Tactics in the Superquadras of Brasilia
by Wendy Andringa
“The space of the tactic is the space of the other.” –Michel de Certeau
The urban landscape is a place where the inhabitants of a city mediate spatial boundaries and systems everyday. Particularly when it was designed with the intention of redefining public/private relationships. Consider Brasília, conceived on the drawing board almost 50 years ago by a small group of architects and planners in Brazil; a city that makes no bones about demonstrating its social agenda through strict design and regulation. Its designers, who were influenced by a particular strain of modernism touted by CIAM (Congrés Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne), founded the city on ideals of creating a new sociability that would benefit public over private interest. Using design strategies of standardization, uniform distribution of private space, and the use of pilotis (pillars) to lift private space (apartments) above the public space (the ground), Brasília would satisfy the needs of the collective interest by equally providing each individual with the basic necessities.
In everyday practice, the ways by which people intervene in urban spaces (transgress, modify, appropriate) become ways of mediating between ideology and individual desire. In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel De Certeau recognizes everyday practices as operations that work within a system of constraints. His goal is “to locate the practices that are foreign to the “geometrical” or “geographical” space of visual, panoptic, or theoretical constructions.” With urban space, tactics find opportunity to adjust spatial structures and boundaries; by modifying urban space they mediate the dominant structure of the city.
It was a fascination with the urban design of Brasília, which was unlike anything that I had known, as well as a curiosity in tactics of adapting urban space that took me to Brasília in the fall of 2003. I was interested in the details and anecdotes that comprise everyday practice and tactics in a super-planned city like Brasília. The research project focused on public-private boundaries in the superquadras (the residential sector) because they function as a type of litmus test of sociability, and I intended to make a connection between what I might find in Brasília and the larger theoretical framework behind the study. I was interested in the ways that individual desire is expressed spatially in an urban context, as well as how it might create behavior that is a remedy to the daily compromises that city-dwellers make while living among pre-determined public-private boundaries.
The project had two separate phases. The first phase was the field research in Brasília, where I spent six months collecting data in the superquadras. The data collection employed multiple methods including observation, photography, mapping, interviewing, a questionnaire, and interventions that would test public/private boundaries. The second phase was the analysis and synthesis of the research findings. With the results, I developed intervention proposals that, if implemented, would actually test or amplify the findings of the field research. By intervening into the processes that I was witnessing in my field research, I could activate and test them.
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