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THE THINKBELT: THE UNIVERSITY THAT NEVER WAS | Discover Society
"In this commentary, I revisit an article from New Society which evokes a moment in the development of British higher education in the post-war period but also, I argue, could still illuminate thinking on debates about the roles and responsibilities of universities within their wider social settings. The Potteries Thinkbelt piece, published in 1966, proposes an unbuilt project that today serves as a parable of what higher education did not become, of a path not taken. To contemporary eyes, aspects of the Thinkbelt proposal may seem fantastical; yet, if we can enable what Coleridge named ‘that willing suspension of disbelief’, it could offer us lessons about the relationship between universities and the cities or regions that host them.

The author of the Thinkbelt was Cedric Price, an architect with relatively few realized projects but who, through his teaching roles, writings and published drawings, has nonetheless exerted a deep influence on how leading members of a generation of architects think about architecture, and how their buildings sit within their wider social settings. In the Thinkbelt, Price outlined an ambitious project for a centre of higher education amongst the coal fields of Staffordshire. These pits originally served ceramics factories throughout the region but, by the early 1960s, had fallen into disuse – de-industrialisation came early to the Potteries. The landscape Price wished to regenerate spanned approximately 100 square miles, was triangular in shape, and stretched from Pitts Hill in the North, Madeley at its Western point and Meir to the East, with Stoke and Newcastle-Under-Lyme located at its heart.

The Thinkbelt would connect to outside rail, road and air networks via transfer areas at the points of the triangle. Industrial units at these points offered campus sites that could be reconfigured according to differing uses – so, in addition to public learning spaces, these units would also offer accommodation for visiting students and staff. The transfer sites would be connected together by continuously running railbuses using the disused railway network that previously had connected the pits with the potteries; Price was interested in enhancing the efficacy of the already there. Furthermore, the railbuses themselves could be reconfigured as learning spaces so that teaching might be carried out en route, with fold-out deck units offering more space for larger lectures and talks.

Price envisaged the Thinkbelt as offering education for 20,000 students, following mostly applied curricula in engineering and science subjects. Indeed, the Thinkbelt was an industrial undertaking in large part; its remit included working with regional industries as research and design centres, as well as offering re-training in new industries for local residents whose work in the pits and potteries had disappeared. The Thinkbelt was designed for 20,000 students, but with provision for 40,000 residential units that were flexible in form and adaptable to possible relocation and aggregation; Price wished to see student housing combined with local council tenancies. The four different forms of residential units were crudely named as sprawl, capsule, crate and battery housing, using terminology specifically intended to irritate professional designers.

The Thinkbelt rejected previous and contemporaneous ideas about appropriate university architecture, with Price’s aesthetic citing industrial forms such as the container, rather than what he perceived to be the pretensions of twentieth century university buildings. Typically, he viewed contemporaneous campus designs as aspiring to the medieval form of the castle (ivory towers included), making defensive spaces removed from the rest of their towns. Price made a virtue of his avoidance of the design principles that characterised the university movement in both pre-war and post-war periods. ‘While students’, he wrote in 1970, ‘are at present one of the most mobile social groups of technologically advanced societies the nature of their own particular production plants – schools, colleges and universities, is static, intro-spective, parochial, inflexible and not very useful’ (1).

If Price cared little for university architecture, he cared even less for the principles of university education, taking care to avoid the use of the word in his scheme. Certainly his scheme for such a large cohort of students by contemporaneous standards worked against the exclusivity typical of the sector at that time; his preference for science and engineering spoke to the idea that education should be seen as serving wider societal uses, rather than purely for the fulfilment of individuals from elite social groupings. The Thinkbelt sought to correct an imbalance in the esteem paid to ‘applied’ rather than ‘pure’ knowledge, through an architecture which was functional, flexible and impermanent rather than ornamental, fixed in purpose and inert.

The Thinkbelt was to be a site of learning premised on patterns of mobility, at individual, collective and even infrastructural scales. This mobility, embedded within the physical buildings themselves, spoke to a wider understanding of the word in debates about meritocracy and the opening out of higher education to a part of the population hitherto under-represented. Price’s project was far-sighted in its emphasis on flexibility within the curriculum, planning for access through life-long and part-time learning and hence alive to the needs of student groups that, as Paul Stanistreet has suggested, are often overlooked in contemporary debates. Certainly the Thinkbelt anticipates debates about whom and what higher education is for, pre-dating current arguments about the value of a university degree in terms of the ‘employability’ agenda for the individual learner and the value of an educated workforce for national industries. Price’s analysis of the social value of higher education more generally is incisive; towards the conclusion of the New Society piece he makes the case for student loans to become salaries, arguing that where ‘people are doing a job society wants them to do, they must be paid for it’.

Moreover, the Thinkbelt prompts consideration of the disjuncture that can arise between the places where we work and where we live. The combination of student residences with local council tenancies sought to integrate the student experience with that of the wider population, disrupting preconceived ideas about the housing of students on campus accommodation away from residents of the towns and cities that give universities their names. Indeed, the Thinkbelt was written in the shadow of early tensions, noted in the article itself, between managers and students at Keele, and the University’s apparent disregard for the surrounding region. In this magazine, Mary Stuart has questioned how alive universities are to their civic missions – the Thinkbelt, for all its hypothetical aspects, gives us a benchmark for thinking through such issues. Are our universities supplementary to the cities and regions that give them their names and that sustain them economically? How do academics and students engage with each other? And how do we interact with our neighbouring populations?

The Thinkbelt is an experiment in conceiving of a different type of learning environment; think about the dynamics of a lecture in a moving rail carriage, and how it might bring staff and students into contact in a way that we can all too easily avoid in the stratified spaces we build into our campus lives. The Thinkbelt is premised on a different social and political settlement for higher education to that which we labour under today; in its own time, it did not attract the attention of policy makers, falling as it did by the margins of planning for the University of the Air – later to become the Open University. Yet its focus on place remains of interest. In returning to the Thinkbelt here, my argument is not that Price’s proposal offers us answers to our debates about the public role of universities today – there are too many questions around the complexities of academic freedom, architectural design and political context to claim that. Nonetheless, as Samantha Hardingham reflects, ‘if there is a use for presenting this material again, here and now, it may be to ask whether we are looking at something we already know, or looking for something we still cannot see yet’ (2).

Whether Price’s proposal can offer clues about a future we cannot yet see is interesting for a number of reasons, not least in raising the question of why we find it difficult to imagine our futures in quite the same ways, with quite the same optimism as he did. At the beginning of this commentary, I suggested that adopting a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ might be useful in approaching the Thinkbelt; for Coleridge, the suspension of disbelief is necessary to enable what he understood as ‘poetic faith’. Poetry and faith – it strikes me that these are qualities too often missing from thinking about higher education, and its planning; by these I mean a belief in the potential of universities to actively shape socially just economies and societies (rather than accelerating the reproduction of inequalities, as Stephen McKay and Karen Rowlingson argue), and the lyrical licence to imagine how they might do this."
darylmartin  2014  thinkbelt  cedricprice  universities  colleges  highered  highereducation  architecture  education  rail  transportation  unschooling  deschooling  cities  urban  urbanism  disbelief  transcontextualism 
june 2019 by robertogreco
In Conversation with Raoul Vaneigem | e-flux
"HUO: You have written a lot on life, not survival. What is the difference?

RV: Survival is budgeted life. The system of exploitation of nature and man, starting in the Middle Neolithic with intensive farming, caused an involution in which creativity—a quality specific to humans—was supplanted by work, by the production of a covetous power. Creative life, as had begun to unfold during the Paleolithic, declined and gave way to a brutish struggle for subsistence. From then on, predation, which defines animal behavior, became the generator of all economic mechanisms.

HUO: Today, more than forty years after May ‘68, how do you feel life and society have evolved?

RV: We are witnessing the collapse of financial capitalism. This was easily predictable. Even among economists, where one finds even more idiots than in the political sphere, a number had been sounding the alarm for a decade or so. Our situation is paradoxical: never in Europe have the forces of repression been so weakened, yet never have the exploited masses been so passive. Still, insurrectional consciousness always sleeps with one eye open. The arrogance, incompetence, and powerlessness of the governing classes will eventually rouse it from its slumber, as will the progression in hearts and minds of what was most radical about May 1968."



"RV: The moralization of profit is an illusion and a fraud. There must be a decisive break with an economic system that has consistently spread ruin and destruction while pretending, amidst constant destitution, to deliver a most hypothetical well-being. Human relations must supersede and cancel out commercial relations. Civil disobedience means disregarding the decisions of a government that embezzles from its citizens to support the embezzlements of financial capitalism. Why pay taxes to the bankster-state, taxes vainly used to try to plug the sinkhole of corruption, when we could allocate them instead to the self-management of free power networks in every local community? The direct democracy of self-managed councils has every right to ignore the decrees of corrupt parliamentary democracy. Civil disobedience towards a state that is plundering us is a right. It is up to us to capitalize on this epochal shift to create communities where desire for life overwhelms the tyranny of money and power. We need concern ourselves neither with government debt, which covers up a massive defrauding of the public interest, nor with that contrivance of profit they call “growth.” From now on, the aim of local communities should be to produce for themselves and by themselves all goods of social value, meeting the needs of all—authentic needs, that is, not needs prefabricated by consumerist propaganda."



"RV: The crisis of the ‘30s was an economic crisis. What we are facing today is an implosion of the economy as a management system. It is the collapse of market civilization and the emergence of human civilization. The current turmoil signals a deep shift: the reference points of the old patriarchal world are vanishing. Percolating instead, still just barely and confusedly, are the early markers of a lifestyle that is genuinely human, an alliance with nature that puts an end to its exploitation, rape, and plundering. The worst would be the unawareness of life, the absence of sentient intelligence, violence without conscience. Nothing is more profitable to the racketeering mafias than chaos, despair, suicidal rebellion, and the nihilism that is spread by mercenary greed, in which money, even devalued in a panic, remains the only value."



"HUO: My interviews often focus on the connections between art and architecture/urbanism, or literature and architecture/urbanism. Could you tell me about the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism?

RV: That was an idea more than a project. It was about the urgency of rebuilding our social fabric, so damaged by the stranglehold of the market. Such a rebuilding effort goes hand in hand with the rebuilding by individuals of their own daily existence. That is what psychogeography is really about: a passionate and critical deciphering of what in our environment needs to be destroyed, subjected to détournement, rebuilt.

HUO: In your view there is no such thing as urbanism?

RV: Urbanism is the ideological gridding and control of individuals and society by an economic system that exploits man and Earth and transforms life into a commodity. The danger in the self-built housing movement that is growing today would be to pay more attention to saving money than to the poetry of a new style of life.

HUO: How do you see cities in the year 2009? What kind of unitary urbanism for the third millennium? How do you envision the future of cities? What is your favorite city? You call Oarystis the city of desire. Oarystis takes its inspiration from the world of childhood and femininity. Nothing is static in Oarystis. John Cage once said that, like nature, “one never reaches a point of shapedness or finishedness. The situation is in constant unpredictable change.”2 Do you agree with Cage?

RV: I love wandering through Venice and Prague. I appreciate Mantua, Rome, Bologna, Barcelona, and certain districts of Paris. I care less about architecture than about how much human warmth its beauty has been capable of sustaining. Even Brussels, so devastated by real estate developers and disgraceful architects (remember that in the dialect of Brussels, “architect” is an insult), has held on to some wonderful bistros. Strolling from one to the next gives Brussels a charm that urbanism has deprived it of altogether. The Oarystis I describe is not an ideal city or a model space (all models are totalitarian). It is a clumsy and naïve rough draft for an experiment I still hope might one day be undertaken—so I agree with John Cage. This is not a diagram, but an experimental proposition that the creation of an environment is one and the same as the creation by individuals of their own future."



"HUO: Will museums be abolished? Could you discuss the amphitheater of memory? A protestation against oblivion?

RV: The museum suffers from being a closed space in which works waste away. Painting, sculpture, music belong to the street, like the façades that contemplate us and come back to life when we greet them. Like life and love, learning is a continuous flow that enjoys the privilege of irrigating and fertilizing our sentient intelligence. Nothing is more contagious than creation. But the past also carries with it all the dross of our inhumanity. What should we do with it? A museum of horrors, of the barbarism of the past? I attempted to answer the question of the “duty of memory” in Ni pardon, ni talion [Neither Forgiveness Nor Retribution]"

[long quote]

HUO: Learning is deserting schools and going to the streets. Are streets becoming Thinkbelts? Cedric Price’s Potteries Thinkbelt used abandoned railroads for pop-up schools. What and where is learning today?

RV: Learning is permanent for all of us regardless of age. Curiosity feeds the desire to know. The call to teach stems from the pleasure of transmitting life: neither an imposition nor a power relation, it is pure gift, like life, from which it flows. Economic totalitarianism has ripped learning away from life, whose creative conscience it ought to be. We want to disseminate everywhere this poetry of knowledge that gives itself. Against school as a closed-off space (a barrack in the past, a slave market nowadays), we must invent nomadic learning.

HUO: How do you foresee the twenty-first-century university?

RV: The demise of the university: it will be liquidated by the quest for and daily practice of a universal learning of which it has always been but a pale travesty.

HUO: Could you tell me about the freeness principle (I am extremely interested in this; as a curator I have always believed museums should be free—Art for All, as Gilbert and George put it).

RV: Freeness is the only absolute weapon capable of shattering the mighty self-destruction machine set in motion by consumer society, whose implosion is still releasing, like a deadly gas, bottom-line mentality, cupidity, financial gain, profit, and predation. Museums and culture should be free, for sure, but so should public services, currently prey to the scamming multinationals and states. Free trains, buses, subways, free healthcare, free schools, free water, air, electricity, free power, all through alternative networks to be set up. As freeness spreads, new solidarity networks will eradicate the stranglehold of the commodity. This is because life is a free gift, a continuous creation that the market’s vile profiteering alone deprives us of."
raoulvaneigem  art  politics  economics  life  living  situationist  humans  consumerism  learning  education  unschooling  deschooling  curiosity  power  anarchism  anarchy  totalitarianism  creativity  johncage  détournement  psychogeography  models  derive  servitude  love  oarystis  humanity  everyday  boredom  productivity  efficiency  time  temporality  money  desire  chaos  solidarity  networks  guydebord  freedom  freeness  museums  culture  hansulrichobrist  2009  nomadiclearning  lcproject  openstudioproject  work  labor  artleisure  leisure  leisurearts  artwork  profiteering  explodingschool  cityasclassroom  flow  universallearning  cedricprice  thinkbelts  dérive  shrequest1 
january 2014 by robertogreco
Spatial Agency
"…a project that presents a new way of looking at how buildings & space can be produced. Moving away from architecture's traditional focus on the look and making of buildings, Spatial Agency proposes a much more expansive field of opportunities in which architects and non-architects can operate. It suggests other ways of doing architecture.

In the spirit of Cedric Price the project started with the belief that a building is not necessarily the best solution to a spatial problem. The project attempts to uncover a second history of architecture, one that moves sharply away from the figure of the architect as individual hero, & replaces it with a much more collaborative approach in which agents act with, & on behalf of, others.

In all the examples on this website, there is a transformative intent to make the status quo better, but the means are very varied, from activism to pedagogy, publications to networking, making stuff to making policy - all done in the name of empowering others…"
centerforurbanpedagogy  mockbee  santiagocirugeda  coophimmelblau  freeuniversity  hackitectura  teamzoo  yalebuildingproject  wuzhiqiao  wholeearthcatalog  colinward  urbanfarming  supertanker  self-organization  selforganization  raumlabor  victorpapanek  eziomazini  jaimelerner  iwb  cohousing  mikedavis  doorsofperception  johnthackara  teddycruz  buckminsterfuller  centerforlanduseinterpretation  atelierbow-wow  elemental  antfarm  ruralstudio  amo  collaborativeproduction  collaboration  networking  policy  holisticapproach  systemsthinking  systemsdesign  activism  spacialagency  jeremytill  tatjanaschneider  nishantawan  matterofconcern  brunolatour  transformativeintent  openstudioproject  lcproject  empowerment  via:cityofsound  cedricprice  resource  designthinking  database  urbanism  space  uk  design  research  architecture 
august 2012 by robertogreco
Architecture needs to interact - Op-Ed - Domus
"Instead of bringing together users through machines, what if interaction design were reconceived to foster positive friction between different design disciplines? What would interaction design look like if it wasn't only (or even necessarily) digital, but if it genuinely melded architecture, industrial and product design, graphic design, art, video narrative, tiny technology, large scale networks, and so on? What would debates between the disciplines be like? What might win, and more importantly, what would they unearth about interaction design in general? What other disciplines might emerge and what new visions of the world might appear? The recognition that many other fields have dealt with these issues and continue to do so, may open up a larger conversation that reveals new relationships, isomorphisms, productive frictions—even interactions."
architecture  design  interdisciplinary  multidisciplinary  crossdisciplinary  crosspollination  mollywrightsteenson  fredscharmen  mit  medialab  nicholasnegroponte  janejacobs  christopheralexander  cedricprice  archigram  reynerbanham  urbancomputing  interactiondesign  networkarchitecture  billmoggridge  billverplank  ideo  philtabor  2011  mitmedialab 
june 2011 by robertogreco
My Strategic Boredom talk at IxDA's Interaction 08 on video - active social plastic
"talk I gave at IxDA's Interaction 08 conference, titled Strategic Boredom. Some of what I had to say I'd published in an earlier blog post"
boredom  history  definitions  sociology  society  time  cedricprice  luxury  philosophy  interaction  design  culture 
march 2008 by robertogreco
Cedric Price's Generator - active social plastic
"understood architecture as that which set the conditions for interaction, as opposed to imposing formal will on a place..."Technology is the answer... but what was the question?"...suggesting that architecture might not be right solution to a problem"
cedricprice  architecture  design  technology  history  ubicomp  internet  interaction 
february 2008 by robertogreco
A brief history of boredom - conceptual device
"very least you would expect of a system, wrote John Frazer, is that if you kick it, it should kick back. In Generator, Frazer found germ ofidea that would shift his concepts of computer-aided design toward one where the computer took an active, not a pas
boredom  luxury  interaction  design  culture  interactiondesign  history  definitions  sociology  society  time  cedricprice  philosophy 
february 2008 by robertogreco
Cedric Price - From "Brain Drain" to the "Knowledge Economy"... Continued
"universities… are still inclined to give greater importance to arts than to sciences...to the academic than technological...still exists...intellectual snobbery that pays greater respect to man who misquotes Horace than man who can repair his own car."
cedricprice  education  universities  colleges  academics  academia  learning  science  art  literature  design  architecture 
january 2008 by robertogreco
things magazine: The visions of Price, Archigram, et al, have had more of an influence on children's soft play centres than on romantic, nomadic combinations of architecture and machinery
"general consensus amongst architects&historians...Cedric Price's Fun Palace was a primary influence on Rogers & Piano's Pompidou...genesis of utopian ideal of cultural building as playground, one still beloved by architects, urbanists and city planners"
cedricprice  urban  education  lcproject  pompidou  renzopiano  richardrogers  technology  urbanism  space  design  architecture  cities  planning  culture  history  children  playgrounds 
january 2008 by robertogreco
Cedric Price / Architect (1934-2003) - Design/Designer Information
"one of the most visionary architects of the late 20th century. Although he built very little, his lateral approach to architecture and to time-based urban interventions, has ensured that his work has an enduring influence on contemporary architects and a
architecture  cedricprice  design  urbanism 
january 2008 by robertogreco

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