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— urbantick

Book – Urban Interventions, as the Space is Used

Urban spaces are public space, one presumes. Yes? Who owns the space and what does public actually mean in relation to oneself as an individua? How much authority is imposed on the route we travel daily?
In general public space is for everyone, but only in general. In detail this means it is for certain groups acting and behaving in a certain way. Excluding can take many forms and ranges from physical barriers, economical hurdles to social aspect.
The unwritten moral rules are formed in different layers and dependant on numerous factors. Often a temporal aspect is involved to make things more complicated. As a preliminary conclusion space and especially the ruling of is extremely complicated and often near impossible to interpret a the potential user.
However, maybe the question is not the right one, maybe it is not about the rules or regulations. Maybe it is about the agency of the user? What if te question were, what do you want to use it for, could it be used for this? To make a proposa instead of asking how, completely changes the dimension and the dialogue and unlocks a potentially very fruitful conversation between different groups of actors.

Image taken from regardsdusoir / Urban Interventions, 2010, Cover by Gestalten.

The dilemma goes back quite a bitin history and it could be argued that is in parts a child of the modernist city planning. The city is designed as a machine that runs and functions. Its main purpose is serving the residents and visitors, which in turn makes them user. However, the clear lines of the functional city and the meticulous designed links and connections have reached not far enough. The ‘Junkspace’ (Koolhaas, R., 2002. Junkspace. October, 100, 175-190.) produced in between is taking over and users can’t cope with ‘Junkspace’, they are trained to function in transit only.

To navigate in the modern urban environment creativity is needed and especially action is needed. It has to be an proactive approach, no longer as users citizens have to commute, but a actors. Space is no longer what it looks like but it is what it’s used for.

In an awesome new Gestalten publication ‘Urban Interventions‘ the editors Robert Klanten and Matthias Huebner outline exactly how this ‘acting’ in urban spaces could look like. And from page one (actually page 8) an incredible ‘tour d’ urbanism’ takes you on a journey through other peoples reinterpretation of space. The mere density and variety of the projects presented makes you wane stand up and go out there into the streets and have some fun. It is one of those reading experiences that creap into your mind and things are no longer what they used to be.

Harmen de Hoop
Image by Harmen de Hoop / Sandbox, Amsterdam, 1996. Paving stones removed with sand and toys added to create a child’s play area.

The book is organised in seven thematic areas that are: Urban Canvas, Localized, Atachments, Public Privacy, Advertised and Natural Ways. Within this structure you can find gems such as Brad Downney‘s Spontaneous Sculptures – Broken Bike Lane, 2008 Berlin, Slinkachu’s Little People, earlier blog post HERE, or Tazro Niscino‘s temporary rooms usually featuring a public sculture as for example in ‘Engel’, Basel, 2002.
Other works are more practical like Harmen de Hoop‘s public space add ons that quip spaces with additional functionality. Similarly practical or transformative is Oliver Bishop-Young‘s ‘Skip Conversions: London, 2008.

One of my favourites is the ‘Urban Camouflage‘ reinterpreting the dimensions of activity in the (public)spaces of hardware stores.

Urban Camouflage
Image by Urban Camouflage / ‘Lappen’, performed in Stockholm in 2007 /

The book actually doesn’t provide the reader with the normally introductive ‘rules of the book’ and the table of content. Also each project is documented only with the basic project information, but not with any sort of interpretation. Very much in the sense of the introduction it is an explorative approach and how one reads the book is up to each individual. You can read it from front to back though if you desire.

A must read for every urbanist! Go out and have fun, you are the city.

Klanten, R., 2010. Urban Interventions: Personal Projects in Public Places, Die Gestalten Verlag.