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Urban theory in postmodern cities: Amnesiac spaces and ephemeral aesthetics , URBS. Revista de Estudios Urbanos y Ciencias Sociales, Universidad de Almería, 7(1), (2017), 57-65, ISSN: 2014-2714

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The study of Postmodern architecture demands freedom from any preconceived rule or traditional stylistic analysis. Because of this dogma, urban transformations have been brought to postmodern cities in recent decades. Some of these are chaotic and
  URBS .  Revista de Estudios Urbanos y Ciencias Sociales. Volumen 7, número 1, páginas 57-65  –    Papers     –   ISSN: 2014-2714  5 Urban theory in postmodern cities: Amnesiac spaces and ephemeral aesthetics  Teoría urbana en la ciudad postmoderna: espacios amnésicos y estética de lo efímero Bárbara Barreiro León   Universidad de Oviedo barbara.b.leon@gmail.com   Abstract.    The study of Postmodern architecture demands freedom from any pre-conceived rule or traditional stylistic analysis. Because of this dogma, urban transformations have been brought to postmodern cities in recent decades. Some of these are chaotic and are not related to the urban experience of the ndividual. Thus, the modification of space and time in a city generates a brand-new architecture  –   a reflection of a renewed society, freed from the philosophical, aesthetic and social concerns of the central decades of the twentieth century. A formerly attempt to establish a quaint and recognisable typology of “local architecture” is now discarded, then refusing the sense of unique identity of the city and which in the past, promoted the urban memory of the inhabitants. Urban spaces are created far from historical centres, built deprived of both history and memory. The individual, therefore, is unable to find a relationship between these “anti - cities”, familiarity and daily life. The citizen appears nowadays as seemingly detached from these new and disproportionate constructions, spaces that show no architectural personality. Urban models are presented as the assimilation or systematic copying favors of nteraction with the individual. This new city model is based on the copy, in the simulacrum of reality itself. Resumen.  El estudio de la arquitectura posmoderna exige la libertad de cualquier regla preconcebida o análisis estilístico tradicional. Debido a este dogma, las transformaciones urbanas han sido llevadas a cabo en las ciudades posmodernas en las últimas décadas. Algunos de estos planteamientos son caóticos y no están relacionados con la experiencia urbana del individuo. Así, la modificación del espacio y del tiempo en la ciudad genera una arquitectura completamente nueva, reflejo de una sociedad renovada, liberada de las preocupaciones filosóficas, estéticas y sociales de las décadas centrales del siglo XX. Un antiguo intento de establecer una tipología pintoresca y reconocible de la "arquitectura local" es descartado ahora, rechazando entonces el sentido de identidad única de la ciudad y que, en el pasado, promovía la memoria urbana de los habitantes. Los espacios urbanos se crean lejos de los centros históricos, privados de historia y de memoria. El individuo, por lo tanto, es incapaz de encontrar una relación entre estas "anti-ciudades", la familiaridad y la vida cotidiana. El ciudadano aparece hoy en día como aparentemente separado de estas nuevas y desproporcionadas construcciones, espacios que no muestran personalidad arquitectónica. Los modelos urbanos se presentan como la asimilación o copia sistemática permite la interacción con el individuo. Este nuevo modelo de ciudad se basa en la copia, en el simulacro de la propia realidad. Keywords.  Postmodernity; architecture; urbanism; aesthetics. Palabras clave . Postmodernidad; arquitectura; urbanismo; estética. Formato de citación. Barreiro León, Bárbara (2017). Urban theory in postmodern cities: Amnesiac spaces and ephemeral aesthetics. URBS. Revista de Estudios Urbanos y Ciencias Sociales  , 7  (1), 57-65. http://www2.ual.es/urbs/index. php/urbs/article/view/barreiro  Recibido:  17/11/2016; aceptado:  03/04/2017;  publicado:  03/05/2017 Edición:  Almería, 2017, Universidad de Almería Introduction Postmodern culture was born as a way to combat the Modern Movement, overtaking the severity of the International Style regarding its architecture. Hence, postmodern architecture proposes not to be bound to any rule or style aspects. Because of that, urban transformations have been brought to postmodern cities. Some of these are chaotic and are not related to the urban experience of the individual. Thus, space and time are modified into this new city. Postmodernism intends, from the outset, to create a new expression not only in artistic, but also in cultural terms, which will bring a new and contradictory aesthetic experience that seeks to represent contemporary society. As a result, the new architecture is now reflected generating a new society, freed from aesthetics, philosophical and the social budgets of the mid-twentieth century. However, the term “postmodernism” has raised many debates in order to find a clear meaning covering all variants of this cultural wave. Thus, Postmodernity is not an artistic movement in the strict sense, but rather, an expression of the crisis of Modernity, understood as a critique of modernity itself. Nevertheless, at some point, it is difficult to overcome this given solution. This plurality makes community views  –  the society as a whole  –   considering, therefore, the problem of creating basic and   Amnesiac spaces and ephemeral aesthetics ISSN: 2014-2714  58 fundamental laws on society. The Postmodern city hence relates itself to urban imaginary, which is composed of a conglomeration of ideas and images. These are built through the visual memory of the individual and imaginary creations that have to do with the use of the visual intelligence form - space. Post-modern culture and its cities Postmodernism is presented as an anti-Modern movement seeking to escape from everything that had so far represented modernity: negativity, contradiction and contrasts. However, there are times when it is difficult to overcome this established solution. Postmodern architecture is understood as the culmination of a social and technological transformation. In this way, the individual moves to a new city, understood by means of expression of the society that had until then inhabited the empty and meaningless buildings of the Modern Movement and the International Style. Over time, the International Style was outpaced with the help of architects who sought freedom from the rigid dictates of this school. Buildings somehow abandoned the slavish adherence limits to modernist geometry, replacing it with new designs (for instance, a return to external decoration). Instead of symbolically encountering the surrounding landscape constructed with rectangular buildings, in the Postmodernity, we observe buildings with protruding corners, a number of different levels and substantially more ornamentation on the outside (Gottdiener, 2005).  The planning of the city, according to the Modern Movement encouraged the spatial segregation of social functions, the death of suburban sidewalks and the city’s grid system. Instead of that, the new Postmodern urbanists aspired to integrate previously separate elements. They conceived a more relevant urban life for the visitor, guiding neighbourhoods to gain easy access to all transport service. The promoters of this style were “ant i- modernists” in their belief –   society should return to a more community and environment-friendly model. For instance, some traditional designed elements of houses, such as porches and sidewalks, were remarkably favoured in order to allow people to socialize, closing ties  with the community (Gottdiener, 2005). In this sense, to eventually apprec iate these cities as “art”, we must submit them to aesthetic study. In order to view it this way, we take real cases of cities constructed in the form of architectural elements, under the ideological and Postmodern social theories as an example. Thus, the dream of Postmodern cities  –  utopic and unrealistic entities that are not intended to accommodate the individual  –   is to approach Marc Augé’s “non - place”, making these cities a mere place of transit and leisure, resulting in amnesiac spaces for the public with ephemeral aesthetics. Post-modernism succeed thanks to a willingness to change, with the aim of creating a new expression.  This manifestation was not only artistic but also cultural, which, in return, will bring a new and contradictory changing aesthetic experience that seeks to represent contemporary society.  The creation of the Postmodern city primarily depends on the association between symbols and signs, and  which follow the demand of society itself. Postmodern cities are not intended to accommodate the individual, but instead, aim to distract the society. The succession of different Postmodern, dream-like, unreal spaces distract society, making them believe that invididuals are living in a utopia created in their image and likeness. It will be necessary, in turn, associate all these representative symbols of Postmodern ideology  –  architectural materialization itself   –   in order to meet the basic objective of these constructions, that is, to create a city that conforms an image of Postmodern culture. The city and Postmodern architecture are, therefore, object of a detailed study where architectural theory comes into play, together   Amnesiac spaces and ephemeral aesthetics ISSN: 2014-2714  59  with philosophy and aesthetics, to result in a critical review of its emergence and development as a socio-cultural phenomenon. During Postmodernism the desire to create larger cities grows, impersonal and empty of architectural content, but which, in turn, can be fully identifiable by individuals through symbols and images. In order to value Postmodern cities and put them in open relation to the society that rules them, it is necessary to understand the symbols, signs and icons that appear in the viewer’s eyes. Thus, the architects of these cities work from these symbols to construct a new architectural representation for the city. It is, therefore, an urban framework, set by the signs given by the company itself and the new socio-cultural claims. Hence, Habermas (1984) refers to the problem of container, empty and meaningless buildings, as a problem of the Modern Movement and the International Style, rather than Postmodernism itself. The latter gives character to these flat and soulless buildings, providing them with a new character without resorting to actual architectural elements, but filling them instead with representative signs of our society.  These signs may even serve to provide an empty object with artistic and aesthetic category  –   a sign made of neon lights is the height of Postmodern society. Some specialists have focused their attention on the creation of themed environments as an example of the most important aspects of Postmodernism in cities and regions alike (Gottdiener, 2005). It is an ironic architecture  –  a parody as a cynic society   –   represented with a strong personality, not only in individual terms, but history and changing societies in equal measure. Thus, utopic cities, where individuals feel protected by society as a whole and an ideal environment around them, make them live in a lie.  There is, therefore, a desire to create a city almost as a “Postmodern carnality”, as it does not seek to solve the problems of the individual who inhabits it. Its aim is not to be functional. Its willing is to create the illusion of a city, a scenario that represents a proper city. Sociologists and architects called it “city  -fi ction”, falsifying the individual to the most extraordinary level. It is, once again, the society of the spectacle, creating its own “city  - show” (Popeanga, 2009).   According to Guy Debord in La Société du spectacle (1967), the spectacle     –  or show   –   concentrates the  whole attention of this new society. However, this does not refer to images, but to the relationship that is established between individuals and images. They create images that present a reality so that at no time  will represent a lie. The purpose of the show is to make these images more visible and noticeable. These images can be admired anywhere (Debord, 1995). Debord presents the example of the vedette   to introduce the concept of apparent experience which is in agreement with the postmodern banalization; an apparent life, without depth, a world totally commodified where the objects tend to lose value. The individual is increasingly linked to consumption, turning these urban centres into purely commercial spaces. This is one of the most characteristic features of postmodern cities; urban spaces that are far from the traditional concept of cities.  Amnesiac spaces  Time and space are presented as basic issues when developing an urban space. Thus, we might speak of urban space as temporary  –   corresponding to the memory and previous experiences of the individual. For the same reason, spatial models are built by memory elements. However, the individual is bewildered before the Postmodern urban landscape, transforming him into a mere spectator of the city. The result is clear  –   the individual does not recognise his own city because of the changes that it has undergone.   Amnesiac spaces and ephemeral aesthetics ISSN: 2014-2714  60 Deteriorated urban centres are rehabilitated as a lure for tourists. They become now ideal “non - places” –   copies of the city itself. The centrality of cities is now lost, as families inhabit the periphery with the leaving the centre almost as a thematic park for tourists. The city is now rife with museums, leisure centres and hotels, in addition to the historical centre itself with its unpolluted architectural heritage.  The main difference between a place and a “non - place” is that the former is the set of elements that coexist in space with a certain order. The place is somewhat of a geographical place where individuals  walk. However, the geographical elements disappear when the signs come into play; if the signs disappear, so do the geographic features that define the place. Thus, the place is not only understood by its inhabitants, but by tourists and visitors as well. These, relate to the basic concepts and commonalities of cities while others fail to establish that familiarity with space. Here, we can understand the Postmodern “non - places” due to the space they occupy in the contemporary city –   planes, trains, automobiles, airports, stations, hotels, supermarkets, amusement parks, and so on. Therefore, “non - places” correspond to the spaces designed for specific purposes and the relationship between the individuals and such spaces.  The “non - place” does not confer identity to the individual. On the contrary, it is what truly disturbs and distracts him from what is outside the “non - place”. The individual is now unable to be found in time or space  –   he is alone in a room full of people who are experiencing the same feeling. We lose, once again, the relationship between space and place that we had already experimented with the concept of post- modern city, a full timelessness settling here. Regarding the search space, the visitor only has the “non - place” as a benchmark of their place of srcin that ma y experience a mechanical social attitude, not individually but innate to all individuals in non-places (Tudoras, 2006).  The architectural materialisation of these Postmodern cities has to do with noise, the lights and the succession of dark and bright spaces which, in turn, distracts the individual, inviting him to wander from side to side, without a predetermined direction. Thus, the basic object of these constructions is to create a city like image of Postmodern culture. The city is now understood as a shopping mall, where symbol refers to consumption, corresponding, in this sense, with a “non - place” –   an amnesiac, ephemeral and dependent on the consumer society space, losing its place as an anthropological category and so, the identification of individuals. Now urban spaces are created away from historical centres. An example of this situation is the development on the outskirts of large cities that are purely built in a functional sense. It is identified with a “non - place”, as we can see how they develop e beyond the local identity of the place, the community itself. Postmodern architecture must be studied as a discourse. In this way, it is possible to consider architecture as something participatory in terms of consumption and production. The consumption of architecture must be theoretically developed in two ways: both seeing it as a sign or symbol and as a spatial experience (Rampley, 2005). The city of Las Vegas, in particular, is relevant in relation to this kind of attributes. As Gottdiener and Budd put it: “One can say   that Las Vegas has become the «Sin City» and the «Sim City» at the same time” (Gottdiener, 2005, p. 124).   Thus, space and time fade away as we discuss the subject within the Postmodern city; the preconceived notion that the individual has of the city is now lost among Postmodern elements. The individual cannot distinguish between the real image and the image that is manipulated. The Postmodern city corresponds, therefore, with an urban imaginary configured by a conglomeration of ideas and images constructed through the visual memory of the individual (Narváez, 2011).  The city of Las Vegas is hence experienced as an amnesiac space. This status is not only conferred by the  visual memory of the individual, but because the individual is equally dealing with timeless elements that   Amnesiac spaces and ephemeral aesthetics ISSN: 2014-2714  61 initially would not correspond to this place, neither in time nor in space. For instance, iconic elements collected from other parts of the world  –   symbols of the history of civilizations as if they were archaeological treasures individualised, yet exhibited as a whole in one place.  These Postmodern cities are amnesiac spaces where people feel almost out of their own. Time is not important anymore; all what really matters is to be found along the Strip, in a certain casino or in that chapel. The individual feels abstracted from this world. The sensation is similar to living in a parallel  world, where whatever you do will not carry any consequence or retaliation outside it - “ What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas  ”.  This situation is not exclusive to a city like Las Vegas. Other clear examples of these spaces are shopping malls, fairs and thematic parks, like Disney World. This symbolic city becomes an unreal and transit place, not intended for everyday life or to house workers. It refers rather to an escape from society itself, a desired city in which the visitors find everything they need. The visitors become familiar with every element, even if they have not been there before. This is certainly due to the widespread presence of signs, symbols, which guide the traffic of the individual. Hence, Las Vegas is the only city in the world where the landscape is not shaped by buildings or trees, but by signs (Hall, 1995). This condition transforms the city into the sign of contemporary society, in a sense that the city produces its own icon, which represents all aspects of society in a single street  –   the Strip. City signs are now launching an almost vulgar iconography of the city. The potential ambivalence,  violence and urgency of these signs are exemplified along the Strip (Vinegar, 2008). “We can look at Las Vegas from a mile away on Route 91 and see no buildings, no trees, only signs. But such signs! They tower, they revolve, they oscillate, they soar in shapes before which the existing vocabulary of art is helpless” (Hall, 1995, p. 273).   In Learning from Las Vegas  , the authors discuss the temporality, the ephemeral, the blatant and extraordinary planning of the Strip, which should be regarded as such an important and valid architectural phenomenon as Ancient Rome   (Rampley, 2005). The cityscape of Las Vegas leaves aside the façades and  walls of buildings, replacing them with neon signs and symbols iconizing, once again, the city. This process involves the display of the images, raising them to a new way of decoration or ornament, detail or sign, which is now to the maximum (Rampley, 2005).  The city is now endowed with artistic and architectural category, with elements that previously lacked.  Thus, a new idea is srcinated, wit h new “changing, ambiguous and temporary” (García, 2008, p. 148), concepts that approach the banal aesthetics, very typical of the Postmodernism. The landscape full of signs of Las Vegas is the exaggeration of the fact that all statements are vulnerable to deception (Vinegar, 2008). This trend in architecture shows a development of the architecture category beyond the conventions of architecture as art and which includes all types of buildings not previously related as such (casinos, for instance). This lea ds to different interpretations and to what is called a “Postmodern architecture”, which from the point of view of Charles Jencks, comes as a “double code”. In other words, these are dual reference symbols  –   one for interpretation by experts in architecture, and other for the general public (Rampley, 2005). For Venturi (2008), all cities communicate functional, symbolic and persuasive messages. However, being Las Vegas, once again, the exaggeration of all of these messages, the city in Nevada represents the architecture of persuasion. Las Vegas becomes, therefore, the signifier and the meaning of a mass culture to the extreme, exemplified as an “anti - city” and permitting the observer to consider Las Vegas as an exaggerated icon, as a social “atopy”.
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