Oct 31, 2018

Masterplanning for the short run | In search of missing pieces

Is anyone else bothered by the increasingly common phenomena of adding the word ‘luxury’ to new developments or newly renovated architecture: luxury apartments, luxury stores, high-end galleries, etc.? Luxury then becomes a program all on its own, no matter the secondary use it is added to it. Luxury is the program of capital, and if we were to map all the places and spaces that are considered and promoted as such, we would have to think of the city as becoming-luxurious — a luxury to be afforded — thus increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible. Cities are not being diversified at all then, they are just being redeveloped into economic exclusion zones, unified around a sole stimuli, money. As a consequence, the city is increasingly dehumanized. 

Cultural assets have fallen prey to capital. Historical neighborhoods are turning into high-end commercial and financial centers. Private money is surely proving to be a better incentive than the polyphonic wellbeing of public heritage. If we were to ask how much a city is worth, we would have to also ask, how little is its past valued? We’re just starting to see the  quantification of such unfathomable equation (equity/equality) — its value — but it will take a long while to grasp its qualification (quality+fiction) — its weight. How much will it weigh on us? How much will we weigh in it?

As master of a regulatory plan that pretends to decentralize (much of what it takes away), the state-capital system works to internalize the flow of capital — thus normalizing the inequality it is based on and legitimizing the design of a new luxurious class. 

Masterplanning, then, as a blueprint and rendered image of redevelopment, becomes a way to reduce and streamline the city’s public heritage (both, its public + heritage) — abstracting the time and material history of a hundred(s) year old city — into this flow of capital, which in turn emerges as the manifest of (its) “quantification of power”, where “each member profits in his own way.” (1)

As it materializes in the city, capital’s influence is revealed to be greater than the city’s historical, natural, judicial and cultural resources — therein lies its undisputed (yet unchallenged) thus absolute power. Because of this unprecedented acceleration of dominance, capital may in fact be the only (if not truly) autonomous organism (species) of man’s progress.

Masterplanning in the age of capital is a strategy of isolation and restriction, which deepens class segregation by isolating access and opportunity as it takes over and deplets shared assets and resources. The masterplan is capital’s masterpiece. It is how capital metamorphoses in real space — colonizing bodies, spaces, and psyches, a total embodiment by design instituted by self-serving systems of governance, whose political rigidity reduces governing to policing in order to maintain the hegemony of the status-quo — to ensure their dictatorial genealogy lasts; and, whose aesthetic guard-ism manifests an image of uniformity under the “luxury” moniker. 

The masterdesign may promise a one-of-a-kind relationship with capital, though what it actually produces is an endless desire to (over) consume. Meaning: it doesn’t matter how luxurious the relationship with capital may be, it still produces a commodity, which makes capital quite a high-maintenance partner. The more access one is given to “consume” another, the more unrequited and all-consuming this relationship becomes. The masterdesign assures an almost immediate consumption of luxury, thus enabling an addiction that needs to be kept up just so one can function. In the end, this addiction is how the human species consumes itself. It reduces life to a basic existence that requires nonsensical constructs of unprecedented realities that the city (and environment in general) simply cannot capacitate and won’t ever be able to support if it continues to be looted by the intensity of the addiction to capital. Hence, the uniformity of luxury can be understood as a double-headed form of violence: first, as an exponentially multiplying unity (i.e. colonization) of cannibalistic consumption of (it)self as well as the city’s (and all it encompasses); and second, as a guardism (i.e. addiction) that “only reproduces itself when it is reproducing something new”. (2)

Luxury is a product of power. It designates how power is seized, distributed and enforced. It is the incentive to re-categorize what at one time or another, but for a long time, was shared by many publics. It is a remastering of the human, its environment, and the master[ed]pieces it has created (as well as its not yet fulfilled potentialities) in a way that maximizes or mastermizes profit. As evidenced thus far, suc
h remastering or reduction is a total (planetary) redesign toward extinction of life as we perceive it, as we understand it, as we live it. We don’t have to know it anymore, as long as we consume it and as long as it becomes easily digested and digestible.

What’s even more curious is the coupling of the ‘luxury’ program with pedestrian activity and green spaces, such as these areas are the first to have biking and pedestrian lanes, greenery, maybe a water feature or two, street lights, and so on. It is curious because when do we see a rich person walking? In developing countries, and especially in Albania, they tend to drive some of the most luxurious cars, that is, if they’re not chauffeured around. Walking is a practice of the masses; it is how the public processes its independence and individuality in and through the ever-changing city. What, then, does it mean to luxurize the space of walking, if not to transform the individual, the public, the masses into spectral beings? (3) 

Such is the dogma of masterplanning for the short run. Short, implies an extinction — while run, implies a blur. It’s no secret that I am not a fan of the word “masterplan” and what it currently consists of. I would rather ask how a regulatory plan is and can be mastered. What is it to plan and what does it mean to designate? What is it to design and what does it mean to master the self and the other? I would rather mine a masterplan than interpret it, but it is hard to ask questions when so little is made available prior to (the decision of its) execution. 

I read somewhere — can’t exactly remember where at this moment, but it said something to this effect — that, we might’ve sold our souls or even want to do so, but who’s buying?

With everything that’s happening in the world, I wonder how much (and for how long) we would weigh without one; and if our road to extinction would be heavier or lighter as result. I don’t mean soul in a romantic or religious way, but soul as a force of life, essential to its being its essence, or rather what makes human life possible: mind, heart, will, integrity, intelligence, empathy, consciousness, health, language, politics, shared space, etc.

As far as Tirana (or any other such developing city in Albania) is concerned, I cannot imagine what would its architects and urbanists talk about in local or international conferences and seminars on history and preservation. If until now there was a preserved and protected architectural district or building to talk about, from this moment on it would be hypocritical to assert any historical standing. I guess there’s always nostalgia to fall back on.

(1) Deleuze & Guattari, On the Line, 1983, Semiotext(e)
(2) ibid.
(3) Arjun Appadurai, Spectral Housing and Urban Cleansing: Notes on Millennial Mumbai

Oct 20, 2018

Undigested Thoughts | In search of hollow-eve(n)

the metamorphosis of the city center from historic corridor to outdoor commercial mall 

the metamorphosis of the pedestrian from a public ‘escaping boredom’ to a consumer ‘embracing boredom’

boredom is different from loneliness

the metamorphosis of ‘boredom’ from play to affordance 

the metamorphosis of expression from playground to publicity 

the metamorphosis of freedom from discovering one’s own amidst the differences of the many to the many obeying the (often corrupt) privilege of the one

the metamorphosis of the city is the metamorphosis of its society 

the metamorphosis of the environmental landscape is the metamorphosis of mental nature 

the metamorphosis of man to cockroach is a reminder that cockroaches (will) outlive men — it is a return to, an end of, or becoming a being other than human, ancient even

metamorphosis is the human redesigning themselves to a coma, maybe death — to an uncertain afterlife, surely 

metamorphosis may (seems to) be the design of extinction to an original life form, hybridized 

this metamorphosis is an accelerated alienation 

an alienation from oneself?
an alienation toward oneself?
an alienation…

no one will be able to afford 
no one will be able to escape

a (rat) race…

no one will win because no one can see the freedom anticipated by the finish line

no one wants to win because fear catches up

freedom turns into fear

nowadays, public space does not mean freedom but fear

freedom of living turns into fear of dying 

freedom (by death — as the ultimate finish line) turns into fear (of life — living as the ultimate fear; fearing as the ultimate life form)

this metamorphosis seems fierce to oscillate between freedom and fear like that — between life and death

this metamorphosis could be the everyday life or the critique of the everyday life

it certainly is the habit [habitat, (in)habitation, (h)ability] of the everyday life 

metamorphosis makes every day possible 
metamorphosis makes life possible 
thus, metamorphosis is a materialization [in mind + matter] of time

The world finds itself on the brink or eve of yet another fundamental shift, and since it is October or harvest-time, the shapeshifter that is metamorphosis, this uncanny and cunning habit turns into a doubleheader (hint), a double-edged sword, a trick-or-treat, hollow and even. So it might be useless to caution the darkness of the hollow eve or the hollowness of its events.  
It’s definitely better to warn of the abyss of light instead. That’s why we have Hallowe’en — the metamorphosis of (a consumable) remembrance (now lightly consumed).

the hollow eve(n) between time lost and time found, not quite regained — is it fall or is it autumn — i forget

All this to say happy halloween! [As I’m sure I didn’t spook anyone.]

Oct 11, 2018

Gentle Manifest | We’ve Never Been Public

The Paradox of Public (&) Design: Public Space and Nuances of Freedom

In order to reflect on or provide an answer to the question in the photo, let’s consider reframing it by breaking it down further: Does Public imply a liberation of sorts; a freeing from one’s own fascism; a release of it even? Does it promise a community — (of) shared values and struggles? Is it a shared reality? Is there a correlation between the freedom of a society and the one its public space enables? What can the spatiality of a public (space) — its planning and design in the city — tell us about the (nuanced) freedom of its society? Has the public in Albania ever been free to organize and protest — to not just be organized to celebrate something, but to question, to dissent it — without being subjected to various (political, social, economic) repercussions?

Public is a word that defies definition — said differently — any definition it takes on, in one way or another, constricts the freedom it might imply, thus revealing the impossibility of its totality — its absolute materializon. Hence, any effort to outline or plan it is in fact the designer’s own construction of reality, how s/he perceives and imagines the reality s/he shares with others, a constructed — be it constructive or constrictive — commons. There exist forces beyond the designer’s control of course, and that needs to be taken into account — but, as the public (space) becomes a kind of commons that shapes and organizes — and to a certain degree predetermines — a kind of (freedom for the) community, then the responsibilities for its nuanced freedom (or lack thereof) should be shared among those who take on such a difficult task. If designers (whoever they might be: independent and individual members of the public, the state or private enterprises) take on such a (consciously) difficult task, then they take on both the privilege — the right to design a public — as well as the responsibility to ensure the rights of those they design for — their designated freedom — in it. Hence, public space can be thought of as a social contract way before it becomes a spatial one.

Since the freedom implied by the word public is just as elusive, the task of designing a(ny) public space can then be thought of as one of designating freedom, mobilizing it, giving it form. As a middleman of sort, or better yet as a translator that is able to materialize, to mold all those other (faceless or not) forces and idea(l)s into a public (space), the designer is in a position to read between the lines, to leverage one toward the freedom of the other, or for that matter to collude with one’s power against the other. Design can be a genuine or ingenious process of metamorphosis, no doubt. Though, more often than not, unfolding such a becoming — or design as an act of unfolding design as an image of becoming (a process of becoming in itself) — has revealed the latter as a Machiavellian scheme, in which invisible powers take on a public embodiment — hence its integrity — so to normalize their abstraction, hegemony, violence, and to further integrate — or make integral — their yet unforeseen ends. In this case, embodiment is not synonymous with empowerment, because a seemingly proportionate give-take exchange becomes in fact monopolized, a perpetual take(over) masked as a general and generous giving. As such, design becomes a closed loop, a vicious cycle. It doesn’t enable transformation nor a transition, but it assures the rebirth or recolonization of an already established hegemony.

Ethics is truly the substance and privilege of the designer.

Thus when I talk about a public, I am referring not only to the freedom it embodies, but the one it releases — the freedom it empowers. When I ask about the freedom of creativity and discovery, of resisting and becoming, I am not questioning it (them) in the designer, but i am inquiring about the freedom of those he designs for. How does the designer enable and share the same freedom(s) to the designee publics?

If public projects are described as open through the shapes of their form, their uninterrupted circulatory flow, their multi-program flexibility, their material transparency, and their environment sustainability — among others — then I want to know how these attributes enable the public in return. How do they designate bodies to access and discover their own, as well as their shared freedom in such a place? How does form, flow, flexibility, transparency, sustainability extend similar dimensions of tolerance to the public?

I take open here to imply a given degree of freedom. If we think of architecture as a framing of sorts, then the drawing, the plan, the building become both a device, a witness, a documentation — an artifact of the impossibility to capture or enclose all space — and a mechanism of unfolding it, to (both) discover its human(e) dimension(s) and to test its own (aesthetic and ethic) tolerance toward these dimensions. Why, then, in renderings or any visual documentation, public space is shown as a place of enchantment through recreational activities enabled by service-base programs (such as cafés, concerts, vendors, etc.), and not as a place that allows disenchantment too — where it is safe to protest — that accommodates different types of learning — that is bare from imposed propaganda — thus allowing a leisure of a different kind, an immersion in another sensory experience, that of trees, minerals, textures, sounds that are often drowned out by the spectacle of the images and artificial colors of the city? Why can’t I see or envision the flow, flexibility, transparency or sustainability of the public dimension(s) as tolerated by the enchanted image? Why am I not convinced by the community it portrays?

Because I know a few of its people and I am aware of the socio-economic context they inhabit. Their true shared values and struggles cannot be erased by the image — the opportunities to ameliorate should not be dictated by it either. The enchanted image doesn’t capture, distribute, nor encourage the disenchanted public it represents. It is interested in only redesigning its (designer + bigger forces) dimension of reality, because what good is a designer if s/he doesn’t design. It’s what separates them from their public. It is also the wrong way to go about the privilege and the responsibility given to one as a (public) designer. One should not forget nor dismiss the fact that the public, too, can be an ingenious co-designer. It is why every year, when the city shuts down for various mass-celebrations, I ask myself, it wouldn’t be that different to organize mass-resistances instead. Why is it so difficult to do though? This swelling of the public through planned distractions, why can’t it also become a way to somber it up — to lay it, the city and its institutions bare?

It might indeed be a privilege to be bumped up from a designated public to a designer, but a designer mustn’t forget that s/he will always be part of a community that shares a common reality, no matter how constrictive or constructive s/he designs it to be. The designer’s involvement then can be more than just privilege, it can become a choice to extend this freedom to their community — an invitation to design their livelihood together.

The question thus becomes, a two-parter: first, Which power (ethic) does the designer follow? and then, Which power (force or regime) does public form and livelihood follow?

In Albania, public space has always been designed through oppressive means, be they political or economic. Public livelihood has always been designed as a perpetual struggle to ensure continued dependence — not to encourage or allow independent thriving. It has always been a space that has enabled only the freedoms sanctioned by hegemony, as evident by its increasingly repressive public. The nuances of freedom its society has been subjected to for decades, if not centuries, hasn’t varied much, it has only deepened and normalized the shadows of its public. Bottom-up transgressions of these sanctions have always been harshly punished. But, enforced political mass-gatherings and state propaganda activities, which can also be considered (scaled-up) transgressions, are revered as the right to (practice) free-speech, as democracy at work.

So, who does public space and its public belong to, if not all? Has the public been deterritorialized from the impossibility of its enclosure, the openness and freedom inherent in it, only to be reterritorialized as a belonging to someone? And if its openness — to be shared by all without the fear of prosecution, to use it to speak up — has always been such an impossibility, can we (for sure) say that Albania has ever been truly public? Was it ever given the freedom to discover its own nuances of it? Is there such a freedom left anymore?