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Where is the Agora?

In his “Four arguments for the Elimination of Architecture (Long Live Architecture)” [i] Sanford Kwinter, (when seeking for architecture’s professional evolution) claims “in a modern economy the city is not just where we are but who we are.” [ii] A similar to this tautology (between city and people) can be also found in many writings for the Greek agora, like that of Homer, and Herodotus. In these writings agora, the city, and citizens are one thing.[iii]
The agora was indeed the place where people would come together or act collectively in ancient times.  Agora, with an etymology linked to aggregation / gathering, and a history of being the birth of democracy as well as the center of political, artistic, and commercial life of the city, acted indeed as a place for people to come together or where they would act collectively. Can this archetype be re-enacted or re-actualized to serve the public space of the new global city?
Unlike Pericles’s ancient time, nowadays people come together in web domains and social media, such as Facebook, twitter, and so on. Ubiquitous computing, surveillance, communication via digital technologies and gadgets, wireless infrastructures are new channels, that further increase connectivity among people who, as Joi Ito said, now care more for the commons. From one hand there are intangible global connections (new public), and from the other hand the physical world and the living people (new city and its citizens). In the search of (new) public space, the question is how to merge this division?
Digital or urban nomads move from place to place, tracing voluntarily their mobility through instant, but forever recorded, reports. These flows and potential new boundaries often redefine separations between public and private bubbles. Traditional itemized categorization is no longer valid: public space can be found at home (via the internet) and the private interrupts the public and the outdoors (via portable smart-phones). These (spatial) fluctuations among city, public space, and its people, request for new communication interfaces, new terrains for unpredictable activities where user becomes an active participant of the city. Can architecture provide these opportunities for responsive design, ephemeral interventions, and participatory events? Can these co-current events and collective experiences serve the commons, similarly to how agora was successful through its multiple functions?




[i] Sanford Kwinter, “Four arguments for the Elimination of Architecture (Long Live Architecture)”, in Bernard Tschumi and Irene Chang’s, The State of Architecture at the Beginning of the 21stCentury, The Monacelli Press, 2003, p.94-95

[ii] For Kwinter design can no longer be simply this ideal place of form-making. It has to be challenged and potentially shaped by these new social and historical demands…” In the same text he later demand: “[Architecture] must undergo an explosive and disfiguring transformation…otherwise, it can retreat to face the prospects of mediocrity, provincialism, event irrelevance…”
[iii] Chapter IV. The Agora in R.E.Wycjerley’s How the Greeks Built Cities.

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