GEOG 261_ WEEK 3_ MATERIALS 9/18/2012 8:35:00 AM
From latin materialis, from latin materia matter.
The substance of which a physical object is composed
Material substance that occupies space, has mass, and is composed
predominantly of atoms consisting of protons, neutrons, and electrons…
A material substance of a particular kind or for a particular purpose.
The material dimension of the urban landscape was often overlooked in
urban geography or else taken for granted.
More and more, contemporary urban geographers are approaching the city
as a complex assemblage, of which the material is critical. This trend has led
to what has been described as the „re-materializing‟ of the city.
** meaning of the word assemblage is coming together, creating, becoming.
This new approach to urban geography has literally emphasized the „stuff‟ of
cities. Phil hubbard has put it: the city “is unique and profligate combinate of
stuff – buildings, practices, rituals, technologies, texts, animals, screens,
networks, objects, ppl‟
Within the context of the city, the term materiality is broad.
It refers to the design and architecture of cities, infrastructures, objects,
economies, and the form and arrangement of things and space. These range from buildings, streets, facilities, sewerage systems, markets,
shops, to squares, parks and other public spaces. But materiality also refers
to the bodies that inhabit the city and to phenomena that are not concrete
as such but nevertheless constitute a critical aspect of the material life of the
city: water, electricity, light, heat, capital, events, etc.
In fact, some urban geographers suggest that things like dreams,
imagination, desire, emotions are very much material artifacts, even though
they cannot be reduced to concrete matter.
In henri lefebvre‟s work there are two distinctive sides to materiality. First,
“physicality” – the “thingness” of materiality.
Second, the „imaginary‟ dimension of materiality, which conveys its social,
cultural and historical meaning. Think about memorials in a city, they’re a
thing but they convey cultural and social and historical and political things
that are central to the city.
In light of these realities, the city can be seen as a formation encompassing
a range of materialities.
In cities, materiality influences the ways we live, work, play, learn, act, react
and relate to ourselves, others and the wider world.
It involves a nexus between self and animals. Think of joggers with their
dogs in Stanley park on the seawall.
The material aspect of the city is a product of the interplay of practice,
thought and activity “which exists within the triad of the perceived, the
conceived and the lived‟
Whilst engaged with mostly from a perceived and lived perspective,
materiality is not isolated. Rather, it is mediated by economic, political and
Le Corbusier architect that had a lot to do with Paris. We typically take these things for granted but they are central to everyday
In fact, following Lefebvre material things constitute „the most obvious and
the best hidden‟ aspect of the everyday life of cities.
In Paris: Invisible City Bruno Latour and Emilie Hermant suggest that
material things keep:
„Life in the big city together: object despised under the label „urban setting‟.
Yet whose exquisite urbanity holds the key to our life in common. Each of
these humble objects from public toile to rubbish bin, tree protector, street
name has a certain idea of the parisians to whom, through color or form,
habit or force, it brings a particular order, a distinct attribution, an
authorization or prohibition, a promise or permission.
In a related sense, sociologist Harvey Molotch argues that bodies and
materials interact and are mutually involved in the production of urban
These range from subway turnstiles and public toilets through to city
neighborhoods such as SoHo in New York where the occupation of former
industrial lofts led to a new wave of artistic practice involving large
canvasses and art objects.
SOHO Was a very industrial place near New York that were historically sweat
shops. They reinvented these industrial buildings and made it into a loft
building. The ppl in the lofts were artists as they wanted to live close to the
city, the cultural hub.
These objects, in turn, contributed to the creation of an art market, which
raised the real estate value of SoHo.
This value creation ultimately resulted in the displacement of the artists and
the gentrification of the neighborhood by newcomers who were drawn to the
areas unique material qualities. Sharon Zukin about loft living.
The material life of cities is dynamic, rather than static.
With the focus on the dynamism of urban materiality is the attendant
concern of how the urban landscape opens up new ways to use space.
This, in turn, leads us to the terrain of agency. As Latham et al have put it,
agency involved “who can act”.
Latham further argues that „any conception of materiality needs to have a
sence of how the physical capacity to make and unmake things…and,
perhaps equally importantly, to make things matter are crucial issues‟.
The Agency of Capital
Capital is an important material in cities.
It is an agentive force that is central to the functioning of the city,
particularly in terms of how the urban build environment is materially
Talks about how capitalism builds things: shops, cinemas, clothes, safeway.
Capital is probably the most important force shaping the city. Think of the
role of capital in shaping our cities and interactions within the city. Thinking
about going to starbucks and buying a coffee… why is it in the location
where it is? Capital is an important material. Think of capital as a force, it
has it’s own logic, it’s own internal appearance… the value of land, the value
of real estate. The forc