In search for my artifact, a short article for the Artifact column, in the Bnieuws B’day issue.
Rehabilitation of Hartera
Only a few people live and work in Hartera. It used to be a vibrant part of the city of Rijeka where hundreds of people were flocking in and out every day. Today, this area largely abandoned. Its famous paper factory closed its doors about a decade ago and since then the area fell into decay. Nevertheless, despite its decline, Hartera is all but forgotten! On the contrary; Hartera is in the minds of many people. Locals will relate the area to its rich industrial heritage, unique buildings and great views to the hills. Some people refer to its annual music festival, current grassroots events, and emerging cultural scene. Although Hartera is known by most people, seldom it is used by many. The challenge for the public government of Rijeka and many other actors is to make this area public with respect to the multiple images people have of the site. This area can become publicly-used, not just publicly-known. A spa facility or entertainment park will not be answers for this particular side, nor will it be for example a shopping mall. Those kinds of development stimulate appropriation of the space by special target groups, blocking the way for others, and/or they change the identity of the area so drastically that people will change their perception of the area and neglect the newly developed as soon as it will becomes out of date again.
The Square and the Big Tree in Lo Uk Tsuen Village
On 24 January 2013, I was standing under a big tree on a little square in Lo Uk Tsuen (羅屋村). Its trunk was protected by a small circular stone wall and in front of it, yet still under its crown, incense was burning in a small matching stone censer. A few kids were playing, a lady was doing her laundry, and several persons passed by. It looked like the heart of one of the villages or ‘tsuens’ of Hung Shui Kiu. It also acted as its entrance as it was positioned at its edge. The houses around were extended with all kinds of annexes and extra levels. On the streets, residents appropriated space with pot plants and a variety of other things. The density was clearly quite high and the urban space felt like a living room. An old-school figure ground analyses wouldn’t give us much open space. When I walked beyond the tree, street-like corridors led me to the next tsuen. Here in Tung Tau (東頭村), built structures and urban spaces more or less looked the same, but a small monumental temple place had adopted the communal role. People sitting under a line of trees aside looked at me with questioning eyes. They scanned who I was and why on earth my students and I were making pictures of this space. Walking out again, I faced huge piles of containers, rusty remaining relics of Modern society. At its backcloth the residential high-rise of Tin Shui Wai.
There are some who glorify the state or quality of bigness. This seems to be something characteristic of the modern age – the first hosannas began to resound around the dawn of the metropolis. We see it in the writings of Louis Sullivan and in the statements made by Le Corbusier. They like buildings to be big. Bigness is their quality. The notion of ‘bigness’, as pushed forward more recently by among others Rem Koolhaas, is based on complete disconnection between the interior and the exterior. “Bigness is no longer part of any urban tissue”, he thinks. Context – the relationship with the building’s surroundings – is supposedly irrelevant. Nonsense! His theorem is contradicted by studies of existing cases. When a building exceeds a certain size and becomes a large-scale structure, public interiors are created. The increase in the number of people using both these indoors and the outdoor space links big buildings closely to their surroundings, more then do small-scale buildings, and thus far from being isolated, big buildings become more connected. In their urban environments, the interaction becomes visible and multi-level or privately-owned public space is created within big buildings. New public interiors extend the outdoor network and thereby give the building a fine-meshed structure. In essence, as the interiors become more public, the small scale is introduced into the building. The building may be big purely in terms of size, but in many ways it is quite as diverse as any part of the city.
In the city today, we meet in public atria and shop in malls, we move along covered walkways and go from street to street by taking shortcuts through the buildings of a city block. In recent decades, the amount and proportion of public space within urban buildings has steadily increased, with much of it forming part of a larger interior and exterior pedestrian network. Yet, although interior public space has become an important constituent of the contemporary city and of our urban experience, it is rarely designed as such. Prompted by this disconnection, Maurice Harteveld has followed different leads to examine contemporary urban design in relation to public interiors. Through this research, he has documented in particular the urban analyses and architectural designs of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, in which interior public space is accorded significant and multiple roles. Ideas pioneered by Venturi and Scott Brown have become absorbed within architectural practice, notably their use of the Nolli Map introduced in their 1972 study of Las Vegas. Similarly, the concept of the ‘rue interieur’ seen in their earliest projects, has matured in their later work to include an internal street imbedded in a network of urban public spaces and pathways, both interior and exterior. However, although they refer to interior public space frequently in their writing, Venturi and Scott Brown have yet to describe their views on it in any great detail; a more focused examination that the following dialogue between Maurice Harteveld and Denise Scott Brown seeks to provide.
In explorations of the notions of public space, public interiors are generally seen as undemocratic and more private spaces. This is based on the Roman distinction between publicus and privatus, but making public space, as a public case, refer primarily to res publica. – On the other hand, there is a related Roman public law that deals with the common interest of urban society, and could include cases of interior public space. Most sociological research in contemporary daily life reveals these spaces as public. For urbanism, this research can be seen as the social context, because the urbanist is primarily focused on the city: the civitas, and not the whole societas. More specifically, for urban designers who deal with public space, it traditionally means focusing on the outdoor space, and although this is almost always synonymous with the public domain or publicly owned space, I believe that public space can be more than this. For urbanism this means there is a need for new understanding and an extension of the design task..