On December 1st 2017, reSITE invited a handful of intellectuals to Berlin for the My City / Your City salon held in partnership with Airbnb, spending a day and night with them brainstorming about public space, sharing, and inclusiveness. To close the event, we served them a cocktail of simple questions that were not always easy to answer.
In the following text, artist Charlie Koolhaas, the architect and founding partner of Topotek 1 Martin Rein-Cano, the curator and writer Lukas Feireiss, the curator and architect Anna Scheuermann, and the professor Ivan Kucina, share their various opinions on issues ranging from how best to create public space to their thoughts on the very principle of sharing.
If you had to write a manifesto for a good public space of the 21st century, what would be the most obvious thing that would have to be included in this manifesto?
Martin Rein-Cano: I do not believe in manifestos. So I would write public spaces do not need a manifesto… That is the first thing I would write.
Lukas Feireiss: Trust in the process.
Charlie Koolhaas: The problem with public space is that it always implies that everyone has to get on well. In the end, what it means is that people have to avoid each other or ignore each other in order to avoid conflicts. So, what would be really interesting is to create a public space that would force people into debate, discussion or even conflict. These days we can see lot of different people with many conflicting ideas who live together but there is no space in which they could actually interact, discuss and work out that conflict. Such unresolved conflicts then seem to be exacerbated by the two opposing sides that fight for the attention of media. So, I would create a public space that forces people into confronting the things that are difficult between them.
Anna Scheuermann: I think it would be important for me to get people from different social backgrounds together for a project. I can imagine a workshop where people could create something in a space – people from completely different backgrounds who would never normally come together. People, who would not be in school together, or even the same supermarket. But for a project like the one I have in my mind, they would go back to the roots, build something with their own hands and create maybe a space, maybe a sculpture… What would be the most important aspect is to get these people to work together side by side.
When we plan cities, we have in mind the next generation. But isn’t it natural that the kids move away from their parents, away from the nest, away from their control? If we think of this, whom should we plan for?
Charlie Koolhaas: It is an interesting question because I have just moved back to my parent’s country after many years living abroad. I was 18 when I moved as far as possible from my parents and I stayed away until quite recently at the age of 35. It is definitely a very strange experience to be back and it felt quite unnatural to come back and to be around my home where I was growing up. But I did move back so that I could connect my parent’s generation with my son’s generation. I also think that it is very common that you go away as far as you can when you are young but then you come back when you need a help raising your child.
But what I really think that needs to be planned for are the new types of families, particularly broken families. I am a single mother and I live alone with my son and therefore I need a totally different kind of environment, different city and actually a different living environment. I realized that I am living in a condition that is very common and probably will be more common in the future as people have more alternative families.
And we are not really planning for that right now. Also, the old model of families is being erased too; the homes that could fit different generations in it. So, I think we should plan for the different types of family units.
Martin Rein-Cano: We shouldn’t design the cities for our children. We should design the city for ourselves and they should design the city for themselves. However, I think it’s very wrong to suppose that we know what will happen in the future.
Lukas Feireiss: Planning future cities and their challenges is something that is far beyond my children or your children. There are political global forces that are so huge that we don’t even have the slightest idea of the challenges that we are facing within the next, let’s say, 20 years. Where my son lives or where your children live is the smallest of the issues I believe. We are facing such humongous challenges in the next 10 to 20 years and I think that we do not have the slightest idea what these will be. I am sure that the society as we know it is going to massively change, and in very unexpected ways.
Ivan Kućina: Well, I would say we should plan the cities for us. One of the worst problems of our time is that we have been idealizing the future. We should think more about us, what we like and what we think is good because then we would probably be much more humble and less ambitious. Such behavior would then probably create much more civilized spaces. On the other side, obviously we would not have many churches if we acted less ambitiously. So, it is rather good to have both; the future oriented ideas that are big scale and really progressive, testing edges and borders and on the other side we should have common sense and think what we like today.
Anna Scheuermann: I think there are two groups we should plan for. We should do short-term projects, which will change the cities right at the moment, and then we should think about long-term projects that will be realized at a time when we become old. We also need to consider how old and young generations will live together. It’s not only about our kids because they will move to the city they want to, but it is also about us.
What do you think we need more of to improve our cities? More bottom-up initiatives and more participation or stronger leaders with clear visions?
Charlie Koolhaas: I actually think we need less. We are listening too much to what people are saying, to what politicians are saying. I think we need less interference, less ideas for how to change the world. If you go on YouTube it almost seems like every single person has an idea for how to change the world and how to improve it. We need less idealism and we need more practical approaches to things. We should learn to ignore some problems and live with them. What I want to say is that sometimes we need fewer solutions and not more.
Martin Rein-Cano: I believe we need a connection between those two, because bottom-up solutions also need to be visionary to complement and overcome their limits. They need to go beyond their limits and they need vision for that. So, I would not choose between those two.
Ivan Kućina: It would be wrong to say that we can do everything from above and the problem is solved. I think that we need both elements in good cities. However, it also always depends on particular cities, their citizens and problems. What is certain is that we should not allow the state not to take responsibility over the public spaces when it comes to investment, maintenance, and some of the decisions. It is needed. But that doesn’t mean that it is not good to also have bottom-up movements. These bottom-up initiatives, however, should work in places which are overlooked by the state or not seen by officials. Simply, they should work in different areas and on different problems.
Anna Scheuermann: We definitely need bottom-up initiatives. But we also need leaders who will listen to the bottom-up movements and make something big out of their ideas.
Lukas Feireiss: Obviously, it is the combination of both that brings a change. So, it is not an “either-or” question but rather an “and” question. You need a vision and you need a strong personality behind it which kind of follows up with the idea. But at the same time bottom-up approaches grow more naturally. So simply put, we need both.
What is the strangest thing you have ever shared with anyone?
Martin Rein-Cano: I don’t know what is strange because for me strange things are normal things.
Charlie Koolhaas: I know the grossest thing I have ever shared. It was a public toilet in India. It was probably about ten of us squatted in the toilet room with a concrete floor. We were all watching each other and smiling. And then another strange space I have shared was a sauna in China where I laid on a bench with many other women while certain women scrubbed us with something similar to a sandpaper. They scrubbed every single bit of our body when we lay naked. This experience was the most over my comfort zone because of the nudity. There was, however, something interesting about being in China and in places where there was a different kind of privacy than I was used to. Being nude around other people felt awkward at first before but then I got used to it. So, those were the most memorable things that I have ever shared.
Anna Scheuermann: I cannot particularly think of the strangest thing that I have ever shared. However, the first thing that comes to my mind in terms of sharing is when I was six years old and my parents and I switched homes with another family. We lived in their house for three weeks during the summer holidays and they lived in our house. For me this was a very extraordinary experience because I never shared my home with anybody before and to think of how they used my space for themselves was something special for me. Later after that summer experience we exchanged our homes for the whole year. Actually, I would really like to do it again now so that my children can experience the same thing.
The next volume of the My City / Your City multi-city Salon series will take place in Prague on March 27th, 2018. On February 12th, reSITE is also hosting RESONATE, a one-day conference on architecture, art and sound. Follow reSITE for details of both.