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Reading this description, we can’t help but think of George Perec and his Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, in which for three days running in October 1974 he described everything that happened in the Place de Saint Sulpice (Paris).

…Faraway, So Close

Just before the credits at the end of Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire, the phrase “To be continued” appears on the screen in black letters against the Berlin sky. And sure enough, in 1993, six years after the film’s release, Wenders returned with a sequel called Faraway, So Close! This second film also features two angels hovering in the skies above Berlin, although by now the city has no wall. It tells the story of Cassiel, one of the angels, who, having relinquished his heavenly nature, now contemplates the world from ground level, from the human perspective. To look is not to look from on high, but at eye-level”.

Camilo Sitte wasn’t satisfied with seeing the world only from above, either. As we saw in The Sky Above…, Sitte started his in-situ study of cities by climbing to the top of a city’s highest tower to look down on it from above. But after doing that, he fell into the following habit: after looking down at the city for hours, he went down and visited its most important places – the cathedral square or the marketplace, for example. There he sat down and carefully examined and made sketches of everything he saw, this time from ground level1.

Likewise, human beings have also resorted to representation (i.e., as in plan views of cities) to reveal places invisible to other people’s eyes. That way, even when you can’t travel, you still have written accounts, drawings, photographs, exhibitions, books, films and encyclopaedias.

Once again, Internet changed this paradigm forever. In 2007, only two years after launching Google Earth and Google Maps, Google presented its Street View, a new feature which allowed 360º panoramic views at street level, making it possible to “virtually visit” any chosen location. When the application was first released it was only possible to view five cities in the USA. Now, there is full access to 31 countries in Europe, 10 in Latin America, 17 in Asia, and 5 in Africa. Antarctica is also covered. The new tool represents a real revolution, enabling users to travel along streets in most places in the world.

Naturally, moving around a place online is in no way comparable to actually visiting it in real life, but who can be sure that one day they’ll be able to visit Kyrgyistan? Even though it’s possible that someday we might go to Brazil or New Zealand, are we likely to get to stroll through their small towns and villages to see what life is like there? And what are commercial spaces like in rural parts of Ghana? Or in Nepal? What are the buildings like in the few inhabited settlements in northern Greenland? Or public space in medium-sized cities in Peru?

Thanks to progress and the associated development of transport and infrastructures, we now have much greater access to places that just a few years ago were simply impossible to visit. And if, for whatever reason, we can’t experience everything we’d like to in-situ, we can still always satisfy our curiosity and check out the geographical, architectural, scenic and social reality of countless places all over the world, just with a click of the mouse.  Faraway… and yet closer than ever before.


Text by Andrew V. Taylor
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Reading this description, we can’t help but think of George Perec and his Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, in which for three days running in October 1974 he described everything that happened in the Place de Saint Sulpice (Paris).

Autor:
arquitecta (ETSAG), y compagina la actividad profesional con la divulgación, la investigación y la docencia. Es máster en Teoría y Práctica del Proyecto Arquitectónico (ETSAB) y en la actualidad realiza el doctorado en el grupo de investigación Habitar (UPC). Corresponsal de La Ciudad Viva, desde noviembre de 2013 forma parte de Re-cooperar, colectivo de jóvenes arquitectos de Barcelona, con el que ha participado en varios proyectos y ha sido docente de diversos talleres en la ETSA La Salle (Barcelona) y ESARQ UIC (Barcelona).

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