For our opening in February 2012, zURBS worked with the dreams and desires of the people in Züri West in the project "Züri West nochmals anders?". Through several workshops different participants were encouraged to make models that express their dreams and desires for the neighbourhood. There were no rules for the model-making, the participants could build whatever they wanted with whatever materials they wanted. Thus, models that imagined a different Züri West were created by a variety of people from the neighbourhood: From cooks to publishers, from school-children to gallery-owners and from architects to shop-owners. By giving these everyday users the tools to express their visions for their city, in terms of their dreams and desires, zURBS wanted to present a new perspective on what Züri West could be like.
The choice to work with the 5th district is related to the present development of the area and its impact on people in the neighborhood in particular, as well as its impact on Zürich in general. Indeed, zURBS wants to add new views, coming from below, in order to pose an alternative to the dominating top-down way of thinking regarding urban developments like these. One can argue that the building-up of the models on the map is a symbolic act bringing another dimension to the already present perspective. Not only proactive thinkers who are used to discuss within the spheres of the traditional town hall meeting are engaged.
“Buildings are received in a twofold manner: by use and by perception.”
Thus, the focus of the project was to pose an alternative to the top-down perspective that tends to dominate present city-planning. In this approach the streets are often overlooked or generalized in big and abstract masterplans, the project "Züri West nochmals anders?" took on the other hand the streets and the people occupying it as its starting point. zURBS believe that it is the people in the street that are the experts when it comes to the development of their neighbourhood. As Walter Benjamin points out: “Buildings are received in a twofold manner: by use and by perception.” The city around us is part of our every-day life, the inhabitants of a city do not stand at a distance analyzing it such as architects and planners, they are rather relating to the city by using it, by moving around in it. If the city is inscribed in life by social every-day practice, who is then better experts on it than the people everyday using it?
Restaurant les halles
The people of les halles enthusiastically started to make green spaces and water in different places of the neighbourhood. The river got re-located along the Viadukt and ended up in a pool in Josefwiese, which was transformed into a Mediterranean beach made of lasagne plates and bars made of egg-carton.It was quite interesting seeing how green spaces and water were the first things appearing on the model. Even though our cities literally pave their ways through nature covering it with carpets of concrete, it seems like we instinctively return to the natural soil of grass and water when imagining the perfect city. On the other side: The next thing built on the model was high-rises.
To read more about this workshop go to our blogspot on westnetz: SPAGHETTI WEST
The workshop conducted by the kids from the Tageshort Kornhausbrücke, taught us about the art of personalization, of making an identity for a place. Instead of starting with the big picture, like the grown-ups such as the people from les halles did, adding green spaces, water and roads, the kids started with building specific houses with their own identity and history. These were houses with specific people in them, like the house by the river where a nice boy and a rebel live side by side sharing a water slide. It was houses with mail boxes that contained letters about animals in them. It was houses with names, specific gardens and particular animals surrounding them. The kids reminded us on something master planners tend to forget: the art of personalization, of making an identity for a place, a house or even a factory (like the balloon factory that was built by the river). The kids reminded us that it was not only about making a model, it was about making a personal story of all the people and things inhabiting the city. It was not about us or them, it was about me and you.
The architects taught us about a complete different way of spatial thinking than the kids. Instead of focusing on the individual houses, they focused on the space between the houses, and how changing the positioning of houses, roads and infrastructure could facilitate more human relationships taking place in public space. The human quality of things is here favoured over the aesthetic dimensions of the buildings.
The architects were concerned with the lack of greenspaces in Zurich. Their model was inspired by Tokyo, suggesting big green spaces, even green roads, surrounded by highrises. This way as many residents as possible would have direct access to the green spaces. "Actually we wanted to play around a lot with the model, outside of our discipline, but look where that got us!" the architects laughed while pointing at the model.
At the workshop with the publishers/journalists at faktor Journalisten there was much discussions, but not so much actual model-making -some drawings were made at the best. The publishers/journalists expressed concrete wishes for in example biking lanes through the city, a well-connected slow-traffic network, an affordable densified housing, similar to the settlement Limmat-West. Also the journalists wanted Escherwyssplatz to become a meeting place and a more positive public space.
To read more about this workshop go our blogposts at Westnetz: TURM ZU BABEL WEST
The people of Sphéres wanted less consumption, more nature and more opportunities for spontaneous city life in their neighbourhood. The model from Sphères showed that thinking about nature is not in conflict with living an urban life. For instance why not having a farming ground for local grown vegetables instead of the railway yard (=Tramdepot) where now the trams go to sleep, don’t they rather stay up all night? Or adding more flowers and other sparkling gadgets to the district. And what about fully developing the possibilities of water in the city? The model expressed a vivid district full of life that bridges to the surrounding neighborhoods and generations.
As opposed to the people of Sphéres, who wanted less consumption, more nature and more opportunities for spontaneous city life, the barbers wanted more places for direct consumption and more space for cars. Still they were talking about the same Kreis 5, only from their very own life-world(s). This is exactly the challenge of contemporary “city making”.
However, the barbers taught us that even though the wishes and needs for a neighbourhood might differ, there is room for cultural coexistence. For example did the barbers want a mosque in the district, but it should not replace the church, rather it should be situated nicely next to it. Also the barbers wanted wanted more discos and possibilities for consumption in their neighbourhood.
Last, but not least, the gallery owner taught us that no neighbourhood is too small or insignificant for a great piece of art. An artwork like “the pink rabbit” imagined by the artist group Gelitin and placed in the specific context of Piemonte can always be re-imagined and re-placed in a new context, like Kreis 5. We don’t have to invent everything new, but we could learn from each other and each other’s ideas. The rabbit can be seen as representing the integration of art in nature, and also the unexpected or familiar things you might find wandering in a landscape, as if it says: “Be attentive to your surroundings and you will see the most beautiful and/or unexpected things!”
To read more about this workshop, have a look at our blogspot on westnetz and the article BEWARE OF THE PINK RABBIT
But these models are a utopian thinking that have got nothing to do with reality, you might say. It is impossible to make an exotic jungle out of Josefwiese, or re-directing the Limmat river along the Viadukt. And when did Züri West need a balloon factory, or more high-rises? There is no use in ideas that cannot be realized. We disagree. Utopian thinking, like the one expressed in the models, is important in order to develop critical approaches to cities and processes of urbanisation. These approaches involve the expressions for a better way of living through the imagining of a different city and of a different urban life. As the workshops shows, there is much to learned from this opening up of the visions and imaginations of cities.
After conducting the workshops with different users of Züri West, zURBS invited artists to make presentations of the models. The models and the artist interpretations were exhibited in Galerie Zieglerzwei, where model-makers, artists and the wide public was invited for an evening of discussions, presentations and idea exchanges regarding the project and its implications for city-making in general. Now, what could letting artists interpreting the models add to this new knowledge?
What art does is shifting the focus from realities to representations. By adding an artistic perspective to the models, zURBS wanted to emphasize that it is not Züri West in its appearance that we are talking about, but the representations of the area in the minds of the people living or working there.
The arts can help us interpreting and analyzing cultural expressions that originate in the city and in urban relations, but that has got a life on their own and thus are hard to understand and represent. The artistic perspective helps us capturing these cultural expressions and makes them easier to analyze. Furthermore, artistic perspectives may open up a sensuous approach to our surrounding, i.e. how to feel, sense, reflect upon and represent the urban environment. This approach points to a less immediate way of studying the city, than what is often happening when master plans are made, and thus a represents a new perspective on the development of Züri West.
More video's on vimeo.com/zURBS