Designing Socio-spatial Infrastructures with Time in Mind

Designing Socio-spatial Infrastructures with Time in Mind: Reimagining Istanbul Sali Pazari (13th Biennal International Conference of the European Architectural Envisioning Association, Glasgow School of Art, 2017)

  1. Introduction

The financial crisis of the 2007-2008 and the austerity measures adopted by the governments have moved alternative approaches for making urban spaces to the centre stage (Pak, 2017). Ordinary people all around the world have started to claim a shaping power over the processes of urbanisation; over the ways in which our cities are made and remade (Harvey, 2013, p.5). In literature, these have been given a variety of names such as: “DIY urbanism”, “make-shift urbanism”, “austerity urbanism” (Tonkiss, 2013).

In contrast with traditional urban production modes, a key characteristic of these practices is the employment of design tactics grounded in time (Franck, 2016). Among those are temporality, openness, ad-hocism and novel approaches to aesthetics which enable the continuous representation of the user needs (Pak and Scheerlinck, 2015). These emergent practices clearly illustrate a shift from strategic thinking to tactical thinking; establishing a different understanding of power and time. In this new paradigm, strategic design is framed as centralized, top-down, slow, expensive and complex urban governance practices disconnected from the people (Lydon & Garcia, 2015) whereas tactical design is preferred as a novel empowering mechanism: bottom-up, agile and decentralized means for ordinary people to challenge the status quo (de Certeau, 1985).

In this context, this research paper will discuss a Master’s Dissertation focusing on Istanbul Sali Pazari district embracing temporality, incrementalism and self-organized change as key elements of urban design. Acknowledging the dynamic and mutable character of the project site, it investigated the city’s complexity, considered as a mutating organism, looking at the way the past actions had modified the predefined conditions of the studied urban environment. The research questions were:

  • How can we design socio-spatial infrastructures considering architecture as a process?
  • How can we envision the future of a spatial intervention incorporating incrementalism and self-organization?
  1. The Istanbul Sali Pazari Project

Sali Pazari is a historical site at the foot of the valley of Kadikoy, on the Anatolian side of Istanbul, which has been for centuries an important collective space. The studied site, indeed, used to host one of the most popular ‘bazaars’ of Istanbul that, besides being a suitable place for trade, has been the area on which the local community built up its social identity. During the second half of the century, the construction of the Haydarpasa railway station cut the district in two parts: the coast side mainly programmed to host facilities for the harbour and to allow the commuting of the users and the inner part, mainly residential and commercial. From that moment on Kadikoy started being an important transportation hub. Today the Sali Pazari has completely lost is collective quality since the area has been re-converted and re-programmed to host these new facilities. As the main consequence, the area that used to host the bazaar has been converted into a car parking, and furthermore, resulted in the local producers having fewer and fewer possibilities of pursuing their occupations due to an on-going gentrification process.

The research implemented in the Sali Pazari area have focused on some specific ‘time sections’ which are considered to be relevant not only to the understanding of the actual urban configuration but also regarding the social organization of the district. Overall ‘Temporality’ has been here used as a research filter to investigate the complex and diverse forces that have shaped the urban fabric of Kadikoy in the past (such as the construction of the Haydarpasa Railway). The main aim was understanding how the social fabric have reacted to these shifts and which kind of social target could be integrated into a requalification strategy to preserve the strong sense of identity that the district is gradually losing.

Together with the ‘time sections’ analysis, the recognition of the importance of time in the architecture process revealed another perspective on ‘space and time’, which focuses more precisely on the local scale of the studied context: the public space appropriation tactics.

In particular, a research on the different urban tactics used by the local actors to temporary appropriate the urban space, emphasised how the social identity of Kadikoy is strongly strengthened by its multicultural social fabric and especially by the incredible diversity of small producers and crafts that invade the streets, extending their local businesses and animating the urban space. The local entrepreneurs and the informal economies, indeed, represent the studied district not only an important catalyst for the local productivity but also a relevant cultural factor on which the community have structured itself right from the start.

As a first step, a spatial research on the modalities of temporary appropriation of the urban spaces, made from a streetscape perspective, led to the identification of a specific social target, which has been negatively influenced by the gradual shift of the Sali Pazari site from an open collective space to a mere transitional space.

Secondly, the mapping of the local business activities has confirmed the presence of an incredible diversity of producers and informal actors already active on the site. Some of these producers were owners of local shops, others were running an informal business. In a transportation hub like the Sali Pazari, where every day several commuters pass through, this diversity of producers generates a significant space for negotiation, where the different actors of the local community can daily share their goods and services for a common purpose. However, this ‘social capital’, which is a temporary condition dependent on the level of openness and availability of a public space, is in risk to be broken up by the adverse effects of the on-going processes of gentrification and privatization affecting the site.

Among the different social actors considered, the street sellers represent an important part of urban informality as they provided entrepreneurial opportunities to people who cannot afford to buy or rent fixed permits. That is the reason why they managed to facilitate the integration of marginal groups and migrants in the local economy. Informal economies are, in other words, the first promoters of a super-diverse community. Moreover, the street sellers and in general the informal economies are important for the Sali Pazari community because they represent a relevant part of the Turkish urban life. They bring life to dull streets by providing atmosphere through their colourful stalls, costumes, and merchandise (Bromley, 2000).

Overall, the recognition of a social target and a specific research on the temporary urban devices daily used by the informal producers invading the streets of Istanbul (food-seller charts, flexible bazaar tents and other temporary structures) have been a fruitful and robust basis to implement a coherent bottom-up urban strategy; a strategy based on different time stages which aims to re-integrate the local producers in the urban life of the district.

2.1 Urban strategies linking space and time

 The main strategy for the rethinking of the Sali Pazari site was to follow a ‘generative process’ that involves developing scenarios imagining the engagement of different local productive actors in the process following different stages. Stage 1: The Urban Generator is the first ‘element’ of the generative process for the rethinking of the Sali Pazari site. The conversion of the present fire station in the Sali Pazari site into a Craft Factory aimed to integrate the existing local businessmen in a productive process. After the new Craft Factory (Urban Generator) is active, the wall enclosing the site will start to open-up (Step 1). Then, the injection of the first Social Infrastructures, which are a system of iconic buildings both able to offer basic infrastructures and to act as social landmarks for the commuters and for the local producers, will activate a process of appropriation of the unused space (Step 2). As a first consequence, a dynamic platform, called Super-Diverse Cluster, generated by the Social Infrastructures, will start extending based on the use and the needs of the users to create spaces for co-working, for private business and for other collective activities.

Fig. 01. Reimagining Sali Pazari: stage 1 . Source: ‘City in/for Transition’. Master Dissertation, KU Leuven, Boeri, A., Pak, B. (promoter)

Stage 2: All the different stakeholders and local actors start being involved in the productive process. As a first step, the extension of the craft factory, the permanent food market, will open to the public. The Craft factory, now completely productive, will start generating every Tuesday a temporary Bazaar, where the furniture and devices produced in the factory will be sold (Step 4). Meanwhile, the injection of other Social Infrastructures will extend the Super-diverse Cluster in the site (Step 5). Finally, a range of temporary urban devices will be produced by the local craftsmen: informal carts, strategic urban furniture, and temporary structures will be injected in some specific critical areas in the surrounding of the Sali Pazari site to encourage a process of re-appropriation of the collective space in favour of the local producers (Step 6).

Fig. 02. Reimagining Sali Pazari: stage 2. Source: ‘City in/for Transition’. Master Dissertation, KU Leuven, Boeri, A., Pak, B. (promoter)

  1. Conclusions

The research-to-design approach presented above proposed a “master process” which incorporates in its own functioning the tools to deal with complexity, conflicts and changes, and that will be supported by the diagnosis, plans, and projects already realized in the city during the last decades (Ecosistema Urbano, 2011). This particular method is an attempt to make a novel link between space and time, which aims to overcome the past conception of programmatic statis, by starting looking at the urban-architectural project as a ‘process of change’: a) understanding space and everyday activities through time and b) creating space-time scenarios for an urban project. In relation to these, the following findings were significant in terms of the design affordances of the followed method:

1) As a first research step, the analysis of different ‘time sections’ throughout the recent history contributed to understand the actual urban configuration and social organization of the district. In this initial analysis, ‘temporality’ turned out to be a necessary research parameter to understand the real needs of the users, especially considering the actual urban stagnation of the Sali Pazari site: a parking lot only used as a mere transitional space.

The ‘time sections’ analysis, the comparison of the actual programmatic statis of the site with its past dynamic urban condition, revealed in particular how the displacement of the Turkish bazaar had negatively influenced the urban life of the district, depriving both the commuters and the local producers of an important collective space. In this sense, the ‘time sections’ analysis helped us to identify a novel link between time, space and social identity: these are interlinked research tracks which are necessary specifically for urban contexts which have been re-converted and re-programmed over the past decades, such as Sali Pazari.

2) The urban strategy proposed for the Sali Pazari site is based on a ‘generative process’ that involves developing scenarios imagining the engagement of different local productive actors in the process following different stages. In this sense an ‘ad-hoc’ research on the actual social target and on the tactics of temporary appropriation of the urban spaces had been relevant tools to understand which social-productive cycles should have been included in the strategy.

3) Furthermore, the research on the informal local productivity and the appropriation tactics led to envision a possible bottom-up process whose ambition is to regenerate an open collective space, by supporting a self-organization of its users.

In conclusion, the Sali Pazari research-to-design process has explored space and time as essential research drivers for the urban contexts that, besides dealing with an urban informality, have been shaped by a range of urban transformations over time. In this sense, Temporality is considered imperative for both understanding the users’ needs and envisioning a bottom-up urban process directly supported by the local actors. After all, if human use and experience, which necessarily happen over time, are excluded from architecture as anticipated, how can they ever have a place? (Franck, 2016).


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