Fire-Walking New York City

[Image: Combustible City by Common Room].

The New York-based group Common Room will soon be publishing and displaying in their space a series of walks around the city, walks that, in their words, “demonstrate, at four different spatial scales, the agency of combustion in shaping the city’s architecture, infrastructure and imaginary [sic].”

Devised and authored by Adam Bobbette, the tours will include sites and experiences such as walking “the perimeter of the great fire of 1835,” exploring the “former sites of fire towers in Manhattan,” and more:

Additionally, the tours recount the history of the fireproof building, the epistemological relationships between panoramas, hot air balloons and fire towers, the changing shape of water in the city, and the hyperreality of prevention. Together, these tours reveal another city nested within New York City, a city in plain view but rarely considered; this city is constituted by and through the management and care for its own inherent fragility, this city is named Combustible City.

I’m reminded of a recent book on my wishlist for the summer: Flammable Cities: Urban Conflagration and the Making of the Modern World by Greg Bankoff, which describes itself as “the first truly global study of urban conflagration.” Bankoff “shows how fire has shaped cities throughout the modern world, from Europe to the imperial colonies, major trade entrepôts, and non-European capitals, right up to such present-day megacities as Lagos and Jakarta. Urban fire may hinder commerce or even spur it; it may break down or reinforce barriers of race, class, and ethnicity; it may serve as a pretext for state violence or provide an opportunity for displays of state benevolence. As this volume demonstrates, the many and varied attempts to master, marginalize, or manipulate fire can turn a natural and human hazard into a highly useful social and political tool.”

Bobbette’s fire walks of New York City will be on display at Common Room from July 16-August 16, and I believe more information will be available soon on their website.

(Previously on BLDGBLOG: The Fires. Thanks to Carlos Solis for the tip!)

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