Reading Response: Michel de Certeau

Taking de Certeau’s insight further, space is a continuum of flowing places, an inescapable narrative. Thus every street is a book or a film, and every great city should be a great archive library. How do we read the street? By ‘practicing’ the places that constitute it, gazing at its vocabulary (vehicles, pedestrians, buildings), punctuation (signs, intersections), tone (colors, styles) are all clever ways of appreciating it, like what Perec practiced in Species of spaces. But the crucial thing is the syntax: how an elegant space is organized, just as a brilliant story is told. This brings me back to Lynch’s methodology in The Image of the City, namely that how an urban designer “writes” a neighborhood – and a story with rhythm – requires “edges” to mark the end of a paragraph, and “landmarks” to impress the wanderer/reader. But reading space seems more personal and critical than reading stories, as we all experience urban space in individualized ways and construct and transform it simultaneously. One could even say that urban space is like an open-source interactive novel, that each of us is both reader and author.

Shizheng LIANG


2 thoughts on “Reading Response: Michel de Certeau

  1. Jen Lam says:

    Very well-written summary and reflection. It is wonderful that the reading has inspired you to take reference from others’ writing of the city. As an urban design student, I wonder how these references inform your methods of design?

  2. ShizhengLiang says:

    Thanks for your comment! Actually, it’s quite sad that as a year one student, I haven’t attended any urban design class yet. But the insights from these scholars would certainly affect my own perspective on urban design. For the time being, I have thought of an idea that how we really treat the city as an archive library. From my observation, I feel like people nowadays (or perhaps at any time), have some kind of hatred feeling about the buildings from the near past, say, buildings of 1960-1990 than the far past like Tang Dynasty temple or colonial architecture, etc. Like many people in Mainland, both stakeholders and citizens, are always being cruel in tearing down these Soviet-style resident blocks that were constructed only several decades ago. Many believe they are ugly and outdated. I never agree with such things, as I believe these buildings represent a critical urban history, that is not a bit inferior to the Tang remnants. That is the marvelous thing about the city as a library, that is it collects all the memories honestly in the urban space. For urban designers, that means we shouldn’t interrupt this process of accumulation, by tearing down all the buildings and erasing the period of time from urban history. Rather, we should respect them, and revitalize them through our design.


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