plastiCities – a symposium jointly hosted by occursus and the School of Geography at the University of Sheffield


Tuesday June 3rd 2014, 10am-5pm

G03, Jessop West, 1 Upper Hanover Street, University of Sheffield

Scientific discourses on neuroplasticity abound with metaphors both of (neuronal) landscapes and (cortical) ‘real estate’. This cutting-edge symposium brings together speakers from across the disciplines to explore the ways in which recent advances in the understanding of neuroplasticity might be used to construct new models for negotiating urban landscapes and temporalities. Our discussions will include a consideration of how brain trauma and cerebral re-organisation can yield new understanding and insight regarding the complexity and resilience of the damaged topographies that punctuate the post-industrial, post-colonial and post-traumatic cityscape. Thinking through the sculptural dynamic of cerebral morphology will also open up a debate concerning the ways in which critical methodologies from the arts might find their place in the sculpting of new forms of stability within the contemporary built environment, participating in the ‘real life’ making of cities, at both grass roots and policy level. This symposium is open to all and will feature a digital exhibition by Stuart Wilson.

Speakers include Professor John Barrett, Luke Bennett, Dr Amanda Crawley Jackson,Professor Martin Jones, Chris Leffler, Sara Parratt-Halbert, Dr Tom Stafford, Dr Adam Stansbie, Dr Stuart Wilson

The event, which is part of the In the City programme organised by the Faculty of Arts at the University of Sheffield,  is jointly hosted by occursus and the School of Geography.

Furnace Park, which grew from the occursus project, is an associate pilot of the EU-funded SEEDS project and the symposium will include a presentation by the project manager, Sara Parratt-Halbert.

To reserve a free place, please visit our eventbrite page

The JR James Archive at the University of Sheffield

An amazing archive, recently digitised and made freely available online by the University of Sheffield.

This website hosts the photos, maps, plans and images of the JR James archive, digitised in the summer of 2013 by Philip Brown and Joseph Carr – MPlan graduates of the Department of Town and Regional Planning at the University of Sheffield. The project was funded by the University of Sheffield Alumni Fund and directed by Alasdair Rae, an academic in the Department of Town and Regional Planning.

JR ‘Jimmy’ James was Professor of Town and Regional Planning at Sheffield for several years before his untimely death in 1980. Prior to that he was the Chief Planner at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. He left to the Department his large collection of fascinating planning-related photos, maps and plans spanning many decades.


Consult the archive here:

The rebuilding of Paris and its reflection in works by Zola, Verne and Hugo

Décombres de l’avenir et projets rudéraux : les métamorphoses de Paris chez Verne, Hugo et Zola

Claudia Bouliane’s recently published MA dissertation is available online as a PDF.

The abstract is as follows :

Between 1853 and 1870, many areas of the French capital are torn down to allow the establishment of new avenues by Baron Haussmann, Paris’ prefect under Napoleon III. These major urban projects have struck the social imaginary and became an object of fascination for literature. This essay is located on the grounds of sociocriticism and seeks to understand how Verne’s, Hugo’s and Zola’s texts interpret the Paris’ new urban conformation. In Paris au XXe siècle (1863) Jules Verne is planning future destructions and, in turn, imagines the strange constructiveness of residual past. Although in exile, Victor Hugo is very aware of urban and social changes under way. In Paris (1867) his writing works to make compatible the ideas of ruin and progress. Émile Zola with Paris (1898) reflects the contradictions accompanying urban change through medical and organic metaphors close to “the decadence’s spirit” that characterizes the end of the century. In accordance with the aims of the sociocriticism’s approach, the research develops itself from an internal reading of works, drawing on the resources of texts’ analysis, poetics and narratology. The essay also mobilizes diverse works on relations between literature and the city, as well as works of synthesis produced in the fields of general history and of urban planning history.

Guy de Maupassant, Will Self, the Eiffel Tower and the Shard

This morning, BBC Radio 4’s Point of View featured a fascinating disquisition by British novelist Will Self on the state of contemporary urban planning. Opening with Guy de Maupassant’s sardonic reflections on the Eiffel Tower (see below) and the unfettered view afforded by his London home of Renzo Piano’s Shard, Self develops an argument that takes in Ebenezer Howard’s garden cities, Le Corbusian modernism and Owen Hatherley’s perspicacious critique of the boosterist architecture that produces our cities’ dazzling skylines and has the demerit of functioning as both icon and logo.

You can listen to the podcast of Self’s talk here.

Source :
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

J’ai quitté Paris et même la France, parce que la tour Eiffel finissait par m’ennuyer trop.

Non seulement on la voyait de partout, mais on la trouvait partout, faite de toutes les matières connues, exposée à toutes les vitres, cauchemar inévitable et torturant. Ce n’est pas elle uniquement d’ailleurs qui m’a donné une irrésistible envie de vivre seul pendant quelque temps, mais tout ce qu’on a fait autour d’elle, dedans, dessus, aux environs.

Comment tous les journaux vraiment ont-ils osé nous parler d’architecture nouvelle à propos de cette carcasse métallique, car l’architecture, le plus incompris et le plus oublié des arts aujourd’hui, en est peut-être aussi le plus esthétique, le plus mystérieux et le plus nourri d’idées ? Il a eu ce privilège à travers les siècles de symboliser pour ainsi dire chaque époque, de résumer, par un très petit nombre de monuments typiques, la manière de penser, de sentir et de rêver d’une race et d’une civilisation. Quelques temples et quelques églises, quelques palais et quelques châteaux contiennent à peu près toute l’histoire de l’art à travers le monde, expriment à nos yeux mieux que des livres, par l’harmonie des lignes et le charme de l’ornementation, toute la grâce et la grandeur d’une époque.

Mais je me demande ce qu’on conclura de notre génération si quelque prochaine émeute ne déboulonne pas cette haute et maigre pyramide d’échelles de fer, squelette disgracieux et géant, dont la base semble faite pour porter un formidable monument de Cyclopes et qui avorte en un ridicule et mince profil de cheminée d’usine.

Guy de Maupassant, La Vie Errante (1890)

I left Paris and even France because in the end, the Eiffel Tower annoyed me too much. Not only could you see it from wherever you went in the city, but you also found it everywhere, made in every material known to man, on sale in all the shop windows, an unavoidable and agonising nightmare. It wasn’t only the Eiffel Tower, however, that gave me an irresistible desire to live alone for a while, but everything that was done around, inside, above and adjacent to it. Really – how could all the newspapers speak to us of a new architecture in relation to this metallic carcass, because architecture, the least understood and the most forgotten of the arts today is perhaps also the most aesthetic, the most mysterious and the most nourished with ideas. It has had the privilege, across the centuries, of symbolizing as it were each age, of summarizing in a very small number of typical monuments a race and a civilisation’s way of thinking, feeling and dreaming. A few temples and churches, palaces and châteaux contain more or less the world’s entire history of art, and express visually, better than books, through the harmony of lines and the charm of ornamentation all the grace and grandeur of an epoch.

But I wonder what will be concluded of our generation if some future riot does not topple this tall, skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this ungainly, giant skeleton whose base appears designed to carry a formidable monument of the Cyclops and which aborts in a ridiculous, thin profile of a factory chimney.

Guy de Maupassant, The Wandering Life (1890)

Excerpt translated by Amanda Crawley Jackson