Seminar Narrativity and Landscape

Seminar – Narrativity and the Perception/Conception of Landscape



Seminar Statement

This seminar is held in the light of an ongoing research project conducted within the framework of Ghent Urban Studies Team and Labo S, the Architectural Department’s research unit of urban design and urban planning (Ghent University).

Our main point of departure is the inadequacy of the traditional conceptual apparatus for taking into account many of the contemporary urban landscapes. More precisely, we would like to inquire into the workableness of narrativity as a way of analyzing and designing urban spaces. The focal point of the seminar, then, will be the following question: how useful can an understanding of the functioning of stories be for analyzing and conceiving of architectural and urban spaces? What are the stories landscapes can tell us, and what does it teach us to see landscapes and urban transformations as fictional constructs? Are our landscapes marked by a wide variety of different stories, or are we, rather, faced with constantly recurring narratives? Do stories shape the meaning that we invest cityscapes with? How political are the spaces surrounding us, and to what extent do they tell us the story of the ideologies informing our society? We are seeking to address urban and urbanizing landscapes from the angle of the observer and the issue of perception, on the one hand, and from the viewpoint of historical and visionary views of landscapes, on the other.

More specifically, the points of interest proposed by us revolve around the following three pillars:

1)      Narrativity and landscapes as cognitive models. Which cognitive models are put to work in the perception and interpretation of evolving landscapes? And to what extent are these of a narrative nature?


2)      Narrativity and the representation of landscapes.

  • How serviceable can the arts (literature, film, the plastic arts, photography) be for studying the narratives in landscape perception and transforming urban spaces?
  • How do we describe the narrative relations between descriptive views on evolving landscapes and urbanists’ and architects’ projective views in the design of future cityscapes?
  • What about the utopian dimension of landscape perceptions? How do we narrate better societies through our views of (future) landscapes? To what extent is the shaping of city environments motivated by creating a better world for its users and inhabitants, or changing their lifestyles?


3)      Narrativity and the conception of landscapes. Which are the stories behind urban design, and what is their ideological backdrop? What can be said about urbanism and the narrative turn? How do urbanists and architects make use of the versatility of stories in order to shape their designs, as is the case in scenario methodology?




Friday 3rd of December


14.00 – Registration with coffee


14.45-15.00 – Welcome address by Kristiaan Versluys, director of GUST (Department of English, Ghent University)

15.00-15.40 – Bart Lootsma (Department of Architectural Theory, Leopold-Franzens University, Innsbruck) – “True Stories/Literary Landscapes”

15.40-16.20 – François Penz (Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge) – “The Naked City Image: Peeling Off the Narrative Layers of the Urban Landscape”


Coffee break


16.40-17.20 – Emmanuel Rubio (French Department, Université Paris Ouest La Défense) – “From the “Enigmatic Signifier” to the Cathartic Narrative: the Iconic Birmingham”

17.20-18.00 – Sophie Deramond (Architect) – “Contemporary Space in Mutation: the Mirror of Fiction”


Coffee break


18.20-19.00 – Round table discussion. Chair: Pieter Uyttenhove (Department of Architecture and Urbanism, Ghent University)


20.30 – Welcome dinner


Saturday 4th of December


10.00-10.40 – Ronald Soetaert and Geert Vandermeersche (Department of Educational Studies, Ghent University) – “The Rhetoric of Environmental Literacy: Explorations in Education”

10.40-11.20 – Ed Dammers (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) – “The Future of Dutch Nature and Landscapes”


Coffee break


11.40-12.20 – Kris Pint (Department PHL-Architecture, Provinciale Hogeschool Limburg) – “Conceptual Personae and Aesthetic Figures: the Scenography of Literary Landscapes”

12.20-13.00 – Agata Anna Lisiak (Berlin) and Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek (Purdue University Press) – “Literary Representations of Post-1989 Urban Spaces of Berlin, Budapest, and Warsaw”


Lunch break


14.20-15.00 – Steven Jacobs (University of Antwerp, Ghent Academy of Fine Arts, and Hogeschool Sint-Lucas Brussels) – “The Photoresque: Photography between City and Countryside”

15.00-15.40 – Raymond Lucas (Manchester School of Architecture) – “Representing Perception: the Instrumentality of Gibson’s Medium as an Alternative to Space”


Coffee break


16.00-16.40 – Bruno Notteboom (Department of Architecture and Urbanism, Ghent University) – “Narratives of Loss: Discourses on Landscape in Belgium 1890-1940”

16.40-17.20 – Bart Keunen and Sofie Verraest (Department of Comparative Literature, Ghent University) – “Narrative Chronotopes in Urban Perception/Conception: the Persistence of Myth”


Coffee break


17.40-18.20 – Sébastien Marot (École d’architecture de la Ville et des Territoires, Université Paris Est, Marne-la-Vallée) – “The Original of Ithaca: Vladimir Nabokov at Cornell”


18.20-19.00 – Round table discussion. Chair: Bart Keunen (Department of Comparative Literature, Ghent University)


20.30 – Dinner in town