In his article Vienna’s Social Housing Legacy: Rethinking Value, written for failed architecture, Charlie Clemoes reflects on a walking tour of Red Vienna, noting the attention to detail in social housing constructed between 1919 and 1934. Clemoes writes about the necessity for beautiful design in contemporary social housing, provoked by an attention to ornate details he spots around the Ringstraße. These expressive gestures and the balanced integration of social space within the housing complexes contrasts with models of social housing in North America, which hold a greater stigma and often compromise a sensitivity towards character in favour of replicating soulless compounds:
“But this was a genuine attempt to recast the concept of value, to behave as if there were alternatives to the capitalist emphasis on cost-saving and profit margin. And as we walked with Jutta through the Proletarian Ringroad, slowly observing the details, rather than ploughing through all of Red Vienna’s social houses, I couldn’t help but realise how deeply valuable a little additional craft can be.”
Clemoes’ observations bring to mind a note in Jamie Hilder’s postscript for the 2006 exhibition Not Sheep: New Urban Enclosures and Commons, held at Vancouver artist-run centre Artspeak. Hilder referred to an “ethics of making” that is made possible through collective activity, that seeks to “form and inform”. Collective participation and a pollination of creative agency across disciplinary margins encourages thinking through place-making in more empathetic ways.
“If the poetics of astonishment has a posture, or an expression, it stands with arms folded in frozen exasperation, as if it were receiving horrible news about someone it once knew but has lost track of. It breathes in sharply and exhales slowly, with wide unfocused eyes and a weighted pause. But what makes it a poetics, and not simply a condition, is a decision to act, a rescuing of resolution from despair […]”
An ‘ethics of making’ requires us to recognize an implicit political responsibility in the shaping and sustaining community associations that unite or divide us within our cities. In his article How High Is The City, How Deep Is Our Love, published in Fillip, Jeff Derkson writes on whether we can or should love a city that has failed to live up to our ideals. There is, as he indicates, a tenuous line between the responsibility, capacity and willingness of citizens to participate in the ‘making’ of cities, and even more so when an open, artistic ‘creativity’ is reduced to “an urban policy based on a brittle economic understanding of creativity”.
"That is, these claims to the city still have their roots in the promises of modernism, which, despite a rejection of their spatial logic, have been replaced by neoliberalism’s promise of development and growth (which in reality has accelerated uneven development across spatial scales). To work through this vivid relationship of enstrangement and affect—of deep love for the city yet the unbalanced relationship we have to the grand project for the city—two very powerful themes for the city have been mobilized as policy fixes for both “shrinking” or “failed” cities and for cities looking to boost their standing in the neoliberal competition for investment.”
Text by Lital Khaikin.