Category Archives: Education

Topological Atlas

BORDER TOPOLOGIES

In a world of rising inequalities and growing conflict borders are multiplying and becoming increasingly complex. Whilst the border as spatial metaphor is used extensively in architecture, borders as political and material realities are often overlooked. This conference explores architecture’s relationship with border geographies.

This conference was organized in November at Sheffield University’s School of Architecture by the Theory Forum  It had an architecture focus but the notion of the topological has broad relevance for understanding the “reach” of agency and of powers beyond physical boundaries.  This might be thought of as part of a wider movement in the social sciences that challenges Cartesian and Baconian notions of the empirical and of objects, dimensions and causality within the commonsensical everyday visual spatialisation that is the foundation of classical science.  The organizers ask:

How do we represent borders as topological spaces rather than the flat two-dimensional planes of standard maps? What happens when rigid political borders cross fluid ecologies? How are ecological borders acknowledged or not in planning and design?

Ecological borders not only operate at the level of the landscape or territory, but also at the level of the body. Posthumanist discourse blurs the borders of who or what we consider human. In a technologically mediated world, where does the border between the body and the environment lie?

This is reflected in the papers that headlined the conference.  To choose only two:

Celia Lury: Double Blind, Double Bind: The plane that disappeared – (a problem of first and second order observation)?

The empirical focus of this paper is ‘the disappeared plane’, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370/MAS370), the scheduled passenger flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing that lost contact with air traffic control on 8 March 2014 at 01:20 MYT, less than an hour after takeoff. The paper explores how it is possible for a plane to ‘disappear’ in an era of total planetary observation by describing the composition of a surface of visualization in terms of the boundary-making capacities of hypotheses of sight. It will be argued that, as a function of algorithmic rules of digital computation, today’s surfaces produce a patterning of vision that is cross-cut by multiple orders of observation and a whole variety of depths, intensities, neuroses, psychoses, and densities. In dialogue with Galison’s work on secrecy, the paper aims to show how the apparently edgeless surface of the locally flat surface of global planetary vision is striated not only by multiple corridors and targets, but also by blind spots, fuzzy patches and edges, resulting in the production of the recursive fractal of public-private in terms of degrees of public-ness and complex patterns of political and economic inclusion, exclusion and belonging.

Omar Nagati: Blurring boundaries, reconstituting borders: Examples from Cairo public space since 2011

Over the past three years, Cairo has been experiencing major political transformations played out on its streets and in its public space. Throughout alternating conditions of flux and restoration, disruption and reestablishment of “order” CLUSTER has been involved in a number of research and documentation projects as well as design schemes and intervention strategies to account for these changes and critically engage its spatial implications.

Over the past three years, Cairo has been experiencing major political transformations played out on its streets and in its public space. Throughout alternating conditions of flux and restoration, disruption and reestablishment of “order,” CLUSTER has been involved in a number of research and documentation projects as well as design schemes and intervention strategies to account for these changes and critically engage its spatial implications.

These projects range from the microscale of sidewalks and in‐between spaces, to the city scale of infrastructure and public services. One common theme underlying these examples is the constant interplay of contestation and negotiation between not only competing interests and stakeholders, but also competing frames of reference and normative orders, whereby borders between public and private, formal and informal, and the spatial and political are being repeatedly blurred and reconstituted.

This presentation offers a background for the broader context of the rapidly shifting political and urban landscapes in Cairo during the past few years, and discuses a few examples ranging from street vendors, downtown passageways, to informal development along the Ringroad and Ard al Liwa community Park.

 Further papers here.

-Rob Shields, University of Alberta

Space and Culture Reading and Research Group, Univ. of Alberta

This last term we have been re-reading Lefebvre’s Production of Space in the English translation and my own 1986 English précis published as a University of Sussex Urban and Regional Studies Working Paper.   We have rehearsed the critiques summarised in Spatial Questions and noted geography’s preference for applying rather than critically responding to Lefebvre’s unedited text.  Some great questions have emerged from our discussions, thinking with and from Lefebvre’s text.  What is the theory of the body implicit within this work?  Last week discussions linked up with Janine Muster’s Intermedia Research Studio exhibition on Alleyways.

Continue reading Space and Culture Reading and Research Group, Univ. of Alberta

Ecole Polytechnique Massacre of Women – 25 years on

Tate Britain Mural
Tate Britain Mural: This arresting mural in Tate Britain reminds us, on the 25th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique shootings of female students in which 14 women died, of womens’ contributions to invention, innovation and creative progress.

The Massacre of Women at the Ecole Polytechnique Engineering Faculty in Montreal remains an iconic moment in time and a location that has become synonymous with violent anti-feminisms and the persecution of women.  It has eluded the grasp of Canadian politics and public spaces of concern: it prompted a national registration of firearms which was later repealed by the Conservative Party, leaving unresolved questions.  Ecole Polytechnique remains a touch-point and a memory site toward which numerous memorials point, from across Canada and abroad, invoking the problem of violence against women.  The school is a site where this unresolved national trauma become starkly present; it witnesses to the sexual colonization of womens’ bodies and points to the scars of violent anti-feminisms that split Canada’s immigrant cultures and fractures the collective psyche.

-Rob Shields, University of Alberta