Access things

October 14, 2014


Technological thing: shoes

Site: the Free Port in Gothenburg

A basic idea in Elisabeth Grosz text is that of the real as consisting of processes and movements, from which we create our practical reality. “Thing” is here the more interesting term for investigation into the real, as it names more than just the physical. While the thing is, quoting Grosz, “a certain carving out of the real”, i would like to read it as encompassing all things, also emotions and ideas (like saying -This thing we have, when speaking of a relationship), but it would probably make it too general. Technology is here understood as belonging both to the human and the natural, it is the point where they overlap, the things provocation for human action, the new things produced by our action and these things effect again upon us. The technological thing is the material extension of the human, often things that make greater extension possible.

Shoes are obviously one of the most basic inventions that enable human interaction with the world, together with the clothes we wear they provide a personal atmosphere which extends our mobility and a shell that absorbs some of the wear and tear that would otherwise affect our bodies. They are a product of body and landscape, they simulate nicer grounds. They are a technological thing in Grosz’ definition. To try and use Reinhold Martins term, as described by Frichot on this blog, can shoes also be seen as a mediator? Between sites, for example inside – outside, or perhaps human and site? In Martins definition as i understand it shoes can be considered part of infrastructure, they enable us to use a site and therefore construct both us as walking creatures and the site as site: walkable, usable, buildable. As vital for the urban system as the automobile, their use is the definition of infrastructural repetition, not in the repeated motion of footsteps, but in the constant flow of access they uphold.

I visited the site recently as participant in an open call workshop, held by Ramlabor from Berlin on invitation by the city of Gothenburg. The object was the collaborative building of a temporary public bath in Frihamnen, which in short is a huge area by the water, mainly covered in asphalt, soon to be turned into apartments and a large park. My group was constructing a piece of ground with paving stone. Other from the very manifest body-thing experience of lifting rocks, one interesting aspect of the workshop was the interaction between the city representatives and the architect studio. The city was constantly stressing the importance of accessibility regulations being met, the architects were reluctantly making changes as building progressed. I could choose to see this change in their design as a sad compromise between experimental building and stiff regulation. But i would rather claim there is a normative construction of experimental and accessible as opposites. Is this compromise in fact more experimental and radical than their usual practice? In the way it challenges the expected aestethic of the experimental or what to call it, in order to build access beyond shoes.

Jonatan Lennman

Elizabeth Grosz, ‘The Thing’, in Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.


2 Responses to “Access things”

  1. tovehanssongronroos Says:

    I like how you, in your last paragraph, point on a change in the way of seeing radical. That the accessibility might just be the radical, to see architecture from different perspectives and to make it reachable through different “entrances”. And that this binding might be necessary to get architects to be as radical as they need to, to be inclusive.

  2. fridakt Says:

    I thought it was interesting the thing you pointed out with the problematic situation that occurs between the architect and the contractor when the architect have to reduce and change material but I don´t know who to blame. I think architects need to learn to communicate material in a better way then they´re trying with cheap tricks of bad collage. I think maybe the architect intuitive feel the importance of a certain material and can image it but perhaps not to communicate it. The pictures need to be stronger. It has to be that strong you actually can feel the smell of wet asphalt on a summers day.

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