“Call for Submissions”- Poster for MONU #9, February 2008

Exotic Urbanism
By Bernd Upmeyer

Ever since our cities became areas of continuous interaction and ever-expanding exchange the term “exotic” – understood as counterpart to the “local”, the “native” or even the “authentic” – has become a rather vague term. Who – in actual fact – is still able to distinguish between the one and the other, between the exotic and the local? Who would be interested anyway? Yet, once again, there seems to be an increasing fascination with, and interest in, importing and seeing certain urban elements from other parts of the world in our own cities. There are, apparently, more Japanese people visiting the fake Eiffel Tower in Las Vegas than the original in Paris. What makes this displacement so interesting today?

The fascination with the “exotic” and its appearance in our cities has a long history, although at first merely going in one direction: from the “West” to the “East”. Interest in the exotic by the Western World was first stimulated by trade with the Eastern World back in the 16th century. But right from the start there has always been this intriguing contradiction in the term “exotic” as being on the one hand associated with fantasies of opulence and barbaric splendour, yet on the other hand considered as integer, uncorrupted and tasteful. The charm of the unfamiliar with its thrill of menace hasn’t lost its attraction even today and has been turned into a global phenomenon that can no longer be discussed within the narrow-minded Orient – Occident dialectic. These days, all kinds of foreign urban elements evoke the atmosphere of far-off lands all over the world. A finish sauna can be as exotic in Sao Paulo as Islamic ornamental motifs on a building in New York City.

MONU #9 investigates what the term exotic actually means for our cities and how exotic urban elements appear, what they look like, and how they may influence our cities. In any case, exotic urban features appear more and more as an inexhaustible source for progressive urban design ideas. When the exotic influenced the appearance of the “Art Nouveau” at the end of the 19th century, it might today have the power to create an “Urban Nouveau”.

Title: Exotic Urbanism
Author: Bernd Upmeyer
Date: February 2008
Type: Call For Submissions for MONU
Publications: MONU – Magazine on Urbanism
Location: Rotterdam, The Netherlands