CHOREOGRAPHING the CITY
The Guardian, January 2019
The Conversation, October 2017
Modern engineering design methodologies are premised on a reductionist scientific paradigm that is heavily reliant on predictable causal relationships between physical phenomena, and favours somewhat limited notions of rationality, efficiency and abstraction (such as large-scale computer modelling). This logic has enabled engineers to deliver revolutionary infrastructure that has modernised cities and allowed them to support the levels of health, accessibility, and communication that most urbanites in the Global North can expect today.
However, this same paradigm has allowed the catastrophic over-exploitation of the natural environment, exacerbated unequal access to urban infrastructure systems and created a homogenised construction sector globally. Though engineers’ interventions in cities are often at an infrastructural level, they are key in shaping the societal value produced by public spaces. For example, the engineering of urban transport systems, from train networks to streetscapes, encodes assumptions about who moves, for what purposes, and what the experience of using these systems should be, which are rarely challenged or debated within engineering practice or in the public sphere.
To deliver the required level of change needed to tackle the environmental, social, and health-related unsustainability of cities, engineering needs to incorporate radical approaches derived from other realms of expertise, and in the case of this research, from dance. Both dance and engineering are creative processes that are taught formally, developed through practice and experience, have known outputs, physical and economic constraints, and desired social outcomes. Choreography employs an extremely complex set of skills to conceive, test, and perform patterns of movement within technical, cultural, temporal, economic and spatial constraints. However, no structured study has taken place to test and document the effectiveness of the application of different aspects of choreographic practice to engineering, leaving great potential for a study aiming to show exactly which elements of choreography can influence engineering.
Choreographing the City is a collaboration with Theatrum Mundi and analyses the potential for choreographic practice to impact on the values, epistemologies and techniques through which cities are engineered by facilitating research at the intersection of engineering design and choreography.