When urban spaces become the medium for expression, protest, criticism, and defiance, the audience is limitless. Pedestrians and bystanders of all ages and ideologies become spectators of demonstrations that walk the line between art and activism and transform the city's streets, walls, and sidewalks into canvases for diffusing ideas on a massive scale. Banksy once said that "a wall is a very big weapon. It's one of the nastiest things you can hit someone with." This call to arms has rung true for many as they take to the streets in a bid to make themselves heard.
Protest: The Latest Architecture and News
The Global Climate Strike is set to happen on the 20th of September 2019, just before the UN emergency climate summit, where people will disrupt their work to protest and advocate for actions against climate breakdown. Architects are joining on the march, through “Architects Advocate”, a movement encouraging the professionals of the industry to stand in solidarity with the rally.
Once largely viewed as a fringe activity belonging to passionate extremists, protest is now—in the wake of a controversial new administration’s ascension to power in the US and a heightened interest in politics globally—a commonplace occurrence, with a much broader participant base in need of places to gather and move en masse. This revitalized interest in protest was perhaps most visible on one particularly historic occasion: on January 21st, 2017, a record-breaking 4.2 million people took to the streets across the US to exercise their first-amendment rights.
Women’s marches took place on the frozen tundra (we have photographic evidence from a scientist in the Arctic Circle) and even in a Los Angeles cancer ward. But for the most part, these protests happened in the streets. In the first few months of 2017, the streets of our cities suddenly took center stage on screens across the world. From Washington to Seattle, Sydney to San Antonio, Paris to Fairbanks, broad boulevards and small town main streets were transformed from spaces for movement to places of resistance. From the Women’s March on Washington to April’s People’s Climate March, protestors are looking for space to convene and advocate for the issues that matter most to them.
A group known as Architects for Social Housing (ASH) is gaining attention after stating its intention to hold a protest at the RIBA Stirling Prize Award ceremony tomorrow evening. Their protest is directed at the shortlisting of NEO Bankside, the Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners-designed luxury apartment complex on London's south bank, which they say "has not only broken every planning requirement for social housing in Southwark, but in doing so has set a very dangerous precedent for the mechanics of social cleansing in London."
When it comes to public space, many assume that while truly public space is always good, "privately owned public space" is always bad. However, in this article originally published by Metropolis Magazine as "A Plaza is No Guarantee of Democracy," NBBJ's Carl Yost argues that the distinction is not so binary. As architects, it's our job to smooth over the difference between the two, while we're at work - but most importantly while we're not.
The past few months have seen the opening of high-profile projects with contested public space. The Leadenhall Building, London’s “Cheesegrater,” rises above a public plaza that the Financial Times called “problematic,” with “an astonishing array of defensive measures to make it clear that while it may be open to the public, it is still ours” (that is, the landlord’s). In New York, the World Trade Center plaza has taken fire from critics, both domestic and international, who chafe at restrictions on visitors’ behavior.
It evokes the debate over “privately owned public space,” or POPS, that arose during Occupy Wall Street, when protesters camped out in Zuccotti Park, a Lower Manhattan plaza that is privately owned by Brookfield Office Properties yet must remain open to the public. Many rightly pointed out the restrictions that POPS pose to free speech and assembly, when owners can evict people they consider unwelcome.
In the wake of the global financial crisis, banking scandals and government bailouts have made countless news headlines around the world. With such large sums of taxpayer money being funneled to the troubled financial sector, ordinary individuals are left to wonder how it will affect their own lives. But how can an entire country rise up and make their voices heard when it is nearly impossible to understand the magnitude of such an injustice? In Austria, a group of innovative students from the Technical University of Vienna set out to answer this question and have taken to a new form of protest in order to make the consequences of one Europe’s largest financial scandals in recent history a tangible reality.
To demonstrate the €19 billion price tag of Austria’s recent bailout of Hypo-Alpe-Adria, students designed and built a scale model of a fictional city called “Hypotopia,” a portmanteau of the bank's name and "utopia." According to Lukas Zeilbauer, “while utopia stands for an ideal fictitious world, ‘hypo’ is a Greek word meaning under, beneath or bellow - so a change coming from the bottom, from the folk.” Embodying an idealistic society with plentiful renewable resources and public education for people of all ages, the model city would theoretically contain 102,574 inhabitants, making it the sixth largest city in Austria.
Read on after the break to find out how an architecture model has drawn international attention and propelled an entire country to take action.