Space experience or experience in space?


The spaces of our cities, together with their spatial characteristics, are stolen by the large surface-area commercialunits or closed buildings created in the middle of vast asphalt wastelands. They privatize or from a different point of view monopolize the spatial configurations of the city together with the agora type, or encounter-oriented, public spaces that have evolved through history and which are the essence of urbanity.
Privatization is not even the proper word, for what happens to these spaces. The public spaces formerly having a far-reaching degree of freedom are manipulated, and put to be at service of a well definable goal: consumption. They are incorporated in the interior of buildings and are converted into spaces of adventure.
We are talking about the spaces that were formerly between the building masses, and were given sense by the transitory spaces, at the common edges of the inner and the public outer realm. As soon as these meaningful spaces with character get into the interior of a big building or a thematic park, the space in between the buildings becomes empty and will become a wasteland of left-over spaces.
A spatial realm of the industrial cities of the socialist era constructed with the application of the modernist urban planning principles stands for a special problem. The spatial environment of these estate type developments has already become filled with emptiness before the era of the global capitalism, to explain with a confusing metaphor the phenomena of creating void through the misinterpretation of flowing space.
Planners and politicians, who want to create urbanity in the centre of Ajka, have to face huge difficulties when dealing with the post-socialist world accompanied by current urban development trends of public spaces stolen by the out-of-town shopping centres. They have to deal with the sucking effect of the outskirts and with the heritage of the modernist urban planning full of emptiness. How can the main question addressed by the Europan theme be answered in such circumstances? This is the biggest challenge of the Hungarian site, the city centre of Ajka.
The reinterpretation of urban spaces is a world or European scaled challenge. In the case of European cities it is a common risk that the spaces of the new isolated malls or thematic parks providing different forms of extremely intense experiences overcome the urban spatial experience that is provided by the encounter-oriented public spaces. This is a danger from two aspects. The first, more obvious, risk is the privatization or rather manipulation of space by the shopping centres or malls. The other, not so obvious, danger is the process in which the cities, traditional urban centres become similar to these commercial centres, with the application of the spatial organization principles of the malls in traditional city centre areas.
Inner city pedestrian streets, water-front regenerations, and even cultural quarters or museum extensions are copying the spatial organization principles of these commercial centres. It seems that predictable and controlled spaces will overcome spontaneity and freedom.
Urbanity and the collective urban space of the city have to be regenerated at the centre of Ajka in this situation. We have to create something that we know better what it cannot be, than what it should be. For this experimentation, the successful Europan 10 competition of Ajka will hopefully provide considerable help!
Let it be so!

/This article can be read in issue No.17/

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