A tale of two cities
10 May, 2010

Is this Malmö?

Every city in every country has them: urban black holes. Places in the map which most of us only known by name, or by references (the news, stories or even urban legends). Having grown up in San José (Costa Rica), I confess to being an ignorant when it comes to places like La Carpio or Los Cuadros. I have never been there. I only know they exist because some else says they do.

Are these urban black holes places we don’t know much about, or do we actually ignore them openly? And more important: what makes these neighborhoods true dark spots in the map? Is there a way of redrawing a community so that it shows on mental maps and not just geographic ones?

Or maybe this?

Se encuentran en cada ciudad de cada país: agujeros negros urbanos. Lugares en el mapa que la mayoría de nosotros sólo conocemos por nombre o por referencias (las noticias, historias o incluso leyendas urbanas). Habiendo crecido en San José, confieso ser un ignorante en cuanto a lugares como La Carpio o Los Cuadros. Nunca he estado ahí. Sólo sé que existen porque alguien dice que existen.

¿Son estos agujeros negros urbanos sencillamente lugares de los que no sabemos mucho, o lugares que decidimos ignorar abiertamente? Y más importante aún: ¿qué convierte a estos barrios en verdaderas áreas oscuras del mapa? ¿Habrá alguna manera de redibujar una comunidad para que sea perceptible en mapas mentales y no sólo geográficos?

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Silence in the spaces in between
8 May, 2010

Can the spaces in between be reterritorialized?

The ghetto holds a great potential as an urban communicator: it is a place to share stories of arrival and departure, of new life and also of generational gaps. It is a place of hope and new beginnings, but it is a place of loneliness too. Rosengård is one such place: it is a character in itself, in the lives of the people who live and work in it. How do people interact with these character?

“… space becomes an ‘acting place’ rather than the place of action.”

Bal, 1997

As we can read in the news from time to time, this relationship between place and inhabitants can be quite tense and often mutually rejectful. It is hard to point down where the root of the problem may lie, but one can wonder: can giving this place a more humane face result in a change in direction, as to how the people of Rosengård treat their home? Many neighbourhoods have these “humane” elements, be it parks, gardens, corners, shops or cafeterias, these elements create points through which people can engage their life-contexts and relate. A reason to break the ice, so to say.

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El ghetto tiene un gran potencial como comunicador urbano: es un lugar donde compartir historias de llegadas y partidas, de nuevas vidas y brechas generacionales. Es un lugar de esperanza y nuevos comienzos, aunque también de soledad. Rosengård es uno de esos lugares: es un personaje en sí mismo, en las vidas de aquellos que viven y trabajan aquí. ¿Cómo interactúa la gente con dicho personaje?

“… el espacio se convierte en un ‘lugar actor’ en lugar de ser donde sucede la acción.”

Bal, 1997

Como podemos leer en las noticias ocasionalmente, esta relación entre lugar y habitantes a menudo puede ser tensa y mutuamente exclusiva. Es difícil señalar una causa o raíz del problema, pero vale la pena preguntarse: si se le da un rostro más humano a este sitio, ¿cambiaría la forma en que la gente trata a su barrio-hogar? Muchos barrios tienen estos elementos “humanos”, sean parques, jardines, esquinas, pulperías o sodas, estos elementos crean puntos a través de los cuales la gente puede involucrarse con su espacio de vida y establecer una relación. Una razón para romper el hielo, por ponerlo de alguna manera.

Örtagården: teenager tundra
4 May, 2010

First plane: childhood. In the back: adulthood and beyond.

About 47% of the population of Örtagården in central Rosengård, is under 24. The landscape is charged with hilly paths (good for the legs!), small football goals, slides and swings. It seems like a good place to move, where your body will be put to work (watch out in the winter though). However, if one looks closer, it seems like a pretty cold place to be when you are neither a kid, nor an adult. If you are old but not SO old, and young but not SO young, there is nothing here for you. Has this topography forgotten the young?

The theatre of dreams?

Casi 47% de la población de Örtagården en el centro de Rosengård, tiene menos de 24 años. El paisaje está cargado con pasajes de topografía irregular (¡buenos para las piernas!), pequeñas canchas de fútbol, toboganes y columpios. Parece un buen lugar para moverse, en el que el cuerpo será exigido. Sin embargo, cuando uno lo ve de cerca parece ser un lugar bastante frío para aquellos que no son niños ni adultos. Si usted no es tan joven ni tan viejo, aquí no hay nada para usted. ¿Se ha olvidado este sitio de la juventud?

Youth gang forces Malmö pre-school closure
26 April, 2010

Taken from the online journal The Local.

Published: 26 Apr 10 13:22 CET
Online: http://www.thelocal.se/26292/20100426/

A pre-school in Malmö’s Rosengård district was shut down on Monday morning in the interests of staff safety following an extended period of threats and harassment from a gang of local youths.

Henrik Wolter, a health and safety representative for the Swedish Teachers’ Union, took the decision to close the pre-school with immediate effect following consultation with district leaders.

The 34 children who attend the Herrgården pre-school have been moved temporarily to a school in Käglinge in south-east Malmö, but district chief Eva Ahlgren expects the children to move to a new location in Rosengård on Wednesday. In the longer term, places have been set aside for the children at a pre-school affiliated with Rosengård School, which is currently being extended.

“The closure of Herrgården’s pre-school was necessary. Staff have been repeatedly exposed to fighting and harassment. On one occasion a glass bottle was thrown from a window at one of the employees,” said Ahlgren.

She added that she had not previously been aware of the problem.

The pre-school is located in an area at the centre of a housing standards scandal last year when its run-down apartment complexes were found to be riddled with mould and cockroaches.

Herrgården has also served as a flashpoint for many of the disturbances that have plagued the predominantly immigrant suburb of Rosengård in recent years.

Around the pre-school lie shards of glass while the front of the building is marked by a bullet hole, the source of which is unknown.

“This is caused by gangs of criminal youths, or idiots as I usually call them,” Andreas Konstantinides, chairman of the Rosengård district council, told the online edition of the Svenska Dagbladet daily.

TT/The Local (news@thelocal.se/08 656 6518)

Rosengård Skolan, Herrgården

Comment / Comentario

The social landscape has many layers, which have different actors and often, different yet intertangled causes. Architecture is a one tool in a bigger panorama, and it must work together with other disciplines in order to address the situation through a wider scope. At the time of its creation, Rosengård was thought of as a one-time solution for the housing deficit in 1960’s Sweden, but as it has become visible after some time, single-minded efforts often leave a number of questions unanswered.

However, architecture must operate on different levels. Contrary to what has been said, space is not the prime matter or architecture (or at least not always). Some times we come across potential situations where people are the prime matter we have to work with and shape, and thus we as architects must address problems through a wider perspective, but also we must be humble before the magnitude of the challenges we face.

El paisaje social tiene muchas capas con distintos actores y a menudo, distintas (pero interrelacionadas) causas. La arquitectura es una herramienta en un panorama mayor, y debe trabajar en conjunto con otras disciplinas para tratar las distintas problemáticas a través de un espectro más amplio. Al momento de su creación, Rosengård fue pensado como una solución unitaria al problema de vivienda que aquejaba a Suecia en los años 60’s, pero ahora resulta evidente que las soluciones basadas en conceptos unitarios dejan muchas preguntas sin resolver.

Sin embargo, la arquitectura debe operar en distintos niveles. Contrario a lo que se ha dicho, el espacio no es la materia prima de la arquitectura (al menos no siempre). A veces nos topamos con situaciones donde la gente es la materia prima con la que debemos trabajar y que debemos encauzar. Por ende, como arquitectos debemos enfrentar los problemas con una perspectiva amplia, pero también humilde frente a la magnitud de los retos que enfrentamos.

Synthetizing the synthesis
18 April, 2010

A game of 5.

Un juego de 5.

Transgressing the borders

2. Confrontation
11 April, 2010

The goal: to identify the main issue I’m dealing with; to explore the architectural and spatial consequences of the project.

If you’ve been following this blog, you can already identify the main issue I’m dealing with. That is, the role of public space in a liminal community (Rosengård in this case, though as has been proposed on several occasions, the methodology could hold true for other similar cases). We worked in groups. Mine was called

City in a special challenging condition (liminal situation)

As a group, we set our minds on finding some common grounds. We are all working with projects on different countries and circumstances (Sweden -me-, Norway, Russia, Iceland and the United Arab Emirates), yet our projects have a few terms in common. What are these words and how do they apply specifically to my project?

SECLUSION – Namely, the feeling of not being inside a building in Rosengård. It is funny because intuition would say the opposite: seclusion is a drink best taken indoors, alone. But the management of scales in Rosengård is at times so unfriendly to the human scale, that open spaces here enhance seclusion: there is no transition between in and out a building (it is a binary system: you’re either completely inside or completely outside), so human life ends up dilluting in this sea of nothing.

VOID – Understood as both “emtpy” and “previously valid, currently invalid”, Rosengård is a kind of mental void in the map of Malmö: it is there, but few people know what it really is about. A space that was formerly thought of as futuristic and promising is now void and stagnated. In this sense, void is an authoritarian term: it comes from above (few people would actually drive their own communities to being perceived as voids, if they had the tools and political momentum to do otherwise), and I regard democracy as the opposite idea: through inclusion and direct participation, the void starts acquiring a face and a voice.

TRANSITION – The reality of Rosengård. It is a place of transition between “abroad” and Sweden, and between the culture of the newcomers and the culture of those who grew up or were born in Sweden. The problem is that, even though many come to Rosengård, very few stay: most people will leave as soon as their economy or life situation allows for it. This situation has a direct effect on the perception of “home”: if you know you’re somewhere for just a few months or years, you won’t become as attached to this place as you would if, say, it really was YOUR home. Therefore, developping a sense of ownership and adding aggregate value become relevant ideas for a new configuration of public space in Rosengård: to give people a reason to actually want to live here.

IDENTITY, “one-ness” – Now, as an architect and as a person I don’t believe in identity as a finished product. Identities change over time affected by countless events and it may very well be the case that after enough time and transformations, a former identity might have changed beyond recognition. However, in the word “identity” there is an implication of difference from others: my identity is what makes ME be ME and not someone or something else, even if I am constantly reconstructing and redefining who I am. Therefore, public space in Rosengård should act as place for self-definition, but not be the defining element in itself. An architectural programme for the public space can foresee the occurrence of different events over time, and the pursue of an identity is full of these test-and-error situations.

EXTREME CULTURAL SITUATION – an umbrella term for “all of the above”.

La meta: identificar el problema, y explorar las consecuencias arquitectónicas y espaciales de mi proyecto.

Si usted ha estado siguiendo este blog, a estas alturas ya podría identificar el problema: el papel del espacio público en una comunidad liminal (Rosengård en este caso, aunque como ha sido propuesto en varias ocasiones, la metodología podría -y debería- funcionar en casos similares). Yo fui parte de un grupo llamado

Ciudad en una condición especialmente retadora (situación liminal)

Como grupo, nos propusimos encontrar terreno común. Nuestros proyectos están en distintas partes del mundo (Suecia, Noruega, Rusia, Islandia y los Emiratos Árabes Unidos). ¿Cuáles son estos puntos en común y cómo aplican en mi caso?

SECLUSIÓN – Lo que se siente al estar afuera de un edificio en Rosengård. Es un término contraintuitivo, uno pensaría que es más fácil ser secluído adentro, en soledad. Sin embargo, el manejo de las escalas en la arquitectura modernista de Rosengård es tan poco amigable con la escala humana que el espacio abierto enfatiza la seclusión: no hay transición entre afuera y adentro de un edificio, así que la vida pública se diluye en este mar de nada.

VACÍO – Mucha gente en Malmö (¿todos?) saben que Rosengård existe, pero pocos conocen el lugar en persona. Esto hace que sobre la comunidad caiga un velo de oscuridad, y la arquitectura democrática se convierte en un método para contrarrestar esta aparente negación social: a través de la inclusión y participación directa, ese vacío adquiere una cara y una voz.

TRANSICIÓN – La realidad de Rosengård. Es un escalón entre afuera y adentro de Suecia. El problema es que, aunque mucha gente llega al barrio, poca se queda y no hay un verdadero sentimiento de pertenencia y hogar. Y claro, si uno sabe que no se va a quedar mucho tiempo, desarrollará menos lazos emocionales con el lugar que si fuera SU hogar. Desarrollar un sentido de propiedad y valor agregado se vuelve relevante al intervenir el espacio público de una comunidad liminal, pues se busca dar razones a la gente para que de verdad quieran vivir aquí.

IDENTIDAD – Como arquitecto, creo que la identidad es un flujo más que un punto, y está en eterno cambio. Sin embargo, el concepto identidad se relaciona con la diferenciación: es lo que me hace diferente de los demás. Un programa arquitectónico adecuado para el espacio público prevé la posibilidad de que sucedan diferentes eventos durante un lapso de tiempo… eventos que son parte de la formación de una identidad comunal.

SITUACIÓN CULTURAL EXTREMA – otra forma de decir “todas las anteriores”.

Un trasfondo que revela las líneas de vuelo

The bless and curse of exile
11 April, 2010

Home: a place for a gap?

So, you’re a happy toddler until one day dad (or, if you’re lucky, the whole family) has to move. Sure, many people move during their lives, but what happens when you move to another country, with another language and another understanding of the world. If you’re young enough, chances are you’ll have little problem learning the language and sumberging yourself in your new country. But at the same time, your parents may experience quite the opposite: anxiety, fear, isolation… the feeling of being a fish out of water. How does exile affect close personal relations?

Being Rosengård a transition point between the outside world and the Swedish life, as an architect one has to wonder: how does space contribute to close or increase this emotional and cultural gap?

NRK: Interview with Mustafa Can (in Swedish and Norwegian)

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Así que usted es un niño con una infancia feliz, hasta que un día papá (o si tiene suerte, toda la familia) se tiene que cambiar de casa. Claro, mucha gente se cambia de casa durante su vida, pero ¿qué sucede cuando uno se va a vivir a otro país donde se habla otro idioma, y se entiende el mundo de forma diferente? Si usted es lo suficientemente joven, probablemente tendrá mínimas dificultades aprendiendo el idioma y sumergiéndose en su nuevo país. Pero al mismo tiempo, a sus padres les sucede lo opuesto: ansiedad, miedo, aislamiento… y todo lo que acompaña a la persona fuera de su contexto. ¿Cómo afecta el exilio a las relaciones personales?

Siendo Rosengård un punto de transición entre el mundo exterior y la vida en Suecia, como arquitecto me pregunto: ¿cómo contribuye el espacio a cerrar o aumentar esa brecha emocional y cultural?

NRK: entrevista con Mustafa Can (en sueco y noruego)