Excerpt From a Master's Thesis Project:

Productive Residue:

Architecture for the Modern Day Vagabond

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It is a widely accepted fact that we are experiencing the city less and less, losing interest despite its ability to transform the way we live. We need space to engage with the city and with each other, reducing the placeless landscape. This presents us with the obvious issue: when space is becoming less available how can we turn the urban residue into something productive using architecture, its operations and interventions? This enquiry seeks to understand how architecture could instead inspire, critically and socially, a new productive attitude, not of things, but of space, time, and social being: a way of place-making. Thus, this work of architecture will set out to encourage users to impose themselves onto the city, becoming modern day vagabonds. This thesis investigates the idea of vagabondage over time with the intent to define not only what a ‘modern day vagabond’ may be, but ultimately propose an architecture for the modern day vagabond.


I believe quite strongly that as architects we must concern ourselves with the built environment, not merely with building buildings; we must look for creative ways to engage the unwanted spaces - the burned house or abandoned building.■ By exploring the city, one can find that many gaps exist, whether between buildings, the under used car parks, or the abandoned warehouses and buildings, many of which are quite beautiful despite their neglect. Many have the potential to turn into something that makes a difference to everyday people. Planning cannot react on this scale, and large urban re-development projects, with all the money spent, often cannot and does not make the same kind of difference in residents’ lives.∆ However for the most part planners, developers and lenders see a society filled with individuals waiting for any opportunity to misbehave. This pessimistic view of modern urban society is deeply rooted in North American culture, and has led these designers away from the real goal of good design, and towards minimizing conflict by minimizing any contact people have. They believe that people must be protected from one another, reducing any distractions that would disrupt the functioning of the community.● 

Therefore, those of us who seek to humanize the city sphere have an uphill battle, where we must face decades of planning procedures as well as the notion of liability. It is arduous to argue that the spaces between buildings can be transformed into some of the most meaningful spaces in the city, as developers have constantly attributed these spaces as being ‘dangerous and unpleasant’, but it is most certainly worth the trouble.□ It is up to us as architects to implement these changes, nudging our city with seemingly insignificant moves that as a collective transform the way people view and use the city, knitting it together into an ever-changing fabric. And in order to do so, we must respond on a human scale. We must look at urban design through the eyes of a pedestrian. How can we use creatively our cities’ unwanted spaces? The challenge in this enquiry is to reconsider how we inhabit our cities. Do we leave the identity of our cities solely in the hands of politicians, governments, developers and investors? Can we start creating, inventing and changing the cities ourselves? And what role does architecture play in this? Perhaps the answer is in the residual, empty, neglected space, leftover by poor planning. As architects today perhaps the responsibility is shifting, and instead we must concern ourselves with the built environment, not merely with building buildings. Will the design of these new spaces and environments be informal and functions unrecognizable? Will this allow city users and occupants to find their own uses for the space, inducing play? The public space is ours, yet we often forget that.


 ■ WIlkins et al., Distributed Urbanism: Cities after Google Earth, pg. 173-180.

∆ Hill, D. Emergent Urbanism. Oct 21, 2011. http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/2010/02/emergent-urbanism-or-bottomup-planning.html

● Ford, The Spaces Between Buildings, p. 200

□ Ford, The Spaces Between Buildings, p. 204

Introduction: Placelessness & Identity

For roughly a half-century (1930-1980), urban design was preoccupied with enclosing and protecting people. Vast blank walls and impersonal streets became the norm. While many have recognized the flaws built into this preoccupation, we have developed so many institutionalized procedures that it is difficult to change. - Ford, The Spaces Between Buildings, p. 203-4

There is an evolving attitude that, through industrialization and technological innovation, a placeless geography is being created, destroying any sense of localism and variety in our cities.  Gordon Cullen suggested that we were to become ‘a thinly spread coast-to-coast continuity of people, food, power and entertainment; a universal wasteland’.▲ Monotonous and meaningless are words that unfortunately describe much of the recent developments in our cities and towns. This agreed lack of diverse landscape, significant and meaningful places, and the general sense of placelessness that we are at present subjecting ourselves to, is generally understood to be leading to an increased loss of our sense of place, providing possibilities for only mediocre experiences.  

This loss can also be attributed to cultural and geographical uniformity. As Edward Relph argues in his well known book that discusses ideas of urbanity, geography and identity, Place and Placelessness, these uniformities are transmitted through processes including mass communications, mass media (newspapers, journals, radio, television, and now at an exponential rate, the internet), mass culture, big business, powerful central authority, and the economic system which embraces all these.○ With the ease provided by these technologies, nations appear to be more steadily working upon each other and copying each other, deserting their own unique cultures for that of normalcy and the standard. These processes have reduced the significance of place-based communities by reducing the need for face-to-face contact and freeing communities from their geographical constraints.◆ Relph contends that these processes have made it possible to treat problems as widespread and general rather than local and specific, and 'hence propose general solutions according to the place-free dictates of current social science and planning'.⌂

It is also accepted we are now a ‘culture of mass values’ where designs, whether it be for fashion, products, buildings or urbanism, come from above to users, formulated by manufacturers, governments, and professional designers, and guided and communicated through mass media. This top down process does not allow for these designs to come from the people themselves, the heart of culture and uniqueness, but instead, Relph explains, uniform products and places are created for people of supposedly uniform needs and tastes, or perhaps vice versa.■

This idea of sameness or uniformity also has a close relationship with the rationalism that has consumed our society. There has been a shift from the reliance on thought to a dependence on methods of procedure and order. Mysteries and uncertainties of experience are not accepted but are investigated and explained. This limits options by removing the possibility of finding new, different, perhaps better, courses of action. Relph argues that this is found to be true across the board: in behavioural psychology, in political decision making, in business, in urban and regional planning, in recipe books and analyses of sexual behaviour. In all these cases knowledge is technical: it has been reduced to a set  of principles, directions or rules; the means for success are made explicit and skill, wisdom and experience are replaced by mechanical procedures and expertise.∆ 

As our society is becoming more technologically advanced we are becoming more introverted, despite vast amounts of people migrating to the city. We rely on technology to communicate rather than allowing chance encounters to happen on the street. Instead of starting a conversation with someone we see, we go home and post a ‘missed connection’ on Craigslist. As we exponentially become a faster and faster paced society, we experience the city less and less, losing interest despite its ability to transform the way we live. How do we feel about this? And if we need new ways to explore and use the city how do we go about it? This thesis will look into how the urban residue can be turned into something productive using architectural interventions that allow for social interaction. The urban landscape should not just be defined by the combination of the layout of roads and transitory passages and the buildings imposed on the city, the spaces in between must be considered. But how? Our proposal is this: architectural interventions can be created that engender new ways of viewing the city and the life it creates for us that promote social interaction; these interactions cannot be forced, but specific environments can certainly encourage face-to-face interactions to occur. It is in the un-instituted spaces of the city that these architectural interventions will flourish, along with user interaction.


Thomas Gordan Cullen (1914-1994), an English architect and urban designer, was best known for the book The Concise Townscape, first published in 1961, and was a key motivator in the Townscape movement.http://eng.archinform.net/arch/29791.htm Accessed 26.11.2012

▲ Cullen, as cited by Relph, Place and Placelessness, p. 79

Edward Relph (Born 1944 in Wales) is a Canadian geographer and professor of geography at the University of Toronto, teaching undergraduate classes and classes for the Masters of Planning Science program. His interests lie in the ideas of place + landscape from the phenomenological perspective.https://sites.google.com/site/tedrelph/home Accessed 25.11.2012

○ Relph, Place and Placelessness, p. 92

◆ Webber as cited by Relph, Place and Placelessness, p.92

⌂ Relph, Place and Placelessness, p.92

■ Relph, Place and Placelessness, p.125

On page 93, Relph quotes John Ruskin, who in 1849, describes how honesty in the production of goods should be of the utmost importance: “... how is it that the tradesmen cannot understand that custom is to be had only by selling good tea and cheese and cloth, and that people come to them for their honesty, and their readiness, and their right wares, and not because they have Greek cornices over their windows, or their names in huge gilt letters on their house front?... How much better for them it would be-how much happier, how much wiser, to put their trust upon their own truth and industry, and not on the idiocy of the consumer.”

Rationalism, described in terms of philosophy, is 'the theory that reason rather than experience is the foundation of certainty in knowledge.'

Oxford Dictionaries Online, 13.10.2011. http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/rationalism?q=rationalism

∆ Relph, Place and Placelessness, p.125

Craigslist, a popular site for free advertising to buy and sell items, to rent or find roommates etc. within a specific community, also has personals, with a specific section on ‘Missed Connections’. The postings here range anywhere from long lost loves trying to reconnect, to recollections of ‘catching eyes’ with an unknown person in a specific location and time, hoping to have that person contact them in the off chance they were actually interested, without having to deal with the mortifying humiliation of being rejected on the street, at the bar, or at the coffee shop.


The body of the human subject has long been the primary site of revolutionary activity, both in terms of its effect on space and the external world, as well as the reproduction and redefinition of the self.  Space is not only perceived through the body, but space is also used to create each human being’s own social identity, and Lefebvre argues that most commonly this identity is created in spaces of passage and encounter that become spaces of ritual and initiation. It is in the spaces left open to interpretation that one may find his or her place and identity and express this freely; the public space of the streets, squares, and residual left over spaces of alleyways, such as vacant lots and abandoned buildings, or as Lefebvre notes, any space not yet dominated by the state.

We take possession of the city through movement, a performative action, a form of resistance. In this sense one is becoming ‘the other’ - an action which has helped to inspire many different critical attitudes towards urbanism over the years, from Baudelaire and the flaneur to the Surrealists and the Situationist International, who saw the city as an ‘adventurous forest’ waiting to be discovered. Through their Derive one could discover thepsychogeographic relief of the city - hidden historical narratives and ambiances in forgotten or overlooked places in the city. In this sense all of these characters exhibit, knowingly and purposefully, vagabond traits. Historically, the word vagabond stems from the latin word vagari - to wander, transforming into the Anglo-French vacabund - whatever strays, to todays definition - a person who wanders from place to place without a home or job - or as a verb - one went vagabonding about the world.” Slowly this word has transformed into one loaded with negative connotations, as a result of the legal constructions of bourgeois society, naming anyone who lived their life outside of societal norms a vagabond - usually someone without a home, family or regular job - and attempting to outlaw such actions, because to those within society, anything that might be seen as ‘other’ is frightening. So as Anthony Vidler points out in the Architectural Uncanny,

Vagabonds, then, were guilty of no crime but that of vagabondage; potential criminals, outside the law not for a crime committed but for what might be committed in the future as the product of a wayward life.

The SI, then, embrace the idea of being the ‘Other’: subordinated as the uncertain, the stigmatized, and use it to their advantage. Much like a vagabond, they separated themselves from the bourgeois society. However unlike the common decription of a vagrant, which under law usually meant a life of idleness, these groups saw it as a way to reinterpret daily life. Rather than idleness, the SI used the time to explore the city, searching for new meaning in old histories.

So perhaps, then, we define one aspect of a vagabond as someone willing to risk going against the societal norm in order to experience, or at least test, new ways of living other than the accepted paradigm. Both historically and currently it seems that those with vagabond tendencies are often more interested in the use value of spaces - what the spaces can offer up in terms of experience, of dwelling, of connections, of ambiance, of adaptation - than what the space can produce in terms of monetary exchange. Skateboarders, Traceurs who practice parkour, graffiti artists, guerilla gardeners etc., can all be considered Modern Day Vagabonds for this reason. By reinventing the notion of vagabondage in a different light, perhaps we can inspire a new generation of players ready to explore the cityscape.

When we argue for certain types of spaces, be they as simple as a front porch or an alley, it is indicative of the more important urban issues at hand. We seek a sense of place, a sense of belonging, a sense of history, a sense of community and by extension a feeling of an overall involvement in our environment. By being able to identify with these spaces, they become part of us and in turn we treat them as our own, establishing a sense of place. The architecture for the Modern Day Vagabond will allow exploration through unusual city spaces, while also inviting users to interact, adapt, and change their environment. Not a Vagabond Architecture, as with Hejduk’s victims, in the sense that the architecture has itself characteristics of the vagabond, occupying different cities. Not necessarily a moveable architecture, as an architecture for those in movement. Not something for the vagabond to take with them but an architecture that heightens the experience of those Modern Day Vagabonds wandering through these altered spaces of the city. Not an architecture of permanent dwelling but instead of temporary occupying, dwelling, being, exploring, and adapting. A way for the Modern Day Vagabond to impose oneself on the city, inviting others to join in creating useable space in the city’s residue. The architecture will create a network of remnant spaces ripe with history and ready to be overtaken. Space for ludic behaviour, for relaxation, for art, for nature, for encounters and discussion will be created. Space worth occupying. A permanent, yet adaptable architecture reminiscent of the temporary spaces created by festivals such as Nuit Blanche.

The goal of this study was to create spaces and places for people to remove themselves from the confines of life’s ‘rules’, obligations and conformities, and allow them to get in touch with their true, innate desires. Exploration and play create adult intelligence in children, so when does that stop? It is clear that we do not lose our imaginations as we are still able to dream up and create new ideas, objects and art everyday, so when does the childhood ability to turn a mop into a horse or a hairbrush into a microphone evacuate the mind? Or does it? Perhaps, in the confines of the current city and society we do not allow ourselves this pleasure, but the appropriate space might. This architecture was created with the intent that it could allow those willing - the Modern Day Vagabonds - to let their desires surface, and for it to be the planted seeds of ideas and possibilities of our cities, showing that the current model is not the only one.

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