January 18, 2011

Sequent Occupancy, Josh Singer, and The Trappist (Part 1)

I don’t drink coffee, so let’s have a beer… My posts are always collaborations and are presented in two parts. Part 1 is a summary of a shared experience with my collaborator(s). Part 2 is a response often in the form of a project created specifically for this blog.

Joshua Singer, Still from Google Earth of Oakland with overlay of 1878 real estate map and GPS track of bicycle route home from The Trappist on 5 January 2011, logged at 23:23. Map courtesy of The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

“Interdisciplinarity is not the calm of an easy security; it begins effectively when the solidarity of the old disciplines breaks down — perhaps even violently, via the jolts of fashionin the interests of a new object and a new language …”

—Roland Barthes, “From Work to Text”

Josh Singer

My collaborator for this post and the next is Joshua Singer, an insanely talented graphic designer, artist, occasional writer, dad, former punk rocker, and professor in the Design and Industry Department at SF State. We settled in to explore the vast offerings at The Trappist in Oakland, a gem of a spot — “Featuring 25 rotating taps and over 100 specialty bottles in stock. No big corporate beer.” (As a side note, we had beer that tasted like sour gym socks and another that tasted like fruity bread. I love The Trappist for challenging my taste buds!)

Josh has an incredibly voracious interest in mapping and visualizing systems. As he was explaining the ins and outs of his current research he hit upon a term that interested me — sequent occupancy. In 1929 American geographer Derwent Whittlesley (love that name!) coined the term and defined it as “the study of the human occupation of a specific region over intervals of historic time.” The term is associated with geography viewed through both cultural and historic lenses. Josh told me that sequence occupancy speaks to his interests in geography, and how he’s trying to integrate it into his graphics discipline. He’s currently teaching a collaborative class with Paula Levine and the Geography Dept. at SF State.

SFMOMA in the Veterans Building. Installation view of the 77th Annual Painting and Sculpture Exhibition of the San Francisco Art Association, 1958. At right: Richard Diebenkorn’s Painting (now Woman in Profile), 1958. SFMOMA Archives.

Dr. Grace Morley

A little example: Sequence occupancy links me to SFMOMA in a way. The Veterans Building in the Civic Center was built in 1932, and SFMOMA moved in to the grand fourth floor galleries in 1935. Originally called the San Francisco Museum of Art, it was the first museum on the West Coast, and only the second in the country, I believe, to be solely devoted to the exhibition of modern art. The founding director, Dr. Grace Louise McCann Morley (1900–1985), remained at the Museum for 23 years and became world renowned for her tireless support of and visionary leadership in the arts. Reading the bio of this incredible woman is both inspiring and mind-boggling that such accomplishments were possible in the scope of one lifetime. Grace is my new hero!

Veterans Building, Civic Center, San Francisco

So, back to sequence occupancy. When SFMOMA moved out of the Veterans Building, the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery (founded in 1970 and originally called Capricorn Asunder) was looking for a new home. The original SFAC Gallery on Grove Street was deemed uninhabitable after the 1989 Loma Prieta and 1994 earthquakes due to its lack of seismic upgrading. So, in 1995 SFMOMA moved into its new building downtown, and the SFAC Gallery opened in SFMOMA’s former bookstore on the first floor of the Veterans Building as a temporary solution to its need for space. In 2005 I assumed the role of Gallery Director, and am excited to announce that in a few years the SFAC Gallery will finally move out of its “temporary gallery” and into 4400 sq. ft. on the McAllister side of the Veterans Building. I think that Grace would be happy to know that there is a continued presence of contemporary art, and a constant stream of arts patrons, on the site where she built her museum.

SFAC Main Gallery in the Veterans Building

Josh responded to my example above with: Sequent occupancy speaks to the primacy of place. There are two things happening here (in your proposition): the evolution of institutions and the transformation of place(s) and the creation of space(s). What forces are at work and in what systems (a key framework) or ecology do they operate? How are they connected? Individuals, the city, the arts, real estate, culture, technology, economics, geology (earthquakes). How do these change the surfaces of the place(s)? How have these changed activities and modes of operation? Perceptions of authenticity and value (important in the arts and in general)? What is still visible? What evidence can be found in records, stories, artifacts? How do we imagine this sequence? How do we visualize it?

What exactly does Josh mean by surfaces?

“The second theme of the landscape urbanism project concerns itself with the phenomenon of the horizontal surface, the ground plane, the ‘field’ of action. These surfaces constitute the urban field when considered across a wide range of scales, from the sidewalk to the street to the entire infrastructural matrix of urban surfaces. This suggests contemporary interest in surface continuities, where roofs and grounds become one and the same; and this is certainly of great value with regard to conflating separations between landscape and building …

This understanding of surface highlights the trajectories of shifting populations, demographics, and interest groups upon the urban surface; traces of people provisionally stage a site in different ways at different times for various programmatic events, while connecting a variety of such events temporally around the larger territory. This attempt to create an environment that is not so much an object that has been ‘designed’ as it is an ecology of various system and elements that set in motion a diverse network of interaction.”

—James Corner, Landscape Urbanism Reader

Joshua Singer, Still from Google Earth of East Oakland and Oakland Hills with various GPS tracks of bicycle routes logged in 2010.

Joshua Singer, Same as previous with addition of 1910 map overlay of Brooklyn Township (current East Oakland). Map courtesy of The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Comments (1)

  • Jane Veeder says:

    The concept of sequent occupancy reminds me of a 2009 book “First peoples in a new world : colonizing ice age America”, author David Meltzer describes the scientific picture (combining evidence genetic, archeological, anthropological, and linguistic) of the first peoples to come to the Americas. What amazes everyone is how very rapidly they traversed North America and got as far down as Chile in the first phase of moving with the (hunted and gathered) resources yet keeping in touch with other groups (access to mates and shared discoveries and inventions). Then, when they became more secure in their grasp of the environment and the resources (and started to actually change the environment and resources), they started to slow down and stay put, lose touch with other groups, interbreed and amplify physical, linguistic, and cultural differences, and – my thought – start to think that they had ALWAYS been in that location, like the Sioux belief that they had been created in the Black Hills out of the local earth itself.

    The book has some static diagrams of this that are always fragmentary and you do a lot of flipping between multiple ones trying to get the flow, the change. To really visualize time and process, animation is needed, something that’s always been a key element of scientific visualization.


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