The geometry of politics, by Andrzej Olejniczak

The essay examines how physical features of the building relate to the amount of freedom in a given built environment.


As a departure point for argument Author is going to set out Max Weber’s contradistinction of Occidental cities and Asiatic/Oriental „settlements”. The analysis of physical forms of those two classes will allow to draw a series of binary oppositions such as republican – imperial , informal – formal, bottom-up – top-down, small - big (all regarding to physical form and socio-political context of a urban structure and architecture). Finally, article will outline some characteristics of an architectural structure that serve democratic community.


In his renowned essay „Der Stadt” Max Weber distinguishes Occidental city from Asiatic/Oriental „settlement”. He argues that while the first has always been (to some extent) co-created by commoners, the form of the latter resulted from the decision made by nobility and/or groups of professionals. He insisted that a city does not exist without urban community which have some jurisdiction over communal politics. The regulations needed for urban community to emerge are – according to Weber – (a) „a court of its own and at least partially autonomous law”, (b) „a related form of asscociation”, (c) „at least partial autonomy and autocephaly, thus also an administration by authorities in the election of whom the burgers participated”. Author will examine Weber’s thesis that such urban community didn’t exist in Asiatic/Oriental settlements. Use of Aldo Rossi’s „architectural artifact” category will help to differentiate urban tissue according to who is in power of (re)creating it’s physical form. The spectrum will be build upon main opposition of free and highly planned form.


I will take into consideration whether Max Weber could had been right making his assumption on disenfranchisement of the lower urban class in historical Asiatic/Oriental cities. To resolve that problem knowledge about vernacular architecture will be assessed and confronted with young Marx and Hundertwasser Manifesto.


The urban structures of the Far and Near East share some qualities with Ancient and Medieval European cities and (which fact is extremely important from todays point of view) with contemporary informal architecture of favelas, barrios and other poor neighborhoods around the world. According to Robert Neuwirth those self-made settlements should not be rejected as a whole.


The author of The Billion Squatters acknowledges high level of integration and strong sense of community among the settlers of this „new” urban world. Neuwirth observation of the slum meets Hundertwasser’s postulate for more artistic and civic freedom in creating habitats.


The core thesis of the article is: both architectural and urban forms can share certain architectural artifacts (Rossi) that through physical characteristics connect them with particular political environments. Thus it is possible to partially answer the question: how to create buildings that service democratic community. Evaluation of informal architecture may be helpful in achieving that goal.


The apology of grass root practice of (re)creating build environment is not new. Theory and practice of participatory design is rich and have been developed since late 60’s. Author argues that analysis of physical qualities of formal and informal architectures can throw some light upon the problem put in the title of the conference.

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