Architecture & Vertigo: States of Suspension in the Vertical City
In recent years, the growth of vertical cities around the world has been increasingly associated with the pursuit of dizzying experiences that reflect, and respond to, different states of suspension. Examples abound in contemporary high-rise architecture: the observation decks of American skyscrapers such as Chicago’s Hancock Centre and the Willis (Sears) Tower, for example, have been retrofitted with overhanging ledges that invite an immersive experience of the urban abyss. A similar intent to augment the traditional panoramic view with a visceral bodily sensation also underlies the restyling of historical monuments such as the Eiffel Tower and London’s Tower Bridge with vertiginous glass floors.
While urban towers are rebranded as 'machines for thrilling', at the same time a generation of daredevil explorers – also known as rooftoppers or skywalkers – have been climbing up the city’s summits in order to capture unprecedented views from on high. The recent trend of ‘vertigo-inducing photography’ reveals a desire to reclaim the city’s uppermost vantage points, but also signals a fundamental link between these dangerous (and often illicit) spatial practices and the cultures of representation spawned by social media. Furthermore, if we consider funambulism as the vertigo-defying practice par excellence, we can obverve how the vertical city has become not only a favourite stage – for high-wire walkers such as Philippe Petit and Didier Pasquette – but also the site of interactive media performances, as in the recent stunts of Nik Wallenda where suspense and suspension are conflated into a live streaming event. Can we interpret these various urban practices as symptoms of an emerging culture of vertigo? And how can we begin to make sense of it?
Davide Deriu is Senior Lecturer in Architecture at the University of Westminster, and is currently leading the Vertigo in the City project. His main research interests lie at the intersection between spatial and visual culture, with a particular focus on representations of the modern city. After taking his PhD at The Bartlett (UCL), he was awarded post-doctoral fellowships from the AHRC, Yale University’s Paul Mellon Centre, and the Canadian Centre for Architecture, where he also curated the 2011 exhibition ‘Modernism in Miniature: Points of View’. Davide’s work spans a wide range of subjects, from underground space to aerial visuality, and has been published in periodicals, such as Architectural Theory Review and The Journal of Architecture, as well as numerous books including Forty Ways to Think about Architecture (Wiley, 2014), Camera Constructs (Ashgate, 2012), and The Image and the Witness (Wallflower 2007). He co-edited the volume Emerging Landscapes: Between Production and Representation (Ashgate, 2014), and is a founding editor of Architectural Histories: The Open Access Journal of the EAHN (European Architectural History Network).