Inscribing the city: a flâneur in Tokyo


  • Raymond Lucas Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen



A recent topic for fascination in architectural theory has been Walter Benjamin’s work on the flâneur of Charles Baudelaire’s Paris. This figure, more than just a wanderer, shopper or tourist, characterises one aspect of the modern city-dweller’s condition, as found in the Parisian arcades. This meandering, aimless ‘Man Without Qualities’ so informs how we understand the city, for example, as a prototype for both the cinematic subject and audience. Flânerie also has its uses as a thinking tool. City-based artistic movements in the 20th century, from the Dada and Surrealists through to Fluxus and the Situationists have all exploited similar modes of distracted attention in traversing the city. This trajectory takes us to the Situationist International in particular, who engaged with the city in a fashion analogous to the paper support for a drawing, equip us with new ways of understanding the experience of the city. As a part of my general inquiry into the role of drawing and notation in creative practice, the graphic representation of the city forms a case-study of particular interest. How do these alternatives to the traditional tools of architecture and urbanism aid or reconfigure our understandings of cities? This final section shall outline some of my own working practices. Drawn from the tradition of the architectural fantasy, which traces its history from Piranesi through Ferriss and Constant to Tschumi, Koolhaas and MVRDV. By considering architecture as a practice of representation as well as of space- and place-making, the architectural fantasy or paper project offers distinctive possibilities beyond what is commonly assumed to be simply an ‘unbuilt’ or ‘unbuildable’ project. As such, I place my reflections upon Tokyo into this tradition – I will explore the process I have worked through in re-presenting a journey taken through Shinjuku station.

Author Biography

Raymond Lucas, Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen

Raymond Lucas is a PhD researcher with the Creativity and Practice research group based at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, where he is supervised by Professor Tim Ingold. This project is an AHRB funded project run jointly by the School of Fine Art at Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee and the University of Aberdeen. Lucas has a background in architecture, and has recently graduated from the University of Strathclyde’s architecture department with an MPhil for the thesis ‘Filmic Architecture’. He also worked on the ‘John Grierson Multimedia Archive’ for SCRAN (Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network). This work included a CDROM and 500 web-accessible records of the life and work of the documentary film pioneer.


Lucas’ current research is entitled ‘Towards a Theory of Inscription as a Thinking Tool.’ Part of this work will result in an exhibition at the VRC’s Centrespace Gallery in Dundee in August 2004 entitled ‘Getting Lost in Tokyo.’ Other forthcoming projects include a publication of the Tokyo drawing series and an exhibition with the Creativity and Practice research group in Aberdeen in 2005.