When Polise Moreira de Marchi from Brasil was buying expresso in a Shanghainese supermarket this morning, a Chinese guy came up to her and started talking to her in Spanish. Seeing a latin woman in a Shanghainese supermarket he somehow figuered that she must speak Spanish. Indeed, she did and they were able to have a small talk. The morale of this anecdote: “Language is the essential mediation of what we know of the world”. Or, to put it the other way around: if you cannot talk about it, you cannot know it.
Polise de Manchi describes the city as an interface with ‘different systems and signs that collide, combine and hybridize, setting up new languages and redesigning old modes of representation.’ She focusses on the development of these new languages and signs . Take Sao Paolo. You could describe this city with an endless list of statistical data that show this metropolis has 152 theaters, 90 museums and is home to the world’s biggest gay parade etc etc. ‘But these data do not tell you enough. To really understand the city, you need to be closer. You need to feel it, you need to get lost.’
Together with a group of students she tried to develop an experimental new “language”. In Stage 1 the students had to observe the city and produce semantic diagrams, a type of ‘tag cloud’ containing words or concepts that describe the city: Traffic, Crowd, Velocity, Chaos, Walls, Movement. Every student then had to pick one of these ‘tags’ and find a graphic metaphore for it, a picture that gave a graphic impression of the ‘tag’.
In Stage 2 the students were asked to perceive the city by using their mobile phones and take pictures. Every student took pictures that could describe one of the ‘tags’. One student who chose ‘Buildings’ as a concept that describes the city, took pictures of high rise buildings. Another student chose ‘Chaos’, and took mainly pictures of traffic jams.
Stage 3 was the final knowledge-producing phase. Students had to show their knowledge about the city by means of creative 1-minute videos based on the concept they chose in Stage 1 and the pictures they took in Stage 2. These short video’s together form expressions of the different concepts that describe the city.
A next step could be the creation of a database with all the material to develop a full new language to describe a city and urban concepts.
Video below: talk by Polise Moreira de Marchi at ‘Designing the Hybrid City’