gaston bachelard: “the poetics of space” + desire paths.

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Sometimes remembering is even sweeter than learning. I first read about Desire Paths in an endlessly fascinating book by French scientist, philosopher, and poet (not a three-way combo you come across every day) Gaston Bachelard. Dedicated to the study of the poetry and philosophy of science, Bachelard’s 1958 book “The Poetics of Space” looks not at the origins or technicalities of architecture, but how the lived-in and human experience of architecture affects and shapes it’s development.

One of these experiences creates a Desire Path -”a term in landscape architecture used to describe a path that isn’t designed but rather is worn casually away by people finding the shortest distance between two points”. Just as Bachelard examines, it shows how the human use of an architectural or pre-determined flow through space will sometimes over-ride the intentions of it’s creator. Just like nature and evolution itself, life will always find the most expedient route to what it wants…

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desire-path

Also known as a Desire Line, I love this because it’s such an undeniable, physical interpretation of something so ethereal: “desire”. Yet you can’t argue with the solid proof of the path; the man told us to walk here, but human will chose to walk here. We were given concrete, and we chose the grass and earth instead. And so many followed that the human path was clearly worn in; sometimes it almost seems like they’re challenging the concrete paths close-by just by their very existence. Not as crisp and laid out, but more confident in that it was created in experience, and not by design. Plus, just the name itself proves that’s there’s always poetry in the most unexpected places. “Desire Path”…

This whole memory of Bachelard came up when I stumbled on a Flickr group dedicated to pictures documenting Desire Paths around the world.

desire1

Sometimes new concepts unexpectedly burst into existence all around you as soon as you tune your brain in to realize it. Now that you “know” about Desire Paths, you’ll start to see them everywhere. One day you’ll be walking along and see those little trails of history criss-crossing the land and say “oh, that’s where someone followed their desire”.

Speaking of finding poetry in the everyday, Bachelard himself said “Poetry is one of the destinies of speech… One would say that the poetic image, in its newness, opens a future to language. The words of the world want to make sentences”.

Comments

  1. Now that i know desire paths, im seeing them everywhere. great post. its sweeter to walk on the desire path. loved to read this. =]

  2. rebeccasretreat says:

    Such a great post, and something I regret to say, I have never truly realised. I’m sure I will spot many more after reading this and becoming newly aware to ‘Desire Paths’.

  3. Stine says:

    Love the post! I am looking for Bachelard’s definition of desire paths in “The Poetics of Space” but cannot find it. Is there anyone who can share with me which chapter and page I can find Bachelard’s words on the subject?

    Help is much appreciated!!!

    Best regards
    Stine

  4. desire paths can v have some more example such phenomenon?!!!

  5. Beautiful, I love it.

  6. So good to see the image of the desired path, which I believe to be a part of the human psychological experience. From my own experiences and analysis of venturing off ‘the (concrete) path’ I have realized that no matter what path the designer has constructed human nature will construct their own path if they desire strongly. When I remember how I felt when making a conscious decision to walk off the constructed path, it was primarily because I was thinking about personal issues or creative ideas. So to have a constructed path is to say one is following in the footsteps of others and that you have to ask yourself do you follow or do you create. With the individual path and from the images above the trodden can be viewed as unique for the adventurous and imaginative who sought individually to proceed on their own path and of course circumstances has to do with decision. Sometime we need to follow the concrete path. The ability to be flexible in choice is the trick! I believe the ability to weave (metaphorically) is the strength of the human nature.

    cynthia

  7. Malina says:

    Can anybody help me with the English text of Poetics of Space? I just have the German and need to translate three sentences right now. I would rather use your official English translation before I start translating it myself.

    All the best,

    malina

  8. An infamous site in which the “desired path’s” profoundly impacted the built environment may be seen in the Oval at Ohio State University. The oblong and ambigously shaped public green space is defined by an inconsistent arrangement of academic buildings around it’s perimeter. The original concrete walkways were laid out along a rigid axis, with no regard for the functioning of the pathways. Needless to say over the years as students cut inumerable strange paths across the green, the administration finally decided to simply pave them leading to an astounding network of walkways.

  9. Scott says:

    I remember (years ago) at my university these ‘desire paths’ would be paved when we would come back from summer break. We all enjoyed watching new ones pop up off of those as well. The running joke was that the entire center of campus would be paved one day. Interestingly enough I check Google Earth and they practically have!

  10. laura says:

    i am a landscape architect who also loves “paths of desire”- we are taught in school that they are almost always physical proof of a flaw in the design of the space- that the designer was more concerned with imposing their own will onto the site as opposed to finding a solution that accounts for the wants and “desires” of the users!

  11. They tried to put an end to the “desire paths” at my university by having the grounds crew plant a very thorny hedge. Within a week or two the thorny hedge had been stomped and mashed to oblivion where they blocked the path. The students were not phased and the U probably spent a fortune putting in the hedges (many meters worth) and more money removing them.

    I would like to know if concrete walks were put in over the paths if people would pick a different place to make a path. Is it a matter practicality or “desire.”

  12. My friends brother once created a desire path. He rode his bike in circles around the house all day when he was 8, and eventually there was a track around the house with big grooves in the turns.

  13. I keep returning to these photos and the concept of “Desire Paths.” As a person who once viewed paths as a legacy of the lazy, I can now see the beauty of determination in those grooves in the snow and ribbons of trodden earth stretching across the grass. Thanks for this.

Trackbacks

  1. […] One of these experiences creates a Desire Path -”a term in landscape architecture used to describe a path that isn’t designed but rather is worn casually away by people finding the shortest distance between two points”. Just as Bachelard examines, it shows how the human use of an architectural…read more. […]

  2. [...] the Pricetags blog. The transit geometry concept boils down to mirror the desire lines one (concept often associated to Gaston Bachelard [...]

  3. [...] gaston bachelard: “the poetics of space” + desire paths.. [...]

  4. [...] Desire Paths by Tony Baldasaro on TransLeadership, August 13, 2009. Gaston Bachelard: The Poetics of Space + Desire Paths by shape+colour, February 29, 2008. Word of the Week: Desire Path by Fritinancy, November 20, 2006. [...]

  5. [...] a great time at the Anderson and try to post a blurb on your experience. The curators reference Gaston Bachelard as a point of departure for their exhibition. He is the author of one of my favorite books, The [...]

  6. [...] “By changing space, by leaving the space of one’s visual sensibilities, one enters into communication with a space that is psychically innovating.. For we do not change place, we change our nature.” – Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space [...]

  7. [...] “By changing space, by leaving the space of one’s visual sensibilities, one enters into communication with a space that is psychically innovating.. For we do not change place, we change our nature.” – Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space [...]

  8. 3quarksdaily says:

    [...] set in tarmac or concrete, are perhaps the most timeless paths of all. Gaston Bachelard called them Desire Paths, physical etchings in our surroundings drawn by the thoughtless movement of human feet. In planning [...]

  9. [...] have a name:  “Desire Paths.”  I was directed to two blogs about desire paths here and here.  I even learned of a flickr group that focused on desire paths.  There, group [...]

  10. [...] post here. Published by Fitzgerald, on March 4th, 2009 at 6:31 pm. Filled under: FITZGERALD [...]

  11. [...] interesting comment over at the post that started this comes from a landscape architect who points out that the existence of a desire [...]

  12. [...] into the paths example and was reminded that they have a name by Daniel’s presentation: Desire Paths. What a poetic way to explain what people want! It was coined by Gaston Bachelard in his 1994 book [...]

  13. [...] stumbled on this post on the subject of Desire Paths, those little paths worn by pedestrians as they try to traverse the [...]

  14. [...] on the finishing touches, it seems that this will bring the two closer together.  To that effect, here’s a link to an interesting article about ‘desire paths’ over at Shape + [...]

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