Proto-Berlin Wall

The Soviets’ earliest efforts to undermine the Western occupiers (France, the UK and the US) culminated in the Berlin blockade in 1948 and 1949. Only walking paths were left open after the Russians set up barricades of rubble across these streets leading from the Soviet sector of Berlin into the western zones. The Soviets explained that the blockade would make it easier for them to keep food and fuel from being smuggled into the western sectors of the city. (Copyright AP via Der Spiegel)

I guess this makes sense, in that temporary barriers/blockades etc would be a first step, towards what eventually became the Berlin Wall and then the Iron Curtain. Yet that being said, this image of a sort of proto-Berlin Wall, almost a desire-line of sorts brought me up short. Such a simple illustration of enormous spatial and political implications.

More here

DIY Magic by Anthony Alvarado

In short, rather than advertise this as a book of magick, it could just as well have been labeled a book of psychology hacking. Or a cookbook. Think of it as jail-breaking the iPhone of your mind. Teaching it to do things that its basic programming was never set up for. Advanced self-psychology.

I wonder how this might be related or applied in more urban-interventional terms. Tactical urbanism as DIY magic? For more see the Center For Tactical Magic

Via Arthur Magazine here

Mike Lydon on role of “tactical urbanism”

The planning process is not going to be replaced by tactical urbanism….Tactical urbanism is a tool for the more formal planning process.

Mr. Lydon provided the above quote in response to a question about the relationship between formal (bureaucratic) and informal (DIY) modes of urban planning and intervention.

via The Architects Newspaper here

A new Cultural criss-cross

the new-look Exhibition Road in London. Photograph: The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Image from A farewell to pavements http://gu.com/p/33ac9/tw wherein Justin McGuirk writes on the pedestrianization of London’s Exhibition Road. Key is the re-introduction of a concept of negotiation. Also, an opening of the surrounding museums, connecting them together in a way, via a new court(s)yard.

Slavoj Žižek speaks at the OWS open forum on 10/9/11

Graham Harman, Associate Provost for Research Administration and Professor of Philosophy at the American University in Cairo, Egypt of Object-Oriented Philosophy fame, has a brief post supporting Žižek’s assertion that the protestors not fall in love with themselves.

I personally, haven’t posted anything here regarding the occupy wall street protest except a bit on Archinect. Where they have a thread discussing/following the whole series of events.

One thing I am fascinated by is the concept of the human microphone. I have heard the term used in the context of the protests but didn’t have a clear sense of what it means. Watching the Žižek videos illustrates the concept perfectly.

For more information on the idea read Richard Kim of the Nation in We Are All Human Microphones Now. There Kim explains the tactical reasons for the deployment of the human microphone, “New York City requires a permit for “amplified sound” in public, something that the pointedly unpermitted Occupy Wall Street lacks. This means that microphones and speakers are banned from Liberty Plaza, and the NYPD has also been interpreting the law to include battery-powered bullhorns. Violators can be sentenced for up to thirty days in prison.

It seems a perfect example for contemporary Tactical Urbanism, reactive, low tech, and open sourced.

Finally, for some perspective on the human microphone and the possibilities for amplifying sound via the built environment versus that more low tech method see Nick Sowers The Revolution will not be Amplified

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