Think Public Space SECOND ROUND
Work title: the in-visible public space or the public space within walls
For more than three decades, the built heritage in European cities has been a focus of attention in the discourse of architecture, urban design and planning. The European Union is launching historical city centres. In the last decade built heritage and the UNESCO heritage status had become a big promoter in the economy of city tourism. However, these processes do not guarantee a cultural identity for the citizens and their daily life. In many “superhistorical” European cityscapes we can see the tendency for an over-musealisation of historical urban spaces. This phenomenon creates an enlarging discrepancy between the local citizens and their relation to their city. It seems that paradoxically, the more a city governance tries to preserve its cultural identity the most the local production of space gets lost – and consequentially its identity.
The prototype of this process is the city of Rome, with its historical weight that blocs an innovative local city development. The point is that this effort to preserve identity is blocking the affection of the unexpected, something that constitutes and renews cultural production - which constitutes local identity.
In Rome the main contemporary cultural production is held by autonomous institutions – often illegal – which are characterized by a bottom-up process. This was leading into the creation of many self-organised and mainly illegal culture centres. Some of their main characteristics are accessibility, inclusivity and multi-functionality. Furthermore, they have developed interesting decision-making processes. The function and programme of each of these “New Generation Squats” is based on an open hybrid space for many different users in form of lectures, concerts, working spaces, sports facilities, parties and many others. It´s within the crossing of these different activities – inscribed in a direct democracy process – that eventually local culture is produced.
This production should be created at the former industrial site in Ostiense. The big empty Gasometer structure is a kind of landmark for the city of Rome. We propose to fill this emptiness with different architectural components similar to the already existing cultural squats in Rome. Maybe the answer is to proclaim the need for a rethinking of “formal” architecture and its dynamics towards a new architectural avant-garde with young protagonists. Usually new “avantgardistic” movements are always working against the previous ones to create the total opposition. To guide and design low budget interventions to vacant spaces between historical monuments and buildings can create a new kind of architectural avant-garde which is dealing with history and low financial resources.
But maybe the most revolutionary aspect of these spaces is their function of informal public spaces. Compared to what nowadays is meant by public space, that is often downgraded to “open” or “free” space, these informal – and not completely - public spaces absolve its aggregation programme, giving the structures to make decisions and have a political effect (in their cases, mostly coincides with the physical place of the occupation); in other words, the possibility to act. We believe that starting from these practices can be deduced some interesting characteristics as concerns the organization of space, the exercise of citizenship, on the way to interact with the territory and on the relation between historical city and contemporary culture production; these characteristics can be useful tools to rethink the quality of public space.
Functionalization of spaces and mercification of culture in Rome are actually only an example of a much wider process – neoliberalization of capitalism - that affects not only Italy, but Europe, and that represents one of the ways contemporary architecture is undertaking. And more that anything, that these experiences pose again the question of what is cultural identity and what are and should be the spaces of its production.
The link between speech and action that Hannah Arendt wished to renew, in order to regenerate an authentic public space, can bring back citizenship to its rule and its political rights, which should not be reduced (as it is nowadays) to the right of vote and choosing between already-given options. We believe that the decision-making process held by new occupation generations can be considered an interesting example of how the link between action and speech is restored.