What is this thing called democracy: life of a phd caught in a moment during a lecture about hermeneutics

I started thinking about how architecture could be more democratic. Actually one may be tempted to ask whether architecture is democratic. A question that surely transcends the mere profession- the act of conceiving, developing the design and then building an edifice. Can democracy be displayed, made some how explicit through design? In my master thesis (the starting point of my PhD) for instance I worked on the idea of hierarchy and the fact that people, architecture users in a multi-core space typology could have the possibility of building their own hierarchy and narrative.

Is offering the possibility of using a space in a variety of different ways that resemble some how the idea of freedom really democracy? Bernard Tschumi, one of the most influential thinkers I had during my student life and then now in my PhD life, based his work on the idea SEM: There is no Space without Events; no Events without Movement; therefore no Space with no Movement. Movements of people articulate space and of course may manifest events through bodily movements (including every artificial prosthesis, e.g. smartphones), whose define a narrative within space. A space will always talk about what the people into it will make it talk about.

However, I have the suspect this is not freedom nor is it democracy.

It is here that things become a little bit more complicated. When I was interviewing Tschumi in Paris, we ended up talking about performativity. Architecture is surely performative in such a way that a same space can be coercive in as much as freeing, according to certain circumstances and interpretation that people will give to it. Judith Butler says that we bring our private life into the politic of the public. And in fact we can observe this every time.

Public spaces, architectural spaces, everyday reality are characterised by protocols, customary behaviours: In Italy, a person who is having dinner on a restaurant outside at 6 pm is looked at with suspect whereas in the UK this may be pretty much expected, customary.

Tschumi again, in this respect insists on the fact that architecture has customary good intentions and where having a pole vaulting competition inside the Sistine chapel could be a possible way for temporarily negating those good customs. However, this may be seen as a violence. What about if one really wanted to visit the Chapel? What if one wanted to respect those customary good intentions? We are always caught between two poles, asked to decide which one of the two is closer to us, more convincing, more appealing, more exotic, safer, trickier, more intriguing, more depressing, more challenging, more fucking I am running out of adjectives such it is so awesome.

Is this democracy? I believe not yet and not fully. If democracy is abundance of choices, then why the fucking hell everybody has something to complain about?

I believe in this respect I have sufficient ground to outline two aspects: First, architectural space, from the most coercive to the least one, is anyway a terrain vague, which is open to appropriation by people and adaptable enough. That is people  may always find alternative uses for it. Second, architectural spaces are not democratic, including those projects that are the result of participatory processes.

In La Nascita della Filosofia (birth of philosophy?) Giorgio Colli mentions that democracy in Ancient Greece was initially based on the polis. That is the politic of the city was articulated through dialogue among people. Never the less, at some point, the discussions started to be attended also by people whom did not want to take part in any dialogue. They just wanted to listen to. Rhetoric slowly but progressively became the prominent way of interacting with people. Rhetoric is of course persuasive, it is based upon the capacity of the speaker to present his/her talk in a more convincing fashion than others. So to say, the choices among which one individual could decide became more and more.

Is it then enough to say that because one has plenty of choices that is democracy?

And when people are asked directly like in participatory processes, is really democracy to close the process only to a number of interested people? Will not that project result as rhetoric, that is maybe appealing maybe not to the rest of the others? Have you ever heard about a rich person who is really interested in taking part in a co-housing project? And vice versa have you ever heard about a very poor person interested in taking part in a luxury high-end building development? One word: exclusion.

Therefore, what is this bloody democracy (in architecture)? I put architecture between brackets because as mentioned in the beginning is a question that transcends architecture and the profession of architect. It is a question that touches the sphere of public life, which is both collective and individual. Perhaps, questioning what is democracy (in architecture) acquires some sense more than asking the same but with in medicine or in economy or in you think of, because despite the many tv series about cops, hot improbable doctors, fair economists, genius and so on, we are all condemned to live within architecture surrounded by architecture. At least, this is what I read somewhere when I was preparing an exam on aesthetics of architecture. We live within architecture and within architecture everything, e.g. protest, sex, murders, power, economy, love, medicine, dialogue, injustice, is exercised. And you won’t escape this, not even that one who will be tempted to live off grid on the moon, probably escaping the fact that the suite s/he is wearing is a sophisticated piece of personalised wearable architecture.

Probably within this rhetoric democracy, what is missing is that everything is inter-connected. That is, this is not to dust off the famous chaos theory where a butterfly in Latin America may cause a hurricane in Australia. At least not just this. The very less sophisticated reason is that we are one humanity inhabiting one land, one Earth. I look with passion at the picture taken by astronaut William Anders in 1968 and what he says about just after having taken it: He outlined how, the extraterrestrial distance made human features on earth disappear. No borders, no lakes, no mountains, just a blue, green and white sphere in the middle of nothing. That is what we all inhabit, one unique sphere in the middle of the bloody nothing.

This acknowledgment by Anders was only possible by looking at the planet from extraterrestrial distance. However, it is a nice metaphor to think about: how can we reproduce that extraterrestrial distance so that everybody is acknowledged to have a part into something which is as collective as individual? A type of network which is like a flock of birds in the sky, you see one bird moving and the rest will follow it as well as where sometime one bird just leaves the flock and is followed by others, to return again at some point, and others will do the same again and again, and again.

Probably it is not fully clear, surely this incompleteness is democracy.



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