Blogbox | Arts

Let’s strive for a social-democratic architecture

By - 29.03.2019

We need an architecture in the service of the people and the social.

Construction projects are omnipresent in Prishtina. It’s difficult to walk in the city for more than a few minutes without passing new, modern apartment blocks or construction sites with billboards promising luxurious living spaces to come.

However, while development should be encouraged, if it takes place without us following a social philosophy establishing the foundations on which architectural and urban planning projects can build upon, our strive for creation has the potential to become more destructive to our livelihoods than enhancing.

Architecture, during all the greatest creative periods, has been the mother of all arts — it has been a social art.

In the historical golden ages, architects were “headmasters” who played the main role in the entire production process. However, in the transition from the age of craftsmanship to the (post-)industrial age, architects have lost their position of governance. Today, architects are not “headmasters,” but are instead in danger of losing their position to engineers, scientists and constructors if they don’t change their approach and focus on the new situation.

The architects of the future will need to express the spiritual as well as material needs of human life through their work. They will need to act as coordinators and organizers of an extensive experience, starting from the social concepts of life and the successful integration of thought and feeling, by bringing purpose and form into spatial harmony.

The division between design and construction is artificial in terms of conception and object realization; in the past, this used to be an undivided process in which the architect and the constructor were the same person.

The architects of the future need to follow the construction process closely. They will need to develop a close relationship with the engineers, scientists and constructors. Only then, the construction, economic and design aspects will become one single entity — a fusion of science, business and art.

Diversity is a source of democracy. However, the pressure factors stemming from our consumption-centered system, as well as the pathological strive for profit as a purpose on its own, have undoubtedly weakened the individual’s capacity to seek and understand the deepest potentials of life.

Our sick and chaotic environment in Kosovo has resulted from our own failure to place basic human needs above economical and industrial ones. The human being has degraded by being used as a means for profit. The destruction of community ties has come as a result of the conflict between capital and work. We cannot deny that the art of architecture has become finite, because it has lost touch with the community and the people.

Only a perfect harmony, in all its technical functions as well as in its proportions, can result in beauty. This is what makes our work complex and profound. Good architecture should be a projection of life itself, capturing inner knowledge of the biological, technical and artistic problems.

Still, this is not enough. To make a unified whole of all spheres of human activity requires strong character. It has to be our aim to produce such characters, which are able to visualize a complex entity and not let themselves be absorbed in the acute angles of specialization and sub-specialization.

How does the environment we are interacting with on a daily basis speak to us? If we can understand the nature of what we see and the way in which we perceive it, then we will know more about the potential impact of human creations on our feelings and thoughts — because the eye doesn’t know, but it reacts automatically and unconsciously.

The importance of aesthetic education relies on the configuration of our senses, which consequently affects human perception of urban space.

For a new spatial language

If architectural drawing serves as a specific language of communication for the expression of unconscious feelings, it needs to have the basic codes of scale, form and color. It needs its composing grammar in order to integrate those basic codes into messages that — expressed through the senses — connect people to each other more than words.

A broader diffusion of this particular language results in an improved mutual understanding of space. This is the duty of the architectural education: to teach what affects the human psyche in terms of light, degree, space, form and color.

Real tradition, however, is a result of continuous growth; the quality must be dynamic, not static, it has to serve as a tireless stimulus for man.

If we examine the feelings of an average person toward art, we find out that they have developed a conviction that art is something that was discovered centuries ago in places like Egypt, Illyria or Greece — and that all we can do is to study it carefully and put it into practice.

We have been successful in teaching our youth the achievements of our past, but we have been less successful in stimulating them to come up with their own, new, ideas. Kosovo’s new generation has spent so much time studying the history of art that they have no time to express their original thoughts. They have lost the stimulus of pleasure and challenge, the curiosity and vitality of youth; they have become “self-controlled.” This, however, is not the fault of an individual, but has been the result of the social shifts in our lives.

We see our youth distrusting their instincts. They should be encouraged to constructively use their emotions, instead of suppressing them. They need emotional confrontation beyond professional practice to develop their creative substance, instead of just developing the intellect.

The greater the ideal goals, the better the young person can handle the material difficulties we are faced with. When intuition has found its nourishment, abilities grow rapidly and routine alone cannot achieve the creative vision. The greatest reality is shaped only when non-reality has been compared to the sublime.

In music, a composer uses a key to make the composition understandable. Glorious music is created with a distribution of only 12 notes. This limitation forces the mind to be creative and inventive.

In architecture, the “golden ratio” and “modules” are evidence for the existence of optical keys, which serve as a guide for constructors. We are able to feed the architect’s creative instinct with visual facts, like the phenomena of optical illusions and the relations between lights and shadows, or color and ratio.

Architecture should be a mirror of the life and behaviors of an era. We need to be trained to read the current features and motivational forces of our time. What we need is a new code of visual values that reflects and improves the reality we experience in Kosovo today.

It is anachronistic to express the function through new techniques, and together with them the spiritual achievements of the past. This attitude mixes architecture with archeology.

Real tradition, however, is a result of continuous growth; the quality must be dynamic, not static, it has to serve as a tireless stimulus for man. New buildings need to be discovered, not copied. There is no finality in architecture — just continuous change.

Spatial codification

To create beauty and to form values and standards is the deepest craving of humans; this realizes a person more essentially than the desires of comfort and coziness.

It is clear that it is impossible to satisfy the residential demands of the masses within a free market economic system. The construction of affordable apartments gives little chance of profit for the construction industry and banks, the main stimulus of which is the maximization of profit. The urban and spatial condition is therefore instead the responsibility of the government of a state.

Hence, the government of Kosovo should inquire in the following directions: to stop the loss of public funds with bigger wasteful expenses; to finance the construction of affordable apartments; to reduce the initial price of streets (the asphalt) and the technical infrastructure; to protect favorable construction locations against their misuse; to develop and respect spatial and urban plans, as well as regulative and zonal plans and the codes of construction.

Furthermore, special youth apartments at affordable prices, reserved for young couples and new families,  should be created — the high level of poverty in Kosovo obliges the government and the society to find more affordable solutions for housing accommodation.

Additionally, from an urban planning perspective, the design of residential properties should take into account other factors too — such as the biological and psychological need for sunlight. The sky should be seen from the ground floor; in the case of 10-12 floor buildings, for example, the distance between buildings should therefore be approximately 53 meters.

A landscape of parks with large trees should be created, which would help toward air cleansing and offer space for leisure and games — this should also be visible from the apartments. In this way, nature would leak into the city and offer urban charm — and if the roofs also became green, then the return of the lost ground would be achieved.

The city should develop in its particular spirit, through a type of construction adapted to its vital rhythm that offers a maximization of air, sunlight, vegetation and traffic regulation, as well as the maintenance of technical infrastructure.

Community organization

The residence, one of the community functions, cannot be managed without a community cooperative, controlling the development of relevant areas in order to provide the right relation between buildings, places of work and recreation (sleep, work, recreation). Otherwise, the city would suffocate.

Full consideration of the organic community plan is what we need. The smallest unit of self-governing communities should be the “mëhalla” — the neighborhood of 5,000-8,000 inhabitants, while the largest unit should be the entire city.

Every community unit needs to have its own local government, as this bottom-up decision-making formation raises the sense of community spirit. The direct participation in the life of the community would be a natural function of every citizen and would also protect them from loneliness and isolation.

The time spent on transport should not exceed 30-40 minutes. All activity points within the community should be reachable within 10-15 minutes by foot. Work places, local administrations, city malls, education, health and recreation facilities all need to be integrated into this basic unit in order for it to be balanced.

We need to raise a new model of values, based on consistent factors and generating the integrated expression of the thoughts and feelings of our time.

In this way, urban life actually humanizes — the planning starts and ends with the human, and rapport within the community is stimulated. Every neighborhood should have a community center. The free areas should be used according to the needs of the community: as connecting parks and networks of traffic that tie the neighborhoods to one another and to the center.

It is crucial to create pedestrian paths, starting from the surrounding neighborhoods and ending in the main squares of the municipality, the city’s most vital pulsating organs. In the public space, free green zones with no traffic need to be guaranteed, in which the community spirit can find its public expression.

In order to establish such a community-centered organization of space, good urban planning as well as strong and determined central and local levels of government are desperately needed.

The construction practices of high building in post-war Kosovo have resulted in enormous losses of material, time and labor due to the preference for expensive individually focused construction instead of standardized socially-focused mass production, which offers flexible plans.

A “Construction Integration Institute” needs to be established, which coordinates architects from the government and the municipalities with other architects, engineers, contractors, producers and bankers, in order to produce a solution for the accommodation of citizens.

Love and the creation of beauty are also essential for the experience of happiness. An era that doesn’t recognize this basic truth as such and doesn’t articulate in a visual sense will produce an unclear image, and its manifestations will fail to shine.

The practice of arbitrarily creating here and there some new apartment block, with no sense of planning, is totally inadequate. Instead, we need to raise a new model of values, based on consistent factors and generating the integrated expression of the thoughts and feelings of our time.

People in their natural environment need to be the central focus of all planning. Certainly, in every planning and construction act, the anthropocentric paradigm with man in its center needs to be applied. The strategic purpose of planning; the destination of land, woods, water, cities and villages, should not serve any other thing than humanity’s knowledge of biology, sociology and psychology; law, government and economy; art, architecture and engineering.

Feature image: Besnik Bajrami / K2.0.

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