Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

10. Topology of culture


Human Matrix

Mapping of Cultural resources

Cultural planning



10. Topology of culture

10.1 Meeting places (inside / outdoors;

Formal / informal)

10.2 Changes of meaning to allow for new interplay e.g. Glasgow conversion of church into social and cultural place

10.3 From informal to formal means commercialization of public spaces being re-privatized

10.4 Attain non commercial meeting places


In search of culture, there is a locational theory behind this insofar the human being does not open up everywhere but in unique, special places such as where the Ancient Greeks build their temples and in the Christian world churches were build even if more often on grounds which were former battle fields.

10.1 Meeting places (inside/outdoors; formal, informal meeting places)

There are many comings and departures at various train stations: Genoa, Munich, Berlin, Brussels, Waterloo in London, Stockholm etc. The Surrealists anticipated the trains coming into the station to be like an iron fist punctuating the heart of the city and therefore feared the death of the urban settlement. At the same time, they took the notes of the city to be of metaphysical nature (de Chirico).

10.2 Changes of meaning to allow for new interplay e.g. Glasgow conversion of church into social and cultural place

What alters dispositions and behavior of people is when the image of a place changes by becoming suddenly accessible to other people. Whether a church is converted into a cultural centre or a former restaurant for old pensioners becomes suddenly a new Cretan food centre, it alters the gathering of people and with it the life that goes with it.

Most significant within the experience of Cultural Capital Cities was the conversion of the image of the city Glasgow managed to achieve in 1990 when art and urban renewal was combined to alter urban development strategies. However, as a recent survey has shown Glasgow is still struggling to find a way into the future even though a recent study was based on ‘mass imagination’ in order to find out what people dream to be their city to be like by the year 2020. Such projections into the future is a useful guidance for what people want but in so doing they oversimplify by synthesizing type of people with image of a city as if it would not sustain in future a diversity of people who do not fit into any of devised categories.

10.3 From informal to formal means commercialization of public spaces being re-privatized

Ever since Juergen Habermas has published his book about ‘structural changes of public openess’, there has been a growing awareness about the significant changes going on all the time when former residential gardens of kings and their palaces are opened to the general public or else a rich ship owner can buy up an entire island to call it his own despite the law in Greece that everyone should have free access to the sea. In the wake of privatization the public space, public good and public truth took a heavy toll with people growing in despair when they no longer see that something is done for the good of the community and everything disappears after strange windfalls of profits into private hands. The confrontation in space becomes inevitable if a person no longer can walk freely through a town but is forced everywhere to make detours due to walls having gone up around private buildings with their owners claiming everything to be their own land on which anyone else will be taken as trespasser. Where once open fields allowed children to run down to the sea, there is now not only a wall and high gate, but dogs behind the protective walls to keep anyone out. Forgotten is that the earth belongs to all and to no one.

In reality, private ownership and law has protected the land owners at the expense of public or collective use of the land. James Clifford in ‘Predicament of Culture’ sits in on a court case where Indians desperately try to prove their ethnicity and identity, but since they have no written papers or proofs the court does not accept their case and everything is awarded to the private owners who moved much later to that area where the Indians had lived by common decisions on how everyone was to use the land free of fences.

In the age of the Internet, common or public space has created disputes about intellectual property and ownership as much as people have grown sensitive if their private spheres have been invaded. Some feel it is already to be an offense if their e-mail address is revealed to a group of unknown people put on a list to distribute some information.

When Berlin West started to alter its disposition to use of public spaces, one of the first things was to convert the pavements into spaces for cafes where before people would put out a bench and table for all to sit and no one being charged anything in doing so. Commercialization is making money out of what people want, need and enjoy like drinking together outside their houses and apartments a coffee in the company of others. What began so innocently, has been capitalized on over and again with services added the justification why a prize has to be paid once you sit down at one of the tables put in front of the store or café. The wide sidewalks of Berlin allow that.

Much more in dispute has come the way the Potsdam Square was impounded upon by three global players including Daimler Benz who all wanted to leave their mark. One stipulation by the City of Berlin was that their private buildings must entail some public spaces so that the people are not left out altogether. Hence in the Daimler Innovation Centre people can walk in from the street and through glass walls see the staff of the company sit down in their cantine not accessible to outsiders and eat their lunches. There is no further contact possible. This fake immediacy without mediation is not very inviting but it says something how architects and designers come up with solutions when the owner is asked to comply to certain building restrictions in order to preserve the character of the specific place. In the case of the Potsdam square this was done in the form of keeping the typical street signs and laterns all streets of Berlin have as sign of an uniform costume and design. Some of these lamps can be traced back to the architect Spree who worked for Hitler and therefore adds another component to the historical layers of meaning that city has and conveys when visiting the Topology of Terror near the Walter Gropius Building.

(Holocaust Monument / areas curtailed off – Aegean seminar)

10.4 Attain non commercial meeting places

At Expo ’67 the Canadian Pavilion erected a strange building put on its head with a platform to walk around at the top. It was called ‘Katimavic’ or in Inuit language the meeting place. When looking at various human settlements, all of them had whether the boats people in the bush of Brazil and Amazon region or else folks surviving on wood cutting in the forest of Finland some kind of common round house or what became later city hall.

In Athens something happened after the events which followed the killing of Alexandros on Dec. 6th 2008. People in the district of Exarchia took over a parking lot and revamped it completely by tearing up the pavement to plant instead trees. There was created a non commercial park like setting to be used for not merely meetings or relaxations, but one corner was reserved specifically for the children. Many donated all kinds of trees, while others planted them and still others created footpaths and even stone benches with colourful mosaics. Lucky was that the owner of the plot of land did not call for the police to have the newcomers be evicted. It belonged to the Technical Chamber with many engineers and architects in favor of giving Athens some breathing space. There is generally a lack of green spaces in the city having been built up rapidly and virtually without any consistent planning.

Getting into action

A child helping the plant to grow

The children's corner

View of park with meeting hut

With new benches in place people can sit down for a chat

The images speak for themselves what it means to have instead of a commercial run parking lot or a five storey high building blocking out the sun in the streets below now a little paradise. It confirms the need for people to take matters into their own hands and thereby give space not merely for greenery but also everyone a sense they can contribute and be responsible as to what forces give shape to the urban environment. There are many now engaged and for ever searching an opportunity to come also into dialogue with the authorities of the Municipal government or of the Central Ministry. Many refer to the environmental law of the EU as something Greece has agreed to implement but which has been rarely followed up at least till now.

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