Apr 23, 2015

Public Realm | In search of missing pieces

Earlier tonight, I sat in a wonderful lecture by Lisbon-based CVDB Arquitectos at Lawrence Technological University, College of Architecture & Design. Their interest and work encompasses all aspects of public realm (schools, theaters, museums, etc.) which is great of course, but what struck me most, is their intimate and tactile design response to such a broad scale. In order to create successful places of quality and sensibility - where people can gather as well as transform - they draw inspiration, understanding and resources from local cities and own country: its history and heritage, its terrain and changes in topography, its everyday culture and artistry by bringing together local materials, the abundance of natural light, and colorful gestures and forms. They see “color as material” and to understand it and its spatial effects as such, they work closely with color consultants in collaborations that always turn into eye-opening teaching experiences. Fascinating, isn't it?! The science behind the design.

Listening to this process, (while thinking how thoughtful and fantastic it all is) I realize that i haven't even considered to ask (publicly) if there are any color consultants or scientists (not artists) in Albania, and what would be their professional take on its colorful (now fading) capital Tirana. Do we even have any color scientists in Albania? Also, if the entire city has been through the 'painting urbanism' movement, what would a successful public realm architecture be like now (be that a plaza or a building)? Would it refuse color? What is the science that backs up the design?

So many questions I have about the public condition in Albania as a potential (latent or not) catalyst for restoring, re-stitching, or re-directing our identity (or what's left of it) that I can't help but wonder if we've framed the problem correctly before mimicking copy-pasted readymade solutions. As our city changes, our awareness and demands of it change accordingly, so what worked or was forced upon it a decade ago might be (and probably is) obsolete today. A lesson learned, not a round #2. A city changes because we change (ever so slightly). How do we, then, design public space, a cityscape, for our past, present, and future selves? A smart-city (not only tech-savy) that is clever and witty, approachable, resilient and user friendly, intuitive of our past-to-future character (even identity)? What remains, changes, and is created anew? What would a future Albania and Albanians be (known for)?

Tapestry Museum in Arraiolos by cvbd arquitectos

I mention the work of CVDB Arquitectos because from what I saw and heard tonight, I think their design approach and subsequent proposals for public realm projects that include architecture + landscape + urbanism are successful, not only in quality and sensibility, but in transformation and resilience of people, cities and country, using architectural elements and gestures (tectonic and phenomenological) in knowing and choosing what to emphasize, change, and create anew. They understand people, the material resources their country provides, its climate and aesthetics, the values of its artistry and heritage, and how the public(s) (user and object, old and new, city and building, behavior, mentality, complexes, etc.) is made of all of these things and does not appear out of thin air. Although this last one is not improbable, it is a discussion for another time.

Braamcamp Freire Secondary School by cvbd arquitectos

**The photos I have included here are from two of the projects they presented that stayed with me: the Tapestry Museum in Arraiolos and the Braamcamp Freire Secondary School.


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