilised within the event – the ‘inanimate actors’ leaving behind traces of use. And lastly, the individual and collective bodies whose movements in the space are performed, overlaid and inevitably embedded within the site (Guinta 2009, 60). These momentary interrelations between the human body, space and object can be seen as a method or attitude of constructing an interior situation.

The research shows that informality can occur in the most formal locations of the map, hidden from the disembodied eye of the plan, at any given time – revealing the informal phenomenon’s potential in being utilised as ‘alternate mode of urbanism’ whereby ‘people become part of the solution and not the problem’ (Aravena 2016) and space can be liberated from the ‘rules and methods’ of formal convention. (Spatial Agency 2017). In saying that, this project does not suggest that these spaces observed are exclusively informal or ‘grey’ but the policing and control of the city forms patterns of activity within these spaces that can definitely be identified as ‘grey’ – displaying notions of the ‘abject’ to popular society, disturbing the spectacle of the city and residing in the by-products of formality. Even so, this is where the informal phenomenon has shown potential in this project – for its ability to maximise and make use of the most undesirable spaces within the city.

By relieving oneself of their own preconceptions of space, these events caused by informal movements within urban territories have the ability to test the limits of the contemporary interior – showing how spatial practices can activate an interior, and yet how this can also just as easily vanish. This overlay of temporal interactions can challenge our understanding of existing space – to ‘agitate our imagination’ (Tsukamoto 2002, 9) by expanding the potential of the interior through acts of social agency.