Adam Greenfield re: importance of “public space”

Specifically, why he thinks creating, maintaining and actually using it is so important, from either the individual or the collective point of view.

To wit;

At the most basic level, if a city isn’t furnished with a well-developed fabric of public spaces of different sizes and shapes and types, there is no place to simply be if you are not actively consuming. You never understand quite what this implies — just how stark and uncomfortable an urban environment can be, no matter how well-appointed otherwise — until you visit someplace where such a nightmare endstate is enacted intentionally and literally…We need to develop meaningful ways for people to use the city when they don’t have so much as a penny to their name, and public space can do this“.

Via recent post Public space, civilization and the self (long) over at his blog Speedbird.


re: a uniquely Paulista approach to combining Brutalism and public space

Praça das Artes / Brasil Arquitetura © Nelson Kon

Over at ICON EYE Edwin Heathcote reviewed a few examples of a typology of cultural complex specific to São Paulo, by architects such as Paulo Mendes da Rocha, João Batista Vilanova Artigas and Lina Bo Bardi.

Speaking of the Praça das Artes (a more recent building completed) by two architects who studied with Lina Bo Bard, he writes; “Most distinctive of all, however, is the way it invites you in, with the solid structure lifted above the public realm…There is a recognisable typology running from Mendes da Rocha through Bo Bardi and Artigas right up to Brasil Arquitectura, a uniquely Paulista approach…Together, these buildings, and many others similar in intent and language, create a coherent idea of how public space can animate a city – but that activity is something that is left to the citizens, not dictated…There is nothing precious about this architecture – in fact, quite the opposite, it is its very mass and an almost geographical robustness that keeps it from dictating use and makes it feel available and open, more like a natural landscape than a top-down imposition“.

Praça das Artes / Brasil Arquitetura (Sketch)

José Castillo, Kenneth Goldsmith and Peter Eisenman

I haven’t read BOMB Magazine in awhile. The other day I had a chance to do some browsing through their archives and came across interviews with the three men.

In BOMB 94/Winter 2006, Carlos Brillembourg and architect José Castillo discussed the changing ecology of the city and how a new “urbanisms of the informal” is changing conceptions of urban planning.

Informal is a deliberately ambiguous term. In my description of the phenomenon of urbanization as it relates to Mexico City, I address a three-tiered definition of the word: First, it incorporates the notion of the casual; second, it refers to the condition of lacking precise form; and finally, it relates to the realm outside what is prescribed. I use the term urbanisms of the informal to explain the practices (social, economic, architectural and urban) and the forms (physical and spatial) that a group of stake holders (dwellers, developers, planners, landowners and the state) undertake not only to obtain access to land and housing, but also to satisfy their need to engage in urban life. These practices are characterized by tactical and incremental decisions, by a complex interaction among players and a distinct set of spatial strategies that produce a progressive urban space and reconfigured hierarchies.

In BOMB 117/Fall 2011, Marcus Boon and Kenneth Goldsmith (founder of UbuWeb) discussed appropriation, the relationship between avant-garde and the populist, or high and low culture, poetics and conceptual writing.

KG If the tools are there, it’d be insane for writers not to use them. Yet there’s huge swaths of MFA-produced literary fiction that act like such tools and ideas don’t exist. Somebody recently said about Jonathan Franzen that he is the ‘greatest novelist . . . of the 1950s.’ (laughter) We’re at this moment of great possibility and experimentation because of the tools that are sitting on our own desktop, yet many prefer to still act like ‘original geniuses’ instead of ‘unoriginal geniuses,’ a term Marjorie Perloff recently coined…Had someone emailed me an entire text file of the day’s newspaper, it would have been fine with me to republish that as a book. But again, I think we spend so much of our time moving information from one place to another—copying, cutting, pasting, cc’ing, downloading, backing up, etcetera—that I begin to see that as a form of writing.

Additionally, in BOMB 117/Fall 2011, Carlos Brillembourg and Peter Eisenman discussed autonomous architecture within the context of Eisenman’s “the index,” a formal system which triggers a geometric progression with the goal being disaggregation.

PE Trying to define the difference between architectural and sculptural site-specific projects became important in my work. Literally and metaphorically the work began to dig into the ground at the same time as I was digging into the ground of my unconscious. My Cities of Artificial Excavation project developed from this. Ever since, my project—whether the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, the Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio, or the City of Culture in Santiago de Compostela, Spain—has posited a different modernist idea of abstraction, a different kind of autonomy, and a different idea of ground.

Furthermore, reviewing one of his own more recent works, The City of Culture of Galicia, Santiago de Compostela, Spain, Eisenman argues that “Before, my work was indexical; it’s no longer indexical. That’s why there are these stuttering, fractured surfaces that we didn’t have before“.

the commons vs public space

Below excerpted from Mark Jagdev’s Private, Public, or Common: Who Owns Space?

Reposted from Occupy Vancouver Voice, authored by Stephen Collis, 
originally published on: 08 December 2011

History lesson over. The point is that a “commons” is a space a population uses for satisfying its social needs; it is a space of collective independence; no one owns it, but ideally, all have use of it. The Occupy Movement has essentially been asserting a right to a new kind of commons—a political commons upon which all are invited to enter into the on-going democratic process of governing ourselves. We currently have no such space—our so-called “public” spaces are there only for leisure and temporary pleasures permitted by proprietary governments (and our governmental political spaces are increasingly the preserve only of the wealthy and privileged).

RT @quilian Private, Public, or Common: Who Owns Space #whOWNSpace #commons vs #public #OccupyVancouver #humanness

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

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.


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

Slavoj Žižek on Wikileaks

Via Bruce Sterling I read Slavoj Žižek in London Review of Books on Wikileaks. He writes:

Of course one cannot trust the façade, the official documents, but neither do we find truth in the gossip shared behind that façade. Appearance, the public face, is never a simple hypocrisy. E.L. Doctorow once remarked that appearances are all we have, so we should treat them with great care. We are often told that privacy is disappearing, that the most intimate secrets are open to public probing. But the reality is the opposite: what is effectively disappearing is public space, with its attendant dignity. Cases abound in our daily lives in which not telling all is the proper thing to do.

Yet there may be an upside, “Through actions like the WikiLeaks disclosures, the shame – our shame for tolerating such power over us – is made more shameful by being publicised.