Embodied Urbanism

[Artist Tim Knowles on a ‘windwalk‘ near Charing Cross, London.  The contraption he wears, pictured below, is equipped with a video camera, GPS unit and a pivoting sail that points Knowles in the direction of wind flows in the city.]

Tim Knowles’ windwalks appear in Data Flow 2, amongst a diverse collection of many other creative works.  We are particularly drawn to Knowles’ playful, yet direct exploration of urban ephemera; the way he combines physical embodiment with design craft and a creative mode of inquiry.  A bit like the contemporary flaneur meets experiential urban ecologist.

[The whimsical meets the real: five windwalk transects through the city as recorded by GPS.  The mappings reveal the micro-climates of air circulation within constructed urban topography]

Tim Knowles’ nightwalks (above and below) have a similar emphasis on mapping embodied movement through space.  Using a long exposure, the photographic image records the artist’s nighttime treks along ridges, paths or compass bearings, carrying lights that reveal where he has traveled.

The artists other works also explore landscape phenomena through constructions beyond his own body, such as trees forced to draw, the wind as mapped by tethered helium balloons, and packages with cameras and motion detection equipment sent through the mail (forensic infrastructural studies?) .  But in all of his works there is a direct, physical engagement with landscape phenomena – both ‘natural’ and constructed.  The works themselves and the processes of arriving at them lack abstraction or reliance on received assumptions.  They are more a series of physical experiments and observational studies of real space.

[balloon drawing]

Walking.  Seeing.  Sensing. Touching…our shared, unavoidable condition of physical embodiment. The praxis of being in cities and landscapes.    How is the notion of an ecological urbanism informed by embodied and direct forms of perception in addition to more abstract knowledge? Oddly, embodied forms of knowing seem to have slipped to the sidelines in our contested interpretations of systems and ecologies.  Such forms of knowing certainly are not the emphasis.  The immediate, intimate scale of ecology is less explored.  Why?  What’s lost?  What might we gain by re-injecting a contemporary, expanded phenomenology into the research?  Perhaps it more a question of scale and how to better link the immediate to the massive.

As summer approaches we are craving something like the Lucha Libre Landscape.  Fecundity and the sensuous abound.  We’ve added an embodied category and hope to explore a series of posts related to it over the next few months.  Guest contributions and/or tips related to the topic are welcomed.

(all images courtesy Tim Knowles’ website)


  1. I agree. There is some negation or outright antagonism toward space-embodiment-experience in the discourse surrounding LU. This is not to suggest that the precepts it claims or expounds upon are wrong, just limited, whereas the medium of landscape is absolutely not. It reminds me of the statement “the map is not the territory”. Every time I see some ill-conceived, much-lauded LU project I want to state “the goddamn diagram is NOT the landscape.

    Of course, Borges had some interesting and rather unsettling things to say about this in his essay “Partial Magic in the Quixote”, but whatever…

  2. …Fact often reads like fiction, and fiction as fact…

    I think the tension you describe regarding Landscape Urbanism is interesting. I’ve heard other designers express a similar sentiment and others argue vehemently from the other side. Lots of LU seemed/seems to explore the indeterminate space between planning and finding a specific physical friction or contact with landscape. Thus it sometimes gets critiqued from both sides: some practicing designers feel it lacks physical specificity (where’s the scaled section? the materiality, etc.) and planners and urbanists complain LU is too site oriented to be considered urbanism. I think there is something fruitful here regarding the dialogue the movement has spawned, and hopefully continues.

  3. I agree. The criticisms are valid, yet LU offers appropriate, unique ways of conceiving projects/territories/cities/systems. At the end of the day, though, the LU’s are currently designing sites (another common criticism, I suppose- they are ultimately doing the same projects (parks) within a different conceptual framework, not different types of projects such as transportation systems- though some push for that, too). And while a part of larger systems/regions/flows/etc, their unique, specific material/phenomenological/ visceral characteristics must not be neglected. Rather, we must do it all (hence my taking a shining to your seizing on the notion of embodiment and shunting it into the conversation).

    More everything!! (And I apologize for the strained punctuation)

  4. Yeah, ‘doing it all’ well is the challenge.

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