Saturday, October 8, 2011

international design workshop

Saint Petersburg is an “extreme city”: a city conceived in a delta; a territory in which the consequences of climate change will be also extreme, together which the extreme climatic conditions.
The 20th century, a century of economic globalisation and technological progress gave rise to the 21th century as the age of the city, when for the first time in history more then half of the earth's population was to live and work in urban areas. The diverse and complex challenges of contemporary society at this point in time are more often than ever associated with the process of urbanisation, making the study of urban process crucial and the concept of the city a principal in¬tellectual strategy in the visualising of the future of civilisation. The city became a condensation, a microcosm of the essence of human kind, exposing its fundamental problems on the one hand and offering unprecedented opportunities on the other.

The principle intention of the workshop is to situate the problematic of post-socialist Saint- Petersburg within the above context in the age of climate change and in an attempt to conceptualise an idea of Greater Saint-Petersburg as an entity that is both integrated and yet distinct within the wider European urban process.

Nowadays Saint-Petersburg is undergoing an intricate and to a large extent uncontrolled process of transformation from its socialist past to the capitalist future. This process, besides the opportunities it has to offer, has generated a number of inevitable challenges both at the level of urban environment, of ecological matters and of urban consciousness.

The structured and efficient, yet totally artificial urban system that the city has inherited from its imperial and soviet past, once exposed to the capitalist mode of production, immediately revealed contradictions existing between the two systems. The contemporary city nowadays faces problems ranging from the deterioration of urban infrastructure, ecological degradation and scarcity of public transportation to the issues of urban sprawl, preservation of cultural heritage, flooding risks and budget deficit, to name but a few. These problems, however, when addressed by the subjects of urban process, are considered in isolation, which results in the misconception of their nature and in the general failure to strategise an approach to the city as a coherent whole.

Any element of urban process is intrinsically linked to all others, resulting in a unique and multifaceted reality that is conceived of as the city. A particular city is realised through the sets of its particular elements to the extent that these elements are determined by the specificities of the city. Major cities are considered to be attractors for particular global processes and trends, reproducing and representing in their limited urban scale global dynamics along with its moments of development or decline. Similarly, urban systems respond to the sets of their own elements - attraction points that articulate certain urban processes; while the idea of a particular city becomes an attractor for the condensation of particular sets of elements that produce subsequent urban dynamics.

Located on the eastern edge of Europe, Saint-Petersburg had played the role of such an idiosyncratic attractor in the history of the 20th century, revealing tendencies and trends of European thought and finally organising them into the general idea of the century manifested in the revolution of 1917. The 21st century is marked by its own sets of processes and possible scenarios of the future, offering concepts of post-industrial society, sustainability, interdisciplinary thinking and many others. In the meantime, the contemporary condition of Saint-Petersburg is defined to a major extent by its post-socialist struggle for the identification of the self and the inability of the urban community to conceptualise the city as a single whole, making degradation of urban environment inevitable and pursuit of a future for the city futile.

The problematic of Saint-Petersburg at this stage narrows down to the question of the defining idea of that city in the contemporary space of opportunities or the role of that city in the context of possible futures for the 21st century.
Can the city still offer a perspective on the contemporary world and continue to be its critical geopolitical site where moments of present and real are capable of organising themselves into a distinct idea of place offering alternative scenarios to those popular models promoted by the global community? What metropolitan form can better deal with the new environmental risks in the extreme conditions of Saint-Petersburg?