The unpretentious reflections of an architect in this nomadic field of Architecture
Our epoch is marked by the fast pace of its events and by the rapidity of their visual presentation. It is the age of mutation; in other words, of swift change and the unexpected emergence of new forms from nothing. It is the era of sudden transitions and unpredictable transformations.
This concept of ‘mutation’ defines the present age: we see it in our unstable, erratic perception of the city and in its fast-changing, fleetingly occupied spaces. For this reason, the matter that concerns us first and foremost is that of singling-out the location which holds the key to this perception, falling between the tempting cultural forms and structures of the past and the pursuit of a future which foreshadows a landscape of total artificiality.
“Old Paris is no more. A town, alas, changes more quickly than man’s heart may change”, is the lament of Baudelaire who viewed modernity as the reign of all things ephemeral, of constant flight and escape. However, the kaleidoscopic image of fragmented city space is unwound through agendas aimed at controlling urban chaos, whilst both city and suburb have become subject to new and different trials of fragmentation.
The suburb is no longer characterised by monotonous housing estates and greenery, surrendering to the influx of shopping centres, services, and industrial zones.
Meanwhile, the city is no longer the multifunctional centre, but – in Europe, at least – has become nothing short of an open-air museum. Clean and freshly restored, the oldest part of town has never been so new. We walk in, just like we would enter a superstore, and find there our offices, shops, bars, restaurants. The hotels took over the city centre, then the motorway exits, and now they spread out over the countryside, everywhere. These corporate spaces are no longer confined.
Public space holds a multitude of perspectives, for both its spatial and symbolic structure; since it is a place that embodies and exemplifies perfectly the concept of mutation with all its events and emerging cultural projects. This complex character can only be respected if it is not too strongly controlled.
Public spaces tend to structure themselves autonomously. There exists seductive space that is commercial, recreational, autonomously organised by investors and other economic forces. And then there exists space that is changeable, erratic; places where the young, by their thousands, will spontaneously gather. These spaces violate the organised planning and design that structure the highly specialised public places and that direct the meetings of its inhabitants and tourists, like the historic centre of towns. The development of places such as these may improve the quality of such urban areas that have been left in the shadows and forgotten as anonymous marginal zones. Deserted rural houses left unrestrained by structural planning – and previously thought of as the pariahs of the city – unexpectedly transform into scattered expressions of vitality and life.
It’s impossible to reform such fragmentation through planning and re-structuralisation. It is only through non-monumental, transient arts; like events organised by performers, installations that make use of public places, spontaneous gatherings of people: only these can temporarily offer an acceptable reclamation of such public spaces.
The public spaces of European cities, zones of collective public life, have instead other icons. Sleek and sophisticated, the chic squares of the big city have parks and greenery, sparkly new arrangements and artful public monuments. But all of this is in total opposition to the reality of those spontaneous public gatherings that give life to the weekly street markets in the public car parks; to the arcades where sellers of pirated CDs and software uncover their goods to passing shoppers; to the short-lived summer chalets where the young briefly congregate.
This new reality overtakes the traditional dynamic of public life. Architectural design struggles under the requirements of organization for public spaces that don’t complement real tendencies of social behaviour: it is precisely the non-institutional nature of these collective practices that has a disarming effect upon an urban organization defined by a means of structure and plan.
The Balarte Hotel is a residual space. Left out on the very edge of the tourism institutionalised by businesses, clubs and holiday villages, Balarte doesn’t offer a postcard view of the city. Instead it belongs to the travel experience itself, like everything one visits in the city. It doesn’t hold the historic memory of monuments: it has the amused and ironic memory of the last avant-garde movement to which it belongs and which we have erased; like a town square temporarily occupied by buskers, it is a space set firmly in the present by the spontaneous installations of, as yet, unknown artists.
Arch. Sergio Adamo