vendredi 22 mai 2015

Public Works.

Janet Abbate, Arpanet in 1971, 1999.

Public works historians Stanley K. Schultz and Clay McShane offer a useful departure point and baseline overview of public works projects and administration in America: "Twentieth-century economic and political administration emphasized several characteristics, including centralized permanent bureaucracy staffed by skilled experts, and a commitment to long-range, comprehensive planning". To this we might add that projects sponsored by such administrations were highly technical, specialized by discipline, economically driven, and discretely bounded. Yet this description is incomplete. In truth, the development of public works projects in the United States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was much more diversified and finely grained. Public works evolved from publicly initiated social reforms to multidimensional mega-projects to dispersed, networked initiatives that took on new technical as well as organizational challenges such as research and development, fundraising, and mitigation. Contemporary public works initiatives are caught up in a web of social, logistical, economic and environmental forces with local and global import. 



A radical departure from public works projects directed by a centralized, hierarchical authority, the ARPANET - the predecessor of the current internet - established a new, networked model for project development. In doing so, it manifested a broader series of mid-to-late-twentieth-century trends in global economic and political arenas toward decentralization and privatization. For instance, the developers of the ARPANET took on new roles and were responsible for project organization and management, research and development, design and engineering, and implementation and maintenance. Project management itself was dispersed and diversified; the ARPANET was created by an evolving coalition of networked entities - some govermental (such as ARPA / Advanced Physical Laboratory), others academic/institutional (such as MIT, UCLE, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Dartmouth), and still others private/corporate (Bolt Beranek and Newman, Honeywell, and IBM). Hierarchical, single-entity organizations had given way to dispersed matrices of public, private, corporate, institutional, and academic entities; multiple voices, both "official" and traditionally underrepresented, were heard and integrated. Even the individuals at work on the network moved from one organization to another, reflecting in organizational structure and personal mobility the new methodologies and mechanics of project development and information exchange.


Recent and historic advances in public works projects, urbanism, housing, and even ecology point to a new set of professional practices characterized by an emphasis on operational and performance-driven aspects of landscape process and urbanisation, and with a focus on logistics and mechanisms. Importantly, though, this interest in the mechanics and mechanisms of project development necessarily extend beyond physical issues to include project conceptualization, funding, implementation, and oversight of maintenance practices. It includes birth processes and the administrative mechanisms of project conception and development, strategies that catalyse growth and succession, and adaptive approaches to long-term implementation and maintenance regimes. Moving forward, at least four trends, as follows. 

1. Blurring of Distinctions Between Traditional Fields of Practice 

No longer do traditional separations between disciplines hold. The new public works are marked by the integration of functional, social-cultural, ecological, economic, and political agendas. Limited resources demand that interventions satisfy multiple goals, bringing about hybridized solutions, with coordinated urbanistic, infrastructural, ecological, architectural, landscape, economic, artistic, and political agendas. Architecture, landscape architecture, engineering, ecology, art, social programs, environmental remediation, and more are embedded one within the other, resulting in new project typologies irreducible to traditional, singular designations. 

2. Appropriation of Infrastructural Strategies and Ecological Tactics for New Civic Programs 

While conceived as rational, absolute, and utilitarian, infrastructure has the capacity to be appropriated and transformed toward social, cultural, ecological, and artistic ends. Architectural accretions, layerings of program and use, existing infrastructures made useful – herein lies the basis for a new civic realm, once created by appendage and insertion. Conversely, architecture and landscape can appropriate the utility and serviceability of infrastructure. One could imagine landscape/architectural/urbanistic projects conceived as functional infrastructures, ecological machines that process and perform, public spaces that literally “work”. One might also imagine the creation of fertile testing grounds that structure or initiate an unfolding of hydrological, ecological, social-cultural and urbanistic processes and adaptations – earthen infrastructures available for appropriation and transformation and whose form is valued for its performative rather than sculptural characteristics. 

3. Activation of Multiple, Overlapping Networks and Dynamic Coalitions of Constituencies 

Martin Melosi, Stephen Graham, Sanford Kwinter, and other have recognized the decentralised or splintered characteristics of contemporary service provision and decision-making. Local municipalities are coping with limited resources that must fulfil an expanding set of public needs and constituencies; they are also subject to political and administrative changes that often reshuffle economic priorities. Fortunately, funding and organizational resources are not solely available to centralize municipalities; often community groups, arts organizations, research centres, and others have access to as many funding sources, and therefore wield as much power over the definition and playing out of public projects. They also often have political influence. Thus, public works practices must redefine and expand potential constituencies, stakeholders, and clients in the course of the project. Critical is the early establishment of broad networks of potential stakeholders, different coalitions of which can be activated for various stages of project implementation. In such a dynamic matrix of temporary partnerships, strategic coalitions emerge and fade – or at least suspend work – as projects evolve and adapt over local circumstances. 

4. Catalytic and Responsive Operations 

The key lay in the capacity for installations and operations to catalyse transformations via social, economic, ecological, or hydrologic processes. Understanding that long-term implementation may depend on short-term initiatives to change public perceptions and to generate political will, public works practices set out preliminary smaller-scale events and installations that require few resources. Yet implementation scenarios must also be responsive, such that they accommodate potential changes and diverge from step-by-step implementation formula. Thus implementation strategies are represented more akin to networks and matrices that allow for both defined and undefined inputs and open-ended futures. Projects with duration of ten or twenty years or more must acknowledge the significant potential impact of changing markets and political agendas, in particular, and any number of forces, in general, that are simply beyond the control of the consultant or clients at the time of project initiation. Landscape urbanism – as a set of ideas and frameworks – lays new ground for design and urbanistic practices: performance-based, research-oriented, logistics-focused, networked. Here, the design practitioner is re-cast as urbanistic system-builder, whose interests now encompass the research, framing, design, and implementation of expansive new public works and civic infrastructures. The four trends outlined above, and the interests and initiatives put forward in this volume, collectively offer a provisional yet optimistic framework for practices in landscape urbanism. These emergent conditions are poised to transform design practices and the roles of those working in the public realm. 

Chris Reed, Public Works Practice in The Landscape Urbanism Reader, Princeton Architectural Press, 2006, p.273-275 & 281-283. 

Merci à M.J.

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