the value of absence: the latent city

Reflections as part of a workshop and walk with a group of artists, architects and activists on the topic of ‘Commodified City’ with Ogino Knauss, under the heading of ‘Latent City’. Ogino Knauss are a Berlin-based collective who have devised a methodology to explore the urban environment through a set of prisms, reminiscent of the flaneur movement and psychogeographic exploration of the city.

“The city is a finite resource of potential developments [9][22]. It is reservoir of available terrain for projects, a bulge of interstitial territories to be colonised and exploited [21][45].”

Most often the dormant, latent is read as transformative capital, perceiving a vacant or derelict space within the frame of its concrete, built potential, reminiscent of our culture’s fixation on the process of completion, wholeness, totality, utility. Little thought is given to the appreciation of void, chaos, disorder as a natural and valuable stage in a life cycle, and a necessary condition for having the space to step outside the complete, the mediated, the perfect, the systemised, and imagine alternative and new solutions. In absence, anything can be imagined.

Absence of managed space with present utility, or a branded space with an imagined future, is uncomfortable. Mark Minkjan, reviewing ‘Toyko Void’ by Marieluise Jonas and Heike Rahmann, tells of the Japanese concept of ‘Mu’, a void, non-space, not in the sense of the ubiquitously commodified as outlined by Marc Auge, but a void appreciated for its not being, its non-existence. In the density and pace of urban built form and the currents of movement running through its ‘white spaces’, its road networks and public spaces, part choreographed by coherent syntactical interventions, part self-organised, hold little space for the disorganised void required for creativity.

Minjan reports concepts such as:

wabi-sabi, the aesthetics of transience and imperfection

mu (the void)

ma (in-between space, emptiness)

oku (inwardness)

harappa (open field)

In the first chapter of Casey’s ‘The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History’, ‘Primeval patterns: avoiding the void’, (1997) writes about the creation myths on place:



(1) p.9


These suggest the creative potential of states of perceived void as a state of not being whole, perfect, complete. A talk novelist Mark Haddon held at Hay Festival in 2013, talking about his work ‘the missing square’ points towards exactly the inherent value of keeping the latent, the not-yet, the expectation, the imagined of a situation that potentially could or could not manifest itself in space.

Urban life is highly mediated, controlled through the ownership of land and the value of its use, rather than its organic cycles of becoming and the use of the people who inhabit it. Tokyo Void tells of the celebration of the void spaces, but also of their use by bottom-up initiatives instead of dereliction until their commodification. Moving on from the traditional shadow plan void and solid reading of space in the city, this blog also opens up the discourse towards a more radical, less commodified utilization of ‘void’, derelict space. Candy Chang, linked to CUP, and her ‘I wish this was’ project illustrate this harnessing of the collective, human-centered imagination with regards to empty spaces and buildings.

The latent city idea tells of the tension of the part history part future, expectant, latent, dormant, disordered, not yet becoming, but also of a more radical potential for understanding the use of space and its predominantly commodified modes of existence and alternating temporalities.