My series "Dirty Urban Landscapes" celebrates the city as a chaotic, anarchic palimpsest of different historical and cultural layers and signs.
Sigmund Freud was the first who used the metaphor of the urban palimpsest to describe the structure of the human unconscious in "Civilization and Its Discontents". He recognized a similarity between the layered construction of cities, made of gradual additions and erasures, and the human psyche:
"Suppose that Rome is not a human habitation but a psychical entity with a similarly long and copious past - an entity, that is to say, in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the latest one [...]".
In this passage, he compares the layered construction of Rome through history with the behavior of the human brain, which floats amidst layers of memories and amnesia.
Cities are palimpsests "where traces of heterogeneous times accumulate", and the architecture of the city "comes to be the testimony par excellence of daily life, because in its fixity the vicissitudes of humankind are registered throughout time". The architecture of the city is an open-air archive of collective and personal memories, as Aldo Rossi poetically argued in the introduction of its "The Architecture of the city":
"Architecture, attesting to the tastes and attitudes of generations, to public events and private tragedies, to new and old facts, is the fixed stage for human events [...] One need only look at the layers of the city that archaeologists show us; they appear as a primordial and eternal fabric of life, an immutable pattern. Anyone who remembers European cities after the bombing of the last war retains an image of disembowelled houses where, amid the rubble, fragments of familiar places remained standing, with their colours of faded wallpaper, laundry hanging suspended in the air, barking dogs - the untidy intimacy of places.And always we could see the house of our childhood, strangely aged, present in the flux of the city."
© 2017 Alessandro Busà
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