1.9 Formulary for a New Urbanism


Translated by Ian Thompson, January 2016. Proofread and Edited by Anna O’Meara & Mehdi el H.


We are bored in the city, there is no more Temple of the Sun. Between the legs of passing women the Dadaists had hoped to find a monkey wrench, and the Surrealists, a crystal cup. That’s gone [1]. We know how to read faces [for] every promise — the latest stage of morphology. The poetry of billboards lasted twenty years. We are bored in the city, we have to push ourselves to the limit [2] to discover still more mysteries on the street signage [3], the latest state of humour and poetry:

Patriarch’s Public Baths 
Meat-cutting Machines
Notre-Dame Zoo
Sports Pharmacy
Martyrs’ Convenience Store
Translucent Concrete
Golden-Hand Sawmill
Centre for Functional Recuperation
Saint-Anne Ambulance
Café Fifth Avenue
Volunteers Street Extension [4]
Guesthouse in the Garden
Hotel of Foreigners
Wild Street

And the swimming pool on the Street of Little Girls [5]. And the police station on Rendezvous Street [6]. The medico-surgical clinic and the free employment agency on the Quay of Goldsmiths [7]. The artificial flowers on Sun Street [8]. The Castle Cellars Hotel, the Ocean Bar and the Back & Forth Café. The Hotel of the Epoch.
And the strange statue of Dr. Philippe Pinel, benefactor of the insane, in the last evenings of summer. To explore Paris.

And you, forgotten, your memories ravaged by all the dismays of the world [9], run aground in the Red Cellars of Pali-Kao, without music and without geography, no longer on your way to the hacienda where the roots think of the child and where the wine ends in fables from an almanac. That’s all over. You will not see the hacienda. It doesn’t exist.

The hacienda must be built.

All cities are geological, and one can’t take three steps without running into ghosts fully-charged with the glamour [10] of their legends. We move about in a closed landscape whose landmarks incessantly pull us toward the past. Certain shifting angles, certain receding perspectives, allow us to catch a glimpse of the original notions of space, but this remains a partial view [11]. [A full view] must be sought [12] in the magical places of folktales and surrealist writings: castles, endless walls, small forgotten bars, mammoth caverns, casino mirrors.

These dated symbols retain a small catalysing power, but it is almost impossible to use them in a symbolic urbanism without rejuvenating them; charging them with a new meaning. Our state of mind, haunted by the old archetypes [13], has lagged behind sophisticated machines. The various attempts to incorporate modern science into new myths remain inadequate. Meanwhile the abstract has infested all arts, contemporary architecture in particular. Pure plasticity, story-less and lifeless, soothes and cools the eye. Other partial beauties can be found elsewhere, while the land of new syntheses recedes further and further into the distance. Each of us is torn between the emotionally-charged past and the already dead future [14].

We will not prolong the mechanical cultures and cold architecture that ultimately lead to boring leisure.

We intend to create new, changing [15] settings. (…)

 Darkness retreats in the face of lighting, and the seasons in the face of air conditioning: night-time and summer lose their allure, and dawn vanishes. The city-dwellers [16] think that they pull away from cosmic reality, and no longer dream of it. The reason is obvious: dreams spring from reality and fulfil themselves in it.

The latest technological developments [17] enable continuous connection between the individual and cosmic reality, while eliminating its inconveniences. Glass ceilings reveal the stars and the rain. The mobile house turns towards the sun. Its sliding walls enable plants to invade life. Climbing on tracks, it can move towards the sea in the morning, returning to the forest in the evening.

Architecture is the simplest means of connecting time and space, of regulating reality; the stuff of dreams. It concerns not only plastic connections and regulation (expressing an ephemeral beauty), but an affective [18] regulation, part of the perpetual evolution [19] of human desires and progress in fulfilling them.

Tomorrow’s architecture will therefore be a means of altering contemporary notions of time and space. It will be a means of knowing and a means of acting.

The architectural complex will be modifiable. Its appearance will partly or totally change in accordance with the desire of its inhabitants. (…)

Communities of the past had offered the masses an absolute truth and unquestionable mythical paradigms. The entry of the concept of relativity into the modern mind makes it possible to surmise the EXPERIMENTAL aspect of the next civilisation (although I’m still not satisfied with that word). Let’s say more flexible, more “playful” [20]. On the basis of this mobile civilisation, architecture will, at least initially, be a means of experimenting with the thousands of ways of changing life, in preparation for a synthesis that can only be epic.

A mental illness has overrun the planet: banalisation. Everyone is mesmerised by [material] production and comfort — [21] sewage systems, elevators, bathrooms, washing machines.

This state of affairs, born of a struggle [22] against poverty, has overshot its goal — the liberation of humanity from material cares — to become a haunting symbol of today. Between love and a garbage disposal unit, the youth of every country have made their choice in favour of the garbage disposal unit. A complete U-turn of the psyche has become vital, by bringing to light forgotten desires, and by the creation of entirely new desires. [Then by] intensive propaganda in favour of these desires.

We have already highlighted the need for the construction of situations to be [23] one of the basic desires on which the next civilisation will be founded. This need for total creation has always been tightly bound together [24] with the need to play with architecture, time and space. (. . .)

Chirico will be remembered [25] as one of the most remarkable architectural pioneers. He tackled the the issues of absences and presences across time and space.

We know that an object that is not consciously noticed at the time of a first visit can, by its absence during subsequent visits, provoke an undefinable sensation: through a recovery in time, the absence of the object makes itself a noticeable presence. Better [put]: although remaining generally undefinable, the character of the sensation can vary from serene joy to horror, according to the object’s nature and the importance assigned to it by the visitor. (It’s of little concern to us that in this specific case memory is the vehicle of this unease [26]; I have only chosen this example for its utility).
In Chirico’s paintings [of the] Arcades period an empty space creates a well-filled time. It is easy to imagine that the future will have such architects in store for us, and what their influence will be on the masses. We can only despise a century [like our own] [27] that relegates such blueprints [28] to so-called museums.

This new vision of time and space, which will be the theoretical basis of future constructions, is not [yet] fully developed. It never will be until experimentation on behaviours takes place in cities reserved for this purpose, where — in addition to the facilities necessary for basic comfort and security — buildings filled with great evocative and influential power would be systematically assembled; symbolic structures representing desires, forces and events – past, present and future. A rational extension of old religious systems, of old tales, and particularly of psychoanalysis to the benefit of architecture becomes more urgent every day, as the reasons to be empassioned vanish.

Everyone will live in their own “cathedral”, as it were. It will contain rooms which produce dreams more effectively than drugs, and houses where one cannot help but love. Others will be irresistibly alluring to travellers. . . .

This proposal can be compared to the Chinese and Japanese gardens in Trompe-l’oeil [29] — with the difference that those gardens are not designed to be lived in all the time — or to the absurd labyrinth in the Jardin des Plantes [30], at the entry to which is written (the height of stupidity, Ariadne rendered jobless [31]): Games are forbidden in the labyrinth.

 This city could be conceived in the form of an arbitrary assembly of castles, grottos, lakes, etc… This would be the baroque stage of urbanism viewed as a means of understanding; but this theoretical phase is already outdated. We know that a modern building could be constructed which would have no resemblance to a medieval castle, but which could preserve and increase the poetic power of Castle (through the maintenance of a strict minimum of lines, the rearrangement of a number of others, the location of windows [32], its topographical location, etc.).

The districts of this city could correspond to the myriad feelings [33] that are encountered by chance in day-to-day life.

Bizarre Quarter — Happy Quarter (specially reserved for housing) — Noble and Tragic Quarter (for well-behaved children) — Historical Quarter (museums, schools) — Useful Quarter (hospital, hardware stores) — Sinister Quarter, etc… And an Astrolarium which would group plant varieties according to the connection that they demonstrate to the stellar rhythm, a planetary garden similar to that which the astronomer Thomas intends to establish at Laaer Berg in Vienna. Vital to give the inhabitants a consciousness of the cosmic. Perhaps also a Quarter of Death, not to die in but for living in peace — I’m thinking here of Mexico and of a principle of cruelty in innocence that appeals more to me every day.

The Sinister Quarter, for example, would beneficially replace those god-forsaken places [34], the mouths of hell, many peoples had possessed in their capitals long ago: that had symbolised the evil powers of life. The Sinister Quarter would have no need to contain real dangers, like traps, dungeons or mines. It would be difficult to approach, hideously decorated ([with] piercing whistles, alarm bells, regular sirens at sporadic intervals, hideous sculptures, powered moving machines, called Auto-Mobiles), and as poorly lit at night as it was blindingly [35] lit during the day through an excessive use of reflection. At the centre, the “Square of the Appalling Mobile.” [Since the] saturation of the market with a product causes its value to fall: through exploring the sinister quarter, adults and children would learn to no longer be afraid of the frightening events of life, but to be amused by them.

The main activity of the inhabitants will be the CONTINUOUS DÉRIVE. The changing of the scenery from one hour to the next will result in complete disorientation. (. . .)

Later, with the inevitable decrease in the effect of actions [36], this dérive will partly abandon the realm of experience for that of representation. (. . .)

Economic objections can easily be dismissed. We know that the more a place is set apart for free play, the more it influences behaviour and the stronger its attraction grows. The proof is in the great status [given to] Monaco and Las Vegas, [along with] Reno (that caricature of free love). Yet these are nothing but simple gambling venues [37]. The first experimental city would easily survive from permitted and controlled tourism. Upcoming avant-garde activities and creations would focus there. In a few years it would become the intellectual capital of the world, and would be universally acknowledged as such.

Gilles Ivain.  

In October 1953 the Lettrist International adopted this report on urbanism by Gilles Ivain, which constituted a key component in the new direction then being taken by the experimental avant-garde. This current text was created from two successive drafts containing minor differences in wording, preserved in the LI archive, which became documents 103 and 108 of the Situationist Archives.

As this new translation was being produced, I cross-referenced it to an existing translation made by Ken Knabb available on-line here. I would like to acknowledge the work done by Ken Knabb, and the real assistance his translation provided to me. However all final decisions (for better or worse – which is for the reader to decide) in this translation are mine alone. 

[1] “perdu” – can also be “lost”
[2] “il faut se fatiguer salement” – literally “must exhaust yourself badly/messily”
[3] “les pancartes de la voie publique” – literally “signs of the highway”
[4] “rue des Volontaires” – a street in the 15th arrondissement of Paris
[5] “rue des Fillettes” – a street in the 18th arrondissement of Paris
[6] “rue du Rendez-Vous” – a street in the 12th arrondissement of Paris
[7] There is a pun here that cannot be translated. “Quai des Orfèvres” is the address of the Parisian police headquarters (on the Île de la Cité), and in the phrase for job centre (”bureau de placement gratuit”) the word “placement” is a French slang term for being arrested.
[8] “rue du Soleil” – a street in the 20th arrondissement of Paris
[9] “mappemonde” – literally “globe”
[10] “armés de tout le prestige” – literally “armed/charged with all the glamour”
[11] “cette vision demeure fragmentaire” – literally “this view remains [a] fraction”
[12] “Il faut la chercher” – literally “It is necessary to search for it”. But what is the “la”/”it”? It is the view (”vision”) – however the context makes it clear that this is not the partial view described in [11], hence I have used the clarifying phrase “a full view”.
[13] “images-clefs” – literally “key-images”
[14] “mort dès à present” – literally “dead as from now”
[15] “mouvants” – literally “moving” or “shifting”, but in this context “changing” seems most appropriate
[16] “L’homme des villes” – literally “The man of the cities”
[17] “Le dernier état de la technique” – literally “the latest state/condition of technology”
[18] “influentielle” – in this context this emphasises the influence on the desires/emotions, so the word “affective” has been used
[18] “la courbe éternelle” – literally “the eternal curve/bend”
[19] “amusé” – literally “amused” or “entertained”
[20] “tout-à-le” not included
[21] “comme un” – literally “as one”, but English grammar requires a different construct
[22] “protestation” – literally “protest”, but in English this doesn’t get across the inherent conflict 
[23] “étroitement mêlé au” – literally “closely combined/blended with”
[24] “peu nous importe” – literally “it doesn’t matter to us”
[25] “restera” – literally “will remain”
[26] “étate d’âme” – literally “qualms/hestitation”
[27] “Nous ne pouvons aujourd’hui que méprise” – literally “We can today only despise”
[28] “maquettes” – literally “models/first drafts” 
[29] “Trompe-l’œil – “French for ‘deceive the eye’, is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions.” (From Wikipedia)
[30] the “Jardin des Plantes” is the Paris botanical gardens on the city’s right bank
[31] “en chômage” – literally “in unemployment”. In Greek Mythology Ariadne is known as the “Mistress of the Labyrinth”.
[32] “ouvertures” – literally “openings” or “windows”
[33] word omitted: “catalogués” – “labelled” or “classed”
[34] “trous” – literally “holes”, slang term for dump, grave, prison
[35] “violemment” – literally “violently”
[36] “lors de l’inévitable usure des gestes” – literally “during the inevitable erosion of gestures/actions
[37] “Pourtant il ne s’agit que de simples jeux d’argent” – literally “Yet it is only a matter of simple gambling”