Spatial projects are projections of social space
One of introductory texts to the brochure Stadslab Masterclass Lublin 2008, s. 11-12. I was asked to write it after moderating the sum-up meeting of Stadslab 2008 workshop, as a comment on the projects from the local and non-professional point of view.
What struck me most when I studied the results of Stadslab 2008 was the integrity and clarity of its final project. Five Lublin universities scattered around the city and their students who make up one fourth of Lublin population got new common and public space. It is settled in now degraded and neglected area turned into new environment friendly, innovative and productive city district.
The district consists of a few smaller sections having their own identity and function. I can imagine that drawing a map of this place or showing the way to a person visiting it would be very easy although it has no central point. Instead of a centre there is a crossing of two communication trails which is a symbol of modern thinking about organising physical and social space. Its arrangement no longer depends on points where the power is concentrated and and from where it is distributed but on places and networks enabling people to meet, communicate and work together.
The participants of this year’s Stadslab made up a complete self-contained urban organism plugged in to the larger organism of Lublin.This is probably a standard principle of modern city planning but rarely can you see such an iconic representation of this rule and such a contrast between dreams and reality is, that local investors, individual people and institutions that would be supposed to implement the visions of Stadslab do not form such an organism.The mystery behind this project is that it is based on the assumption of strong cooperation between all stakeholders while this cooperation is now too weak to make these visions come true or even to enable the stake holders to acknowledge them in full.
The practice of urban planning in Poland looks completely different. Continuing the above biological analogy, one can say that while participants of Stadslab 2008 composed an organism, Polish city planners devise only separate organs: a leg and an ear; a head and a liver, etc. Obviously, such urban ‘beings’ cannot function properly to say the least.
Why? The principles of planning are obvious and universal. What obstacles prevent Polish city planners from applying them? This question refers to the general philosophy of European Union
and the sense of organising such team activities as Stadslab.
We judge people by their garments. One look at the arrange ment of one’s room or even a desk tells you a lot about its user. There is a psychological test in which you draw a house of your dreams and on this basis a psychologist can describe your inner self. When you look at Polish cities you will see fences. Owners of detached or semi-detached houses, a dream of the Polish family, put up high walls and fences ended up with sharp pointed golden blades.
However, in traditional villages or small cities fences are very often lower and do not prevent you from seeing the house or catch eye contact with somebody standing in its door. In the West you can even see houses without any fences as if their inhabitants are not afraid of instant murder and robbery. In these areas people smile to each other more often and talk friendlier. My point is, these fences exist or do not exist also in people’s minds.
Open-mindedness is not just a metaphor. If we had magic glasses showing the truth about ourselves, we would see such iron bars – thicker or thinner, higher or lower – around majority of Lublin inhabitants. Personally, nobody would admit his or her isolation by such a fence but when it comes to working together or giving access to information you will frequently bump up against these invisible barriers. I believe people intuitively know about them and so they frequently create appearances to cover their mental fences just as rich people plant palisades of conifers inside their high walls to feel not like in a prison but like in a wood. Nevertheless keeping up such defense architecture wastes a lot of energy. We can see it very clearly in city landscape: every border has a belt of ‘dead area’ from both sides. Hence the policy of removing borders from Europe, from houses, from societies.
These considerations are not architectural or urban in a strict sense. We have to remember however, that on the other end of every expert planning procedure there are living people with their daily routines and pursuits, with their personalities and psychology. And vice versa – they are unaware that the way they feel and behave as individuals and members of society depends on good or bad construction of public space designed by experts behind large LCD screens. Stadslab is an occasion to make them shake hands because they have to take each other in consideration.
The public presentation of Stadslab 2008 took place in a post industrial building of abandoned workshops that is going to be taken over by a new institution – the Workshops of Culture. By organizing this event at such a place I took the risk that people would not come. I had to take extra effort to invite them there. However, I knew that the present state of this locality is the same as that of the Grodzka Gate, where I work together with thirty other people. Fifteen years ago it was on the far end of neglected Old City, actually on the outskirts of Lublin. Organizing workshops of culture for the inhabitants we all took part in the revitalization of this place. Grodzka Gate was revitalized on the same way we are doing today at the Workshops of Culture – by cultural activity.This helped to revitalize the Old City by bringing livelihood to it.
I mention all this to testify and demonstrate that spatial transformations are not abstract – just on the contrary: they happen in front of our eyes and with our involvement. Urban visions worked out at Stadslab 2008 do not only plan the future face of a part of Lublin, that we now do not even recognize as a part of Lublin, but most of all they plan social transformations that have to be undertaken to put these visions into practice. Spatial projects are projections of social space. Social space is a self-portrait of a community.The harmony of space reflects the harmony of civic relations between institution, offices and individual people.The success of Stadslab lies in the integrity of the workshop team. I believe that we, here in Lublin, are able to re-configure our minds and hearts to take over the fruits of its work to achieve the goal they fixed.
Forum Culture of Space, the „Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre