There is a conference in October at Queen’s, Belfast, entitled ‘Peripheries’ http://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/Peripheries2011Conference/. The conference invites discussion via papers and short films on the multiple aspects of periphery, describing the “. . . temporal, spatial, intellectual, technological, cultural, pedagogical and political”.
Because we live on a globe, everything is at some sort of periphery or another, depending on your location. If you start including other sorts of non-physical arenas, as above, like the economic or social sphere, there are an almost unlimited number of fields, so therefore a correspondingly unlimited number of peripheries. This is an ideal conference topic, because it means you can talk about absolutely anything.
So, the question is, how to address the notion of periphery, in relation to my own work, within the (exceedingly capacious) bounds of five themes: Peripheral practice, practice based research, urban peripheries, non-metropolitan contexts, and peripheral positions.
What comes to mind here most forcefully reading those titles, is how woolly the language of architectural research can be. I was as the Engaged and Enraged Friday discussion group last week http://www.publicworksgroup.net/fridaysessions/1089/fs_45-on-architectural-education-friday1-april-at-19.00 and plenty of the arguments were based on the use of particular words, how we were using them, and whether we could collectively agree about what them mean (answer: no). What a waste of our collective intelligence.
It seems that at least part of the problem lies in the relationship between language (spoken, written and the visual language of drawings) and the three dimensional space of the world our bodies occupy. It is impossible (or very difficult) to talk about space in words, because space and words are so different (I suspect there is a neurological basis to this). It’s like trying to talk about English literature in Japanese, where every translation has to be defined to the nth degree, to avoid confusion about minor nuanced variations in meaning. The best way to have a discourse about space is to walk around in it, or to build models of it, because then you are speaking about space in the native language we share which relates to it. But of course, we communicate the majority of complex ideas through spoken language, not gesture (although of course a huge amount of more generalised meaning is communicated through movements) so it would be impossible to have a complex discourse about space using the language of movement alone. Furthermore, it’s important to talk about the physical world through spoken language, so architecture/city/space research can connect and exchange with other disciplines effectively. Part of architecture’s academic isolation seems to stem from its media of communication [the drawing] being incomprehensible to other academics (who therefore dismiss it as non-academic – with some basis at times, I suspect).
When architects use words like ‘practice’ ‘peripheral’, ‘temporal’ and so forth, they must take a cue from disciplines like philosophy, and define then properly, before throwing them about.