Symptoms of a Possible Urban Disorder

The first layer of evidence consists of eight images of buildings from the 1960s juxtaposed with standard definitions of the symptoms of psychological disorder. These pairs can be seen as a first, suggestive layer of proof. They are consciously dialectical and ambivalent.

Recognising symptoms in the urban landscape is like a neurosurgeon poking around inside someone‚Äôs head. The city becomes a working mind, and its buildings locations within that mind. In the ‘symptoms’ photographs, the camera seems to have picked up diseased locations, perhaps the site or sites of complexes or neuroses, little knots in the circuitry of mind where sensory inputs, emotions, scraps of stories, ideas have found a focus.

These images suggest that the built environment can be psychoanalysed; in effect, that the city can be treated as a patient. This seems particularly apt for the 20th century, for which it is challenging to imagine that two world wars, the dropping of the first nuclear bombs, and the Holocaust would not elicit a psychological response projected into the built environment.

In the broadest terms, the main psychological effect can be described as a switch from extroversion to introversion. The Modernist ‘death of the street’ and its understanding of the building as an object isolated in space are prime manifestations of this change in attitude. Indeed, a detailed, taxonomic analysis of the city along such lines remains to be done, and would probably make for a more sympathetic reading of the architecture of the time than is now the case. These photographs provide the basis for an analytical taxonomy, as first hinted at by the Italian theorist and architect Also Rossi (Rossi, 1965).