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Cyborg imaginations: nature, technology, and urban space in West Berlin

Jasper, S; (2015) Cyborg imaginations: nature, technology, and urban space in West Berlin. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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This thesis examines the cultural and material transformation of West Berlin by concentrating on its unique history as island city from 1961 to 1989. The construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 radically transformed the urban fabric for a second time after wartime destruction and consolidated West Berlin as an urban enclave. Land banking, protracted geopolitical negotiations, slow economic recovery, and zoning plans that kept the possibility of reconnecting the city open, held up post-war reconstruction. With the need to heavily subsidize the city’s economic sectors, and other aspects of urban life, the enclave was kept on geopolitical life-support for three decades, allowing a diverse range of alternative spaces and intellectual ideas to evolve. This thesis investigates West Berlin’s role as an experimental city by extending previous geographical work on the intersections of the human body, nature, and urban space. A series of four empirically centred case studies illuminates distinctive aspects of the cultural and material particularities of the enclave. We explore the continuities and discontinuities of Weimar Berlin’s legacy through attempts to build a modernist nature-culture synthesis in the early postwar years, and discuss sonic experimentation in the moulding of urban space into a state-of-the-art concert hall. Anomalous spaces or terrains vagues emerged as accidental by-products of the city’s geopolitical division, and were appropriated as ecological refugia and islands of autonomous social and cultural life. Scientific and cultural experiments enchanted these indeterminate spaces, and culminated in a progressive planning proposal envisioning an alternative city. In the 1970s, the experimental enclave partly echoed the cultural ebullience of the Weimar years, and served as the pivotal terrain for a vibrant cultural life to emerge. Shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, West Berlin emerged as a “radical intellectual island” through the strong presence of feminist theory, and a multifaceted progressive local politics. This thesis draws on oral history, archives, and ethnographic observations to revisit the forgotten history of West Berlin as an alternative space.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Cyborg imaginations: nature, technology, and urban space in West Berlin
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1468959
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