Midan Tahrir: The square, site of public, site of performance?

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So the events in Egypt have been inspiring. How could they not be. Moreover, I have read a few things within the last 48 hours or so, that have me thinking. Specifically, about 1) urban interventions 2) citizen as actors/designers 3) the politics of Public 4) and some things from my history graduate seminars regarding: politics as culture.

To begin check out these two images of Tahrir Square before and during the current political upheavals.

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Next one can read Fin-de-siècle Vienna: politics and culture, by Carl E. Schorske (which I read during an old history course on the Hapsburg Empire and Central European 19th Century Revolutions and still own), in which Carl draws on Camillo Sitte‘s view of the public square. In such a formulation a square can be the ideal performance site and representation of community. A “theater of common life“. The square and coffee-shop, newsprint and broadsheets, or the Ringstrasse and early urban Modernism of Otto Wagner, for Carl all were indicative of a new public, anti-monarchical, Liberalism. A new Public discourse.

So, there is that. Meaning, the idea of the square, urbanism, politics and civic ideals. The historical and moderns ways of viewing the square. From, Greece (agora) through Rome, then the Venetian piazza to Nazi Germany’s the Reichsparteitagsgelände, Red Communist’s Red Square or even Capitalist Times Square. The square as site of public spectacle or commons.

Along similar lines via Javier I came across this article in which Rob Wipond challenges the notion of “What is a sidewalk for?”. The tension is between simple traffic (read pedestrian) flow and the notion of public space for humanity. Civil engineering vs social engineering. With a similar insurgent spirit, Mimi Zieger announced an at least occasionally reoccurring series at Places journal, entitled The Interventionist’s Toolkit. With which she promises to focus on the sort of DIY, citizen/artist based hacking, cheap and performative, urban praxis which has, in light of the continuing recession, taking on an even bigger role within design circles. Whether, paper architecture, unsolicited architecture, Design Fiction, or jam-hack, for instance. At least in my own interest and reading.

Then, over at the UrbanSpaceInitiative they say about the public square; “The true value of an urban public square is that it is free from large obstructions. The square allows people to make use of its openness for a range of activities. This openness is a valuable asset within a wider urban environment that can often be crammed and cramped with traffic. William H. Whyte notes how a city can devour space unthinkingly and rapidly

Finally, back to the events in Egypt. The main site of events at least in Cairo has been Tahrir Square. The citizens have flowed there from all over the city. Some commentators have even noted the fact that rather than demonstrating in front of the palace of Hosni Mubarak, they have focused their energies in the square. This is partly due to the history of the site being tied to previous riots and revolts. A site of demonstration, ritualized political chanting and behavior. A revolution, the ultimate in public acts/displays of Liberalism. The power of people. A happening, liminal zone or apolitical place/space. I think it is instructive that in such a context a range of communal, public and urban interventions of a sort have been reported.

Tahrir Square has basically become occupied or domesticated. The citizens have grasped control from and extended (at least symbolically) their own control over the square. It has become a multi-day home for these volunteers. So, they are helping to clean up trash after recent protests. Hosing down the streets. Some are providing free medical service and food. They are even in some cases providing their own form of security for national institutions like the Alexandria library or Cairo’s Egyptian Museum. Protecting the patrimony and assuming the role of the state. Sleeping in groups, huddled around fires. As the protests move into their third week the protesters have even formed a tent city of sorts.

Or even this report of protesters building a trebuchet to use against security forces/thugs..

Some of these sound right out of the CCA catalog for the Actions: What You Can Do With the City exhibition, don’t they? Where does one draw the line between political act, human ingenuity or hyper-aware media ploy?

Are these sorts of acts an extension of the revolutionary events? A reflection of politics as representational culture? A way of emphasizing the protesters pro-Egyptian sensibilties? Are they discursive? What lessons can we learn about civic based urbanism? Is the answer a new regime? Pedagogical, economical or political. The need to create a public through the physical urban development of a public realm. Where do such thoughts tie in with concerns over the Right to the City?

The square was given its initial modern makeover in the 19th century. Commissioned as part of the new downtown district’s design by Khedive Ismail. How did those design decisions impact the current layout and usage of the park? Imagine if the square had been designed to accommodate only vehicular traffic or no vehicular traffic. How could recent events have been affected by the addition or removal of the adjoining public garden or the giant traffic circle?

More information on Cairo and Egyptian revolution (?) see this BIP by Orhan Ayyüce over at Archinect Or for more on history and urban development of Tahrir Square see this very informative post over at the blog Cairo: Multi-Schizophrenic. City

Resurrection City and architect John Wiebenson

NYT has been doing a great series recently, “Unpublished Black History From the New York Times Archives” and one of the latest articles fts reporting from the 1968, Poor People’s Campaign.

How many Archinectors out there are familiar with the story of “Resurrection City” (see this oral history via American Public Media).

Or the fact that “An architect designed rudimentary tents and wooden structures for temporary residents, and then came a city hall, a general store, a health clinic and a handful of celebrity visitors, including Sidney Poitier, Marlon Brando and Barbra Streisand.

As far as I could tell from a quick search, neither of these topics have been mentioned in news or forums on Archinect.

Did some research and while there is some additional information out there about the architecture of “Resurrection City” there doesn’t seem to be tons…

Best/first – is a 1969 essay Wiebenson wrote in JAPA reflecting on his experience and how “Though temporary, Resurrection City is a useful model of the community development process in action.

Smithsonian Magazine – has a paragraph in an article about the larger movement.

MIT – has a photo of one of the A-frames with a plastic door, available via their digital archive.

WETA’s Boundary Stones blog – focuses more on the movement but has a couple of great photos.

A moving eulogy to the man, by Sam Smith long-time editor of DC Gazette (now the Progressive Review).

Anyone have tips for further reading?

Some photos

Credit: George Tames/The New York Times

 

Also

After my further reading, I suspect he and his work might be a bit more familiar to architects in DC area, as since 2003 AIA DC has awarded the Wieb Award (for Combining Good Architecture with Good Works).

An interesting side-note is that Wiebenson was the author of a comic strip, Archihorse (example below).

On and he is from Denver/CO originally, which I only learned after I read the above strip. Interesting to note that similar conversations continue today (see for example Denver Fugly) in Denver.

A while ago I started a (somewhat) related thread re: participatory-design/performance and political and ecological engagement in architecture and urbanism. Specifically within context of counter/sub-cultural movements of 1960s/70s.

Editor’s note: Cross-posted from Archinect (compare time stamps…)

A (belated) #InternationalWomensDay

the earliest image of the female face. A wonder of the carved in mammoth ivory over 26,000 years ago.

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For those wondering how they know it is of a woman,

Per Wikipedia the figurine was found at a burial site, the remains of which included an approximately forty-year-old woman with “remarkably similar facial characteristics. The woman was found to have deformities on the left side of her face.

Findings also included

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The Ceramic Venus of Dolni Vestonice Photographer: Petr Novák, Wikipedia

Via The Ice Age

re: deep listening and sonic meditation

h/t Letter of Recommendation via NYT

The best image or metaphor I can give for it is a tapestry of sound: threads of sound that come and go and some that stay. Trying to expand oneself to include more and more of the field, I call inclusive listening. And then when something attracts your attention to focus in on, that’s exclusive listening. You can do both at once, actually. I have a lot of exercises and pieces that try to expose these different forms. And this is what we do in the Deep Listening retreat. Deep Listening is a process. I guess the best definition I could give is listening to everything all the time and reminding yourself when you’re not listening.

Check out this great in-depth interview with Pauline Oliveros by Alan Baker of American Public Media

plays “like a ceremony.”

Ravi Coltrane re: his father’s ‘Interstellar Space’ LP.

There’s a tune on Interstellar Space called ‘Leo,’ but the real title is ‘Leo Minor,’ after the constellation. And of course, it’s in a minor key, the key of E minor. … John had sort of devised a 12-tone system based on the planets and various star groupings.

Via Rolling Stone

Note: This article is good stuff! Just added two albums to my wish list; original “Interstellar Space” and “Interstellar Space Revisited” ft Nels Cline.