7: A City Built for Drifting

When he was 19 years old, Ivan Vladimirovitch Chtcheglov wrote Formulary for a New Urbanism, one of the central psychogeographical texts. Chtcheglov was a member of the Lettrist International, a small crew of artists and radicals formed by Guy Debord. This essay was written in 1953 and published in 1958, with an abridged version appearing in the magazine Internationale Situationniste #1. By this time Chtcheglov had been incarcerated in a mental hospital following a plot to blow up the Eiffel Tower with stolen dynamite; its light apparently shone into his attic room and kept him awake.

In the short piece, Chtcheglov sets out a manifesto for what he thinks a city should be, how we should create a new type of city to resist the threats of what he terms banalisation. Merlin Coverley, writing in his book Psychogeography, says of Chtcheglov that “His Formulary certainly seems to display ample evidence of his oncoming mental illness” going on to sneer that “Needless to say, the details for establishing such an environment are absent here”. While it’s true that many of the Lettrist and Situationist projects were left half done, Chtcheglov does not seem to be setting out a plan, rather than making a poetic call-to-arms – one that has has been responded to by, for example, Tony Wilson’s building of the Hacienda.

 (Which is not to say that there are not significant flaws in the Formulary, but it remains a powerful evocation of how strange and beautiful a city might be).

We are bored in the city, there is no longer any Temple of the Sun…

The formulary demands a new architecture, not one built around absolute truths that have trapped for so long, but a playful city. A fascinating place, where people can explore, whose different zones evoke and heighten particular emotions and sensations. The main activity of the inhabitants will be CONTINUOUS DRIFTING. The changing of landscapes from one hour to the next will result in total disorientation. 

If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *