From Republik to KUNSTrePUBLIK / Shared Cities Diaries #2

Four years ago, my good friend Marjetica Potrc took me to ZK/U, Center for Art and Urbanism in Berlin. We got out of the S-Bahn and walked along the street with the faceless residential houses with the backyard oriented to the waste railway corridor. In the distance, behind the rails, we could see mystical silhouettes of huge storages of Westahaven. It was during sunset and this entire scene made up of suburban irrelevancies and naked infrastructures that transformed into uncanny romance...

There was nothing that I could remember on the streets. Marjetica was telling me about Arne Brandlhuber and his students from the nomadic master program whose discussion we were going to attend. Without any big expectations, we found ourselves in the courtyard in front of something that looked like a railway depot. Inside there was a large hall that kept its original workshop form, robust and raw, with some chairs and tables scattered in the darkness, few microphone stools, and a bar in the corner. It seemed that the whole space could be changed in a minute into something else. Everything started to look different when people started to fill the empty stage – dirty walls got enlightened and dark corners became alive. The fact that the presence of the people had such a strong effect that could transform the space was a sign that there is something more than conventional architectural thinking behind the loose spatial organization. Marjetica explained to me that the founders of ZK/U were three artists who took art as a way of living in the city rather than a way of making object that reflects it.

The discussion was developed by thoughtful minds. It was about the difference of governing and living in the city. In a very dialectical manner, the government was considered a homogeneous political body which makes and manage rules for people, while people were considered a heterogeneous group with conflicted interests who tend to constantly deregulate governmental directives. The discussion was dense and intensive and I did not have a chance to express my opinion, but I still remember how many remarks I had against this exclusive dichotomy. It was understandable from the point of view of a regulated state where rules and behaviors are in harmony, but from the point of view from someone with the experience of the collapse of regulated state this determination was too rigid. In a critical conditions power of surviving tend to overcome governmental power which than tend to transform into equally heterogeneous and conflicted realm. The governmental body became deregulated, corrupted, and manipulated. It change the way it manifested power: instead of its centralized authority, power becomes invisible and dispersed, instead of dominating presence it appears as network of micro power points distributed in all scales and in every moment.

Although I did not bring up my points during the discussion, when it was finished I went to the bar to get a beer. This is where I stumbled upon one of the guys that participated in the discussions with me. He was a Lebanese architect and the author of “Quantum Theory of Architecture,” a book I was reading at the time. We shared the same opinion about the relationship between urban management and urban life since we both experienced civil wars in our countries and the deregulation of the state. We both were looking for understanding beyond dialectic divisions – toward conditions in which potentials dominate over prescribed solutions. We both changed our thoughts about the city and its people after the experience of war and we were both looking for the relevant knowledge about urban development beyond the borders of architecture and urbanism as disciplines which rules were taken for granted. For both of us, an individuals power to destroy and to recreate urban space, without previous plans, was fascinating. We both started to think about the structure of Informality as a model of sustainable development, and there we found each other, in an informal space, at the bar next to the discussion place in ZK/U.

I got the chance to meet the people who created ZK/U four years later as partners in the network created by the Shared Cities project manager. I did not realize, until Miodrag, an architect from ZK/U, told me, that I was already at the stop that they wanted to meet up. I liked that place before I started to know the people who made it.

It was a cold and dark January evening when I went to ZK/U for the second time to meet Matthias, Philip and Miodrag. It was, one of those days that you didn’t want to spend outside more than you had too. Inside, in a warm and friendly atmosphere, we had spontaneous and inspiring conversations for hours. Although this was the first time we met, it seemed that we knew each other our entire lives. We talked about cities, politics, sharing, marxism, and their meaning today and how to implement our knowledge in real life. They also did not know much about other partners and that gave us an idea to organize an event in Belgrade, where we could start talking to each other and learning from our experiences before formulating any common agenda.

Besides, I learned the story about ZK/U and how it was founded. It seemed to me that this kind of cultural entrepreneurship is possible only in Berlin where the city government has been open to experiments in city management. Other cities governments do not like to risk in changing management routine because people who are sitting in government might stay without their privileges when changing happen. They would rather keep the secure position of ruler which entitles them to play power games than to become visionaries.

KUNSTrePUBLIK was somehow lucky to find open minded correspondents in the government who were willing to read their proposal for the new model of artistic engagement that was orientated toward urban development and providing support for the start-up of new cultural organization in the abandoned and ruined railway workshop. By doing so, the city government decided to delegate its centralized authority to a group of citizens and to share responsibility for urban redevelopment. Someone decided that citizens’ initiatives should get an opportunity to take care about the city as equal participants in public space. Someone in the city government decided to make a real experiment of democratization of urban management which represents a source of a political authority and a way to demonstrate governmental power. To go back to the discussion that was elaborated in the beginning of this text, someone in the government decided to recognize heterogeneity over homogeneity, humanization over institutionalization, life over prescribed rules, informality over state apparatus.

Both Marx and Friedman were dreaming about dethronization of the state authorities as a condition for the final deliberation of individuals and it seemed to me that KUNSTrePUBLIK was the first step towards this envisioned freedom. State dethronization, however, could not happen without new commitments for KUNSTrePUBLIK. They had to take over the duties that were deliberated by the government. They had the ruined building that they had to renew, they had the wasted space that they had to transform into living place. Moreover, they were committed to maintaining it for the long haul, and for that reason they would have to stay in the same place for several days and nights. They will have to run their program activities continuously, and all these activities are dedicated toward bringing people together to take care about the city. In the long run, these activities would empower the people to transform their city into urban commons. KUNSTrePUBLIK had a lifetime opportunity that demanded the highest dedication, and as such, shapes the lives of its founders – lives that became the art of living.

Ivan Kucina, Association of Belgrade Architects (ABA)

Must Reads

Developing Cultural Formats Through a Community of Inquiry, Miodrag Kuč

The recent revival of the importance of 'communities’ and of ways of reaching them has started to exert an influence on the urban planning level, as evidenced in a striving to engender more inclusion and integration. All of which sounds like a repetition of the old mantra of urban renewal, but this time in an over-accelerated society.

Berlin Permanent link

Vivid Square, Bratislava. Shared Cities Diaries #6

In Central and Eastern Europe we often find common challenges on the municipal level; municipalities work with limited budgets, but typically underuse available resources. In practice, this means that municipalities do not have an abundance of resources to build new public infrastructure or even to reconstruct and maintain the existing one, but they own generous public spaces and other property that requires fixing.

Bratislava Permanent link

Deconstruction and Material Circulation as Ways to Build, interview with Lionel Billet, Rotor, Brussels

If you express the recycling rate in terms of value (the residual value of the recirculated products in relation to the initial value of all building products being discarded), it would be equal to approximately 1%. And that's the way we look at it. We think that next to the logistics of waste management, we need a system that allows us to maintain in circulation elements with a value – this value being of technical, cultural, or economic

Bratislava Permanent link

The physical and social normative properties of street furniture, Mary Dellenbaugh

Public space, in particular in cities, is an important backdrop for gatherings and everyday social life. The organization of public space and the objects in it, most notably street furniture such as benches, bus stop shelters, advertising pollards, and public restrooms, determine which uses are possible or allowed and help to create and confirm norms about how we should move through and use space and which persons or groups are welcome there. In this essay, two aspects of street furniture’s norming function will be discussed: its provision by various entities (public authorities, private contractors and developers) and its physical structure and arrangement.

Berlin Permanent link

Shared Cities Ideas Yard: Data pro kulturu | Data for Culture – Public Panel Discussion

What information can Facebook reveal about organizing cultural events? Who are their participants? How does culture energize our cities? Medialab, an experimental platform from Katowice, presents the results of a unique research study which crunched large amounts of data from field research as well as social media and websites. A complex network that interweaves through the cultural ecosystem of a city was revealed. Join our panel discussion and learn more about how data can be used to develop culture in your city and how to communicate effectively in today’s data culture!

Prague Permanent link

Research Publication on New Media and Infographics

The workshop New Media and Infographics was the second in a series of three curatorial-practice-oriented workshops (publications, data, exhibitions), organized by the Curatorial Lab of the Shared Cities: Creative Momentum project, in order to explore innovative approaches to the sharing of knowledge in architecture, design and urban planning. The Curatorial Lab Workshop on New Media and Infographics featured data visualization and data-driven analysis that represent architecture, urban spaces and culture in an innovative way. This two-day workshop took place in Katowice and was organized by reSITE in collaboration with Medialab Katowice.

Prague Permanent link