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Toward an Institution

Fittjapaviljongen (The Fittja Pavilion)

For the 14th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice we are presenting a work in progress with models, drawings, texts and speculations on our project "Toward an Institution", an on-going collaboration with Botkyrka konsthall were we are developing strategies, curating and initiating projects for the construction of a new art centre in northern Botkyrka.

Fittja is in many ways a typical example of a neighbourhood from the million-programme. It was part of the 1967 General Plan for northern Botkyrka together with the neighbourhoods of Hallunda, Alby and Norsborg. Construction started in the 1970 and in only five years housing for 38 000 residents were completed. In order to keep building costs down and as a result of the architecture ideology at the time, the design process and the methods for building methods were relying on linear systems and serial production. In Fittja the general plan as well as all individual houses were single-handedly designed by the office of Höjer & Ljungqvist and completed in only three years.

Walking around Fittja today you can see that not much have changed since the time of construction. The façade elements with exposed-aggregate concrete in marble and granite still look new, the asphalt footpaths and surfaces between the houses are worn but apart from some minor renovations still the same as when the area was built. The two things that stand out compared to photos from forty years ago is that there are much more greenery and that residents have started to alter entrances and develop their front gardens. In many ways Fittja works as a time machine, a place where a different kind of ideology is clearly readable in the environment. Compared to the current tendencies in architecture and urban design, the experience is almost shocking. The way one material completely un-articulated meets another, the asphalt spilling out into a grass surface, the lack of definition of use and the unclear borders between a series of gradually different public spaces. Much of this can clearly be traced back to the extremely short building processes and demands for efficiency over informed design decisions.

Nevertheless, there are undeniable qualities that deserve to be considered much more carefully than the mechanical and routine disregard that has coloured the way these spaces are conventionally understood. These urban spaces were constructed in a time when cities were based on the needs of its citizens, when politicians still talked about housing as a fundamental right. A city re-organized in order to minimize the negative impact of the market economy. Politicians and city officials were actively trying to counter economic segregation through rent control and large investments in housing and infrastructure. If the contemporary city more and more can be seen as an integrated extension of an over-arching marketization of society and a shift from politics to economics, then neighbourhoods like Fittja stands as physical reminders of a different society.

The abundance of weakly programmed public spaces that, rather harshly, demand to be activated rather than passively consumed. The borderline crass and straightforward choices of material makes visible the inherent violence in all architecture – the transformation from potential to various degrees of repression – in a much more immediate way than the traditional city with its obscuring historic layers. Maybe it is not that the spaces from this era are dysfunctional, but rather that they compel us to become agents for the production of the public and the common in different ways, sharing space, becoming something else than what we are?

What if the response to the built environment from late modernism instead of being either demolition or transformation, with the ultimate goal of making more of the same, would be a radical re-interpretation? What if we stop asking ourselves what we need to do to change these areas and instead ask ourselves how we can let them change us? So if we are about to build a new art institution in Fittja, how can this then be negotiated in response to the actual situation. What if we build an institution that instead of being put on top of rather is understood as being side by side? What if we could create an institutional space that needs to be interpreted, re-interpreted, and negotiated and to be acted upon by staff and audience alike? Institutional spaces were we are unable to rely on preset instructions for behaviour as in the traditional art centre or museum, an art institution based on the dream of a better society and on the possibilities that we could become better as humans, more decent in relation to each other.

This project is supported by IASPIS