Building the City from the Inside

Architecture and Urban Transformation in Los Angeles, Porto, and Las Vegas

Time: Thu 2020-03-12 14.00

Location: F3, Lindstedsvägen 26, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: Architecture, Urban Design

Doctoral student: Hannes Frykholm , Stadsbyggnad

Opponent: Professor Albena Yaneva, University of Manchester, UK

Supervisor: Docent Daniel Koch, Stadsbyggnad, Arkitekturskolan; Associate Professor Catharina Gabrielsson, Stadsbyggnad; Professor Roemer van Toorn, Umeå universitet

Abstract

Positioned in the research field of “interior urbanism” (Rice, 2016), this thesis considers entrance situations that occur between buildings and cities in order to develop new ways of investigating the relationship between architecture and urban transformation. From the main research question—How does architecture mediate urban transformation?—the thesis focuses on experience-driven narratives about the city (Pine & Gilmore, 2011). Looking at the means by which architecture situates the subject in an urban experience, the thesis asks how the experience contributes to a particular attention to the city. This approach intends to shed light on architecture’s role in both mediating and challenging neoliberal urbanism (Peck, Theodore, & Brenner, 2009; Fraser, 2019). The thesis argues for analyzing large-scale processes of urban transformation by placing a sharpened empirical focus on the built environment. This is tested by a transversal research method (Frichot, Gabrielsson, Havik, & Jobst, forthcoming) that intersects multiple investigative techniques. 

The three cases that are addressed—the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, the Casa da Música in Porto, and Wynn Casino in Las Vegas—each epitomize a particular discourse about architecture and urbanization. Through observations and the analysis of the three cases, the thesis unpacks three dimensions of architectural experience of the city: first, by highlighting the spatial logic of a stretched threshold; second, by considering temporality and ways of waiting; and third, by observing the labor that is necessary to keep the interior environment intact. A recurring narrative in these buildings lies in the suggestion that the process of urban redevelopment never ends. Together, the cases point to an oft-overlooked parallel between the refurbishment of building interiors and exterior urban transformations, adding empirical nuances to what has been labelled the “architecture of neoliberalism” (Spencer, 2016). The threshold between building and city is shown to be a fragile and unstable territory, which is under continuous negotiation and where the claims of multiple actors, conditions, and events come together. 

The thesis attempts to make a contribution in three ways: by developing transversal methods, by considering the threshold as knowledge device, and by exploring micro-scale investigations of urban transformation. The project points to how the stretched threshold of these projects speak of a transforming relationship between architecture and capitalism, where the city is reconfigured through the stretching of interiors out to adjacent sidewalks and squares. If the city is built from the expanding insides of architecture, the city is by definition an unfinished project. To think of the instability of architecture not as a shortcoming but as a virtue opens up for a continuous engagement with the city as the unfinished construction site of a democratic project.

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