The City: Urban Architecture and Material Culture

Anthony Punch

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Third and final blog Urban Transformation in modernity.

As we moved through the centuries, cities began having new kinds of ideas, people and public spaces. These were culturally liberating kinds of spaces. Possession of material goods became the gateway to Bourgeois respectability. There were new forms of spatial relationships. As has been covered on previous blogs on this site, the ‘city’ began to transform rapidly and radically leading to – ‘Modern technology, modern consumerism, modern media and modern people’.  The modern city provided spaces and opportunities for shifting roles and shifting identities.

The College year of 2013/2014 for me was spent on Erasmus, in Aix-en-Provence, a relatively small city, close to Marseille, in the south of France. Here, I experienced a different type of city to the typically Irish cities I had spent time in. Living in the heart of the city for a year taught me a huge amount about how people’s relations with certain objects or buildings, and with certain spaces, can remain even while so much is changing. There was a lot of upgrading and refurbishment going on at the time, and looking back now, I can draw on quite a lot as regards material culture. The one thing I can’t forget is the markets.

A Market in Aix.  Photo taken by myself in October 2013 on a smartphone. One huge feature which stood out was the markets. Every day. Every morning. Fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts farm produce, almost anything. The most interesting thing was the amount of squares in the city centre, where the markets are held. Pedestrianized, surrounded by buildings but big areas in which people made a living, others bought food for the family, others used it as a meeting place, a social aspect, the continual vibrations of chit chat from all four corners.

A Market in Aix.
Photo taken by myself in October 2013 on a smartphone.
Every day. Every morning. Fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts farm produce, almost anything. The most interesting thing was the amount of squares in the city centre, where the markets are held. Pedestrianized, surrounded by buildings but big areas in which people made a living, others bought food for the family, others used it as a meeting place, a social aspect, the continual vibrations of chit chat from all four corners.

It was an incredible occasion to witness on a regular basis, a real vibrant economy cocooned in these squares. And it had been going on for hundreds of years as a resource and space that people use to define their culture. Although the experience of working or shopping at the market may have changed, the tradition lives on.

The production and consumption of materials in any society become the evidence of how well that society is doing. (Tolia-Kelly, 2009)

Thinking about material culture as the evidence of social relations is rooted in Marxist ideology

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Cours Mirabeau, Aix-en-Provence. Taken by myself, November 2013 The setting up of the Christmas market. There is no traffic on the road which would normally be extremely busy, as the city prepares itself for another market, another year, another experience for the city’s inhabitants

Of course, it was not only food sold at these markets, household objects would be sold, clothes produced and sold, and to this day, it is a huge part of the culture of Aix to have a Christmas market every year. The experience has changed for many with nowadays more traffic on the streets, more electrical or technological devices being sold, online shopping taking customers away, but still the markets survive!

One could say that the market has become a modern space in Aix, and it forms modern people. The whole urban world creates and manages all kinds of subjects. (Foucault) Modernity has reconfigured spacial relations, re-orientated spatial experience and remade spatial practices. Space has power, and the organisation of space creates power. Therefore, the market place is a powerful modern space, although the experience offered has changed somewhat over the years.

Bibliography

Tolia-Kelly, D.P., 2009. Material Culture. International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, 1, 500-504.

Dennis, R, 2008. Cities in Modernity Representations and Productions of Metropolitan Space, 1840–1930. 1st ed. Cambridge Studies in Historical Geography: Cambridge University Press.

Lecture Notes – Linehan, D

Personal Photo Album

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