Think Public Space FINAL ROUND
Work title: SUSTAINED PROTEST: Laboratories for Participatory Urbanism
Sustained Protest extrapolates upon the 10-day occupation of Gezi Park, Istanbul, where activists reclaimed public space and experimented with new forms of civic organization, in June 2013. We imagine further episodes of this DIY (Do-It-Yourself) insurrection, in which protestors convert neoliberal construction sites into zones of subversive cultural production. From a social hotel to accommodate the influx of “weekend warrior” protestors, to a bathhouse/forum to wash off the dust and pepper spray and rub shoulders with your fellow citizens, these interventions form the infrastructure for prolonged protest.
THE GEZI COMMUNE
The razing of a small park in central Istanbul to make way for a shopping mall, an emblem of the historic city’s rapid gentrification, ignited a nation-wide protest. The physical protection of public space with bodies and barricades from bulldozers became an ideological battle against authoritarianism and violent police suppression.
In the absence of conventional urban routines, the Gezi Commune quickly produced new forms of social organization. Necessary fixtures such as a library, hospital, vegetable garden, media studio, and shared food cooperatives were built ad-hoc during the occupation. The hotel and bathhouse of Sustained Protest are likewise deployed to support Gezi Park’s occupation indefinitely.
As central Istanbul has become hostage to the construction of luxury hotels, shopping malls, and gated communities in recent years, the hand-built structures of the Gezi Commune demonstrate the types of civic institutions missing from Istanbul’s neoliberal development. Occupying several construction sites, hijacking machinery and repurposing construction materials, protestors take on an executive role in urban development, claiming their “right to the city.” Against consumption-based development, cutting across bureaucratic channels and redesigning your environment is a political act in itself.
Gezi’s spontaneously-built institutions are not definitive ends in themselves, but are rather experiments. Like software in beta-testing, the occupied construction sites in and around Gezi become “Betazones,” urban voids isolated from the conventional city where new civic prototypes can emerge. While the unrestricted use of public space has dwindled under late capitalism, these Betazones remain laboratories where citizens can hand-build and test utopian ideas on a micro scale.
WEEKEND WARRIOR HOTEL
Taksim Square receives a massive influx of protestors each evening, especially on weekends. Protest becomes a part of nightlife, and these weekend warriors need a place to stay. Protestors reclaim a symbol of commercial excess and exclusivity by occupying the nearly complete “Park Bosphorus Hotel.” Activist builders repurpose the materials of this luxury hotel to suit the needs of a non-hierarchical, sharing-based protest society.
Concrete block partition walls from individual rooms are reconfigured to create clusters of bed-pods. Simple pod accommodations include a bed and luggage shelf, insulated with an inner skin of faux-Ottoman carpeting. An overlap between private and public functions makes getting out of bed a social experience: with the swing of a door, a pod’s space is enlarged, and the network of corridors is altered.
In the hotel lobby, protestors deploy an inflatable disco on nights when police teargas threatens the streets. Made from fused construction tarps, the parasitic balloon structure feeds off the hotel HVAC unit. Partying becomes an act of dissent.
On the hotel roof, flatscreen televisions from the luxury hotel’s 378 rooms are collected to form a video billboard visible from the surrounding neighborhood. The massive screen broadcasts direct journalism of the protests, including tweets, videos, and memes.
THE PEOPLE’S HAMAM
A space for ritual purification, respite, and social interaction, the People’s Hamam is the ultimate culmination of civic organization, the populist response to Istanbul’s consumer-driven, misanthropic urban development. Against an authority that demands constant working and spending, even stopping to take a bath is political.
The bath house is located in the half-completed automobile tunnel adjacent to Gezi Park, part of the municipality’s traffic scheme. A large terraced slope conducts protestors from Gezi park into the Hamam. Water is siphoned from the sprinkler-heads in the park, collected and heated in boilers constructed from upturned concrete mixers, before flowing to aqueducts made of concrete formwork that feed the pools. Used water flows down the terraces to irrigate a vegetable garden.
Builders erect vaults above the Hamam by weaving rebar lattices with cinder block connectors and cement. A simple, elegant solution, the technique also sabotages the incomplete concrete structure, blocking continuation of the municipal tunnel project. The skeletal vaults support canopies made from corrugated iron, chainlink, tarps, and construction mesh.
The Weekend Warrior Hotel and The People’s Hamam provide the infrastructure for a large dissident population in Taksim Square. This expanded force of renegade builders transforms a growing network of construction sites into laboratories for participatory urbanism.