The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is participating in the ongoing campus initiative Global Urban Humanities: Engaging the Humanities and Environmental Design, which aims to bring the humanities into closer connection with disciplines that study the built environment to help address the complex problems facing today’s urban areas. To jump-start conversation for an upcoming working session, participants have been asked to “reflect upon a keyword that provokes, confuses, inspires, and/or annoys you in current thinking about urban and/or urban arts engagement.” This posting is by Anthony Cascardi, Dean of Arts and Humanities at UC Berkeley.
Keyword: Dwelling and Beyond
In the early stages of thought about what we have come to call “global urban humanities,” the term mega-city was suggested to us as the type of site where an exploration of the potential connections between the humanities and fields including environmental design, architecture, and urban planning might be especially fruitful. The suggestion, implicit or explicit, was that the mega-city was especially representative of contemporary conditions and that it presented a unique set of problems, ones that had yet to be thoroughly explored by any of the fields in question. While the term no longer plays a key role in the GUH project, we should not let the questions it might raise fall entirely by the wayside.
Urban expansions so large in scale and scope and so thoroughly built raise the question: has nature been entirely eclipsed? (Jameson once characterized postmodernism as the era when nature is “gone for good.”) Is this true? And if it is, then what avenues can/must we pursue in order to think about a humane urbanism? The writings I know best about the ethics of architecture (e.g. Karsten Harries’ book of that title) think about the building (typically singular). They say little or nothing about an environment that is totally built.
Harries work draws on Heidegger, for whom the key question is the relationship between building and dwelling. My questions are these: what is the nature of dwelling in cities as vast as Los Angeles, Tokyo, Mexico City, and Hong Kong? And what is the nature of dwelling in the (mega)city—i.e. (mega)city dwelling, which may involve something quite different from the dwelling that a building makes possible. Beyond dwelling, what is the place of expression in these environments? Of what kind of humanity are they themselves the expression? What relationship do they have to the activities of planning and production?
These questions present opportunities to think about what a humane urbanism might mean for us.