occupying outdated utopias

My other point, to conclude, was not that we should do finger pointing about the social consequences, for we can lament for-ever the ever monstrous realities of capital, but that we can still manage to have a utopian-driven ambition for society in which architecture plays a leading role.

mark jarzombek, an anti-pragmatic manifesto

ethel barahona’s report for domus, waffle urbanism, makes a great read along with pedro’s post here at la periferia domestica. both ethel and pedro deal with “las setas,” jürgen mayer’s project in sevilla, occupied by the spanish events started at puerta del sol in madrid and also known as the spanish revolution (a link in english here). the ideas on these posts generated a great conversation in twitter that has been storified here (in spanish). you can find updates on acampada sevilla here.

the occupation of mayer’s indulgent mushrooms, a government project, becomes a powerful form of protest. ethel asks, do we believe in utopias? yes—but we also believe some of them are never meant to be built. in architecture, we tend to conflate formal and political utopias as a single group, when they are often at odds with each other. the megastructures of the japanese metabolists, as beautiful as they were, could only have been built by a powerful, centralized authority. we can appreciate their formal beauty, but we must understand the danger such centralized power represents.

the old debates on radical change vs. incremental intervention (robert moses vs jane jacobs) sometimes tend to conflate change with revolution and contextualism with conservation. it is useful to remember that one of the most important fights for the city took place in the context of the works of one such radical modern intervention. the 1871 paris commune was the first revolution to take place after haussmann’s strategical incisions (not only broadening streets and cutting through the city fabric, but also communicating the barracks with the place de la bastille, for example). the defeat of the communards has been linked to subsequent theorizations for dispersion—in utopias from morris to ginsburg, the deliberate suppression of the dichotomy between city and countryside still resonates with engels’ condemnation of the city as the place of capital.

while modern utopias were easily appropriated by authoritarian governments—the vision of brasilia easily taken over by brazil’s military dictatorship, for example—the vision of dispersal dreamt by architects on both sides of the political spectrum (both ginsburg’s disurbanization and wright’s broadacre) turned into suburbia: not only a space dominated by capital, but also one were conflict and difference are suppressed more easily than in the barricades. rather than resurrect debates on city vs countryside, density vs sprawl, or more recently, new urbanism vs landscape urbanism, i want to take a step sideways. i want to make a case for the friction of difference: a case for spaces were disagreement can happen (following rosalind deutsche, or jacques ranciere’s dissensus), and discussion can take place. a space for acampadas—from the occupation of british universities to tahir square.

i still agree with jarzombek—utopia can still excite! but let’s be critical of what we propose, and go beyond easily appropriated, sexy formal moves. utopia can still excite, but it must be operative, programmatic, and participative. in other words, it can return agency to the discipline by returning agency to the people, instead of being simply complicit with power.

ps. in a certain way—and also following jarzombek—i’m arguing for that most modern of spaces, the 14th century piazza that responded to the formation of the public, clearing an open space from the convoluted medieval streets of siena.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
close-alt close collapse comment ellipsis expand gallery heart lock menu next pinned previous reply search share star