The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Berkeley Prize 2024

[ID:1940] Changing Architecture


Spatial determination of a community is, on one hand, a mythical symbol of its eternity and stability, on the other hand, an instrument of maintaining its interior and exterior borders. Architecture realizes the role of consolidating the borders in two ways: by its primary function of defining the space and by symbolic, representative function. The very term of order came into modern social consciousness through the architectural discourse where it stood for the whole, its parts matching together, so that it would be impossible to replace one of them, without destroying the harmony. In other words it refers to the situation that cannot be improved by any change. Understood in that sense, the urban planning means the war against everything that is considered to be the enemy of uniformity and monotony. Marginalized, spaceless and voiceless people represent that potential threat for once established order. The ways in which the problems of their housing are (not) being solved are important aspects of such urban planning. Based on the situation in Graz (Austria), we will try in this essay to discuss the possibilities of architecture in the modern society to stop being the instrument for freezing the existing situation but to trigger the social change.

Before the following analysis, it is important to point out same changes in the economic development of the western society in the last thirty years that also influence the social structure of the city. With the transition from the industrial to the service economy the problem of exploitation (of the working class) is gradually being replaced by the problem of exclusion. The next phase of that process is the criminalizing of the marginalized, in order to stimulate the permanent "low-intensity-warfare" on the social border. The maintaining of this aggression potential is indispensable for processes of innovation - engines of the capitalist society. However it is exactly the capitalist economy, in which the landowner, investor, architect and the future resident are not necessarily one person, that opens the chance for architecture and urban design as autonomous disciplines to stop serving merely as instrument of political and economic power. The task of architecture in this case is not only housing of the excluded according to their own ideas, but also the contribution to the initiatives trying to disable the mentioned processes of their criminalizing.

Graz is the cultural capital of Europe 2003 and officially the city of human rights. However, in traditionally conservative environment the "everyday racism" is supported by already described mechanisms. The politics of "city-cleaning" is manifested by removals of "unrepresentative" persons from public squares. The processes of ghettoizing of the emigrant population is evident in some quarters. Due to increasing unemployment, budget constraints in all social areas, bureaucratic complications and delay of housing of asylum seekers, the number of homeless is growing. On the other hand, due to the fact that marginal groups are top subject of increasingly popular cultural studies, there is a stimulus from certain academic circles that Graz should build its identity exactly on multiculturalism which would make it more interesting destination for cultural tourists. "Street life" also characterizes the desired atmosphere of an "open" city. Considering the urban planning those problems could be divided into two aspects. The first one refers to the usage and the accessibility of the public places (which are for homeless also the private spaces) and it is mostly related to the city center. The other one refers to the suburbs with the bad housing conditions and population structure formed in the process of segregation.

Before accessing to the first aspect it is important that the architect give up the strict distinction between types of space defined as public and private (e.g. square - public, house - private). That is necessary in order to understand the ways of using the spaces considered as public and the forms of their privatization. The action against the transformation of parts of public space into the private one by the homeless is mostly the other form of privatization - the bans on accessing to public space for all "illegal" citizens. It is obvious that it is about the right of the power. But we have already concluded that it is hard to imagine and impossible to realize the architecture that would have the direct influence on reorganization of forces in the structures of power. On the other hand, it is equally illusory to call on humanity in the society whose way of functioning implies a special prohibition for all its active members - they must not regard the things they come across as something more but mere signs or obstacles on their way. For example, if the Paris citizens when going to work could react emotionally every time they have to jump over the homeless lying on the streets, they would always come too late. So, for them, encountering a homeless can only mean - JUMP OVER! (We are going to discuss later that the modern man can feel social solidarity only when he sees the lives of other people from the position of a tourist.) What we can do is manipulation, the subtle turning of the sign and that task does not refer only to the architectural project but also to its presentation. Architectural intervention pretending to call attention on the existence of a group excluded from creating "common" narrative and "common" space must present the group in a way that "the public" recognizes it as "representative". For example, architecture can contribute to popularization of "street life" which makes homeless and poor become the city symbols.

The first architectural intervention that we suggest could emphasize, improve and popularize neglected "work place" of vendors of the street magazine "Megaphone". The vendors are African asylum seekers, who earn 50% from sales price. Regardless of the weather conditions they spend their working time on the Graz squares. Small, mobile, foldaway kiosks with an exposed sign "Megaphone", and walls serving as billboards with contents of the magazine, would be the shelter to protect the vendor from foul weather. Built-in reading desks, coffee machines, mailboxes for comments and suggestions would make the kiosk become also the meeting point. Permission for realization of this project could be obtained on grounds of its privileged status as artistic intervention.

The next suggestion refers directly to the housing of the homeless. In Graz this problem is treated less seriously than shortage of parking space. We suggest that parking areas could become "multifunctional". This project can be understood as an extension of the Wodiczko's famous HOMELESS VEHICLE PROJECT. Above the normal parking space the platforms could be built with the number of parking places for the mobile houses of homeless. Platforms would be accessible by the ramps. Each parking place would have one power receptacle. Design of the houses would enable their subjoining, so that the homeless could, according to their wishes, form the flat shares. Thanks to their flexible design these "cities" would be open for forming common rooms, also spaces where the homeless offering different services could make contacts with the users of the parking space bellow. However, the ironic notion coming from equalization of the man and the car in the struggle for space should not be obvious in the project presentation. Otherwise, such direct attack on the ethics of ?regular citizens? could provoke the reactions opposite to those we wish to achieve. The chance for financing such project is in effective advertising based on marketing codes of consumer society. The telecommunication or traffic companies would probably be interested in sponsorship of this project because the homeless embody the mobile way of living propagated by those companies. The houses would carry their advertising messages. This could be the motivation for taking on the serial production of mobile containers. (A similar example is the world football championship for homeless that has recently taken place in Graz. The firm NIKE offered to be the sponsor.) The advantage of this project over usual ways of homeless accommodation lies in the fact that everyone would have its private place. In this way the possible conflicts between users would be avoided. The supervising by the state or other institutions would not be necessary. Due to the fact that the number of needed parking places in Graz exceeds the number of homeless there is enough place for expanding of the platforms if needed.

We have analyzed the possibilities of future development of the ghettoized suburbs using the example of the Graz quarter Gries. Gries is one of the "problematic" quarters that gradually turns into the so-called "inner periphery", inhabited mostly by immigrants and poor Austrian citizens. The usual procedure is "bringing the quarter in order" so that it becomes attractive for middle-class families. The desired "healthy mixture" is supposed to be achieved in this way. But in fact these procedures do not solve the problem. Apart from Marxist objection that such mixture reduces the revolutionary potential, this "better image" of the quarter usually results in increasing of rents. It forces those who are not able to pay to move from one suburb to the next. The solution that we prefer (because it respects the interest of the quarter inhabitants of today) keeps the image of "lively", emigrant quarter, because in the consciousness of the modern tourist such quarters represent the idea of the "real life". The increasing wish for the realities of others, which emerges simultaneously with the weakening of the reality sense in our private and social lives, could only be compensated by the artificial production of natural and real. Some people reproach the industry of culture and tourism for destroying the authenticity in the procedures of "festivalizing" and popularizing of city quarters and turning of their supposed identity into the advertising sign by means of architectural interventions. However, we live in the time when everything and everyone becomes "hybrid" (and these are exactly the emigrants who are supposed to embody this "hybridness") and when the very idea of the real, inborn identity, both personal and social, gets into crisis. In such conditions, the question - DOES THE REPRESENTATION CORRESPOND WITH THE REALITY? is being replaced by the other one - WHO REPRESENT AND WHO IS ONLY BEING REPRESENTED?. It is important that such popularizing projects represent the interests of the marginalized population. In the processes of entering the tourism industry the architects and urban designers become a kind of mediators who can help those people to become the users and not merely the used. On the other hand, giving up the concept of authenticity recommends the architectural language that does not follow the principles of construction, functional program etc., but is a conscious simulation, a spectacle. This architecture is not only tolerant to the future transformation - it is intentionally unfinished and unfinishable.

The specific type of the residential building in this settlement is the 19th century tenement with the inner garden. Further parceling out and filling of the garden with new house segments was left out, because of the rather small influx of inhabitants into the industrially undeveloped town that still had provincial character at that time. The housing conditions in these buildings are still bad - large families live in small apartments, several apartments sometimes share one toilet... The conservation of semi-private building parts (based on their interesting history) would make them attractive for tourists. The generated income could be used to improve the housing conditions. Within this popularization project the inner gardens could be transformed into multifunctional parks and become the meeting point of quarter inhabitants and tourists. Spaces open for staging the "authentic" handicraft services or music and cooking shows would satisfy the tourists' need to discover and reconstruct the historic past(s) and social identities with the needed doses of amusement. The parks could be connected to each other through the passages in the building wings, forming the network of parks spreading through the structures of existing buildings.

We prefer the projects that don't need to be patronized by the state as kind of charity, but enable self-maintenance and could even improve the political and economic position of the marginalized. It is why this stimulating project is not the residential one.

These suggestions referring to the situation in Graz are not meant as completed projects (because the written text is not suitable media for representation of architectural ideas) and also not as universal solutions. They only use to illustrate a possible approach to the problem and general strategies of its solving that we have recommended here.

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