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30: ethics and publics

Cover of On Site 30: ethics and publics. Guest editor: Thomas-Bernard Kenniff. photograph: T-B Kenniff, Barking Town Square, 2009.

Thomas-Bernard Kenniff is currently an invited professor at the École d’architecture de l’Université Laval, Québec City. His work focuses on the relationship between design, public space and dialogue.  His introduction to On Site review 30: ethics and publics begins:

Like every spoken word, every line drawn is a social act: a division, a wall, a river, a connection, a window, a bridge, perhaps all at the same time like Michel De Certeau’s spatial narrative ambiguity. Every such act is social because it constitutes a proposal to redistribute social relations in space. Doubly so because it takes place within particular sets of social circumstances, modes of communication and production: a line drawn as threshold in a design studio, another drawn as a strategic security fence between geopolitical regions. As Francis Alÿs’ The Green Line (images are in the pdf) poignantly shows, the simple act of drawing a line can be deeply political indeed. The idea is excruciating, inescapable, but in the best possible way. It forces us to take position, to take responsibility and to answer. The single most important question you can ask a design student, Kathryn Moore once told me, is ‘why?’ and then ask it again, and again.

It is with this in mind that the double topic for this issue of On Site review was developed. Ethics and publics not as separate issues, but as inseparable aspects of any intervention, proposed intervention or interpretation of the built environment.

To read his entire introductory essay, here is a pdf of it.


Novka Cosovic: The Museum

May 11, 1993 Mostar, Bosnia A Croatian soldier fires his weapon out the bedroom window at Bosnian forces. Bosnian and Croatian forces fought a war for one year for control of central and western Bosnia. © Ron Haviv/VII/Corbis. During the civil war in Yugoslavia, we watched reporters interviewing widowers or childless mothers in their own living rooms, having to explain how they lost their husbands and sons and daughters. Usually, the viewers would see a staircase or patterned wallpaper in the backgrounds. Nowadays when watching the news, we can see snipers shooting from bedroom windows, with floral wallpaper or damaged walls in the backgrounds. These symbols and manifestation of domesticity make you read both the inappropriateness of the action and its tragedy. The violation of domestic space or spaces that the community would be expected to occupy; not men with guns. Novka Cosovic's project, The Museum, has a number of components that explain the mediatisation of acts of war as presented to a distant and worried audience.  The mid-1990s war in the former Yugoslavia involving Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia is Cosovic's subject.  She was a young girl, in Canada, receiving news of her family's homeland by telephone and through CNN.  The gap between the two was noticeable.

Her article, in On Site review 30: ethics and publics, compares Tito-era war memorials that commemorate battles and victories with the more recent memorials that lodge in memory, emerging in casual conversation, such as 'This jam was made in the same factory that was used as a rape camp.'  Cosovic takes the domestic setting of war: the bedroom wallpapers, the jars of jam, the school washrooms, a swimming pool, and contextualises them as the memorials to a bloody civil war that starts to look like all bloody civil wars. 

Here, we present the pdf of her published article and the video of her antic, panic-filled corridors that compose her Museum. In her article, look carefully at the reworking of typical entries in Architectural Graphic Standards.  They shock; they are based on truths. 

The Museum from on site on Vimeo.

Novka Cosovic, an intern architect, works at re:Plan in Toronto. Her design research exists at the intersection of architecture, writing, and history.


Jessica Craig: Positive Tension, terrain vague as public space

Terrain vague, Toronto. photograph: Jessica Craig

Jessica Craig opens her essay with reference to Ignasi de Sola-Morales. Terrain vague is his term for 'abandoned spaces within a city that exist outside the common social realm and are often perceived as empty'.  Empty they are not, says Jessica; they are finely-tuned territories of occupation and pathway, and must be preserved in our increasingly brittle and over-controlled urban domain. 

Her essay is here, as a pdf.

Jessica Craig recently completed her MArch at the University of Waterloo. Her thesis stresses the political and psychological necessity of terrain vague through a study of its representation in photographs and text; the work stems from a larger interest in designing for post-national societies.


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