A shared archive hosted by Rastko Novakovic, which will be mobilised in a series of short movies. You are invited to explore and contribute.

Archive for May, 2010

ABC of land development – Michael Edwards

from MICHAEL EDWARDS: Agents in urban development: frameworks for analysis

Land ownership; promotion (= development)

Historically the ownership of land has been an enormous problem for the development of capitalist economies – often presenting great barriers to modernisation, inhibiting investment, using local monopoly powers to suck out of local economies income which could otherwise have been used for productive investment. Sometimes the mere structure of ownership (small plots, complicated tenure) could prevent owners from developing easily, even when they wanted to. Occasionally there have been cases where forms of large-scale private land ownership have enormously simplified and helped development but the general rule is that landownership is a barrier.

In modern Europe we have seen changes which – to very varying degrees – have removed some of these barriers, usually by giving the state powers to acquire land and to service it for development, or to reparcel sites, or to acquire land if the existing owners do not develop it in the way (and at the time) required by some plan. The Netherlands and Spain seem to be rather advanced in this process, Britain rather behind.

While the land ownership system may vary from country to country, there is always some development or promotion function involved in any urban project. This may be a very simple function – as where a municipality builds its own school or a manufacturing firm builds its own factory extension.

But it can be quite a demanding and complex function, potentially including:

• conceiving of the possibility;

• finding a location;

• market research (for speculative projects) or consultations with future users, and feasibility studies;

• specifying the product, commissioning designers;

• obtaining permissions;

• finding investors, credit, state subsidies;

• contracting with, and controlling, builders;

• marketing the finished product in advance;

and often doing all these things fast – to minimise interest charges or (if the project is speculative) to catch what is thought to be a good price in the market.

[The agents which perform these functions vary enormously. Some industrial firms do it for themselves. Some banks and insurance companies have their own development divisions. Sometimes there are integrated firms which combine construction, promotion (and often finance too) as in France and Japan for example. Sometimes promoters become also property investment companies, holding on to their completed projects and becoming large scale managers as well as producers. And then there are the pure promoters – often very small firms with few staff and little capital – who specialise completely in getting projects together, completing them, selling and going on to the next. This could be the small speculator who builds one house a year or a large-scale operator like some development companies in the UK.]

Remember too that promoters / developers may be the same organisations as land owners or may be quite distinct and this may have profound effects on what gets built and on the flows of money and risk involved.

Perhaps the most important distinction to make here is between development which is speculative or not: speculative production is where, at the time when construction starts, there is no particular user of the building contracted to use it.

In some places speculative development is the dominant form; in others most building is done by or for clearly-identified users. This distinction often corresponds with the distiction between owner-occupation and renting of finished buildings discussed below under “use”.

But it is potentially a very important distinction for the location and for the design of buildings because speculative developers will tend to produce buildings of the type and location which they think will sell. They may be wrong so some buildings are under-used while people seeking buildings in some types and places may not get them. Also they may tend (with a few brave exceptions) to play safe – to congregate on the types, designs and locations for which they think there will be a steady mass of demand. In this case marginal locations will be under-supplied and unusual kinds of building will not be built.



Some thoughts about the tower and its destruction

by Jockel Liess

In a Freudian sense the tower is a phallic object. It is a status symbol that stands for power, domination, defence, control and transmission. All of these are in a traditional sense very masculine characteristics.

In the same line of thinking the bombing of the tower can be seen as an assault on the masculinity of an individual or state. A symbolic act determined to hurt pride as well as inflict damage. This is to be seen in the light of the still very dominant patriarchal society that we live in and have been living in for several millennia. (Did the tower have the same importance in matriarchal societies?)

The bombing or explosion in the same theoretical view can also be compared to very male activities. If one looks at war and sexuality, the simplest parallel is the rape and abuse of women as a traditionally longstanding and heavily used tool of conquest, alongside other methods and strategies.

If one takes a more mystical approach toward the subject, the tarot card of the tower is an interesting reference (A tower on a rocky outcrop, a powerful bolt of lightning, one or two figures falling from the tower). It is seen as a relatively negative card, following the card of the devil. However it is always a matter of interpretation of mystical imagery, and what is interesting here as well is that tarot most likely originates from a female tradition of wisdom and thought.

It also has very real term parallels to more recent history, and certain images could be used in a modern deck to represent the card of the tower without a problem.

However both state or private acts of terrorism (on our towers), can be seen to follow ideological goals, that in the eyes of the perpetrator can be easily compared to this short interpretation of the meaning to the card:

“Disruption. Conflict. Change.  Sudden violent loss.  Overthrow of an existing way of life.  Major changes.  Disruption of well worn routines.  Ruin and disturbance.  Dramatic upheaval.  change of residence or job sometimes both at once.  Widespread repercussions of actions.  In the end, enlightenment and freedom.”

It is said that this card in its imagery might refer to the destruction of the tower of Babel, where a tower was build for the glory of man, and then destroyed by divinity. If one looks at this more realistically, it would be more likely the glory of the ruling elite, and the suggestion that the people should celebrate the glory of the elite. Especially in the current economic climate, and the looming crisis of the capitalist system the downfall fuelled by elitist greed is a relevant comparison and the tower as a symbol of cooperate money, and capitalism a relevant association.

‘Space and Place’ 5


Under the influence of landscape pictures, painted or captured by the camera, we learn to organize visual elements into a dramatic spatio-temporal structure. When we look at a country scene we almost automatically arrange its components so that they are disposed around the road that disappears into the distant horizon. Again, almost automatically we imagine ourselves travelling down that road; its converging borders are like an arrow pointing to the horizon, which is our destination and future. The horizon is a common image of the future. Statues of statesmen are put on high pedestals, and sculptors show the figures gazing farsightedly at the horizon. Open space itself is an image of hopeful time. Open space is cone-shaped: it opens up from the point where one stands, to the broad horizon that separates earth from sky.



Geological antiquity and human ruins contributed to the sense of temporal depth, but other psychological dispositions and impulses seemed to be at work. They can, perhaps, be described in this way. When we look outward we look at the present or future; when we look inward (that is, introspect) we are likely to reminisce the past. “Inland”, “source”, “center”, or “core” – these symbols of the exploration mystique – all convey the idea of beginning and of past time. Gonig up a river to its source is to return, symbolically, to the beginning of one’s own life; and in the case of the Nile, to the birthplace of mankind. “Center” means also “origin” and carries a sense of starting point and beginning.



Space also has temporal meaning at the level of day-to-day personal experiences. Language itself reveals the intimate connectivity among people, space and time. I am (or we are) here; here is now. You (or they) are there; there is then, and then refers to a time which may be either the past or the future. “What happens then?” The “then” is the future. “It was cheaper then.” The “then” here is the past. Einst, a German word, means “once”, “once upon a time”, and “some day (in the future)”. Personal pronouns are tied not only to spatial demonstratives (this, that here, there), but also to the adverbs of the time “now” and “then”. Here implies there, now implies then. “implies”, however, is a weak verb. Here does not entail there, nor now then. As thomas Merton put it, life may be so cool that “here” does not even warm itself up with references to “there” The hermit’s cave is that cool.



Mythis space is commonly arranged around a coordinate system of cardinal points and a central vertical axis. This construct may be called cosmic, for its frame is defined by events in the cosmos. Mythic time is of three principal kinds: cosmogonic, astronomic, and human. Cosmogonic time is the story of origins, including the creation of the universe. Human time is the course of human life. Both are linear and one-directional. Astronomic time is experienced as the sun’s daily round and the parade of seasons; its nature is repetition. Wherever cosmic space is prominently articulated, cosmogonic time tends to be either ignored or weakly symbolized. In North America a cmmon cosmogonic motif among the Indians is that of the earth-diver, who brings up earth from the ocean, creating an island that grows steadily in size. This creation story, unlike cyclical astronomic time, finds no representation in cosmic space.


‘Space and Place’ 4


Consider the sense of an “inside” and an “outside,” of intimacy and exposure, of private life and public space. People eveywhere recognize these distinctions, but the awareness may be quite vague. Constructed form has the power to heighten the awareness and accentuate, as it were, the difference in emotional temperature between “inside” and “outside”.


The courtyard house is, of course, still with us – it has not become obsolete. Its basic feature is that the rooms open out to the privacy of interior space and present their blank backs to the outside world. Within and without are clearly defined; people can be certain of where they are. Inside the enclosure, undisturbed by distractions from the outside, human relations and feelings can rise to a high and even uncomfortable level of warmth. the notion of inside and outside is familiar to all, but imagine how sensibly real these categories become when a guest – after a convivial party – leaves the lantern-lit courtyard and steps through the moon gate to the dark wind swept lane outside. Experiences of this kind were commonplace in traditional Chinese society, but they are surely known to all people who use architectural means to demarcate and intensify forms of social life.


Looking for the Duke of Bedford…

In 1552 the duke received Covent Garden and seven acres of land in London. He gave up most of his holdings in Bloomsbury to the University of London in 1953. He still has the power to raise the rents in Fizrovia (for an article from Fitzrovia News on his rent hike destroying local small business, click here).

He still owns 23,000 acres of land and prime central London real estate. But what land in Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia exactly does he own? I don’t know, do you? Incidentally, the duke receives £209,000 in EU farm subsidies for Woburn abbey (now a safari park). This amount was cut from £380,000 in 2007 (source here).

More reading:

The 1st Duke

Obituary for the 14th Duke in the Times and the Telegraph and Independent

The current duke dines and his official website

In the 2009 list of richest people in the UK, he came up from 173rd (in 2008) to number 103. Details here.

And of course, insane superstitious theories link the 7/7 bombing to him.