The space, condensed into a homeland

The space, condensed into a homeland

Admiral bridge. Image: robert kaltenbrunner

About building culture and urban appropriation

The familiar and recognizable, the physically tangible, to which memories are attached and which is capable of triggering feelings: in our "collective memory" they are indispensable, according to the philosopher maurice halbwachs. For this reason, the material aspect of the city is also of great importance, since it is decisive for the affective attachment of many inhabitants "undoubtedly feel the disappearance of a particular street, a particular building, a house much more strongly than the most serious national, religious, political events".

In the project "city" social form, realities as well as desires are connected at the same time. In this sense, the city is both an analytical and a normative concept. The understanding of urbanity as a concept of "good life" in the acceptance of difference is just as normative as it determines the analytical view of the city. Urban images and histories provide particular answers to more general questions of identity, i.E.H. What people (have become) and what they have done. Cities represent the conflict between general places, overlapping streams and special spaces, they give universal developments a particular local form.

Of course, the social complexity of the urban cannot be reduced to spatial arrangements; nevertheless, something like a "building culture" as indispensable if the city is to be understood and influenced as a living environment. What is meant here is both the local experiential knowledge of a society and the present way of dealing with the three-dimensional built environment.

The individual buildings, their production process as well as their interaction are indicators of the living value of a place. It is perceived in three ways: functionally in everyday use (as use value), economically through demand as a place to live and work (as exchange value), and symbolically through the appearance and atmosphere of the place (as staging value).

However, it would be an illusion to expect that building culture is valued equally by all members of a society. Precisely because it has to do with satisfying the needs of everyday life, however, its central task is still to strike a balance between an orientation toward the common good and the optimization of the property and individual rights of individuals. To borrow an idea from the cultural sociologist lucius burckhardt, urban planning is an allocation of comfort and suffering. For everything that urban planning does brings advantages to some people and disadvantages to others. But with this one must "deal with it". And architecture, as a spatial system, still ames tasks of order within society. Only you have to become aware of it anew.

Admittedly, urban development is confronted with a fundamental problem, which the renowned planner and never-mind keyword giver rem koolhaas has formulated as follows:

How to explain the paradox that urbanism, as a profession, has disappeared at the moment when urbanisation everywhere – after decades of constant accerleration – is on its way to establishing a definitive, global "triumph" of the urban scale?

Planning is not a high priority in contemporary society. In some ways, it is considered a relic of the "cold war", and with it one believed the world to be freed from the modern planning mania. This is not without danger: for what has prevailed in urbanism since 1945 – and is still valid – is a technique of analysis and planning derived from functionalism. It enabled and required the formation of our current settlement structure. And the individual house became a component of the mega-machine city, which relieved the household of numerous tasks through its diverse supply and disposal technologies, but at the price of an ever-increasing burden on the natural environment.

In cities, as in the case of organisms, there is a permanent "cellular" renewal process takes place

If this is the logical expression of a process of civilization, as there is much to be said for it, then we must look at our urban development with different eyes today. As problematic as the analogy with a natural organism may be, there are similarities that facilitate the understanding of the city.

Living organisms renew z.B. Permanently some of their cells, but never all at the same time and rarely concentrated in one place. For example, buildings must be renovated at intervals of 5 to 15 years in order to be maintained as a building stock. Commercial buildings, production facilities and infrastructures have characteristic investment and life cycles that must be adhered to if their use of space is to be guaranteed in the long term. In the case of cities, too, a permanent "cellular" determine renewal process. Complex biological and human systems have similarities in the tragedy of the system behavior against sudden changes.

Space condensed into a home

Zadar promenade. Picture: robert kaltenbrunner

Even in the pressing economy of time, there is an inkling – in a kind of counter-rotating pendulum swing – that the permanence of the familiar spaces around people cushions, if not makes possible, the endurance of social and other changes. To exaggerate: the faster the change in ways of working and living, the more important the tragedy of old routines and forms seems to be as a mental counterweight. When the time axis of past, present and future no longer offers a secure orientation, progress is sought in preservation.

This is more than just a conservative state of mind: atmosphere, especially in the dimension of urban phenomena, can only be built up over long processes. And architecture is, as the american theorist karsten harries puts it, "not only around the domesticating space. It is also a crude protective measure against the terror of time." in this context, it is only seemingly paradoxical that the 1970s, for example, are regarded as the high period of construction industry functionalism, but at the same time as the decade of monument preservation. This is rather based on a certain logic.

After alexander mitscherlich very momentously "inhospitality of the cities" monuments took on a new social significance: they became, as it were, the bearers of emancipatory postulates against this very inhospitableness. Civic movements successfully resisted the demolition and gutting of old buildings and fought against the advancing "car-friendly" clear cutting of the inner cities. Basic period and historicism were rediscovered, their residential buildings were newly estimated.

Expectations of a completely different kind, however, are aroused by younger patterns of perception and interpretation: shopping is increasingly determining the appearance of the city center. And the public space of the city becomes more than ever a commercial category, a kind of amniotic fluid in which the retail trade gives birth anew. The performative pepping up of the city center is by no means only in the interest of retail: many municipalities talk about the need to strengthen the attractiveness, impression and quality of stay of the inner city area. In doing so, they are responding to global economic trends that they cannot escape, if only because they have a profound effect on every urban reality. (whether they have to react in this way, however, remains to be seen.)

At the same time, the modern economic structure does not (any longer) guarantee integration into the social system. Thus, gentrification, the upgrading of urban neighborhoods accompanied by processes of displacement, illustrates in a very direct way for those affected that and why the alleged decentralization in the course of the service society is not far off.

Widespread hostility to planning

Alone, addressing the production conditions of the built environment has not been very popular so far: widespread hostility to planning due to ideological bias and particular interests, distrust of public authority and so-called bureaucracy, the tendency to apply the principle of free play of forces indiscriminately to private and public affairs, insufficient cooperation between market forces and public authorities, and a lack of insight on the part of politics, business and the public into the complexity and scope of planning. But precisely because its results often offered (and still offer) little cause for identification, the concept of process, d.H. Focusing on the culture of communication and participation, balancing interests and decision-making.

Space condensed into a home

Urban knitting wedding 2013. Image: robert kaltenbrunner

In political philosophy, there is a school of thought – represented, for example, by socrates, montaigne or david hume – that is guided by two golden principles: the "principle of change" and the "knowledge principle". The former is based on the recognition that a functioning society is built on a very fine balance of powers, institutions and patterns of behavior. Any change has the risk of jeopardizing the balance. The second principle rejects all social engineers, planned economies and radical reformers. It says that society is too complex for the knowledge reserves of individual politicians, parties and expert groups to be sufficient to work out an applicable blueprint.

The principles of "change" and "knowledge" are also, if you will, the two pillars on which building culture rests. The hallmark of a corresponding consciousness is that one moves within the (previous) knowledge, that one is aware of "housekeeping" to consider application, purpose and use, to confront existing and possible contradictions, and at the same time to search for legality. The challenge – for building culture as well as urbanity – is ultimately: to keep open and to define at the same time; to offer new possibilities to new developments and social change without becoming non-committal.

Negotiation and cooperation are key words here, because planning today is an ever-changing mixture of conception and moderation. Should it be possible to establish rule systems for building that are more content-related and flexible, and thus also potentially richer in cultural meaning? "Of cultural meaning" than today’s building law and normative standards "standards"?

Building culture, however, also consists of adding a "pinch of utopia" with the actual possibilities. The commitment of max frisch could provide a signpost for this. The swiss writer, who worked as an architect for many years, understood and defined urban development as a political concern of the responsible citizenry, by which was not meant that the "critical public" itself, but that planning must take place under its control. His conception was not aimed at an urban utopia suggesting architectural perfection, but at a proceal planning model. He was not concerned with intellectual games and aesthetic experimental arrangements, but with a targeted reform of the prevailing living conditions. At the very least, this makes building (again) a matter of res publica.

But this is not least an urban policy project. Because what is built, how something is planned, says a lot about the society in which it takes place. And vice versa. On the one hand, architecture – with its "spatial images for lifestyles" and "stage pictures for urban culture" – made indispensable in the society of experience. On the other hand, their social and political charge, the actual as well as the intended one, is still too little considered. Finally, and to return once again to halbwachs "memoire collective" to get back on track, each group consolidates itself by creating places that are not only sites of its action, but clues to its memory – and symbols of its identity.