From the monthly archives:

April 2010

A walk around the blogosphere

by smithpae on 30 April 2010

The very first thing I did in approaching this assignment was input “urban space blog” into the Google machine. The second thing I did was click on the top link, which brought me to Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space, a green blog with a narrow column of dense text centered on the page. I gave the page a brief scan before deciding that the pictures and text were too small for easy browsing. Also, upon further inspection, I found that the blog was largely about public policy. Blog posts about taxes and business classifications are directly at odds with my interpretation of “play.” So I quit that and turned instead to its list of links. I chose the blog link with the most “play”-ful sounding title, Bird to the North.

Bird to the North was much easier to look at. The pictures were bigger, so as I scrolled down the page I could easily become engaged with a particular post without reading through all the titles. However once I was hooked by a picture, there was often very little text to accompany it. I scrolled through about a years worth of posts without actually learning anything. So once again I looked through the list of links. This time I clicked a winner.

The Polis Blog has the same layout as all of our blogs and the blogs I went through to get there. Blog posts are on the left and in chronological order, and links alphabetized in a column on the right. This structure is standard because now we’re all adept at navigating through a website set up like that. The author of Polis Blog writes each blog post as an article. Each post has a distinct topic, a catchy title, and an eye catching image. In many articles, the author directly references social norms regarding space. For instance, on the first page of the blog, he writes “The founding gurus of urban space were so obsessed with cleanliness and order and the ‘right’ people that they left us with a million rules about who can do what where without dealing with the structural absurdities that leave some many spaces dead and truly alive spaces threatened with erasure (after all, they are illegal!).” As for play.. this blog is really well written and a delight to read. As I was playing in the blogosphere I ignored blogs that were too ugly or too boring, even if they might have been a great source of information. I recommend this blog to anyone still looking for a research topic.


Assignment 2: A Walk Around the Blogosphere

by colinip on 29 April 2010

There’s always something to do in Amsterdam by Dhull Link to Blog

I had trouble finding a blog that incorporated a sense of space as the writer described his or her thoughts and feelings while traveling from one place to another. I used Googleblogs to search for an appropriate article. I used key words such as “urban space” combined with “Amsterdam” to no avail. Then I decided to use words such as “first impression” which had better results.

While reading the blog, I tried to place myself in the writer’s shoes and imagine what he was seeing. I first pictured myself traveling from Munich to Amsterdam while comparing the two different cities. Amsterdam is very crowded and full of life. There are many different types of transportation in the bustling city ranging from trams and cars to bikes and canals. Munich was more peaceful and clean. The only rowdiness that I encountered was at the soccer game.

The blog is chronologically ordered which makes it easier to follow Dhull’s experience in the two cities. He describes in detail the places that he visits and his impressions of them. For example, as he walked through the old German concentration camp, he depicts the depressing aura and the chills that run down his spine. He also gives his thoughts openly when he describes the indifference that people show towards precariously leaning buildings in Amsterdam and connects it to the Dutch’s tolerant perspective.

Dhull describes the English Garden’s in Munich as a big park in the city with activities ranging from surfing in the river to nude sun bathing. As I read his narrative, it gave me a sense that the park was very large considering that a river runs through it, narrows at a point to create a standing wave, and have enough space for people to come and gather and watch surfers do their thing. This large sense of space seems to allow a stronger sense of privacy for things like sun bathing but at the same time allow people to come together to watch surfing. This can be juxtaposed to his first impression of Amsterdam which was craziness and chaos in the bustlings streets full of cars and bikes. The lack of space initially made Dhull feel uncomfortable until he settled and tried to gather a sense of order while smack in the middle of Amsterdam traffic.

The role of PLAY in my exploration through the blogosphere is the idea that these bloggers are writing about their adventures for fun sometimes not knowing that their blogs have meaning to their readers. The process of reading and understanding their thoughts is essential for my own growth and development as an observer and a thinker. Their experiences are ‘at play’ and from their stories I can learn about social interactions between people, the affects of space on society, and many other things.


Images of Amsterdam

by dreinelt on 27 April 2010

This image captured my attention because there is a fascinating amount of variation and detail in the many buildings which structurally compose one rectangular complex. The canvas for each house’s design is a single predetermined section of wall, yet each … Continue reading


Assignment Two

by Clifford on 19 April 2010

For this assignment, we ask that you take a walk around the blogosphere, and in doing so, consider the ideas about exploration and observation of space presented in the assigned readings.

Spend some time exploring blogs related to urban space generally or Amsterdam specifically. Choose one blog to examine in depth. In your blog post for this assignment, you will be asked to reflect on how you found that particular blog in addition to your analysis of the blog itself. You can also use this exercise to help identify or narrow a potential research topic.

A couple of points about the readings:

The Lynch & Rivkin article was meant to both introduce you to urban studies methods and begin to sensitize you to using your skills of observation. The Hartmann article takes an urban exploration approach and applies to exploration of the internet.

As noted by Lynch & Rivkin, people either perceive order in space or they try to create order in its absence:

“the individual must perceive his environment as an ordered pattern, and is constantly trying to inject order into his surroundings, so that all the relevant perceptions are jointed one to the other.” –Lynch & Rivkin (1959) A Walk Around the Block

Consider also that the notion of space is socially constructed, both the built environment and our conception of it are constructed through social interaction (NOTE- the following quote comes from a reading not yet assigned).

“Social space is a social product – the space produced in a certain manner serves as a tool of thought and action. It is not only a means of production but also a means of control, and hence of domination/power.” — Lefebvre (1991) The Production of Space

In your blog posts of 500 words max, reflect on the following:

1) observation skills: trust your skills of observation to inform what you see (in addition to what you read) in the blog content.

2) ordered patterns: what sense of order is present and/or imposed? you dont want to spend too much time discussing the blog structure per se, instead your comments should focus on indications of the blogger’s reaction to or interaction with the structure.

3) social construction of space: in the blog you select, look for indications of socially constructed norms, particularly with respect to space.

4) play -as an individual and social activity:

The Situationist movement was deeply influenced by the writings of Dutch philosopher Johan Huizinga, who suggested that PLAY is a “significant function – that is to say, there is some sense to it. In play, there is something ‘at play’ which transcends the immediate needs of life and imparts meaning to the action. All play means something.” ( Johan Huizinga. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element of Culture. (New York: J and J Harper Editions, 1970), 19.)

What is the role of PLAY in your exploration? How is your exploration of the blogosphere playful? What is the social aspect of play at work here?

Please have your blog response posted by: Midnight PST May 1st, 2010


Assignment Zero

by cooknat on 8 April 2010

This first image jumped out at me for a few reasons.  The first is the close proximity of the streetcar to the street-side businesses and the people in between.  At first, this may not seem so strange, but having lived in Seattle for my entire life, I can’t think of another place where I’ve seen this type of infrastructural set-up.  In the U.S. rather than running streetcars right by the sidewalk, we would always occupy that space with a lane for cars, or at the very least some parking spaces.  To me, the arrangement in this picture, along with the number of people on foot and multiple bicycles parked along the sidewalk, suggests that streetcars must be used much more often than cars in this particular setting.  Judging by the content of other pictures in the group, where cars are not only conspicuously absent most of the time, but there also seems to be little space for them in the streets in general, I would tend to think that this is true throughout the city rather than just in this particular location.  This is an interesting cultural difference in and of itself, but to me it suggests something else: that the people of this particular city tend to favor a more ambulatory lifestyle, with commonly occupied spaces much more closely situated and public transit well-developed and stream-lined within major urban centers.

Another detail to note about this image is the size of the shops and the constant presence of apartments situated above.  In Seattle, and the U.S. in general for that matter, businesses on busy urban streets are set up quite differently, often sprawling and taking up a subsection of the first floor of a large skyscraper primarily devoted to offices for various businesses on the upper floors.  Here, the set-up is quite different.  Each business of the street level only spans maybe 15-20 feet maximum and is contained within its own separate building.  Rather than renting out a portion of a huge building, these businesses occupy the bottom floor of an individual building that is seemingly squeezed into a tightly-packed latticework of other buildings, all of which seem to contain one or more living spaces on the floors above.  To me, this resembles an environment similar to that of the University of Washington, where housing is urbanized in this way out of necessity so that students, who can’t afford the luxury of a car, can live close to both the University and the businesses that they must frequent to buy food, clothing, etc.  However, this setting with its ACE Jewelers and high-end clothing store, seems like a more upscale area, suggesting to me that this set-up is the norm in this city, with people living within easy walking distance of their work, their sources of products, and any transportation they may need.

This image also speaks to me of this city’s vastly different mentality when it comes to housing and common methods of transportation.  If you’ve spent your life in Seattle, you might not find this image particularly odd, as Seattle has a relatively large and widely-spread houseboat community.  However, if you look closely, it becomes apparent that this set-up is quite different.  Notice the bridge in the background and the cement structure that Dr. Corser is standing on.  That is not a large body of water, that’s a canal!  These houses, like the apartments in the picture above, are tightly-packed individual structures, but in this case, they are fully integrated into the structure of this urban canal.  And notice the number of small boats attached to these houses and on the near side of the canal.  This canal is not just something to look at and appreciate, it is a legitimate thoroughfare for transportation through the city.  Even the inhabitants of houseboats on Lake Washington seldom commute by boat, they just appreciate living on the water.  Here though, the water has been put to use and incorporated into the city’s infrastructure, allowing the inhabitants of these houses as streamlined method of transportation from place to place along the canals of the city.

Together, these pictures paint a picture of certain cultural differences between the United States and the Netherlands.  In the U.S. a huge emphasis is placed on privacy of habitation and transportation, as well as space.  Generally, one would live outside of urban centers in an individual house unconnected to any others, and then drive your own car to work inside the city proper.  In the Netherlands, the attitude seems quite different: one would generally live within the city, necessitating tightly-packed living-spaces and stream-lined methods of transportation within the city itself.  Rather than using your own car, which besides just taking up a lot of space that a densly-packed city can’t afford to waste, is indicative of widely-dispersed and varied living and work environments that cannot be easily reached by major thoroughfares (and therefore public transporation), the people of a Netherlandish city would instead make efficient use of other, more rigid methods of transportation because they can easily get them where they need to go.

Some questions that these pictures bring out:  Are the canals actually still extensively used as a point-to-point method of transportation, or do people just boat to major transit centers and depart for their final destination from there?  Also, given the extreme density of the city, does it generally expand outward as the population increases, or are buildings just built higher to accommodate more living space?

One other question that I feel might be quite enlightening of cultural views of space of the people of the Netherlands is this: do the individual buildings share the walls in between them, with one built onto the existing structure of the other, or is each building its own independent structure, with its own external walls butting up against those of its neighbors?   The answer to this question I feel would give some kind of indication as to how the people view the permanence of these structures with relation to the structures surrounding them and how this permanence relates to conceptions of private property.


Amsterdam Image Assigment 0

April 8, 2010

           The photos of these two buildings caught my eye primarily because of their use of color, but also because of my personal interest in the different was that density can be addressed within a city. The use of bright orange in both buildings was the first thing that caught my eye, as well […]

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Assignment 1: visual exploration

April 8, 2010

I often feel ashamed of the bland, repetitive collection of strip malls, billboards, and parking lots (to name only a few examples) that litter much of the modern world’s physical space. These areas suggest waste, disregard for the natural environment, and little consideration for constructing structures that reflect our species’ capacity for innovation and creativity. [...]

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Assignment 0: Lines and Colors in Amsterdam

April 8, 2010

In each of the two pictures above, color is constrained by boundaries made out of lines. In the first image, we will call it “Metal and Plants,” a strong diagonal line, a large piece of metal, divides a gray-scale interior from a green exterior. In the second image, “Boxes,” the color of each individual balcony box is [...]

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Close Looking -Interrogating Visual Material:

April 8, 2010

To me the adventure and excitement of traveling to a foreign city is exploring every facet of your new surroundings. Weaving your own path through the city from street to street, taking unconventional routes, and even getting lost can be great methods for learning about the environment, culture, and people’s way of life in that […]

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Assignment Zero

April 8, 2010

While perusing the pictures to choose from, the dramatic changes to ordinary materials caught my eye.  First, the buildings with massive red shutters demonstrate Amsterdam’s culture, but in what ways?  Aesthetically, the shutters provide an irregular interpretation to a broadly used material.  In other words, the larger size and red color of the shutters are […]

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Closing Looking: Culture in Amsterdam

April 6, 2010

Scrolling through the images that Rob provided, I was immediately caught by the tall modern building, wrought of metal and glass, dwarfing the regal classical structure on the river.  Just the stark contrast of the two was enough for  me … Continue reading

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Amsterdam 1: Outside Spaces

April 6, 2010

This is the first assignment of my preparatory seminar for an Amsterdam study abroad class in the summer. We were asked to pick two images out of a gallery and describe our reactions to them.

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Close Looking – Interrogating Visual Material

April 6, 2010

This image stood out to me because I have a secret desire to live on a house boat and kayak to work. Upon further inspection, though, this picture reveals more about the people who live in these apartments than just their mode of transportation. Judging by the discontinuity of appearance of the exterior of what […]

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Hello world!

April 5, 2010

Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

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Close looking — The Ploppers (April 4)

April 4, 2010

It’s usually the unsung nuances that give a city its character.  People jibe about the rain in Seattle, but we love the verdant summers.  You can find music from any country spilling out of cafes and shops in Paris.  In Berlin, the Wall draws people’s attention — but perhaps more important are the street art […]

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Assignment Zero

April 2, 2010

Greetings all,
Welcome to Honors in Amsterdam 2010!
Along with Rob Corser, I am co-teaching the spring (in Seattle) and summer (in Amsterdam) courses. In preparation for our first class meeting next week, we have prepared a three-part (but still relatively short) assignment. The assignment includes 1) each person will set up an individual blog (level of [...]

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