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    "Occupy: What Architecture Can Do"

    Javier Arbona-Homar
    Nov 7, '11 3:33 PM EST

    [edited w/ updates!] Two weeks ago I posted a note about "Architecture noticing Occupy" that mentioned Reinhold Martin's participation in a panel at Columbia about Occupy Wall Street, etc. Today, Design Observer features Martin's post "Occupy: What Architecture Can Do". David Gissen also recently posted some reflections on Occupy Oakland. I suggest reading both! 

    Both posts are short and accesible pieces on the ties between architecture and the Occupy movement. Both converge on the conclusion that there is a strong dimension to OWS about the right to housing. Martin says:

    And architectural thinking can contribute something invaluable to this extraordinary process by offering tangible models of possible worlds, possible forms of shelter, and possible ways of living together, to be debated in general assemblies both real and virtual.

    Martin sustains that "Assisted by decades of voluminous research and activist practice in slums, emergency housing, and encampments of various sorts worldwide, the field of architecture has acquired a kind of improvised expertise in such matters." But Gissen, on the other hand, sounds less positive about where architecture is at this moment, saying that, in comparison to the focus on landscape regions and geographical extremes, OWS brings something else altogether to the discussion. Says Gissen: "And this more everyday, extreme environment cannot be expressed in the languages that architects use to typically depict “environment” – fluid dynamics and network theories. It can’t be expressed in the language of science or architecture. But architecture can open up a space of environmental calm and, like Galleretese (Rossi), express a bit of the melancholy in having to do this."

    Both of these historians offer some very practical starting points for architecture, and these only make me wish I had more time to spend researching what is happening on the ground. Being so close to Occupy Oakland, I've been very far, paradoxically, from the movement. Hopefully I'll be out marching on Wednesday, when Occupy and the UC tuition hikes protests will converge(!) Dissertation writing is a very isolated affair, though some might suggest I take my computer down to the camp and work from there... Not sure that would work.

    With that caveat in mind, I can only suggest that seen mostly through social media, news, and anecdotal accounts from friends, there seems to be another series of concerns bubbling up within Occupy, at least in Oakland—concerns that seem rather interesting for the architecture discipline to consider. These are matters not of housing or public space (though not eschewing these), but something less immediate or tangible. Some of the ruptures that have opened-up in Oakland, mostly around how to decide next steps (like occupying a vacant building), seem to revolve around issues of interfacing between affinity groups and the general assembly. 

    What is intriguing, for me, about these issues is a conflict between a worn protest vocabulary and a nostalgia of the past (seen the Che flags?), and (perhaps?) a new guard of activists cutting its teeth out there that has a different set of ideas. There seems to be an impulse to strategize and think through the thorny matters of political and aesthetic representation aroused by (in no particular order):

    • digital media (cameras, live-tweeting, etc),
    • militarized police,
    • "black bloc" tactics, or how to potentially shed these,
    • the politics of the corporate media, (and whether or not to engage it), and,
    • the production of spaces for persons, identities and bodies that don't conform to social norms, or that society rejects.

    And the list could go on much longer... In short, there seem to be some rich and intriguing architectural problems, and it could be a good jolt for architectural education to tackle these issues anew.


    [just a reminder: VDL Neutra House event is coming soon!)]


    • Javier what is your take on  CONTOURS: What Should Architecture Occupy? Part Two ?

      Nov 7, 11 9:32 pm  · 

      I like Martin's push towards viewing occupy movement(s) as a larger right to shelter movement, this:

      Not as a universal and standardized “human” right per se, but as a political right that corresponds with the responsibilities and privileges of democratic speech. A society is being built in Liberty Plaza and in the network of affiliated sites around the world: a model of how to live, both in microcosm and in macrocosm.

      Nov 7, 11 9:42 pm  · 

      I think Guy's focus on the middle class is not necessarily where many in OWS are. I think, at least in Oakland, there is more of a push to fight for basic rights like health care, housing, and education, that the notion of building homes for the putative middle class is a very distant concern. 

      Nov 7, 11 11:25 pm  · 

      I'd should say, though, that the critique of the AIA is right on, and very necessary. I think it's important to take on what's been the passivity of the institution...

      Nov 8, 11 1:49 am  · 

      it is interesting because in the forum we often get people wondering what the AIA is doing or why they aren't lobbying etc.

      I was surprised to find out they are in fact lobbying against too deep cuts and for more stimulus/infrastructure spending. Still seems like that is extent of it, much more focused on direct impacts to professional (they are a professional organzation I suppose) rather than proactively targeting larger policies, even those which may impact profession more broadly.

      Nov 8, 11 10:35 am  · 

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A bezoar is a mass of disparate pieces and materials. For this blog, you will find something somewhere between tweet-length posts and tumblelogging; inchoate thoughts; provocations and assorted scraps that don't fit anyplace else; criticisms of a political and geographic variety; ecoaffective ramblings; spatial imaginaries that don't conform. On Twitter: @AlJavieera; 1/3rd of @Demilit; bookmarked content: @AJFavorite.

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