The presence of others who see what we see and hear what we hear assures us of the reality of the world and of ourselves.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

100 MAJA/ HOUSES #La Biennale di Venezia

POPULATION 1 370 000

Architecture is encountered by people throughout the built environment. The experience of architecture is part of everyday life, divided between many spheres and contrasts: public/private, physical/virtual and modern/classical. One of the initial stages in the experience of architecture is the life environment, which provides personal impulses that affect everyone. The private residence has always been a favorite topic for modern architecture, illustrating in its compactness and simultaneous complexity, people’s relationships with their environment and the way to shape it. The creation of private residences is also one of the most intimate forms of architecture, in which the client’s relationship with that which is being created is indivisible. Private residential architecture with it multifaceted nature raises many questions by graphically reflecting the society and its operational mechanisms. (Karen Jagodin, editor and curator of the Estonian Exhibition in the 12th Venice Architecture Biennale)

Present-day professional residential architecture is highly valued in Estonia as it is in the Nordic countries. However, if factory-built standardized solutions are very popular in the Nordic countries and relatively few unique projects are commissioned from architects, in Estonia the construction of private residences based on unique projects has been relatively popular throughout the period of re-independence. In Estonia, the architectural and structural quality of catalogue houses is relatively mediocre, and therefore, the majority of local professional architects have received a large number of commissions for private residential projects. The new Estonian residential architecture provides a cross-section of the trends of local architectural practice since the restoration of independence. (Karl-Dag Liege)

Architecture – and private residences among them – create and shape the relationships between people, as well as people’s relationships with space. The quality of architecture is not hidden in the fact that it conveys reality, but rather in its ability to arouse our imagination. (Triin Ojari)

You can view selected projects or download full pdf-catalogue from Estonian Architects website.

[Photo by Tiit Trummal from catalogue 100 MAJA/ HOUSES ]

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

City of the Mind, City for the Mind

The article "I walk in dreams and I can change them" by Tristan Priimägi, Estonian pop culture enthusiast as he calls himself, brought my attention to few of the recent discoveries and inspirations.

In this article he recalls that according to his friend there has always been an exception in the film production course in the audiovisual media department in the University of Tallinn - the sketch or a story can not take place either in the psychiatric clinic or in dreams, as in the above named places there is no need to seize the narrative structure. Indeed who of us does not remember that writing an essay on a free subject actually always turns out to be one of the most impossible tasks you have ever had to do in your life. As if some restrictions were always necessary...

Once Plato imagined a place where a group of people who had lived chained in a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall, known as the Allegory of the Cave. The people watched shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and began to ascribe forms to these shadows. The shadows were as close as the prisoners get to seeing reality. However in Plato´s vision, once the prisoners were freed from the cave, they would come to understand that the shadows on the wall were not constitutive of reality at all, a perceived true form of the reality, but rather the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.

We construct worlds daily whether we call them invisible, hidden, parallel societies, imagined landscapes or anything else. But what if there were no limits to our imaginations? How many of us would be able to construct completely unseen world not using and/or copying elements of the seen?

That´s something Christopher Nolan has pointed out, against some academics belief that narrative subject needs to be limiting, in his new film Inception. The description of the movie would seem shallow in the paper, the content incomplete and maybe even somewhat comical. But the movie has few angles that keep haunting and inspiring me : "(...) you gotta draw from stuff you know right? (...) never re-create from you memory, always imagine new places (...) it is pure creation."

Mapping a city in film has been exploring relationships between city, urban space, moving image and memory for centuries. Why am I inspired? Inception, one of the few latest blockbuster movies, does not describe cliche worlds, but rather tries to question the limits as well as ethics of our imagination and is therefore something intellectually challenging, at least for me...

Monday, 2 August 2010

Trafalgar pops green, again...

Last night a hedge maze appeared in Trafalgar Square, London. According to the organisers (West End Partnership) this green labyrinth aims to encourage Londoners and visitors explore West End  beyond their usual paths. The maze consists of hedges over 2 metres high with lanes within that 30 by 20-metres puzzle named after famous West End streets. Taking some time to get lost in a green labyrinth is worth an effort, however one would also expect local partnerships to take a step beyond of just creating another temporary art and advertising installation - to actually take time and study people and their behaviour  in order to create better permanent open green (?) places for rest and play (see also intervention in Trafalgar in summer 2009).

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Heightened Level of Realism

"Our society tries to understand its own structure, and builds its physical extensions on the earth's surface, guided by blank slate hypothesis. City planners believe that people's taste for green, for functions, is just social construction. We do no not inhabit architectural space simply for shelter. We do so because we need the experience of space." (Salingaros; Jane Rendell "Critical Architecture")

When the space can understand what it is what we appreciate about it, that space can sustain, replicate or even enhance the aspects that make it special on a personal level. When architectural space has a true communicative capability, it can foster a heightened sense of attachment.

"It is a well known saying that you see your habitat anew through the eyes of a stranger. It's a cliche so it must be true. Take a guide of your own city. For once try to follow its instructions and become a tourist in your home town. Everything will be different. First of all, the aesthetic experience becomes central, instead of functional and emotional ones. One must keep in mind though that there are more reasons than one to keep on searching for characteristics and qualities that do not only conform the aesthetic tourist or commercially successful image." (Arjen Oosterman; Volume #4 2009)

A guide is not only a program or a manual for making decisions. It might also show realities that are influenced by design decisions and other interventions. Exploration of the city does not need to start from the idea of continuously aligned streets, but looking at the "blocks" behaving independently. 

So what about taking Google Street View a step further and looking at those immersive spaces with panoramic video? Not only recording stills of streetscapes but exploring the interactive inner lives of city blocks? As Marshall McLuhan has once said: “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us” - our experience of the space.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Spotted by Locals #1 alias In Response to Greed

“There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.”
The real estate around downtown Hamburg is in some opinions some of the most expensive concrete you can walk on in Europe. Historically built around the harbour, Hamburg has greedily imbibed influences, ideas as well as investments arrived by the sea. However Gängeviertel is not necessarily a place where you share the footpath with suits and business types running late for networking lunches or glass towers and polished metal rods reaching towards the sky. 

It is a district of 12 buildings that was bought by developers to sit down on and wait for the real estate prices to rise. Except that before the desired rise the district was squatted by locals who in collaboration with city officials have engaged themselves in the development of the area. Overseen plenty of bad developments in the city, locals had by that time become suspicious of the power of money. In short time some of the spaces have been transformed to parks, hostels, people´s kitchens (known also as volksküchen) and galleries. If the project (and the engagement with city council) works, the whole area would in the future become an inner-city for artists: "Awarded be the "developers" who are not only interested in the profit, but also in the welfare of those living in the developments."

Spotted by Locals is a sequel of thoughts and observations that has occupied my mind since the last blog post.Through the eyes of the locals I try sense how living in cities and dealing with city life in society is seen, imagined but also intervened with.

Monday, 26 April 2010

A return to the polis by Swyngedouw

"What is at stake, then, is the practice of genuine democracy, of a return to the polis, the public space for the encounter and negotiation of disagreement, where those who have no place and are not counted or named, can acquire or, better still, appropriate voice." 

Erik Swyngedouw, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 2009.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Designing for Patient Dignity

For the last months our team (Slider Studio, Azhar Architects and manufacturer Grant Westfield) has been involved in the programme "Design for Patient Dignity" - the Department of Health asked the Design Council to bring designers, manufacturers and frontline NHS staff together to see if they could come up with new ideas that would help the NHS improve hospital environments and the experiences of patients.

Our brief
Design a more dignifying toileting and washing experience in hospital.

Using the toilet and bathroom in hospital poses a particular set of problems and potential embarrassments for many patients, and is often cited as a key argument in the case for same-sex accommodation. If facilities are difficult to access or use, it can make patients feel that their dignity is compromised.

During various hospital visits we found that toilets and bathrooms in hospitals are extremely stressful places, contributing to an undignified experience. To name some of the problems: no mirror above the basin, but instead a visually cluttered space with various soaps, towels, bings etc, no place to put your personal things. Slider Studio developed a Mirror in parallel with ongoing research into ambient assisted living technologies while Azhar focused on prefabricated washrooms. 

In short, the Smart Mirror reorganises the washbasin space in hospital bathrooms and toilets into one prefabricated product that can be retrofitted. It has a large mirror to bring domestic familiarity to the hospital environment, slimline wall- hung storage, integrated lighting, a shaver socket, a waste bin and a grab rail that can also function as a towel hanger. Storage for soap, conditioner and paper towels is integrated and an electronic indicator tells cleaning staff what needs refilling. The exhibited prototype marks our first step of the journey.

Capsule Washroom and Smart Mirror from Design Council on Vimeo.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Loose Space Encounters

"In urban public spaces around the world people pursue a very rich variety of activities originally not intended for these locations. Sometimes these activities occur along with the primary, intended uses. Many of the activities that generate the looseness are neither productive nor reproductive - being instead a matter of leisure, entertainment, self expression or political expression, reflection and social interaction. Loose spaces allow for the chance encounter." (Franck, Stevens 2007)

Cities variety of public space extends the right to carry out one´s desired actions while recognizing the presence and rights of others (Lynch 1981; Carr 1992). Right to the city encompasses the right to freedom, individualisation. Different groups have various perspectives on the use of public space, sometimes resulting in tension and conflict. However tension is not always conflictive or necessarily bad while it provides an opportunity for awareness of the relationship between different groups concerning public space. 

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Qualities that define Public Space

I am currently reading Ali Madanipour´s new book "Whose Public Space?" (2010, Routledge). The book in general investigates the making of public space through analysing the process of urban design and development. It is argued that public spaces should be accessible and developed through inclusive processes. Public spaces need to support certain qualities such as physical access, social access, access to activities and discussions, or inter-communications; and access to information. The first and second quality are most obvious - physical access refers to physical environment which everybody is entitled to be physically present; and second quality, social access, involves the presence, suggesting who is, and is not welcome in that space. The social image and ambient of the place can make the space more welcoming, less intimidating to wider range of groups. The third quality refers to place where the activities and discussions on its (public space) development and use processes are open to all. Thus it can be said that the "public space" is the place where public authorities are responsible for guaranteeing the existence of arena where citizens can express their attitudes, assert their claims etc.Through this function the arena enables the meaning of public space to express needs, interests, negotiate and understand. And finally the fourth quality - access to information - allows us to define the the public space as the place where information regarding its development and use processes is available to all members of society.


Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Monitoring Divison of Space

"Have you ever felt the urge to look inside, when walking down a narrow street and passing in front of a door that is ajar or a window that is half-lit? Have you wondered what lies behind curtains that are drawn, gates that are shut, walls that are high? Have you thought about how objects, signs and symbols may invite you to one place and bar you from another? From inside the buildings, have you spent time standing in front of a window, watching the world go by from detached, safe distance, or wishing to go to the open spaces outside, meeting your friends in public spaces or just joining the crowd of strangers?" (Madanipour 2003)

If we monitor our individual everyday routines, one defining features of these routines is how we live in and pass through private and public spaces, feel and behave accordingly. If we monitor the spaces, we see how they are structured around a separation of public and private. One of the defining features of urban space is the movement divison and control. The way space is subdivided is a mirror of social relations between individuals and groups. In response the divison of space affects indviduals'  mental states, regulates their behaviour. Why do we subdivide the city into public and private? Why to we tend to talk about private and public in binary terms: it is either or? Or are we labelling everything that is not private (privately owned) public...

Monday, 8 March 2010

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Transforming Building Centre Cafe to Collaboration Cafe

Last month I was busy designing the exhibition  "Collaboration Cafe" in Building Centre Cafe, London. The exhibition marks the last month of 18-month long R&D program to develop StickyWorld - project review and exhibition platform for creative business and education. The basic idea of StickyWorld is to create virtual rooms where people can pin up work, present, mark-up and comment, all using virtual sticky notes.  

My task as was to transform the daily Building Centre Cafe to Collaboration Cafe with vinyl graphics and user/function-centered table tops.
"Open for business throughout March, the Collaboration Café forms the final component of research and development led by Slider Studio and supported by Edward Cullinan Architects, HTA, Make, Scott Brownrigg and University of East London. The focus of the research, which is part funded by the Technology Strategy Board, has been to develop StickyWorld - a web based project review and exhibition platform for creative business and education. Through the Collaboration Café, the project opens its doors to the public, further enquiring about the nature of collaboration in education, practice, with clients and communities."

StickyWorld featured in:

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Creative Regeneration

"A boardwalk is a path made up of timber boards tied together, laid to give access to sensitive environments. They are most often found meandering across sandy beaches or wetlands. The simplest boardwalks, made of boards loosely tied together, are constructed around the existing environment: a run of boards resting gently on the sand, connecting the places along its way. Apollonius’ Theorem is a geometric method to construct a parabola from straight lines. Through a simple series of straight lines, sinuous flowing curves can be constructed.

To inspire and develop the Longest Bench, we worked with Connaught Junior School. The children showed us how they use the promenade, what they think of it, and what it means to them, giving us insights into the site we would never otherwise have. Two important incidents along the length of the site are the two shelters. The children told us they felt these were dirty and unsafe. They are dividing rather than connecting the green and the beach." Studio Weave

The Longest Bench has been granted CABE’s “Sea Change” funding, a capital grants programme for cultural and creative regeneration in seaside resorts.


Monday, 1 February 2010

Meaningful Connection in Urban Public Space

"Islands of LA is an expression of the desire for meaningful connection in urban public space.  This ideal is pursued through the seemingly absurd use of traffic islands as terrains for interaction and discussion among friends and strangers that is both creative and critically minded. This use is not unprecedented: a rigorous site analysis reveals a global history of the use of traffic islands for gathering and expression, in spite of the difficulties of the space. Extending this tradition through events, interactive maps, and an archive of stories, Islands of LA invites us to explore the desire, the fear, and the possibility for connection and voice in the urban landscape."

Islands of LA was conceived of as a project to investigate the use and availability of the marginalized yet highly visible public spaces of traffic islands. Islands of LA views the traffic islands as everyday spaces and venues with a complex history and environment. The project explores the dynamics of these spaces through various ways including experimenting with the use of them. The exploration and usage of these spaces examines questions about public land use, law, urbanism, art and other topics specific to traffic islands. The project began on 9/16/07 and was conceived of by artist Ari Kletzky.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Citizens´ Privatisation of Public Space

One of the huge contrasts of the modern era has been between public and private. This contrast has become even greater in as cities grow and are transformed into metropolises. According to Lyn H Lofland, the city is a community made up of strangers, something that was not experienced in villages or towns. The individual therefore is seeking to reconcile the feeling of strangeness.* Privatisation of public space enables citizens to develop a feeling of belonging to a place within which they live.

A lively and constantly growing cities tend to define its parameters shaped by its citizens. Although local authorities attempt to impose legislation on the city, its citizens remain resistant to some regulation, developing their own tactics for taking the power open space. The informal creation of urban spaces, hybrid and continuously changing, are always full of people. 

The way that citizens in these ways take advantage of unprogrammed public spaces and live the city as they want to, raises lot of questions for architects and planners. Can something in-between, which gives the citizens the opportunity to make their own decisions about their city, be designed and applied?

* LH Lofland, A World of Strangers, 1973

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Unprogrammed spaces

«When public spaces are successful […] they will increase opportunities to participate in communal activity. This fellowship in the open nurtures the growth of public life, which is stunted by the social isolation of ghettos and suburbs. In the parks, plazas, markets, waterfronts, and natural areas of our cities, people from different cultural groups can come together in a supportive context of mutual enjoyment. As these experiences are repeated, public spaces become vessels to carry positive communal meanings».(Carr, Francis, Rivlin and Stone, 1993)

A continually evolving city is like a living organism - it owes much of its vibrancy and heterogeneity to its unprogrammed spaces. These spaces create a blank canvas for citizens and their activities. If space is unprogrammed it means that a function has not yet been attributed to it, it can be transformed by its users. Unprogrammed space does not require people to come and create; it is just there waiting to be discovered and improvised. It is self-organising, unstable and variable. It is a public space that is open to being privatised by citizens themselves. The metamorphosis of unprogrammed spaces relies on their users. Whether its features are designed or not is a possibility.

Globalisation and advances in communication have all but eradicated the homogeneous metropolises of the past. City is mainly heterogeneous, both socially and economically,  due to its population high rates of immigration from various rural areas of the country. Scaled down to urban space, this heterogeneity causes multiple uses of unprogrammed spaces. It provides citizens with opportunities to meet and interact.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The street life of Havana

"If children playing in the streets is an indicator of the success of a city, then Havana's streets may be some of the most successful in the world." Ethan Kent, 2009

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Interactions and Artifacts shape the City?

Sidewalk Series is a series of proposals for New York sidewalk interventions inspired by Antenna´s observations in the city. The interventions, in the form of street furniture and fixtures, resonate with people´s obscure yearnings and facilitate odd actions and temporary relations amongst strangers. The presence of these objects in the particular context invites (inter)action and shifts the perception and experience of various places. They pick up on current habits, give a new spin and encourage encounters: Shrink Bench, Hugging Tree, Exercise Stop, Escape Loft, Gum Sculpture and Sidewalk Exchange.

"We love wandering through the city, sometimes without any particular destination or reason. Streets are usually filled with people busy going about their routine or immersed in their own world. The city consist of psyches as much as materials. From an observer´s point of view, it appears to be kind of continuous theater with everyone being a performer or amongst people mediated by the artifact. The interactions and artifacts shape the impression of the city and become part of the urban experience."

Monday, 18 January 2010

To wonder rather than answer

"The stupidity of people comes from having an answer to everything. The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything... it seems to me that all over the world people nowadays prefer to judge rather than to understand, to answer rather than to ask, so that the voice of the novel can hardly be heard over the noisy foolishness of human certainties." 

Milan Kundera, Interview on the Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Urban Cursor - Social interaction and play

Urban Cursor is a GPS enabled object by Sebastian Campion, designed to facilitate social interaction and play in public space.

The object, which is shaped as an oversized 3-dimensional computer cursor (pointer), was placed on a square in Figueres, Catalunya during the cultural festival Ingràvid. Here, people could touch it, move it around and sit on it as an alternative to the benches. Despite being removed from its normal screen based environment, the cursor was still in touch with the digital world. Via an embedded GPS device, the cursor transmitted its geographic coordinates to a website. At the website, the coordinates were mapped in Google Maps thereby documenting the cursor's movements in the physical world and making it possible for participants to see how they collectively helped move the object around. 

Questioning the frontier of public spaces

"My experiments are focused on the human presence in cities. How to appropriate public spaces with cheap medium and ephemeral action, questioning the frontier between public spaces and private spaces I use regularly with various techniques with tapes, sealing foil, inflatables and I  propose new shaped spaces (which are grafted onto the existing urban furnitures) that become multifunctional  by people uses, allowing passersby to take the time to sit, watch, children playing, then leave. "

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Individual Borders

"I approached people on the street and asked them to define their own personal border around themselves, while in front of the official one. I offered them a box full of different coloured chalk with which to draw their borders on the street. Most of the 40 participants instinctively defined their personal borders in a public space as a circle around themselves." 

Iris Hoppe, Individual Borders (2003), the movie
Iris Hoppe, Interventions in Public Space

Spaces that could create communal dialogue

"... It can be manifested with an architecture grounded in its use by people. One potent point of departure could be the boundaries and adaptation of space. It might be argued that contemporary architecture is a rethinking and perhaps softening of the borders: inside/ outside, individual and public, program and form, physical and virtual... 

Perhaps the oxymoron can represent a productive paradigm; can these binaries (intersections of public/ private, global/ local, artificial/ natural, monumental/ mundane, complex/ simple, symbolic/ pragmatic, fake/ authentic, active/ passive, thickness/ thinness) lead to a duality capable of blurring the boundaries? How can the unexpected interdependency of extraordinary spaces create a communal/ symbiotic dialogue?" 

Kazuyo Sejima has been appointed as Director for 12th Venice Architecture Biennale.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Empowering Everyday Civic Engagement

Urban Atmospheres desires to move towards an improved understanding of the emotional experience of urban life. The single main research challenge is to understand how the future fabric of digital and wireless computing will influence, disrupt, expand, and be integrated into the social patterns existent within our public urban landscapes.