Reading the City
Alice Temlow / Architecture Magazine / 0|8|2002
This ambitiously scaled photographic project - that takes the form of a book, an exhibition, and a Web site - provides a visual index of material culture of contemporary urban life. Its creators - Florian böhm, Luca Pizzaroni, and Wolfgang Scheppe, whose combined expertise includes design, photography, filmmaking, and language philosophy - spent at least four years in various cities, but primarily New York, digitally capturing the traces of, and interventions by, humans in the urban environment. The seemingly banal processes of customization, adaptation, and communication - a crate turned into a sidewalk seat by its upending, a lamppost used as a cylindrical bulletin board, and an out-of-order parking meter, both concealed and signaled by its plastic-bag hood - are determined by laws, property relationships, and economic interests: a kind of ad hoc urban planning.
The resulting 60.000 - strong collection of images was edited down to a corpus of 1,000 and subjected to a quasiscientific process of classification. The photographs, perhaps unremarkable seen singly, evince patterns and rhythms that are strangely compelling once arranged into series of analogous types. Documentation of street vendors reveals unifying codes of conduct and equipment - heavy duty sealed plastic boxes are stored under Formica-topped folding tables - seemingly identical citywide.
While some humor is evoked by these sampelings of chaotic urban existence, the prevailing mood - that no amount of empirical clssification can surpress - is a wistful one.