Notes on the Terrain Vague.
Published in LoSquaderno. Explorations in Space and Society, no.34.
Michiel Dehaene, Claudia Faraone & Cristina Mattiucci (eds.). December 2014
Terrain vague is usually synonym for a place exceeding the traditional categories of the city. Juxtaposing entropy to definite zones of containment, abandonment and emptiness to consolidated urban fabric, ceaseless transformation to historical stratification, informality and illegal activities to controlled jurisdictions, the terrain vague acts a sort of ruin, where the city is at the point of both being forgotten and disclosing its imminent future, eluding any of its regular uses and functioning mechanisms.
A generation of authors addressed the terrain vague through an aesthetic perspective, romanticizing the post-industrial landscape as a way of escaping the flat and homogeneous space of the Fordist planning. In the past, these spaces offered fertile ground for the development of new forms of life and alternative modes of production growing autonomously from the capitalist accumulation and official urban strategies.
Nevertheless, it seems today that vagueness constitutes a specific category of the contemporary metropolis rather than a form of resistance, an instrument of control rather than a ground for opposition. Within the recent urbanisation – ruled by the abstraction of finance, regimes of potential yields, envelopes of rentable cubic meters and empty lots – the terrain vague is no longer an alternative autonomous realm, an outside.
On the contrary vagueness has been not only interiorised in the real-estate administration of the city, but also incarnated in the increasingly precarious forms of life and work of its inhabitants, mirroring the proper biological indeterminacy of the human species.