Beyond Public Space: Towards a Dingpolitik of the City

MLA Thesis Section (2014-15)

Students: FUNG Yick Nga Esther; HE Qin Olenka; NG Tsz Ho Jason; NGO Tsz Kei Twiggy; SHAN Weiting Savannah

How can we begin to think of new configurations of ‘publics’ in the contemporary city, especially in the contemporary Asian city? In particular, how can we think of ‘publics’ beyond the traditional sociological or political science category? If we approach the city as a complex political ecology – a conceptual framework especially useful for landscape designers and thinkers – what sort of other ‘publics’, human and non-human, might we be able to uncover? Having accepted this challenge, of rethinking the ‘public’, forces us also to think beyond the traditional concept of ‘space’ – a modernist invention, at least insofar as it is used in design discourse. Consider the implications if you move beyond the static and bounded notion of space and begin to think about the intricate networks, ecologies and dynamics of human and natural systems. We begin to develop a very different model and approach to matters of collective concern within the city. The philosopher and sociologist of science Bruno Latour has proposed the notion of Dingpolitik (see first reading below) to speak of assemblies of ‘things’, not just people or politicians, around matters of concern. This is part of a broader movement towards a ‘new materialism’ that may be especially rich for the landscape discipline. This approach demands a synthesis of technical knowledge, conceptual imagination and political-economic insight to issues that span the natural-artificial divide. In this thesis stream, you will be able to use landscape thinking and design to push beyond the confines of traditional approaches to ‘public space’ within the design disciplines. The issues that are opened up include: Efforts to ‘control’ the weather, including pollution (cloud-seeding, etc, as seen in, say, Beijing in recent years), as part of a complex political negotiation with the city’s populace; The possibility of interrogating and speculating about drone operations in the city in the myriad ways that are now being imagined and proposed, from surveillance and control to transportation and logistics; The proliferation of extensive networks of ‘interior urbanisms’ (malls, atriums, passageways, tunnels, skybridges) and their support systems as a parallel and alternative to exterior urbanisms; The ‘landscape’ effects of guest populations across a range of actors, from invasive plant species to economic migrants, in host environments; The creation of artificial ‘ecologies’ or ‘microclimates’ of the city in the form of hyper-luxury compounds and enclaves; and The ‘landscape management’ of sites of trauma and the use of design strategies to cover or uncover collective memories, histories, inscriptions and traces in the urban environment. These are just indications of topics and ideas that might arise from the expanded way of thinking advocated here. The research within this stream is envisaged as contributing to the emerging efforts within design theory and practice to search out new models for thinking about political and ecological issues in the context of a heavily urbanised world.

Student theses this year included:
“Cattle as urban planner” by FUNG Yick Nga Esther;
“Present Disappearance: new city park blue print” by HE Qin Olenka;
“Rebellious Landscape (Reaction as Parallel City)” by NG Tsz Ho Jason; and
“Gardens of the Chinese Dream: Correcting Hong Kong’s rightist tendencies and foreign hostile reactionaries using landscapes for public opinion guidance” by NGO Tsz Kei Twiggy.

Enlarge Photo: Esther FUNG Yik Nga
Enlarge Photo: Esther FUNG Yik Nga
Enlarge Photo: Esther FUNG Yik Nga
Enlarge Photo: Beyond Public Space: Towards a Dingpolitik of the City 4