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In July 1957 a group of avant-garde artists met in a remote bar in Alba (Italy) and inaugurated the Situationist international movement. This group, brought together activist, artist and writers from all over western Europe during the 1950s and 1960s in an attempt to contest the changing conditions of the post-war world and ultimately to bring about revolution.
This band of people (including personalities as Guy Debord, which was the prominent member of the group, the theorist Raoul Vaneigem, the Dutch painter Constant Nieuwenhuys, the Italo-Scottish writer Alexander Trocchi, the English artist Ralph Rumney) produce the Internationale Situationniste journal and a range of works, including painting, graphics, films, models and plans as well as interventions in cultural and political arenas through events, political agitations and situations with the purpose of a radical political action based on changing cities and social spaces. For them urbanism was not reducible to planning but incorporated political questions about everyday life and urban culture. The Situationists critiqued the alienating and image-saturated conditions of the post-war era, in particular the modernism movement, based on the idea of functionalism, where the design was dominated by the needs of industry and mass production. "The construction of situations" became the centre to develop new forms of art and politics. This was based on breaking down artistic specialism and consciously and collectively creating moments and setting of everyday life.
Situationists saw cities as key sites in the reproduction of social relationship of domination, as spaces of alienation and control. But at the same time they recognised the possibilities of transforming the cities as potential realms of freedom, places where people could transcend alienation and create spaces defined by their own needs and desire, which could be able to let them realise their true selves as living subjects. This idea might be connect to the purpose of the early modern movement architects and planners to transform capitalist urbanisation and to introduce better urban features. However their commitment to change urbanism as part of a revolutionary political project contrasted drastically with the precious approaches of the modern movement and in particular with Le Corbusier projects and theories. The main concept behind the ideas of modern movements was based on the creation of an urban rational and functional order, focused on maximising the needs of industry and mass production with an emphasis on the concept of permanence. The Situationist, instead, disagreed on this, they believed on a "temporal fixation of cities" and focused on a permanent transformation, an accelerated movement of the abandonment and reconstruction of the city in temporal and at time spatial terms. They also affirmed that they were opposed to the fixation of people at specific points of the city and that their main purpose was the attempt of realise a civilization based on the leisure and play. (david Pinder).
Situationist defined the programme with the introduction of the tem "Unitarian Urbanism" (mentioned for the first time by Chtcheglov in 1958), which was not intended as a doctrine of urbanism but, instead as critic of urbanism. Unitarian Urbanism was meant to embody dynamic actions, a process in continuous evolution, concerned with ambiences and situations, representing the outcome of people desire and actions, rejecting the utilitarian logic of the consumer society, where freedom and play would have a central role. Unitarian Urbanism was also defined by Debord and Constant in the "Declaration of Amsterdam" (1958) as "the uninterrupted complex activity through which man's environment is consciously recreated according to progressive plans in all domains". Unitary urbanism needed to be realise by the combined efforts of all creative personalities and not produced by the activities of individual artists in the way to generate a collective creativity of a completely new kind.
The cities of the future were seen by the Situationist as an ongoing experiment in new forms of behaviour, where the architectural forms would had been stimulated by symbols and emotions. The inhabitant's main activity was imagined as a constant loitering and drifting in the way to achieve the disruption of the banality and create a possibility for a freedom play.
The practice of this aimless drifting (derive') was introduced by Guy Debord, in response to his critic of the contemporary society as organised on the principle of spectacle. He sustained that people were living in an image-saturate world, where the alienation from labour, surroundings and desire was total. The inhabitants of cities were more like spectators then active agents, occupying roles assigned to them by others in a state of passive contemplation. This theory of the spectacle has a connection with some concepts of the Western Marxism, which has been a theoretical and political framework for the whole situationist International group. Debord also provide instruction to practising a derive' properly, specifying that "it should take a fixed amount of time and involve a small group of people whose path is determined by a combination of system and randomness. The aim is move through the city without purpose, provoking unexpected occurrences and encounters" ( cit. Constant and Debord decalaration of Amsterdam)
The situationists adopted the derive' technique of traversing frequently changing urban environments as an instrument for investigating the "psycogeography" of cities. Psycogeography was defined as a way of expoloration the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, directed to investigate diverse ambient and zones of the cities, and to attend to the relationship between social spaces and mental spaces and between urbanism and behaviour. (David Pinder ref). Psycogeography led to the possibility of realise map of the cities indicating the constant currents, fixed points and vortices by which urban environments influence the emotions of passerby and inhabitants trough the practice of derive'.
The Situationsist International activities and production attempt to resist to the norms of capitalist society, to struggle against modernist planners and architects and to explore the possibilities that lay hidden within existing cities through the development of alternative geographical practices.
A specific response to the purpose of Situationist movement was Constant New Babylon, where the Dutch painter generates a model of how the world would look after the realization of the Unitarian Urbanism.
CONSTANT NEW BABYLON