New Urban Topologies – Cultural exchange through Art and Urbanism
The world is being urbanised at breakneck speed. Exploring our cities from different perspectives is a growing need and allows us to keep pace with this development. Especially relevant in this regard, is the linking of diverse questions of democracy, allied to economic and social segregation within cities’ physical structures. Färgfabriken’s international program, New Urban Topologies is an initiative that rose from such questions. For example, those that challenge the lack of methods for dialogue between the cities’ different voices and interests. Until today, New Urban Topologies operated in the Baltic States, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East, North Africa and South-East Asia. The work was primarily carried out in cities that have a shortage of democratic development and face extensive challenges, like endangered public spaces, a lack of transparency and significant environmental questions. New Urban Topologies are always looking for new ways to formulate societies and the city. Methods of thinking that have contributed to the birth of these new projects, are Baltic Dimensions and Patchwork of Narratives. It is the contact with people and ideas that inspire and develop these projects.
What cities do we wish for? How can we build and convert our cities and create a greater sense of participation among the citizens? In 2010 Färgfabriken initiated the program New Urban Topologies (NUT). The aim of this initiative is to create an open and free platform for an exchange of experience between different cities and different stakeholders; like governments and decision-makers, artists, architects, NGOs, activists, citizens, colleges and universities. The objective is to create informal meetings, and a democratic platform for urban development.
No matter what city one lives in, the urban human wants to be able to move freely and easily, to have access to the necessary elements of life such as education, work, social care, security, entertainment, leisure, parks and public places. And a possibility to express yourself as an individual and as well interact with other people. The city is an opportunity. But does this opportunity include all citizens?
An important perspective in NUT is to investigate the cities through lenses which focus on a holistic cultural perspective. NUT is a common learning process where Färgfabriken in close collaboration with local partners investigates and develops themes relevant for the city in question through alternative and site-specific perspectives. The NUT process has created several interesting spinoff projects as research programs, networks, exhibitions, publications, short documentaries and cultural organizations such as the ADA center in Mostar.
The NUT project has so far identified and reflected over relevant topics which many cities in the world are struggling with as:
- Socio/economic aspects of the city, inclusive communication between all stakeholders and about infusing art and architecture into the planning and communication process.
- Lack of meetings between citizens’ communities, civil society and government. NUT provides communication methods between the people and the authorities. NUT therefore invites government agencies, civil society organizations, activists, artists, students and architects.
- Strategies to promote local democracy and political participation; to give voice to those whose voices are otherwise not heard.
- There is a need to take a holistic look at urban development by examining several subtopics as: The identity of the city, the use of public spaces, digitalization, pollution and traffic jams resulting from inappropriate public transport, hazardous waste treatment etc. All these issues and many more create complex patterns, which need to be highlighted in a cross- sectoral dialogue.
Our cities will always transform and change. Many different stakeholders want their voices to be heard. NUT is therefore a project who will adapt and be an instrument with the objective to strengthen the contemporary discussion of how we are composing our societies in global rapidly changing world. A world with many different needs and cultural contexts.
On New Urban Topologies
Reflections by Thomas Lundh, initiator and former advisor New Urban Topologies
For more than a decade, Färgfabriken has been active in the fields of urban planning, sociology, and architecture. Färgfabriken has a dual function, both being an exhibition space and a meeting place for different disciplines. Facilitating new net-works between public and private spheres, Färgfabriken wants to promote new ideas and strategies for our urban future.
A successful example using this method was Stockholm at Large, a project in several steps that Färgfabriken initiated in 2001 and produced. Here, the future of Stockholm in a long-term perspective was analyzed, considering a population growth of 600,000 people. This is one of several projects in the fields of urban planning and development, all with different starting points and perspectives, which Färgfabriken has organized. By making the complex process of urban development more accessible through exhibitions, seminars and publications, we believe more people will find it meaningful to engage in the development of their cities.
With extensive experience in initiating meetings on the city’s future and potential, Färgfabriken decided to fund a program with an inter-national scope in 2009, New Urban Topologies. The aim of the initiative is to create an open and free platform for an exchange of experiences be-tween the different stakeholders and the participating cities. This is in order to strengthen political participation and transboundary networks.
At the moment, New Urban Topologies is focusing on projects in the Middle East, the Balkans and in Eastern Europe. There are also plans for programs in South East Asia. Up until now, we have executed projects in Chisinau in Moldova, Minsk in Belarus, Skopje in Macedonia, Alexandria in Egypt, Amman in Jordan and Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Our main objective at these sites has been to start a process where Färgfabriken, in conjunction with participating local partners, initiates a discussion regarding urban challenges and possibilities. Together we identify a number of geographical areas of interest for development or general discussion and problem solving. The purpose is not to deliver complete solutions or answers, but to pinpoint different ways of thinking and to address and discuss complex matters.
It is our evaluation that the intentions of New Urban Topologies i.e. to be a steppingstone for new contacts, knowledge and understanding, between different groups have become reality. We have seen how new contacts between different groups within and between the cities have developed after each single New Urban Topologies session. This informal working method has proven an easy way to loosen up hierarchies and what seemed to be cemented power relations.
About the book
In october 2010, Färgfabriken, in conjunction with its Moldovan and Belarusian partners Oberliht and Y ̆ Gallery, conducted extensive programs on urban topologies in the capital cities of Chişinău and Minsk. The participants were municipal administrators, architects, urban planners, and students, among others.
The result and the experience from these two cities are now gathered in the book The Chisinau and Minsk Experience. By making a complex process more accessible though visualizations, proposals, and stories about how each city could develop, we believe that more people will become interested in the future of their societies.
As each city has its own unique conditions, the program and results of NUT will differ from one site to the next. Nevertheless, it turned out that the same kind of overall themes were critical in both Chişinău and Minsk. The five themes that make up the whole of the publication are based on the main concerns expressed in both cities: cities of history, architectural aims, on public space, sustainable infrastrucutre and exchanging ideas. Some of these themes were the basis for workshop groups; others were strongly articulated in discussions and presentations.
The book’s thematic chapters include presentations from seminars, bus excursions, and workshops. In each chapter the reader will also find interviews with participants conducted throughout the span of the visits, as well as shorter freestanding statements and comments on the presentations. The book also includes essays written by contributing authors in retrospect.
The book Alexandria – City of Layers documents the New Urban Topologies project with summaries of workshop presentations and interviews with participants. It also includes essays on Alexandria, and a rich assortment of images. Translated into English and Arabic, the book was launched both in Alexandria and Stockholm during 2012.
City of Layers – contributing essay by Joachim Granit
The meeting with Alexandria in Spring 2011, after the big upheaval that the whole of Egypt had been through, was an experience in many ways. The city is worn-down with an intense life, lots of people and ideas—everything in a complex blend where the past meets the present. You could feel it in the air that there had been a change in the Egyptian society. It was liberating to see happy and proud people who had just had the chance to vote in the first round of fair elections.
Situated by the Mediterranean Sea, Alexandria has been a center for thoughts and ideas for millenniums. Here, different cultures and religions have met and been inspired by and confronted with each other. The traces of these trails of thoughts can still be found today in different layers, both physical and mental. It was this process of movement and meetings that we wished to high-light when, in co-operation with Gudran Association for Art and Develop-ment, Alexandria University, and the Swedish Institute Alexandria, we decided to organize the first New Urban Topologies in the Middle East.
When we came back to Alexandria six months later to carry out the New Urban Topologies program, the atmosphere in the city had changed. The euphoria from the past months had turned into uncertainty about the future, and impatience with the fact that a new Egypt seemed to take its time to be formed. Who and what groups of people would take over power?
On our way to the Swedish Institute, walking along the beautiful Cor-niche, we passed the courthouse where the trial against two police officers accused of the death of young activist Khaled Said had just begun. The web page We are all Khaled Said had led the way for the revolt, and the ten-sion in the air was obvious. The Military was present and a number of combat vehicles were parked on the street. I saw gripping scenes with people who expressed a deep sense of despair; people who fought for their rights.
Change takes time, and Egypt will eventually find its way forward. How, and in what way, is at the present moment hard to tell. During days of seminars, excursions and intense workshops, the temperature rose. Through meetings, discussions and working together new ideas took shape.
The questions were related to the planning of the city and a possible path to democracy. Alexandria worked as a catalyst for a future Egypt. It be-came an important experience for all of us, both the ones active in Alex-andria and the ones who traveled in from Stockholm, Amman, Istanbul, Damascus, Beirut, and Cairo. We all had different experiences from work-ing with culture, entrepreneurship, universities and the public sector. The diversity created energy.
The first cities were founded almost six thousand years ago, today they symbolize our civilizations. The cities will outlive most of us, but, while we are active in them we have a unique opportunity to create conditions for functioning and exciting urban environments, both for ourselves and for generations to come. We all have a responsibility and we must use it in a clever way. We, who represent Färgfabriken, believe that new struc-tures and new contexts can arise as we work with different sectors of the society and create informal meetings between different groups and wills —with and without power.
During this period that we are referring to as the Arab Spring we have seen clearly that it is in the public spaces that debates take place and where the people challenge the political structures. In Sweden, as in many other countries around the world, there has been a discussion about how these “lungs” should be managed so that they can continue to exist and expand. This important question, along with many other issues that came up during the intense days in October 2011 will be discussed further in this book.
Alexandria has something special. In cities where everything has not been designed and processed in detail, there are many opportunities for an intense dynamic life. This is in strong contrast to my own hometown, Stockholm. I cannot help compare with the present Swedish situation. In our eagerness to plan and structure everything, have we in the process lost what is informal and coincidental, the things that give our cities a soul?
The purpose of New Urban Topologies in Alexandria was to create a mental sphere for a new inventory of the many creative resources that exist in the city, all within a framework of history, culture and future possibilities.
New Urban Topologies, 2019
Extracts from NUT Cambodia & Thailand, 2019
New Urban Topologies är ett världsomspännande projekt för arkitektur och demokratifrågor. En mängd olika samarbetspartners, lokala och globala, är involverade i projektet.