This work exemplifies a search for participation for the promotion of urban-architectural projects both in the center and in the periphery of a Mexican city such as Puebla, where twenty years ago few activities were developed in which the main actors were the inhabitants. Fortunately, in recent years it has been possible to carry out specific actions where participation is a key part of having a less technical vision on the part of architects, urban planners and heritage conservators.
The first project is the Integral Urban Social Program in which, through a municipal action, an attempt was made to implement a participatory process in sectors considered to be of extreme poverty where municipal government programs tried to impact the areas called PIUS. An important part was the Participatory Design process that mobilized the main universities of the city through young architecture students to carry out a series of projects where the condition was to have contact with the communities.
In the case of the Casa Analco project, a university initiative in the historic centre of the city in a very traditional neighbourhood (16th century) with problems of deterioration, abandonment and insecurity, with which the university-neighbourhood link is currently promoted and in where space has been the pretext to promote university participation in the rehabilitation of a building, but at the same time in a rapprochement with the neighbourhood.
Through these two cases it is confirmed that it is possible to make participation possible through a process that must be adapted to each place, these experiences leave a series of reflections in different areas, from which a basic process can be broken down to encourage it through organization, promotion, awareness of the work team, knowledge of the place, time, evaluation, management and adaptability.
Cities have been inspirational for the creators of visual art works long since, first as mere secondary, additional motifs to indicate the “urban” environment of the main scene, then as subject-matters in their own right. Those images could depict both imaginary and actual cities of the past and of the future, including mythological and Biblical locations, documenting distant lands and fantasizing on the appearance of utopian cities. In some of these aspects, the history of city representations shares significant similarities with the history of landscape depictions.
In the present paper, however, I aim to focus on a curious and particular detail in this pictorial tradition. Following and further investigating a brief reflection by Michel Makarius from his 2004 book on Ruins, I would like to compare the visuality and aesthetic effects of dense and empty cityscapes, of which two classical examples could be the capriccios – imaginary views of cities completely filled with aesthetically pleasing elements, including magnificent remnants of the Antique heritage – and representations of cities in which their emptiness is highlighted to such extent that the observer tends to assume that the real subject-matter of the image is not the city, its buildings, forms and physical components but exactly its being “empty”.
These “extremities” on the broad range of cityscapes, i.e., the densely-filled and the extremely depopulated are, however, not merely historical sub-genres of long-gone centuries. These typologies have survived to this day, in various versions and with diverse accents; what’s more, they seem to be more relevant than ever in understanding not only the nature of these artistic representations and their aesthetic references, but also in learning more of our contemporary reality itself. It is enough to think of the numerous ways in which artists approach the convoluted issues and challenges of urban life today, with the classical references and visual vocabulary in mind, either unconsciously creating occasional parallels or using them as explicit forerunners to their own works. The density of the global megapolises are represented in artistically novel ways often with socially critical overtones, while the images of empty cities – not long ago, for example, during the recent pandemics and lockdowns – are again resulting in aesthetically inspiring and insightful works incentivizing us to reflect on the oscillating dynamisms of our present urban realities. Therefore, it is particularly beneficial to observe such renderings of our cities and hence to raise more our awareness of the multiple global issues that are often very strongly manifested in the everyday life in large metropolises. Pieces of art thematising the extreme forms of city life can become very efficient ways of constantly reminding us of our duties of taking care of both our cities and our life.
representations of cities; dense cityscapes; empty cities; aesthetics of urbanity
On December 18 the Kings of Spain, accompanied by the Minister of Health, the president of the Madrid Region, the mayor of the capital of Spain and other representatives of institutions, unveiled the monument “The Tree of Life” a sculpture by Jaume Plensa.