city: ways of making, ways of using

Guilherme Wisnik, Ligia Nobre and Ana Luiza Nobre

curatorial text of the X São Paulo Architecture Biennial
published in Monolito #17

Cities are nowadays in the center of the international debate. The world was rapidly and overwhelmingly urbanized, the cities were swollen, became infinitely more complex and the science responsible for thinking about these processes and rule the ways of its growth – urbanism – collapsed.

With the Western model for urban development discredited after the 2008 financial crisis, cities that grew amidst systematic crisis outside of the center, such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Lagos and Shenzhen, became relevant due to the problems and complexities to which they’ve been pointing out. If in the 1990’s we lived a form of fatalism, according to which cities seemed not to have an alternative other than total surrender to the globalized financial capital. Today the successful (though contradictory) experiences of cities like Medelín, added to the contestation strength of the various “occupy”, show that the urban centers can’t simply be “growth machines”, according to Harvey Molotch’s definition.

The very place of Brazil as an emerging country is already being seriously doubted and the uncritical optimism towards the future of our cities before the coming mega events was definitely broken by the “voice of the streets”. Certainly, we live a time in which paradigms are broken. And it is specially in moments of crisis that we have the opportunity to change things.

Nowadays it is more evident that the public space is not the appeased place of meeting, but the place of confrontation, of conflict. It is in the public sphere that the differences, inherent to life in the cities, are negotiated. Occupy, tension, protest, resist are vital actions in today’s world urban centers – like New York, Istanbul and many Brazilian cities –, showing that social practices related to the use of public space can relevantly oppose real estate speculation, consumerism and the overall predominance of private interests.

“Making” and “using” the city seemed, until recently, dichotomous parts, that allude, on one hand, to the political and economic forces that build a city together with the architect’s design and, on the other, to the use of urban spaces by the population. However, today it is clear that such opposition became weaker, as for using is making and vice-versa, and we won’t realize the growing complexity of the cities if we don’t architect its makings and uses in a dialogical way.

The questions that resurface today from the arch of problems brought up by experimental ways in the 1960’s and 70’s are uncountable. Amongst these are the active role given to the use of the cities and the rise of collaborative practices that lead to horizontal work networks in the contemporary world. The lefebrvian motto of the “right to the city” is, again, in the foreground, for the citizen that uses the public space reclaims the right to partake of its construction. And this right includes not only the fulfillment of basic needs, such as transportation, housing, health and education, but also the fulfillment of desires, specially the desire, multiple and diffuse, of better cities to make and use in the daily life. That is, cities that are places of action.

Exhibition Farewell, Robin Hood, Centro Cultural São Paulo, X Bienal