31 October 2008

Sites of Complexity in the Urban Field

Monastiraki, Greece
Efrosina Charalambous and Anna Papachristoforou
Describing the street in terms of field, we inevitably move from the one towards the many: from individuals to collectives. The complicated infrastructures that emerge from the interaction of different situations of design, processes of self-organisation and expectations, transform the city into an agglomeration of autonomous structures. The dynamics of a crowd, of subjects wandering in the city motivated by complex desires and interacting in unexpected ways – as one more field of vectors in the streetscape – intensifies different experiences in particular moments of time, sustaining the generic form of the city. A city’s coherence and generic form is produced through the coexistence and interface of different conditions at a local level.

Through a new reading that incorporates the complex behaviours of user-citizens and new dynamic actions, a city could be described as a collection of activities, as a field of forces. ‘City’ is a living organism that continually reorganises and readjusts itself as a complex system, where small local structures cooperate with global flows. Such a consideration requires an approach to the city from the inside, from its interior, tracing the ways the field develops, evolves and transforms and not to observe it from the outside as a distinct object, a material structure that remains the same, changes or disappears.
The flow of action and rhythm of the streetscape, which is continuously equipped by arbitrary and ephemeral interventions, converts the space into a field of forces, where all seem to be in play. An excellent example of such a field is the area of Monastiraki in Athens. Monastiraki is an area in-between the noise of the commercial triangle of modern Athens and the tranquillity of the ruins in the ancient Agora. Monastiraki can be described as non-pure, because even though it is a space interwoven with the concept of the market, the real scenario that unfolds in its interior reveals a space composed by the coexistence of various elements. Different functions, some even incompatible with each other, agglomerate in the same place, intermix and thus blur the notion of any clean or pure image. A mixture of scenarios and activities that overlap, diverse activities that many times appear functioning complementarily can compose places whose identities cannot be determined with clarity.
The boundaries of private activities are extended into and disrupt the street while the interior of the building validates an expansion of this same street. The continuous succession of private and public accelerates and lends the space a hybrid character. Thus an intermediate space is articulated, one that unifies diverse elements while respecting the identity of each, allowing their simultaneous presence and expanding the field of action. A space that embraces alternation and is capable of combining and blending, stimulates the progress and the succession of events, amplifying the articulation of relations and relationships in the street.
It is of great interest how the urban landscape of Monastiraki receives any new structure. Instead of occupying or totally replacing an existing building, the ‘new’ structure collaborates and adapts, incorporating elements of the existing structure. A ‘game’ between the past and the present, an intermediate situation, characterises the everyday experience in Athens. The augmentative evolvement is supported by mechanisms capable of articulating different movements and events according to internal orders and external requirements. It is not a single geometric structure that is being imposed or that predominates – ‘the overall form is an elaboration of conditions established locally’. The conditions, the mixture and incorporation, detected in the microscale, in the internal, are arranged by parasitic relations between the structural elements and the activities as well.
Monastiraki ceases to be a homogeneous Cartesian place and constitutes the field that allows to desires of the subject to emerge — a field generated by conflicts, clashes and inter-crossing that eventually produce a large diversity of combinations, densities and intensities of experience at specific moments in the extended field of the cityscape. The complex and flexible system that modulates space and articulates relations and events, extends the field of action, inviting the unanticipated, the spontaneous, the intimate, the erotic. Space transformed through such actions enables self-determination through continuous negotiations between individual expectations, desires and fantasies. Such space is an inter-media where each person can be defined and at the same time define his environment according to his desires. The changeable, unstable, precarious streetscape of Monastiraki is in fact a relational space, not only for taking a stroll in, but also for personal and/or shared stimulus.
Here the interest of architecture is no longer in generating form; its value arises from the adoption of relations in space, dynamic actions and spatial situations that introduce a particular environment. The subject of our research is a flexible framework that embraces transformation and where the user himself activates his environment. Through an experimental redefinition, architecture can turn to site. Working with the field, new qualities may emerge with the acceptance of complexity: design activates both visible and latent spatial dynamics leading to an architecture that responds to our desire to interact, to be activated, to interrelate.
With this project of a digital art workshop, we are experimenting at Monastiraki, exploring a space of in-between which disputes the structural context. We do not encounter the ‘building’ as an entity, a self-referential object, but as a process of actions in the urban field; a transmitter of activities that feeds and feeds back the flows of the street. At the in-between space of building and city we are suggesting a broadened ‘street’ that interweaves with the building system. The folding of the ground detects new spaces of relation and action: joint with a vertical ground, a scaffolding, a superposition, a support of action. Between them, intermediate spaces emerge; new, strange spaces, spaces for the formation of new spatialities. This is an architectural project whose identity is almost ephemeral, an unfinished project in continual evolution.

Charalambous, Efrosina. 'Sites of Complexity in the Urban Field: Monastiraki' On Site review, no. 19 Spring/Summer 2008
©Efrosina Charalambous and Anna Papachristoforou and On Site review

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