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The Fabric of Space

The Fabric of Space: Water, Modernity, and the Urban Imagination

Matthew Gandy
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    The Fabric of Space
    Book Description:

    Water lies at the intersection of landscape and infrastructure, crossing between visible and invisible domains of urban space, in the tanks and buckets of the global South and the vast subterranean technological networks of the global North. In this book, Matthew Gandy considers the cultural and material significance of water through the experiences of six cities: Paris, Berlin, Lagos, Mumbai, Los Angeles, and London. Tracing the evolving relationships among modernity, nature, and the urban imagination, from different vantage points and through different periods, Gandy uses water as a lens through which to observe both the ambiguities and the limits of nature as conventionally understood. Gandy begins with the Parisian sewers of the nineteenth century, captured in the photographs of Nadar, and the reconstruction of subterranean Paris. He moves on to Weimar-era Berlin and its protection of public access to lakes for swimming, the culmination of efforts to reconnect the city with nature. He considers the threat of malaria in Lagos, where changing geopolitical circumstances led to large-scale swamp drainage in the 1940s. He shows how the dysfunctional water infrastructure of Mumbai offers a vivid expression of persistent social inequality in a postcolonial city. He explores the incongruous concrete landscapes of the Los Angeles River. Finally, Gandy uses the fictional scenario of a partially submerged London as the starting point for an investigation of the actual hydrological threats facing that city.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32176-1
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    The beguiling simplicity of Gaston Bachelard’s conception of water belies a tension between the material and metaphorical dimensions of nature. Bachelard draws on a series of essentialist, and often gendered, refractions of nature in order to connect with a prelinguistic and primordial realm.² His attempt to excavate the cultural essence of water inadvertently reveals the ideological ambiguities of nature under modernity: his search for the universal, accessed through poetry and literature, merely emphasizes the limits to a culturally distinct variant of humanism. What analytical tools, then, might enable us to excavate the specificities of human interaction with water? Can the...

  5. 1 The Paris Sewers and the Rationalization of Urban Space
    (pp. 27-54)

    The rebuilding of Paris between 1850 and 1870 is a crucial moment in urban history. The attempt to rationalize urban space by Emperor Napoléon III and his Préfet de la Seine, Baron Georges Haussmann, is one of the formative legacies in the development of urban planning. For Frederick Hiorns, the Second Empire reconstruction of Paris was a time in which “the evils of long-continued civic neglect were redeemed and Paris placed in the forefront of modern cities by imaginative reforms applied to the most onerous of human problems.”³ Edmund Bacon echoed similar sentiments in describing the new spatial structure of...

  6. 2 Borrowed Light: Journeys through Weimar Berlin
    (pp. 55-80)

    The German Weimar Republic, which lasted from 1919 until 1933, has long been viewed as the unstable precursor to the rise of Nazism, its cultural achievements flourishing in exile in the United States and elsewhere. More recently, however, this turbulent period has been critically reassessed in order to consider the precise ways in which the Weimar era, with Berlin at its center, played a leading role in the development of twentieth-century cultural and political thought, and of the multifaceted phenomenon of modernism in particular.³ One of the less studied aspects of this distinctive cultural and intellectual epoch is the place...

  7. 3 Mosquitoes, Modernity, and Postcolonial Lagos
    (pp. 81-108)

    If Berlin bathing cultures represent one facet of the relationship between water, modernity, and urban nature, a very different set of developments is revealed by a focus on the epidemiological dimensions to urban space. Although the health-threatening effects of water rapidly receded from the cities of Europe and North America, with the establishment of the “bacteriological city” and standardized patterns of infrastructure provision, the picture in the colonial cities of the global South is markedly different. The focus of this chapter is not waterborne disease associated with contaminated sources of drinking water but the socioecological dimensions to urban topography and...

  8. 4 Water, Poverty, and Urban Fragmentation in Mumbai
    (pp. 109-144)

    In a dusty office of the municipal buildings in B ward in downtown Mumbai is a detailed map of the Paris water supply system, placed under a sheet of thick glass on the desk of the chief engineer. This “hydraulic decoration” acknowledges an attachment to a utopian vision of the perfect city: a striving toward a perfect synthesis of engineering science and urban modernity. The intricate arrangement of blue lines—varying in thickness and shading to depict the hierarchical structure of the city’s water mains—is counterposed with the familiar bridges, boulevards, and radial subdivisions of the Parisian arrondissements. This...

  9. 5 Tracing the Los Angeles River
    (pp. 145-184)

    The contrast between the Los Angeles River as absence, spectacle, and lived experience could not be more stark. Few Angelinos can trace the fifty-one-mile course of the river as it makes its way from Canoga Park through Burbank, Glendale, and then south through downtown Los Angeles toward Long Beach. For much of its course the river is now little more than a concrete channel hidden within the heart of the city: buildings face away, billboards obscure its location, and its banks are often inaccessible behind miles of fenced-off levees. The placid blue haze over Los Angeles belies sudden downpours in...

  10. 6 Fears, Fantasies, and Floods: The Inundation of London
    (pp. 185-216)

    In J. G. Ballard’s novelThe Drowned Worldwe encounter a future London submerged under water where survivors must contend with searing heat, giant mosquitoes, and the constant threat of attack by rival gangs scattered across the flooded city. First published in 1962, the book explores what might happen to London in a postcatastrophe scenario. The destruction of Ballard’s London is attributed to a dramatic change in climate so that the city is thrown into a reprise of the Jurassic era, complete with giant gymnosperms, aggressive iguanas, and screeching bats swooping out of the sky. For Ballard, it is the...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 217-224)

    It is a damp and overcast morning in Lewisham, South London, in early January 2013. There is a striking white bird sitting in a tree toward the edge of Ladywell Fields, a park alongside the River Ravensbourne, a flood-prone tributary of the Thames. The bird is a little egret,Egretta garzetta, a scarce migrant from Africa, attracted to the park by the newly created riparian ecosystem, which is part of a river restoration project to help protect lowlying communities from flooding, improve public space, and also enhance urban biodiversity. The local river, which passes along the edge of the site...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 225-302)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 303-338)
  14. Index
    (pp. 339-352)