Uncommon Building: Exploring the Literary Texture of Urban Spaces
As ever, this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival played host to a series of fascinating literary discussions, not least "Cities of Our Dreams," which called on its audience to focus on both representations of cities in text and the extent to which urban spaces, architecture, and cities can be seen as texts.
Hosted by sociologist Adam Kaasa, theatre writer Ishbel McFarlane, and author Honor Gavin, the talk encouraged attendees to view the modern urban landscape as a designed space rather than dismiss it as an inevitable product of development. Indeed, given that cities are designed spaces at their core, it's worth considering what that design is intended to communicate to us (and how designs achieve their goals). This approach leads those living in urban environments to ‘read’ the text of our cityscapes, considering both the people who built them and the extent to which designed spaces can act as "texts."
This casts those of us who engage with urban environments in the role of readers, working together in a “collective excavation” as we interpret and re-interpret the buildings that have been left to us by previous generations (as well as those being built in our lifetimes). Just as different readings of popular text may be more or less popular at different times, different readings and impressions of urban environments tend to wax and wane among their inhabitants.
Kaasa and Gavin’s project and accompanying book, Uncommon Building, focuses on a series of attempts by artists to synthesise text descriptions of buildings into more concrete impressions of what the object might look like. While it is not yet available, we have included a reading list below of the various books mentioned in the course of the discussion as important touchstones for those who would consider the texture of their surrounding cityscapes.
Throughout, Gavin called on science fiction and speculative fiction for its depictions of futuristic or alternative urban environments. We contacted her to see if she had any further recommendations for those who would look to fiction for its strange takes on urban environments, and she was kind enough to extend our reading list.
You can read more about the Uncommon Building project here.