Changing the settings, changing politics

July, 8 2008

Have we designed politics out of public space? And if so, can temporary projects in neighbourhood spaces take on this role again?  Southwark’s Lido provided the ideal setting for a discussion on the issues of politics and public space. Sitting in lazy chairs on the lido’s sundeck Tuesday afternoon, a vivid and lively discussion take loose with amongst others Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats; Ken Worpole, professor in the cities institute at London Metropolitan University; Catherine Fieschi, director of Demos and EXYZT, architecture collective.

“Do unexpected places create an impetus for unexpected encounters?” with this question Catherine Fiesschi opened her talk on inhabiting spaces and using them differently. “If we come out of our comfort zones does that entail that we find new words, new ways of engaging relationships?”

Can we preserve public space and rethink ‘the public’ at the same time? And can a project as Southwark Lido push this reflection? One of the answers is to be found in inhabiting and using a space. We should think of enhancing the public, private, or political identity by using the space differently.

Second in line, Nick Glegg, focussed in his talk on the idea of scale. “Doing something to the physical space can be done not only by large scale project but also by creating manageable small spaces” was his plea. Creating social interactions and by doing do, creating real public space should be on the agenda again.

The third issue brought into the debate was “temporariness”. Ken Worpole talked about the importance of programming and choreography of spaces. This programming can’t be done solely from behind the drawing table in some uptown office, but should be tested in a “trial and error” process before implementation. Temporary structures as the Southwark lido can be most effective in that perspective.

Southwark’s Lido shows how, within the context of an architectural festival, a physical temporary installation can create opportunities for overlap, encounters with the unexpected. It shows on a small scale how one can respond to real needs, and work within a real existing space. Architecture is here no more than a means, as the bar, the sauna and sundeck are. The objective is to create “space” and “place”; a real place where visitors, neighbours, politicians and artists mingle, meet, enjoy, talk, discuss and create – by doing so – public space again.

Dimitri Messu & Véronique Patteeuw







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