Tag Archives: spatial production

Summer Travels 2011…(5)

Today has been a fantastic day.

First though, a quick summary…

I was on skype to Sarah last night, and ranting about how frustrated I was getting with this workshop – sold as something completely different to that which has transpired, no real brief, no real team hierarchy, and many egos and working methods bouncing around and conflicting. Also our accommodation arangement is awkward – although we’re based at a hotel, after a week you start to crave your own space, and its also like living with EVERYONE you work with. The walk to work is a sweaty uphill struggle amoidst heavy traffic to a lonely house on the top of a hill near the Separation Barrier that serves as an ‘office’ – we steal our internet from the house next door, there was no fridge until a day ago, we have a two-hob stove for almost 20 people, and no pots or pans. Shops nearby are few and far between, and with one exception, rip us off as foreigners obviously out of place in this arab neighbourhood. Being a house, there is no one room big enough to accommodate us all, and so we are in three very distinct groups….separated in fact by preferred methodology and hierarchies established before I joined the project. The ‘inclusive’ guys, who went to saite a lot, talked to people and creatively mapped things, who are building an ‘Atlas of Knowledge’, all use Macs and all work or teach together are in one room, and are actual quite exclusive in terms of explaining their methods or making them accessible to everyone else. Then there are the corporate guys – OMA and DfL stock, who take their own familiar methodology, based on the transfer of existing typology, and sit at desks tracing and comparing stuff from New Orleans to Stuttgart and dumping it on the site to bring a ‘western’ expertise to housing in this contested context. The mavericks comprise a third group, in their own room, and characterized by having an agenda before joining the workshop. Whilst the others are at least working towards the common goal of a masterplan for a new covertly Palestinian neighborhood, this third group see the ‘Studio’ as a chance to explore personal interests, or simply are segregated through an inability to us the english language with quite the finesse of the London scenesters. No one talks to each other anyway, room arrangement aside.

So today I got the f**k out.

With two fellow students, including one of the Mavericks, we decided that to design a place that is conducive to the development of a strong Palestinian civil society, we first needed to understand Palestinians, how they live in Jerusalem, and the problems that come with that – from discrimination all the way through to the cultural warfare waged by Israel weakening Palestinian society under the radar.

The Maverick has lived here for 4 years, as an architecture student studying at an Arab university. From Germany, she has been unable to obtain a student visa from Israeli authorities due precisely to the fact of her institution of study. Her tourist visa has recently expired, and to renew it means standing in line, with no shade, just to make an appointment which then takes place around six weeks later. This is an example of what is becoming a common theme as I spend time here. Things for arabs – and friends of arabs, including those who objectively do not take a pro-israeli position – is made difficult. Not actively prohibitted, but made uncomfortable, beaureucratic and demeaning.

But the Maverick has contacts through study. A friend who we visited today, could be classified as a wealthy, upper middle-class Palestinian. He is educated, politically aware, and and engaged Muslim. I would upload the videos I made of him talking to us, but as a former member of Hamas and former prison resident after the fact, he would be put in danger by anything linking him to anything that does not actively seek to reduce Paletsinian influence in the middle east. He very eloquently explained things such as the Muslim importance attached to Jerusalem and the land occupied by Isreal, the history of the estblishment of Isreal as a nation, and the mindset of arabs behind the things we witness on the news in the UK. I’d like to say at this point that the first mistake we make is to consider all arabs under one name, and all Palestinians as muslims. I hope very much to write up this conversation with our friend, as it contained many illuminating stories.

Typical shop in a Palestinian neighbourhood...this one selling clothing.

Shop owner giving us Arabic coffee...people here are generous hosts, and it would be considered impolite not to invite visitors in for coffee.

The shop from the outside. We're interested in these buildings because of the way that the division of space as evolved internally, the mix of uses in a single building, and the interface with public space in from (the road) and behind (a school).

Anyway, we were researching existing Palestinian neighbourhoods, their strengths and the challenges they face in modern Jerusalem. We studied our friend’s shop, and the way it related to the actively arab commercial center of which it is a part. We looked at how it is divided in order to make best economic use of its floor area, and how that floor area is massaged in order to circumvent the draconian restrictions imposed by the Israeli-run Jerusalem Municipality that seek to make business difficult for arabs.  We looked at the way that – behind the shop block – there is a rare Palestinian Secondary school, and talked about the importance of schools in Palestinian culture and society. We then were taken to see our friends house, and were introduced to the different concepts of land ownership amongst arabs, principally relating to the shame attached to selling land, which is demanded in Israeli-designed settlement plans. The idea of self-construction, in which arab families add to their home as their family grows in order to support their younger family members is key to understanding how any new neighbourhood would grow. The importance of civic buildings, such as Hamams (bathhouses) and coffee shops was explained, alongside Israeli measures to weaken these, and so disrupt Palestinians access to each other, to their culture, and to a forum to talk about their politics and family life.

All in all, what began to reveal itself was a war that is only ever partially fought on a militaristic level. Culturally, Isreal seeks to disrupt the social fabric of Palestinian society, distancing the young from its history and culture by closing schools, and the engaged from meeting the like-minded in open community forums. From inside Palestinian society, Israel seeks to take away that which makes it cohesive and strong.

Its early days, but I am beginning to understand the complexity at play here. I do not for one minute want to base that understanding on one encounter with one Palestinian and it is important to keep an open mind. The difference being so far, is that Israelis will try to convince me of the merits of Israel, whilst Palestinians ask only that I keep an open mind.

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City Mine(d) – Micronomics Project

Micronomics is a movement – based on empirical ‘doing stuff’ – that has resulted in a charter providing a ‘springboard’ for bottom-up urban action…

Currently limited to Belgium, micronomics events use performance and ‘event’ – kind of like a forum or travelling Fayre – to bring people together and demonstrate what is possible. Three main themes emerge in these workshops, that could be read as relating to essentials elements of human behaviour;

1/Food;

2/Making Things; and

3/Artistic Expression

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Ice Cream Vans – (Alternate Spatial Production)

The same delivery mechanism (the van – a temporary passing or pausing of a certain device in a space) could have other spatial effects dependent on its content (equipment, ‘actors’, etc).

In this case the deployment transforms the area into a cinema – ‘actors’ adopt a different spatial relationship to each other, to the van and to their environment – and a different (coded) ‘space’ is produced.

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Ice Cream Vans & Spatial Production…

I have produced this drawing in direct response to the advice that I should formally explore the spatial production of my chosen condition in Hackney Wick (that of the hibernating Ice Cream Vans…), in order to complement the informal reading of the condition conducted here.

I am interested in how the van and its operative intervene temporarily in a given space, influencing the spatial relationships between individuals and groups and between those ‘actors’ and their environment. For example, when the van comes to rest in a given spot, that spot temporarily becomes a ‘shop’ under the influence of codes relating to commerce, exchange and service. Etiquette also comes into play as queues are formed, bringing with them the associative baggage of social conduct and public behaviour – the things we do in queues are given a space in which to manifest themselves. The way that queue forms – its size, shape and density – are a product of the van and the environemnt in which it sits temporarily, framed by the van’s chimes. The production of a certain type of (coded) ‘space’ is both initiated and terminated by a music signal – a code of transformation and temporal change.

What else can be given a temporary lease of life? What spatial relationships can form or be transformed by the passing and pausing of objects and people? Can you release architecture for a limited time only?

Producing this drawing has also been an exercise in production. At a new school I am exposed to new working methods, often using a combination of tools with which some I am familiar and some I am not. In this example, I was able to find a detailed model of an ice cream van in Google Sketchup’s 3D Warehouse, slice it up using section planes (also in Sketchup) and then export a line drawing of a particular perspective view in DWG format (after using Sketchup’s ‘Styles’ window to give me a clean, linework view of the model). I could then open this line drawing in Adobe Illustrator, giving me ‘vectors’ that I could clean up (this process innevitably produced excess linework) and assign stroke weight and colours to. The advantage of using Illustrator over a straight 2D Graphic export to Photoshop is that the image is scalable without losing and resolution (it works using vector rather than raster images). Illustrator is also great for assembling multiple images (in PSD, PDF, JPEG…whatever format) into a single ‘collage’. It’ll update those images as you alter the originals too, so its great at providing a ‘working drawing’ that evolves in real time as you refine it. I used a combination of linework in Illustrator, exporting it to Photoshop to add colour and textures before re-importing it to Illustrator for final assembly. In Illustrator you can also ‘trace’ photographs of people (by importing the photograph, drawing a path using the pen tool on a separate layer and then deleting the photograph) to give you scalable scale figures. Printing out base drawings (such as the plan view of the ice cream van) at a reasonable scale enabled me to draw in context (such as paving or verges) quicker by hand than I could produce a decent looking image digitally. Upon scanning that hand drawn image back into the computer, I could also easily reposition it around the digital linework due to the virtue of it having been traced.

The use of Adobe Illustrator (which I had not touched prior to coming to Sheffield) and a hybrid way of working (constantly flipping between my hands and various pieces of software) was the new bit for me in all of this – something I hope to continue and improve in this Studio.

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