Does architecture shape our surroundings and our behaviour
-or do we collectively shape our architecture?
The street was not wide, maybe four meters wide, and it was sloped up towards a small bell tower. The level change was realized as steps, so that street felt like an interior– a part of a public building or a church. And indeed at the fond of the street there was a the local church, to which outrage the local gay bar on the street set up a fiesta every Sunday at the same time as church sermon took place.
The space of the street was surroundedby four-five story buildings, that seemed to grow out of the same material as the street. Their architectural qualities were humble, one had an over proportioned balcony off center that was full of dry plants like a hairy mold on your face, another had bad cracks in the plaster of the façade resembling a very old woman´s skin. There were also new-builds in the street. One lot on the street had as an economical venture sold building right to wealthy Russians from Novosibirsk, and the Russians had built a luxurious, but slightly tasteless apartment building on the lot. Still something – undefined still by our modern architectural theories – kept the streetscape together like glue and made it hole.
What we noticed after a while after settling in at our rented apartment on third floor, was that the street was never quiet. Even by night you could hear apart from some traffic here and there, also sound of heels tapping the stone pavement, strange shouts you could not locate, and dogs barking.
By day the street was a stage for activity. There were small shops that poured out their products on the street for display, cramped by the small space they had inside. People stopped and talked to the shop owners while passing by. The butcher on the street had a peculiar way of greeting all elderly ladies with a bit too intimate hugs. White collar workers rushed pass the street on their way to work and home. The homeless loitered around. Young men played football on the street. There was a sense of liberties taken and given, an unpronounced allowing code of conduct.
The above writing is freely adapted from professor Panu Lehtovuori´s lecture “Calzada de sant´Ana”, but it could be a description of any street in Europe admired in travel brouschures for its genuinity. Why are we as trained architects unable to design a street like this today?
It’s a steet that encourages, not just allows people to be themselves. It forces to interaction with other people. Interaction is one of the main keys to happiness, if not one of the most crucial. All humans have a need to define themselves and their identitiy through others , through their reaction. Be the reaction admiration, schock, indifference, but we all crave that in some form. When the possibility to interact is taken away from you, you seek it trough the internet, through books, or through meditation or other. Human life is an exodus for recognicion, reaction or the lack of it. But it has to be tested. Every single human being seeks interaction. What architecture needs to do, is to give space for people to meet on the terms they define. Individuality wants liberty to have the freedom to choose who and how it interacts with, but individuality always needs to define itself trough others; if it only observes from the balcony above the street, if it stays in the shadow of the doorway, timid to step out into the limeligh, of if it takes center stage and becomes the hero or the antihero of the show called Calzada Sant´Ana.
Give and get in return.
The above is a story of a street in Lisbon Portugal – Europe. Thanks to professor Panu Lehtovuori and his “Calzada de sant´Ana”.
-Tolerance (to balance your own freedom)