Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Friday, October 16, 2009

Corners in the City

Urban corner. By Myriam B. Mahiques.

¨The next day I decided I’d been drunk, I also decided to free myself of the coin that had so affected me. I looked at it; there was nothing particularly distinctive about it, except those scratches. Burying it in the garden or hiding it in a corner of the library would have been the best thing to do, but I wanted to escape its orbit altogether, and so preferred to lose it. I went neither to the Basilica del Pilar that morning nor to the cemetery; I took a subway to Constitución Station and from Constitución to San Juan and Boedo. On an impulse, I got off at Urquiza; I walked toward the west and south; I turned left and right, with studied randomness, at several corners, and on a street that looked to me like all the others I went into the first tavern I came to, ordered a gin, and paid with the Zahir. I half closed my eyes behind the dark lenses of my spectacles, and managed not to see the numbers on the houses or the name of the street¨. Jorge Luis Borges, El Aleph, 1949

In American colonial cities, the primigenious fabric was a regulatory design, where the forms of open organization dominated semi-rural low density, including home and garden until late SXVII. The house was located indistinctly in the lot as the best place to locate the garden and the henhouse. It is worth noting that while the old maps demarcate the streets, the spatial experience was quite different, since the streets were a geometrical intention in the mud and formed a continuum with public lands and streams. That is, the morphological origin of the block, the grid that architects usually try to defend and reproduce due to its historical character, though it existed only in the old maps.
As the city grows, the planned city according to the Laws of India start shaping the blocks, which in turn make up the corners at street intersections. Street corners is the built expression of the city as a meeting place, a place of superimposing space and conflict. So important is the corner as cross roads, that counts with a precedent in Greek mythology: As Oedipus travels back to Thebes, he arrives at the three roads meet, in Davlia, where he encounters a chariot driven by his unrecognized birth father, King Laius. They fight over who has the right to go first and Oedipus kills Laius in self defense, so fulfilling part of his tragic prophecy. (


Corners are more than buildings angles, they are points of encounter between persons and activities, network of movement, knots of communication flux and interchange.
In neighborhoods, it is not simply an urban topography, but a socialized space through its uses and meanings, articulated and reinforced by means of the interaction of the social ¨esquinero¨ group. We do not notice it in an aerial picture. It is a matter of perception and cultural habits, where activities and people can intermingle with each other. Some extra effort is needed to produce meaning and symbolism between –at least- two fronts.
Urban corners recompose blocks and public spaces. There are two typologies of urban corners. External between streets; and internal, surrounding a plaza. For any resolution, we can recognize a vitalizing principle opposed to the dematerialization that is consequence of the virtual world; it seems there is no need any more to get out of the house to experience contact with people. All this can be obtained through the new technologies, it is so simple to connect with anybody else in Internet…This is an impersonation of experiences and real contact among individuals.

Urban corners have then a spatial, social and psychological sense, in all cities of the world. That is a consequence of its geometrical conception. The corner represents freedom in the complexity of bus stops, subway stops, street vendors, street performers, and whatever activity you can imagine.

Urban corner.

Further readings.

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