Reading about Akay’s Urban Swings a decade ago was the first time I saw the connection between graffiti and urban design. He took concrete drills and went wild on the city just like any kid with a can of spray paint. His act of installing swings was just like regular graffiti in that it had vandalism, aggression, destruction, and creation all in one. Yet when he was done with his ‘violence’ he left something that benefited the people in the city, he left it better than when he found it. I never went to Sweden to check them out, yet I’m sure they made people stop and have a little fun. It was also probably a blast for him. I bet even the city workers who took it down were a little hesitant, kind of like taking a child’s toys away for some inane adult reason.
“Everytime something is done on the street there is a level of interaction involved. Maybe its not the interaction we hoped for or expected, but every project is an invitation to respond. Even if the response is someone taking down what has been offered up.” – Akay
That’s the same experience with architecture, especially urban design. Once the artist or architect is finished with their design and it gets built, they give up control. It’s up to the people who run across it to give it meaning. Sometimes it is not the meaning that the designer had in mind. Sometimes it grows to be completely inappropriate for the space and people that have to deal with it. Waiting for market forces or political will to change the design to a more fitting use could take forever. That’s the whole reasoning for DIY urban design. A few folks who notice the inappropriateness can go and make small edits to mitigate or fix the problem. Just like how a graffiti wall will slowly be covered up by better and better art, revisionist urban design can edit spaces and places, slowly making them more enjoyable, livable, and useful.
You can read more about Akay’s 65 swings in Stockholm and his other projects on Wooster.
Here are folks swinging in San Francisco.
Also in London.
(06/03/2010) And a brand new one from Paris.