Public Space: Fights and Fictions

PEDRO GEDANHO

Curator, writer and architect, Pedro Gadanho is the Director of MAAT, the new Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology in Lisbon. Previously a curator of contemporary architecture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, he curated exhibitions such as 9+1 Ways of Being Political, Uneven Growth, Endless House and A Japanese Constellation. Pedro Gadanho, who holds an MA in art and architecture and a PhD in architecture and mass media, is also the former editor of BEYOND bookazine, writes the ShrapnelContemporary blog, and regularly contributes to international publications. He is the author of Arquitetura em Público, and a recipient of the 2012 FAD Prize for Thought and Criticism.

When I visited Tahir Square a couple of months ago, I was overcome by a sense of disillusionment. The government’s dystopian design has stripped this public space, the starting place of the Arab Revolution in Egypt, of any potential to trigger or accommodate a spontaneous demonstration by the people of Cairo. With democracy degraded, the State is quick to equate people’s appropriation of public space to an act of terrorism—and what was a hopeful fiction may rapidly turn into a dangerous fight. Yet the multiple pressures building in contemporary cities may also become greater than any institutional force. With scarcity inevitable, a time may come a time when no higher power can hold out against it or sustain itself through its own means. This is the moment which certain urban practices seem to be preparing for at present.