Thursday, November 3, 2016

Marco Casagrande - Oriana Persico on Urban Acupuncture

Dialog with Oriana Persico, published in the book "DIGITAL URBAN ACUPUNCTURE" by O.Persico & S.Iaconesi, Springer International Publishing 2016, ISBN 978-3-319-43403-2

1. Ruins constitute syncretic maps of urban environments, as they show the citizens’ usage patterns, imagination of lack of it, traversals, and behaviors. In short, they constitute the map of the city as seen from the composition of the myriads of micro-histories of its dwellers, and in its perpetual evolution and transformation.

How important are these maps?

What is their meaning and how can they be used.

These ruin maps are a pattern of urban acupuncture. They are small composts where the city is slowly fermenting. The surrounding city, at least the official city, may consider these composts as the smelly parts of the city and cannot really cope with them. The only solution which the official city seems to have is to erase them, turn the ruins into lawn or park, which was supposed to happen to Treasure Hill for example. The official city is in-sensitive for the energy and potential which these areas are suggesting. Normal people though are highly sensitive for urban energies and would be fully capable to operate the map of ruins. The ruins are insulting the official control, but on the other hand they have the capacity of offering the most fertile top-soil for organic urban development, which of course seeks to get rid of the centralized power structure. 

These ruins are voids in the mechanical tissue of the centrally governed city. They are openings to different times, values, dreams and possibilities – like the attic of a house. It is very likely that the essence of the surrounding city would intensify within these voids and get mixed or at least in connection with other organic layers of the city, like in a black hole. Layers which are invisible for the official control. Ruins have the possibility of partly tuning the city towards the organic, towards the third generation city. 

These ruins can be used in interpreting what the collective mind is transmitting. They can be sensitive platforms for local knowledge to emerge and evolve; as receivers. They can be hot-spots for new biourban knowledge building. One must be very careful with the relationship with the official city though. Once the political elements of the city will realize that something constructive, collectively touching and possibly media-sexy is cooking up in the formally smelly ruins, they will try to squeeze in and buy off the energy. In case the constructive energy of the ruins is sold, the construction will turn into destruction. The official city can only banalize the local knowledge. 

2. What you say that the Third Generation City is the ruin of the industrial city, you point into a really interesting direction, indicating how the emergent, spontaneous, energetic dynamics of the city and of its inhabitants are useful in gaining better understandings about the city, and about the ways in which it is interesting to create interventions in its fabric. Maybe even more useful than the information which is obtained through administrative, bureaucratic and commercial processes.

This also places citizens in a new light, suggesting ways in which their active participation becomes of fundamental importance to understand the city, and to act in it.

How do you imagine citizenship?

How do you imagine institutions?

Every citizen is part of the big brain of the city. This collective conscious is complex, multi-layered and organic, but it is still a sensitive nervous system. The official city wants to flatten these layers into a simple two-dimensional map of the city, which is the official reality. Citizens however move much more flexibly, freely and multi-dimensionally in the city that what the official map would allow. The official city is just a background for the real citizen activities. Un-official information is powerful. Whole cities could be designed by rumors. Urban power structures want to flatten the multi-dimensional, resourceful and somehow mystical real citizen. He is too much in connection with nature, and the industrial city wants to claim independence from nature. Nature is seen as something hostile, something that wants to break the machine and the untamed natural citizen is an unpredictable agent of nature, an urban native that needs to get civilized, needs to be saved from himself. 

Institutions should be the inner organs of the city to keep life pumping through it. They could also be partly the nervous nods, which are dealing with the information and other energy flows of the city, thinking of the collective mind. City is one brain. Also nature is only one brain. City should be part of the natural one brain and the institutions should take care of that. Now the institutions are human-focused in a controlling sense and separating the city form nature. The solution which the developed institutional city is offering to the citizens is mechanical and standardized life. City should be a biological man-made organism and part of nature, otherwise it is against nature, a mental disorder – a human error as one might say. Institutions should be organic and most likely modular. They should treat the urban organism through punctual interventions, which would then be connected with the nervous network of the urban brain. This cannot be based on control and hardness – those are death’s companions. City is not an institution, it is a living organism. Accident is greater than human control. 

3. Relation, conversation and flows. Your vision of the city is very focused on these themes. Even in unexpected ways, for example using the term of “urban rumors”. This is very interesting, as it does not imply a concept of beauty and value which is not centered on form, but, rather, on the presence of energy, dynamics, fluidness and emergence, and also on the harmonies and dissonances, the conflicts and consensus which are typical of living ecosystems.

How can an urban planner, a public administrator, an architect, a designer or a citizen learn to recognize this new aesthetic and this value, and use them for collaboration, participation, action and performance in the city, with other people, institutions and organizations?

How does this fit in with your connection of Urban Acupuncture?

A rather good example of this was the co-operation between the Ruin Academy, JUT Developers and the Taipei City Government. First of all the Ruin Academy was set up as an open platform for different universities, disciplines and professionals to participate in multi-disciplinary research & design workshops, courses and actions. The topics for these assignments would be developed together with the City Government and in the end we would also report to the City Government. Still again, this was all un-official. The City Government would not officially commission us and we would not be tied to any official nor academic bureaucracy. We would have access to the official data and intelligence, but we could operate much lighter and direct; more like the Special Forces. Our operations were financed and backed up by the JUT Developers and the participating universities, who would also benefit of our findings and developments. 

All the participating universities, the Tamkang University Department of Architecture, National Taiwan University departments of Sociology and Anthropology and Aalto University SGT Sustainable Global Technologies research center, found it very fruitful to have an open academic operational platform, which did not belong to any university, but was more based on academic squatting. Our interface to the surrounding city was also more real than with the locked academic disciplines and the interaction with local knowledge proved to be vital to the new knowledge building of the Third Generation City. 

City governments are full of departments and disciplines and every corner has a king. These kings don’t talk to each other, but still again they are the first ones to admit, that the highly regulated and protected administrative hierarchies are not optimal for mostly cross-disciplinary and multi-layered challenges and possibilities of the urban reality. They used the Ruin Academy to say things that they cannot say and to study things that they cannot study. We could have meetings in the evenings with the city officials, who could pass us the questions, interests or notions on which they wanted the Ruin Academy to react – almost as if they would be operating with a clandestine organization. We would be their interface to the un-official and to the underground, to the normal.

In some cases, like with Treasure Hill, the City Government was using me as kind of a joker, wild card. In Treasure Hill the Park Department of the City Government was already destroying the un-official settlement, when the Cultural Department of the same City Government was commissioning me to save Treasure Hill. In the end they were all evaluating, how did I succeed and decided to come smiling with the results. “This is exactly what we were commissioning you to do.” If I had failed, they would have just blamed the stupid foreigner and bulldozed down the place. 

What I am trying to say is that we need to develop more un-conventional ways to deal with the urban problematics. We already have the city governments, administrations, organization, NGOs and universities, which are taking care of the official routines, but we need more flexible, straight-forward and light operators to work avant-garde and behind the lines, also underground. Operators who can make hearts-and-minds connections with the local knowledge and mobilize people to develop their city. Operators who can communicate with the shared mind, the collective urban conscious.

Urban Acupuncture is both a strategy for urban development through punctual interventions and straight-forward tactics. There are many holes and cracks in a city and these cracks can be used for cooking up the operations. In the end, the city of cracks is much more interesting and humane than the two-dimensional, flat, industrial-modern city. Urban Acupuncture is breaking the industrial control, but it is for good – it is constructive anarchy. 

4. What transformation comes into this scenario when many people in cities have integrated digital means in expressing their micro histories, relations, emotions, behaviors, in conscious of unconscious ways?


Commercial intelligence has been using the methodology of Urban Acupuncture for a long time. A good example is the network of 7-Eleven convenient stores in Taipei. They are located in carefully studied commercial acupuncture points around the city, building up the densest network of 7-Elevens anywhere in the world. Our actions, behaviors, wishes, desires and individual histories are constantly monitored, traced and processed based on our digital activities. Our digital networks have the power of launching rumors and revolutions, but they are also very easily manipulated. An interesting question is, what is the interface and dialog between this digital mind and nature? Can it support the organic knowledge as a portal for the collective mind to communicate? Are we now just looking at the simplified and flat prints of the digitally moving information the same way as the official city is flattening the informational space of the city into a two dimensional map? Would it be needed to penetrate through the thin layer of visual information surface to the actual digital space, where the countless informational layers are generating new streams of knowledge and how can we communicate with this digital subconscious? I think that this subconscious wants to surface on the city. It wants to take both form and be sensed through our physical presence and our natural mind. 

5. In your conception, the Third Generation City is itself a form of knowledge. This is yet another parallel with the concepts expressed in Digital Urban Acupuncture, where the Relational Ecosystem of the city, captured through data, information and knowledge exchanges, becomes a commons, available and accessible for everyone to use.

How, in your opinion, should this knowledge be accessible and usable?

And, on top of that: how is it possible to suggest and create the basis for the emergence of the imagination, sensibility and desire to use this knowledge?

This knowledge is already now a source of intelligence for political and economic power speculations. It is also a form of new culture. Physically, millions of people are now migrating based on this data – migrants, refugees and people moving to cities. Big digitally formed and manipulated tribes and armies are in physical war and one of the main frontlines is digital. 

The digital realm is one surface of individual and mass communication, but is it yet a form of new knowledge? The digital underground movements and paths seem somewhat hopeful, but the big data is just entertainment and commercially controlled – not very different from the official city. One should not be blindfolded by the online access to information and entertainment. Flesh is More. 

6. How important (or not) is education in your vision of the city?

How can the literacy and sensibility which are needed to conceive the possibility of accessing the knowledge in the Third Generation City emerge in citizens?

Through a school? An educational process? Peer-to-peer processes?

The availability and accessibility of tools and methods?


The un-official community gardens and urban farms of Taipei are run by anarchist grandmothers. Also the urban farming communities are often matriarchal – like Treasure Hill. The ex-Soviet collective farms are by now run by babushkas. Modern city is a patriarchal structure as a form of industrialism. In Taipei the kids go to help on the collective farms – carry water, dig soil etc. Sometimes they come to the farms after school to do their home-work. They learn how to farm and the local knowledge becomes real for them. One step away is the official city. Modern man should take the liberty to travel a thousand years back in order to realize, that the things are the same. What is real cannot be speculated. What is real is valuable. There is no other reality than nature. 

Maybe the digital realm is also nature. Possibly it is like the resonating behind the singing of the birds. We can either listen to the birds’ singing or we can feel and contemplate with the resonating behind it. Maybe we are resonating with the digital flows as well. We can feel the mind, but cannot really interpret it. Nature is a life providing system. My friend is a digital monk and he is very much tuned with nature as well. 

Third generation citizens don’t need to be educated. They already exist. They are the ones connected with local knowledge and sensitive enough to feel the different pulses and messages of the city. They are the connection between the city and nature. We all have that quality, but we are educated to forget it. The third generation condition requires us to forget the forgetting. 

Instead of education we need to learn, how to pay attention to the seeds of the Third Generation City. We need to document them, learn from them and let them grow. Most of all we have to stop ignoring them. These seeds are often cooking at the un-official layers of the city. City is a big compost, which needs to be turned around every now and then in order to keep it alive. The seeds of the 3G City are in connection with the local knowledge and they form a pattern of organic urban acupuncture to the static city trying to tune the urban development into biourbanism. The challenge is, that these seeds don’t necessarily support the economic speculations and can be quite contra dictionary to the established power hierarchies, which try to suffocate them. Hence the existence in underground. The digital realm may be a possibility for the local knowledge, for the seeds of the Third Generation City to communicate and connect with the larger mind of individual citizens. 

How? Forget the forgetting. Industrialism is young and simple. Let the organic growth make a new layer on top of the industrial city. This coexistence will develop into the next step of urban industrialism, the city can learn to become an organic machine. In a sense we must ruin the mechanical city and open up the industrial control, so that nature can step in. Nature including human nature. 

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