Learning from the Non-Place: The Urban Surface of Pasadena, Texas



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“This new world of non-place privileges the fleeting, ephemeral, and contingent”, Marc Auge, Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Super Modernity Pasadena developed as a small working-class bay area in the early 1900’s with strawberry fields as its identity and economic structure. The shift in the 1930’s to a petrochemical base grew the economy exponentially, and the city developed as a typical post-war urban sprawl. Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi used Learning from Las Vegas to embrace sprawl and the commercial strip as a meaningful way to read the city. They state, “Each city is an archetype rather than a prototype, an exaggerated example from which to derive lessons for the typical. Each city vividly superimposes elements of a supranational scale on the local fabric…” The character of the commercial strip is validation of meaning in the growing a-spatial American urban context. Pasadena’s idealized strip and petrochemical industry amalgamation create a destabilizing city structure. Learning from Las Vegas in Pasadena shows a late 20th century space, dependent on oil and gas in production and consumption. Pasadena resembles the Non-Place. As defined by Marc Auge, the Non-Place refers to anthropological spaces of transience where the human beings remain anonymous and that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as “places”. Pasadena suffers from past celebrations of the sign and strip, forming its existence as Non-Place. However, Alex Wall does offer an alternate way of describing the city- the urban surface. This thesis challenges Pasadena’s reliance on the non-place through the study of the urban surface and its barely visible structures that can support a post-petrol city. To stitch together and develop the urban surface of Pasadena, Texas, a solar park research and practice facility works to joins academia, profession, and commerce within the non-place.