Urban Hall | Aristide Antonas

Architecture has always a political content, or at least we can say that the good architecture has always political implications. In the same way as Kenny Cupers and Markus Miessen worked in their research Spaces of Uncertainaty, arguing that public space in its traditional interpretations –its social and political ideals– is unable to follow the heartbeat of today’s rapidly changing city; this time Aristide Antonas is sharing with us a project that represent a different and open concept of public space. The project is called Urban Hall, and includes some first emblematic installations for the Athens Urban Hall. In his own words:

The project Urban Hall concerns a place with the most critical criminal character of the city center of Athens, a drugs distribution square and public drugs consumption place. The proposal consists in the construction of a grid roof equipped with a number of fans that emphasizes an empty urban space under it. It could function as an open hospital for the drug users, as a theater place or as an open air Working Hall. It may expand to neighbouring parts of the city while transforming the space of the urban tissue.

With the idea to find alternative ways to read the contemporary city, Antonas points that according to Aldo Rossi, the urban scene in front of which human acts take place is always stronger than the city’s life itself. We can see that Rossi’s concept of “urban scene” is immanent on the project essence.

He also wonders if the question of an intervention in this particular area of Athens [particularly in this moment] treats a total inversion of this rationale, adding that is not easy to grasp this idea of a stable scene when the everyday life events that take place in this -now named- urban room do characterize the whole area. Athens has been continuously inhabited for at least 7000 years and in this hysroric context, Plateia Theatrou is one of the most difficult places in Athens today. We can read at the Athens News that in the past few years, the historical centre of Athens [including the Plateia Theatrou area] has experienced a slow but steady decline and now prostitution and drug trade are some of the problems the neighbourhood has had to face in the current times.

That is why this project proposes a systematic urban intervention that interprets under a new light traditional urban methodologies:

Its interpretation follow the vague strategies of the situationists and a different understanding of theatricality in the city. The Urban Hall project is divided in two distinct moves that would form a type of intervention that would be named “urban curating”. The first move of such a double urban curatorial work has to do with the choice and installation of an empty urban field in the city; the second would have to do with a system of replacing different actions in this selected and constructed field. The adaptation of the proposal to the conditions of the city is crucial for its understanding together with a will of transformation of the city’s life.

The aim of the project is to generate an interest for the everyday life on this area that, interpret its conditions and generate a strategy that would concretize the interest for the people that live there. If we think on Bogdan Bogdanovic’s idea about “every great novel carry one big city inside and every great city hides within, at least one big novel” and try to “read” the city for understand it from the inside, it would be easier to appreciate the motivation behind the project.

The Urban Hall project proposes spatial practices related with creative activism and includes neighboring areas that can soon be included in this zone of prepared actions, using performativity in order to work towards the clarification of a political agenda in a practical manner. There are some similar initiatives, such as the Citizens Movement for the Rescue of the Historical Centre, working on reverse the area’s ghettoisation and turn the centre into a liveable area once again. In Antonas words, “The project would function as a benevolent virus which does not expel what is conceived as a problematic part of the city life but it incorporates it by consecrating to it its energy for a certain amount of time.” It is an important fact to recognize how architecture is able to change existing conditions while taking advantage of the relationship between politics and space.

Markus Miessen pointed in the book Did Someone Say Participate? that in a time when city centres become increasingly polarised and drawn towards seclusion, the communication between people and states in particular needs to be revitalised, since one of the positive side-effects of globalisation is the realisation that today’s most pressing problems seem to exist regardless of place and location. This point is closely related with one of the conditions that can validate this project today as a particular function of a different era. Antonas brings back the need to invent local solutions to global problems, as Zygmunt Bauman proposes through his reading of the existing situation in 2010: we no longer seek for global solutions to local problems. Athens poses its own platform of proposing its problems. The other condition deals with the transformation of the people to populations observed by Paolo Virno in A Grammar of the Multitude. Those two conditions determine a shift of urban strategies and specifically in the city of Athens, according to the design team [Including Aristide Antonas, Christos Kaklamanis, Aris Tsagrasoulis and Katerina Koutsogianni].

More than a year ago, Konstantinos Zouganelis, who had to shut his bar on Plateia Theatrou because it became too dangerous for him to operate, said to the Athens News: “A mechanism has to be put in place to make the city safe again” as an evidence of the need of this kind of projects. This proposal is an urban apparatus that may be treated in many different ways, it may construct functional, neoliberal, subversive, communal, communist or even revolutionary interpretations depending to its use; it is an open platform defined by a city’s discontinuities or it can also be transformed to a mere trivial tool for reproducing the existing values of this civilization. Let’s give it some time and see what happens.

“The existence of these spaces of uncertainty is both a relief and a promise. While breathing our eternal desire for a humane homecoming on in-humane territory, it is as undefined as we are.” -Kenny Cupers

Related reading:
A Grammar of the Multitude [For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life] by Paulo Virno
Spatial Practices in the Margin of Opportunity by Markus Miessen
– Aristide Antonas work in Flickr
Spaces of Uncertainty by Kenny Cupers

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