Placing Words: Symbols, Space, and the City

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MIT Press, Aug 26, 2005 - Architecture - 224 pages
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The meaning of a message, says William Mitchell, depends on the context of its reception. "Shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater produces a dramatically different effect from barking the same word to a squad of soldiers with guns," he observes. In Placing Words, Mitchell looks at the ways in which urban spaces and places provide settings for communication and at how they conduct complex flows of information through the twenty-first century city.

Cities participate in the production of meaning by providing places populated with objects for words to refer to. Inscriptions on these objects (labels, billboards, newspapers, graffiti) provide another layer of meaning. And today, the flow of digital information -- from one device to another in the urban scene -- creates a digital network that also exists in physical space. Placing Words examines this emerging system of spaces, flows, and practices in a series of short essays -- snapshots of the city in the twenty-first century.

Mitchell questions the necessity of flashy downtown office towers in an age of corporate Web sites. He casts the shocked-and-awed Baghdad as a contemporary Guernica. He describes architectural makeovers throughout history, listing Le Corbusier's Fab Five Points of difference between new and old architecture, and he discusses the architecture of Manolo Blahniks. He pens an open letter to the Secretary of Defense recommending architectural features to include in torture chambers. He compares Baudelaire, the Parisian flaneur, to Spiderman, the Manhattan traceur. He describes the iPod-like galleries of the renovated MoMA and he recognizes the camera phone as the latest step in a process of image mobilization that began when artists stopped painting on walls and began making pictures on small pieces of wood, canvas, or paper. The endless flow of information, he makes clear, is not only more pervasive and efficient than ever, it is also generating new cultural complexities.


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User Review  - mjgrogan - LibraryThing

A collection of short essays, mostly written as monthly columns for the RIBA Journal, Mitchell here seems to emulate the prose of the late Stephen Jay Gould. His weaving of popular culture and current ... Read full review


1  Do We Still Need Skyscrapers?
2  After 911
3  Poison Ivy
4  The Cobblestones and the Beach
5  Guernica II
6  Beyond the City Limits
7  Palladio in the Piazza
8  Things That Think
19  Gauguins House in Paradise
20  Architectural Principles of the Torture Chamber
21  King of Bling
22  The Theatrics of Terror
23  Crash and Burn
24  The Spiderman Cometh
25  My Two Cents
26  The Munchkin Modulor

9  Twilight at the DriveIn
10  Smackdown In Cyberspace
11  Smelling the Brie
12  An Eye For an Eye
13  What Does a Pixel Want To Be?
14  Elegy for a G4
15  The Wireless Groves
16  Vagabond Shoes
17  Manolos
18  A Neutron Walks Into a Bar
27  Less Is More Is Back
28   Desperate Urbanists
29  Homo Electronicus
30   After the Tsunami
31  Gated Community
32   Camp Cupcake Blues
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