Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Architecture and Global Tourist Circuits
Architecture, as an image, represents a physical place, yet there is a disparity between what message the image conveys and what the experience is.  Cities and governments are relying on “flagship” projects to convey messages about they city, nation, or international relationships, particularly through global tourism and industry.  In these exceptions, global tourist circuits provide a highly manufactured image of place and experience.  What is architecture that conveys approved political messages, some highly manufactured and false, but also subverts messages to bring to light a true representation of a city and government?  What is an architect’s role in shaping the message and delivery method?  

global tourist circuits
physical sites in global cities

The idea of a global tourist circuit exists at multiple scales across the globe.  One such scale is that of the international circuit, the destinations tourists choose to visit.  The other scale operates within that of a city, with particular districts being of “worthy” investigation for touristic experiences.  The last is that of the urban experience, which uses architecture to create sites of local interest.  All of these experiences, however, are framed by a political, economic, and governmental orchestration.  

Global tourist circuits are carefully orchestrated sequences that occur in specific territories, which most often, are exceptions from the norm of a particular country.  These tourist areas become foreigner enclaves, and in doing, prevent any true understanding of the city, a a false mask over the real.  Most often, only through misadventure or a strong will can one break away from the overbearing power of the framed touristic narrative.  This is driven by a number of reasons, particularly country “image” or “impression,” traveler safety, and economics.  A tourists experience of the city is promoted and reinforced by that city or nation, leaving the tourist with a certain impression of the city, which is valuable for a city’s “reputation.”  

Of all my particular travel experiences, moments of falsehood become intertwined with authenticity, until one no longer understands the true nature of the “place.”  Cities, particularly the global ones, protect one from experiencing any territory that supports the system, such as factories, powerplants, and waste facilities, and any oppressions, such as labor disadvantagements, required to keep the system in operation, which is particularly evident in newly emerging economies.

My particular interest in global tourist circuits relates to a few personal experiences I have had while traveling.  The first is that of the Chinese “factory” tours, which one knows are not even miniature versions of the real things (with the real somehow escaping our view at all times).  They are ceramic factories, weaving places, etc, but with only 8 workers, a completely “manufactured” experience.  Other places, such as franchise worlds, become duplicated no matter where one travels, the barrage of Gucci and Luis Vutton making their long legged stride through the city in similar fashion in the likes of Paris, Rome, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Mexico City, among others.  

With the advent of  “flagship” buildings, architects have been thrust into the realm of global tourism, capital, marketing, and image.  Their works rarely live as physical objects alone but become part of media and marketing campaigns.  To what extent is the architectural object reduced to an aesthetic attraction easily reproducible in media, magazines, and the internet?  To what extent does the physical object break from this reduced imagery, and offer the visitor a more physical, tactile, and multiplicitious experience, one that primarily defies its own imaging. Can architecture be a critique of the highly ordered and controlled touristic experience and enable a more accurate, messy, and lively experience of the city?  Can it break from the status of “icon” of a city, and instead, provide for an experience that “embodies” the city?

Relevant Legal Instruments that Govern:
Social and Legislative Frameworks

Government/Economic Conditions:
Need of revenue and revitalization generated by unique architectural or urban product

Everyday Uses/Misuses:
Deceivingly different than expected/how to understand the site upon arrival.
(thought of/image versus perceived/experience)  

Additional Categories/Qualifiers:

Developed/Inherent Disbalances:
Looking for power differentials:  

Who are the existing players?:
Nations, city/local governments, global tourists
What are the existing relationships between players? (circumvent, emphasize, rectify, qualify relationships?):
Nations and cities use architecture as a means of enticement, persuasion, and deception to promote a city “brand,” architecture is reduced to a commodity where its physicality is less important than its own “image-ability.”

Potential Case Studies (Concentrate on Architecture)

Case Studies:
Tourism/Exhibit -  (Shanghai Exposition - image of city)
Tourism/Spectacle - Brazil, Barcelona, China (Olympic Games - image of country)
Tourism/Culture - Guggenheim Bilbao (Museum/City Image)

Architecture and Tourism:
“Architecture and Tourism: Perception, Performance, and Place”  by Medina Lasansky
“City Tourism: National Capital Perspectives” by R. Maitland
“Iconic Architecture and the Culture-Ideology of Consumerism”  by Leslie Sklair
“Locating Cities in Global Circuits”  by Saskia Sassen
“Promoting Tourism Destination Image” by Rovert Govers
“Tourism Thrust:  by Gurmeet Kaur, Yvonne Chong.
Tourism Urbanization
Turkeys’s ancient city seeks place on global tourist circuit  by Daniel Madden

Architecture and Global Identity:
“Brand Identity: by Glen Haussman
“European Identity” and Architecture
“Urbanism Imported or Exported”

1 comment:

  1. You have three somewhat interrelated starts here, so I will comment on this one first, but I will bring in some of the others…

    One bone I would like to pick with you right off the bat is that your proposal, regardless of direction, seems predicated on the self-interest of the architect. If I assume you mean a disciplinary interest, I can perhaps buy in, but this needs to be more explicitly stated (the projects/trajectories/goals of the discipline are being addressed). This is not to say that the work should not serve to satisfy personal goals, passions, predilections, etc. Rather, your personal goals may not be of any import to any receiving audience and therefore will likely remain undercover.

    In fact, you mention a series of projects – all which have actual clients. Yes, the architect is perhaps given a broader role (???) but all are working “for” some entity. Figuring out the players (“clients” and “publics”) helps direct the work and hone the agency of the architect – do not stay away from “them”, seek “them”, invent “them”.

    The one proposal you put forth that has a more directed subject is #2 – (global) tourism. This topic seems, in a way, more suited for digital explorations through something like a website. If however, you think of an urban tourist center to take on the “messier” touristic (and by this I read “more authentic”) experience you can start to make inroads on an architectural project. I would warn you however that the subject of authenticity is in itself messy. Perhaps the best written discourse of this continues to be Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art …” My thought would be that rather than aiming for a “more authentic” experience, your project could instead work on the nature of the constructed experience – by exposing the mechanisms of tourism – the “places” selected/curated could be pointed as you mentioned, the architecture could question things like “proper” or “good” views, easy boundaries or overall conceptualizations of a “city”…

    An alternate project could be for an onsite visitor’s center, for one of these territories you were describing. Thom Moran ran a Wallenberg studio on this a few years ago called Visitor Center. That studio project looked at the history of the visitor centers (think of our National parks – which were really just wilderness that remained unvisited and unproductive commercially/culturally until the visitor center claimed its visibility…) and critiqued the subjects and nature of the visitation itself. It was fascinating…

    By the way, check out Dean MacCannell's book "The Tourist: a new theory of the leisure class," a classic on the subject.