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City as Open Work

Eve Blau
selected from the introduction to Eve Blau and Ivan Rupnik, Project Zagreb: Transition as Condition, Strategy, Practice

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he enormous dislocations of the postcommunist transition are visibly registered in the physical fabric of Central European cities. Everywhere there is evidence of wild “illegal” building, abandoned industrial buildings converted into provisional dwellings, living space turned to commercial uses, new skyscrapers and office towers rising among small suburban houses in semi-urban areas with little or no infrastructure. In recent years a literature of “transitology” has emerged that sensationalizes these phenomena, describing them as “urban mutants,” “infections,” and “parasitic developments,” while celebrating them as the improvised formations of a “fluid,” “anarchic,” “hybridized,” new “culture of urban action.” It seems clear that the transitional urban landscapes of postcommunist cities radically challenge traditional urban concepts—particularly of public and private space, property, and use—as well as current planning practices. But for all the transgressive excitement of these spontaneous and aberrant (in the European context) urban formations, they actually offer little substantial insight into the complex and multilayered dynamics of urban change or, for that matter, the implications of transition for urban and architectural practices. Precisely because these formations are ephemeral—like the condition of postcommunism itself—they have little potential for self-reproduction. This book contends that if we are to comprehend not only the current modalities but also the future potential of the postsocialist transition for urbanism and architecture in Europe, we need to look beyond the chaos and entropy, and to examine these postcommunist cities with both a longer historical lens and a sharper critical focus. We need to engage the geographical, historical, and cultural specificity of the cities themselves, and to look closely at their material fabric. Most of all, we need to pay close attention to the conditions of practice, the desires, aspirations, and constraints that generated these cities over time. In other words, we need to look backward in order to project forward. As the Viennese philosopher and political economist Otto Neurath admonished at an earlier moment of transition in 1911, “Those who stay exclusively with the present will very soon only be able to understand the past.” Scientific
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research, Neurath maintained, should provide information not only about social and other orders that already exist in the world but also about orders that may not yet exist. That is the objective of the research presented here: our aspiration is to produce knowledge about cities that has the potential to inform contemporary urban architectural practices and to open them to new forms of innovation and change—in postcommunist Central Europe, as well as in cities across the globe that are likewise undergoing large-scale adjustments to expanding urban networks and new forms of polity.
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Generative Dynamics of Transition The first thing the historical lens brings into focus is the fact that transition in Central Europe is neither new nor particular to postcommunism. Central European cities have, in fact, been in transition more or less continuously since the beginning of the modern period. Of course change is a condition of modernity, and most cities have experienced significant change and unsettlement at different times and scales. But in certain parts of Central Europe, transition (which we understand as a state of instability with uncertain outcome, not as the passage from one stable condition to another) has been the norm for much of the twentieth century. Particularly in the cities that began the century in the crumbling edifice of the Habsburg Empire and ended it in the wreckage of state socialism, the transformations (economic, technological, social) associated with modernization were refracted and protracted by enormous political and cultural dislocations into prolonged and recurrent periods of crisis and displacement. What is the significance for architecture and urbanism of this long experience of transition? As the German historian of Eastern Europe Karl Schlögel proposed in 1996, it “is something which cannot be fully expressed in terms of schillings or marks, something which is simply invaluable: the ability of cities to cope with the transitional situation, to master crises. The cities of the Central region have been workshops of successful transition.” In other words, it is not so much their current experience of transition as their long history of adapting to and creatively engaging instability, that enabled them to endure as cities with vital urban and
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architectural cultures. It is that history and experience that makes the cities of Central Europe key subjects for understanding the urban spatial dynamics and potentials of transition today. At the same time, it is impossible to generalize in any meaningful way about the dynamics of transition in Central Europe before, during, or after state socialism. Just as we are discovering that the Iron Curtain dividing east and west was far more permeable to architectural and urban ideas throughout the Cold War than was previously acknowledged, so we are now becoming aware that urban architectural formations in the cities of communist Central Europe were as different from one another as were their political, economic, and administrative structures, their institutions and cultures, and of course their “presocialist” histories. Those differences mark their postsocialist societies as well, and are clearly also determining factors in the trajectories that their “transitions” from socialism will follow. Therefore, if we want to comprehend both the socialist legacy and the postsocialist potential of transition in terms of the city and architecture, we need to ground our research in the specificity of place and time. We need to develop new methodologies for understanding change and difference, methodologies that make it possible to chart continuities and discontinuities, to map relationships between the local and translocal, and especially to understand how urban architectural practices evolve in relation to the evolution of the city itself. These are the tasks we set ourselves in Project Zagreb.
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mutating, multilayered web of administrative, economic, and political structures and relationships. As a result, administrators and other key players—including architects and planners—developed modalities of operation on behalf of the city that were strategic, agile, and flexible. They learned how to channel the connectivity of the transterritorial networks of which Zagreb was a part into the city itself in ways that enabled it to grow and to innovate. How did this connectivity and instability play out on the ground? Principally, through architects and planners who developed strategies of architecture and urbanism for creatively engaging the transitional, conditional, unstable, mutable, and open-ended—strategies for absorbing, accommodating, anticipating, and instrumentalizing the state of irresolution. Project Zagreb examines how these strategies, once they are stabilized in built form, become available to practice and capable of generating new strategies and practices that open the city and architecture to change and innovation. Transition, in other words, has clear implications for architecture and urban design. It is a condition that foregrounds practice and enables architecture to play an active, performative role in the formation of the city. It also allows us to understand the city as a project with distinct and often precise formal aspirations. But in the unstable environment of twentieth-century Zagreb, the processes of generating the city transform fixed form into open form, and the city itself into an open work—a work that is dynamic and mutable, but also purposeful and coherent. Methods Our objective in Project Zagreb is to understand the dynamics of practice, not to produce a history of Zagreb. Consequently, the methods we employ in excavating the generative dynamic of transition were generated by the need to develop techniques for representing and analyzing conditions that are multiple and unstable, and contingent on a broad range of equally unstable factors. Often we found that historical documentation was missing or unreliable. It became clear to us that traditional methods of historical research were inadequate to the task. We began therefore with the built fabric and an intensive engagement with the existing city, including on-site photography and video recording; discussions with architects, planners, historians, and city officials. We augmented this work with extensive multidisciplinary and multimedia archival research; using historical maps, plans, drawings, photographs, film footage, legal documents, journals, the popular press, and a range of other archival documents, to understand the evolution of the city. By focusing on multidimensional variables (spatial, programmatic, technical, administrative, property-based ownership, legal), as well as the historical particularities of culture, politics, and economics, we examined and
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City as Project (...) In particular, Zagreb offers important insights into two conditions of the contemporary city that are relevant to architecture today. The first, to frame it in the most general terms, is the transnational geography generated by the European Union. The new cross-border networks in Europe raise a number of questions about the role of cities. How do cities operate within these contexts and networks? What transformations are taking place within the core structures of cities? The second condition concerns the rapid rate and intensity of change and growth in cities across the globe— particularly in the developing world, but also in the First and Second worlds—that are seriously challenging normative planning methods. How can cities plan under conditions of constant and uncontainable growth? How is it possible for architecture and urban planning to operate effectively and to innovate under such conditions of instability? With respect to both conditions, Zagreb has almost 150 years of continuous experience. Operating within transterritorial city networks and transnational geopolitical structures, the city was enmeshed in a complex, constantly
4 See, Gregory Andrusz, Michael Harloe, and Ivan Szelenyi, eds., Cities After Socialism: Urban and Regional Change and Conflict in Post-Socialist Societies (Oxford and Cambridge, Mass., 1996).

Bibliography for book here 1 See Boris Buden, “Ein Transitionsmärchen,” springer|in 2/00: Inland Europa.

2 Otto Neurath, “Nationalökonomie und Wertlehre,” Zeitschrift für Volkswirtschaft, Sozialpolitik und Verwaltung, 20 (1911): 52. 3 See note 1.

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and the smaller moves impact and modify the larger direction of the plan. and the strategies that generated them become available for application to conditions and contexts that may have little to do with the original context in which the strategy was developed. misalignment and realignment. edited and trans. planning. Instead we are concerned with the generation of authored form and the production. Cancogni (Cambridge. proliferation. Strategy is generative. often precise. A. MA. Working individually and collectively. 116. made an important distinction between strategy and tactics. is neither an object (substance) nor a subject (consciousness). the chronologically backward reading of the urban fabric constructs a narrative that foregrounds action—what the intervention or object actually does—rather than what it was intended or designed to do. and durability. But first we must define our terms. durational. When read across historical time—that is. is a spatial formation in which “the logic of form” is associated with “the dialectic of content”—a condition in which form and content shape and transform each other. the making of twentieth-century Zagreb was as much an architectural project. Close examination of that fabric and its spatial logic. open-ended project—an open work—in the dialectical sense in which Umberto Eco describes works that combine openness with internal coherence. intelligent opposition. With limited power in relation to those centers. and conflict. 20. erasure. 36 . 177–178. by contrast. and (in effect) without prior knowledge of its author’s intentions. addition. and urban. they condition those practices. in the process of generating the city. and rationally projecting actions and their consequences onto existing conditions—transforms those conditions into possibilities. As Project Zagreb documents. Steven Rendall (Berkeley. On War. In urban architectural terms. and casts the built fabric in an active role as protagonist in its own making. Because most of these things are based on assumptions that do not always materialize and on a number of other. Strategy. is concerned with the use and significance of the totality of engagements to achieve the larger objectives of the conflict. Strategy. The architects who built modern Zagreb consistently designed buildings that functioned urbanistically.) From Strategy to Practice As we delaminated the historical layers of Zagreb’s built fabric. Lefebvre contends. strategy—by imagining. This method of reading the city defamiliarizes it. as a mode of operation. 119. is an activity concerned with individual acts. analytical modeling. We understand practice here in terms of the sociospatial dialectic described by Henri Lefebvre as the “social production of space. and transformed the organization and use of space far beyond the immediate context of the buildings themselves. that highlights departures from the norm and therefore also moments of deviation and innovation. The plans therefore had to be strategic in anticipating and attempting to evade rational opposition. Zagreb had to strategize carefully to achieve its objectives. it follows that strategy must be developed at the battle site itself. action precedes intention. each individual intervention prepared the ground for further interventions. Budapest. Tactics are opportunistic. does not directly translate into praxis. continuity. Uncertainty is the fundamental condition of strategy. Practice What are the processes by which architectural strategies evolve into practices? Strategy. the nineteenth-century Prussian theorist of war. One of the most useful analytic tools we developed emerged out of our goal to understand the dynamics of change and innovation in terms of urban and architectural practice. and practice. but rather “a social reality—that is to say. Royal Yugoslavia. Tactics. Zagreb was shaped by political transition. and available to practice. Those strategies. with private clients. strategy “must give an aim to the whole military action that corresponds to the goal of the war. comprised of several moves that are contingent and constrained. projection. The larger conception of the plan informs each of the smaller authored moves. they exploit opportunities. they did not merely exploit opportunities. the situation required strategies that were architectural as well as urban. strategy is endlessly malleable. The reverse reading produces a kind of knowledge that is spatial and fundamentally architectural—a form of knowledge that is not contained in written documents. Strategy can be thought but not reified. 8 Michel deCerteau. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton. and orders the engagements within them.. etc. was it possible for architecture and urban planning—disciplines that are predicated on stability. How. Carl von Clausewitz. Through extrapolation (the process by which knowledge produced in a particular context is applied to other contexts) therefore architectural strategies can be said to generate architectural practices. in conditions that Clausewitz describes as “friction. Spatial structures such as architecture therefore do not merely reflect (or reify) social or political practices.” Space. strategy. formal objectives. are embedded in the fabric of the city itself. reveals the processes by which the condition of transition in Zagreb generated urban architectural strategies for dealing with the continuously unresolved. It is this projective. the open work is a multi-authored project in which each individual intervention is part of a much larger highly strategic and carefully staged plan of action with. that are inclusive and in some sense uncontainable. Planning in Zagreb was intensely contested at the highest levels and occurred in conditions that can be accurately described as embattled. the challenge of Zagreb’s permanently transitional state was engaged by successive generations of architects in Zagreb who developed strategies both for building on specific sites and for generating the 7 larger urban conditions that would support and proliferate that construction. 6 Ibid. Transition from Condition to Strategy Generated by modernity. under such conditions. as it was an urban project. that is open to further innovation. animation. In other words. Those projects were not merely tactical. The method we devised was to simultaneously read the city backward and forward chronologically. Whether or not it is successful in achieving a desired outcome. It is clear that we are not dealing here with “everyday practices” and tactics of resistance. and the city planning office. 35 industrialize. most important of all.” In other words. when strategy generates physical form and space—a type of knowledge particular to architecture—that knowledge becomes materially and historically specific. Instead. but that actually generated the city itself. and instrumentation of a form of knowledge particular to architecture. 7 Umberto Eco. once implemented. to start with the present and peel back the accumulated spatiotemporal layers of the built fabric to discover moments of alteration.” Space is historically produced and both shapes and is itself shaped by social practice. Strategy must plot a course of action that anticipates a range of possible countermoves. the built intervention or object is encountered before the preexisting condition of the site. a set of relations and forms. but also composed and integral within themselves. A very different narrative from the standard historical reading emerges from such a process. It required urban architectural projects that engaged the city at the level of the plan and thereby became instrumental. the city weathered eighteen major political shifts. 1984). Instead. and. they created opportunities in circumstances where none had existed.” We suggest that it is appropriate to adopt the terms of warfare when considering the conditions of Zagreb’s 5 6 twentieth-century modernization. By spontaneously staging the conditions for further actions and strategies. or Belgrade. and grow more than one-hundredfold during that time? Did the permanently transitional environment of modern Zagreb generate new techniques for city making? The answers to these questions. Between 1850 and 1991. Regulation plans drawn up at each stage of Zagreb’s modern development—during the Habsburg Empire. through a range of graphic techniques: assembly. mapping. it deals with the form of individual engagements. Consistently staging the conditions for future moves. according to Lefebvre. and Socialist Yugoslavia—were proposed with the understanding (even expectation) that they would be opposed by the authorities in Vienna.analyzed transition. and development. In terms of the city. in military operations. becomes clearly legible. In the reverse reading. it became clear that the unstable environment of Zagreb made conventional methods of planning and realizing projects impossible for much of the twentieth century. then. It is also at its most effective when it is formulated on the battlefield. in Lefebvre’s formulation. as theorized by Michel de Certeau. The forms and spaces therefore become open to interpretation. and other techniques that make it possible to visualize synchronous and nonsynchronous transformations occurring at different rates in different sectors. determines the plans for the individual campaigns. It is also predicated on contestation. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford. The Production of Space. with all its multi-authored and multilayered complexity. which is both constrained and directed toward the achievement of specific objectives. achieve a temporary stability in the production of form that has a logic capable of reproduction. they developed strategies for generating the modern city by means of carefully conceived and clearly authored architectural projects. The Open Work. just as agility is its mode of operation. proliferation. trans. more specific details that cannot be determined in advance.. However. In short. layering. is 8 9 5 Carl von Clausewitz. Los Angeles. Strategy We define strategy as a highly organized plan of action devised in response to conditions that are unstable or otherwise uncertain. The Practice of Everyday Life. This is a practice based on a concept of the city as an ongoing. In this sense. trans. creative aspect of strategy that interests us here. adaptable. 1984 [1976]). The urban (a condition rather than a thing). 1989). This method of reading and analysis brings into sharp focus the role of practice.. London. It thereby reproduces the lived experience of encounter with the built object. trans. In Clausewitz’s words. by shaping the spaces in which social life takes place. and of urban architectural knowledge. that require substantial capital investment and the ability to take the long view—to operate effectively? How was it possible for the city to modernize. It required strategies that did not merely delineate the future development of the urban terrain. these projects opened the city to innovation and expanded the possibilities for architecture to shape the urban landscape. and agile. The situation called for more agile and assertive techniques of intervention. The urban. we propose. as condition. (. diagramming. 9 Henri Lefebvre. stop-frame photography. each accompanied by intense periods of economic instability and almost continuous political realignment and administrative reorganization. and read them against the regulation plans periodically drawn up by the planning office to direct the city’s urban growth. 1991). it creates opportunities. chronologically forward as well as backward—the interactive (dialectical) process by which the city is generated over time and through authored urban and architectural projects.

Robert Bononno (Minneapolis and London.. and diagramming. this conception of the urban helps us to understand urban architectural practice itself as not only a matter of intervening in the city. In times of transition. however. (.) The tool introduced in 2003 to enable urban development in Zagreb is a continuously evolving set of urban rules. mutable. (Significantly.” but rather as adhering to the internal logic of an integral work.. This conception of the city itself as a project is based on the recognition that in order to generate the urban. the ongoing processes by which the fabric has been generated. and openended. scale. it is necessary to establish a dialogic relationship between planning and design. It has to be read in terms of authored intervention and continuously evolving practices as well. In conditions of “unplanned” urban growth where the built fabric does not conform to a well-defined “urban logic”.  12 10 Henri Lefebvre. but of reading the city in a certain way—as a project –in terms of authored interventions and the production and proliferation of architectural knowledge in a specific place over time. The case studies presented in 11 this volume show that Zagreb’s twentieth century evolution was directed by a succession of key actors. but “will always be perceived as a work. extrapolation. Secondly. In conditions that preclude traditional methods of planning. What such rules cannot provide. the rules can only replicate or valorize existing formal conditions. Drago Ibler inserted modernist apartment houses in Zagreb’s late-nineteenth century Lower Town city blocks in ways that opened the private space of the block to the street.. They are based on a close reading of that fabric and the logic of its morphology and organization. As form-based rules rather than zoning laws. is the kind of urban architectural knowledge that is based on practice. These rules conceptualize the urban territory of Zagreb in terms of the formal logic of the existing urban fabric in different parts of the city. 12 City of Zagreb Master Plan 2003: Summary (Zagreb: City Department for City Development Planning and Environment Protection). The dialogic relationship does not seek equilibrium but instead strives to keep the process of generating the city open to change and the opportunities that irresolution provides. it is now informing the process by which Zagreb is being planned today. and innovations of the generations of architects. Often this involved rejection (or at the very least. in the 1930s. (. 37 38 .therefore “a concrete abstraction. the process of investigation parallels that by which the city itself was generated. 17. That dialogic process and Project Zagreb itself are presented here in terms of mutually informing historical and design practices—the city as an open work––at once purposeful and coherent.. many of them architects. We suggest that this approach involves a conception of the city as an open work in Umberto Eco’s sense.. city officials and others who over time developed modalities of operating on behalf of the city. or the intentionality of a plan is absent. mapping. as “not just as a conglomeration of random components ready to emerge from the chaos in which they previously stood and permitted to assume any form whatsoever. knowledge. 11 Ibid. strategies for interpolating modern buildings into the old city fabric generated new practices of organizing and using space in the city. and spawned a broad range of modernizing strategies for transforming the closed geometry of the city block into a porous open field. density. revision) of previous plans and projects. Lefebvre means spatial practice. and morphology of the existing fabric. Each change of government signaled a new beginning in urban policy as well. In this way. investors. 118-119.) The idea of the city as an open work therefore does not imply either an acceptance of chaos or a celebration of the ad hoc. nor for that matter does it uncritically offer the city up to market forces. They developed strategies that engaged the condition of irresolution in which they were forced to operate and shaped it into an open approach to design and to generating the city.) 10 City as Open Work Transition made it necessary to repeatedly start anew in Zagreb. planners. and the multiplicity of logics that underlie the forms themselves. 2003). practice is both datum and substrate of the accumulated skills.” We also propose that the concept of the city as project and open work implies the existence of formal aspiration as well as agency and authorship.” By practice. who took it upon themselves to advance the urban project of Zagreb. The Urban Revolution. associated with practice. How does this idea relate to architecture? First. and dynamic. it suggests that architecture is a spatial practice that involves both the generation of authored form and the reception. and interpolation of the operative spatial and formal logic of the intervention into other contexts. urban rules guard against the vagaries of private property development. On the basis of the research presented here we suggest that it is not enough to read the city in terms of the spatial logic of its urban morphology. architects and planners in Zagreb learned not only to anticipate and adjust to frequent changes but also to instrumentalize change to their own advantage. As a result.. they allow for development in ways that preserve and proliferate the established order. For example. made the interior of the block accessible to circulation and commerce. trans. Eco visited Zagreb and closely followed the experiments of artists and architects in the 1960s.) Moving back and forth between reading. Instead it conceives the city as a project that is dynamic and openended. both diachronic and synchronic. (. Embedded in this notion of practice is perhaps the most important lesson of Project Zagreb—that the most stable and enduring condition of practice may paradoxically be one that anticipates transition and takes advantage of its potentials.