published on 12/10/2015
It goes without saying that the diversity of dreams and desires of city dwellers will collide with prevailing rules and regulations. Do you want an extra floor on your house? Impossible. Build a roof terrace? No way. Cut a tree in the garden? Forbidden. All over the world, whether in Beijing, Seoul, New York or Amsterdam, citizens are confronted with these kinds of obstacles. Of course, we all know that top down regulations are implemented for our practical safety. With every serious accident, rules are sharpened. Apparently city authorities do not want to take any risks.
However, it is not only for safety reasons, that many dreams and desires of citizens have not been realized. There is also such a thing as aesthetics. Every city has its zoning laws, street view regulations and other aesthetic preoccupations. Taste is law and it is treated as a universal, unshakeable thing. For architects this can sometimes be a nuisance when they cannot build what they have designed. But aren’t they part of the same game? After all, most architects want to keep their buildings and spaces exactly the way they have designed them. We can see this in the images they spread, showing an artificial world in which everything is clean and tidy, with no traces of people living there.
Some architects even claim that they will not tolerate a “wrong” use of their designs. I once even heard an architect making a fuss about curtains and sunscreens that did not match the aesthetics of the building he had designed.
In The Practice of Everyday Life (1984) Michel de Certeau makes a distinction between strategy and tactics, between the way those with power, such as governments, urban planners and architects envision the ideal city and the way citizens are using the city in everyday life, between theory and practice. Strategy presumes control, predictability, perfection and unity. Tactics is making-do, unpredictability, imperfection and diversity. There is no reason for trying to bridge the gap by education or other ways to make people receptive for the aesthetic that is imposed on them. Citizens behave impulsively and their lifestyles are very diverse.
In “Re-dreaming the street”, a project in Droog’s Design+Desires programme, in collaboration with the University of Amsterdam, we will explore how a neighbourhood would appear with less rules and regulations. What would the ideal living environment expressed by its citizens look like and to what extent could their ideal be realized? What impact would a realization of their dreams have on the image, spatial planning and the social coherence of the neighbourhood? The outcome of this project will be discussed in a public symposium with scholars, policy makers, architects, designers and opinion leaders, early 2016.
Let’s start with a more flexible approach to the rules and regulations. We could allow informal action in the built environment, letting people express themselves. We should acknowledge the role of chaos, change, coincidence and contingency. We should use the power and diversity of city life as a catalyst for urban planning so that perfection and imperfection can be become on speaking terms. We have to build strong frameworks in which people can make a mess.
Top image: a building in Novi Zagreb, the modernist southern part of Zagreb made up of tower blocks that was built during the socialist era. After Croatia's independence, the individual apartments became property of their residents, after which many of them started to readjust and enhance their homes according to their own taste.