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? Or perhaps a more medieval, tactical urbanism?

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

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review of Drosscape by Alan Berger

Just came across this old book review on Amazon.

From back in 2007. I think I posted a version of this to Archinect’s old Book Review section as well. Which vaporized with the Nect 3.0 launch.

This book is a natural extension of the direction Alan Berger took in his first book Reclaiming the American West. While in his first book he examined the “leftover” space, of human industrial development in the American West in his new book he examines the range of wasted spaces which are created by current urban development patterns. Although specifically about the American urban landscape, his work can be at least loosely applied anywhere where sprawl or horizontal urbanity has become the norm. A key aim of his book is to go beyond the partisan debate of pro-or anti sprawl activists. Instead, Berger sets out to initiate a conversation and to develop a vocabulary through which this phenomenon of “inevitable” horizontal development can be understood and critiqued. However, this is arguably one weakness of the book. Although he develops a wonderful analysis of the phenomenon, his acceptance of it’s inevitably, especially in the face of the efforts of many to change the game, can come off as defeatist. Yet, his focus on the liminal nature of the typologies he outlines does open up many fascinating areas of discussion. For inspiration he draws on everything from William Gibson’s Neuromancer to Lars Lerups’ concept of Stim & Dross. Ultimately, his approach is hopeful though. He concludes that because of the large scale nature of the problem, any solution must draw on abilities and knowledge of all the design disciplines from landscape architecture to urban planning. Berger suggests a paradigm shift, asking “designers to consider working in the margins rather than at the center.

 

re: informal Kabul

 

Contemporary reflections on conflict in Kabul focus on the violence of insurgent attacks, but we must understand the informal settlements on the city’s hillsides as an equally significant outcome of conflict as the spaces of direct impact. Their continued exclusion from infrastructure provision, and from the municipality’s formal planning initiatives, has meant that informal settlements continue to be underserved and remain unrecognized as essential components of the urban fabric.

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Stages of informal development within the city creep up the hillsides of the region, while IED attacks (represented as dots) take place largely within the formal parts of the city, along major transportation infrastructure, 2017, Zannah Mae Matson

Zannah Matson writes about the ‘Legacies of Conflict and [Re] Constructing Urban Futures‘, as exemplified in Kabul.

best known for his book In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (2003)

Moten is impatient with detractors who accuse him of difficulty and lack of clarity. Many writers once thought to be impenetrable are now considered canonical, he points out. “The critics I loved and who were influential to me were all weird: Empson, Burke, Benjamin, Adorno—they all had a sound, and it wasn’t like a PMLA, academic-journal sound.” The other critics who influenced him, he continues, were poets: Charles Olson, Amiri Baraka, Nathaniel Mackey, and especially Susan Howe—who, he says, has a different understanding of how the sentence works. “Miles [Davis] said: You gotta have a sound. I knew I wanted to sound like something. That was more important to me than anything.” One could argue that Moten’s sound resonates with the “golden era” of hip-hop of the late eighties and early nineties, when it was still audibly a wild collage of jazz, R&B, late disco and funk: “Styles upon styles upon styles is what I have,” the late Phife Dawg raps on A Tribe Called Quest’s celebrated 1991 album The Low End Theory.

Photograph by Robert Adam Mayer

Harvard Magazine published Jesse McCarthy’s essay on the subversive black-studies scholarship of Fred Moten.

Two from Places: re: neo-Gothic fantasy and Jakarta

Back in October, Places Journal published Belmont Freeman’s case against the architecture of higher education, which all too often abdicates “leadership in promoting artistic innovation as they pander to plutocratic donors.” Choosing instead a nostalgic “idealized version of the Ivy League“.

The next month, Joe Day explains, the history of contemporary architecture in Jakarta, in the utopian terms of the Pancasilas, the founding principles of modern Indonesia.

Which includes the below, as it’s last footnote;

It should be noted that this “Architectures of the Pancasilas” approach underserves more than few gifted Jakarta architects. Between the AMI and the post-’98 generations — that is, between those now circling 60 and those still under 40 — I would point to Anthony Liu and Ferry Ridwan, partners in the prolific Studio TonTon (designers of the widely published Kosenda Hotel), to Ahmad Djuhara (the outspoken president of the Indonesian Institute of Architects) and his partner Wendy Djuhara, and to Stanley Wangsadihardja and Susi Gunawan, both educators as well as designers. It is in this group that Jakarta’s specific rapport with Japanese contemporary architecture is most profound.