• The ragpicker’s topology: Towards a photographic practice for surveying urban character

Brackenbury, Dan, 2023, Thesis, The ragpicker’s topology: Towards a photographic practice for surveying urban character PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This PhD concerns the use of the term ‘character’ in relation to urban landscapes and how this can be captured through the lens of a camera, particularly in sites of renewal. ‘Character’ is a word that describes the way we discern and comprehend places. It appears frequently in landscape policy documents and is often applied broadly to refer to a diversity of issues for consideration in urban sites where change may take place. These include tangible, calculable matters such a topology, land use, pattern and grain, as well as less tangible features such as heritage, memories, associations and feelings.

When places within cities are developed or renewed, they are often observed optically through a range of systematic surveying processes which largely address physical, constructed forms and the ways in which these relate to one another. High-resolution aerial photography is used to assist in this process and can provide sweeping views of urban landscapes in close detail. Conversely, the topographic photographers of the late nineteenth century famously regarded the metropolis as a series of cryptic topographies, which could be understood through the fragmentary perspectives of human beings at street level. In the early 1960s the Townscape pioneer Gordon Cullen developed these ideas by photographically collecting, categorising and analysing our experiences of walking through cities. Cullen created a ‘Casebook’ of tenets for consideration in urban design which, unlike the formal photographic mechanisms that we often apply in site research today, were more concerned with playful explorations into how we perceive cities through everyday incidents and encounters.

This PhD formulates a framework for understanding, analysing and then applying these more personal, ethereal facets of the built environment in photographic site research processes. This is informed by a close reading of the work of lens-based investigators of the urban who have explored the notion of character within the built landscape in a range of ways. The practice-based research synthesises these methods through a photographic enquiry into three related sites of contemporary redevelopment: Mercado de Arroios in Lisbon, Mercado do Bolhão in Porto and Mercado dos Lavradores in Funchal. An extensive survey of these urban markets, involving numerous investigative ‘photo-walks’, took place over a period of three years. The resulting portfolio of images is intended to question how new lens-based methodologies can be used to collate, discuss and substantiate the characteristics of urban places undergoing renewal.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Architecture > K100 Architecture
Additional Information:

A high-fidelity high-resolution (8GB) version of the video file Mise-en-scène do Mercado is securely archived separately and is available to view by request. Please email repository@rca.ac.uk if interested in arranging this.

Uncontrolled Keywords: Urban markets; urban renewal; street photography; urban landscape photography; urban character
Date Deposited: 07 Feb 2023 12:57
Last Modified: 07 Feb 2023 13:01
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/5273
Edit Item (login required) Edit Item (login required)