Littorals: Crafting the Amphibious Edge
Sous le pavé, la plage.
“Under the cobblestones, the beach.”
This famous graffiti slogan which appeared throughout the streets of Paris during the events of May 1968 was able to concisely and playfully embody the social movement, where for a fleeting instant, utopian dreams and political action fused together into the joyful pleasure of living life to the fullest. The streets of the city were suddenly transformed into into a theatre of political debate and social interaction and for a brief moment, an alternative future (and alternative city) seemed possible. The beach is an interesting metaphor when thinking about our urban environment. In Paris in 1968, the ‘beach beneath the cobblestones’ referred to more than simply the layer of sand aggregate under the pavement, but was a way of challenging our perception of urban space. The ‘beach’ represented a space of freedom and possibility, as opposed to the oppression and control experienced in postwar patriarchal France. Maybe today we need to once more think about this beach hidden beneath our cities, to search for those fragments of utopia already hidden in our present.
The beach is a peculiar territory, simultaneously occupying our terrestrial world, but also a part of the liquid world below the waves. It is a littoral landscape (from Latin noun litus, litoris, meaning “shore”); a productive edge which acts as a zone of mediation between the land and sea, where organisms which generally inhabit completely different worlds are able to meet and interact. In cities fortunate enough to have a coastline beaches can also function as social littoral zones: common spaces where different groups of society who generally don’t interact are brought together in a shared space. Copacabana in Rio is a thin strip of sand in one of the most expensive post codes in South America, yet it is also equally accessible (and used) by the poorest city dwellers of the hillside favelas. Ribbersborg in Malmö plays a similar role, becoming the city’s living room during the short nordic summer, and although class divisions are not as dramatic as Brazil, it is still one of the few spaces in the city where people from different backgrounds meet and interact. The Amphibious edge of the city is a place of attraction and exchange, negotiation and mediation, a porous border open to new possibilities, constantly adapting to change. It is a space where the social is made.
Lund is an inland city and almost unique among Swedish cities in not being located near a significant body of water, but this does not necessarily mean that the city is lacking in spaces which could be interpreted as littoral landscapes. The project site could be read as one such site; A sliver of land following the railway line stretching from the rural hinterland almost to the city centre, like a thin green finger poking into the urban fabric. It is an ambiguous territory; a green space, although not rural like the surrounding countryside, nor cultivated or refined like the urban parks and gardens. It was left-over space, the unintended result of modernist planning regulations which stipulated a minimum distance between the housing estate of Klostergården to the East and the railway line. Empty space left on a plan with no determined utility which has slowly been colonised and appropriated by local residents over time. The original Tabula Rasa site is now a rich landscape, dotted with allotment gardens, sports fields, patches of forest and communal facilities including an outdoor pool and childcare centre. It is a beautiful mess; a distinctive space which has been allowed to develop somewhat organically, nurtured and appreciated by local residents with seemingly little interference from city hall - a true ‘urban commons’.
It is almost absurd to even begin to imagine here, a new city. Sure, it isn’t perfect and can certainly be improved, but there is something magical in its incompleteness and openness, a fragile potential that lies hidden beneath the surface, that could so easily be extinguished by the well intended design decisions of an architect or urban planer, whose sketchy lines on paper can so easily gain their own momentum. But the city is expanding, new housing is needed, companies need new offices and industries need new factories. A new station is also planned that will suddenly connect the area to the integrated network of the Öresund region, linking it directly with Malmö and Copenhagen, dramatically improving the public transport options of local residents but also setting in motion the mechanisms of real estate speculation which are inevitably attached to infrastructural improvements. Changes are coming, and the challenge will be to be able to accommodate urban growth without losing the unique qualities already latent in the landscape - to anchor it to that which is already existing rather than simply displacing it. Before we can even consider what to build we need to first think about Where to build (and where not to built), and more significantly ask how to build? To what extent is it possible to design, or curate, the decision making processes of urban development so that the community becomes an active agent capable of realising their own needs and desires, making the city collectively as a natural extension of the existing urban fabric.