A project in Israel shows that when local phenomena are considered, public design can impact positively on how people experience public space.
When Eindhoven-based designers, Guy Königstein and Vincent Wittenberg saw an open call from the Biennale for Landscape Urbanism in Bat-Yam, Israel, they acted immediately.
Königstein was born in Israel and graduated from the DAE in 2009 with the prestigious "Melkweg-Prize". Bat-Yam is a poor Israeli city, close to Tel Aviv with a lot of social problems. When he heard that the municipality wanted to engage architects and designers to address these problems, he knew he had to participate.
The original plan was to have the Biennale coincide with the opening of a new tramline, but as is often the case with public work projects in Israel, the tramline was and still is delayed. Still, fourty projects were accepted for exhibition of which some were later realized.
Königstein and Wittenberg’s project was among them and last September the first stage of their work was installed.
Titled “Streeeeeet”, the projects lie along an old street lined with five story buildings built in the 60s and challenge the traditional notion of what a street is. Public money often abruptly ends at a curb or footpath leaving a lot of no-man’s-land that people appropriate for their own personal use. Königstein and Wittenberg’s position was that public design can change public perception which in turn changes the flow of public money.
“The street actually looked terrible,” says Königstein. “The building facades were dirty, broken air conditioning units jutted out everywhere and there were rusty bars on a lot of the windows.”
The designers spent time researching the borders between public, private and collective spaces. Private washing and even art was being hung in what was officially collective property. Plastic bags filled with discarded clothes were being hung on fences for people to help themselves to, and particularly elderly people were moving public seating around so they many shopkeepers took their own chairs out onto sidewalks in the evening to sit with their friends.
During Shabbat, when no bells or intercoms can be used, people put rocks in doors to prevent them from closing. “We created a map visualizing how far we could get into private property to show how flexible the boarders actually are,” says Königstein. “Sometimes we made it as far as the roof.”
The designer’s interventions were based n this research. For one, they erected public wardrobes from bent metal so people could hang their abandoned clothes and also choose new items from what was available. “We even added a mirror,” Königstein says, “and leaving old clothes outside was happening anyway so we defined a specific place where it could take place.”
The designers also constructed long benches made from eight different chairs. “Together the chairs create a bench, but with a coin, you can take a section off and use it wherever you please,” explains
The reaction from the community to the project was initially suspicious, but soon became overwhelmingly positive. “Everyone was really surprised that you could switch public and private property like that,” Königstein says. “We wanted to show people that they are an integral part of the street and should participate in its development.”
And so far no vandalism or theft has occurred. When authorities work with citizens rather than against them, better social cohesion will result.
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