Performative Interventions In Public Space: Moments of Urban Transformation in Athens

Sakellariou, Angeliki 2022. Performative Interventions In Public Space: Moments of Urban Transformation in Athens. PhD thesis University of Westminster Architecture and Cities

TitlePerformative Interventions In Public Space: Moments of Urban Transformation in Athens
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsSakellariou, Angeliki

This research by design is concerned with forming a critique of the temporary uses of public space by socio-cultural activists in Athens, Greece, through the development of notational drawings and filmic experiments. The aim is to propose a method to sustain and construct conditions for temporary transformations in selected locations within the urban context of Athens by exploring the symbiosis of corporeal movement and physical space.

It initially draws attention to the political, economic and social drivers that led to the increased presence of performative activists in public space from the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008. For the purpose of this research, ‘performance’ refers to a number of temporal kinaesthetic actions that attempt to critique and interrogate socio-political narratives in public space. Positioning the research at the intersections between performance practice and architectural design, elements of choreographic notation and representation are juxtaposed with theories that perceive the space of the city as a field for social engagement.

Attempting to operate despite the severe funding cuts that were forced by austerity policies as a result of the first (2010), second (2012) and third (2015) Memoranda, the range of informal solutions that emerged and their impact on public space have a central role throughout this enquiry. Multiple constraints and passivity in urban space on a global scale, combined with the transformation of an economic crisis into a spatial crisis, have led to the consideration that a traditional architectural approach alone can no longer address the reclamation of public spaces. Therefore, a conceptual and speculative practice could become a critical tool to intervene in public space and constitute a hybrid approach that responds to the increasing demand to redefine public space. An improvised notation methodology is formulated to operate as a representational form of “language” that can record selected events and act as a tool by which ephemeral actions, engraved through performance into public space, can be captured. This process and its outcomes are initially demonstrated in filmic experiments which investigate the performative events and form the basis for further speculative propositions. The aim is to indicate both the relationship between layers of the notational mapping of space with temporary movement dynamics, and the extent to which this hybrid tool can generate new urban scenarios and complement architectural drawing. The speculative experimentation therefore tests how the interpretation of the ephemeral as an embodied experience can determine and impose elements of design to consolidate a new potential tool for architecture, urban design and urban activism.

During the course of this research, the performativity of citizens in public space was observed, spanning two significant types of crisis. The first was a financial crisis and harsh austerity specific to Greece since 2009, which accentuated public space as a place of solidarity, but also of decay where the effects of economic bankruptcy were largely manifested both spatially and socially. The second was the global crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited sociability and deprived people of a vast range of social activities; from education, health and culture to all forms of economic activity. But it also opened the dialogue for new possibilities in the design of public spaces. Following these reflections, the thesis primarily highlights the complexity and instability of public space, while the speculative experiments and notational tool proposed reflect on contemporary social actions, looking beyond the obvious and what is there. The drawing and notational process aims to become a hybrid tool that has the capacity to shape socio-spatial programmes and disrupt the formality of space by freeing it from constraints, showing what cannot be otherwise seen. Ultimately, through this process, traditional architectural drawings are addressed in terms of their ability to adapt and to reflect the discussed complex social transformations discussed above in spatial terms.

File Access Level
Open (open metadata and files)
PublisherUniversity of Westminster
Publication dates
PublishedApr 2022
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

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