Magazine article Artforum International

Wild Style

Magazine article Artforum International

Wild Style

Article excerpt

JUST WHO MAKES and unmakes our cities? The identities of urban planner and urban designer have become increasingly blurred over the past decade. If the former was traditionally about crafting policy and the latter concerned with macroscale drafting, these previously discrete practices now mean little in isolation from each other: We are witnessing a new hybrid activity across the larger discipline of urban intervention. At the forefront of this development has been STEALTH.unlimited. Comprising principals Ana Dzokic and Marc Neelen, the Serbian-Dutch practice has been quietly unraveling the axioms of architectural solipsism, challenging the stale and outdated model of top-down urban design, and keeping alive the ethics of participatory urbanism that first arose in the decade following World War II.

STEALTH does all this in an oblique manner, navigating the knots that form at the nexus of urbanist theory and practice. Best known for a series of projects in the Balkans that addressed a community and its terrain, recently riven by ethnic conflict, while embracing the muddled incongruences and wildly divergent agendas of various interest groups--from displaced minorities to development-craving government officials--the practice tackled head-on the messy business of reintegrating a severely frayed social and topographic fabric. Though conventionally trained, STEALTH's principals maintain a critical distance, both ethically and practically, from the technological enticements that so frequently tempt other urbanists (such as ambient computations, data smog, or expertly animated growth projections dutifully compiled and presented with an eye toward spectacle). And although the practice does produce visually compelling documents and graphs with each project it undertakes, STEALTH's work is largely about process, and thus belongs to an intellectual project far more delicate than simple policy analysis, because it is contingent on group consensus, yet more reliable, because it is honest about the fragmented and chaotic manner and multivalent realities of how cities develop. The practice foregrounds neither the visual emphasis of data structuring nor the facile accumulation of knowledge for its own sake. True to its name, STEALTH treads these fragile interstices as observer, activist, interloper, interlocutor, designer, and ethnographer all at once.

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This instability is best embodied by STEALTH's compulsive invocation of the word wild. The word encapsulates the practice's refusal to adapt to conventional boundaries of either theory or practice. Wild City, an early project (1999-2002) carried out in collaboration with Milica Topalovic and Ivan Kucina that examined Belgrade after the ethnic upheavals of the 1990s, compiled a visual archive of ad hoc architectural and urban evolutions, from morphological prototypes such as mushroom roofs used to mask illegal building extensions to the implementation of car trunks and hoods as improvised spaces of display and commerce. The creative use (or misuse) of scarce resources provides any number of solutions for addressing topics of urban sustainability, more often intuitively than explicitly.

Long before the current fixation on sustainability, architects working on a macroscale understood the need for citizens' collective participation as a means of creating a metropolitan context that responded organically and developmentally to the endlessly transformable characteristics of a given urban population. Whether it was Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck's insistence on the critical role of play in his Amsterdam Orphanage (1955-60) or Giancarlo de Carlo's 1972 project for a renovation of the city of Rimini, Italy, the crucial task of the collective working for the betterment of the greater number has been held for nearly half a century to be the best road to success in urban design. STEALTH, however, emphasizes the exposure of unseen authoritarian networks as a form of empowerment for the disenfranchised, through the shockingly simple means of laying bare the inner logics of urban morphologies and the undercurrents of power that dictate their growth. …

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