Project Sofuyer

WHAT?

Project Sofuyer is a project that aims to install gazebo-like simple and modifiable structures on grey-areas in the urban and not-so-urban settings in various spots around Turkey, where people from dispersed or uprooted communities currently live. The structures will serve as common space – space that serves nothing but side-by-side presence of individuals – in areas where the possibility of commonality seems on the brink of extinction. 

The project is based around the sofuyer: a model designed to reflect the architectural archetype of a common space proper. Sofuyer is a structure made up of two layers: a layer of durable construction material that can be disassembled at any time depending on external conditions, and a layer made up of the grapevine plant that is intended to remain behind after the durable material is removed. The grapevine, a plant that is widely and traditionally used in the region as shelter over areas designed for common pastime, is hoped to serve as a sign that the projected spaces are intended for common use. 

The structures will be installed in three locations that already have a high turnout of regular visitors, ideally remaining for three months in each of these locations. The projected model of structure will be built with wooden beams, with the intertwinement technique that allows participatory assembly and occasional structural modification. 


WHY?

Something is coming at us, coming over here, into the very spaces where we live.

For some of us it is already “here” – it has invaded the “here”, transformed all the possibilities for “here” into images of itself. Our neighborhoods, the streets where we were born and where we lived, the doorsteps and corners where we met with the others who made up our living community; these were all reduced to rubble through very simple, unquestioning acts; perpetrated at times by legal, at times by extra-legal machines of destruction. The intricate urban geographies that we had built for ourselves through the labor of years have been turned into an undistinguished mountain of debris. Grocery shops, beauty parlors, gamblers’ cafés, balconies and gazebos now lie within this mass of debris – alongside, it is hoped, with the lives and memories that they used to harbor. 

For some of us it is not “here” yet, but we can see it arrive in bits and pieces, moment by moment. The closure of a little bit of coastal land here and there will bring an end to some age-old spots where you had your afternoon coffee chatting with strangers; the demolishment of a small crossroads and its replacement by a cement underpass means that the shops placed around that crossroads are never more. The increasing securitization of public areas entails that one must have a valid reason to be on the street – such as work, or consumption, or being on transit from one non-public spot to another. These seemingly separate interventions on the urban geography converge on one axis: they all serve to get rid of the commonly-employable – the properly common – space. The urban geography is redesigned so that it serves well-delineated purposes: nothing is supposed to go to waste, nothing is left to chance. 

But the commons serve nothing but the commons: they are not meant to be lucrative, not meant to be secure, not even meant to be predictable. The common space is where things are thrown together to see what will come out of that togetherness, it is where we go to see what will come out of “us”. In a world where everything is meant to serve something else, the common space is a waste in the Bataillesque sense: it serves no logic, it is where the unthought-of can happen, it is the realm where resources are not mobilized for production of other resources but for the production of the “supreme”, the “sovereign”, the meaningless that serves to pinpoint all meaning. And it is no coincidence that the order of the day – which seeks to mark itself as the sole supreme and sovereign, with its strongmen leaders, wars against “evil” and the occasional jihad – looks for the annihilation of precisely this kind of space. 

Behind the assault on the common space lies a logic of power, which also heralds a model of “us”. What this logic offers (surely, only to those who are deemed to have enough value to be offered anything at all) is a new urban geography: clean and sterile, pre-planned and neatly divided into cubicles for each social unit. There is no need for commons, as there are only individuals and their units – the family, the couple, the company, the store, the private automobile, the room. Except for the private connection of business and consumption or the intimate connection of the family, the only channels through which these units are connected are the channels that connect them to the power center. “Units” are not meant to face each other, they are only meant to face the big other. Commonality has come to be redefined as an existence where “units” share an existence insofar as they are simultaneously facing the big other, where they are connected to each other only through their connections with a distant (even imaginary) center.

This is the situation which Project Sofuyer takes as its given condition, and against which it tries to intervene. 

HOW?

structural archetype

The Project Sofuyer aims to “bring back the common space” through the repeated installation of a replicable and modifiable “structural archetype” on different spots in various urban and quasi-urban geographies.

It started out by realizing the situation described above, and discussing the idea of what a common space should be/feel like. For a common space might be anything: a public restroom, a shopping mall or a doctor’s clinic are also common spaces – but what we seek is a common space in-itself and for-itself. Common space in-itself and for-itself (II-FI) is the common space that serves, before all else, its own presence and its own interests as common space. It is the kind of space that serves, and is the kernel of, commonality that goes beyond mere inter-personality. It does not serve interests or ends that are intimate or private. In a common space people might meet each other and decide to start a family together, they might meet each other and decide to do business together; but for the common space II-FI these are merely by-products. For it is the spot where plurality happens without a cause and with no specific purpose. This is not to say that a common space II-FI is always pluralistic – it may just as well be the seat of discrimination, exclusion, even outright fascism – but it always entails a plurality of possibilities, and as long as it has the claim of being a common space it will keep on falling back upon these possibilities.

The notion of a common space II-FI is not exactly an abstraction. It is rather a model – a very concrete model applied to the human landscape – that keeps on repeating itself across historical eras and geographical regions; never perfectly fitting its ideal of all-inclusion and pure commonality, but always making attempts at the ideal. It can be conceived as an archetype in the Jungian sense – a universal pattern as old as the communal existence of the humankind, in which elements of the collective (un)conscious come to be crystallized.

Sofuyer bases itself on what is thought to be the architectural archetype of a common space in-itself and for-itself. That includes: 

– A delineated physical space that covers a limited part of the area where a plurality of human beings spend their lives – located on a spot that is within their range.

– Freedom of entering into, and exiting from, this delineated space. 

– A physical design that ensures that people who are present inside the space are able to interact, to perceive and to communicate with all of the other people who are present inside the space – a round structure where people are positioned facing each other.

– A structural design that ensures that the people within the space are able to immediately perceive the area that lies beyond the borders of the space; are able to interact with this area beyond, and are able to modify the space in such a way to extend or retract these borders. 

– The center of the space being differentiated from the area that surrounds the center.

Sofuyer claims to replicate this archetypical structure of a common space in-itself and for-itself wherever it goes. Temporarily located on grey areas in urban and quasi-urban settings, it tries to revive the kind of space that is systematically being destroyed – a place where no flow of cash is expected, a place where no type of labor is expected, a place where people go just to stand or to sit, doing nothing but seeing others and being seen by them.

the nomad-mode

Sofuyer goes – the space that Sofuyer delineates is one that is defined by its mobility, by the possibility of its disassemblage, by the fact that it is temporary and that it will leave at some point to re-install itself elsewhere. It may leave now if its conditions for existing in-itself and for-itself are not ensured – its nomadity is a guarantee for its autonomy. 

The erosion of common spaces II-FI and the territorialization of human landscape go hand in hand. A certain piece of land is either private, or it belongs to a so-called public entity – the public not as in common, but as in government: karakamu. Autonomy is categorically made impossible by making sure that no piece of territory is left where the rules of commons can reign. If power is enacted upon territory, those who are not willing to assimilate need to be able to escape from territory. This is why Sofuyer is a nomadic space. The nomad arrives, it looks around and finds for itself a spot where it can stay for a while. The spot does not need to be perfect, for the nomad does not stay forever – it stays for as long as the resources of the area suffice to feed it, for as long as there are no lords to come by and demand servitude – in contrast with the permanent structures of the karakamu that intend to remain forever, and thus remain forever indebted to techniques of governing to secure this permanence. Sofuyer, as common space II-FI that is nomad for the sake of its autonomy, will stay on as long as there are people who willingly come and use it as common space II-FI. It will stay on as long as it is free of lords, guardians and overseers who will ask for its submission to the rules of the territory. It will leave the moment these conditions are not secured. 

These exigencies demand that Project Sofuyer follow some strict rules of conduct. The sofuyer spaces will be constructed only in the style of guerilla architecture – in the same vein with a gecekondu, construction will take place in a very short period of time with the help of people who are already located in the area. They will always be constructed on grey-areas in urban and quasi-urban settings: on land that is not actively controlled and supervised by the entity that is though-of as its owner, or on land whose ownership is disputed. Sofuyer spaces will always be constructed on spots where there is already a high turnout of regular visitors. On crossroads, on the green quadrants between around highways which serve as passage for pedestrians, in neighborhoods where people are in need for a spot to just sit and chill. It will never go somewhere and invite people over – it will settle where the people already are, for people are the resource on which it exists. One last exigency is demanded by the fact that Sofuyer is a project of performance – communal and architectural. It will always be installed in settings where its presence as common-space II-FI will make sense: it will be installed on settings where common space is endangered or extinct, thus acting as intruder/musallat on other spaces to emphasize the contradiction.

asma, the part that remains

But Sofuyer will not only be nomadic: while it moves on from one place to the other it will always leave something behind, a mark that remains to hint that  something was present here once. This will be possible by the two-layer structure of the Sofuyer: on top of the structure that will be disassembled and leave when its time is up (or because local conditions threaten its existence as common space II-FI and require its escape) there will be another layer, a living one that will grow on the structure that is supposed to leave. This will be the asma (the grapevine, a.k.a. vitis vinifera) that will be planted on top of each sofuyer. The asma will help render the sofuyer a usable space – on which more explanations will be given below – and it will also grow on the structure to keep it grounded. When the sofuyer is about to leave, the parts on which the plant has grown will be left behind to the care of those who remain in the area – the possibility of a continuation, the possibility of the space being revived by those who are here for some more time to come.

What makes a space is neither its architecture nor the material provisions it provides – we are only too aware, that what makes anything is the function/meaning that humans attribute to it. Therefore the critical component that will make Sofuyer function as common space II-FI will be the use that humans make out of it as common space II-FI, that something about it gives out the message that this space undoubtedly is a space that is intended for use as common-space. 

This is where the asma comes in. Around this geography – the borders of which we don’t know lie where – the grapevine has traditionally served as membrane to cover over a certain area designated for communal pastime. On many streets, on porches of traditional building blocks, outside of modern building blocks, in neighborhoods rich and poor, one can see small areas on which hang the grapevine. When a certain area is covered with the grapevine, this clearly gives the message – presumably to all those who have spent time in this geography – that this is an area intended for “just sitting”, enjoying the shadow and the shelter. The grapevine will furnish the sofuyer with the quality of a common-space for the grapevine is, traditionally, a sign for this. It is with the signifier quality of the grapevine the the sofuyer will not be an alien structure which will have to be advertised and announced as a common space: the asma is expected to do this by itself, with its very presence there, by bringing in past memories. 

PRACTICALITIES

Although Project Sofuyer can be continued indefinitely, for the launching phase it is intended to last for nine months, during which it will visit three spots. The first stop of Sofuyer will be at a spot within the urban zone of Amed, probably in the Bağlar district which is greatly affected by, and known to host people uprooted during the recent war in the region. The second spot for a sofuyer installment will be found in Central Anatolia at a human landscape that is under the assault of de-commonalization and which hosts uprooted or fragmented populations. Possible spots are Dersim, Denizli, Hacıbektaş or Manisa – though other options can be discussed. The last stop of the launch phase will be in Istanbul, which – especially in its poorer suburbs – is the seat par excellence of the situation of de-commonalization described above.

Before sofuyer moves in to install itself on a certain area, an adequate spot will be decided upon by the creators of the project in coordination with people and organizations who are known to be familiar with the area in question. These people and agents will be chosen among community workers, art and cultural associations and activists. 

The main material used for construction of the sofuyer is wooden beams, which will be assembled using the intertwinement technique. The assembled structure will then be embedded in the ground. All of the material that will be used for the construction of the sofuyer will be carefully detailed by the project team and prepared by producers located in the vicinity of the projected sofuyer structure. The electrical system that will be needed for lighting will be hidden within the structure. The proposed technique for construction is one that resembles the construction of toy-blocks; ensuring that everyone, including those without a prior knowledge or expertise regarding construction works, will be able to participate.  

Before and during the construction of sofuyer, the project team will be in touch with people living in or passing from the area when and where they need assistance – therefore the structure will be constructed with the people who are intended to use it. The construction process will be carried out in a common way as much as possible – making sure that the space becomes at the embryo stage, and also that the people who will be using it may intervene in transforming it in ways that will make it more useful for that specific setting. 

We do not intend to create a schedule of activities that will be carried out in sofuyer. At least one person who is put in charge by the project team will remain in the space all the time during the first week and from time to time in the following weeks; to act as host and to watch out against possible assaults by governmental and non-governmental forces.

The type of the grapevine that grows fastest still takes at least 3 months to cover the intended area – in the optimal season and the right climate conditions. This introduces both a temporal and a seasonal aspect into Project Sofuyer that are not quite suitable with the needs of nomadity in the urban setting; therefore the amount of grapevine-layers that will be needed (for the launch phase, only 3) will be developed elsewhere and carried to the spot during installation. Sofuyer is supposed to leave each spot after three months – but the part of the structure that carries the grapevine will be left behind. What becomes of these remains – which will still be in the shape of a durable “gazebo” is to be decided upon by the people who use the space. 

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