Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Horizons of Involvement

Living in the city involves all sorts of things, it involves knowledge of customs, habits and language; knowledge of places, the way they are connected with each other and what purpose they serve; knowledge of institutions, systems and political structures at all levels and much more.The exercise of existing within all of this knowledge does not require that it be articulated at the forefront of people’s experience. Instead, living in the city involves embodying this knowledge through action, which here is called ‘praxis’.
Praxis routinely involves making decisions in the face of situations and settings that are composed of many layers and have many aspects.These conditions are horizons of involvement, and it is within these horizons that judgements for action and involvements are made.The horizons of involvement are composed of urban topography and architecture, as well as non-physical, institutional and systematic elements that are embodied in the city.

This is unlike the horizon found in perspective, where the horizon exists only with respect to the viewer (who stands at the centre of the universe). Instead the horizons of involvement in the city exist outside the individual who makes judgements within them; and are defined and located by the situation and its component parts – or the topic.The topic may, for example, be ‘café’, which has its own history, set of traditions, decorum, systems – all of which are embodied in a specific place (and in all places which we recognise as café).Thus, the individual in the café is not just ‘perceiving’ the café, as though in a snapshot with attached information, but is ‘involved-with’ the café, and all that the situation entails.

It is indicative of how utterly embodied such praxis actually is when one comes to describe it; the words do not come easily and a new vocabulary is required to write about it.Walking into a café to buy a cup of tea takes minutes, but to start to unpick the layers of history; cultural context; monetary systems; the details of human interaction and all its rules etc. that are actually required to accomplish the tea-buying will take pages and pages of text.Yet, it is an action that is thoughtlessly and habitually achieved by millions of people ever y day. All of this latent knowledge is a background and context which forms the horizons for involvement with the café, and that are not acknowledged until an involvement with the café occurs. It is these horizons with respect to topic that provide the shared and common ground for all people in the city, in which possibilities (within the constraints of the horizon/topic) can be played out.

Architecture and the topography of the city are the place where involvements take place, and it is within this common ground that architects work.The ‘language’ of architecture and place is a framework for understanding the depth (or the common ground of difference) and richness of civic life. It allows an ethical interpretation of what is found, since what is common to all ultimately concerns ethics.

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