The Square Kilometre: The Naked House

Gary Boyd (Editor), Greg Keeffe (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportBook


How do we see the city, the most complex thing man has designed? We daily navigate the topology of the city, as if we know and own it but as Antoine de Saint Exupery wrote, much of ‘... what is essential, is invisible to the eye’. Once, much of what is hidden was under our feet: sewers, pipes and power-cables, but now there are virtual systems too, owing through the air unseen.

For Guy Debord and the Situationists, the Naked City was an illustration of psycho-geography, that technique of drifting around urban form in such a way as to find in and attribute significances to otherwise hidden moments and connections. But whereas the Situationists’ Naked City drew upon the experience of a protagonist in urban space, this book closely examines more abstract spaces, the hidden landscapes of ordinary services that allow the city to operate and reproduce itself on a daily basis. Spaces that generally cannot be experienced themselves but conversely continually articulate our experience of everyday life. What becomes immediately clear is that the city has no definitive beginning or end but consists of a series of nodes and connections that are simultaneously urban and rural; local, national and international; and ultimately global. Within this space of flows entities come and go in constant motion – waste-products are off-shored to China; gas flows inwards from Norway, Russia and beyond; data is trafficked via data-centres to California and back; things grow and are prevented from growing; goods and people circulate; water is purified, chlorinated and drained; and electricity flows without apparent reference to its origins in either fossil or renewable fuels. In a square kilometre of Belfast there exists the whole world.

To paraphrase Reyner Banham, if a home is not a house, a building is not a building and a city is not a city. All are dense systems of aligned networks made manifest in physical form. Digitisation and the information revolution has made the abstract and the invisible evermore a critical site in the production of real physical architecture. If for the Situationists the city was a confrontation between the psycho and the spatial, in the Naked City of now, in the space of flows that transcends all objects and experiences, there are other opportunities for architecture to both understand and act: to connect, to close loops and cycles, to conflate energy with urban systems, to synthesise and speculate on the design of the future.
Perhaps architecture has never been as solid nor as stolid as we thought, it’s built on shifting sands that never rest and are becoming more restless.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBelfast
PublisherQueen's Architectural Press
Number of pages450
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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