Category Archives: In/formality

Birzha

“Birzhastation investigates neo-liberal ideologies of architectural transparency in the post-socialist world (and in the global “wild capitalist” reality of the 21st century). Named in a fiddly, imaginative cocktail of Georgian, Russian and English, Birzhastation provides an archi-ethnographic exploration of the possibilities and pitfalls of fine ideas (transparency, openness, horizontality, togetherness, the commonness) in a time of an ideological crisis, amid a global rise of the new types of militarized police regimes.
Birzhastation is a place of gathering, commonness, and belonging; a place for the acceptance and sharing of information. This temporary installation is located on the former Academe-city territory and merges with the contextual importance of the place. The project is intended to encourage the rest of the world to learn about Tbilisi’s political-aesthetic experience.
The former Academe-city, in turn, is a place that well reflects the failures as well as success and afterlives of both Soviet (socialist) and post-Soviet (neoliberal) systems. This is a place of the collapse of vertical ideologies. Since the 1990s, under the extreme
conditions of Wild Capitalism, this chaotically developed area in itself combines the elements of 1930s Stalinist Soviet architecture, the partially realized idea of the Academe-city itself (1960s and 1970s architecture), and the remains of some slums and barracks.
In the framework of TAB, Birzhastation will host an active program of discussions, debates, and libations (physically and online) to create a zone of openness, publicness, intimacy, perversion, wildness, commonality, and collective social condensation, inspired by the Georgian practice of Birzha. Birzhastation aspires to function as a zone of “real” commonness, standing in opposition to the pseudo-transparency of neoliberal architecture in the post–socialist world. The online and physical space of Birzhastation will also be open to local interventions.”

 

Birzhastation is PiraMMMida’s Georgian operation, realised within the framework of Tab 2020: The Tbilisi Biennale of Architecture 

Birzhastation Program

Tbilisi Architecture Biennial – Birzhastation –   Talk by Evgenya Zakharova

Between the public and the private: Socialism, capitalism and street socialisation in Georgia  Text by Costanza Curro

A Display of Informal Architecture

A Display of Informal Architecture: New Documentary on the Ukrainian Makeshift Balconies Phenomenon

Taking advantage of a lack of governmental regulations, many Ukrainians turn to their balconies to compensate for the shortage of space in prefab-Soviet housing, rebuilding them in a variety of shapes and sizes. The short documentary Enter Through The Balcony explores this phenomenon in Ukrainian architecture, revealing a compelling image of post-Soviet history through local everyday life and culture.

In addition to showcasing a unique attitude towards private versus public space, the makeshift balconies phenomenon is also a symptom of the dramatic pendulum swing from mass uniformity and anonymity, to freedom of expression and ownership of private space, which shaped attitudes and architectures across the former Eastern bloc after 1991.

Across Central and Eastern Europe, the socialist political regime manifested itself architecturally through mass standardization, expansive collective housing estates, and a specific architectural expression, defined today as socialist modernism. The informal architecture that sparked around this type of architecture in Ukraine (as well as elsewhere) reflects the complicated relationship of the individuals with this architectural heritage, a symbol of an equally convoluted past. The Ukrainian makeshift balconies phenomenon also highlights the shortages of the housing schemes developed in the period between 1955 and 1991.

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Informality and Social Embeddedness in Marshrutak Transport

Theorising informality and social embeddedness for the study of informal transport. Lessons from the marshrutka mobility phenomenon

 

By LelaRekhviashvili and WladimirSgibnev

Journal of Transport Geography

15 January 2019

Abstract

“This paper builds upon recent post-structuralist writings on informal economic practices, using most importantly a Polanyian institutionalist framework, to discuss formal/informal and market/non-market practices in the transport sector. The article proposes a critical reading of the literary canon of informal transport, which largely assumes a naturalness and omnipresence of markets. We illustrate how reductionist definitions of informal transport marginalise analytically important empirical detail, and furthermore, lead to misleading theoretical conclusions. In contrast, we analytically de-couple informality and markets, showing that formal and informal economic practices can be embedded in diverse social-cultural institutions. Such a theoretical framework allows for consistent evaluation and empirical examination of transport options, as substantiated by evidence from the marshrutka mobility phenomenon in Bishkek and Tbilisi. We observe marketisation, dis- or re-embedding, formalisation and informalisation as dynamic, inter-dependent and conflictual processes. On these grounds, the article argues for a critical re-appraisal of other forms of informal transport, old and emerging, both in the Global South and the Global North.”

Keywords

Informality
Social embeddedness
Marshrutka
Marketisation
Polanyi
Ride-sharing

 

Marshrutka Stories A Visual Archive

The Marshrutka Project
Marshrutka Stories A Visual Archive

“It is hard to study marshrutkas. ey are elusive; there are no clear criteria on what a marshrutka is or on what a marshrutka is not. They differ by color, size, and shape. They differ in whom they serve, who drives them, who owns them, who governs them. They differ in the ways they operate, the way routes are laid out, the way they are standardised. Rules of behaviour in a marshrutka also dier. They are quietly codified, not easy to comprehend, requiring familiarity and insiders’ knowledge. ey change, adjust, and adapt quickly. ey shrink and expand, they occupy public space but at points become invisible. ey simultaneously enable and confront. ey signify diverse, and at points contradictory, things for different people at different times. ey have been markers of the decay of Soviet infrastructure and of a Soviet vision of modernity. They have also signfied a new entrepreneurial spirit of capitalist modernity, of flexibility, freedom of choice, and the power of consumer demand. They have been demonized for being pre-modern, unruly, overcrowded and dangerous, while simultaneously representing locally divergent forms of solidarity, sociability, reciprocity, and sharing.”

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Ideologies and Informality in Urban Infrastructure

Ideologies and Informality in Urban Infrastructure:
The Case of Housing in Soviet and Post-Soviet Baku
Sascha Roth

Introduction
Since the early 2000s, the Azerbaijani state has made enormous efforts to turn its capital Baku into a showcase of modernization in urban infrastructure, housing and architecture. The authoritarian government of the oil-rich country has forged large infrastructural projects, such as renovating the old city, the seaside boulevard, parks and metro stations, as well as constructing luxurious hotels and elite housing estates in the context of Baku hosting international mega events like the ‘Eurovision Song Contest’ (2012), the ‘European Olympic Games’ (2015) or the ‘Formula One Grand Prix of Europe’ (2016). Preparations for these events were accompanied by largescale demolition of pre-Soviet neighbourhoods, which is often legitimized by their deficient infrastructure. Many such neighbourhoods were replaced by new infrastructural model sites such as the Flame Towers1 or park areas in the central districts. In this context, infrastructure constitutes a key concept in public discourse.

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In/formal architecture and Tbilisi

In the early 1990s, a nationalist paramilitary group called the Mkhedrioni stripped Tbilisi of its central heating infrastructure, pipes and all, and sold it illicitly in Turkey. To this day, most buildings are heated by private boilers. At the same time, tens of thousands of internally displaced people (or IDPs) were pouring into the capital, fleeing civil war in separatist Abkhazia, occupying whatever empty buildings they could find. Many are still in place. Then there was the 2002 earthquake that destroyed or destabilised much of the Old Town. Many formerly Soviet cities suffered in the years immediately after the collapse of the Union, but Tbilisi got a rougher deal than most.

What purpose does an architecture biennial serve in a city like this? The high-end example of self-important institutions like Venice won’t cut it here. Tbilisi is a relatively small city and its architectural scene is close-knit, but its problems are profound, and they need intellectual as well as practical solutions. The inaugural Tbilisi Architecture Biennial (TAB), held in October and sponsored in part by Creative Europe, attempted to offer some. The artistic directors — Tinatin Gurgenidze, Gigi Shukakidze, Otar Nemsadze, and Natia Kalandarishvili — decided to make “informality” the central theme of the event, with the title Buildings Are Not Enoughreinforcing that TAB was as much about ideas as the built environment.

Informality has been a buzzword in architecture for years now, but what took place in Tbilisi was not an exercise in taste-making. The city’s appearance is defined by a million private modifications and extensions, responses to natural disasters, economic hardships, and population flux. Nowhere is this more evident than in Gldani, the Soviet suburb where the Biennial was based. Here, the uniform, prefab nature of the rows of apartment blocks is constantly and conspicuously disrupted by informal interventions: balconies bricked in against the cold, heating pipes knocked through walls, endless garages erected out of scrap metal.

Informal Governance in Urban Spaces

Abel Polese, Lela Rekhviashvili, Jeremy Morris

 

Abstract

Drawing on evidence from the competition for public spaces between street vendors and the authorities in Georgia our contribution through this article is two-fold. First, we provide empirical evidence showing the diverse role of informality in a series of settings, and its capacity to influence decision and policy making. Second, we explore the relationship between informality and power (and in particular the policy-making process) to go beyond a legality-illegality binary. Our goal is to show the influence that informality has on governance at the local but also national level. In particular, by mapping the various sources and expressions of power, informality is shown and conceptualized as a space where formal institutions and citizens (or informal institutions) compete for power, where certain aspects and mechanisms that regulate public life in a given area are played out. The importance of such a space of informal negotiation is shown to be vital in contexts where none of the two ideal types of social responses to policy problems – exit or voice options- are available.

Full Text:

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Public Space and Informal Mechanisms in Beirut

Life in a Street: How Informal Mechanisms Govern Scarce Public Spaces in Nabaa, Beirut


By Petra Samaha

Published in Jadaliyya

[Negotiations and invisible tactics: bargaining over space as well as prices. Image by Petra Samaha]
[Negotiations and invisible tactics: bargaining over space as well as prices. Image by Petra Samaha]

The informal mechanisms of organization in everyday public life have been at the core of concerns of many researchers and practitioners (e.g., Rukmana and Hegel in Indonesia, Mehrotra in India, and Nagati in Egypt). While examining these processes in different contexts, the focus was typically on their interplay with “formal” regulations or in relation to the private built environment. Few highlighted the significance of these informal arrangements per se and their importance in governing public shared spaces (Simone 2004 & 2009, Bayat 1998 & 2010). These mechanisms lend some sort of spatial flexibility to the street transforming it into much more than a space for circulation, but rather a holder of mixed uses, leading therefore to an altered definition of public life.

Perhaps the best known of all books addressing the topic of public life is Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities where the author described streets and their sidewalks as the main public places of a city–its most vital organs. Density, walkability, mixed uses, and human scale are described as main criteria for livable cities. Even though these concepts are usually used to define well-planned cities, they seem to also describe very well the lively streets in areas typically tagged as informal. Such vibrant streets are often the result of unplanned and complex processes that offer us many more interesting lessons when disentangled and understood.

Taking the case of Nabaa (Bourj Hammoud) I look into the ways in which the dwellers share the scarce public spaces of the neighborhood and highlight the importance of their efficient organization/management as mixed-use spaces[1]. There is a lot to learn from the informal mechanisms and practices that govern the space of the street and the sidewalk. Vibrancy in such spaces often stems from widespread economic activities and social life. However, over-crowdedness inevitably leads to conflicts whereby the better connected and the more powerful in the neighborhood’s social structure are able to make stronger claims over space and the more vulnerable (i.e., elderly, children, women, and migrants) learn to navigate their way and adapt through other self-devised alternatives.  These multiple claims might seem chaotic or unorganized. However, a detailed investigation revealed they are ruled by a set of codes that aim at anticipating, mitigating, and resolving conflicts. What and how can we learn from these complex informal mechanisms of conflict resolution and space reallocation that street users in dense informal areas deploy in their everyday life?

Nabaa is a dense low-income neighborhood located immediately at the eastern edge of Beirut’s administrative boundary and houses a large percentage of vulnerable population groups including foreign migrant workers and refugees. The area offers a unique blend of religious, national, and ethnic mixity that is vividly reflected on the neighborhood streets through banners, street signs, graffiti and stencils but also storefronts and dress codes. The streets of Nabaa are rife with commercial and economic activities either happening on the ground floors of buildings or using the space of the street/sidewalk itself. Through direct observations, mapping and interviews, I looked into the ways in which the dwellers use the spaces of the neighborhood and manage the multiple claims over the scarce shared spaces.

Given the high population density and scarce open spaces, dwellers come up with ad-hoc solutions to fulfill their daily needs and, at the same time, improve the spaces of their neighborhood (i.e., greening, open space appropriation, and waste management). The space of the sidewalk/street acquires different meanings through time since dwellers assign functions to it through their own practices. The space is hence defined by social and economic processes rather than planned top-down schemes. It becomes hard to distinguish pre-set boundaries between public and private, sidewalk and street, inside and outside… Hence, conflicts are solved through deploying complex informal mechanisms that rely on the flexibility of both time and space.  While I narrate the stories from the streets of Nabaa, I propose that the efficient, perhaps creative, management of the shared spaces of the city by the street users themselves can mitigate or even evade conflicts. The informal arrangements render the space of the street to be much more than a passage, but rather a holder of mixed uses increasing its effectiveness in responding to conflicting needs and pressing demands.

Dimensions of Space and Time

In order to understand how the multiple use and users coexist in Nabaa through space and time, I mapped the main commercial and social practices on a busy artery in Nabaa (Sis Street) while highlighting the dimensions of time and space. Hence, the patterns of use and meaning of space are in a constant shift over the course of a single day, sometimes hours.

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