DisplacementSeen Beyond

The Physiology of Public Space


 - First presented as a talk at SALT program "90 - Becoming Istanbul" in September 2011 -

Incursion into the intimate link between our bodies and the city we populate – by Alexandru Balasescu



Where do public toilets, merchandise boutiques, sharks and city fluidity meet? As organic metaphors expand into urbanism language, this essay ponders on possible types of physiological understanding of urban space and its categories in relation with the gendered bodies that create and use it.



Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking.  J. Goethe









Looking at the streets of Istanbul and its public spaces triggered the reflections and analytic proposals of this following essay. Because looking may give us a better idea about how to think, visuals may seem predominant in the following pages. Words are here only to loosely guide the curious eye (I).

Our subjectivites are informed by the spaces we occupy and by the bodies we inhabit, or better said it (the subject) springs continuously out of the interaction between bodies and spaces through our perception of temporality – thus of processuality, let us call it subjectivation.


What is (would be) in this case the physiology of public space?

      • A biological metaphor for the city? (city centered – the city as body) – this perspective is quite well developed in the organicist approaches to the city.
      • An understanding of the city in terms of the bodies that populates it – and their physiology? (body-centered) – we may include here preoccupations in multidisciplinary domains of urbanism, art, anthropology or demography, to mention just a few.
      • A method that would emphasize the link between the body and the city? – it probably is a method appearing in both of the approaches mentioned, albeit sometimes skewed towards one or the other term (city vs. body). I call the material objects that facilitate this link “plugging points, or urban plugs”.


The interest here is to emphasize what the “plugging points” between the body and the city’s infrastructure may reveal and how they can help us imagining the thinking of the city.


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The question imposes itself: What could a physiological approach do?

      • It helps understand multitude and diversity in both static description and dynamic interaction;
      • It emphasizes the importance of negotiation and harmony of interaction;
      • It reveals the importance of human bodies’ comfort (not primary aesthetic or functional presence) in their interaction with the city;
      • Ultimately – it may set a note for urban actors and deciding factors to orient towards a city negotiable by design, that do not privilege one body (identity) over another.
      • Ultimately reveal the body (any body of any scale) as the material highway on which subjectivation“travels the distance between subject and object”. Its physiology is the key.  


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The Physiologic Manifesto – Beginnings:

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This is an open project. To Be Continued.


Read the An alternative Cityguiding through Istanbul by Anja Pross


Thomas Büsch

Filmmaker, Founding Member and Secretary General of diyalog, promotion of cultural exchange with Turkey. Since 2012 he is also project manager of InEnArt.

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