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The Architecture of The Commute

Part 1 Dissertation 2002
Mark Marshall
University of Edinburgh Edinburgh | UK
The idea of the city as a single entity has been eroded by its spread beyond perceptible boundaries. Rem Koolhaas has posited that the 'unique' city is now being replaced by the generic city due to globalism and the power of transcendental capitalism.

Structuralist thinkers recognised the semiological model of the city; the elements of the city become signs waiting to be read. The form of the city composes 'signifiers' that can be skilfully translated into their 'signified' meanings. post-structuralists have revised this model by questioning the direct relationship between the signifier and the signified. It is possible to interpret the signs in different ways according to different experiences.

Architects and planners have sought to control and order the city, from plans advocating the decentralization of the city's population into the countryside to razing the city centre to bring the countryside below high-rise constructions.

This Dissertation examines these, and related propositions, with reference to the experience of commuting through London - from which the Dissertation Title is derived, namely, 'The Architecture of the Commute'.

Mark Marshall

The central concerns of this dissertation are to do with the representation of the contemporary city. It argues for a phenomenological attitude to thinking about and analysing the city. This is an attitude that places the everyday metropolitan subject at the very epicentre of the analysis. This argument is not so much developed abstractly as demonstrated in the format of the dissertation. The dissertation unfolds along the route the author takes as he commutes to and from work daily. This route becomes a thread from which are hung anecdotal personal narratives, mappings, images, and historical asides on the planning of relevant parts of London. Taken together in its entirety, this thread conjures a complex and nuanced account of a particular part of contemporary London.

The author has set himself and ambitious task in this project, namely: coming to terms with a relatively generic and under-described urban condition in a way that refuses mono-dimensional morphological studies of straight urban history, but that speaks meaningfully to the larger complexities of urban experience at the turn of the twentieth-century. He has managed to do this in a number of ways. Most important is the technique of parallel narratives. The first-person narrative of the author-as-commuter works in parallel to a more academic account of architectural and planning history. Having established this twin narrative device, the author allows one to touch the other in interesting and often unexpected ways. In most instances the personal narrative triggers a set of historical leads which are followed in gentle yet rigorous ways. The effect is not forced, but produces a kind of looping quality that nicely comes to terms with the idea of the city on the move.

There is a dimension that is less assured in the dissertation: the background to the methodology (Edward Platt’s Leadville: A biography of the A 40), and a direct statement of intent. Having produced an elegant biography of a daily commuter route, it remains difficult to discern precisely what the author’s position would be on planning and design in generic fringes of contemporary cities such as London. The dissertation is elegantly and consistently presented. The images are never gratuitous, and are usually engaged with the text in careful ways. The range of sources the author has consulted appears diverse and relevant. This is a highly polished, well-considered and inventive piece of work.

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