Demand and Propose

December 6, 2010

Issue introduction by Iker Gil, editor in chief of MAS Context.


Mas issue public cover opening

We should be in charge of our cities. We work, live and play in them. We meet, greet, eat and discover new things in them daily. I say ‘should’ because we don’t. We wait passively until some politician makes a decision — a moment that is usually used to criticize that decision. While it is true that a political leader should make decisions, why is the PUBLIC always waiting for someone else to decide? Why react when we can act? We want a PUBLIC that demands more and proposes more. A PUBLIC that understands the consequences of the laws and legislations approved by their leaders. A PUBLIC that stands up for the things that don’t benefit the community as a whole. We pay taxes and we should demand the most out of them. Demanding constructive discussion, providing other options and provoking a dialogue that will ultimately provide the best decision possible—for the PUBLIC.

Before it was a vacant lot. Now it is no longer a vacant lot but a public space that generates life in the neighborhood and supports new activities. Our goal: to make the vacant lots 100% available.”

Architect Lick Fai Eric Ho opens this issue by proposing a new way of approaching design. One that is generated from the bottom-up, that “understands the economic and social value of not only the sharing of resources, but also the cultivation of individual ideas through open collaboration, towards the possibility of an everyday culture and attitude towards design.” Through his fictional images that narrow the streets of Los Angeles, David Yoon explores what type of city and mood those new streets would create. His fictional depictions of the streets, while they are not literal proposals, provide alternate frames for discussing whether another city is possible: one that puts human scale in the foreground.

The exploration of the street as a public space continues with the photographs by Rob Smith that document the everyday life in the streets of Shanghai. They are the natural extension to the public and private activities happening in the buildings nearby. Suddenly streets become living rooms, dining rooms, barbershops, libraries or repair shops. LabRAD, the virtual hub for designers from various schools of architecture formed by Wayne Congar and Arielle Assouline-Lichten, proposes a new national building in their awarded proposal for the White House Redux competition. As explained in their statement, the current White House “is the final and most formidable roadblock prohibiting dialogue between the public and political power players. White House 2.0 is an open-source solution, designed to facilitate a symbiotic information exchange…with the aim of creating more effective legislation and elevating the role of the public in the political process.”

We looked at Superfund, the federal government’s program to clean up the nation’s uncontrolled hazardous waste sites. Through the visualizations by Andrew Clark and his research along with Matthew Hoffman, we start to comprehend how, where, and why the consequences of our seeping industrial past and present, legislation included, are sticking around for the next few generations.

Looking at the consequences of legislation in other locales, we paid special attention to the situation in New Orleans regarding its public housing and mid-century public schools. Architect Edward Emile Richardson explains the impact that the public housing laws have had in the public housing system in the city after Hurricane Katrina. Francine Stock, president of DOCOMOMO US/Louisiana, writes about the current situation of the mid-century public schools in the city. Either demolished or in danger of demolition, these structures represent a type of architecture that was forward thinking and innovative in the way they were built and used by the public. The process to discuss their future when they become obsolete has failed to provide a fair space to listen to new options. Can we establish another way of approaching this problem?

We also showcased specific public buildings and spaces that are successful in their approach, process and result. The European Award for Urban Public Space selected this year two projects as joint winners: the Open-Air Library in Magdeburg (Germany) by KARO* with Architectur + Netzwerk and the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo (Norway) by Snøhetta. When your building, in this case the Open-Air Library, does not need any type of control and the residents call it the “library of confidence,” you know you have given them something that they have successfully embraced. Our third selected project, El Peine del Viento (Wind Comb), is the emblem of a city, embraced by citizens and visitors and the gift to its native city of the sculptor Eduardo Chillida and the architect Luis Peña Ganchegui. We talked to Luis Chillida, son of the sculptor in Chillida-Leku, the marvelous and indispensable museum of Eduardo Chillida, about this project.

And we finally asked you, our PUBLIC, about your favorite public space. A variety of places in many settings that make us ponder the big and the small aspects that help us enjoy a public space.

Enjoy the issue that closes our second year. And remember, when we say PUBLIC, we mean you. Go out there, demand and propose. Get PUBLIC with your ideas.