Tag Archives: spatial poetics

City-making: Prinzessinnengärten


(in English)


(in German, but with more detail and better music)

On 24th of August 2012, Prinzessinnengärten (Princess Gardens) sent out a petition, thus worded:

Petition
“Establish A Sustainable Future For The Prinzessinnengarten”

To: The Berlin Senate

—————-

The future of the Prinzessinnengarten is uncertain. The Property Fund plans to sell the city-owned plot at Moritzplatz. The Property Fund has been commissioned to sell the plot on behalf of the Berlin Senate. This could mean the imminent end of the garden.

Open spaces offer opportunities for social engagement and new forms of urban life. They are part of the creative, beautiful and wild Berlin that is so fervently espoused by politicians. Moritzplatz exemplifies the threat to such spaces, but also the opportunities that arise from them. It could become a model for forward-looking property policies that takes into account the value of places such as the Prinzessinnengarten and that include citizens on an equal footing and from an early stage.
In order to establish a sustainable future for the Prinzessinnengarten and to appropriately involve the neighborhood around Moritzplatz in the development of their living environment, we demand the following:

– the extension of the Prinzessinnengarten lease for 5 years.

– forward-looking civic participation that appropriately takes into account the diversity and different needs of residents.

– secure planning prospects for urban garden projects and other forms of social participation that do justice to the value – also recognized by the Senate – that such places and projects have for the city. (…)

The campaign to secure the future of the garden ended on 18th of December 2012, when the group released the following press release:

Press statement of Prinzessinnengarten, released December 18th

Dear press representatives,

In the last few months, we started a campaign (“Let it grow!”) to secure a future for Prinzessinnengarten. We are more than happy to inform you that this campaign was successful. Last Friday the ground was laid for the “beautiful and wild” urban green of Prinzessinengarten to thrive in the coming years.

WIDE SUPPORT FOR THE PETITION OF PRINZESSINNENGARTEN: MORE THAN 30,000 SIGNATURES COLLECTED
On hearing the news that closure threatened Prinzessinnengarten, many people spontaneously offered us their support. More than 30.000 people signed our petition regarding the future of the garden. It is the broad support for the cause of the garden that made the difference.

A STEP TOWARDS A SUSTAINABLE POLICY IN THE MANAGEMENT OF PUBLIC PROPERTY IN BERLIN
On the 14th of December, the board of the Berlin Property Fund agreed to the request of the Borough Kreuzberg-Friedrichshain: to return the land properties located at Moritzplatz and at the former site of Maria on the Spree to the Borough. A new perspective for the future of Prinzessinnengarten and Yaam opens up. According to Mr. Schulz, Mayor of the Borough, these two projects are crucial to Berlin. He considers Prinzessinnengarten as a free space laboratory for a sustainable development of the city. The decision in favor of Yaam and Prinzessinnengarten also indicates a step forward in a sustainable real estate policy, in which social, cultural and ecological criterions are taken into serious consideration; it is a strong signal in the appreciation of free-spaces in this city.

A SUCCESS, WHICH ONLY A FEW BELIEVED IN, AND THAT WAS ONLY MADE POSSIBLE COLLECTIVELY
We thank all the people, partners and initiatives, who supported us and engaged in our campaign “Wachsen Lassen!”(“Let it grow!”) for the future of Prinzessinnengarten in the last few months.

CROWD FUNDING FOR PRINZESSINNENGARTEN
To support Prinzessinnengarten we also started a crowd funding action (www.startnext.de/prinzessinnengarten)

STATEMENTS
Robert Shaw:
“The garden has now a future. It is a milestone for us, and hopefully, it will also point at a change of direction in the policy of the Berlin Property Fund”

Marco Clausen:
“Moritzplatz is an enchanted place, where another fairy tale came true. First of all, a garden grew out of a wasted land. And now, with the help of many, many people, a future is made possible for this urban garden. This could be exemplary for a sustainable management of public property in our city.”

CONTACT
Marco Clausen: mc@prinzessinnengarten.net / mobil: 0049(0)179.7313995
Robert Shaw: rs@prinzessinnengarten.net / mobil: 0049(0)176.24332297
Mail: kontakt@prinzessinnengarten.net
Web: www.prinzessinnengarten.net

I originally wanted to show these videos to my (largely non-German) readers as an example of spatial poetics, a way of conceptualising urban space that I thought was very representative of both the 2010s, and of Berlin in this period. Prinzessinnengärten is hipster urbanism, Berlin-style. It’s a fun-oriented, green-oriented, socially oriented project run commercially: we could roughly put it in the ‘social enterprise’ basket and not be wrong. (What makes it hipster? Oh dear. Everything that it isn’t: it’s a one-off project, not part of an infrastructure network; it’s not voluntary but run for money; in fact, to be precise, it’s run for glory, as an architectural project, with its own website, a company behind, it’s meant to increase someone’s public profile; it’s trading on Cool, not on Lame; it speaks to the values of the urban middle class, particularly its familied members in mid-thirties, rather than trying to be a service to the poor; and, finally, it is a neat little package of beauty and utility in balance, not a mere cash cow.)

But then they won, and I surprised myself by how happy that made me. Moritzplatz is a short walk from my house, and Prinzessinnengärten is doing a fine job gentrifying a corner of my Kiez, my neighbourhood – but, the more time I spent writing the paper I’m currently writing, on Zwischennutzungen / interim uses in Berlin, the more I realised that the story is more complicated. First, while aesthetically and functionally this really is hipster urbanism, it has an infinitely more positive function in Berlin than it would, on the surface, in another place. BECAUSE of the circumstances of its existence.

Prinzessinnengärten is a Zwischennutzung / interim use. What is a Zwischennutzung (ZN)? In the German planning law, it is defined as a ‘use which takes place while the OFFICIAL land use cannot be actualised, because of the unfavourable market conditions’. Because it’s not meant to be permanent, planning regulations for the ZN are relaxed. A land owner will often accept, or even promote, a ZN because it gives them a (usually small) rental income on an empty property, because it raises the profile of the land by bringing people there, because it gives them a user to take care of the property and keep its condition habitable, and because it saves them costs on security. It is expected that a ZN will only result in small and reversible renovations. ZN might be a shop, a cafe, a garden, an art or music event, a cinema, a sports’ park, a kindergarten, a beach… anything. The council often mediates between the user and the owner to facilitate ZNs, because they are good for the neighbourhood. And users are attracted to starting up ZNs, because they offer an opportunity to experiment with business ideas at very low upfront costs (because of the lack of regulations, permits required, etc).

Interim uses have spread around the world, but I’m pretty sure they were invented in Berlin – at least the popular form that is now touted as potentially revolutionising cities and helping renew neighbourhoods (Renew Newcastle & Renew Australia, The Gap Filler, and similar). What got lost in translation between Berlin and the world has been the seriousness, the creativity, the sense of agency and political rights that Berliners brought to ZNs, and the social consciousness with which they’ve acted. In Melbourne, a pop-up use is a cafe serving single-origin espressos for 3-4 weeks during which it’s the hot thing in town. In Berlin, a typical interim use might be a youth club organising a kindergarten, providing family services and a weekend flea market, organising workshops for kids at risk and a parkour park, and concerts in the evening, and it might have been in the same place for 18 years (the thing I’ve just described almost corresponds to YAAM, a project which also almost closed, and then didn’t, together with Prinzessinnengärten).

Prinzessinnengärten and YAAM were in danger: YAAM was served notice by its private landlord, after 18 years of at-best 6-month lease contracts. Prinzessinnengärten was leasing public land which was scheduled to be sold off this winter. Berlin’s vacant public land is managed by Liegenschaftsfonds (Berlin Propery Fund), which is required, by Berlin laws to sell to the highest bidder. After all, the two uses were interim from the start, nothing exceptional was going on. They both led campaigns to prove what good urban infrastructure they, good social, environmental, etc, services. But so have many such places, which have closed throughout the years: famously, Bar25. And yet, a full reversal of normal procedure happened: the borough (Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg) stood behind the two, and asked jurisdiction over two parcels (the one that Prinzessinnengärten stands on, and a substitute parcel for YAAM). And the board of Liegenschaftsfonds ceded the ownership of two parcels of public land back to the borough.

There have long been attempts, through city-wide protests on development proposals, to change the laws, so that Liegenschaftsfonds has to evaluate projects not only on how much they offer financially, but also on their environmental and social merit. There is a lot of hope, around the city, that what happened to Prinzessinnengärten and YAAM represents a sign of long-term change in how things are done.

Berlin’s official portal commented For years there have been protests in Berlin against a real estate management which gives the power to wealthy developers. The fact that the borough sought out a solution for both projects, with the support of the Berlin Senate, could be seen as a sign of a change of direction.

Berliner Zeitung: Finally, even the Senate has recognised that not every parcel needs to be squandered on investors. That sometimes it’s better to renounce sale proceeds, and instead do something for the image of the city as a creative metropolis, and for the happiness of its citizens.

This story is why I love Berlin. This combination of citizen creativity and agency, and a relatively cooperative government (although not as much as it could be, not at all: Berlin protests every day), is very special. When we talk about ‘participation in urban planning’, we rarely actually talk about participation: mostly it’s forms of persuasion and manipulation, very rarely even a two-way dialogue, and even more rarely does someone without millions of homey get a permission to shape the city. But in Berlin, people take that opportunity freely, or they fight for it.

I am going to start a category called ‘city-making’, to introduce some more examples. I think calling it anything else is calling it too small.

The ultimate conclusion I want to make here is that this kind of project, like Prinzessinnengärten, is genuine creative transformation of a living city. It is creative (it shapes), but the product is not an image, a text, a film, or a theatre production: the product is living neighbourhood. This is public art, but only at that highest Situationist point at which art becomes as useful as life. This kind of project is sculpting reality.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

spatial poetics: Colour (Oliver Schwarzwald)

The rest of Oliver Schwarzwald’s photography is both technically more accomplished and artistically more interesting (Schwarzwald works for a number of German weeklies, producing the excellent photography that makes German people buy print media with a persistence that flies in the face of the entire third industrial revolution); but this series is a little bit special because it feels bizarrely raw. It has the same atmosphere of resolute melancholy decadence like the works of Tim Walker, but without any figuration whatsoever. Just pure set; or, rather, the props. Like an image á clef; a secret coded thing for those who already share the associations, who do not need much more than an allusion to know what’s being mentioned here.

The first image, in particular, sang to me. I could explain, about the mist, about the ping-pong table in the park, about the muted colours of the early morning and the rainbow colours of the flimsy paper decoration; and even the feeling of sleepy, relaxed exuberance that I associate with such images. But that would be breaking the code, giving words to a silence that is precious, like something rare. There are these colours, that one sees in Germany, pale and gentle even in mid-summer, and there is no stillness like the early-morning stillness of a large German city.

The entire series (and the rest of his amazing work) can be viewed chez Oliver Schwarzwald.

Tagged ,

spatial poetics: Graffiti Featurism

The extent to which graffiti is not an aesthetic, but a mode of cultural production (with its own materiality, process, social embeddedness, but also ethos, and an ethics), a whole and living thing, is exactly the extent to which this building is pathetic and vulgar kitsch.

Robin Boyd defined featurism as the subordination of the essential whole and the accentuation of selected separate features, so that something always looks like a bouquet of lots of somethings. Boyd considered it the most representative characteristic of the national aesthetic of Australia, particularly of its ugliness, and I wholeheartedly agree. Once you have trained your eye, you can see featurism leave its mark on everything: from our plays (a little bit of comedy, a little bit of drama), to our policies (always treading the middle ground between USA and Denmark, as one of my students once remarked, approvingly). For Boyd, featurism is a symptom of Australia’s “unwillingness to be committed on the level of ideas. In all the arts of living, in the shaping of all her artefacts, as in politics, Australia shuffles about vigorously in the middle – as she estimates the middle – of the road, picking up disconnected ideas wherever she finds them.

More clarifications on the building below (please note that the ‘walls of the apartments are inscribed with these letters and other hip hop iconography’):

The Hive Apartment was designed by architect Zvi Belling of ITN Architects.This site was specifically selected for a graffiti/architecture project. The ideas in the building have been refined over time by the designer in prior competitions, publications and collaborations with street artists. The architect developed the project with his neighbour (aka Prowla), a respected old school Melbourne graffiti ‘writer’ who contributed the design of the graffiti letters. The external precast concrete walls of the apartments are inscribed with these letters and other hip hop iconography.

The graffiti relief panel spells HIVE written in ‘wild style’ with some initiation into the cultural codification of letters being required to decipher the words. These external geometries directly determine the interiors and have been extruded into living spaces in bulkheads and wall shapes. There are inherent tensions in the building where graffiti complete with spray drip effect has been created without any paint and an anti-establishment art form has been situated in an exclusive inner city residential suburb. These tensions are resolving over time as respect for the building spreads within the graffiti community and the local residents begin to claim ownership of their new street art. The outward presentation of robust public art fortifies the internal spaces into a calm refuge that is adorned with street art frames and canvasses. The notion of hive as home has been extracted from the facade and reappears through the fitout in various guises.

The concrete relief façade containing shapes such as letters, arrows, swooshes and drips has been slotted into the exposed brickwork shell of an old Carlton tailor shop. It was important for the street art, graffiti in this case, to be essential to the experience of the building inside and out. The 4m high concrete letters are load bearing with the weight of all four stories transferring to the footing through the oversized letter ‘E’ and simultaneously creating a dramatic visual entry to the apartment. Similarly the punctuations in the facades allow interesting views and natural light opportunities within the habitable spaces.

via The Hive Apartment | competitionline – Wettbewerbe und Architektur.

Tagged , ,

spatial poetics: Stalin’s Atlantis

‘Oil Rocks City’ near the Caspian Sea. June 22, 1992 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Liaison)

NEFT DASHLARI, AZERBAIJAN – JUNE 1997: Aerial view of the 48-mile giant floating town Neft Dashlari (“Oil Rocks”) on June, 1997 in the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan. Built on stone piles and landfill, the chain of artificial islands was started in the late 1940s and presently has 200 km of streets and up to 5000 industry workers maintaining over 2000 oil wells. Today the workforce amounts to 2,500, half its size in Soviet times. The water is slowly reclaiming the vast island, and only 45 kilometers of roads remain usable. Many of the buildings are flooded. (Photo by Reza/Getty Images)

NEFT DASHLARI, AZERBAIJAN – Large parts of the island resemble the set of an action movie. But oil is still produced here. Experts say the reserves will dry up in 20 years. (Photo by Reza/Getty Images)

NEFT DASHLARI, AZERBAIJAN – JUNE 1997: Soviet-era statues still stand on the 48-mile giant floating town Neft Dashlari (“Oil Rocks”) on June, 1997 in the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan. Statues like this testify to Neft Dashlari’s former status as a model industrial project. (Photo by Reza/Getty Images)

Hotels in Oil Rocks. March 2012. (Photo uncredited.)

Stalin’s Atlantis was a proud secret of the Soviet Union. The foundation of the main settlement consists of seven sunken ships including “Zoroaster,” the world’s first oil tanker, built in Sweden. Eight-story apartment blocks were built for the 5,000 workers who sometimes spent weeks on Neft Dashlari. The island had its own beverage factory, soccer pitch, library, bakery, laundry, 300-seat cinema, bathhouse, vegetable garden and even a tree-lined park for which the soil was brought from the mainland.
(Photo by Reza/Getty Images)

In the 1950s, Soviet engineers built a massive city in the Caspian Sea off the coast of Azerbaijan. It was a network of oil platforms linked by hundreds of kilometers of roads and housing 5,000 workers, with a cinema, a park and apartment blocks. Gradually disintegrating but still closely guarded, this astonishing place inspired a fiery scene in a James Bond movie. The backdrop of the floating city Bond battled his way out of in the 1999 movie “The World Is Not Enough” was built in Britain’s Pinewood Studios — but it was inspired by a very real location that counts as one the world’s most astonishing cities: Neft Dashlari, far out in the Caspian Sea.

This area of Azerbaijan has been famed for its rich oil resources since ancient times. The “liquid fire” with which Constantinople drove the Arab besiegers from its walls in the seventh century consisted largely of oil that bubbled to the surface unaided along the coasts of the Black Sea and the Caspian. The Persians called the area the “Land of Fire,” where priests lit their temples with oil from these natural sources.

The petrochemical industry didn’t take off here until 1870 after Russia conquered the territory. In the years that followed, industrialists like Ludvig Nobel and the Rothschild brothers transformed the capital Baku into an oriental version of the French Mediterranean jewel of Nice. In 1941, Azerbaijan, then part of the Soviet Union, was already supplying 175 million barrels of crude oil a year — 75 percent of the country’s entire oil production. That’s why German forces fought so hard to try to seize the city and the surrounding Absheron Peninsula. (They failed.)

After the war, Soviet engineers took a closer look at a reef that mariners called the “Black Rock.” They built a shed on the tiny island and conducted test drilling. During the night of Nov. 7, 1949, they struck top-quality oil at a depth of 1,100 meters below the seabed and shortly thereafter, the world’s first offshore oil platform was built at the spot, now renamed Neft Dashlari, or “oily rock.” “Platform” is a hopelessly inadequate word for the many-armed monster of steel and timber that gradually spread across the waves of the sea, which is only 20 meters deep on average, over the following years.

The foundation of the main settlement consists of seven sunken ships including “Zoroaster,” the world’s first oil tanker, built in Sweden. In Neft Dashlari’s heyday, some 2,000 drilling platforms were spread in a 30-kilometer circle, joined by a network of bridge viaducts spanning 300 kilometers. Trucks thundered across the bridges and eight-story apartment blocks were built for the 5,000 workers who sometimes spent weeks on Neft Dashlari. The voyage back to the mainland could take anything between six and twelve hours, depending on the type of ship. The island had its own beverage factory, soccer pitch, library, bakery, laundry, 300-seat cinema, bathhouse, vegetable garden and even a tree-lined park for which the soil was brought from the mainland.

Hokhsbat Yusifzadeh, vice president of Socar, the state-owned Azerbaijan oil company, worked on Neft Dashlari in the early days. “We were pioneers in those days, and the oil flowed in huge quantities, he says. He has fond memories of the time. “Don’t forget there were many women on Neft Dashlari, and the evenings were long at sea.”

It was a Stalinist utopia for the working class. A Soviet stamp from 1971 summed up the gigantic hopes it embodied in a tiny image: against the black outline of a drilling rig, a road made of bridges snaked its way across the deep blue sea towards further rigs and a red sun on the horizon.

But there are few things as precarious as a world built on water and oil. The collapse of the Soviet Union ushered in the decline of this floating city as new oilfields were discovered elsewhere and the price of oil began to fluctuate. The workforce has halved to 2,500, and most of the rigs are now out of use or can’t be reached because the bridges leading to them have collapsed. Of the 300 kilometers of roads, only 45 kilometers remain usable, and even they have fallen into disrepair. During a flood a few years ago, many apartments were submerged up to the second story.

A worker on Neft Dashlari still earns some $130 a month, twice as much as someone employed in the same job on the mainland. But the plant hasn’t been operating efficiently for years. Submerged steel constructions pose a threat to shipping, oil leaks abound and equipment is falling apart.

Dismantling Neft Dashlari properly would probably be more expensive than simply keeping it going with a scaled-down oil production. To the government, the place is still the proud, closely-guarded secret it was in Soviet times. It is still very hard for foreigners to gain access to the city, which isn’t even shown on Google Maps.

There were plans to refurbish Neft Dashlari and even to transform it into a tropical luxury holiday resort, but nothing has come of them. Today, it accounts for only a fraction of Azerbaijan’s oil production. Experts estimate that the oil deposits underneath the city will only last for another 20 years. In a few decades, rusting steel jutting out of the waves and old seacharts will be all that remain of this gigantic labyrinth in the sea.

via Exploring the Crumbling Soviet Oil Platform City of Neft Dashlari – SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Tagged , , ,