Mar 12, 2012

Architecture in the Balkans

At a time where economic powers have shifted, the architecture field - deeply affected, stands in shaky grounds. Many architects are questioning their role, their motives, and their actions. The core belief that everything they do is for people, for the greater good, has been replaced with a fear of serving the egos and fetishes of wealthy and powerful clients. The value of producing for the public, the personal and professional pride in doing so, has gone. 

What made me go into architecture? Why i became an architect? and many other questions about the identity and the status of an architect have arisen lately, and most of us are struggling for clear answers. I say this because in many talks, articles, conferences, and what have you, the above issues have come up and confronting them has been an awkward ah-ha moment. It is just an observation in my part, a rhetorical one at that. I am the least qualified architect (wanna to-be) to give an answer, but it looks like there's a growing shift towards public space services (urban or not), an inevitable one of course, a more informal move through citizen participation. 

Being in Tirana, Albania studying the urban city and the architecture of publics, puts everything into perspective. This may just be the right time and place to re-engage the social, political and economic realities through conscious design, and apply a spatial logic that connects, scales, and delivers architecture back to the people, to the common everyday life. Of course, here it needs to be developed informally through social participation, by experimentation, interventions and why not occupation. 

As one of the many post-totalitarian Balkan countries, Albania has replaced the socialist system with a capitalist one for more than two decades. It has been a schizophrenic series of privatizations, extensive (mostly illegal) building activity, and close to none responsibility and regulations. 

Maybe by looking at the Balkans and their struggle to have a basic infrastructural need for water, electricity, and roads - we would understand the public spatiality of everyday life and the importance of architecture in providing a lot more. More means a range of other activities, behaviors, and attitudes toward oneself, the community, and us (the architects). In this way, less money would disappear in the cracks and more would reach people.

It will definitely give us a (somewhat) better understanding of space. How it is designed, built and used. Who owns it and who can access it? And, i don't mean only visible public space, but the irreplaceble systems that make life possible in the city.

Following this conversation, here's an excerpt of these conditions in Prishtina, Kosovo:
(to read the full article please go here
Phase 1: Communicate — What would I do to make things right, what would I do about the architecture in Prishtina? First of all, I am only a man. I’m sure some of you might find it hard to believe, or maybe even blasphemous to suggest “playing god,” but desperate times call for desperate measures. The exercise of removing all boundaries and limitations from what is expected or perceived as acceptable means anything is possible; not only in terms of architecture but also in terms of society and culture. This is a good start. Open up your minds and draw pictures of your thoughts. What do you want for yourself but more importantly what do you want for your people and your future? This is the first step to becoming an architect. Be proud that it’s OK to draw and share your pictures with the world.. [...]

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