Thus the highest realization of warfare is to forge strategies; next is to deal with
alliances; next to charge the armed forces;and the lowest is to attack their
fortified cities when unavoidable.
— Sun Tze, Art of War, 500 BC
War awakens the need to understand confrontations. Today we observe hectic conflicts
and fighting both on the streets as well as through the media. People are constantly
seen making strategic moves to gain advantage or to escape from danger. Modern
planning however, does not take account of daily activities that are often marked by
the degree of uncontrollable human will. Instead, planners use grandiose hypotheses
to sanction these inevitable ongoing actions.
These in-situ moves are the immediate solutions and consequential behaviors mobilized
by people in order to manage limited resources and adapt themselves to the man-made
environment. They are fundamental survival tactics, as deployed in the battlefield,
and need to be recognized, detected and further transformed into design apparatus.
They are themselves the core of the socio-political dynamics that induce change
The following are major tactics derived from observations of the more obscure aspects
of daily life that can be taken as the point of departure for the micro-urban
Subtle! Subtle! It approaches the formless.
— Sun Tze, Art of War, 500 BC
Taoist metaphysics attends to the world's neglect of the weak and other intangible
behaviours. Less is not only considered to be more, as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe may
contend, but more critical, no matter how vulnerable it appears to be. By
appropriating Tao-Zen thinking, minimalists have also worked on the purification of
the preconceived form, assuming this would lay a path to a spiritually abundant
state. However, this concern with presupposed aestheticisation has never reached the
heart of the transient and formless side of being.
Non-Euclidean geometry and digital genetic systems are now being employed to
accommodate the ever-changing context in the hope of representing the free spirit.
In fact, while forms and shapes may in themselves be awe-inspiring and seductive, as
in the category of classical romanticism, they do not necessarily bear transitory
meanings that appeal to basic human needs. It is the overall setting that allows for
the interplay between the formal and the formless and which influences people's
common comprehension and judgment.
The Art of War emphasizes the subtle play of intangible substances that form the
strategic deployments that are most decisive in winning a battle. The formless or
transient substance can be utilised in either a visible or invisible manner. And the
ultimate strength depends on the total effect of the arrangement of minimal devices
in time and space. The author, Sun Tze, who grew up in ancient China in a small
kingdom in the shadow of surrounding major warlords, opened up the foundational
dimension of Taoist philosophy and how it could be reflected in the mundane world.
The modern design culture originating in Europe has long been directed towards
tangible representation and completion. On the reverse of the visual magnitude of
masses and volumes, architects have to learn to work with common resources, usually
with small or insignificant elements, to create preferred conditions that help
things to flow in the indeterminable milieu.
Configuration of terrain is the prerequisite to warfare. Judging the given
conditions, taking control of victory, estimating ravines and defiles, the distant
and near, is the Tao of the commanding.
— Sun Tze, Art of War, 500 BC
The ground we are attached to raises the innate awareness of our existence, which is
invisible but nonetheless incomprehensible. Alteration of the grounding plane
results in the mobilisation of senses and perceptions. The topos constructs our
horizons and conditions our biological mechanisms and physical activities on earth.
Paul Virilio's suggestion of oblique circulation was an earlier attempt to gear
towards this fundamental revolt. My installation work in the Tangibleintangible
exhibition1 was a case, on a very manageable scale of operation, of how people and
goats walk on slightly slanted or sloped ground to further unveil the insignificant
determinant in space.
The surface of the new plane in the gallery was composed of steel plates, which made
sounds. It indicates that the pavement on the ground is another unnoticeable factor
that greatly influences the experience of walking. Small details on the paving could
cause minor disruptions, sights
or sensations that may accumulate into collective motions. The area in between
defined or non-defined textures and the edges of the pavement in open space already
draw the front lines in the public domain.
To occupy a strategic location in a city devoted to seeing and being seen should
become a priority for reconnoitering in the field. Selection of location can be
based on the knowledge of the topography, scenery and psycho-geography of the area,
which offers insight into choosing the relationship to the surroundings, in order to
ignite positive engagements and prevent fatal entrapments.
The ancient geomantic technique of reading the natural landscape to seek ideal
locations for settlements should be reconsidered as the fundamental guidance. Taipei
was the last Asian city consciously designed under "Feng Shui" principles in the
19th century. The system refers to the figure of the mystic dragon. The old city was
located on a carefully selected dragon's vagina-like basin area between the dragon's
tail-like mountain flank and riverside. This kind of area is considered safer and
probably less prone to seismic activity, as earthquake records show.
The strategies of bridging and dis-bridging are both crucial in building up accesses
for manoeuvres. The efficiency of these techniques includes the speed of
construction or destruction and the understanding of the banks to be connected or
disconnected. In Hong Kong, thriving commerce is markedly backed up by the
overhanging walkways between high-rise buildings and higher grounds, which make new
layers of free movements.
Thus although capable, display incapability to them. When committed to employing your
forces, feign inactivity. When it is nearby, make it appear as if distant; when far
away, create the illusion of being nearby. Attack where they are unexpected. Go
forth where they will not be expected.
— Sun Tze, Art of War, 500 BC
Appearance is understood as direct contact with perceivers. Instantly, this produces
the impression of the substance behind the surface. To shape a preferred look, it is
almost unavoidable to apply camouflage or mount illusion. There was an "Empty City
Trick" legend from Sun Tze's time that describes how to scare an overpowering enemy
away by doing nothing but maintaining the everyday conditions at the city gate to
create an illusion of well-prepared confidence. However, the deceptive approach is
not about delusion making or just a psychological wrestling, but also aimed at
finding a channel through uncovered human nature for deeper and more effective
Betel nut is the seed of a tropical palm-tree flower common in Southeast Asia, and
has a stimulant effect when chewed. In Taipei, the young girls who sell such nuts
are referred to as 'Betel Nut Beauties'. Dressed in sexy costumes, they stand inside
or outside a flashy glass booth to entice those driving by to stop and buy betel
nuts. The wheeled booths are custom-made to be movable so as to reach the edge of
the road when in operation. The lavish bodies and settings are designed for
interaction, therefore to be constructive parts of the city.
Illegal vendors need to be able to disappear when chased by the police. Their carts,
containers and sheets are therefore designed to be movable, dispersible and
restorable. The retreat is planned in advance. These time-conscious apparatuses are
effectively inserted into intervals of dullness and commandment.
Taste is considered the basic reference for discerning the nature and quality of food
in ayurvedic practice. 'Pan' is a kind of herbal refreshment similar to betel nut
seen almost everywhere in India. It contains various spices, sweets, herbs and
tobaccos wrapped up in an edible green leaf. The flavours and scents infiltrate
people's minds and atmosphere and constitute the character as well as the original
taste of the city.
Besides introducing a mode of knowledge and an operational system, globalisation
silently brought in certain tastes and smells from imported goods, cooking recipes,
fragrances, textiles and lifestyles. The bewilderment experienced by the tongue and
the nostril is part of the original drive of urban transformation, which is finally
concretised in the physical environment.
If they are substantial, prepare for them; if they are strong, avoid them. If they
are angry, perturb them; be deferential to foster their arrogance. If they are
rested, force them to exert themselves. If they are united, cause them to be
— Sun Tze, Art of War, 500 BC
To survive in a highly dense and competitive environment, one has to take the risk of
being on the fringes of norm and danger. In order to play safe, sometimes one needs
to subvert the dangerous zone. This detour can be seen on the collective level
practised long before the emergence of Situationist ideas regarding "détournement."
In Bangkok, street vendors gather along the sides of railway tracks, forming the
city's daily food market. As trains approach, the vendors move their goods and sheds
off the track. When the trains have passed, the marketplace is reassembled. Using
radiophones, taxi drivers who share the same interests may gather on certain
sections of the road to protest or to unite in pressure against the police or an
opposing group of taxi drivers. They are turning the road into an action arena
coexisting with its civilian use for transportation.
By instinct, children will always shape simple things and surroundings to their
experiences — a segment of rope becomes a serpent or an area with leftover rainwater
on the ground becomes a swimming pool, for example. Detour is by nature a set of
disappeared actions during the formation of the city. When squatters came to the
'dead city' in Cairo, where people made their home in the graveyard, the inherent
urban multiplicity was returned to the ancient links to other space-times of the
In reality, they play a game in the grey zone of regulations, while, the authorities
in these cities kindly set up under-table agreements to maintain the coexistence. In
Mumbai, some temporary shelters sustained over more than five years have been
claimed as legal entities with the right to stay and to be facilitated, as is also
the case with Christiana in Copenhagen where hippies testify to their way of life
amid the city.
And a correspondence dawned on me as between these places of shelter from danger, and
places of worship, which are also places of salvation.
— Paul Virilio, From Modernism to Hypermodernism and
The third stage of speed revolution, as Paul Virilio pointed out, suggests that we
are now more than ever living in a reduced bunkerised space. With the aid of digital
technology, cyber travel provides an autistic virtual womb from which dwellers can
be reborn. The space we need may not have walls, but rather is a point with moments
of solitude that allow hyperlinks.
On the other hand, nomadic workers flood into the city for opportunities or a better
life. In Bogota, Columbia, recent warfare in the rural areas impelled a sudden
increase in population from 50% up to 80% in the urban areas. People, no matter rich
or poor, see the city as a battlefield and are always seeking their bunkers.
A bunker is not necessarily a monolithic fortification. The bunker can be found
spaces and temporary structures when its location is strategically near points of
observation and access to supplies — like true stories of warriors spread over the
vicinity. Though the facade of an idyllic house may remain, underground cellars and
tunnels become the living spaces for retreating troops.
Originating in Japan, KTVs (karaoke rooms) are a new type of meeting and drinking
place consisting of a complex of rooms equipped with TV screens and facilities
designed especially for lay singing, which have spread over major cites in Asia
since the mid-80's. People swarm into these small rooms after work for fun and
relaxation and also for secret negotiations and intercourses including sexual acts
in a heterotopia. The capsule hotels in Tokyo are precursors of high-tech urban
bunkers for travelers. Similarly sized and divided resting spaces in the spa houses
serve as cocoons for homosexuals in the same city.