DAT503 – Reflexive Design Workshop 1 – Psychogeography




“the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.”



“Debord defines the dérive as “a mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.” It is an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, in which participants drop their everyday relation and ‘let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there”


The Exercise
  • You’ll need a paper map, a glass and a pen. On your map, place the glass anywhere and draw a circle.
  • Now draw in the nearest path you can to that circle that you could actually walk. Notice how man-made and natural features constrain our progress.

Now walk the route:

  • What do the different areas feel like, and where are the boundaries defining the unities of ambiance (“parts of the city with an especially powerful urban atmosphere”)?
  • Are the boundaries hard or soft?
  • Make a note on the map of the areas you think feel similar, and the feelings they evoke.
  • Take photographs, sound record and document your work in your blog.

00:00 – 00:26 Our circular journey began from the familiar and relatively quiet surroundings of the Roland Levinsky Building. The first boundary we had to negotiate was a highly trafficked, noisy city centre road. I always feel a certain amount of anxiety crossing busy roads such as this; the traffic is often unpredictable and seemingly heedless of pedestrians.

00:27 – 00:29 Having safely gained the far side of the road, some members of the team headed for a Tesco Express for refreshments. This was nestled in a dim underpass which also acted as a wind tunnel on what was a very blustery day. Other members of the public were also taking shelter here. Not requiring anything to eat myself, I nonetheless took shelter in the familiar warm, brighly-lit shop.

00:30 – 00:54 There is some major construction work being undertaken along our route. The eye is drawn skywards by the cranes and buildings that dominate this part of our walk. This area felt very confined and closed-in; I felt looked-down upon, and this feeling of oppression was exacerbated by the wind combining with the safety netting and other construction paraphernalia to create a cacophony of noise. As with many other such sites, the area was screened off from public view, yet there was a small viewing hole in the boarding around the building site which allowed a small glimpse of some rather drab and mundane building works. The boundary of this area was very definitely hard!

00:55 – 01:31 Despite the overcast weather, our progress into the next area of the city felt like moving into the light. The construction site was left behind and the space opened out into a pedestrian area interspersed with green, landscaped areas. There were several unoccupied seating areas giving a forlorn atmosphere to a location that on another day might be bustling with shoppers. A second busy road boundary had to be crossed and, again, I experienced an accompanying twinge of anxiety.

01:32 – 2:11 Our surroundings opened out still further as we approached the large television screen at the heart of the shopping area. The buildings and shops were at a distance from us, but I still felt overlooked by the windows facing onto the pedestrian area. Yet another road crossing was negotiated.

02:12 – 02:35 A water feature provided some tranquillity and calm to this part of our route. However, the looming presence of a large, concrete council building to our right dispelled some of the peace that might have been gained at this location. The graffiti at the base of the building also seemed to make the placement of the water feature somewhat incongruous.

02:36 – 02:47 The style of buildings here marked a soft boundary change. A church and obviously older buildings lent the area a more sedate ambience. However, the ever-present traffic and associated noise meant that we did not feel like lingering to enjoy the atmosphere!

02:48 – 03:10 We reached a much quieter spot with little traffic. Nonetheless, we were able to observe in the distance the constant flow of cars travelling in the busier parts of the cities. From my standpoint, this seemed to highlight my appreciation of quiet where we stood, and not having to be on constant look-out for cars was a welcome relief.

03:11 – 03:33 This section of the journey, whilst very quiet, had a rather different feeling to those that had gone before. We stumbled upon what seemed to be a sheltering place, possibly for homeless people. The area was padlocked and fenced in and rather sobering. Along with the graffiti and CCTV signs, this area was slightly oppressive.

03:34 – 03:45 We made our way to the harbour area which was very open and there seemed to be a lot more light. There was the ever-present surrounding buildings overlooking us.

03:46 – 04:04 Two further boundary crossings saw us returning towards are starting point. The way that roads and boundaries prevent easy travelling was highlighted during this part of the journey. It seems that parts of Plymouth, like most cities, are geared towards travellers in cars, rather than pedestrians.

04:05 – 04:30 As we returned to more familiar territory, we were obliged to revise our route due to a road closure. This prevented us from following the route we had initially established.

04:30 – 04:38 I now felt myself to be on familiar territory with the University campus just across the road. I could see the large screen display from The House building – a building I see almost every day as I walk to university. We had completed our circular route, with just a few diversions from our planned route.

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