Human Traces in Urban Spaces

By Will Titley, Juliette MacDonald and Megan Strickfaden.

Published by The International Journal of Architectonic, Spatial, and Environmental Design

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Over the last two centuries many major cities have undergone large-scale modernisation that has led to the growing sense of homogenisation associated with such locales across the globe. The fractal logic that is at the heart of so many urban settings, where the whole system is made up of parts that are identical to the whole, seems to serve in making anonymous everyday experiences. Public transport and its corresponding street furniture, if thoughtfully designed and planned, has the potential to form an integral element in the promotion of a sense of identity, interconnectedness and flow within a city. Furthermore, bus stops, benches, litter bins, curb-sides, posts and pavements, to mention a few, offer interesting cases to consider how people truly engage with contemporary urban spaces. These objects—part of routine and made familiar—are elements of daily lives that are ingredients towards visual and multi-modal experiences. In addition, these are places where individuals encounter sociality and materiality in ordinary and sometimes extraordinary ways. This paper uses a visual ethnographic approach towards exploring the human traces of routine activities that have an impact on the cityscape. An Investigation of these details found within the urban landscape lead us towards understanding how we engage with and navigate cities. This is essentially an urban archaeological study that looks to reveal how non-designed phenomenon in urban places can contribute to our image of a city, providing a reflection on homogeneity within the built environment. Our visual ethnography focuses on six major cities: two each in Britain, Europe and North America. The findings of this work illustrate through visual analyses three key characteristics: first, how urban spaces are transformed intentionally and unintentionally; second, how transformations are practical, functional, beautiful and sometimes ridiculous; third, how transformations reveal values around visual and multi-modal experiences inherent to people.

Keywords: Identity, Phenomenology, Performance, Transformation, Visual Ethnography

The International Journal of Architectonic, Spatial, and Environmental Design, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp.19-31. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 795.499KB).

Will Titley

School of Creative Industries, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK

Will Titley is an Edinburgh-based designer who Lecturers in Design within the School of Creative Industries at Edinburgh Napier University. His research practice focuses on the relationship of design artifacts within an urban landscape. He has held many roles in the design and innovative technologies industry before taking up his current role at Edinburgh Napier University. One of his former positions was as Director of Design for Adshel Inc, where he worked on international street furniture design and implementation projects. Some of these included collaborations with Architect Richard Meier and also with Ken Grange of Pentagram.

Dr Juliette MacDonald

Edinburgh College of Art, Edinburgh, UK

Juliette MacDonald lectures in Design and Visual Culture at Edinburgh College of Art. As a design historian and theorist, she approaches historical and contemporary objects as embodiments of a particular cultural discourse or ideological vision. By looking under the ‘rhetorical hood,’ it is possible to consider an object’s relationship with the world as something that embodies a point of view or a lived experience. Juliette’s research area focuses on 20th century and contemporary Design and cultural identity and contemporary Craft and Design practice and process. She writes articles and reviews for publications such as Journal of Design History, Journal of Cloth and Culture, and has chapters in M. Rampley (ed.) Exploring Visual Culture: definitions, concepts, contexts (Edinburgh University Press, 2005) and S Bottomley, Reworthit, (Edinburgh, 2009)

Dr. Megan Strickfaden

Assistant Professor, Material Culture & Design Studies, Department of Human Ecology, Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Megan Strickfaden is an Assistant Professor in material culture and design studies in the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Alberta. She began her studies on design practice combined with anthropology towards understanding people-centered design and sustainability in the domain of industrial/engineering design (Canada). Prior to embarking on post-graduate research, she worked for 12 years as a product designer with various design firms, notably Innovate Design Inc. (Canada). Strickfaden obtained her PhD in Humanities & Social Sciences from Napier University (UK) with a study investigating potential sociocultural influences on the design process and the cultural milieu of design teaching environments. Most recently, Strickfaden is working on two projects: Exploring the Cultural Capital of Design Educators (2006-2009) as primary investigator and Architectural design in Dialogue with dis-Ability as co-investigator with Ann Heylighen and Patrick Develieger. Strickfaden’s current research combines design studies and anthropology towards understanding complexities within design environments (educational and professional) with continued focus on exploring sociocultural factors that potentially influence the designing process.