The “lockdown culture” now emerging amid the coronavirus health crisis opens the door to political imagination in architecture. Interstitial spaces like windows, balconies and doorways are accommodating dynamics of social solidarity and mutual support which highlight many values previously overshadowed by frenzied production and economic growth. The lockdown culture has appeared like the ghost of a possible alternative world order. And of all those interstitial spaces that are now making the headlines, balconies are undoubtedly the most prominent. Their ambivalent location on the dividing line between intimacy and self-display make them symbolic, practical spaces, a real breeding ground for viral expressions of empathy and understanding. They constitute spontaneous stages for social solidarity, desire for contact with others, gratitude for services rendered and the importance of caring about others.
Architecture has been aware of these shared spaces, these areas of contact and socialisation which facilitate and enrich social harmony, for some time now. It has also, in a way, contributed to the generation of “pockets of contact” as inalienable components of the common good. One of the news items aired recently featured Gabriel Verd+Buró4’s residential complex in Mairena del Aljarafe, near Seville, whose occupants were praised by the director-general of the WHO for their positive spirit: they organized a communal bingo session with cards distributed via WhatsApp, and a gym class using the common central zone as a stage. The architect who designed the complex had paid special attention to its communal areas, well aware of their practical and symbolic importance but never suspecting that they’d ever be used in such an unusual way in a situation of social confinement like the one we’re now experiencing. The balconies of the lockdown culture are physical but also technological. Another initiative in Seville is that of Juan Duque Oliva. Every day, from his own balcony, Juan projects photographs taken in the street or emailed to him by his neighbours onto the facades of the apartment blocks facing his home. As Reyes Gallegos says, it’s a form not only of encouragement but also of acknowledgement, because the photos show people and jobs that are often invisible but which are vital to our everyday lives.
We’ve also seen how different media channels select and recommend content available online, acting as “editors” of Internet and its chaotic cultural disarray. The libraries and archives of different institutions have opened their doors online, making their content accessible to the public. Other initiatives go even further. At Talleres Antropoloops, for example, architects Rubén Alonso and Fran Torres have created a free online tool for remixing music and they’re now inviting families to use it to make their own tracks. The whole Antropoloops project is dedicated to preserving global musical culture as a material asset and part of the common good, an objective it pursues using technology and networked social culture as its biggest ally. In the team’s own words, “We use music remixing as a play area and a meeting place, a space where difference is understood on an ongoing basis, creatively and dynamically”.
Balconies and pockets of shared space, stages and remixes of what’s available and familiar, experiments that turn the rules of performance art upside down… all this is an invitation to look at the boundaries between urban planning and architecture, between environment and technology, in a new light. Whether technological or urban, these balconies for contacting people, supporting each other and showing appreciation for others are something more than just a metaphor of another possible world. They are a promise, a teaching instrument, a first step on a path that can only be followed by keeping moving.
Paula V. ÁlvarezPaula V. Álvarez es una arquitecta con sede en Sevilla, fundadora de la práctica editorial Vibok Works . Su trabajo reúne investigación, edición, diseño y escritura desde una perspectiva experimental y crítica. Su principal interés de investigación es cómo el encuentro del enfoque académico de los Estudios Culturales y de la Ecología de los Medios con la experimentación arquitectónica desde inicios del s. XX hasta nuestros días puede habilitar una comprensión más profunda de la renovación de las técnicas de arquitectura en el seno de la globalización electrónica y la cultura tecnográfica.
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