Between Built and Dreamt: The Contested Urbanscapes of New York City through Walking on the High Line


  • Ke Sun


This research investigates the urban sphere beyond its physical condition and studies it as a transcendent phenomenological field that engages memory, imagination, and dream. By using the perception of Benjaminian flâneur as a phenomenological method to investigate the subconscious layers of New York City’s urbanscapes, this research argues that the embodied experience of the flâneur transcends the physical urban space into a surrealist dream world. This contestation between built and dreamt asks us to rethink urban space as a sphere of precarious emergence where experiences reform from memory, poetically perceived images surface from imagination, and embodied consciousness attuned to public spheres arises from dream. The research conducts its theoretical inquiry of urban contestations through a surrealist framework that assesses the perception of the flâneur from a phenomenological perspective and focuses on the relationship between the High Line and New York City to investigate a particular urbanscape of contestations that challenges the boundaries between real and surreal, dream and un-dream, past and present, emergence and nostalgia. It further argues that the phenomenological experience of the flâneur evokes memory, imagination, and dream to transform the physicality of urban space into an atmospheric domain of subjective consciousness. In the case of High Line, this domain finds its home in the latent surrealist world that contests the reality of the built world by instilling subjective architectural uncanniness. For the flâneur, the High Line becomes a place of departure that traces past experiences back to memory, a site of voyeurism that channels imagination, and a threshold between dream and reality.

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