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To make the order in order

Designing Disorder: Experiments and Disruptions in the City
Forfatter: Pablo Sendra, Richard Sennett
Forlag: Verso (USA)
ARCHITECTURE / How can we design big cities where we can be more alone together?


Design Disorder is the result of the architect Pablo Sendra reading the book in 2009 The Uses of Disorder (1970) by sociologist Richard Sennett. He bases himself on the book's ideas of a "disordered, unstable and direct social life" with urban design experiments in areas where there are no spontaneous activities and social interactions.

The book's proposal for a more social big citylife may not be suitable during the time of the pandemic, where people are encouraged to maintain social distance and spend as much time as possible at home, but in a world without corona restrictions. During the reading, I long even more for the social city life, which before the pandemic was a big part of my everyday life.


An open system

Design Disorder also suggests a urban designs where people can be out together but alone. This proposal is more relevant and gives me hope for a better future where we can cope with a new pandemic better, without it affecting public health – physically og mentally.

In the first part of the book, "Civil Society", Sennett reflects on why he wrote The Uses of Disorder and what it means today, and he proposes an open city that can liberate hidden and forgotten areas.

Fences and walls do not encourage social gatherings and activities.

Civil society should respect the differences in people so that we can be free to be ourselves alone, Sennett believes. The distance between people's apartments and houses should be respected, since it makes society in a dense and diverse city civil – as opposed to a village where everyone knows everyone.

The city streets create loneliness in the sense that you can be out in the crowd, but at the same time withdraw from other people. The big city compresses people together, the density also makes it possible for us to be completely alone.

I do not experience loneliness when I am alone in my apartment, but when I sit at a twin table in a café in the middle of a big city. That's something I understood during the pandemic. The experience of being anonymous when I strut down the streets of Vienna or Oslo in the middle of people, is something I look forward to when society reopens completely.

"The cities everyone wants to live in should be clean and safe, offer public services, have a good economy, provide cultural stimuli and do their best to heal society's division of race, class and ethnicity," writes Sennett and emphasizes that no city in the world is like that. On the other hand, we build cities by segregating functions and homogenizing the population – cities do not have the time and space to develop. We operate with a closed system rather than opening up for strangers to have the opportunity to interact with each other.

It was the author and urbanist Jane Jacobs (1916–2006) who first introduced the idea of ​​an open system with porous walls, borders as borders, incomplete shapes and non-linear development. Cities should be built on the historical events that take place there – it is a dynamic process, where history can not be planned. Therefore, we can not plan urban architecture either.

An open system depends on conflicts and dissonance in order to evolve – similar to Darwin's theory of evolution. An environment that is static in shape is dead. In the same way that biodiversity feeds nature and provides the necessary resources for change, physical and social urban diversity feeds architecture. But Darwin's ecological vision is unfortunately not part of the capitalist urban planning of our time.

"Disorder in order"?

The second part of the book, "Infrastructures for Disorder", makes up two thirds of the book and is written by Sendra. Here he concretizes Sennett's thoughts from the first part of the book and proposes social design experiments that utilize empty urban areas.

Sendra believes that the urban surface must be understood on the basis of how the various elements talk to each other. How does the granite hill communicate with the park next door? He wants to include the locals in the process of developing the architecture. He mentions, for example, that closed and fenced parks make people feel safe, but that it also creates an atmosphere where one fears the unknown instead of being open to it. Fences and walls do not encourage social gatherings and activities. Many neighborhoods have clear physical boundaries that create mental boundaries – which isolate and segregate the population. The infrastructure affects us unconsciously.

In the third part "Unmaking and Making", Sennett and Sendra, together with Leo Hollis, discuss how to create a more collective infrastructure. How can urban architects construct "disorder in order"?

The book sows seeds in the ground, and then it is up to the architects to find the way to life and sustainable development.

Pinar Ciftci
Pinar Ciftci
Ciftci is a journalist and actor.

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