Nomadic Thoughts, by Aarden Hank – September 1992


Downtown LA in the distance.  Building and highway, remotely proximate. What to do with leftovers – with outdated visions of enduring urban form?

Criteria used to evaluate cities, urban values, are predicated on the spatial structure of traditional urban form: cities built of proximities. Old cities were concentrations. Densification occurred through time in confined and bounded situations; movements across great distances were rare; settlements were located on stable ground. The spatial structure of the new city is different. New cities expand according to other logics. They grow in space, ignoring time. Yet distances are effectively cancelled out by flexible capital and advanced technologies that reduce the need for manifest physical adjacencies. As the new city eschews old urban visions, we are left with leftovers.

In failing to admit the persistence of physical form and the duration of lived time, recent urban theories that strive to account for the spatial effects of technology and offer new ways to conceptualize the city pose a double challenge. On the one hand, while information now travels at the speed of light and sound; physical infrastructure still remains relatively static. Thus, despite the speed of change prompted by techno-space, we must still account for the perseverance of urban form, the slow duration of the growth and decay of built environments. We must account for the leftovers. On the other hand, we must admit the observation that space/time compression radically alters our experience of the city, rendering our system of old city values inapplicable as measures of new urban forms. We must begin to confront the new city’s capacity for infinite expansion. To loosen the grip of urban ideals predicated on proximities and stable ground, an alternative urban vision is needed: imagine urban ground as mobile ground, as territory in flux, as positioning in the face of constant repositioning.

Travelling west, outside Riverside, destination LA. Heading east commuters in arrested motion. Why is it called rush hour?

Rush hour is time spent traversing the new city – traversing mobile ground. Travel, marked by points left behind, is a crossing of continual space, motion reasserting distance through time. But rush hour, fighting distances, does not belong to travel time. The space of commutation is, instead, continuous. Commuting differs from travel in that it entails an exchange without remainder. In math, the property of commutation states nothing is left over or behind. During rush hour, the CB, radio, cellular phone, and fax insure that the commuter’s exchange of place for place occurs in an unbroken space where in between is never detached from here or there. In new cities, the commuter expends effort in motion between different places that are remotely proximate in one expansive space. Commutations span an urban territory that spins outward across space. This is because unlike old cities, where one place could accommodate diverse co-present space, new cities are made of multiple spaces that cannot occupy the same place.

In rush hour, measurable distances are crossed by physical bodies in persistent time: an enduring account of mobile ground. Neither here nor there, this ground is a locus of transition and challenge. of movement and change: an overloaded gap. It is a space of progression, of slippage. And constant revaluation rather than an object or place defined by arrival. Settlement or commodification. Rush hour is the reminder that even cities in motion remain cities in time. The riddle of the arrested speed of rush hour is solved by recognizing that simultaneous movements cancel each other out. When moving bodies cross mobile ground, distance can no longer be measured according to stable points. Traversing the new city, motion and stasis become, paradoxically, one and the same. Rush hour: time when motion stabilizes space.


1 The Nomad Project is the provisional title of a body of work about architecture in motion. It is prompted by a ubiquitous condition – the mobility of modern life, especially American life. In part, it denotes a collection of slides of overlooked sites (unsightly sites) taken from cars, planes, trains. Neither fixed nor stationary, the project is a fabrication of observations occasioned by movement and dedicated to keeping architectural thought in motion. It is an account of transitional territory (mobile ground), a roving investigation.

Aarden Hank

Rush Hour

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