In the frame of the international Jane’s Walk Day, zURBS invited a group of 20 people to walk down the busy, commercialized Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich. The aim was to explore how one might rediscover a street like this, that residents in Zurich know so well. Different games were played on the walk down the street: We walked 100 metres very slowly backwards (random people started to join us and it turned into some form of collective action), we turned our backs to buildings and shops trying to remember what colour these buildings have (whether or not the houses have balconies, and whether the sculpture on the square was actually male or female), we went blindfolded through the Saturday shopping crowd.
Two hours later, one of the most generic streets of Zurich was transformed from being a consumption mecca, to being a playground for urban exploration.
Text about the walk published in Jane’s Walk Annual
A main shopping street: European cities tend to have one. Often it is busy. Often it is commercialised, filled with high-street and high-class brands. Thus, while other Jane’s walks this sunny saturday focused on the unknown outskirts of town, zURBS had chosen to make theirs on Zürich’s main shopping street: Bahnhofstrasse.
But how to rediscover a street that “we know” so well?
What if a group of 20 people starts walking backwards? People stop, stare and laugh. Teenagers join in – not having a faintest clue what this is all about. Walking backwards we feel the body’s insecure movements, and we notice the pavement’s material. We wonder: When was the last time we did this?
What if we try to focus on things not for sale on this highly commercialised street? We talked about lost history. We talked about imaginative history.
Standing with our backs to that shopping-mall we know so well: Can we still tell what colour it is? Does the house next to it have balconies? And that main statue- is it female or male?
In the attempt to look at the street differently, we went blindfolded in the middle of the busy saturday-shopping: How intimidating, having to trust our guide unconditionally. Now, all sounds seem louder. The street steeper. And how much stronger the flowers and the garbage smells. It is suddenly more legit to let our fingers stroke the surfaces of the houses: some rough, hard and hurting, some smooth and powdery almost inviting to another touch. We grew almost comfortable with the blindfold on. How liberating, not to care about the coffee-shop’s yellow sale signs and the dodging of the tourists. Just walking slowly- listening- feeling- sensing .
Two hours later the most generic street of Zürich was transformed. We realised: if only we remember to play, rediscover and sense our surroundings the invisible qualities of our cities can indeed be uncovered.
© photos: Jean-Baptiste Beovardi