31 October 2008


the fine lines of the public realmAntoín Doyle
Significant literary work can only come into being in a strict alternation between action and writing; it must nurture the inconspicuous forms that better fit its influence in active communities then does the pretentious, universal gesture of the book - in leaflets, brochures, articles, and placards. Only this prompt language shows itself actively equal to the moment.
—Walter Benjamin, One Way Street

The bollard is a prompt piece of building that relates the jurisdiction of control and bounding of site to the human body. It takes its function from other bounding elements – railings, fences and walls – yet its force lies in the space inbetween.
A bollard connected by chains becomes a barrier, a vehicle for exclusion; its potential is capped and controlled. When left unfettered, it can be inhabited, its function is more fluid, its response more prompt and active. These bollards direct and channel through their combined collection, they control through co-operation.
It is the inconspicuous gap between bollards that shows itself actively equal to the moment of the street. Within this regular rhythm and order, there is the opportunity to support an attachment to the city and a compatibility with the street.
Unlike chain, fence and railing which represent an over-determination in the city to support a regime of control, restricting desire, habit and pattern, the gap between bollards presents a porosity of territory to the city’s occupants and allows an opportunity for action and innovation in the interval. The drama of the instant can exist in the intermission.

The diameter of modern steel bollards allows little opportunity for contribution on the street. A broader bollard, more column than baton, has the potential to expand to the moment, allowing for multiplicity of use. By increasing its weight on the street, it is better able to respond to the demands placed on it by individual and collective action. Its particular height, girth, strength and materiality allows people to sit, stand, lean, rest and act. Its initial function is invaded by other uses, responding to the spontaneity and instant of the street. In this way, the identity of the bollard is subverted from a tool of territory and exclusion to one of occupation and contribution. The structural redundancy and strength required in a bollard for safety and security, mean that even when compromised it can still function as a light, a seat, a stage, a podium.

This bollard inhabits the commonplace yet illustrates a collision of functions and level of collaboration that is an indication of the level of substance and support that needs to be supplied to the street by architecture, building and design.

Doyle, Antoín. 'The Fine Lines of the Public Realm: Bollards' On Site review, no. 19 Spring/Summer 2008
©Antoín Doyle and On Site review

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