Friday, 29 November 2013

Parking Garage Views in Kralingse Zoom

I was waiting for the metro in Kralingse Zoom station, and my specific metro was not coming in for another 7 minutes. I had plenty of time to do something worth-while. I noticed that the stairs leading toward the newly-built parking garage were finally in use, so I went up to check it out. I went up all the way to the top (4th) level which was the roof, I stepped out of the little staircase space and looked around.


Granted, it was afternoon and I didn't eat anything since I woke up in the morning and was basically operating on two cops of coffee, I wasn't expecting much out of that day until I get some calories in. But man, I was SO pleasantly surprised. This is, by far, the best view in the area and probably one of the best (& freely accessible 24/7) views in greater Rotterdam. It's a precious find.

What I'm digging in particular is the openness of the surroundings, and the fact that you can look out very far in every direction. Whichever side you face, there's a sense of horizon and you are easily immersed in the panorama. I estimate that this place will be amazing for sunrise/sunset watching and I plan to come back to do some of that. During the winter when the sun rises late and sets early, the timing should be easy to schedule.

Here are a few things you can look at on this site. There's a lot more.

I was way captivated by the location and could not get myself to leave in 7 minutes. I was quite pressed for time however and really needed to catch the next metro. On any other day I would have definitely waited for the sunset. 

The next night I travelled through the Kralingse Zoom station again, and having no scheduling restrains this time around, I decided to go experience the night view. My poor photography really doesn't convey how exciting it is to spot the neon logos all across the darkened skyline. 

With some of the tallest buildings in the country and world-renowned iconic architecture , Rotterdam probably has the most visually interesting cityscape in the Netherlands. It'd be a waste to NOT look at it regularly. The other place I know that is good for watching the physical city is at Wilhelminapier. It's a photographer-favourite and the view there is, needless to say, phenomenal. But I hope to discover more viewing spots like this one in Kralingse Zoom that are outside of the main city, that enables wider and more inclusive perspectives.

(I don't know if you have noticed, but it's pretty obvious that this blog is heavily inspired by Urban Adventures in Rotterdam. There's an article he did years ago about going on the rooftops of parking garages and appreciating the views. It is, as he had described, "an unexpected island of privacy in the urban chaos". This is where I have picked up the practice.)

Saturday, 23 November 2013

A Bridge for the Passing

I love skybridges, they might be my favourite kind of structures. There were many in my hometown, I grew up around this stuff and now I try to walk on one whenever I can. There's obviously that nostalgic element, but also sometimes when I'm having a day I feel the need to stand in the middle of the sky where I can look down on everyone and no one can look at me. It's not REALLY like standing in the sky, but it IS kind of like levitating on that 2-3 floor height (at least in terms of perspective), which is a very comfortable place for me. All of my flying dreams were sky-walking and sky-running dreams, and when in dreams this was the height I travelled on. I've heard of sky-swimming dreams, apparently they're quite common, but I guess I wasn't made up that way.

When I found out that they have built a wooden skybridge across Schikade in 2012 I was pretty psyched. I like wooden constructions. They were meant to appear more traditional and human and artisenal so they do. When I looked up more info on the bridge I grew increasingly impressed-- this Luchtsingel project got some 3 million euros funding from a direct-democracy initiative where the citizens of Rotterdam voted to choose a project to spend money on. They chose for this, which have consequently made it a bridge of the people.

Furthermore, the bridge acquired another portion of its funding from a crowd-funding model where you can pay 25 euros or so to purchase a wooden plank, with your name and/or a special message written over it. Not only will this plank be used to build the bridge, it will be placed at a visible position where everyone who ever walk over this bridge can see. This is, of course, a great occasion for silly romantic markings like "Josef <3 Marry forever", but it is also an opportunity for organisations and companies to advertise. Some have done this by leaving a web domain on their plank. These messages are not only shown on the bridge, but also on the bridge's website. For anyone interested in the magical power of intentions in a greater building process, there are over 3000 messages and names for you to analyse and conjure. This is a bridge of the people, and evidently people are capable of being and representing many things. A dense collection of meanings directly related to the city and its population is always worth noticing for local sorcerers. 

I guess there is much to be said about this magic but there was one particular thought that I could not get off my mind: Web domains die when people stop paying for them. Conceivably, at one point in the future most of the domain names on Luchtsingel will be dead, and this bridge will become a graveyard for websites. And then, naturally, the next logical thought hit me: People die as well. People always, eventually, die for sure. If the Luchtsingel is still around in a hundred years, it will actually be a graveyard, like, for people.

Graveyard might not be the best classification for a place like this. Graveyards usually carry physical remains, this bridge will only carry dead names and messages. On the other hand, consider that in a traditional graveyard where people are buried underground,  the actual body will in time be eaten away by the soil, at which point the physical grave only becomes an indicational marking of the fact that the body was once there. At famous historical figures' tombs which are commonly exploited for touristic activities, it is very often the case that the real body is stored elsewhere, and people (knowingly) come to pay tribute to an empty casket. I think the distinction between a grave and other types of memorial locations can be arbitrary. I like to put them in the same category. 

Let's imagine that the Luchtsingel lasts for long enough to become a grave site. Maybe it's somewhat grim to see it like that, but in design terms I think it actually makes a lot of sense. Death is often imagined as a passage. From the known into the unknown, from being into non-being, from existence into the other. For the religious, Death can mean many more things and in several popular religions this passage-understanding of Death is very clearly defined. Walking across a death-bridge seems to be a fitting gesture to remember those who have passed. Future architects may consider to go one step further,  and infuse the ashes of the dead into a bridge of concrete as a new grave form. I'd like to be immortalised like that. I'd like to be guaranteed a part in something humanly useful even after I'm gone.

Bridges have yet another connection to death. Looking back to my hometown, there was a scenic tourist destination with a historical suspension bridge spanning across some beautiful green waters. There were mountains and children and couples and buskers and the place gives a beautiful, welcoming vibe. What many foreign visitors do not know, is that the bridge is also a popular suicide spot, and in 2012 alone there were 22 suicidal leap-offs (almost twice a month, man). For those who cannot swim, leaping off into these deep waters from a great height is like leaping into a green abyss. There were also those who jumped while wearing a backpack filled with rocks, so that their deathly determination will not be overcome by their survival instinct, and they would sink straight down to the very bottom with no chance of ever coming up. It's sad. It's disturbing. There are a lot of ghost stories in that place.

A few weeks ago, here in Rotterdam, they have started working on the next phase of the Luchtsingel project and they built the main parts of another skybridge, this time across the railroads. I went to see it the day after it was done. At first I expected it to look the same as the first bridge, and was a little confused about the purpose of its heightened sides. But then I remembered all the sad reports we've heard about trains being delayed. I can see people walking through this new bridge in the future and discussing the design's preventative nature. It'll be a somewhat gloomy topic for conversations, but much less so than actual stories of haunting.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Elevator Pitch

I've found a spot to listen to elevators. I was here for 20 minutes or so, it's kind of hypnotic.

I've never really gotten into listening to urban noises but I figured I probably should. I like sounds and I like the juxtaposition of foreground and background. Foregrounds and backgrounds are relative ideas, always subjective and sometimes arbitrary. But it's pretty lame to take them for granted---what sound is a background noise and what makes it so? I want to try to actively listen and consciously decide on what sounds should come forth to occupy my attention. I can't do that ALL the time obviously because that would drive me insane, but I want to start doing it once in a while and seek out soundscapes that I don't usually notice.

I think a good listening spot needs to meet two criteria. Firstly, you should be in a position where you won't disturb the sound source. Following this, you should probably also not be in a place where you would directly creep people out because then they would alter the soundscape by loudly saying things like hey what the hell are you doing here man get out of my garden. This relates to the second criteria: you should be in a position where people won't disturb you. Thirdly, I prefer a place with the acoustics for mad reverb but I guess this one is optional.

This elevator spot meets all criteria and more. It's on the highest(8th) level of a parking garage, on top of the HEMA in Beursplein. It's called Q-Park. I was here on a Friday evening and there were no cars parked on this top level at the time, so the elevators never came up to this floor. I think most people don't like to park high if they can park low, and at a time where there're not many cars in town they can park pretty low. The way it worked out is that there were still cars coming in and out the lower levels, and on Fridays the HEMA stays opened until 9 o'clock, so there is a pretty big time-window in which the elevators are constantly in use but no one who uses it would come to where this spot is. It makes for an ideal listening set-up. Also the reverb is siiick.

My priority is not in recording so the footage above is pretty rudimentary but I just wanted a sample to share. There are several components to the sound here: that 2-step-ringing when the elevators reaches a floor, the motors working, the sound of a metallic scrapping, and of course the sound of people stepping in and out of elevators*. The two elevators both produce these sounds upon triggering and sometimes they harmonize, with every sound travelling up the shaft. Aside from the elevators, there are also secondary sounds from the streets and the city outside. They are dimmer, but if an ambulance on sirens rushes by or something it also plays a prominent part. When I was there it was raining pretty hard and this contributed to the general mooding too.

This soundscape is actually aesthetically pleasing, and if I brought a chair and a book I could potentially spend a long time here. But also in terms of meanings, I like the idea that these sounds are each initiated by people interacting with the elevator, with the building, and although they don't notice it, it is as if they are playing the building as a grand musical instrument. My listening to this live performance and their not being aware of my presence is in itself a kind of unilateral relationship. I have made it pretty clear that I am very fond of these sounds, and I don't even know any of these people. Nevertheless the setting provides a system by which anybody can participate to produce something that I, in a listener's position, can enjoy. And this is a system that I have found, the elevators were probably not designed with this purpose in mind, but maybe they should be. If buildings were designed to receive, remix, direct and present sounds, they can potentially generate a lot of unique musical experiences and social practices. I hope to find more spots for these sonic observations in Rotterdam. The quick idea is checking out other multi-layered parking garages and their elevator spaces.

*the thought that there's some dude listening to you walking in and out of an elevator is probably very creepy in itself, not to mention that you might have also had a conversation with a friend in the elevator or something. But if I did park my car and were just waiting for my elevator in that space, I could've heard you anyway. Although the enclosed elevator gives the appearance of private space, it is not always designed to keep your sounds private and doesn't claim to do so. If someone overheard your conversation in public, is it just as creepy? Maybe. It's a pretty grey area. These considerations again remind us to be aware of what we expect spaces to do, what they actually do, and how we can always give it some extra thoughts when we use any space to do anything.

and elevators are already a little creepy. Have you seen that film?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Wishing Sites: Rotterdam Central Library

Many of us like to make wishes. I have to read up on the sociology of this stuff, I don't know if it's some universally intuitive human practice or the product of our culture. If I can speak for myself, though, I think it is intuitive for me to want things to happen in a certain way. Land-locked in this causal universe, individuals usually have very limited influence on what takes place around them, but I believe all people are capable of imagining some different possibilities of how things(outside of their control) can be, and people are prone to having preferences between these different imagined scenarios. If I prefer for the weather to be sunny next Tuesday rather than cloudy, should my very preference be identified as a wish?

I'd say so. I wish for the weather to be sunny. I don't expect for my wish to have any causal influence on the weather, but wouldn't it be nice if it does? I think this is a healthy longing and it helps people deal with the fact that they're pretty ineffective on a grand scale. More importantly, I think my conscious wishes are a mechanism that I use to program my subconscious priorities. When the time comes and I have to make decisions in a context where I do have an influence, the wishes of yesterday and yesteryears come back to take effect and help me decide. Of course, wishes are supposed to expire when they're no longer relevant, and we try to replace them with new wishes all the time, it's an ongoing process. It has its lags and glitches and we can end up wishing for things that stopped being relevant years ago, but I guess that's just something we gotta live with.

We can also consider the parrarealities and the metaphysics of wishes, the models in which they DO have an direct influence in the material world.  Some try to scientifically measure how intentions can affect otherwise random events in an experimental setting. Others pay big money to shamans and gods that supposingly micro-manage and execute our wishes for a fee. I take the myths and religious wishing models as metaphors for a mental process, but some people take them very literally and very seriously.

I love the idea of paying actual money for a wish. I don't love to do it, but I love how it celebrates the beautiful traditional myth of money can buy you anything because money is basically magic. The cheapest way to practice this ritual is dropping a penny into a wishing well or a wishing fountain. This affordance of small enclosed bodies of water had gotten so default in our consciousness, that in almost any sort of constructed puddle or pond near a tourist destination you can find coins laying at the bottom. There doesn't even need to be the legend of a wishing well. Any well can be a wishing well if the tourists BELIEVE hard enough. Or even if they pretend to believe hard enough for laughs.
There's another money-charging wish practice that has been gaining some exposure: sky lanterns. In the Taiwanese town of PingXi, sky lanterns are a big tourist attraction, and on highschool graduation weekend or any such wishful occasion tourists go there to buy them, write wishes on them and send them skyward.  I wish to complete my studies successfully and become a lawyer. I wish to stay with my cute short-haired girlfriend forever. Whatever. I gotta say, though, sending your wishes to some secret high-up place to take effect do correspond with my understanding of how magic works, and I have a particular soft-spot for this one on the grounds of how amazing it looks.  If it looks this stunning then we must be onto something, right?

Actually sky lanterns are banned in many countries including Germany, Austria, Spain and Brazil. They can be a fire hazard (it's a flying burning paper thing what the fuck) and when they land they become widespread litter that are a hassle to clean up. The good news for us in Rotterdam, as you might have guessed by now, is that we get to make wishes to the fixated visuals of a big scale lantern-release-party without having to deal with actual lanterns or paying for them. The setting to do that is at the Rotterdam Central Library in Blaak, at night, as illustrated in the opening picture.

Sure, these lampshades don't look EXACTLY like rising sky lanterns, but with an associative visual imagination and a level of desperation they can fulfill the same function in a wish-making process. After all, aren't all wishes imaginative desperate attempts? Aren't all ritualistic procedures just metaphoric tools that help us to make the wishes meaningful? Maybe yes, maybe no, but it is something worth thinking about, and when I do, I'd like to think about it here. The library is a hub of information and many had come to this location to seek answers. When we make a wish, we also seek an answering, and perhaps this request is fit to be housed in the city's symbolic source of all answers.

A mythical narrative can add some extra flavour to the experience: imagine that every night countless people of Rotterdam would walk pass by this perpetual lantern ceremony, and whoever that has a wish would mentally attach it to one of the "lanterns", knowingly or otherwise. Each lantern, although not physically, carry a Rotterdamer's wish, and a batch of Rotterdam's wishes are collected here every single night. Now imagine an entity who inhabits the building, or who is the personification of the building, who takes the form of an old professor, or a janitor, or a little girl, depending on its mood: an entity that is sometimes named The Librarian.  Imagine that before the library's each daily shut-down, the Librarian would wander through the static lanterns and examine the wishes. As he finished examine a wish, he shuts down that specific light. Eventually all the lights will be down, and the Librarian had taken in all the wishes of that day, and until the Library opens next morning, the Librarian spends the night going through all the books in the building, trying to come up with the perfect way to fulfill every one of our wishes. Each night the Librarian collects and examines and read and analyse and research. When the same people walk by the library the next day, the Librarian eagerly presents the results of its hard work by placing them into the people's unconscious minds. One day they will solve all of their own problems, they will find ways to accomplish all the things they've wished for, and they will believe that it's entirely their own idea. The Librarian takes great pride in this work.

How did you like that? I'm pretty egoistic when it comes to this kind of things and I love that story so fucking much. I'd be swooned if you use this model to make your wish at the location. Or, alternatively, make your own story about the library lanterns and be your own sorcerer, it's more empowering for you that way. If you like to, explain to me how your wish model works for this spot and I might go live it too.

I am certainly not the first to imagine a modern component as a functional ritualistic replacement for a traditional one. For a quick example, you might have heard about these proxy astral phenomenon: Can we pretend that airplanes in night sky are like shooting stars? I wished on two shooting stars last night, but they were only satellites. Is it wrong to wish on space hardware? I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care. 

My point is this. We have proxy moving sky things for shooting stars, and we have an associated imagery for sky lanterns here, and there must be dozens of other modern contexts in which we can make use of for ritualistic wishful purposes. This project is called Wishing Sites, I want to find these contexts in Rotterdam and document the coming-together of my magic city. I have some places in mind and I'm always looking, but I only want to do a blogpost if I have some sort of constructed idea. I'm always constructing ideas. Before they were wishing sites, they were construction sites.