Strangely Familiar

Iain Borden

Strangely Familiar was a cultural and educational initiative which aimed to explore, understand and communicate the complex intersection of architecture, cities and urban living. It did so in three ways:

•Publicly, by presenting and promoting new ideas about architecture and cities to the general public.
•Professionally, by presenting to architects and other urban design professionals new ideas about cities and urban living.
•Academically, through interdisciplinary enquires involving architectural history, art history, cultural studies, feminism, planning, sociology and urban geography.

Strangely Familiar was an affiliation of academics, journalists, designers, policy makers and other urbanists formed in 1994 by Iain Borden, Joe Kerr, Alicia Pivaro and Jane Rendell. Its programme of events occurred from 1995-97.

For Strangely Familiar: Narratives of Architecture in the City, an exhibition, symposium, and catalogue, the working group included architects, graphic designers, film makers, multimedia artists. Our response to an invitation to curate and design an architectural exhibition was to reject the notion of architectural history written only by architectural historians, consisting of boards on walls describing the work of famous architects. Instead we invited academics from disciplines outside architecture to provide a short narrative about a specific place in a city and an object related to that place. Each interpretative stance revealed a place that was ‘strangely familiar’, familiar because certain aspects were already known, strange because they were being revealed in new ways.

Although contributions investigated a diverse range of different subjects and adopted a variety of political, interpretive and analytical procedures, Strangely Familiar identified three strategies for engaging with public space: memory and remembering; domination, resistance and appropriation; experience and identity

For The Unknown City, the book that followed Strangely Familiar, we invited practitioners from art, film, architecture, as well as theorists from geography, cultural studies, architectural and art theory, to comment on the relationship between how designers make and how occupants experience the city

Publication Details

Iain Borden, Joe Kerr, Alicia Pivaro and Jane Rendell (eds.), Strangely Familiar: Narratives of Architecture in the City, (London: Routledge, 1995).

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