(1) Book: David Kolb, Sprawling Places (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2008). Website: Sprawling Places, plus related writings at dkolb.org

(2) Marc Augé discusses such simplified places in Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity (London: Verso, 1995). See my reaction to his ideas in the Sprawling Places website here and here, and the fuller discussion in the book version.

(3) Madeline Gins and Arakawa, Architectural Body (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2002).

(4) Great architects may challenge perception, but they do not all try to disorient. Often they try to make one feel even more grounded and clearly located. Frank Lloyd Wright's domestic architecture uses centralized fireplaces and enclosed spaces to increase the sense of being "at home." In this connection it is worth remembering that Arakawa came to America to work with Marcel Duchamp and Gins wrote radical poetry before she met Arakawa. Their history of trying to upset perceptions and question meanings began earlier than their architectural procedures and their public goal of extending life.

Self-Aware Living

In a book and website project, Sprawling Places (1), I argued that the familiar criteria of authenticity and clear spatial hierarchies are no longer adequate for judging and improving the networked and multiply defined places that we are now creating. Instead, I argued that "complexity" was the appropriate criterion to use. This complexity shows up in the multiple sets of social norms structuring the same areas of space, in the ongoing and often conflicted interpretations and reconstructions that combine space and social life across time, and in the multiple outside forces that impinge upon our places. Such complexities already exist, and they can be increased by social changes and conscious choices. So, for instance, suburbia is already a more complex place than appears from its banal architecture and layout, and increasing its complexity would make it more livable.

Traffic at Tyson's Corner, Virginia, and sprawl outside Madison, Wisconsin

In dealing with simplified contemporary places (2) we should work to increase our self-awareness of the multiplicity of social norms active in a place, increase our participation in the processes which define social norms, and take more account of the external forces playing over the place. We need to inhabit more fully the social processes of our inhabitation of such places.

Arakawa and Gins also work to increase our self-awareness (3). While I have been interested in new places formed by the intersection of multiple social norms, they have been examining our bodily inhabitation of space at a basic level largely independent of any particular social norms. They have been trying to create architectural environments where daily living would demand a new awareness and a new effort at being bodily. Their work aims at changing us so that every place, even quite traditional and ordinary ones, can be lived with increased precision in the processes of perceptual landing sites, movements, orientation and disorientation that Arakawa and Gins study and try to provoke (4).

I have argued for increased self-awareness of the social complexities in contemporary places even if they have the most banal architecture. Arakawa and Gins have been trying to create a new non-banal architecture that demands a new kind of bodily awareness, no matter what the social norms, simple or complex, might be.

All this effort is for the purpose of bodily reorientation in daily life. If successful, this enriches our inhabitation of social landscapes, and that aware living would defeat the constant pressures to reduce places to tokens of status. But to be successful in these ways their architecture must escape the museum, becoming more common and socially accepted as for daily life life.