Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Details: Stamp Machines and foot-printed map (Rotterdam Central Station)

Genpei Akasegawa (RIP) is a major inspiration for this blog.  In the mid 80s, he and several other Japanese architects/artists founded the Roadway Observation (RoJo) Society. This group produced tremendous fieldwork on observations and recordings of objects in the urban environments, objects that are often otherwise overlooked and ignored. I think the keyword is objects. The group was not primarily interested in contexts or in the broader social/cultural structures in which these objects existed. They simply took pleasure in admiring the details of the littlest things. Another way to describe their practice was 'Street Detailing'. 

I'm considering copying/echoing some of this group's methodologies in Rotterdam. I want to go hunt for Genpei Akasegawa's Thomassons, and I want to imitate Joji Hayashi's process of observing and typifying manhole covers. Before I do any of that, I thought I would do smaller spontaneous sessions to test the waters. The other night I tried to perform some detailing in Rotterdam Central Station. I'll talk about some objects I saw.


Two stempelautomaten, or 'stamp machines', are located outside the main Metro entrance in Rotterdam's Central Station. If you were living in the Netherlands before 2010 or so, you might remember that before the OV Chipkaart system was introduced, we used paper tickets for public transport, and the tickets had to be stamped by the stempelautomaat to be validated.  These yellow porters were made figures of authority. It was only with their approval that we were allowed to travel. It was kind of like going through customs at the boarder and needing to have your passport stamped by some bureaucrat. In truth, machines of this nature can be the perfect bureaucrat. 

Alas, the glory days of the yellow bureaucrats had passed, the paper tickets are now completely phased out (since July 2014), and the stamp machines are put out of work. If an innovative repurposing does not come into the picture soon, these machines are also practically put on death row. Currently they are tied up to metal poles in this busy transit spot for (shameful) public display of a medieval fashion, made examples of as bureaucratic figures from a bygone era who had become useless and obsolete. The two machines, numbered 15 and 16, are kept alive for now, as they're still each hooked into the power supply. I don't know when they will finally be disposed, but you can drop by and offer them some consolation before it's too late. Maybe even give them a hug. It really helps to get a hug when you're feeling useless, no?


These are the granite stairs at the bottom of the metro exit toward the bus stations in Rotterdam Central. At the lowest stair there is a strip of exposed cement. I'm not sure what's the functionality of this design but I've seen it on several of these granite stairs in Central Station. I would like to figure  out their original purpose soon.

Anyways I paid specific attention to the ones in the picture because they are imprinted with distinguishing patterns. These were probably footprints on wet cement. But they look like maps of some areas in Rotterdam's inner city (near the river). It is most likely a random pattern and this map-look is a beautiful illusion. But let's envision alternative scenarios where it is not:

What if... the inner city map is patternised and strategically used as decoration around the exits of public transport stations? 

What if... special shoes were issued for those (cement pourers) employed by the municipality, shoes that have the city map engraved onto their soles? And extending this shoe idea, what if your footprint actually prints something meaningful, and by simply walking about you are taking your city to every place you've been to? People had tried to put maps on shoes, but I haven't seen anyone try to put maps under them. Those would be the perfect shoes to express someone's emotional connection to a specific city. Imagine that wherever you walk to in the world, you are still always walking on the streets of your hometown...

Maps can be the best kind of summary of how a city physically IS. It is, then, extremely suitable to use this visual summary for symbolic purposes. Appropriating maps into usable symbols and patterns is, I think, a crucial design task for every city and even every city district.

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