Azra Aksamija ///

born in 1976 in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Architect and artist, Sarajevo/Graz/Princeton. She studied architecture at the Technical University Graz, Austria. For her diploma on the "Arizona Market" in 2001 she studied the origins and development of cities and - regarding this matter - the meaning of private space and of social and political circumstances. Master of Architecture degree at Princeton University, Graduate School of Architecture (Princeton, USA), 2004. She has been working in the field of architecture and art since 1995. Numerous publications and the participation in exhibitions like "Designs for the Real World" in Generali Foundation Vienna in 2002, "MicroUtopias" at the Biennial de Valencia in 2003 and "Introducing Sites/Cultural Territories"" in the Gallery for Contemporary Art, Leipzig in 2003. Since April 2002 she has been working on her dissertation entitled "Balkanization of Bosnian Modernism" at the Technical University Graz.

Shrinking Cities: Reinventing Urbanism /// by Azra Aksamija (Januar 2004)

As a result of their irrelevance to the modern economy, cities such as Detroit, Halle/Leipzig, Ivanovo and Liverpool/Manchester are some of the most representative contemporary shrinking cities. After their golden age of industrialization and trade in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the past seven decades have seen them suffer from a process of migration and deindustrialization. Today, the processes of revitalization are very difficult, seen in a drive for diverse master-planned investments and the stimulating impetus of culture. Projects dealing with these processes are mostly expected to be vital in drawing the cities’ communities together, improve their environments and boost their economy. Yet, all these attempts seem to be drawing from these cities’ golden pasts. As a result, new architectural developments are led by overpriced investments that seem to be forced on the cities, evacuating large areas or implying radical dislocation of the inhabitants. Keller Easterling describes this urban subtraction:

"Like the demolition plan, tabula rasa is a clearing of architecture so that better or corrected architecture can be piled without obstruction." (Keller Easterling, “Subtraction,” Perspecta 34 (2003): 81.)

Rather than addressing the shrinking of the cities with a method of filling their void with content that only creates new artistic or architectural symbols, how can we follow the processes that are already happening? Is the solution in marking one destruction with another? Instead of conserving ruins or even to trying to put life back into them, how can we consume the material of the buildings themselves? Keller Easterling addressed these issues as well:

"Believing building to be the primary constructive activity, the discipline has not institutionalized special studies of subtraction. In fact, for architects building envelope is almost always the solution to any problem. The demolition plan, one of the first pages in a set of construction documents, provides instructions for the removal of building material, nut only building material, the material of new, superior design. Architectural authorship is measured by object building rather than by the admirable removal of material, and the general consensus within the discipline is that architectural efforts should be visible in photographs." (Ibidem.)

Zooming out to a larger scale of economic impact on cities, one should think about the responsibility of artists and architects. How can urban development achieve anything at all in the face of such problems? How much can artists and architects really contribute to solving globally caused problems? Any radical planning would realistically face enormous financial effort. In what way can artists and architects react to urban fluctuations, open and highlight an important invisible world, the world of memories? Alternative planning methods can be created to deal with the problems of existing or recognized organizational structures. These methods can be used to illustrate principles of an innovative urban development and propose new self-sustainable solutions. An important parameter of these projects will be their ability to communicate with the community in question by pointing out what needs to be discovered or provoked. The focus will be on examining various modes of spatial negotiation between art and architecture as related to the socio-political context of the city’s users and creators. How can we use the city’s own potential to achieve more “Process Navigation” instead of employing the “Tabula Rasa“ method?

What kind of intervention would deal with various problems of the city and stimulate the developments of certain types of programs needed for specific areas? Can a project provoke and initiate a (learning) process of self-organized and self-sustainable urban behavior in collaboration with the residents and the city developers? In this context, how can we communicate problems, desires and ideas between all parties involved? While employing creative participation of all parties concerned with the revival of certain areas of the city, projects may intend to inspire creative urban solutions by minimal means. To this end, the core of the initial inquiry may be to discover already existing self-organizing powers that could be utilized in the project. “Urban Navigation” can promote or break singular forces of self-organization within given organizational systems. For instance, it can support weaker components of society by validating their needs. An artist or architect plays the role of a "seismograph," creatively and sensitively analyzing site conditions in order to develop site-specific criteria for urban intervention. However, the role of these projects will not only be to visualize urban problems, but also represent an active infrastructure and communication within the process of “Urban Navigation”.

The real impact of a project does not come from the intervention itself, but from how people use and misuse it, how they resist it, adapt to it, and ultimately transform themselves, their communities, and their institutions. Allowing for “use and misuse,” “give and take,” “steal and mutate” to happen, a project can provoke a much more complex set of relationships than a conventional “input-consume” method of a master plan. The aim is no longer to develop new order. The inclusion of self-organization indicates the acceptance of chaos, allowing for its potential growth, admitting new urban solutions, as well as allowing for failure. As a result, a project should not be seen as an overlapping of, but rather a “rhizomatic” interweaving of actions and programs, an instrument that accompanies and inspires the evolving process of sustainable urban development.

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