Daily Archives: March 29, 2013

Reykjavik, Iceland: The strongest mirror [speculative apartments]

I missed it – the Otago Polytechnic press release of Thursday 21 March.

Icelandic Activist To Speak At Dunedin School Of Art
Iceland democracy activist and artist Hordur Torfason will be speaking at Otago Polytechnic’s Dunedin School of Art on Wednesday the 27th of March, as part of a series of nationwide talks on modern democracy. cont.

By chance, at morning coffee a friend mentioned the speaking event and offered a ride there. Well. Not one speaker, but two —good fortune doubled. All Dunedin residents should have downed tools, pots and pans to attend.

The two men from Iceland, Hordur Torfason and life partner Massimo Santanicchia, each delivered a session, with Santanicchia up first. They shared intriguing, calm, sensible statements about their lives and work, about the quality and countenance of human social interaction, within a gripping exposé of the capitalist drain and the peaceful revolution that occurred in their financially devastated homeland — with thoughts to urbanism, greed, discrimination, corruption, property speculation, sick governance, economic collapse, human rights, the lobby power of silence, noise and internet, and the Icelandic people’s hard-won solidarity for change.

A compelling two-hour glimpse at a nation losing and finding itself.

Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik, is the strongest of mirrors held to Dunedin’s glaring errors of recent and pending ‘big’ construction, economic blunders, and forces of business and political corruption – in turn, Dunedin reflects our nation’s wider political and economic struggles.

[Dunedin, we’re not crippled yet… but New Zealand? Blind rhetoric.]

ODT 21-12-12 screenshotProposed hotel and apartment building, Dunedin (ODT Online, 21 Dec 2012)

Derelict Reykjavik Highrises (Donncha O Caoimh 9-3-12 inphotos.org)Derelict Reykjavik highrises

While on our photowalk today we passed these buildings on the sea front. I thought they were just another apartment building until I noticed that the balconies were fenced in by planks of wood held together loosely!
Donncha O Caoimh (9 March 2012)

Originally from Perugia, Italy, Massimo Santannichia graduated from the School of Architecture in Venice in 2000 and holds an MA from the Architectural Association, School of Architecture in London, and an MSc in Urban Studies from the London School of Economics. He has been working as an architect and urban designer in Italy, the UK and Iceland. Over the last decade he has come to know Reykjavik intimately. Essentially an outsider in the tightly knit Icelandic society he has survived the downturn by moving from the firm Arkitektur to a plethora of internationally connected activity – delivering courses at the Iceland Academy of Arts since 2004 and coordinating projects and workshops with organisations such as the International Peace and Cooperation Centre and the Architectural Association.

Santanicchia’s research interests include relations between the ecological, physical, social and economical aspects of cities. He has lectured extensively on the subject of sustainable cities and small scale urbanism in Zurich, Athens, Oslo, London, Venice, Riga and Reykjavik.

Massimo Santanicchia (AA Summer School promo for July 2013)Santanicchia, second from right (AA Summer School promo for July 2013)

The Production of Space: The lesson from Reykjavik

According to Santanicchia, small cities (less than 500,000 inhabitants) host fifty-two per cent of the world’s urban population, yet they are profoundly neglected in the urban studies field. His presentation at the School of Art focused on the small city of Reykjavik (118,326 inhabitants), investigating how the planning system is trying to build a new urban strategy away from the world city model which was adopted until the banking collapse of 2008.

Reykjavik, Iceland - houses (trekearth.com) 2Reykjavik, Iceland – vernacular housing (trekearth.com)

Commodifying the view…
In particular, Santanicchia noted Reykjavik’s receipt of its first ‘tall buildings’, a crop of extraordinarily bleak apartment developments set against the vernacular lowrise, 3-4 storeyed townscape, blocking existing residential views of the coastline – through to (now dead) speculative drive-to malls and commercial buildings [‘build it and they will come’] further problematised by the profound lack of public transport and infrastructural support to the (then) ‘new phase’ of development.

Throughout the commentary, the physical and moral contradictions were purposefully illustrated by well-selected slides, quotations, and use of statistics. Santanicchia’s creative and socio-political approach to what ails, and demonstrations of how to foster community investment in sustainable environment, is the busy-work of a contemporary intellectual with a warm humanity, grounded in the discipline of practical economics working for the public good.

He and students have won grants to set ‘in place’ temporal urban interventions that sample ways forward for the local community, utilising vacant and degraded public places; demonstrating creative re-design / re-forming of the opportunities lost to the blanket of capitalist-grey asphalt – making places that create “trust” between institutions and among people.

Massimo Santanicchia, Reykjavik (project work)Reykjavik’s dislocated waterfront (‘reconnection’ project work)
[This work is very similar to that of Gapfiller in post-quake Christchurch.]

Copy of Santanicchia’s presentation slides and readings will be made available through Professor Leonie Schmidt (Head, Dunedin School of Art).

A few points he made along the way, from my notes:

● When “priority is given to economic development” …. the city becomes all about ‘building envelope’, ‘the city as a series of volumes’ (bulk and location) | “Management of the economy is not a city, is not urban planning.”

● In 2008, Iceland’s economy shrank 90%. The economy devalued by more than 100% in one week. 1000 people emigrated which kept unemployment low.

● “Big-fix” solutions don’t work in a small city.

● The DANGER of “one idea” …. “it is NOT a plurality”.

● “The WORST is what was built.” Flats and parking lots. No public transport. No sharing. 7000 apartments at Reykjavik are redundant. 2200 properties have been acquired by the banks.

● “The WORST neighbourhoods were created in the richest years.”

● The government didn’t protect the weakest. “The architecture failed because it placed itself at the service of political and economic interests with very little regard for social interests.”

● (Jane Jacobs, 1984): “The economic model doesn’t provide niches for people’s differing skills, interests and imaginations, it is not efficient.”

● (Aldo Rossi): “Building a city is a collective effort.” [empower the people]

● Post-crash, Iceland’s birthrate has increased and children are happier.

● “Trust is about participation.” Better institutions, social justice, equity and public/private relationships.

Zurich: They used 4 hot air balloons to indicate the height and bulk of a proposed tower development, prior to public submissions being received on the proposal.

[In evidence, at Dunedin, applicant Betterways Advisory said it couldn’t afford to provide a height indicator at 41 Wharf St – all the cranes were in Christchurch (wrong), and where do you get balloons from anyway, it asked…. Mr Rodgers (Betterways), we know, took his mother-in-law ballooning in Germany recently. Perhaps he could’ve made a stopover in the Mackenzie Country on his way home.]

### architecturenow.co.nz 25 Mar 2013
Massimo Santanicchia visits New Zealand
By Stephen Olsen
Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter has won high praise from Reykjavik-based architect Massimo Santanicchia for the “observable scaffolding” it is providing for an area in transition.
Santannichia knows a thing or two about making waterfront spaces more accessible from sparking a design revival at the harbour’s edge of the world’s northernmost capital last year, within the context of an award-winning programme known as the Meanwhile projects.
Santanicchia has also been drawing audiences to hear his views on the ways in which Iceland’s largest city is embracing a more human scale of urbanism in the wake of the financial crash.
Read more

Hordur Torfason followed with a punchy impassioned delivery, spoken with a run of crowd scenes and peaceful protest images repeating behind him. Describing post-crash Reykjavik as a scene of ferment and healing, Torfason took us through specific mechanisms for the peaceful revolution that has worldwide and local application – hear that, Dunedin.

Shortly, Torfason will head to workshops in Cypress. The following interview (2011) covers the gist of his lecture.

A multi-talented individual, he told his story from the age of 21 (1966), of how he grew the personal confidence and expertise (“proving talent”) to lead the people of a city and a nation to overturn the Icelandic Government and jail the bankers. He said Parliament has almost lost ‘all respect amongst all Icelanders’. Nevertheless, there’s a bill in passage to make Iceland a Safe Haven for journalists, whistleblowers, international media – protected by law.

● He maintains the role of the artist is to criticise, that criticism is a form of love: “We have to use reason, cultural roots, feelings and the precious gifts of life – our creativity”, to ensure human rights aren’t undermined by economic growth and politics.

“It’s about learning every week, every day, new sides of corruption,” he said. “Inequality is a tool for extortion, a way to maintain The System.”

● Inequality won’t be removed by conventional systems: “If you want to move a graveyard, don’t expect the inhabitants to help you.”

● “The internet has to be protected to dislodge the monster.”

● “One big party owns one big newspaper for Iceland.” According to that paper there was no crash.

The key word is AWARENESS. The silence of government was upsetting to the people; it meant the people used silence as a mirror to the government and politicians, to protest their rights. The cohesiveness and cleverness of the protest, the silent revolution, achieved 100% success. “They the media won’t tell you [the rest of the world] about it.”

● “Stick together and use the internet.” Make Plan A, B, C, D, E. Protest by peaceful revolution v Arrogance.

● Just 25 people from around the world are responsible for the crash, and one of them was the leader of Iceland’s national bank.

Hordur Torfason - blogs.publico.es (juan carlos monedero June 2011)Hordur Torfason by Juan Carlos Monedero (June 2011)

### grapevine.is August 4, 2011
You Cannot Put Rules On Love
An Interview With Hordur Torfason by Paul Fontaine

“I tell people, ‘I’m not demonstrating. I’m fighting for a better life.’ I think aloud, ask questions, seek answers. I knew there was corruption in this country. But I never thought in my wildest dreams that the banks would crash. We have been told lie after lie after lie, and people just accept them. They say ‘þetta reddast’ [‘it’ll all work out’], until it affects them personally, and then they come screaming.”

The 2008 economic collapse of Iceland would send Hordur’s life path in a whole new direction—one that would take him beyond the bounds of even his own country.
Read more

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr

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