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The Situationists And The Square Des Missions Etrangeres

Part 1 Dissertation 2001
Greg Willis
University of Cambridge Cambridge UK
Popular interest in the Situationist International (SI) appears to be a cyclical phenomenon. The twentieth anniversary of the unrest in Paris during May 1968, the ‘event’ with which the Situationist International is most infamously
associated, precipitated a wave of nostalgia, ironically fuelled by the media. Critical reassessment of the movement and its relevance to contemporary architecture was varied. Some deemed the successful dissemination of their creative tactics to be an ironic failure, with the socially and politically targeted now brandishing the ‘artistic’ armoury
that was once used against them. For others, here was the irresistible possibility of, ‘a way out of the profession’s current crisis of belief,’ a chance of redemption amid recession, an opportunity to once again gaze upon, ‘the
liberating and life-giving potential of our places of work and play.’ (Ross Miller, Progressive Architecture, Sep. 1991).

Post recession, new possibilities were offered as to the worth and relevance of the SI in the arena of contemporary architectural criticism. Once again the Situationists enjoyed a revival of interest, this time on the back of an exhibition of work by the Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuys in 1998, some thirty years after the Paris uprising. Yet although the Situationists, and their ideas, are again considered to be, ‘super-hip and back in vogue,’ (Raymund Ryan, Blueprint, Jan. 1999), and thus of course also commercial, the question remains, why? Whilst the intention is neither to explicitly undertake an explanation of such a phenomenon, nor is it to uncover specific relevance for architects today, it is however, the intention to explore the city as appropriated and represented by the Situationists, by ultimately asking, was the Square des Missions Étrangères in Paris a true embodiment of ‘Situationist space’? Such a problem is hopelessly flawed with complexity, contradiction and uncertainty. However, it is hoped that through the investigation of such a potent urban identity, a little of the complexity, contradiction and uncertainty inherent in the foundations of the Situationist movement may be revealed, and enjoyed.

Greg Willis

2001
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