“Architecture is too important to be left to architects” (De Carlo, 1970/2005, p13.) Architecture is omnipresent, the history of architecture is intertwined with that of human, political and cultural evolution. But our lives are played out in an urban fabric largely beyond our control.
In a small area of the old town of Vilnius, an area of the city that had been ravaged by war and soviet occupation and largely left unrepaired is the Republic of Uzupis. An area made up largely of artists, it declared its independence from the rest of the city and established its own community identity, a constitution, and took control of its own spaces.
“The architect is enshrined in law but architecture has no legal protection. Architects obviously see this as a contradiction, but it merely recognises that architecture is much more than just the work of architects” (Hill, 1998 p34.) It is not nearly enough that architects should work towards participation in architecture, in many ways occupiers already participate, but not in the ways that we presently understand architecture. Fundamentally our understanding of what architecture can be must change. To work purely, within the confines of the neoliberal agenda, is tantamount to complicity in its acts, its prejudices and its injustices.
The agency of design and production must instead be distributed; the means of production democratised and our understanding of the process revaluated. Why should the process of architecture end? When is a building complete; when the occupiers move in or when they move out and after they’ve put up and torn down their shelves? I seek not to diminish professionalism or artistry; rather facilitate the making and actioning of claims within the immediate urban fabric, to expand the field(s) of architecture into work that at present is left incomplete or unseen.
We must “make claims” (Udall, 2010) to act upon the spaces in our cities, these claims may be considered, legitimate or even provocation. As such, I claim the space of Norton Hammer as a republic, that the spaces left behind by developers be occupied and developed by the actors of Norton Hammer. Historically, especially in the 1980s, Sheffield has been a radical city, unafraid to stand in opposition to national politics and general consensus, earning it the nickname “the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire”, through localisation, Sheffield can once again be radical and help to redefine the nature of architecture within Great Britain.
Uzupis’ constitution is written in 23 languages on this street through the state.
De Carlo, G. (2005). Architecture’s public. (B. Zucchi, Trans.) In P. Blundell-Jones, D. Petrescu & J. Till (Eds.), Architecture and participation (pp3-22). Oxon: Taylor & Francis. (Original work published in 1970)
Hill, J. (1998.) The illegal architect. London: Black Dog
Udall, J. (2010). Opposing practises: making claims to the ‘works’ in a post-industrial northern English city. In D. Petrescu, C. Petcou & N. Awan (Eds.), Trans-local-act cultural practices within and across. Paris: aaa/peprav.
Both photographs taken by the author (Halton, 2017).