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Post nº4 | Why is it important to read space and give it meaning?

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

The ability to read territorial forms, as well as to understand the “updates” of the meaning of these forms, allows us to correct problems of spatial inscription of collective identity, of urban conflicts, among many other issues.

The genesis of form, or morphogenesis, is a “thickness” of meanings, which unfolds topologically. Morphogenesis allows us to access issues related to shape’s latency, such as:

1. Symbolic Forms, which allow us to access our collective identity and “heal” neighbourhoods where this function is problematic.

In the case of the Salpétrière district in Paris, we have a space previously understood morphologically as a hospital “island”, where the functions of hospice, prison and asylum for the displaced generated repulsive urban dynamics around it, which today translate into a sense of insecurity.

Architectural intervention should then understand this identity dimension, inscribed in urban forms, and consider it as an “urban symptom”.

The riverside area of Lisbon is one of the examples of how the collective memory of the Portuguese has progressively disconnected from its relationship with the river, a consequence of the disappearance of the golden age of the great discoveries of the 14th to 18th centuries and the construction of industrial structures along the banks from the Tagus River, fuelled by the ideas of progress of the Industrial Revolution. The project for the 1998 international exhibition was an opportunity to rethink the relationship between the Portuguese and their history, and their collective memory. The urban project for Expo 98 reconnected Lisbon inhabitants to their relationship with the river and served as the basis for the numerous projects developed in the decades that followed and which reconstructed this relationship with the Tagus River.

2. Sociocultural Forms, which allow us to unravel and deal with urban conflicts when they have a territorial origin at their root.

Examples of areas like Martim Moniz, in Lisbon, and that of the “les Halles” forum in Paris, were the central markets of these cities for many centuries. The construction of shopping centres in these spaces of great social and cultural intensity led to their transfiguration into places of confluence of major urban violence, especially at night. These examples show how important it is to read the space of architectural intervention and the analysis of urban conflicts, prior to the architectural project itself. Both projects were an opportunity to solve the urban problems latent in these places, and to potentially avoid the disastrous consequences that today define the areas of Martim Moniz and “les Halles”.

3. Territorial Forms allow us to read the identity dimension and conflicts inscribed in urban forms as underlying or latent dynamics in urban space, which should be looked at as symptoms of a latent dysfunction.

In this context, reading the space and reinvesting it with new meanings is a fundamental activity to successfully nurture community living.

Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum project in Bilbao is an example of a project that has given new meanings to the identity of an entire city. Bilbao was previously a post-industrial city without much interest, becoming an unavoidable city, of cultural and architectural interest, after a well thought-out urban and architectural plan.

In this sense, it is indisputable that recognizing the forms that already exist and reinvesting the spaces of meaning is a fundamental activity of any architectural and urban intervention.

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