The Iconic and the Charged Field

By Christoph Lueder and Ed Wall.

Published by Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies

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The iconic is a quality more often ascribed to objects than to fields; in an urban context the term is used to describe buildings, which act as landmarks and, by assisting orientation and navigation in the city, guide its flows. Such landmarks are identified with, and used as symbolic representations of the city to both visitors and inhabitants.
The iconic potential of the field has not yet been exploited to the same degree. However, conceptual representations, such as the psychogeographic maps of Paris conceived by Guy Debord and Asger Jorn in 1956-7, as well as the quotidian presence of the London Tube map, its design originally proposed by Harry Beck in 1931, have achieved iconic status. Both maps attempt to visualize, interpret and utilize urban connectivity and flows.

This paper seeks to broaden and deepen an understanding of the iconic qualities of the London Tube map and its operation as a navigational aid as well as conceptual device framing public perception of London. We will situate the London Tube map in the context of it’s own history of inception and interpretation, of Debord and Jorn’s maps of Paris, Kevin Lynch’s research on the mental image of cities, and a series of interviews conducted in London by the authors, asking participants to describe and sketch their mental image of above-ground and underground London.

On the basis of these critical readings, we argue that the London Tube map operates on its users as an iconic, but also as a charged field. It is charged by the overt and implied agenda of its authors, by the history of its evolution and its adaptation to a growing network carried out by multiple authors in a negotiated and sometimes public process, and by the memories and spatial practices it is associated with by its users.

Keywords: Iconic, Map, Charged, Field, Urbanism, London, Tube, Underground, Harry Beck, Kevin Lynch, Guy Debord, Asger Jorn, Situationism

Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp.85-102. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.655MB).

Christoph Lueder

Principal Lecturer, Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, Kingston University, London, UK

Manifold notions and implications of the diagram as a thinking tool are at the core of my research interests. A published paper on “Diagrams of Intensive and Extensive Space” collates recent thoughts and explorations. This pursuit has informed competition entries and projects developed in practice. Themes such as “continuity”, “patterns” and “vectors”, have been used as vehicles for investigation. I have led a research project at the ETH Zurich, examining the Limmat valley near Zurich, which brought the theme of “continuity” to an urban scale, and involved members of local communities and their political representatives. Published as: Dynamische Instrumente für die Peripherie : Schlieren / ZH“, Marc Angélil, Christoph Lueder, Michael Martin, Holger Schurk, Institut für Städtebau (ISB), NSL – Netzwerk Stadt und Landschaft, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, Switzerland Other publication include: “Project : Perform”, edited by Christoph Lueder, School of Architecture and Landscape, Kingston University London, UK, “Diagrams of Intensive and Extensive Space as Discursive Tools”, Proceedings of 2007 International Conference on Architectural Education, China Architecture and Building Press, Beijing, China.

Ed Wall

Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, Kingston University, Kingston University, London, UK

Through combining research, teaching and practice I have pursued a strong direction in the social and environmental aspects of urban planning, design and development. This has resulted in several built, exhibited, and published projects. Guest Professor at Politecnico di Milano (DIAP) PhD/Masters programme: “Architettura del paesaggio e del territorio” Co-authored book: “Basics Landscape Architecture: Urban Design” by AVA Publishing, 2009, Guest Professor at Architecture International Seminar in Cadiz: “Rehabilitation of urban edges and sustainability of the identity”, Co-presenting paper at ECLAS Conference (European Council of Landscape Architecture Schools): “Informality in the derelict public spaces of the city”, London Festival of Architecture - Initiated and managed a project called Informal Public (2008). This research based project focused on the social sustainability of public and private space regeneration in the Elephant & Castle area of London.