Urban Phases: Crystallisation


Paper at TCS Philosophy & Literature Conference 2019, Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt, Austria, May 29th – June 2nd, 2019


An uncommon way of looking at the urban process is through attending its “phases”, where a phase is physically defined as a state of matter manifesting uniform properties. Three such phases may be of interest: (1) the vegetative stratum of the city, a layer of urban existence inherent in the functions of vegetation and the states associated with it; (2) the animistic moments, which include qualitatively characterised events, or “moments”, unfolding in a peculiar temporality and conveying a distinct sense of aliveness; (3) the crystallisation processes, whereby a stable order is produced and expanded, entailing a gain-in-structure and a gain-in-order within a given medium for given thresholds. This paper contemplates and expands on the crystalline phase, with the aim of ascertaining which aspects of the urban process and the urban experience could be encapsulated by it. In physics, it has been recognised that crystalline states break symmetry in space, and more recently “time crystals” have been experimentally produced that break symmetry in time. Crystals thus pose the issue of a specific relation coming into effect between order and chaos, between light and darkness, as well as between continuity and discontinuity. The paper builds in particular on the theories of Bachelard, Kracauer, Caillois, Simondon, and Deleuze, to excavate the crystalline condition. It subsequently attempts to apply these insights to a possible understanding of the urban condition. If the taking place of a discontinuity along a saturation curve leads to a sudden change in structure from amorphous to crystallised phase through the growth of a crystal germ under given energetic conditions, where does one find similar transformations taking place in the city? Which urban phenomena could be illuminated as veritable crystallisation processes?


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