“0=1” was a competition entry I submitted to Space Prize for International Students of Architectural Design in 2002. The theme of the competition was based on Richard Sennett’s “The Space of Democracy” published by University of Michigan in 1998. The competition description takes a part of Sennett’s writing:
“… decentralized democracy, which does not aim at such cohesion… it argues that differences and divergences will develop in practice… Decentralized democracy also has a visual dimension. This democratic vision may prefer the jumbled, polyglot architecture of neighborhoods to the symbolic statements made by big, central buildings… The result of visual, decentralized democracy should be, ultimately, to shatter those images which attempts to represent the city as a whole.”
– Richard Sennett, The Space of Democracy, 1998, University of Michigan
Back in 2002, I read Sennett’s work which was translated in Korean, which was difficult for me to grasp at the time. Recently I had to read “The Space of Democracy” again in its original language – English – to write this blog. Reading the whole article took me by surprise. Seung H. Sang, one of the juries other than Vincente Guallart, reflected on Sennett’s writing as following:
“Maybe, the age requiring objects or symbols is already passing by. In order to understand a city, it is not necessary to grasp every corner of the city, which means that parts of the city are more important.”
– Seung H. Sang, http://www.vmspace.com/2008_re/eng/
To my understanding, Sennett was in many ways against the decentralized democracy and how it was portrayed in architectural environment. To him it promoted fragmented, less coherent growth throughout the city. In the article, he was comparing the traditional Athens way of democracy with decentralized democracy of 1990s; trying to suggest using theatrical architecture to fight this fragmentation which was hurting the original notion of democracy. So re-reading Sang’s notion of promoting the fragmented/void/niche spaces as a functional space in the city while disregarding Sennett’s notion of promoting architectural space in the city that can help develop civic connections in a sustained and focused way in order to promote democracy and not decentralized democracy was strange to me.
“0=1” was an attempt to present how amount of solid and void space in the city were equally important for people. There was a row of two story buildings juxtaposed to each other on the entire site. It was in the middle of the two roads, blocking the view of the either sides from each other. This led to an idea to provide equal amount void space as much as solid space in the given site, so people walking on the either side of the site would have a visual connection to the opposite side of the site, be more opened, cohesive and communicative.
Proposed program for “0=1” was a digital media center which would serve the general demographic of young people from late teens to late 20s in the area. The project would not only provide space for learning, but also have communal spaces for people to come and share their knowledge.
Partitions were movable so the space would be flexible enough to accommodate groups with different number of people that gather together in the digital media center while providing some privacy. People could use the space for watching digital material together or discuss topics. After reading “The Space of Democracy,” it made me think perhaps I had some grasp of Sennett’s intentions; a space that can be used for entertainment AND political purposes in this modern space.
Below is the overall site plan. Some walls and bridges visually connect users to another space. The site used to have full two story buildings, but the proposal show some spaces as opened up to the other side, or allow view to the underground spaces via sunken spaces.
The design may seem fragmented, but it allows people to move to the other side of the building more freely, have more void space for visual connection, provide more daylight into covered area, and provides a degree of flexibility with movable partitions.
Overall, I am glad I decided to look up “The Space of Democracy,” and reassess if what I had understood back in 2002 was correct. It may be similar to certain reading materials which give you different understanding of its contents or the writers’ intentions depending on what stage of life you read them. I strongly recommend reading “The Space of Democracy,” as I find it still relevant in today’s world. As architects we should put more effort into researching how to design architecturally democratic space which fits in today’s decentralized democratic state and apply those results in the real world.