Planning for Protest

The Occupied Times has a fantastic missive from a project calling themselves Planning for Protest on their website at the minute. Organized for the Lisbon Architecture Triennial, the project is designed to “explore both the social and architectural definitions of protest in light of the current global financial crisis”:

Planning for Protest came about as a conversation over what was happening in these flashpoints throughout the world, with a special focus on how the very spaces in which they took place helped to shape or form, if not circumvent, the success or failure of each cities’ public mobilisation. Inasmuch as the mass convention of peoples creates the voice of these protests, we wanted to see how the streets and squares, its buildings, form the backdrop of these protests’ stages.

12 architects/architect offices were brought together to compile a unique set of ‘typologies’ of each urban protest movements taking part around the world. Athens, Berlin, Bucharest, Cairo, Dublin, Istanbul, Lisbon, London, Madrid, New York, Rome and Sao Paulo are all represented.

Although they say in the Occupied Times article that they wanted people to “see how the streets and squares, its buildings, form the backdrop of these protests’ stages”, I think it actually does far more than that. In fact, the project actually works to show how the streets, squares and buildings of each protest movement aren’t in the background at all, and aren’t mere ‘stages’ for the apparently more theatrical human actions laid on top. In all cases they are active, foregrounded actors in the nature of protest. The built environment is a primary facilitator of protest. If you delve into the case studies you’ll actually find that most work with this notion anyway, describing, as an example, how the design of city squares can affect the shape, volume, mobility and intensity of protests (see the photo above from Studio Basar – Bucharest).

Another example can be seen in the image below. It is taken from Cluster’s Cairo effort and contains some compelling graphics elucidating the impact of vernacular structures on the urban fabric. As a form of ‘slow’ protest, Cluster argue that street vendors are helping to contest the nature of public space. In marking out their territory they are helping to define and delineate the margins of acceptable, agreeable behaviour. Although at the bottom-rung of the urban hierarchy (below NGOs, residents, real estate developers etc.) their efforts to stake a claim to the city environment do not go unrecognized – at least to Cluster. This ‘encroachment of spatial informality’ in the form of creeping vernacular architectures, whilst identified by the group as an alternative force to the ‘urban protest as spectacle’, nonetheless provides a compelling example of contemporary urban protest. 

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KOCHUU (2006) and The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011)

Back in January this year Arch Daily compiled a list of 30 must-see architecture documentaries. Most of their choices focused on specific architects, so Herzog & de Meuron, Gaudi, Eames, Foster, Loos, Koolhaus and Gehry are all covered. But there were two in particular on the list that stood out, partly because they drew inspiration from wider movements or urban environments to create their own narratives:

KOCHUU: Japanese Architecture / Influence & Origin (2006) by Jasper Wachtmeister

“…a visually stunning film about modern Japanese architecture, its roots in the Japanese tradition, and its impact on the Nordic building tradition. Winding its way through visions of the future and traditional concepts, nature and concrete, gardens and high-tech spaces, the film explains how contemporary Japanese architects strive to unite the ways of modern man with the old philosophies in astounding constructions.

KOCHUU, which translates as “in the jar,” refers to the Japanese tradition of constructing small, enclosed physical spaces, which create the impression of a separate universe. The film illustrates key components of traditional Japanese architecture, such as reducing the distinction between outdoors and indoors, disrupting the symmetrical, building with wooden posts and beams rather than with walls, modular construction techniques, and its symbiotic relationship with water, light and nature.

The film illustrates these concepts through remarkable views of the Imperial Katsura Palace, the Todai-Ji Temple, the Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum, the Sony Tower, numerous teahouses and gardens (see link below for complete list), as well as examples of the cross-fertilization evidenced in buildings throughout Scandinavia, and shows how ‘invisible’ Japanese traditions are evident even in modern, high-tech buildings.”

and The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: An Urban History (2011) by Chad Freidrichs

“It began as a housing marvel. Two decades later, it ended in rubble. But what happened to those caught in between? The Pruitt-Igoe Myth tells the story of the transformation of the American city in the decades after World War II, through the lens of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing development and the St. Louis residents who called it home.

At the film’s historical center is an analysis of the massive impact of the national urban renewal program of the 1950s and 1960s, which prompted the process of mass suburbanization and emptied American cities of their residents, businesses, and industries. Those left behind in the city faced a destitute, rapidly de-industrializing St. Louis , parceled out to downtown interests and increasingly segregated by class and race. The residents of Pruitt-Igoe were among the hardest hit. Their gripping stories of survival, adaptation, and success are at the emotional heart of the film.

The domestic turmoil wrought by punitive public welfare policies; the frustrating interactions with a paternalistic and cash-strapped Housing Authority; and the downward spiral of vacancy, vandalism and crime led to resident protest and action during the 1969 Rent Strike, the first in the history of public housing. And yet, despite this complex history, Pruitt-Igoe has often been stereotyped. The world-famous image of its implosion has helped to perpetuate a myth of failure, a failure that has been used to critique Modernist architecture, attack public assistance programs, and stigmatize public housing residents. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth seeks to set the historical record straight. To examine the interests involved in Pruitt-Igoe’s creation. To re-evaluate the rumors and the stigma. To implode the myth.”

Streetview Exhibition

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An exhibition by Skyliner based on Google’s Street View. For city-lovers, map-makers and fans of architecture of Greater Manchester. Plus a secondary exhibition documenting the demolition of the former BBC building. 

The exhibition is at 2022 on Dale Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The opening is tonight from 6pm with music from 8.30pm. Skyliner is a blog on the architectural history of Greater Manchester, and it’s well worth taking a look at. Posts on the Cromford Court apartments above the Arndale Centre, the stunning Albert Hall on Peter Street and the former Lewis’s department store on Market Street are particularly worth reading. Some fantastic photos of all of them too.