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Architecture and urbanism in Paris. La Petite Ceinture, indeterminacy and representation.

The act of ‘planning’ is fundamental for the urban and architectural research. Arranging, defining, determining. Nothing escapes the eye of the urban planner. Nevertheless, controlling the entire space appears to be impossible. The city is in a constant state of metamorphosis. Determinacy involves indeterminacy and vice versa. To counteract the uniformity of cities, we require ‘anti cities’. A place where everything is possible, especially that which seems impossible within the cities borders. The English architectural critic Colin Rowe talks in his ‘Collage City’ about ‘void’ as a crucial factor to define cities: “For the important reality has now become what lies behind: the matrix of the city has become transformed from continuous solid to continuous void” (ROWE, 1978). the Italian creative network ‘Stalker’ talks about the importance of those voids: “The voids constitute that ‘background’ on which to read the form of the city that would otherwise appear homogeneous, deprived of a complex evolutionary dynamic and therefore of life itself” (STALKER, 2012). Urbanism is increasingly confronted with that kind of ‘vacant spaces’. How should we deal with them? What do these voids have to offer and how can we talk about them? The lack of identity and definition makes it hard to represent those voids, let alone to ‘plan’ them. Do we need new ways of knowledge to work with these ‘new’ spaces? “The city as we know it seems to be dissolving and is being replaced by something for which we lack concepts and images. Spatial transformations have produced a new kind of city for which we have as yet no adequate models of perception and representation” (FERGUSON, 2006).

The subject of this thesis focuses on the Parisian abandoned rail infrastructure, called ‘la Petite Ceinture’. Hidden underneath, behind and in between the Haussmann façades of the Parisian city model, this rail infrastructure remains one of the last undefined spaces present within the periphery of Paris. Abandoned since 1934, the mysterious ring encounters a ‘second life’. Few people know what is really going on out there, however everyone seems to talk about it. Fascinated by this whole event, I went on a discovery trip during my stay in Paris. I really wanted to reveal the secrets of that place. What stroked me was that my impressions of ‘la Petite Ceinture’ changed constantly. Every time when I decided to confront myself with the mysterious ring, I had to revise my impressions. Quickly it became clear to me that this space was hard to grasp. Nevertheless, my experiences were useful. They gave me a richer image then I could find in scientific literature, novels or urban stories. It made me wonder: Are the current text, map and photographic methods sufficient to talk about these ‘void-spaces’? Do we need to develop alternative methods of representations by using other forms of text and photography and/or other media? How does art have an interest in this? Furthermore, the significance of the word ‘representation’ is being questioned, as well as the meaning of ‘identity’ and ‘place’ in relation to undefined space. The concept of ‘experience’ constitutes a large part of this thesis and is part of the reason why I chose to incorporate the medium dance in this research.

In short, the main question is: How can we explore and represent

undefined space? In which way can certain forms of text, photography and dance be used as an interesting alternative within the current urban research methods, which appear increasingly inappropriate in understanding these ‘new’, undefined spaces? In particularly, this thesis focuses on ‘la Petite Ceinture’ as a model for research.

Architectuur en stedenbouw in Parijs. La petite ceinture, onbepaaldheid en representatie
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