page 04 - 10
Francesca Ferguson introduces the issue
Social sculpture by Clemens von Wedemeyer
page 12 - 13
A field of possibilities
page 14 - 17
Interview with Martin Rein-Cano
page 18 - 21
Prototypes for an urban ecology
page 22 - 25
Interview with Fran Tonkiss on the emerging urbanism of small acts
page 26 - 27
A collective creative community
page 28 - 37
Andrej Holm on social struggles in a neo-liberalising city
Skaters reclaim the South Bank
page 39 - 42
Shared spaces of British modernism
page 43 - 49
Indy Johar's manifesto for soft power
page 50 - 52
Mobile urban activists
page 53 - 54
Cooperative living in Switzerland
page 55 - 59
Collage by Stefan Davidovici
uncube’s editors are Sophie Lovell (Editor-in-Chief), Florian Heilmeyer, Rob Wilson and Elvia Wilk; editorial assistance: Susie S. Lee; graphic design: Lena Giovanazzi; graphics assistance: Madalena Guerra. uncube is based in Berlin and is published by BauNetz, Germany’s most-read online magazine covering architecture in a thoughtful way since 1996.
With the current world population at seven billion and rising, we are legion and we are many – but we are also community and we care. For our 20th issue, uncube has asked curator and critic Francesca Ferguson, author of a new book entitled “Make_Shift City”, to guest-edit the theme of “Urban Commons”. From a range of experts and projects she has picked a new selection of architectural and social projects demonstrating the empowerment and initiatives of citizens that are challenging the way we think about public space, civic responsibility and ownership.
Be part of the revolution.
We have to fight for our right to shared space, says uncube’s guest editor Francesca Ferguson, and architects and urban designers have a crucial role to play in the fragile balance between public and private.
Over the last six years, since the economic crisis of 2007-2008 and during which unemployment within the European Union has reached record levels, the realities of austerity urbanism shed a completely different light upon a spatial design practice that works within a wider context of limitations: making do with an alternative culture of self-management, of shared resources and of the sweat equity of unpaid, voluntary labour.
It is an interesting exercise to reverse the logic of economic growth; to assume that this is not something one can take for granted and to see how this alters our perceptions of sharing. Makeshift, expedient solutions that maximise limited available resources form the basis for the projects in this issue, focusing upon the shifting and reshaping of the urban commons.
There is a direct correlation between deep cutbacks in public services and welfare that are seen as commonly held rights, and the revival of interest amongst political scientists and urbanists in recent years in stretching the notion of commons. The commons were traditionally defined as spaces and resources – forests, rivers, grazing land, fisheries – that are shared by all. The term harks back to the early Middle Ages, and though it does not refer to publicly owned land it denotes land that is above all accessible. The enclosure of the commons by way of fences, walls and gates is an obvious and visible limitation of this accessibility. And of course this embraces the crucial issue of accessibility to the digital space of commons as well.
The concept of urban commons is now being imbued with a new dynamism, not least by the intense discourse that has followed the spectacular and large-scale demonstrations in urban centres throughout the world over the last three years – Athens, Istanbul, Sao Paolo, Cairo – that responded in varying degrees to threats to public services, and the very substance of democracy itself. The occupation of public spaces like Gezi Park in Istanbul, for example, drew attention to the fact that appropriating, reclaiming and redefining the commons lies at the heart of the democratic process. Common spaces – like democratic processes themselves – have to be constantly renegotiated. This renegotiation goes beyond space itself to embrace the design of social relations. Or, as Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt (in their book Commonwealth, 2009, Belknap Press) see it, the act of commoning is a political process towards shared open access and democratic self-management.
In short – so the Marxist thinkers – it is the essence of the contemporary revolutionary project!
A citizen of London can test and perform the ancient commoners’ rights by re-igniting ancient customs - like driving sheep across London Bridge. Few may know of these rights, but our cities are punctuated with collective, ad hoc appropriations that reshape the urban landscape, and often outlast their temporary status. The bricoleur aspect of the Allmende gardens in Berlin’s Tempelhof, for example, has tested boundaries between privately shaped and publicly accessed space. Its makers and users have moved far beyond the time-honoured conventions of fenced in allotments in the process.
Such acts of commoning – however small in scale – help to reconfigure an urban ecosystem; that most fragile balance of public and private space that is so easily overturned by property and land speculation. The politics of the commons that Fran Tonkiss refers to in her interview is a creative act of civic empowerment: what may appear to be small-scale, improvised, appropriations of urban space should also be seen as generating alternative economies; micro-systems at a very local level that resist the profit motive and seek a more sustainable, resilient solution to community building. Atelier d’Architecture’s cycles of resilience; a design for a self-sufficient community in the district of Colombes, Paris that connects residents to a complex network of sharing, reusing, communal building and harvesting at local level is nothing short of a utopian project made real.
At the heart of these urban acts of sharing, redistributing and re-shaping available resources lies a far more fundamental rethinking of the economy of means. The civic economy proclaimed in a manifesto to new thinking by Indy Johar is a radical wake up call to architects and designers to respond to the realities of data-driven, open sourced and crowd-funded urbanism. The tools enabling co-design and participation are already transforming production processes in the product design world. We should also be rethinking the roles of the architect and urban designer as mediators, agents and shapers of these processes of commoning.
There are some signs that the social project of the 1960s is being revisited by a new generation of architects resisting the market logic of maximum profit per square metre. Beyond the dystopian realities of failed housing estates at a vast scale, Alison and Peter Smithson’s vision of “streets in the air” and communal spaces are being rethought and incorporated once again into residential buildings.
With such acts of spatial intelligence, this reshaping of the urban commons, Henri Lefebvre’s proclamation of the Right to the City becomes an imperative made tangible: namely the shared right to produce – to make and remake the city.
Francesca Ferguson is a curator, journalist and critic based in Basel and Berlin. She founded urban drift in the 1990s, curates and produces travelling exhibitions, symposia and publications on contemporary architecture and design. Formerly director of the Swiss Architecture Museum, she is now initiating an architecture and urban design festival for Berlin. Her latest book “Make_Shift City” is newly launched by Jovis publishers.
Renegotiating the Urban Commons
Editor: Francesca Ferguson, Urban Drift Projects (eds.)
In cooperation with the Berlin Senate for Urban Development
21 x 26 cm
The photographer Andreas Gehrke was born in Berlin in 1975. His career has bridged the gap between his art photography and commercial projects. Under the name “Noshe” he has been a regular contributor to the likes of Wallpaper and AD and shot buildings for publishers including Taschen and Hatje Cantz, whereas his alter ego Andreas Gehrke has exhibited his spare yet aura-laden landscapes and building portraits in galleries ranging from Pierogi in Leipzig to PS1 in New York. He is also founder of the photography publishing company Drittel Books.
See uncube's interview with Andreas Gehrke here.
This open-air cinema is located at the edge of the ancient city of Mardin, on a hilltop above the Mesopotamian plain in what is now Turkey. The city’s multi-ethnic population speaks Arabic, Aramaic, Kurdish and Turkish, a mixed heritage under strain due to the ongoing Kurdish-Turkish conflict.
As the result of a British Council initiative, the German artist Clemens von Wedemeyer conceived an art project in 2010 that would forge a new public space for Mardin – providing agora-type seating in the day and an open-air cinema at night. It’s a place for the whole community to come together, if only for the duration of a film.
Wedermeyer’s project fulfills a practical need, as the city’s last screen closed 25 years ago, but it also has a poetic edge. The site is known locally as the “city of light” and contains the remains of an ancient temple to the sun. The polished metal back of Wedemeyer’s six-by-twelve metre screen forms a graphic sculptural element, reflecting the setting sun from its mirrored surface down onto the plains stretching far into Syria below. p (rgw)
There is a 355-hectare green space in the centre of Berlin that was once the city’s main airport. Laid out in the 1930s, Tempelhof Airport was decommissioned in 2008 and the site remains as-yet undeveloped. Now on summer days the vast runway is scattered with skateboarders, the airfield crammed with family barbeques and the air dotted with kites rather than planes.
The former airfield, Tempelhofer Feld, is bigger than New York City’s Central Park. Long term plans are to build housing, offices, sports fields, commercial space and a new city library on the site, but in 2010, as an interim solution, the city granted permission for “pioneer projects” to take over set areas for limited time periods. One of the most successful of these has been the Allmende Kontor, a ramshackle sprawl of community gardens near the eastern entrance. These unfenced plots are packed with ad hoc structures, self-built furniture and garden devices. Despite the fact that each plot is privately managed, the gardens are collectively used; anyone is welcome to wander, lounge, or lend a hand. p (ew)
For a landscape architect’s perspective on the popularity and growth of community gardens, who better to speak to than Martin Rein-Cano, founding partner of Berlin-based landscape architects Topotek 1? His practice is recognised internationally for their new types of usable and visually arresting urban landscapes in public places. Rein-Cano is sceptical about the growing interest in DIY gardens, guerrilla gardening and urban interventions, Florian Heilmeyer asked him why.
How relevant are community garden projects and ad hoc appropriations of public spaces by citizens for you as a landscape architect?
I’m generally not a big fan of this trend towards the private shaping of public spaces.
I think public spaces should be designed and maintained using public funds. But there are major shifts in this area, with the authorities withdrawing further and further, citizens are being used inappropriately to run their own public spaces.
Isn’t this due to a wish on the part of more and more citizens for increased participation in the running of public spaces?
Such commitment is welcome, of course. But in the long term it becomes a problem when private interests become entrenched and spaces are no longer accessible to the public at large. I deliberately put that in general terms. I have no objection to positive isolated cases, but this option should be used only in very specific situations and equal opportunities should always be maintained for the use of such spaces. Not all interest groups are heard to the same extent and I get the impression that this trend is being driven by a specific and relatively homogeneous group. This brings with it a risk of narrow-mindedness and intolerance, of staking a claim – and that is dangerous. Public space must remain accessible to everyone, for different uses, over generations, it must be generous and neutral. There should be no creeping privatisation of public space.
»There should be no creeping privatisation of public space.«
Martin Rein-Cano is principal and founder of Berlin-based landscape architects Topotek 1. The award-winning practice has a broad portfolio of German and international projects – from squares to sports grounds, courtyards and gardens. A native of Buenos Aires, Rein-Cano studied art history at Frankfurt University and landscape architecture at the Technical Universities of Hanover and Karlsruhe. He trained in the office of Peter Walker and Martha Schwartz in San Francisco, and has worked with the office of Gabi Kiefer in Berlin. Rein-Cano has taught as a guest professor in both Europe and North America and gives lectures at numerous universities and cultural institutions around the world.
To what extent is this increased private interest in public space changing the practice of landscape architecture?
We certainly need answers to this shifting between private and public space. Paradoxically privacy is receding everywhere, the protective walls of the private sphere are being broken down, particularly by new technologies: becoming more transparent. And the dividing line between work and private life is also increasingly fluid. Conversely, this results in a new significance for public space which is actively appropriated or even used for production and work. In this context, I am interested in the question of which infrastructures our parks need today. First we installed benches, then electric light, now we’re talking about WiFi. These changes offer huge opportunities for public space. Perhaps the renaissance of community gardens and these informal spatial redesigns do herald a new occupation of our public spaces – but only as part of a bigger picture. p
The last time uncube caught up with Atelier d’Architecture Autogérée (AAA) was in November 2012, when the French architect duo had just won the Zumtobel Group Award for their project R-URBAN. AAA was initiated over a decade ago by architects Doina Petrescu and Constantin Petcou, who since 2008 have been deeply invested in their R-URBAN experiment: a three-part initiative in the Paris suburb of Colombes that employs architecture as a fulcrum for leveraging an alternate economy and, in turn, creating a new social ecosystem.
Petrescu and Petcou chose Colombes as a site of intervention for its particular combination of lack and initiative: while the city of 80,000 is economically depressed, it has a longstanding culture of civic participation, with over 450 nonprofit organisations already existing there. As can be seen in their earlier work – notably Le 56 / Eco-interstice, a gathering place and community garden installed a vacant lot between two Paris buildings – AAA’s projects are careful and collaborative insertions into existing contexts rather than hermetic utopias built from scratch. This is not to say that R-URBAN does not hold any utopian inclinations.
After careful research, Petrescu and Petcou devised a three-part system to introduce in Colombes: AgroCité, focusing on urban agriculture and pedagogy; RecycLab, used for recycling and social economie; and EcoHab, a cooperative housing model. With strong emphasis on sustainability, these units attempt to demonstrate the viability of environmentally friendly urban practices and the potential for environmental and economic sustainability to be mutually supportive. Since the 2012 Zumtobel Award, AgroCité has become fully operational, and its local project managers are in charge of various micro-economic activities: distribution of vegetable baskets from local farmers, regional composting, a chicken coop, beehives, and workshops for activities like crochet, cooking, knitting and gardening. RecycLab is also underway, hosting flea markets, recycling materials, and even adding designers in residence. EcoHab is still in its planning phase, pending administrative and financial arrangements.
R-URBAN creates jobs that allow people to teach each other, gaining agency and eventually taking over management of their own institutions. This may sound like a “software over hardware” method, but Petrescu and Petcou are quick to assert that “architecture remains at the core” of the initiative. The physical presence of the three units means they are not only resources and communication hubs, but “showrooms” in which to demonstrate the viability of the model on a larger scale – partners from Belgium, Spain, Romania, and Germany have shown interest.
Recently the team has learned that the municipal government of Colombes is incorporating R-URBAN in its current electoral campaign, and that the project constitutes a structural element of the proposed municipal policy for the 2014-18 term. Petcou says, “The capacity of architecture as a participatory strategy to have an effect on public policy is of extreme importance to us”. This highlights a fundamental and unique aspect of AAA’s approach: they do not propose citizens take everything into their own hands. Instead they attempt to renegotiate the very relationship between private citizens and public apparatuses. When public funds are drained as a result of global financial crises and a widespread neoliberal attitude towards public space, their proposed solution is not to “DIY everything”; instead, R-URBAN intends to show how political systems can be altered or appropriated by private citizens via careful social and spatial organisation. If there is a way to relocate agency within reach of the citizen, it is not to simply support public space with private means, but rather to renegotiate a symbiosis between crippled public systems and enterprising communities.
Beyond economic or ecological endeavour, R-URBAN is ultimately a socio-cultural experiment. If the way we spend our time, use our bodies and conceive of daily life is a key product of capitalist power systems, as Foucault would have it, then changing basic processes will feedback into changing the ecology of the city. Thus the “ecological” work of AAA is also about personal ecology; the ecology of the organism in a broader city network. They have even proposed a new daily schedule for community members: working for 8 hours, having free time for 8 hours, and sleeping for 8 hours. The objective is to establish an entirely new lifestyle, supporting and supported by a self-sustaining micro-economy. p (ew)
Fran Tonkiss is the director of the Cities Programme at the London School of Economics. Discussing the topics of self-help, appropriation and the benefits of collective design in the city with Francesca Ferguson, she demands that urban design needs to be much more than technical expertise.
In your view, what makes the renegotiation of shared spaces and resources so pertinent within the economy of austerity that still prevails in greater parts of Europe?
Public cuts and private exclusions are beating back the spaces, resources and services that are held or used in common. We’ve relied on the state to maintain common assets as public goods, but this is undermined by austerity economics. A politics of the commons is about mobilising against cuts and closures, and defending sites of common use that remain. It’s also about creative acts of “commoning” that go beyond the state – in occupations and informal appropriations, autonomous social services, pooling of land and resources – to provide access to shared spaces, economic and social goods.
You say that the transformations of urban space through temporary and more permanent interventions by civic organisations and ad hoc alliances, is a kind of urbanism of small acts. What wider significance do these small acts have within an urban economy – both politically and socially?
It’s easy to dismiss practices of small urbanism as simply niche, transient or low-impact. The point is they scale up – across different sites and cities – to a broader urban political economy of investment, intervention and social return. These interventions matter because of the realities they create in place – housing, workplaces and social infrastructure, childcare and play spaces, open and green spaces, meeting places and markets, information exchanges and political venues.
Fran Tonkiss is Professor of Sociology, and Director of the Cities Programme at the London School of Economics. Her research and teaching is in the fields of urban and economic sociology and her interests in urbanism include cities and social theory, urban development and design, urban inequalities, spatial divisions and public space. In economic sociology, her research focuses on markets, globalisation, trust and social capital.
Her publications in these fields include Space, the City and Social Theory (Polity Press, 2005), and Contemporary Economic Sociology: Globalisation, Production, Inequality (Routledge, 2006). Her most recent book is Cities by Design: the Social Life of Urban Form (Polity/Wiley, 2013).
At a larger scale, they underline the fact that a lot of what happens in cities falls outside the formal public or private economies – in self-help and mutual provision, non-market exchange, sweat-equity investments and voluntary labour, caring work and doing favours. This is about capturing economic values without commodifying them, and building social solidarities in the act of making space.
Should we be widening the notion of urban design to encompass these small acts, and what do you see as the political impact of alternative modes of collective design – including the kind of crowd-funding and “open source” urbanism that social media and technologies are enabling?
It is crucial to expand the understanding of design to include more independent and collective acts. Urban design still strongly implies technical expertise in specific sites for defined uses – or decorative gestures that have no real social use at all. But the design of cities is not just what is formally commissioned, licensed and funded. Modes of collective design have several advantages, even by standard measures. These include participation – getting beyond the ritual acts of “consultation” – meaning users are directly engaged in the work of design. As such, they are able to respond too to real active uses and expressed needs, rather than to design clichés of spatial “activation”.
Additionally in terms of the quality of design, whilst there is no guarantee that small acts, temporary solutions or collective interventions produce better spaces than big projects, they are easier to fix or undo when they go wrong. And in terms of feasibility, mixed economies of finance spread the risk, make projects less reliant on single sources, and mean that large funders can’t control design and use. These strategies take time, but so does raising public money – and crowds don’t pull out or collapse like private investors do. p
The NDSM [Netherlands Dock and Shipbuilding Company] Wharf in Amsterdam North went bankrupt in 1984. Since the 1990s, a collective of artists, craftsman and skaters called Kinetisch Noord, have collaborated to decontaminate, license, fund, design, and build spaces within it that now include dance companies, schools, a skate park, NGOs, and assorted ateliers.
NDSM’s new community emerged out of a number of protests and evictions from a series of previous warehouse transformation projects, enabling the inhabitants to draw on the experience and knowledge of numerous successful – and failed – models of collective building communities. This gave them the wherewithal to fundraise for and thus majority self-finance the project, meaning that the co-users are providing around 20 million euros or 66 percent of the total cost. The resulting Kunststad, or “Art City”, now stands under the massive roof of the 20,000 square metre former NDSM building. Its layout was conceived by the collective, but it took time for the group to find an architect willing to accept their design and merely provide the construction drawings for the raw steel frame. In the end, each user constructed their own space within the framework. This built reality traces back to the theoretical origins of the group, which believes in the notion of “the city as a framework”. The need for people and businesses to be afforded an incubation period is key to the logic, success, and future of NDSM.
The intermingling layers of the local and international are ever present on the site. This locally-based, self-organised project inhabits an earlier casualty of a globalised economy. Stepping outside this warehouse, the surrounding area of 32 hectares is government controlled, dominated by vacant lots that the city hopes international tenants will eventually fill. Simultaneously, small and medium sized Amsterdam-based businesses, who could fill those vacant lots, struggle to find affordable spaces within the city. The NDSM wharf closed in 1984 largely due to the dominance of the Osaka shipyard in Japan. Soon after, in 1986 the Osaka shipyard itself foundered. Now these and other abandoned shipyards are the crucibles for a global community, which shares experience of locally based best practice for the redevelopment of such industrial sites. p (Jason Hilgefort)
In his research, sociologist Andrej Holm compares processes of gentrification and housing policy worldwide. And Berlin, where he lives, is the perfect case study. Few other European cities have experienced such major changes over so short a time. Despite what he sees as gaping discrepancies between the views of local government and citizens, Holm remains surprisingly optimistic.
Your recent book “Reclaim Berlin” brings together essays on “social struggles in the neo-liberal city”. One might say that after German Reunification, Berlin’s superabundance of free spaces – spaces that allowed the “urban commons” to be renegotiated – provided a unique opportunity to develop a counter-model to the capitalist city: but this opportunity has been squandered. Are the current “social struggles” the last battles in a broader conflict against neo-liberal forms of urban redevelopment that was already fought and lost in the 1990s?
A city is always a field of conflict and new conflicts and movements are constantly emerging. From at least the 1970s on, Berlin was always a hotly contested territory and has had a very lively, diverse culture of protest. It’s true though, that after Germany’s reunification the increasingly neo-liberal restructuring of the city brought a growing sense of disillusionment. By the end of the 1990s, the major battles really did seem to have been lost.
But then, around 2005, the scene changed again and urban redevelopment was back on the agenda for many grassroots movements.
The turning point came with resistance to the large-scale investment project Mediaspree, when a broad-based citizens’ movement campaigned successfully for a referendum about the huge plans of the city authorities to build new hotels and offices along the river Spree.
But this initiative, too, was ultimately unsuccessful. Even the relatively large demonstrations against the demolition of parts of the East Side Gallery were largely ignored – a hotel and a luxury apartment block are currently being built on the site with more to follow.
It depends what is meant by “success”. Although not withdrawn completely, the land-use and zoning plans were altered in many areas. Since reunification, Berlin has pursued an urban development policy geared primarily to the interests of investors, the narrative being investment is always good for this poor city.
For many years questions of urban design have been decided bureaucratically, considering material and financial constraints, with no apparent political vision – as if working under conditions of austerity leaves no room to manoeuvre. As if one had to be grateful to any investor showing any interest in Berlin at all.
So the protests did at least achieve a change in this political mindset?
Precisely. The dogma of belief in investment and growth as the solution to urban problems is finally being questioned. The change is coming not from “above”, from established parties or major interest groups, but from a plethora of smaller initiatives by tenants, citizens, local residents, and users. Berlin’s urban development policy is being re-politicised “from below”, thanks in particular to high levels of public awareness.
Can you give an example?
Let’s take housing policy. Before 2011, there was little serious discussion about this because of a consensus between the press and political parties that there was enough affordable accommodation. Small tenant campaigns like Kotti & Co. using high-profile protests – erecting a Turkish-style shanty dwelling or gecekondu – put the issue of municipal housing back on the political agenda. Now, discussions are taking place about the precise role of municipal housing associations – even where new accommodation needs to be built.
Another factor here is the Berliner Liegenschaftsfonds, a company created in 2001 to manage all municipally owned real estate that actually has been selling off as much as possible for maximum profit. Over the years, initiatives like Stadt Neudenken (“Rethinking City”) or Haben und Brauchen (“To Have and to Need”) have prompted discussions among the city’s authorities on a new real estate policy that balances maximising profit against proposed land-use.
But in practical terms, urban restructuring still seems to be following a more or less neo-liberal model.
That’s true. Unfortunately, political realignment on this scale takes a long time. Projects currently being built near the East Side Gallery or on Alexanderplatz are often the result of contracts signed in the 1990s.
So the new buildings can be read as a direct consequence of the investor-friendly policies of recent years?
Yes, which is also why protest is on the increase. Now the consequences are becoming apparent, everyone understands what’s going on, and obviously many people don’t approve. It’s similar with gentrification. These processes are not new either. But the number of people directly affected by the mechanisms of exclusion is rising. That’s the material basis for the protests in Berlin.
In a way, official government policy has always favoured the reinvention of the city, meaning new buildings – the famous “city of tomorrow”; whereas protest movements have mostly been about improving existing structures. Originally, this primacy of renovation over demolition and modernisation was not a political programme, but something practiced by 130 squats in Berlin in the 1980s. They said: “the city of tomorrow” is already here, we just need to reprogramme it. Subsequently, this practice became recast as an internationally-renowned programme of urban renewal.
Are the protests against developing the former Tempelhof Airport site, currently a giant vacant space in the heart of the city, another example for this?
For outsiders it might seem ridiculous for people to protest so much against such a small number of new buildings around this huge empty field. But the citizen’s campaign collected over 180,000 signatures. Which suggests more is at stake here: things have reached a symbolic level. What do we as an urban community want to do with this piece of land? How are users and local residents being involved in the planning? What is needed and what is already there – and who is authorised to make the decisions? It’s not about a few thousand apartments, but about general principles of participation, self-empowerment and transparency.
This protest has to be taken seriously and it will become a test case for new forms of public participation in Berlin. The established parties still find it hard to deal with this: within a fortnight of the signatures being submitted, all parties in Berlin’s parliament declared their support for the planned development.
Andrej Holm is a sociologist specialising in urban politics and housing policy. He lives in Berlin and has been active for many years in various tenants’ organisations and neighbourhood initiatives. On his Gentrification Blog he regularly writes on processes of upgrading and exclusion, and about the protest movements and campaigns launched to combat these.
His recent book “Reclaim Berlin” (in German only) was published by Assoziation A publishers, Berlin, in March 2014.
A kind of all-party coalition against the democratically declared will of the people.
So investor-friendly policies are being pursued even in the face of major protest?
In this case, yes. But that also means that 180,000 signatories have no political home with any of the parties. In recent years, this gap between the political establishment and the reality of the city has been growing steadily. The protest movements operate in this gap – which is why it’s important they get the highest possible level of public exposure. Urban development concerns us all, and it’s crucial for any democratic system to have a political space where different interests can be negotiated.
What needs to happen next?
We seem to have reached a stage where many people are questioning neo-liberal politics in cities. These forces really do need to be brought together. Multiple niches (club culture, intermediate users, house projects) is no longer what we need. In among all the differences between the various campaigns and protests, we must find the common ground. What is it about the absence of commercial pressure in the city that so many people approve of? Could this become a model for the future? This would mean an overthrow of the principles on which urban development in Berlin has been based for decades – and not just here, of course.
A culture clash continues at the Southbank Centre in London, a 1960s Brutalist arts complex on the river Thames, exemplifying the fight between self-organised public repurposing of urban fabric and the top-down commodification of the neo-liberal city. A concrete undercroft at the site that has been an informal mecca for skateboarders since the 1970s, is currently threatened by a 120-million-pound redevelopment plan to turn the space into a series of restaurants.
The promise of revenue from the commercial outlets being used to support the artistic and education programme of the Southbank Centre, and relocation of the skatepark upriver, has not washed with the public however. A record 27,286 objections to the development were delivered to the local council, making it the most unpopular planning application in history and the signs are for once that non-commercial community forces will prevail. p (rgw)
With informal initiatives taking advantage of the generous common spaces designed into Britain's modernist housing estates, Rob Wilson wonders if the failed ambitions of post-war architects could yet be realised.
The history of the Heygate Estate in South London has followed a similar arc to many other modernist council estates. Designed by Tim Tinker and completed in 1974, it provided modern homes for 3,000 people, many moving from slum conditions. Yet over the years Heygate became a near-slum itself, housing a near ghetto-ised community living in fear of gang violence. Today, the estate is being demolished, its site redeveloped with over 2,500 new homes, less than five percent of them social housing. So far, so depressingly familiar.
Yet over the last few years Heygate’s leafy communal spaces, unofficially renamed the “Elephant and Castle Urban Forest”, underwent an interesting transformation. Gardening cooperatives divvied up plots under its concrete bastions, previously neglected corners were used for parcour classes, and in one block an organisation called Hotel Elephant offered gallery and studio space, as well as community educational projects.
Of course this has all happened in the shadow of the bulldozer, after many residents had already moved out. But this new usage of the shared spaces and built-in shop units typical of a modernist estate shows how the architecture can actually assist in social cohesion and cannot always be blamed as the primary cause for the sense of alienation and consequent social breakdown common in such estates. This failure was as much about a lack of community agency, often numbed by the nannying and opaque bureaucracy of the welfare state and the councils that ran the blocks.
Whilst the current faux-nostalgia for a failed utopia of modernism will pass, many of these estates were in fact serious attempts to benefit their residents by incorporating the common ground of the city into the architecture itself.
Park Hill in Sheffield (1957-61) by Jack Lynn and Ivor Smith was the most complete application of the Smithson’s “streets in the air idea”; neighbours were rehoused next to each other and extensive facilities including shops, a school and four pubs were built into the estate. Another innovative model was the “vertical street” proposed by Denys Lasdun in his design for Keeling House in Bethnal Green, London, a so-called “butterfly block” arrangement with four stacked wings of flats arranged around a communal threshold and services core.
The most famous, copied (and later vilified) design elements exemplifying this were “streets in the air”, first proposed by Alison and Peter Smithson for their unbuilt Golden Lane project in London from 1952: access decks free from road traffic, wide enough for milk-carts to deliver the daily pint and where “the refuse chute takes the place of the village pump” – as Peter Smithson claimed. Though it was perhaps arrogant to believe that the full complexity of street life could be incorporated within architecture, the Smithson’s projects demonstrate how the design focus in modernist British social housing schemes was always on collectively used spaces rather than, say, the ratio of bedrooms to bathrooms, as it often is today.
In such schemes and others, shifting housing policies, maintenance issues, and often plain bad design, ultimately ate away at the sense of community that the architecture was meant to forge. By the time the Smithsons finally got the chance to build housing at scale at Robin Hood Gardens in the late 1960s, even they were ambivalent about their design, saying: “we may be asking people to live in a way that is stupid”.
Like the Heygate Estate, Robin Hood Gardens is now due for imminent demolition, its 213 flats will be replaced by 700 units, with a consequent loss of shared open space. Lasdun’s Keeling House has long since been converted into a private block, a new glass entrance lobby cutting across any subtleties of gradation in its public to private thresholds. Communal space is being reduced and privatised – becoming a security buffer zone to pass through rather than spend time in, no longer acting as effective mediation to the wider space of the city. Control by the Big-Brother State has been replaced by new off-site hierarchies of control: management companies and non-elected registered social landlords.
So it is models such as the Heygate Estate, showing how self-organisation can feed back into a fuller occupation of architectural shared spaces – demanding more of residents, yet giving them back more – that could finally see the fulfillment of the potential of those 1960s estates, if they escape demolition. With a shift in the sense of agency, and a re-imagining of their common parts, they could begin not just to mimic the community of the traditional street, but allow for an innovative shared renegotiation of their “concrete commons”. p
crowd-founded wind farms in Holland
citizen-led post-riot clean ups of London
local corner shops in Birmingham founded by citizen micro bonds
community-owned broadband connections in villages like Rutland
and global open-source furniture.
This is a future built not on minimal involvement and “Post-it note participation” but on meaningful investment in citizenship. This is a future focused on “more operational ingenuity, less three-dimensional ingenuity, and more social structure”, to quote Cedric Price. This future is not for the proponents of “committees” and decision-making power brokers, but for social changers and doers.
This is a future driven by the rapid and liquid democratisation of the means of production, a future that in many ways
This reality is made technically possible by the internet, by dramatically reducing the costs of participation, transaction, administration, and transparency to virtually zero.
in which we can organise ourselves socially via
raise funding via kickstarter and indiegogo
make designs via wikihouse.cc or opendesk.cc and analyse what we find via opendata.
This is a future of design that is open and data-driven. This is a future in which we are invited to be craftsmen and craftswomen, not designers from a distance; in which space is recognised as being at a fundamental Beta stage.
Just as the Fordists gave rise to the machine modernist and the high-tech manufacturing era, this civic economy will recast the DNA of architectural forms. However, this revolution will not be just about style and our neophile capabilities in 3D design. It will demand the evolution of our very practice, behaviour, and relationship with the public.
This is the future where the client or regulator will not be the state, but the public sphere itself. This is a future that will drive us to create architecture that embraces democracy in a structural sense, demanding architects to be operational and innovative in their design of social ecosystems. This is a future that displaces hard power with soft power, and recognises design as a master tool of soft power.
Indy Johar is a co-founder of 00:/ a qualified architect and institutional innovator with particular experience in socially driven sustainability.
On behalf of 00:/, he has co-founded multiple social ventures from HubWestminster.net to the up coming HubLaunchpad.net (A four million GBP Open Venture Accelerator) and has also co-led research projects such as The Compendium for the Civic Economy, whilst supporting several 00:/ explorations and experiments including the wikihouse.cc and opendesk.cc.
He is a Director of Data Science London and an advisor to the Earth Security Initiative. In collaboration with the Young Foundation he is co-founding a new Applied Research, Design and Prototyping Centre focused on the development of new 21st century institutions and information architectures. The centre is currently working on the series of institutional start ups and research networks from the Polytechnic of the future to Next Gen Corporate organisation for Social Innovation.
This is a future that has been either trivialised or politically appropriated by both the left and the right, for superficially different reasons within the current economic context. We have to be sure that the future is not a policy product of a single political agenda, but that new organising principles will emerge. And just maybe, the future will provide an organisational model that is more effective, efficient, and egalitarian than the representative democracy of the modern shareholder economy. The only question that remains is whether “architects” will strive for a role in this future, or will be banished to the annals history. Either way the future won’t fret.
In the twenty-first century, driving is out, cycling is in, and public space is where you choose to build your community. All over the world cyclists are finding strength in numbers, organising city-based events and reclaiming public space as an environment for safer riding.
There is now a growing number of collectives, public cycling events, racing teams, and community organizations centred around bike-activism who share a love of all things velocipedal, allying this to their environmental, political, and socio-economic concerns.
Some of these communities have created cooperative living spaces, where they build bicycles from recycled parts for those in need, and overlapping with other urban DIY movements – like urban gardening, free food distribution, beer brewing workshops, art and music making. (ssl)
Perhaps because living costs are so high in Switzerland, building associations are pretty popular there. That’s why the story of Kraftwerk 1 isn’t as strange as it might be in other countries. This cooperative was originally set up in 1993 by architect Andreas Hofer, author P.M., and artist Martin Blum, for one specific eponymous project: a self-organised community where 700 people could live and work, sustainable in both an ecological and economical sense. This utopian scheme had to be adapted before it hit ground as a building with the same name with 100 apartments housing around 250 individuals.
The first building, completed in 2001, was such an international success that the cooperative has grown steadily and subsequently initiated a number of similar projects. The latest offshoot, Kraftwerk 2, aka Siedlung Heizenholz, is the conversion of two buildings in a former children’s home from the 1970s. Here, architect Adrian Streich designed a new interstitial building to connect the two existing ones and wrapped the entire structure with broad terraces, the terrasses communes. These are connected to an open staircase leading to the central courtyard, forming a system of open spaces in which residents can negotiate public or private use.
Inside, the building offers a broad variety of units, ranging from small one- and two-room apartments to completely unconventional “cluster apartments” of ten or more rooms, in which small private units are combined with larger communal rooms. Inside and outside, the house offers many ways of living together – a constant negotiation between the public and the private, between being together and being alone. p (fh)
Interview by Evelyn Steiner
What made you decide to research the role of architecture and design in Playboy in the first place?
I was looking at the architecture of the 1960s and 1970s with my students at Princeton, and kept noticing that bibliographies of many architects include articles from Playboy. Later, I was talking to Hans Hollein about his time as an editor of the magazine Bau in Austria and he told me that his Playboys were confiscated on the frontier when he went to Moscow for an article. I was very intrigued. Furthermore, when we were working on Archigram, I noticed a Playboy in their “Survival Kit” in the Living City exhibition. After a while I thought I should look into it more, but I was not prepared to discover how important both architecture and design were for the magazine!
Although promoting very open-minded and progressive ideologies and ideas, Playboy clearly objectifies women. Did your feminist side ever give you qualms of conscience about doing a Playboy exhibition?
Yes, of course there are all these issues. But it also objectifies men, it even feminizes them turning them into designer objects with the right clothing, grooming, fragrances, and equipment. It is important to realise that the story is more complex. To do a systematic study of Playboy was also useful to understand that the magazine was very progressive in many ways.
It promoted modern architecture and design at a time when other interior magazines were extremely conservative; they criticised the architects of the European avant-garde, like Mies, as being “the threat to the next America.” Playboy was also progressive in defending the city when it was being abandoned and left to poor people and minorities. Also, it was in favour of abortion, against capital punishment, and supported the black power movement – for example, Playboy interviewed Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, we should take it more seriously as pornography is only a small part in the magazine. It is a design magazine with some nudity.
The Playboy man was an indoor man; the interior was his retreat from the tension of the Cold War era. Today, dangers such as terrorism and the NSA spying scandal seem even more threatening. Can you observe a kind of equivalent revival of the interior today?
If anything, Playboy anticipated the future to come, in which we would retreat more and more into the interior. With its fascination for new technology and gadgets, it predicted that the interior would be expanded through new media technology, that the whole world would come inside and that we would inhabit this hybrid space of the physical and virtual. Even the question of surveillance was predicted in Playboy: the magazine itself was under surveillance by the FBI because it features drugs and nudity. Also, the Playboy mansion itself was like a Big Brother house with all these TV screens where you could see what was happening in every room. People were often represented in the magazine through a view from a camera or an eye above – and the architecture promoted in the magazine often reinforced this idea of surveillance, for example by praising the “open plan” because you could prepare a cocktail while keeping eye contact and conversation with the young girl in the living room so she doesn’t change her mind and leaves. Surveillance and seduction are mixed and that attitude is very pervasive in our age of social media today.
Beatriz Colomina is an internationally renowned architectural historian and theorist who has written extensively on questions of architecture and media. Colomina is Professor of Architecture and the Founding Director of the interdisciplinary Program in Media and Modernity at Princeton University.
Her numerous award-winning books include Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1994), Sexuality and Space (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1992) and Architectureproduction (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1988), Cold War Hot Houses: Inventing Postwar Culture from Cockpit to Playboy (co-edited with AnnMarie Brennan and Jeannie Kim, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004), and Domesticity at War (Barcelona: ACTAR and MIT Press, 2007), Clip/Stamp/Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines (co-edited with Craig Buckley), and Manifesto Architecture: The Ghost of Mies (Sternberg Press, 2014).
The exhibition Playboy Architecture 1953-1979 is on show at the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt on Main until April 20th, 2014.
The bachelor pads promoted by early Playboy were fully equipped control stations to seduce women. Today, bachelor pads seem to be inhabited by the cliché male hip-hop star or cliché gay man. But a female equivalent of this kind of hedonistic architecture is still missing… how come?
You’re right! I’m sure there are examples, but they don’t exist in popular culture. Some years after Playboy emerged, Cosmopolitan with Helen Gurley Brown as chief editor became a magazine for modern single career women. It advised young women not to stay virgin until marriage but to experiment with and enjoy sex without guilt. Their first issue featured the birth control pill! Similar to Playboy, the magazine promoted the city and gave advice for interior decoration – but it catered to a different economic bracket, and the advice was much more quaint: the reader should go to a flea market to buy a lamp and a carpet in order to decorate her own little coffee corner. It’s incomparable to the bachelor pads that Playboy promoted, which were a kind of modern Gesamtkunstwerk.
In the exhibition you emphasise the seductive potential of architecture. Have you ever been seduced by design or architecture?
I think architecture is all about seduction: you have to seduce the client, developer, contractor, press, politicians, and you have to seduce the user which includes the citizens that walk by your building. I’m laughing because at the next Venice Biennial, entitled “Fundamentals”, the plan, the floor and the ceiling are considered to be the fundamental parts of architecture, but seduction is as fundamental as all the other elements.
“From the dead depths of the planet, rushing up in a frozen eruption, the entrails of Milan blindly overtake us on their way to the sky.”
Stefan Davidovici is part of CLIMBnet architects, Milan, and uses drawing to explore space beyond the constraints of actual buildings. “The reasons for building tend to become irrelevant in time; with drawing, one is free to overwrite a few hundred of years, exploring what architecture born from unknown functions could look like. My drawings can be seen as architecture waiting to become real.”
Drawing and collage by Stefan Davidovici; background photo by Stefano Gusmeroli
Issue No. 21:
May 5th 2014