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This article examines the ontological and spatial character of the waterfront and its influence on perception and design, with particular focus on the process of reproduction of space (Lefebvre) through the generation of mental maps. The convergence of land and water holds in itself an inherent tension between the accessible and the unattainable: the unconscious can be projected on the unknowable underwater space; the unseen domain beyond the horizon can hold a promise of a better world. Another polarity is that of the familiar and the unknown/exotic, off ering a new perspective, a reevaluation of the familiar through the process of ‘ostranenie’ (Shklovsky),’verfremdung’ (Brecht) or ‘estrangement’. The impact of these polarities reaches beyond the spectacle of urban life, the cinematic experience or the theatrum mundi: it enables the reevaluation of the preconceptions of beauty and utility, as exemplifi ed by Futurist Manifesto (Marinetti). These polarities manifest themselves in the hierarchy and dynamics of a waterfront community: physical impermanence of water dwellings foregrounds the contingent nature of human relationships. The waterfront community inhabits superimposed yet separate networks of land and water. First, mental maps have to be generated for each of these separately, then they have to be reconciled in a coherent whole in a separate process. That mapping of the separate networks necessitates a physical transition, a spatial translation that also has linguistic consequences: a different semantic field is assigned to the vocabulary of the everyday, for the significance of the basic terms like ‘home’ or ‘street’ need a modifi ed definition. All the aforementioned processes and phenomena infl uence the ability to perceive, design and reproduce waterfront areas of cities.
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